Report of Stonewall Jackson on the Battle of Cedar Mountain

Wednesday, August 9, AD 2017



On August 9, 1862, Stonewall Jackson, spearheading General Lee’s offensive against General John Pope’s hastily assembled Army of Virginia.  At Cedar Mountain in Culpepper County Virginia he attack his old Valley adversary General Nathaniel Banks, known affectionately by Confederates as Commissary Banks due to the fact that forces under his command usually were whipped and Confederates then feasted on the captured supplies of his defeated forces.  Banks commanded 8,000 men and Jackson had 16,000.  Banks and his men, surprisingly, put up a good fight and Jackson’s victory was hard fought.  Here is Jackson’s report which he submitted on April 4, 1863, paperwork tacking a back seat to all the fighting which occurred between Cedar Mountain and April 4, 1863:

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The Man Who Helped Convert General Rosecrans

Tuesday, July 25, AD 2017


As faithful readers of this blog know, I have often written about General William Rosecrans, Union general and zealous Catholic convert.  One of the men who helped in the conversion process was Julius Garesché, who would serve under Rosecrans in the Civil War.

Rosecrans was fighting a huge battle at Stones River, go here to read about it, in Tennessee that would last from December 31, 1862-January 3, 1863. He succeeded in defeating Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee and drove him from central Tennessee. It was an important victory, a needed shot in the arm for the Union after the disaster of Fredericksburg. Lincoln wrote to Rosecrans:

“You gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.”

During that battle he was a man on fire, constantly charging to points of danger, heedless of risks to himself, rallying his men, inspiring them and beating off Confederate charge after Confederate charge. Rosecrans was in the maelstrom of particularly vicious fighting when his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Julius  Garesché , a fellow Catholic who had been made a Knight of Saint Sylvester by Pope Pius IX, warned him about risking himself to enemy fire. “Never mind me, my boy, but make the sign of the cross and go in!” A moment later, a cannon shell careened into the general’s entourage, beheading Garesche and spraying his brains all over Rosecrans’ overcoat. Rosecrans’ mourned his friend, as he mourned all his brave men who died in that fight, but that didn’t stop him an instant from leading his army to victory.

I was going to do a blog post on Garesché, but I decided that I could not improve on the one done by Pat McNamara at his blog.  Go here to read it.

According to an article written by the late Dr. Homer Pittard, his death at Stones River had been prophesied by his priest brother:

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5 Responses to The Man Who Helped Convert General Rosecrans

  • I do not comment on many of your history posts, Donald, but they are always a source of fascination and great interest for me. Thank you.

  • How thought-provoking to know that the namesake of Ft. Rosecrans Natl. Cemetery was a righthander of the highest caliber—his cemetery in my opinion being the most tranquil, scenic, and contemplative outlook over San Diego Bay, as the warships ceaselessly martial in and out, and the final surrealy serene resting place of Navy SEAL Charles Keating, IV (d. Iraq, May 3,2016), SEAL. and Medal of Honor recipient Michael Mansoor (d. Iraq, Sept. 29,2006); Lt. Albert David of the destroyer escort USS Pillsbury, who fearlessly led a boarding crew and captured the U-505 off West Africa in June,1944, the first boarding and capture of an enemy vessel since 1815; my very non-illustrious grandfather Daniel T. Malloy, Sr., but most sacred of all, SEAL Ty Woods, who along with fellow SEAL Glen Daugherty, defended and saved nearly 30 American lives who would have otherwise been mercilessly tortured and killed had they been captured that night of Sept. 11-12, 2012, when they were abandoned in Ben-Ghazi, Libya.

  • There’s also a street named Rosecrans in the same part of town (the Point Loma area) as the Ft. Rosecrans Cemetery. It takes you right into the submarine base and continues for about two miles until it dead ends at the sea wall.

  • There is a town named Rosecrans in Illinois.


Our Under Studied Civil War

Sunday, July 23, AD 2017



It seems shockingly counter-intuitive to suggest that the Civil War is under studied.  Beginning while the War was being waged, and continuing to the present day, there have been an avalanche of books about that conflict.  However, certain aspects of the War have been understudied.  With the advent of almost cost free e-publishing, the legions of amateur Civil War scholars can help rectify this situation.  I expect to retire in approximately a decade.  If God grants me a long life and good health after retirement I will attempt to aid in shedding light and analysis on facets of the War which have received comparatively little scholarship.  Here are ten such areas.  I would note that the inclusion of an area for further work does not mean that books and articles have not been written on the subject, but that they are comparatively sparse, especially in reference to topics that receive endless treatment.

  1. The Trans Mississippi– Both the Union and the Confederacy frequently used the conflict beyond the Mississippi as a dumping ground for failed and/or troublesome generals and that perceived taint has apparently descended down the years to make this the most ignored theater of the War.  This has helped give a false impression of the War overall.  In the far West the War was fought to the knife and the knife to the hilt, engendering hatreds that lingered for generations after the last shot was fired.  The conflict was important with the Union dedicating manpower and resources against local Confederate forces that could have been better spent elsewhere.  If the Union had lost the War, the conflict in the Trans Mississippi might well have been blamed for being a drain on Union military and naval resources.
  2. Jefferson Davis-Unsurprisingly, the scholarship on Davis is infinitesimal when compared to the mountain of studies on Lincoln.  That imbalance will never be addressed, nor should it be.  However, the day to day activities of Jefferson as commander in chief do need a serious and comprehensive study.
  3. United States Colored Troops-Some 180,000 blacks fought for the Union, most in the United States Colored Troops.  The scholarship  on this organization is limited, weak and much of it dated.
  4. Regimental histories-In the decades immediately following the Civil War, many regimental histories were written, most by former members of the regiments.  Although there is valuable history contained in these tomes, the scholarship usually ranged from non-existent to shoddy.  Modern regimental histories, in the mode of the pioneering history of the 20th Maine, are needed.  Here, especially, amateur scholars could be quite helpful.
  5. Alcohol and the Civil WarAlcohol tends to be mentioned in most Civil War histories only in reference to General Grant.  It was a hard-drinking time and drunkenness was a common problem among officers and men.  Alcohol and its impact on the Civil War awaits good, and detailed, studies.
  6. Artillery-Compared to the infantry and cavalry, books on Civil War artillery have been relatively few in numbers.  The men who served the king of battle deserve better.
  7. Logistics-Serious consideration of logistics and its impact on Civil War operations tends to be scarce in most histories.  A logistical history of the Civil War needs to be written.
  8. Foreign Volunteers-For decades after the Civil War Heroes von Borcke proudly flew the Stars and Bars from the battlements of his Prussian estate, a memento of his service under Jeb Stuart.  Considering how many of them there were, the foreign volunteers who fought for the Union and the Confederacy have received little attention in most histories.
  9. Staff work-Ah, the Remfs, always unloved by the frontline soldiers in every conflict.  Nonetheless, staff work often determines the success or failure of most military operations, and the scholarship devoted to this important topic is minuscule.
  10. War Governors-Considering the key role they played, the war governors, Union and Confederate, have received, the majority of them, relatively little scholarly attention.

In regard to America’s greatest war, much work remains to be done.  Scholars, to your key boards!

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2 Responses to Our Under Studied Civil War

  • “5. Alcohol and the Civil War–Alcohol tends to be mentioned in most Civil War histories only in reference to General Grant. It was a hard-drinking time and drunkenness was a common problem among officers and men. Alcohol and its impact on the Civil War awaits good, and detailed, studies.”

    Under the circumstances of the oceans of bloodshed—how many accounts of so many battles, such as Antietam, Cold Harbor, Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, etc—literally describe the fields and rivers running with men’s blood—plus the maimings, the amputations, the bodily destruction—so that, despite not really being a “useful therapeutic option” at all, men during the Civil War being prone to abuse alcohol is an almost-rational response to a mind-shattering day-to-day reality.

  • Another aspect of the Civil War that I believe does not get enough attention is the fact that the divisions among the American people were not as cut and dried as we are led to believe. For example, not all slave owners were secessionists, nor were all secessionists in favor of slavery.

    If you like audio podcasts I recommend the Church history podcasts by Msgr. Michael John Witt, a former Christian Brother and now professor at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis. He has one series that addresses the role of Catholics in the War and explains all the different issues involved; you can find it at his website, Click on the link for “St. Louis: The Lion and the Fourth City, Vol. 2” and the links to each episode (usually 22 to 25 minutes long) will appear on that page. Those that deal with the Civil War are labeled as such. The “Lion”, by the way, was Archbishop Peter J. Kenrick, whose episcopal motto was “Noli irritare leo” or “Don’t mess with the lion.” 🙂

July 21, 1861: Battle of Bull Run-Lessons to Learn

Friday, July 21, AD 2017


The First Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas, was the first major battle of the Civil War.  A Confederate victory, it gave lessons to those paying attention:

1.    It amply demonstrated the hazards of sending half-trained troops into combat.  Both the Union and Confederate armies were green, and it showed in clumsy battlefield maneuvers and  an inability to coordinate attacks.

2.   An early indication that it was much easier to defend and counter-attack than to launch an initial attack in the Civil War.

3.    Rifled muskets were going to make this an exceptionally bloody war.  5,000 Union and Confederate casualties resulted from this battle, just slightly below the total American killed and wounded for either the entire War of 1812 or the entire Mexican War.

4.    One able general, Stonewall Jackson in the case of Bull Run, could seize the initiative and turn the tide of a battle.

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2 Responses to July 21, 1861: Battle of Bull Run-Lessons to Learn

  • The Manassas battlefield site is well worth the visit. It is in a fairly compact area and can be easily covered on foot in a couple of hours.

  • Also, isn’t this battle the near-epitome of a devastating loss as a result of “still fighting the last war”?

    The now-75-year-old Gen. Winfield Scott, over 300 lbs and unable to mount a horse and really “see the action”, insisted on maintaining brigades, instead of divisions, relying on his experience in the Mexican-American War. But the army of the Potomac now had become enormous (65,000 men?), 3 times as large as all the forces engaged in Mexico, and McDowell as commander found it unwieldy as well as insufficiently battle-ready.

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, July 16, AD 2017

And, after that, the chunky man from the West,
Stranger to you, not one of the men you loved
As you loved McClellan, a rider with a hard bit,
Takes you and uses you as you could be used,
Wasting you grimly but breaking the hurdle down.
You are never to worship him as you did McClellan,
But at the last you can trust him.  He slaughters you
But he sees that you are fed.  After sullen Cold Harbor
They call him a butcher and want him out of the saddle,
But you have had other butchers who did not win
And this man wins in the end.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body


“I appealed to Lincoln for his own sake to remove Grant at once, and, in giving my reasons for it, I simply voiced the admittedly overwhelming protest from the loyal people of the land against Grant’s continuance in command. I could form no judgment during the conversation as to what effect my arguments had upon him beyond the fact that he was greatly distressed at this new complication. When I had said everything that could be said from my standpoint, we lapsed into silence. Lincoln remained silent for what seemed a very long time. He then gathered himself up in his chair and said in a tone of earnestness that I shall never forget: ‘I can’t spare this man; he fights.‘”

Alexander McClure recalling a meeting with President Lincoln shortly after the Battle of Shiloh

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Fortnight For Freedom: Nuns of the Battlefield

Wednesday, June 28, AD 2017




The Church is sometimes depicted as somehow an alien presence in this fair land of freedom.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Catholics, beginning with Christopher Columbus, have played a vital role in American history from the beginning.  Such was the case with the nuns who attended wounded and sick soldiers during the national nightmare known as the Civil War.


Visitors to Washington DC might be surprised at first to encounter a monument to nuns and sisters entitled Nuns of the Battlefield.  It was erected by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1924 to honor the some 600 Catholic nuns and sisters who during the Civil War nursed soldiers on both sides.  It bears this inscription:


Anti-Catholic propaganda prior to the Civil War often focused on alleged lurid misdeeds involving nuns, the completely fictional account written by Maria Monk being a typical example, thus combining both bigotry and near pornography.  A convent was burned by an anti-Catholic mob in 1834 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, their minds poisoned by just such allegations.

Nuns and sisters prior to the Civil War would not wear their habits outside of their convents for fear of insult or attack.  Then, in the words of Lincoln, the war came.

Nuns on both sides swiftly volunteered to served as nurses, and they proved superb at this task.  Mary Livermore, who served on the United States Sanitary Commission and who would later win fame as an early fighter for the rights of women, wrote this tribute after the War:

“I am neither a Catholic, nor an advocate of the monastic institutions of that church . . . But I can never forget my experience during the War of the Rebellion . . . Never did I meet these Catholic sisters in hospitals, on transports, or hospital steamers, without observing their devotion, faithfulness, and unobtrusiveness. They gave themselves no airs of superiority or holiness, shirked no duty, sought no easy place, bred no mischiefs. Sick and wounded men watched for their entrance into the wards at morning, and looked a regretful farewell when they departed at night.”

Soldiers were impressed both by the quality of the nursing they received from the nuns and their good cheer and kindness.  Generations of bigotry melted away by the ministrations of these women of God.  A Confederate chaplain recalled this incident between a soldier and a sister:

“Sister, is it true that you belong to the Catholic Church?”

“Yes, sir, it’s true. And that’s the source of the greatest happiness I have in this life.”

“Well, I declare. I’d never have suspected it. I’ve heard so many things . . . I thought Catholics were the worst people on earth.”

“I hope you don’t think so now.”

“Well, Sister . . . I’ll tell you. If you say you’re a Catholic, I’ll certainly have a better opinion of Catholics from now on.”

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4 Responses to Fortnight For Freedom: Nuns of the Battlefield

  • Thank you, Donald. Amid all of the mischief created by our current Pope, we tend to forget what real women in holy orders have done, and continue to do, for the faith. God Bless.

  • Good post.
    Thank you Donald.

    At our local Carmelite monastery I periodically go before the sisters to intervene on behalf of a sick or dieing soul.
    They are a cloistered community and as powerful as Michael the archangel and his legion. Embellishment? No. Their prayers are that strong.

    The invisible power is made tangible by our committed nuns through out the world.
    Seen or unseen, they are one of God’s great gift to mankind.

  • The Catholic nuns’ virginity and freedom from sin allows them to come and go freely. Jesus Christ, the Healer, their spouse guides their actions.

  • There are still nuns on the battlefield. A year ago I was on an army post grocery shopping and met a nun in a white traditional habit. Turns out she is an army reserve surgeon who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. On the civilian side she operates on charity patients in a hospital in an affluent neighborhood and periodically travels to Sudan under the auspices of doctors without borders.

May 15, 1864: Battle of New Market

Monday, May 15, AD 2017


“And New Market’s young cadets.”

Southern Birthright, Bobby Horton


John C. Breckinridge, fourteenth Vice-President of the United States and current Confederate Major General, had a big problem.  His task was to hold the Shenandoah Valley, the bread basket of the Army of Northern Virginia, for the Confederacy, and he was confronted with two Union columns seeking to rendezvous at Staunton, Virginia and place the Valley under Union control.  One column under George Crook was coming from the West Virginia.  The second column under Franz Sigel was coming down the Valley.  Sigel had twice the men that Breckinridge could muster, 9,000 to 4000, but Breckinridge saw no alternative but to march north and engage Sigel before the two Union columns could join against him.

The Confederacy by this time was robbing the cradle and the grave to fill out its ranks.  In the cradle contingent with Breckinridge were 257 cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, who ranged in age from 15-24.

Breckinridge brought Sigel to battle at mid-morning on May 15, 1864 south of New Market.  With detachments Sigel’s force was down to 6,000 men.  However, 2 to 3 was still very poor odds for an attacking army.

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6 Responses to May 15, 1864: Battle of New Market

  • The New Market National(?) Battle Field can be accessed off US Route 81. We passed there a number of times coming and going to Forts Campbell and Polk to visit our son. Next time we head south, will stop there. Also, Antietam isn’t that far off our route, need to stop there.

    Likely, John Ford in his movie “The Horse Soldiers” used the VMI/New Market theme for the
    scene where the military school cadets charged the US Cavalry – great scene. Note the young soldier who had been relieved b/c he was sole surviving son, absconding out of his mother’s home to join the fight . . . ‘The Bonnie Blue Flag”

  • The Cadets of VMI still make the march from the Institute to New Market every year to commemorate their forbears’ march down the Valley Pike. Sigel came “up” the valley in the somewhat unexpected way of referring to directions in the Shenandoah Valley (due to the fact that the Shenandoah runs north).

  • Astonishing heroism, astonishing victory. Breckinridge was one of the finest “amateur” soldiers of the war, and Davis’ finest Secretary of War (albeit too little, too late).

    Sigel? Well, he was superb at Pea Ridge–and nowhere else. Who knows? He might even be a reason why Americans weren’t particularly afraid of the Kaiser’s legions in the Great War…

  • I think it’s Interstate 81 that runs by the battlefield. US 81 runs from North Dakota to Texas.

  • Yes, I-81 unfortunately cuts right through the Valley, parallel to US 11, the original, macadamized Valley Pike, that bisected the original New Market battlefield.

History and Leftist Inconoclasm

Monday, May 8, AD 2017

He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward.

Benjamin Hill on Robert E. Lee


Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts notes that Mark Shea has embraced the leftist crusade of purging the nation of all things Confederate:



Why should we have a monument in our capital named for a hypocritical racist slave owner?  Or for that matter, why should our capital be named for one?  Mark Shea explains.  Mark isn’t advocating the eradication of Washington’s name from his home state, or the destruction of the Jefferson Memorial, or the closing down of Independence Hall, or moving the presidential residency from a building built on the backs of slaves.

Nothing in his post, however, could be used to condemn such actions.  In fact, the post could be used to defend such actions.   As a Believer, I’m a little bothered by the sudden emergence of the ‘erase the Confederacy and everyone in it’ movement that has gained steam since the Charleston Shooting.  Mark himself decried the sudden removal of Confederate symbols from museums and other historic locations.

Nonetheless, he seems fine with the removal of monuments for even such luminaries as Robert E. Lee, who often was compared to Erwin Rommel, a brave and noble man on the wrong side of the debate.   Sure, you could argue there is a dearth of high schools or statues celebrating Rommel, but that is because for the longest time, people actually believed that the American South, if not America, and Nazi Germany were different animals.  Now, of course, those differences are eroding.  Since there is typically good and bad in most people, places, and things, deciding to weigh all equally on the Nazi Comparison scale seems a dangerous trend.

In fact some could argue, as Mark appears to, that there was little moral difference between the North and South.  Perhaps the rest of the US was every bit as bad.  And if so, then why keep anything honoring it or those who fought for it?  No more God bless America?  Just God damn America?  Perhaps.  Given that in my lifetime I watched a concerted effort to stop seeing such historical luminaries as Attila the Hun, or such civilizations as the Vikings or the Mongols in purely negative ways, I have a hard time seeing the reverse trend when it comes to America.

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16 Responses to History and Leftist Inconoclasm

  • By erasing the memory of history we are condemned to repeat it. Paraphrase of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

  • I think its time Mark should team up with Bill Nye as a new comedic duo. Kind of like Laurel and Hardy

  • This hysteria is a neo-Talibanic effort to enforce a vision of social purity on the part of zealots. There is no logical end to it that would exclude eradicating any street, town, city, or monument named after Washington.

  • Agreed. The Confederacy is merely a momentary stand in for the true leftist target: the United States of America.

  • I’m in favor of leaving most Confederate memorials intact for this simple reason: the men that Mark hates with an incandescent rage did something for which all Americans should be grateful: with almost no exceptions, they encouraged the South to accept the verdict of the battlefield and reconcile with the nation. If they had not–especially Robert E. Lee, who rejected guerilla warfare at the end–America would be a weakened garrison state. A few statues is a small price to pay for freedom.

  • Mark hates with an incandescent rage did something for which all Americans should be grateful: with almost no exceptions

    Good point.

    One problem is that some political figures have virtues expressed only in private life. That statue of Pitchfork Ben Tillman might properly be moved to a museum.

    Agreed. The Confederacy is merely a momentary stand in for the true leftist target: the United States of America.

    Half of it is black politicians (or passing-for-black politicians like Ben Jealous) who are bereft of ideas and have nothing better to do but mark territory. The other half is academic types like Wm. Chafe who wish to set themselves up as arbiters of value in American history and life. I’m inclined to tell both sorts to take a hike.

  • The only thing that really annoys me about The American Catholic, is the time it wastes complaining about nonentities like Mark Shea. Who cares?

  • Mark is not a non-entity. He is taken by many Catholics as a Catholic apologist and regularly appears before Church groups.

  • “One problem is that some political figures have virtues expressed only in private life. That statue of Pitchfork Ben Tillman might properly be moved to a museum.”

    That point is well-taken. I’m much more amenable to removing the statues of Confederate politicians as opposed to their soldiery and combat commanders.

  • The only thing that really annoys me about The American Catholic, is the time it wastes complaining about nonentities like Mark Shea. Who cares?

    About 15 years ago, he was one of the more widely circulated Catholic (non-fiction) writers in the country. By and large, magazine journalism has fallen on hard times in the intervening years and (I suspect if you examined the question carefully), the audience for that sort of thing is demoralized to a degree it was not at that time. Shea himself has been suffering from some sort of middle-age decay of occult origin, so has likely lost his audience (though gained an audience among a modest corps of cranky palaeos). I suspect he gets bookings from people who are familiar with some of the monographs he’s published in the past and just have not reviewed his online writings.

    One problem is (and you can see this looking at Ignatius Press catalogues) is that Catholic writers who are accessible to general audiences with work in print tend to be deceased (Regine Pernoud, John Senior, and, more recently, Ralph McInerney), very old (Peter Kreeft), retired and silent (Sandra Miesel), or on the cusp of retirement (Robert George). There does not seem to be anyone younger coming down the pipeline.

  • It galled me that students at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, where Lee presided after the war, campaigned and succeeded in removing Confederate symbols on campus. I never understand why, with all the colleges in the United States, why students attend a school and attempt to change their culture. Why not just attend another university?

  • I never understand why, with all the colleges in the United States, why students attend a school and attempt to change their culture. Why not just attend another university?

    You recall Sandra Fluke, against her economic interest, elected to attend Georgetown in order to pester the school administration.

    It’s doubtful the youths who engage in this sort of tripe (or the faculty and administration who are their collaborators) are the sort to attempt to appreciate the world around them as is.

    One thing I’ve noticed, now that Nat Hantoff has died, is that the progressive dispensation is occupied almost entirely by people who trade in sentiment (on the one hand) and people who are forever making accusations (on the other). Be nice if the vanguard of 50% of the population weren’t given to self-aggrandizement morning, noon, and night, but we do not live in that world.

  • Checking some data online, it would appear that about 50% of their matriculating freshman are not Southerners. The place is a swank and selective private college. They recruit from the professional-managerial bourgeoisie with a leavening of patrician types. To some extent, these are now status markers in that set.

  • I live3 and hour away from New Orleans. One of the most well-known landmarks is Lee Circle, with the statue of Gen. Robt. E. Lee atop a tall column, the column’s foundation an island that operates as a traffic circle for St. Charles Sreet and the iconic St. Charles streetcar line. It amazes me how the powers that be namely politically correct liberals have successfully garnered enough support for the dismantling of this and other monuments. In the case of Lee, who as the article correctly noted, was not a racist and along with his wife did what they could to help black Americans every way they could. It’s apparent those who advocate the removal of Lee’s statue are victims of their own ignorance and also the dishonesty of the mayor and others who are most certainly aware of the General and Mrs. Lee’s charitable work. This situation is also an indication of the failure of both our educational institutions for spending more time indoctrinating their student rather than teaching real history.

Grant and the Wounded of Cold Harbor

Sunday, May 7, AD 2017

Ulysses S. Grant was a great man and a great general, but he did make mistakes.  At Cold Harbor, Virginia he made two very big mistakes.  He made foolish assaults on Lee’s heavily entrenched lines on June 3, 1864 which cost the lives of 1844 Union soldiers compared to the lives of 83 Confederate troops who fell in this battle.  This was the lesser of his mistakes.

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4 Responses to Grant and the Wounded of Cold Harbor

  • Given that Lee was a military engineer, Grant was foolish in ordering a rush. He was playing to one of Lee’s strengths.

  • Civil War generals were slow in understanding how quickly firepower had increased.

  • I am a contrarian when it comes to the brilliance of Lee. He disregarded strategic realities, especially later in the war when some sort of political solution was not remotely possible. Even with disparities like these, the south could never beat the north, Lee should have (surely did) know it, and fought battles that were mathematical losers no matter how elegant his maneuver. Grant finally got it, and could have fought the Confederacy literally to the last man standing. Indeed, Lee’s very brilliance merely extended the war and cost lives usually attributed to Grant. Not that Lee was not brilliant in what he pulled off, usually at a disadvantage.

  • “the south could never beat the north,”

    It didn’t have to my Bruin friend, it merely had to outlast the North, and it came close to doing that, largely because of Lee’s success in blocking the Union conquest of Virginia. But for the iron determination of Lincoln, the North probably would have tossed in the towel in 1864 after Grant ran up 50,000 Union casualties in a month in the Overland Campaign. Lincoln was above all a shrewd politician, and in August 1864 he thought he was not going to be re-elected, and he was probably right. Thanks to Sherman taking Atlanta and Sheridan’s victories in the Valley Lincoln was re-elected, but that election could easily have gone the other way if the stalemate that Lee had placed on Grant’s drive against Richmond had been replicated for another two months in the rest of the Confederacy.

The Reluctant Conscript

Saturday, May 6, AD 2017



Something for the weekend.  The Reluctant Conscript performed by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War era music to modern audiences.  This song is typical of the type of humorous songs sung by soldiers on both sides.    Civil War soldiers endured hardships and casualties that modern students of that conflict can only regard as appalling.  However, the amazing thing is the good humor that those very brave men also displayed, often directed against themselves.  We stand on the shoulders on the giants, and among those giants are a lot of 18-20 young men clad in blue and gray, many of whom did not get any older, and who overwhelmingly met their fates with courage and a type of laughing gallantry that is all too foreign to our debased times.

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April 9, 1865: Palm Sunday at Appomatox

Sunday, April 9, AD 2017

It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy.  Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death.  It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach;  for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it.  From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth.  In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth.  But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.

Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884

I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865.  Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox.  We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history.  The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war.  The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south.  Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated.  All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox.

Grant recalled the surrender:

Ap l 19th, 1865.

Comd’g C. S. A.
GEN: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.
Very respectfully,
Lt. Gen.

When I put my pen to the paper I did not know the first word that I should make use of in writing the terms. I only knew what was in my mind, and I wished to express it clearly, so that there could be no mistaking it. As I wrote on, the thought occurred to me that the officers had their own private horses and effects, which were important to them, but of no value to us; also that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to call upon them to deliver their side arms.

No conversation, not one word, passed between General Lee and myself, either about private property, side arms, or kindred subjects. He appeared to have no objections to the terms first proposed; or if he had a point to make against them he wished to wait until they were in writing to make it. When he read over that part of the terms about side arms, horses and private property of the officers, he remarked, with some feeling, I thought, that this would have a happy effect upon his army.

Then, after a little further conversation, General Lee remarked to me again that their army was organized a little differently from the army of the United States (still maintaining by implication that we were two countries); that in their army the cavalrymen and artillerists owned their own horses; and he asked if he was to understand that the men who so owned their horses were to be permitted to retain them. I told him that as the terms were written they would not; that only the officers were permitted to take their private property. He then, after reading over the terms a second time, remarked that that was clear.

I then said to him that I thought this would be about the last battle of the war—I sincerely hoped so; and I said further I took it that most of the men in the ranks were small farmers. The whole country had been so raided by the two armies that it was doubtful whether they would be able to put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter without the aid of the horses they were then riding. The United States did not want them and I would, therefore, instruct the officers I left behind to receive the paroles of his troops to let every man of the Confederate army who claimed to own a horse or mule take the animal to his home. Lee remarked again that this would have a happy effect.

He then sat down and wrote out the following letter:
April 9, 1865.

GENERAL:—I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.
R. E. LEE, General.


While duplicates of the two letters were being made, the Union generals present were severally present to General Lee.

The much talked of surrendering of Lee’s sword and my handing it back, this and much more that has been said about it is the purest romance. The word sword or side arms was not mentioned by either of us until I wrote it in the terms. There was no premeditation, and it did not occur to me until the moment I wrote it down. If I had happened to omit it, and General Lee had called my attention to it, I should have put it in the terms precisely as I acceded to the provision about the soldiers retaining their horses.

General Lee, after all was completed and before taking his leave, remarked that his army was in a very bad condition for want of food, and that they were without forage; that his men had been living for some days on parched corn exclusively, and that he would have to ask me for rations and forage. I told him “certainly,” and asked for how many men he wanted rations. His answer was “about twenty-five thousand;” and I authorized him to send his own commissary and quartermaster to Appomattox Station, two or three miles away, where he could have, out of the trains we had stopped, all the provisions wanted. As for forage, we had ourselves depended almost entirely upon the country for that.


Grant in his memoirs wrote, When Lee and I separated he went back to his lines and I returned to the house of Mr. McLean. Here the officers of both armies came in great numbers, and seemed to enjoy the meeting as much as though they had been friends separated for a long time while fighting battles under the same flag.”

Lee so appreciated the generosity of the terms of surrender given by Grant, that for the remainder of his life he would never allow a word of denigration about Grant to be spoken in his presence.


(Grant) rode on toward his headquarters tent, which had been found at last, along with his baggage, and pitched nearby. He had not gone far before someone asked if he did not consider the news of Lee’s surrender worth passing on to the War Department. Reining his horse in, he dismounted and sat on a large stone by the roadside to compose the telegram Lincoln would receive that night. By the time he remounted to ride on, salutes were beginning to roar from Union batteries roundabout, and he sent word to have them stopped, not only because he feared the warlike racket might cause trouble between the victors and the vanquished, both of them still with weapons in their hands, but also because he considered it unfitting. “The war is over,” he told his staff. “The rebels are our countrymen again.”

Shelby Foote, The Civil War:  A Narrative, volume III




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2 Responses to April 9, 1865: Palm Sunday at Appomatox

  • In World War 2, there was a General Simon Bolivar Buckner who was killed in the invasion of Okinawa. I believe he was the highest ranking officer killed in that war.

    Both Buckners were named for The Liberator, Simon Bolivar, who despite having little military experience, successfully led the war for Independence for Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador against the Spanish Empire. Bolivar was a far better military leader than he was a politician. Having said that, a statue of Bolivar, and San Martin as well, is prominently displayed in Washington, DC. There are assorted little towns and streets named for Bolivar through the US.

  • Correct about Simon Bolivar Buckner being the highest ranking officer killed in WW2. He was also the son of Gen. Buckner who was a pallbearer at Grant’s funeral in 1885.

Stand Up For Uncle Sam My Boys

Saturday, March 25, AD 2017



Something for the weekend.  Stand Up For Uncle Sam My Boys sung by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War music to modern audiences.  A pro-Union song written in 1861 by that tireless writer of Civil War tunes George F. Root.  Sadly its patriotism may seem over the top to modern audiences.  Not so to most of the fighting men on both sides during the Civil War who liked their songs about the War to be lively and very patriotic.

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Kelly’s Irish Brigade

Saturday, March 18, AD 2017


(I first posted this in 2010.  Over they years it has proven quite popular judging from the number of hits it has received, so I thought this weekend would be a good one to post it again.)

I have had a few posts, here, here  and here, on the famous Irish Brigade that fought for the Union in the Army of the Potomac.  There were however other Irish units, North and South.  This song celebrates Kelly’s Irish Brigade that fought for the Confederacy in the West.  The Brigade was actually a regiment, the Washington Blues, organized by Joseph Kelly, a grocer in Saint Louis, prior to the Civil War.  Kelly was an Irish immigrant as were most of the men in his regiment.  They provided good service for the Confederacy, and you may read about them here.

Listen all ye that hold communion
With Southern Confederates who are bold,
And I will tell you of some men for the Union
Who in northern ranks were enrolled;
They came to Missouri in their glory
And thought at their might we’d be dismayed;
But they soon had a different story
When they met Kelly’s Irish Brigade.

When they met with the Irish Brigade me boys
When they met with the Irish Brigade
Didn’t those cowardly Lincolnites tremble
When they met with the Irish Brigade.

They have called us rebels and traitors,
But themselves have thrown off that name of late.
They were called it by the English invaders
At home in the eve of ninety eight
The name to us is not a new one though,
Tis one that shall never degrade
Any true-hearted Irishmen
In the ranks of Kelly’s Irish Brigade.


Well they dare not call us invaders,
‘Tis but state rights and liberty we ask;
And Missouri, we will ever defend her,
No matter how hard may be the task.
Then let true Irishmen assemble,
Let the voice of Missouri be obeyed;
And the northern fanatics will tremble
When again they meet Kelly’s Irish Brigade.



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Christmas Bells Ring On

Saturday, December 10, AD 2016


Something for the weekend.  One of my favorite Christmas carols has always been I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.   It is based on the poem Christmas Bells written  by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863.  Still devastated by the death of his wife in a fire in 1861, he had been rocked by news that his son Charles, serving as a lieutenant in the Union army, had been severely wounded at the battle of New Hope Church in November of 1863.  In a nation rent by civil war, along with his personal woes, one could perhaps understand if Longfellow had been deaf to the joy of Christmas that year.  Instead, he wrote this magnificent poem of faith in the power of Christmas:

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George Washington’s Vision

Wednesday, September 7, AD 2016


I see this piece of fiction floating around the internet:

“The last time I ever saw Anthony Sherman was on the Fourth of July, 1859, in Independence Square. He was then ninety-nine years old, his dimming eyes rekindled as he gazed upon Independence Hall, which he had come to visit once more. “I want to tell you an incident of Washington’s life one which no one alive knows of except myself; and which, if you live, you will before long see verified.”

He said, “From the opening of the Revolution, we experienced all phases of fortune, good and ill. The darkest period we ever had, I think, was when Washington, after several reverses, retreated to Valley Forge, where he resolved to pass the winter of 1777. Ah! I often saw the tears coursing down our dear commander’s careworn cheeks, as he conversed with a confidential officer about the condition of his soldiers. You have doubtless heard the story of Washington’s going to the thicket to pray. Well, he also used to pray to God in secret for aid and comfort.

“One day, I remember well, the chilly winds whistled through the leafless trees. Though the sky was cloudless and the sun shone brightly, he remained alone in his quarters nearly all afternoon. When he came out, I noticed that his face was a shade paler than usual, and there seemed to be something on his mind of more than ordinary importance. Returning just after dusk, he dispatched an orderly to the quarters of the officer I mentioned who was in attendance at the time. After preliminary conversation of about half an hour, Washington, gazing upon his companion with that strange look of dignity that he alone could command, said to the latter:

“I do not know whether it is due to the anxiety of my mind, or what, but this afternoon, as I was preparing a dispatch, something seemed to disturbed me. Looking up, I beheld, standing opposite me, a singularly beautiful being. So astonished was I, for I had given strict orders not to be disturbed, that it was some moments before I found language to inquire the cause of the visit. A second, a third, and even a fourth time did I repeat my question, but received no answer from my mysterious visitor, except a slight raising of the eyes. By this time I felt strange sensations spreading through me, and I would have risen, but the riveted gaze of the being before me rendered volition impossible. I assayed once more to speak, but my tongue had become useless, as though it had become paralyzed. A new influence, mysterious, potent, irresistible, took possession. All I could do was to gaze steadily, vacantly at my unknown visitor. Gradually the surrounding atmosphere seemed to become filled with sensations, and grew luminous. Everything about me seemed to rarefy, including the mysterious visitor.

“I began to feel as one dying, or rather to experience the sensations which I have sometimes imagined accompany dissolution. I did not think, I did not reason, I did not move; all were alike impossible. I was only conscious of gazing fixedly, vacantly at my companion.

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