July 25, 1861: Crittenden-Johnson Resolutions Passed by Congress

1861 in the Civil War was largely a fight for the Border States of Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland, and the future state of West Virginia.  Each side knew that the outcome of the War might well depend on the ultimate control of this vast area.  Border state unionists were often pro-slavery and their concerns had to be taken into account by the Lincoln Administration.   The most powerful politician in Kentucky was Congressman John J. Crittenden, a man as old as the Constitution, he was a passionate Unionist, but pro-slavery.  The War had bitterly divided his state and his family:  one son would serve as a Union general and another son would serve as a Confederate general.  He understood that Unionists in his state were more than willing to fight to preserve the Union, but they were unwilling to fight against slavery.  In tandem with future president Andrew Johnson, then a Senator from Tennessee, the only member of the Senate from a Confederate state to refuse to resign from Congress following the secession of his state, he crafted resolutions to be passed by the House and the Senate making clear that the purpose of the War was to preserve the Union and not to destroy slavery.  Congress duly passed the resolutions on July 25, 1861,  with only two votes against in the House, but it was only a brief victory for those Unionists who were pro-slavery.   Two weeks later, Abraham Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act allowing the seizure by the Federal government of slaves of rebels as contraband of war.   Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania engineered the repeal of the resolutions in 1861.  The war for the Union would also be a war against slavery.  Here are the texts of the resolutions: Continue Reading

Ten Years of TAC: July 18, 1863: Assault on Fort Wagner

 

(The American Catholic will observe its tenth anniversary in October.  We will be reposting some classic TAC posts of the past.  This post is from July 18, 2013.)

 

 

 

We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has!

Response of the parents of Colonel Robert Shaw as to whether they wished to have his body exhumed and brought back to Boston.

 

 

 

The 150th anniversary of the second assault on Fort Wagner, the Confederate fort on Morris Island, guarding entry into Charleston Harbor, made immortal by the film Glory (1989) depicting the attack of the 54th Massachusetts.  The 54th sustained the following casualties out of 600 men:  29 killed, including the commander of the regiment, 25 year old Colonel Robert Shaw, 15 captured, 52 missing in action and 149 wounded.  The white regiments that participated in the attack also sustained heavy losses.  A total of 1515 Union casualties against approximately 174 Confederate casualties.   Ironically, Fort Wagner would be abandoned by the Confederates in September, it being too difficult to keep the Fort supplied in the teeth of a continual Union bombardment, and the water supply in the Fort being contaminated by the number of corpses in the soil surrounding the fort from the two unsuccessful assaults.

The courage shown by the men of the 54th put the lie to the fairly common belief, completely at variance with history, that black men could not make good soldiers.  The 54th would go on to fight in several more battles during the course of the War.

Sergeant William Carney of the 54th earned a Medal of Honor in the assault.  Despite being wounded several times he placed the national flag on the parapet of Fort Wagner, and when the 54th retreated he brought back the flag in spite of being wounded twice more.  He told the men he gave the flag to:  “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!” Continue Reading

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Grant: The Successful Failure

Dear Sir: 

I hope you will allow one who, when a boy, laid down his arms at Appomattox and pledged allegiance to the Union, to express his warmest sympathy for you in your suffering. I have watched your movements from the hour you gave me my horse and sword, and told me to ‘go home and assist in making a crop.’ I have been proud to see the nation do you honor, and now, dear General, in the hour of your pain, I weep that so brave, so magnanimous a soul must suffer as you do.

My prayer to God daily is that you may be restored to perfect health, and be assured that I am not the only ex-confederate who sends his prayers daily to the Throne of Grace for the restoration of the grandest, the noblest, the bravest soldier and the purest statesman who ever graced the annals of history. May the God who overlooked you in battle and who has brought you thus far give you grace to meet whatever He has in store for you, and may he restore you to health is the fervent prayer of one who, at fifteen years of age, entered the lists against you and accepted the magnanimous terms you accorded us at Appomattox.”

A. M. Arnold, Rockbridge Baths, Virginia

Letter to Grant, just before his death in 1885

 

 

 

 

 

Few men in American history have gone from complete obscurity to being a  central figure in the life of the nation faster than Ulysses Simpson Grant.  Known as Sam Grant by his West Point friends, his first two initials making Sam an inevitable nickname, Grant had an unerring ability to fail at everything he put his hand to, except for war, his marriage and his last gallant race against the Grim Reaper, as he was dying of cancer, to finish his memoirs and provide financially for his wife and children.  Most great figures in our history have known success more than failure.  Not so Sam Grant.  He would encounter humiliating defeats throughout his life, from beginning to end.

 

At the beginning of the Civil War, he was a clerk, barely able to support his family.  Seemingly a dull plodder, but possessed of iron determination and an uncanny ability to never let the trees obscure the forest;  happily married and a firm believer in God, but subject to bouts of depression when he would grasp for the bottle;  the shabby little man who, incredibly, ended up winning the greatest war in American history.

 

His men didn’t hold him in awe as Lee’s men did Lee;  Grant was far too common and prosaic a figure for that.  However, they did respect him, as this section of Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, indicates: Continue Reading

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Ten Years of TAC: Dagger John and Honest Abe

(The American Catholic will observe its tenth anniversary in October.  We will be reposting some classic TAC posts of the past.  This post is from February 11, 2009.)

Archbishop John Hughes (1797-1864) of New York, was a titan within the Catholic Church in America in the nineteenth century.  Overseeing with skill the explosive growth of the Church in New York, and helping lead generations of Catholic immigrants out of poverty,  he also found time to take part in the public affairs of his day, and was probably the best known Catholic churchman of his time.  He was also a very tough and fearless man.  After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church were touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow.  (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched.  On another occasion when a threat was made to burn Saint Patrick’s cathedral the Archbishop had it guarded within hours by 4,000 armed Catholics.  No wonder his enemies and friends nicknamed him “Dagger John”! Continue Reading

Black Jack Logan and the First Memorial Day One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience — almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

                                                         Pope Benedict, April 16, 2008

 

 

John A. Logan is the father of Memorial Day.  Today he is largely forgotten except to Civil War buffs and that is a shame.  He was a fascinating man and he is largely responsible for establishing the tradition of putting aside a day in the calendar to our nation’s war dead.

Logan began the Civil War as a Democrat congressman from southern Illinois.  He was ardently anti-War even after the firing on Fort Sumter, denouncing the Lincoln administration and calling for peace and compromise.  He was attacked as being disloyal to the Union and an almost advocate of the Confederacy.

This perception changed in the twinkling of an eye at the battle of Bull Run.  Like many another congressman he went out to view the Union army launch an attack on the Confederates.  Unlike the other congressmen, Logan picked up a musket and, attaching himself to a Michigan regiment, blazed away at the Confederates with that musket.  This experience transformed Logan into an ardent advocate of the War.

He returned to Southern Illinois and gave a fiery speech in Marion, Illinois for the Union that helped swing that section of the state in support of the War.  Resigning from Congress, he helped raise an infantry regiment from southern Illinois, and was made colonel of the regiment, the 31rst Illinois.

Logan quickly made a name for himself as a fighter.  At the battle of Belmont he led his regiment in a successful charge, and was noted for his exceptional courage.  He would eventually be promoted to major general and was one of the best corp commanders in the Union army, briefly commanding the Army of the Tennessee.  He was wounded three times in the war, one of the wounds being serious enough that he was erroneously reported as killed, a report that might have been proven to be accurate if he had not been nursed back  to health by his wife.

Logan was never beaten in any engagement that he fought in during the War.  He was popular with his men who affectionately called him “Black Jack”, and would often chant his name on the battlefield as he led them from the front.  On May 24th 1865, as a tribute to his brilliant war record, he commanded the Army of the Tennessee during the victory Grand Review of the Union armies in Washington.

After the War, Logan began his political career anew, serving as a congressman from Illinois and a senator.  He was now a radical Republican and fought ardently for civil rights for blacks.  He ran for Vice President in 1884 on the Republican ticket that was defeated by Grover Cleveland.  He was considered the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 1888, and might well have been elected President that year, but for his untimely death in 1886 at the age of sixty.

From 1868 to 1871, Logan served three consecutive terms as commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veteran’s association.  He started the custom of remembering the Union war dead on May 30th when he issued General Order Eleven on May 5, 1868:

Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude,–the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By command of:
JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief.

N. P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant-General.

The May 30 Decoration Day events became a fixture of life in the Northern states.  The states of the old Confederacy had similar events to honor their Civil War dead, but on different dates, varying from state to state. The term Memorial Day was first used in 1882, but the name Decoration Day remained for the holiday until after World War II.  As Civil War veterans aged and passed from the scene, the day was broadened to remember all of America’s war dead.  The Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968 moved Memorial Day to the fourth Monday in May.

And so today we remember those we owe a debt to that can never be repaid.  We put up monuments to them that they cannot, in the flesh, see, give speeches that they cannot hear and write blog posts that they cannot read.   What they accomplished is far beyond “our poor power to add or detract” to, but it is very important that we never forget “what they did”.  Their sacrifices are why we enjoy this day in freedom, and that is worthy of remembrance not just on this day but every day.

 

 

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Robert E. Lee and Hatred

Sometimes I wonder if we learned anything from the Civil War at all:

 

 

On March 9, 2018, a book was pulled from both the Washington and Lee University Bookstore and the Lee Chapel Museum Shop after a W&L professor accused the book of painting a sympathetic picture of the Confederate States of America and the Old South. The book was not The Clansmen, the basis of D.W. Giffith’s The Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, or the notoriously problematic History of the American People by Woodrow Wilson, but a children’s book written about one of Robert E. Lee’s most beloved companions and most trusted warhorse, Traveller.

The book, entitled My Colt: The Story of Traveller, was written by Margaret Samdahl, who worked at the Lee Chapel Museum for thirteen years. Samdahl says that she decided to write the book to respond to Lee Chapel patron’s demands for a child-friendly book on Traveller. Using the Special Collections archive at Washington and Lee as well as other research materials available at Leyburn Library on W&L’s campus, Mrs. Samdahl embarked on a decade-long effort to bring the story of Traveller to a younger audience. Lee Chapel purchased copies of My Colt on February 27, and the University Bookstore followed suit on March 3. However, after the book and a book signing event at the university were advertised in the daily Campus Notices on March 8, the administration received a complaint from a professor who objected to the content of the book. It was subsequently removed from both the Museum Shop and the University Bookstore, and the book signing event was abruptly cancelled on March 9.

Though the professor’s outrage over the contents of the book was cited as the initial cause of the book’s removal, the university called Mrs. Samdahl two weeks later to explain that the book had been removed because it was self-published and had not been peer-reviewed. This explanation by the university administration does not hold up because the book had already been accepted by the Museum Shop and the University Bookstore, implying that it had already received some sort of review by the managers of those respective venues, and had been for sale in those venues for almost two weeks before it was removed. Meanwhile, both Virginia Military Institute and Stratford Hall, Robert E. Lee’s birthplace, reviewed and accepted the book with no problems.

An uproar soon erupted within the Washington and Lee and Lexington community. Don Samdahl, husband of the author as well as a longtime librarian at VMI, sent several letters to President Dudley protesting the removal of his wife’s book. In a letter written to President William Dudley on March 19, Mr. Samdahl accused W&L of ignoring the commitment that it made to free speech on campus in its 2015 “Affirmation of Freedom of Expression at Washington and Lee University” and of attempting to censor the books available for sale in Lee Chapel and the University Bookstore. Soon after Mr. Samdahl’s initial letter on March 19, other members of the community lent their voices to the protest. After three weeks off of the shelves, My Colt was restored to the Lee Chapel Museum Shop and the University Bookstore on April 2. President Dudley explained to Mr. Samdahl in his reply on April 2:

 

Go here to read the rest.  My first impulse was to wonder whether the Professor outraged by a kid’s book about Robert E. Lee’s horse was also outraged that his paycheck comes from an institution named after two men who owned slaves during their lifetimes.  A more positive impulse however recalled these words by Robert E. Lee after the War when  writing to a young mother who expressed animosity towards the North:

Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.

The great truth of the Civil War is that we are one people:  North and South, white and black.  People who try to stir up old hatreds are spitting upon the graves of those who lost their lives seeking to preserve the Union, and the graves of the men on both sides who after the War counseled reconciliation.  Time to recall these other words of Lee after the War:

 

We must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them.

 

 

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May 20 1861: Kentucky Proclamation of Neutrality

“I hope to have God on my side but I must have Kentucky.”  Anyone, North or South, who could read a map would have agreed with that sentiment of Abraham Lincoln for their side in 1861.  With Kentucky part of the Confederacy, the South would have a broad rampart in which to defend Tennessee and the Deep South.  With Kentucky part of the Union, the North had a clear hand to punch into Tennessee, capture Memphis and Nashville, and begin dual invasions down the Mississippi and into Georgia and Alabama.

Kentucky was a house bitterly divided.  Governor Beriah Magoffin, although not a full fledged secessionist, had little sympathy for Lincoln’s attempt to preserve the Union by force.  The Kentucky legislature leaned towards the Union, and in June elections in Kentucky Unionists would win nine of 10 Congressional seats and a 76-24 majority in the state House of Representatives and a 27-11 majority in the state Senate.

One thing all Kentuckians could agree on was an effort to avoid the War coming to Kentucky.  A Proclamation of Neutrality was passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor on May 20, 1861.  On the same day North Carolina became the eleventh state to join the Confederacy, underlining the impossibility of neutrality in the conflict.

On September 4, 1861 Confederate forces seized Columbus, propelling Kentucky fully into the arms of the Union.  The Dark and Bloody Ground would be one of the prime battlefields of the War.

 

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May 10, 1863: “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

“I have but to show him my design, and I know that if it can be done it will be done.  Straight as the needle to the pole he advances to the execution of my purpose.”

Robert E. Lee on Stonewall Jackson

 

Of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, nicknamed Stonewall by General Barnard Bee at the battle of Bull Run, it was said he lived by the New Testament and fought by the Old.  Certainly throughout his life he was a convinced Christian.  As a young man he would attend services of various Christian denominations.  In Mexico, during his service in the Mexican War, he attended mass, although he did not convert to Catholicism.  Instead he eventually became a Presbyterian.  His Bible was his constant companion, and he would often speak of God and theological matters in private conversation.

Jackson in his professional life was a soldier.  Just before the Civil War he was a professor of natural and experimental philosophy (science) and artillery instruction at the Virginia Military Institute.  As a teacher he made a good soldier.  His lectures were rather dry.  If his students seemed to fail to grasp a lecture, he would repeat it the next day, word for word.

His home life was a mixture of sorrow and joy.  His first wife died in childbirth along with their still-born son, a tragedy that would have crushed many a man less iron-willed than  Jackson.  His second marriage, like his first, was happy, but heartache also haunted it.  A daughter died shortly after birth in 1858.  A second daughter was born in 1862, Julia, shortly before Jackson’s own death in 1863.  His wife would spend a widowhood of 52 years, dedicated to raising their daughter, cherishing the memory of her husband, and helping destitute Confederate veterans.  For her good works she became known as the Widow of the Confederacy.  Their daughter Julia would marry and have children before her early death of typhoid fever at age 26.  Her two children had several children and there are many living descendants of Jackson.

He and his second wife established and taught a Sunday school for black slaves.  At the time it was against the law in Virginia to teach slaves to read, but apparently that is precisely what Jackson and his wife did.   One of the last letters he ever posted was his regular contribution he mailed off throughout the war for the financial support of the Sunday school for slaves he and his wife had founded.

 

 

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General Benjamin Butler

 

 

Something for the weekend.  General Butler sung by Bobby Horton who wages a one man crusade to bring authentic Civil War music to modern audiences.  Butler was cordially hated by the South due to his tenure as military governor of New Orleans during which time he issued his infamous “Woman Order”:

 

DQRS. DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF

New Orleans, May 15, 1862.
As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.
By command of Major-General Butler:
GEO. C. STRONG,
Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff.

 

Jefferson Davis ordered that if he were ever captured Butler was to be executed as a common enemy of mankind.  This was ironic because at the 1860 Democrat Convention Butler voted 57 times to nominate Davis for President of the United States.  Without a doubt, however, Butler was the most hated Union general in the South.

However, due to Butler’s military incompetence, Union soldiers who had the misfortune to be under his command also had good reason to curse his name.

 

 

 

There are of course several generals in the running for the title of most incompetent Union general:  Ambrose Burnside, Don Carlos Buell, John Pope, Henry Halleck, Nathaniel Banks and the list could go on for some length.  However, for me the most incompetent general clearly is Benjamin Butler.  A political general appointed by Lincoln to rally War Democrats for the war effort, Butler in command was a defeat waiting to happen for any Union force cursed to be under him.  Butler during the Bermuda Hundred campaign in 1864 threw away chance after chance to take Richmond, with a timidity that rose to astonishing levels and an ineptitude at leading his forces that defies belief.  Grant summed up Butler’s generalship well in his Personal Memoirs when he recalled a conversation with his Chief of Engineers:

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place. Continue Reading

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April 27, 1865: Sultana: Death on the Mississippi

After the massive bloodletting of the Civil War, one would have hoped that Death would have taken at least a brief holiday in the US.  Such was not the case.  On April 27th 1865, the SS Sultana, a Mississipi paddlewheeler steamer, constructed in 1863 for the cotton trade, was serving as a transport.  Its cargo was appoximately 2500 Union soldiers, many of them former POWS, some of them survivors of Andersonville.  The Union soldiers boarded at Vicksburg.  The Sultana while in port at Vicksburg had a patch put on its steam boiler.  The repair was clearly inadequate, a new  boiler being needed.

 

 

 

 

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April 16, 1862: District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act

It is sometimes asked why compensated emancipation wasn’t attempted instead of fighting a Civil War, as if that had been the choice.  Although Lincoln was in favor of compensated emancipation, neither the slave states nor the border states, in spite of Lincoln’s vigorous efforts, were interested.  There was one area, however, where Congress had the power to impose compensated emancipation, and that was in the District of Columbia which was under the direct control of Congress.  On April 16, 1862 President Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emanipation Act.  Under the Act some 3,185 slaves were emancipated with the owners receiving approximately a million dollars in compensation.  The Civil War cost about two and a half million dollars a day for the Union.  In purchasing power a million Civil War era Union dollars has the spending power of about 27 million dollars today.

 

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April 3, 1862: Johnston Begins His March to Shiloh

It is rare for any soldier to attain the rank of general, but Albert Sidney Johnston managed that feat in three armies:  rising from Private to Brigadier General in the army of the Republic of Texas, brevet Brigadier General in the United States Army, and full General in the Confederate States Army.  On April 3, 1862 he led his newly created Army of Mississippi out of the town of Corinth, Mississippi and began the march which would end in the surprise Confederate attack in the early morning of April 6, 1862, the beginning of the two day mammoth battle known to history as Shiloh.

The battle would result in the death of Johnston, his dying caused probably by his act of mercy in dispatching his personal surgeon to attend a wounded Union officer and none of his remaining staff having the presence of mind to fashion a tourniquet to stanch Johnston’s bleeding after he was wounded, and the fighting would inflict over 23,000 total Union and Confederate casualties, exceeding in two days all of the battlefield casualties in all of America’s wars prior to the Civil War.  Shiloh told the nation, North and South, that this was going to be a very grim war, and that their adversary would fight it with all the strength and will that they could muster.  After Shiloh the myth of a quick victorious war died on both sides.

 

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A Palm Sunday One Hundred and Fifty-Three Years Ago

 

 

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:

APPOMATTOX C. H., VA.,
Ap l 19th, 1865.

GEN. R. E. LEE,
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,
U. S. GRANT,
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:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
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.

LIEUT.-GENERAL U. S. GRANT.

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

 

 

 

Continue Reading

March 13, 1865: Confederate Congress Authorizes Black Troops

 

 

 

Perhaps a war winning measure if the year had been 1861, by 1865 the action of the Confederate Congress authorizing the enlistment of black troops could only be regarded as a just before midnight measure of a dying nation. The measure is interesting for two reasons:  the black troops were to be treated precisely the same as white troops in regard to pay and rations, and the measure explicitly did not provide for enlisted slaves to be granted their freedom.  A historical curiosity now, the whole issue of black troops might have been one of the few paths to victory for the Confederacy if it had been undertaken prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  However, if the leaders of the Confederacy had been willing to consider such a measure at the onset of the struggle, it is likely that secession would never have occurred, since the preservation of slavery was the core reason for the creation of the Confederacy.  Here is the text of the statute: Continue Reading

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March 2, 1864: Grant Confirmed as Lieutenant General

I can’t spare this man, he fights!

Lincoln’s response to calls for Grant’s removal from command after Shiloh.

Few men in American history have had a more meteoric rise than Ulysses S. Grant.  In March 1861 at age 38 he was a clerk in a tanning store owned by his father.  A former Army officer, he was a complete failure in trying to support his family, going from one unsuccessful business venture to the next.  He had a happy marriage, and that was fortunate, because that appeared to be the only success he was going to enjoy in this world.

A scant three years later he was general-in-chief of the vast Union armies, and on this day 154 years ago the Senate confirmed the nomination of Lincoln to make Grant Lieutenant General, a rank only held before Grant by two men:  George Washington and Winfield Scott.

Whatever 1864 would bring for the Union in regard to the Civil War was largely up to Grant and the plans and decisions he would make.  Skeptical men and officers of the Army of the Potomac, who assumed Grant would lead them in the upcoming campaign, remarked that only time would tell whether the first name of this latest commander would be Ulysses or Useless.  North and South, most Americans realized that 1864 would likely be the decisive year of the War.  At this pivot point in their history all Americans looked at the failure from Galena, Illinois, who now had the destiny of two nations in his hands, and wondered what he would do with this completely unexpected role on the stage of History that Fate, and Grant’s innate ability as a soldier, had bestowed upon him. Continue Reading

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What If Abraham Lincoln Had Died Young?

On his 209th birthday it is perhaps appropriate to consider how the world would have changed if Abraham Lincoln had died young.  Unlike many great figures in history, Lincoln did not matter in a historical sense until around the last decade of his life.  Up to that time his political career had been mostly undistinguished and he had attracted little national notice.  If he had died in 1855 his name would now be unknown except in the pages of the most comprehensive histories of Illinois in the middle of the Nineteenth Century.  With his birth in the harsh conditions of a pioneer family, death was certainly not a stranger.  His brother Thomas died before he was three days old.  His mother died at the age of 34.  His sister died at age 20 in childbirth.  Lincoln came close to death when he was kicked by a horse in the head at 9 years of age in 1818.  He was clubbed in the head during a robbery attempt in 1828.  He contracted malaria in Illinois and had two bouts of it in 1830 and 1835.  He suffered from bouts of depression and some of his friends feared on at least one occasion that he might try to commit suicide.  Lincoln in 1838 may have published a poem,  authorship is still debated, called The Suicide’s Soliloquy:

 

Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens’ cry.

Yes! I’ve resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I’ll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I’m prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn’d on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from your sheath,
And glist’ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!

 

Lincoln was a remarkable man, and perhaps not the least remarkable feature about him is that he survived long enough to become a national figure and President.

Now let us assume that fate was not so kind, and Lincoln departed this Veil of Tears circa 1855 or earlier.  What would have been different in 1860?  The Democrats would still have been facing a party split.  Southern Democrats were unwilling to support a nominee who was not a forthright no compromise advocate of slavery.  The Northern Democrats, facing the rising Republican Party, realized this was political suicide and would still have rallied around Douglas as their political standard bearer.  On the Republican side, Seward of New York would likely have won the nomination unless a dark horse moderate on the slavery issue had arisen.  That of course is how Lincoln ultimately won the nomination, Republican party leaders viewing Seward as too radical on the slavery issue and potentially scaring away moderate Northerners and costing the Republicans their first win at the White House.  However, in the absence of Lincoln, who was a moderate on slavery but who gained a good deal of support from abolitionists due to confronting Douglas on the slavery issue in the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, I think it likely that Seward would have gained the nomination.  Seward would have gone on almost certainly to win the general election, the Democrat split making a Republican victory in 1860 almost a foregone conclusion.

If Seward had been elected would the South have seceded?  Almost certainly.  Lincoln was largely an unknown quantity in the South while Seward had been in the anti-slavery vanguard for many years.  Seward had been a devil figure in the South since his maiden speech in the Senate on March 11, 1850 with this passage:

I deem it established, then, that the Constitution does not recognize property in man, but leaves that question, as between the states, to the law of nature and of nations. That law, as expounded by Vattel, is founded on the reason of things. When God had created the earth, with its wonderful adaptations, He gave dominion over it to man, absolute human dominion. The title of that dominion, thus bestowed, would have been incomplete, if the lord of all terrestrial things could himself have been the property of his fellow- man.

With this appeal to natural law, Seward ever after in the South was viewed as an anti-slavery radical who regarded a higher law demanding freedom as putting the safeguards of the Constitution, that the South relied upon to protect their Peculiar Institution, as mere parchment barricades that could be breached instantly.  Secession likely would have been swifter under a President Elect Seward than it was under a President Elect Lincoln.

This of course would have been immensely ironic since Seward was quite willing to give the South virtually everything it wanted to avoid secession historically in early 1861.  Of course his vantage point would have been quite different as incoming President than as the incoming Secretary of State, but the urge to avert splitting the nation by surrender on the slavery issue would have been the same.  Would it have worked?  Almost certainly not.  Lincoln gave half-hearted support to a Thirteenth Amendment that would have enshrined slavery in the Constitution and that had zero impact on the desire of the South to form the Confederacy.  The South was not in a mood to accept anything short of independence.

Once compromise failed would Seward have fought to preserve the Union?  Likely no.  Seward historically was in favor of evacuating Fort Sumter.  He also thought that starting a foreign war with France or England would cause the Confederates to rejoin the Union.  That last idea was so divorced from reality, I suspect that Seward viewed a war to preserve the Union prior to the firing on Fort Sumter as being unthinkable.  A President Seward may well have evacuated federal installations in the South and adopted a policy of watchful waiting to see if the South would have come back voluntarily.  This policy would have ended in de facto recognition of the independence of the Confederacy, and probably a bitter civil war within the Republican party that would have led to Democrat victories at the polls in 1862 and 1864.  There would have been many areas where a Confederate States and United States would have come into conflict, including territories in the West, the border states, runaway slaves and further efforts at foreign expansion by both countries, but they are beyond the scope of the present exercise in musing on alternate history.  Thus we leave President Seward presiding over a rump United States and return to our reality.

February 11, 1865: Robert Todd Lincoln Goes To War

 

 

 

A  biography of Robert Todd Lincoln a few years ago is entitled Giant in the Shadows, and that is an accurate description of him.  One of the foremost attorneys of his day, a noted philanthropist, Secretary of War and Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, he lived a life of hard work and accomplishment, and from the election of his father as President, he knew that nothing that he did in his life would likely matter to History and it was his fate to be remembered solely for being the son of Abraham Lincoln.  It is hard being the son of a great man, and it is to his credit that Robert did not allow his accident of birth to overwhelm him.  Throughout his life he never ran away from his father and his memory, a man and a memory that he loved.  However, he was intent on being his own man, and his first major action demonstrating this was his desire to enlist in the Union Army.  His father was sympathetic to his desire to fight for his country but was fearful that his wife would lose what often seemed to be a tenuous grasp on sanity if harm should come to Robert and he be added to the ranks of the two Lincoln sons who had already died.  Nevertheless, he sided with Robert and told Mary on several occasions that many families had lost all their sons in the War and that Robert had to obey his conscience and join the Army.  Mary Todd Lincoln knew that it was a “noble and manly” impulse, as she called it, that led her oldest son to want to join the Army, but allowed her fears to long cause her to battle against his desire to serve.  It didn’t help that many of her relatives had already died serving in both the Confederate and Union Armies.

Abraham Lincoln, ever a born compromiser, found a solution which he set forth in a letter to Grant.

 

Lieut. General Grant:

Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President, but only a friend.  My son, now in his twenty second year, having graduated at Harvard, wishes to see something of the war before it ends.  I do not wish to put him in the ranks, nor yet to give him a commission, to which those who have already served long, are better entitled, and better qualified to hold.  Could he, without embarrassment to you, or detriment to the service, go into your Military family with some nominal rank, I, and not the public, furnishing his necessary means?  If no, say so without the least hesitation, because I am as anxious, and as deeply interested, that you shall not be encumbered as you can be yourself.

Yours truly

A. LINCOLN

Grant assured Lincoln that his son would be welcome as an officer on his staff.  On February 11, 1865, Robert joined the Army as an adjutant on Grant’s staff with the rank of Captain.  By all accounts he was a hardworking officer, and well-liked by his fellow staff officers.  He would have preferred a combat assignment, but by that time of the War he was probably more useful where he was.  The Union army had no shortage by the end of the War of seasoned combat officers, and with his Harvard education Robert was probably more useful as a staff officer than as a green officer in a combat command. Continue Reading

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January 28, 1861: Sam Houston Stands Alone

But if, through division in the ranks of those opposed to Mr. Lincoln, he should be elected, we have no excuse for dissolving the Union. The Union is worth more than Mr. Lincoln, and if the battle is to be fought for the Constitution, let us fight it in the Union and for the sake of the Union. With a majority of the people in favor of the Constitution, shall we desert the Government and leave it in the hands of the minority? A new obligation will be imposed upon us, to guard the Constitution and to see that no infraction of it is attempted or permitted. If Mr. Lincoln administers the Government in accordance with the Constitution, our rights must be respected. If he does not, the Constitution has provided a remedy.

Sam Houston, September 22, 1860

It took a fair amount of courage to stand against the tide of secession in the South in 1860-1861, but not even his most determined enemy, and he had many enemies, could say that Sam Houston ever had a shortage of that virtue.   As an ardent Unionist he  fought secession every step of the way.  As I outlined in an earlier post, which may be read here,  he realized that secession was a disaster for the South, and with eerie accuracy predicted a great war and military defeat for the South.

Houston, as governor of Texas, refused to bring the state legislature back into session to consider secession.  The Secession Convention, which held its opening session on January 28, 1861, voted to abrogate the treaty of annexation with the US on February 1.  Secession was put to a popular vote and won at the ballot.  Texas was admitted to the Confederacy on March 1, 1861.  Houston never recognized the legality of any of this, and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.

“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.

Houston was removed from office on March 16, 1861.  On September 22, 1860 he had made a pro-Union speech.  It is a fascinating document.  If this gallant old man had been heeded, the nation would have avoided a fratricidal war that claimed 620,000 American lives.  Here is the text of the speech: Continue Reading

Glory Music

We bide our chance,
Unhappy, and make terms with Fate
A little more to let us wait;
He leads for aye the advance,
Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good
For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;

James Russell Lowell, Memoriae Positum

 

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Closing song from the movie Glory (1989), the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first Union black regiments, forever remembered for their valiant assault against Fort Wagner on July 18,  1863.  A prime example of how historical movies should be made, Glory performs the epic feat of bringing to life again the days of the Civil War when the fate of the nation was decided.

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Make the Sign of the Cross, and Go In!

 

My avatar when I blog and when I comment on blogs is Major General William Rosecrans.

Outside of his family, General William S. Rosecrans had three great passions in his life:  His religion, Roman Catholicism, to which he had converted as a cadet at West Point, the Army and the Union.  In the Civil War all three passions coincided.  Rising to the rank of Major General and achieving command of the Army of the Cumberland, until he was removed in the aftermath of the Union defeat at Chickamauga, Rosecrans conducted himself in the field as if he were a Crusader knight of old.

Raised a Methodist, Rosecrans’ conversion was a life long turning point for him.  He wrote to his family with such zeal for his new-found faith that his brother Sylvester began to take instruction in the Faith.  Sylvester would convert, become a priest, and eventually be the first bishop of Columbus, Ohio.

His most precious possession was his Rosary and he said the Rosary at least once each day. In battle the Rosary would usually be in his hand as he gave commands.  He had a personal chaplain, Father Patrick Treacy, who said Mass for him each morning and would busy himself the rest of the day saying masses for the troops and helping with the wounded.  In battle he exposed himself to enemy fire ceaselessly as he rode behind the General.   Rosecrans, after military matters were taken care of, delighted in debating theology with his staff officers late into the evening.

As a general Rosecrans was in the forefront of Union commanders until his defeat at Chickamauga.  His removal from command following the battle was controversial at the time and has remained controversial, some historians seeing in it a continuation by Grant, who was placed in charge of Chattanooga following Chickamauga, of his long-standing feud with Rosecrans.  Certainly Rosecrans had already drafted the plan followed by Grant to reopen the lines of supply to the Union forces in Chickamauga.  Go here to read a spirited defense of General Rosecrans which appeared in issue 401 of The Catholic World in 1898. Continue Reading

Reb Marines

 

Born on March 16, 1861 by an Act of the Confederate Congress,  the Confederate States Marine Corps had an authorized strength of 45 officers and 944 enlisted men, increased in 1862 to 1026 enlisted men.  The Marines never had more than 600 men at one time during the War.  Throughout the War the headquarters and training facilities of the CSMC was at Camp Beal on Drewry’s Bluff and at the Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk.  The Marines were led by Colonel-Commadant Lloyd J. Beall, a former major and paymaster in the United States Army.  Much of the records of the CSMC were destroyed by a fire in Beall’s home after the War in 1887, which also killed Beall. Continue Reading

Yankee Marines

 

 

 

During the Civil War the United States Marine Corp had its authorized strength increased to 3000 men, minuscule compared to the Union Army that reached over a million men.  Marine Commandant Colonel John Harris was a traditionalist who believed that the Marines should guard ships and man artillery batteries, leaving the numerous amphibious invasions that took place during the War to the Army.  Even with this restricted scope, 17 Marines earned the newly created Medals of Honor during the War.  Go here to read a comprehensive list of Marine participation in the Civil War.

 

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I Guess They Don’t Teach History at UW Madison

My bride obtained her master’s degree in library science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  Judging from a recent event, I guess they don’t teach history, at least American history, there anymore:

 

The University of Wisconsin-Madison certainly shows up quite a bit in the news lately. The most recent incident is yet another call for going after historical American figures, but this time it’s not Columbus. The students at UW would like some modifications to an offensive statue on their campus, this one of Abraham Lincoln. Rather than asking for Honest Abe’s visage to be torn down and removed, they would like a plaque placed nearby noting Lincoln’s culpability in the massacre of Native Americans. However, the school’s chancellor has denied the request for the time being.

 

Go here to read the rest.  Below is the history the complaining students either were never taught or slept through:

 

 

It is easy to forget that between 1861-1865 there were other wars fought by the United States in addition to the Civil War.  One of these was the Dakota War of 1862 fought in Minnesota.  Relations between the native Dakota (Sioux) and the white settlers of Minnesota had been rocky for years before 1862.  Late treaty payments, and cheating Indian agents had reduced many of the Dakota to poverty on their reservations.  Alcoholism was rampant as were diseases of the white man.   Encroachments on the land of the Dakota by the settlers was common and some of the Dakota responded with murder.   Tensions erupted into open conflict on August 17, 1862 when a member of a Dakota hunting party murdered five whites.  A council of Dakota under war chief Little Crow that evening decided it was time to drive the whites out of the Minnesota river valley.  Over the next few weeks between 450-800 settlers were massacred by the Dakota.  The Dakota made an attempt to take the town of New Ulm but were repulsed.

Regular Army troops, Minnesota volunteer regiments originally mustered to fight in the Civil War and various militia units fought the Dakota throughout the state.   The Americans held Fort Ridgely in the southwestern part of the State from two attacks by the Dakota.  The Dakota won two victories over the Americans at the Battle of Redwood Ferry on  August 18, 1862 and at Birch Coulee on September 2, 1862.

The largest battle of the War took place at the battle of Wood Lake on September 23, 1862.  Colonel Henry Sibley marched from Fort Ridgely up the Minnesota River valley on September 19, 1862 with the Third, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiments, various militia units and a battery of six cannon.  Little Crow planned to ambush Sibley’s force at Lone Lake.  (Sibley’s guide mistakenly thought Lone Lake was Wood Lake, and hence the misnaming of the battle.)  The ambush was discovered when a foraging party from the Third Minnesota approached a group of Dakota concealed in high grass.  The fighting lasted for two hours.  Little Crow had between 700-1200 braves and Sibley had about 1169-2000 soldiers.  As usual, artillery had a big impact on the morale of Indians in combat.  The Americans routed the Dakotans.  Casualties were light on both sides with seven Americans kill and 7-15 Dakota. Continue Reading

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September 13, 1862: Special Order No. 191

George B. McClellan throughout his life up until 1862 had been a very fortunate man.  Born into a family of wealth and prestige, he had gone through the Mexican War without a scratch and had been incredibly successful in civilian life, becoming president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad at the age of 34.  In 1861 he had benefited from overwhelming numbers and lacklustre opposition in West Virginia, leading to Union victories which catapulted him to become General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

Then 1862 arrived and McClellan’s good fortune seemed to desert him.  His delay in launching a general union offensive caused Lincoln to remove him as General-in-Chief, in effect demoting him to simply being the commander of the Army of the Potomac.  His luck also seemed to go astray during his disastrous Peninsula Campaign, where his inordinate caution and meager battlefield generalship threw away a golden opportunity to seize Richmond and perhaps end the war.

After the crushing of Pope’s Army of Virginia at Second Bull Run, Lincoln reluctantly placed McClellan back in command to fight against Lee in his invasion of Maryland.  Now McClellan was lethargically following parts of Lee’s army, McClellan seemingly gun-shy after his defeat at the hands of Lee in the Peninsula Campaign.

On September 13, 1862 McClellan’s good fortune reappeared in a dramatic fashion.  At approximately 10:00 AM that day Corporal Barton W. Mitchell of the 27th Indiana volunteers found a copy of an order from Robert E. Lee wrapped around three cigars.  The order was dated September 9, 1862 and was designated Special Order No. 191.  The order presumably was lost by a staff officer of D. H. Hill’s division which had been camping on the ground  previously.  The order was a movement order which detailed how Lee had divided up his army for the Maryland campaign.  The order was quickly sent up the chain of command to McClellan.

McClellan was exultant.  With this order he knew how Lee had divided his command and where the separate pieces of the Army of Northern Virginia were marching.   “Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”, he prophetically told his old friend General John Gibbon.  He telegraphed Lincoln:

The PRESDT,

I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but am confident and no time shall be lost. I have a difficult task to perform, but with God’s blessing will accomplish it. I think Lee has made a gross mistake and that he will be  severely punished for it. The army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for a great success if the plans of the  rebels remain unchanged. We have possession of Catoctin. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. I now feel that I can count on them as of old. All forces of Pennsylvania should be placed to co-operate at Chambersburg. My respects to Mrs. Lincoln. Received most enthusiastically by the ladies. Will send you trophies. All well, and with God’s blessing will accomplish it.

Geo. B. McClellan

Here is the text of Special Order No. 191: Continue Reading

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The Bonnie Blue Flag

Donald Sutherland as Confederate General Pierre Beauregard calms a group of Confederate civilians under bombardment by Union forces in besieged Charleston by singing The Bonnie Blue Flag.  This is from the 1999 movie The Hunley, a film about the Confederate proto-submarine.  Sutherland has always been a Hollywood liberal, and this scene demonstrates just how recent the politicization of all things Confederate has been by the left in this country.

 

 

 

 

1

Grant Puts a Stop to Treason Trials

 

 

It is  little remembered now, but in 1865 there was a brief attempt to conduct treason trials against Confederate generals.  On June 7, 1865, U.S. District Judge John C. Underwood in Norfolk, Virginia issued indictments against Lee, Longstreet, Early and other Confederate generals on charges of treason.  Lee wrote to General Grant asking if the terms granted at Appomattox were still in effect.  Furious at this attempt to undo his work, Grant immediately wrote to Secretary of War Stanton:

 

In my opinion the officers and men paroled at Appomattox Court-House, and since, upon the same terms given to Lee, cannot be tried for treason so long as they observe the terms of their parole. This is my understanding. Good faith, as well as true policy, dictates that we should observe the conditions of that convention. Bad faith on the part of the Government, or a construction of that convention subjecting the officers to trial for treason, would produce a feeling of insecurity in the minds of all the paroled officers and men. If so disposed they might even regard such an infraction of terms by the Government as an entire release from all obligations on their part. I will state further that the terms granted by me met with the hearty approval of the President at the time, and of the country generally. The action of Judge Underwood, in Norfolk, has already had an injurious effect, and I would ask that he be ordered to quash all indictments found against paroled prisoners of war, and to desist from further prosecution of them. Continue Reading

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The Entire Civil War

 

 

 

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

Shelby Foote

 

 

 

An excellent brief retelling of the Civil War by the Civil War Trust using animated maps:

 

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One People

Something for the weekend.  The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The BandWhen I read Civil War history I do not read it in an us v. them spirit.  Everybody involved is an American:  Confederate, Union, black slave.  It is the great American epic, our Iliad.  It was visited upon us by God, I believe, for the reason Lincoln stated:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

The great lesson of the Civil War is that we are one people, North and South, black and white, and when I study that period in our history I always attempt to remember that fact.

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Think It Will End With Confederates?

He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn’t a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

The attempt to read Confederates out of American history, thereby implicitly giving a posthumous “You Are Right!” to the Confederate contention that they had left the Union, by the ignorant yahoos of the iconoclastic left, is only the beginning.  Hattip to my friend Paul Zummo, the Cranky Conservative:

Last week, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a review of “symbols of hate” on city property. It got off to an okay start I guess. Some plaques to Robert E. Lee were removed, and this:

CBS2 reached out to de Blasio’s office to find out what criteria they will be using to determine which plaques and monuments across the city should be removed, but are still waiting for a response.

Now we have the response:

The city’s 76 foot tall monument to explorer Christopher Columbus which sits in Columbus Circle could be considered for the chopping block, removed as part of the mayor’s new purge.

“He is a controversial figure, and I know that many people take offense to that, but for many of us who come from the Caribbean Islands we see him as a controversial figure,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito said. “We have to look at history. We have to look at it thoroughly and clearly.”

This is to be expected. Eradicating Columbus has been on the leftwing ‘to-do’ list forever.

A spokesperson said Viverito also thinks that Grant’s Tomb should be on the review list. Grant has been regarded by some as anti-Semitic.

“In 1862, he signed general order 11, expelling Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. I wonder if you think that given the large number of Jewish, he should be buried in New York City,” CBS2’s Kramer asked the mayor.

“Marcia, I’m not familiar with that history. Obviously I take it very seriously, but I’m not familiar with it. We don’t tolerate anti-Semitism in New York City,” the mayor said. “We have to look at each one of these cases. We’ll have a commission. They’ll come up with some universal rules.”

(History of General Order 11)

As ESPN showed last night with its decision to reassign Asian sportscaster Robert Lee from doing play-by-play for a football game in Charlottesville, VA, because his name might be scary, we are no longer on a slippery slope when it comes to this nonsense. We are in a total freefall into the Volcano Of Good Feelings. Continue Reading

Give ’em Hell 54th!

The negroes fought gallantly, and were headed by as brave a colonel as ever lived.” –

Confederate Lieutenant Iredell Jones, who observed the 54th’s fateful advance on Fort Wagner.

In a Civil War mood lately because of current events.  The below scene from the movie Glory (1989) never fails to move me.  Courage is a precious virtue and the just never fail to honor it, even when displayed by foes.

Ah, Mary pierced with sorrow,
Remember, reach and save
The soul that comes to-morrow
Before the God that gave!
Since each was born of woman,
For each at utter need —
True comrade and true foeman —
Madonna, intercede!

Rudyard Kipling

 

 

 

9

One Reason We Didn’t Have Unending Civil Wars

 

 

 

 

 

One reason we didn’t have unending civil wars after the one that ended in 1865 is because of the generosity of spirit by Abraham Lincoln, Lieutenant General Grant and by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, he of Little Round Top Fame:

The choice of the two officers to oversee the surrender ceremony at Appomattox, Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Confederate General John Brown Gordon, was quite appropriate.  In a War where the vast majority of soldiers were volunteers and not regular soldiers, both these Generals were volunteers, not professional soldiers.  They both during the War saw more combat than most professional soldiers see in an  entire career.  After the War both became active in politics and both often spoke of the need for love of the reunited nation and a forgetting of the angry passions of the Civil War, while ever remembering the courage of the men who had fought it, especially the courage of those who never came back from the War.

 

 

Chamberlain helped begin the healing of the dreadful wounds to the nation caused by the War  at Appomattox.  As the Confederates passed by, Chamberlain ordered a salute to them by the Union troops. He explained why he did this:

“I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;–was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?” Continue Reading

Report of Stonewall Jackson on the Battle of Cedar Mountain

 

 

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: Continue Reading

5

The Man Who Helped Convert General Rosecrans

 

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: Continue Reading

2

Our Under Studied Civil War

 

 

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!

2

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

 

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. Continue Reading

1

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

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 Continue Reading

4

Fortnight For Freedom: Nuns of the Battlefield

 

 

 

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:

THEY COMFORTED THE DYING, NURSED THE WOUNDED, CARRIED HOPE TO THE IMPRISONED, GAVE IN HIS NAME A DRINK OF WATER TO THE THIRSTY

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.” Continue Reading

6

May 15, 1864: Battle of New Market

 

“And New Market’s young cadets.”

Southern Birthright, Bobby Horton

New_Market_svg

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. Continue Reading

16

History and Leftist Inconoclasm

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.

Continue Reading

4

Grant and the Wounded of Cold Harbor

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. Continue Reading

The Reluctant Conscript

 

 

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.

2

April 9, 1865: Palm Sunday at Appomatox

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:

APPOMATTOX C. H., VA.,
Ap l 19th, 1865.

GEN. R. E. LEE,
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,
U. S. GRANT,
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:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
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.

LIEUT.-GENERAL U. S. GRANT.

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

 

 

 

Continue Reading

Stand Up For Uncle Sam My Boys

 

 

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.

2

Kelly’s Irish Brigade

 

(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.

CHORUS:
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.

CHORUS

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.

CHORUS

 

Christmas Bells Ring On

 

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: Continue Reading

George Washington’s Vision

 

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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Good-bye Old Glory

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Good-bye Old Glory.  Published on September 29, 1865 with music by the most prolific song writers of the Civil War era, George Frederick Root and lyrics by L.J. Bates.  This song was popular at Union Army reunions and at meeting halls of the Grand Army of the Republic.  This rendition is performed by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War era music to contemporary audiences.

Fortnight For Freedom: Battle Cries of Freedom

fortnight for freedom 2016

Something for a Fourth of July weekend.  The Battle Cry of Freedom was a popular song North and South during the Civil War.  Of course they sang different lyrics to the song.  The Union version was such a favorite among the Union troops, that President Lincoln, in a letter to George F. Root, the composer, wrote:  “You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand  orators. If you could not shoulder a musket in defense of your country, you certainly have served her through your songs.”

Here is the Southern version sung by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man campaign to bring Civil War music to modern audiences:

 

Here is the version from the Lincoln (2012) movie:

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