American Civil War
Ohio claims they are due a president as they haven’t had one since Taft. Look at the United States, they have not had one since Lincoln.
Something for the weekend. Lincoln and Liberty Too. Mr. Lincoln was re-elected 150 years ago. The 1864 campaign songs have been long forgotten, while Lincoln and Liberty Too from the 1860 campaign is probably the most famous campaign song in American political history.
With the re-election the last faint hope for the Confederacy vanished. The War would be fought to a finish and slavery was as dead as the hundreds of thousands of men who had fallen in the bloodiest conflict in American history.
Lincoln garnered 55% of the vote to 45% for McClellan. The electoral vote was a landslide of epic proportions: 221-21. Even if all the Confederate states had been able to cast unanimous votes against Lincoln, he still would have won a solid majority in the electoral college. The margins in some of the Northern States were close, but as the saying goes, that only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” 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.”
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural
A look at religion in the Civil War from the internet series the Civil War in Four Minutes. Most people on both sides, as Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, assumed God was on their side. Some viewed their causes as crusades. Typical of those who embraced that interpretation is a Union officer who upbraided a chaplain who had given a stern sermon to the men of his regiment on the pains of Hell, and informed him that every one of his boys who fell in this great fight for human liberty was going straight to Heaven and he would allow no other doctrine to be preached while he was in command of the regiment.
Perhaps the most insightful view was that embraced by Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee and others who saw the War as the punishment for national sins. Rather than a crusade, the War was a chastisement that God was using for His purposes. I think there is much wisdom in this view. God often brings good out of human weakness, folly and even sin, and out of the Civil War, with all of its ghastly loss of life, came freedom for the slaves and a united nation. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Next Johnsonville attracted his attention, where Sherman had collected his stores, and the gunboats once terrible conniption floated grandly and proudly at its doors, but Forrest’s artillery battalion, Morton, Rice and Waltham and Thrall, set fire to Sherman’s gunboats and transports, nor ceased till they had burned them all.
Line from Confederate song celebrating the victories of General Nathan Bedford Forrest
The handwriting was on the wall by the beginning of November in 1864 that the Confederacy was going down to defeat, but that did not stop General Nathan Bedford Forrest from staging perhaps his greatest raid. The Union had established a huge supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee on the Tennessee River and that was Forrest’s target. On October 29-30 with artillery he placed at Fort Heiman, Forrest captured three Union gunboats. Repairing two of them he used them for his attack on Johnsonville. With his artillery and his tiny flotilla, Forrest closed river traffic to Johnsonville, beat off Union gunboats, and got close enough to Johnsonville to bombard it. 28 Union steamboats and barges were lost, either sunk by Forrest’s artillery, or burned by the Union commander who feared that Forrest would capture them. Seeing the depot ablaze, Forrest withdrew, his mission accomplished. Forrest destroyed millions of dollars worth of Union supplies and destroyed 4 gunboats, 14 transports, 20 barges, 26 pieces of artillery. This raid crippled Sherman’s supply line, and made Grant nervous about Sherman’s planned March to the Sea with a raider of the caliber of Forrest left free to devastate Union supply lines. Here is Forrest’s report on the raid: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln commuted, as did Jefferson Davis, almost every military sentence of death for desertion or cowardice that reached his desk. One of his last acts before his own death was to pardon a soldier on April 13, 1865. As Lincoln put it,”I don’t believe it will make a man any better to shoot him, while if we keep him alive, we just may get some work out of him.”
On November 2, 1864 he telegrammed General Grant ordering him to suspend the pending execution of Nathan Wilson, who had been found guilty of desertion from the 22nd Massachusetts. Unlike most men Lincoln pardoned, Private Wilson was politically connected. His uncle was New York State Senator Albert Hobbs, a Republican, who had interceded with Lincoln on behalf of his nephew. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
The last significant military operation at Petersburg in 1864, the battle of Boydton Plank Road, was part of the efforts of the Army of the Potomac to cut the Confederate South Side Railroad that supplied Petersburg and Richmond from the west. This was no small operation, consisting of Winfield Scott’s corps, reinforced by infantry divisions from other corps and a cavalry division.
On October 27, 1864 Hancock crossed Hatcher’s Run creek and moved around the Confederate right flank heading for Burgess Mill. General Henry Heth, commanding A.P. Hill’s corps due to the illness of Hill, interposed two divisions to stop Hancock. Hancock made good progress when Meade ordered a hault to the offensive, concerned about a five mile gap developing between the Union left and Hancock.
Hancock retreated to Hatcher’s Run, only to find the ford now being held by Confederate cavalry. Heth now went on the offensive, hoping to bag Hancock’s corps, isolated as it now was from the rest of the Union army.
Hancock kept calm, beat off the Confederate attacks and retreated across Hatcher’s Run during the night. Union casualties were 1700 to 1300 Confederate. Grant in his memoirs summed up this action and the closing down of operations around Petersburg for the remainder of the year: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
LeBoeuf: The force of law! This man is a notorious thumper! He rode by the light of the moon with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson!
Rooster Cogburn: That men was patriots, Texas trash!
LeBoeuf: They murdered women and children in Lawrence, Kansas.
Rooster Cogburn: That’s a G-d d—-d lie! What army was you in, mister?
LeBoeuf: I was at Shreveport first with Kirby-Smith, then…
Rooster Cogburn: Yeah? What side was you on?
LeBoeuf: I was in the army of Northern Virginia, Cogburn, and I don’t have to hang my head when I say it!
Rooster Cogburn: If you had served with Captain Quantrill…
LeBoeuf: Captain? Captain Quantrill indeed!
Rooster Cogburn: Best let this go, LeBoeuf!
LeBoeuf: Captain of what?
Rooster Cogburn: Good, then! There are not sufficient dollars in the state of Texas to make it worth my while to listen to your opinions. Our agreement is nullified.
LeBoeuf: That suits me!
Charles Portis, True Grit
Our Civil War was a relatively clean war in that the mass murder of civilian populations that are often a feature of civil wars was mercifully absent from that conflict. However, some atrocities did occur, and many of them were in the ferocious fighting that raged in Kansas and along the Kansas-Missouri border. There the Civil War had begun in 1854, with a brief truce in 1859-60.
Anderson, born in 1839, came from a family of horse thieves. Residing in Agnes, Kansas in March 1862, his father was shot by a local Judge in regard to a stolen horse. Bloody Bill and his brother Jim took revenge by shooting to death the Judge and his brother-in-law. Bloody Bill left Agnes, Kansas with his family and moved to Western Missouri.
By the spring of 1863 Bloody Bill and Jim had joined up with William Quantrill and his Confederate guerillas.
Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr., the commander of the military district which comprised Kansas and Western Missouri, ordered the arrest of relatives of the members of Quantrill’s band. 12 women among those arrested were housed in a three story house in Kansas City, Missouri. The house collapsed on August 14, 1863, killing four of the women. Anderson’s sister Josephine was killed in the collapse and his sister Mary was rendered a permanent cripple.
Anderson went crazy with grief and rage when he heard the news. In retaliation, Quantrill raided Lawrence, Kansas on August 21. 200 men and boys were murdered by Quantrill’s men, with Bloody Bill living up to the nickname by which he is known to history. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The score to the movie Lincoln (2012). Go here to read my review of this masterpiece. One hundred and fifty years ago there was little doubt now that Lincoln was going to be re-elected and the Union was going to win the War. The Civil War had just a little over six months to go, as did Lincoln’s life.
After he was re-elected, Lincoln on November 10, 1864 responded to a serenade outside the White House with this brief speech:
When one thinks of the Civil War, bucolic Vermont usually does not come to mind, except for the troops from Vermont who fought for the Union. However, on October 19, 1864 the Civil War came to Saint Albans, Vermont.
21 Confederate raiders from Canada disguised as civilians, the border being only 15 miles from the town, entered Saint Albans beginning October 10, two or three arriving each day so as not to attract attention. At 3:00 PM they staged three simultaneous bank robberies. Several armed citizens of Saint Albans resisted the raiders, with one of the civilians killed and one wounded. Infuriated by the resistance, the raiders attempted to burn the town but succeeded only in burning a shed. Escaping with $208,000.00 the raiders, under pursuit, escaped to Canada.
The raid caused an enormous furor in Canada which wanted no part of the Civil War. The raiders were arrested and $88,000 returned to the banks in Saint Albans, all that could be recovered by the Canadian authorities. A Canadian court however ruled that the Confederates, because they were members of the Confederate Army, were not criminals and could not be extradited to the Union. No further raids were stage from Canada.
The leader of the raid, Lieutenant Bennett Young, was excluded from President Andrew Johnson’s amnesty and spent several years abroad, studying law and literature in Ireland and Scotland. Being permitted to return to the US in 1868, he became a prominent attorny in Louisville, Kentucky. His charitable works were legion, including founding the first black orphanage in Louisville and a school for the blind, along with quite a bit of pro bono legal work for the poor. He served as national commander of the United Confederate Veterans. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Thomas Buchanan Read was an artist and poet who served as a staff officer in the Civil War. Inspired by Sheridan’s decisive victory at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, Read dashed off the poem, Sheridan’s Ride in an hour. The poem was a sensation throughout the North. To a war weary population, Cedar Creek was welcome proof that the seemingly endless War would soon end in Union victory. Public performances were held throughout the North. Republican rallies for the upcoming election featured readings of the poem with coconut shells used to mimic the sound of the horse’s hooves on the road. The Cedar Creek sensation helped to re-elect Lincoln.
Here is a newspaper interview of Phil Sheridan on the poem which originally appeared in the Philadelphia Press:
“Boys, those of you who are not cowards follow me; for I’ll sleep in that camp tonight or I’ll sleep in Hell!”
That was the “terrible oath” the author of “Sheridan’s Ride” referred to and it had the effect intended. The soldiers knew that “Little Phil” was frightfully in earnest, and there wasn’t a man in all the shattered army who wouldn’t share his bed. I asked General Sheridan the other day if he knew the author of the poem.
“Yes” he replied, “I knew him well. I first met Mr. Read at the headquarters of Gen. Rosecrans, just before the battle of Stone River. He was a guest of the General, and remained in camp quite a while, so that we all got to know him.”
“Do you know how he came to write the poem?”
“Yes” said the General, “I have heard him tell about it several times. There has been a number of stories published about the origin of the poem, but I will tell you the true one, just as Mr. Read told it to me. Did you know that James E. Murdock suggested the idea?”
“Murdock the elocutionist?”
“The very man. He was an actor at one of the Cincinnati theaters at the time, where I had known him. Murdock has always been a great friend of mine, and I am glad to know the old man keeps so well. I see that he was able to appear at the memorial services in honor of Chief Justice Chase the other day. Murdock lost a son at the battle of Missionary Ridge – the boy was in my command and the old man came down to get the body, don’t you know? The enemy occupied the place where the boy was buried, and Mr. Murdock remained a guest at my headquarters until we recovered the ground. He used to ride the lines with me every day, and always used my black horse ‘Rienzi’ – the one that was afterward called ‘Winchester’ and the same that I had under me on that twenty mile canter. No man ever straddled a better animal, and old Murdock became very fond of him. He was a horse that it was an honor to mount, you see, and in that poem Read gave him a good sendoff.
“Well” continued Sheridan, “things were very exciting down around Chattanooga those days, and Mr. Murdock saw a good deal of war. On Sundays he always used to recite poems to the troops around headquarters, and there was one of Browning’s that the boys never missed a chance to call for. It was a great favorite with me, don’t you know, just as it was with the soldiers, and we never let the old man off without reading it. It was the story of the ride from Ghent to Aix – you remember it.
“Well, you see, after the battle of Cedar Creek, there was published in Harper’s Weekly a story of my ride from Winchester and a picture of me on the back of old Rienzi. Murdock had agreed to recite a poem at the Sanitary Fair that was being held at Cincinnati at that time, and Read had promised to write something new and appropriate for him. But when Murdock called on him for the manuscript the afternoon he was to recite, he hadn’t touched a pen to the paper – said he didn’t know what to write about. Well, Murdock had just seen a man who was in the battle, and was full of the story, being a friend of mine, you see; so he pulled the copy of Harper’s Weekly from his pocket, and repeated to Read all the officer had told him. Read jumped up, locked himself in his room, wrote the poem off-handed in an hour, got his wife to make a copy, and had it over to Murdock’s before dark. The latter was delighted with it, and read it at the Sanitary Fair that night.”
“Where did you first see it?”
The first I ever saw of it was in the newspapers. One of my officers brought it to my tent one morning in the camp down in the Shenandoah Valley.”
“It is said that you have the original manuscript.”
“I wish I had, but I have never seen it. I don’t suppose it is in existence. As I understand, it was originally written in pencil, and Mrs. Read copied it for Mr. Murdock.”
“How did Read come to paint the picture of Sheridan’s Ride?”
“Well, the poem made a great sensation, you know, and Read, being a painter as well as a poet, got a commission from the Union League Club of Philadelphia for the picture. They sent him down to New Orleans, where I was stationed, and I sat for him there. He was going to Rome that fall and did not finish it, but made some sketches and then completed the picture in Italy. I have never had a copy of the picture, but he afterward gave me the sketches, which I still have at my house.”
“Who were with you on that ride?”
“Sandy Forsythe, who is down in New Mexico with the Fourth Cavalry, and Colonel O’Keefe. The latter was killed at the battle of Five Forks.” →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
The last major battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War, it was fitting that the topsy turvy nature of the battle of Cedar Creek reflected the see-saw fights waged by the Union and the Confederacy for control of the Valley since the start of the War.
After his victories in the Shenandoah Valley in September, and his destruction of the most valuable agricultural regions in the Valley, Sheridan assumed that the War was at an end in the Valley for the winter, at least as far as major battles were concerned. Delploying his 31,000 Army of the Shenandoah along Cedar Creek northeast of Strasburg, Viriginia, Sheridan felt secure enough, even with Early’s 21,000 Army of the Valley in the vicinity, to attend a conference with Grant in Washington on October 18. On the evening of October 18 he slept at Winchester, twelve miles from his army.
Sheridan of course did not know that Early had received a letter from General Lee on October 12 urging him to attack. Examing the Union position carefully, Early decided that an attack on the Union left, which relied for its security on natural obstacles might succeed, Early assuming correctly that the Union commanders would be more concerned about an attack from the west which was free of such obstacles.
The Confederates on the evening of October 18 in three columns made a night march against the Union left. By 3:30 AM they were in position to laucher their attack. The attack began at 5:00 AM in darkness and a thick fog. Surprise was complete and the division sized Union Army of West Virginia which was at the far left of the Union force was quickly overwhelmed. By 10:00 AM, Early had driven the seven Union divisions from the field, captured 1300 prisoners, taken 24 cannon, and his famished troops were feeding off Union supplies in the abandoned Union camps. His troops seemed to have won an against the odds victory. Then Sheridan arrived at the battlefield and changed everything.
At 6:00 AM pickets at Winchester reported that they heard the faint sound of artillery. Not expecting an attack Sheridan thought nothing of it. However he ordered his horse Rienzi to be saddled and after a quick breakfast he began at 9:00 AM to ride towards Cedar Creek. The sounds of fighting became louder the closer approached and Sheridan realized a fight was in progress. Sheridan was cheered by stragglers from the fight as he approached Cedar Creek. Sheridan ordered the stragglers to follow him which most of them did, convinced that little Phil would bring them victory again. Sheridan arrived at the battlefield at 10:30 AM.
Sheridan immediately began planning his counterattack. Early had effectively lost control of his army due to the plundering of the Union supplies, and Sheridan had plenty of time to perfect his plan before he launched his attack at 4:00 PM. The smaller Confederate force resisted for about an hour when its left began to crumble and the Confederates routed from the field.
Union casualties were 5,665 to 3000 Confederate. Among the Confederate dead was Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who died the day after the battle in spite of the best medical care his Union captors could provide. The day before the battle he had learned that his wife had borne him a daughter. His last words were “Bear this message to my precious wife—I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven.” He was 27 years old.
The battle was decisive and Early’s army was no longer a threat to Union control of the Shenandoah. The victory provided a great boost to the re-election campaign of Lincoln during the closing weeks of the campaign leading up to election day November 8.
Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle in his memoirs: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Picture on the Wall. Written in 1864 by Henry Clay Work, it captures the overwhelming tragedy of each of the 650-800,000 deaths in our Civil War. One victory that can be claimed by each of the fallen, North and South, is that after the terrible trial of the Civil War our nation has never repeated that fratricidal struggle. Perhaps the lessons that Rossiter Johnson hoped would be learned from the War were learned: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Field of Lost Shoes, a film on the role played by cadets of the Virginia Military Institute at the battle of New Market on May 15, 1864, is in limited release now. If I cannot see it in a theater, I will certainly buy it on dvd when it comes out. Here is my post on the battle of New Market that I ran earlier this year.
“And New Market’s young cadets.”
Southern Birthright, Bobby Horton
John C. Breckinridge, fourteenth Vice-President of the United States and current Confederate Major General, had a big problem. His task was to hold the Shenandoah Valley, the bread basket of the Army of Northern Virginia, for the Confederacy, and he was confronted with two Union columns seeking to rendezvous at Staunton, Virginia and place the Valley under Union control. One column under George Crook was coming from the West Virginia. The second column under Franz Sigel was coming down the Valley. Sigel had twice the men that Breckinridge could muster, 9,000 to 4000, but Breckinridge saw no alternative but to march north and engage Sigel before the two Union columns could join against him.
The Confederacy by this time was robbing the cradle and the grave to fill out its ranks. In the cradle contingent with Breckinridge were 257 cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, who ranged in age from 15-24.
Breckinridge brought Sigel to battle at mid-morning on May 15, 1864 south of New Market. With detachments Sigel’s force was down to 6,000 men. However, 2 to 3 was still very poor odds for an attacking army. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” 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.”
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
MARCH 15, 1865
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON
DEAR MR. WEED:
Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech and on the recent inaugural address. I expect the latter to wear as well as–perhaps better than–anything I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told, and, as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.
The last significant military offensive of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi, Price’s Raid started on August 28, 1864 when Major General Sterling Price, a former governor of Missouri, departed Camden, Arkansas on his horse Bucephalus. Leading three divisions of Confederate cavalry, approximately 12,000 troopers, in the longest raid of the war, traveling 1, 434 miles across Missouri, into Kansas, through the Indian Territory and back into Arkansas. During the raid Price and his men fought some 43 battles and skirmishes.
The raid was launched more out Department Head Lieutenant General Kirby Smith’s frustration than anything else. With the Union control of the Mississippi, Smith and his Trans-Mississippi Theater was effectively cut off from the West of the War. Smith hit upon the idea of sending Sterling Price into Missouri to retake it for the Confederacy. With 12,000 men, Price had no chance of doing that. The Union had some 35,000 troops stationed in Missouri, tens of thousands of pro-Union Missouri militia on call, and ample reinforcements available from the east by rail or by river. What Price could do however, was to assist the pro-Confederate guerillas who were part of a conflict that pre-dated the Civil War with the struggle between Kansas and Missouri in the fifties, and which would continue in Missouri through Reconstruction and, with outlaw gangs like that led by Jesse James, well into the 1870’s.
Price named his force the Army of Missouri. All cavalry, the infantry units he had been initially promised being diverted for other tasks, his army lacked much essential equipment, many of his men being barefoot and dressed in near rags. However, Price, although he had his failings as a commander did not lack daring, and on September 19, he led his three divisions into his home state of Missouri.
On September 27 at Fort Davidson, near Ironton, Missouri, Price had his first battle and his first victory of the raid, but incurred high casualties. Union troops were rushing to defend Saint Louis and Price, realizing that taking Saint Louis was well beyond his strenth, veered off to the west and Jefferson City. Finding Jefferson City too heavily fortified, Price led his army to Booneville, north of Jefferson City. Here on October 10, 1864 his troops got out of hand and alienated the pro-Confederate populace of the town. On October 11, his troops repulsed a Union attack. Bloody Bill Anderson and his gang of cutthroats joined Price’s force at Booneville, with Price outraged by the Union scalps displayed by Anderson and his men. Ordered by Price to attack the North Missouri Railroad, Anderson and his men instead plundered numerous small towns north of the Missouri river, further alienating public sentiment.
At Glasgow, Missouri on October 15, Price gained the surrender of the Union garrison and a treasure trove of supplies, rifles, uniforms and horses. His forces also took Sedalia, Missouri the same day. Price’s army stayed in Glasgow for three days, which allowed the Union to bring troops to attack his force.
Riding towards, Kansas City, Price won several victories, but his progress was checked by Major General Samuel Curtiss leading a 22,000 man Union force he designated the Army of the Border. On October 23, at Westport, Missouri, now part of Kansas City, Price in four hours of attack was unable to break the Union lines, each side incurring 1500 casualties.
Price then began a long retreat along the Kansas-Missouri border, pursued by Union forces. His command was reduced to near starvation as it made its way back through the Indian Territory and Texas. On December 2, 1864 Price led back into Arkansas 6,000 of the 12,000 troops he started out with.
Here is Price’s report of his raid, which gives a fairly rosy hue on a campaign that ultimately accomplished nothing of value for the Confederacy: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Death came for Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of the United States Supreme Court 150 years ago. Nominated as Chief Justice by his friend President Andrew Jackson and had sat on the court for 28 years. Although he had authored many important decisions, he is remembered today only for one: Dred Scott. 87 years old at the time of his death, Taney, a slave owner, had mirrored the tragic trajectory of the views of the South in regard to slavery in his own life. As a young man he regarded slavery as a blot on our national character, as he said in his opening argument in defense of a Methodist minister accused in 1819 of inciting slave insurrections. He emancipated his own slaves. However, by the time he authored the Dred Scott decision in 1857 he would write:
It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
Taney thought that the decision in Dred Scott would settle the slavery issue in regard to the territories and remove it from politics. Instead the decision inflamed public opinion North and South and manifestly helped bring on the Civil War. Taney lived to see his nation riven by Civil War and an administration in power dedicated to restoring the Union and abolishing slavery, and more than willing to ignore the paper edicts of Taney’s court when necessary. Old and sick, Taney remained on the bench, unwilling to have Lincoln name his successor, a living relic of a bygone era. The best epitaph for Taney I have ever read was that given by Justice Antonin Scalia in his magnificent dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
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.
An episode of an excellent series on YouTube, the Civil War in Four Minutes, the above video takes a look at the differing interpretations of the War by Americans. The Civil War is, of course, an immense event in American history, perhaps the immense event in American history. Most Americans I think do not understand how huge it is, simply because we think we are familiar with it, and because we are still too close to it in time for us to gain the historical perspective to judge. The many, many differing interepretations of it: a glorious war for human liberty, a valiant defense of States’ Rights, the war against the rebellion, the second American revolution, a needless conflict, etc, often say more about the times when the interpretations are made, than they do the Civil War itself. Almost my entire life I have been studying the conflict. However, the scholarly necromancy that we perform in historical texts can, at best, only put before our eyes pale shadows of what the War was like for the men and women on both sides who lived the triumphs and tragedies of a conflict so vast as to perhaps dwarf all our other historical experiences as a people. Sadly, perhaps this scene from the John Adams miniseries sums up the daunting, if not futile, task of presenting to succeeding generations the reality of an event as historically significant as the Civil War: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Few battles have inspired a hymn, but the successful defense by a Union garrison of Allatoona Pass, fought 150 years ago, did. At a meeting held in Rockford, Illinois, on April 28 through April 29, 1870 Daniel Webster Whittle, formerly a Major in Sherman’s army and now an evangelist and hymn writer, regaled an audience with the tale of how the garrison at Allatoona withstood the Confederate attack, with Union signal flags from Sherman signaling the defenders: “Hold the Fort; I am coming!”. In the audience was hymn writer Philip Paul Bliss who was inspired to write the hymn Hold the Fort:
Ho, my comrades, see the signal,
Waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing,
Victory is nigh.
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”
See the mighty host advancing,
Satan leading on,
Mighty men around us falling,
Courage almost gone!
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”
See the glorious banner waving,
Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s name we’ll triumph,
Over every foe.
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”
Fierce and long the battle rages,
But our help is near,
Onward comes our great Commander,
Cheer, my comrades, cheer.
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”
Although Major Whittle had almost all the facts right, Sherman, as Sherman noted in a letter in 1875, did not use the exact words hold the fort, although as he later wrote that was clearly the intent of his messages to the garrison. What was actually singaled to the defenders was: Sherman is moving in force; Hold Out! General Sherman says Hold Fast. We are coming.
The hymn proved very popular and Whittle and Bliss toured the country, speaking to audiences and leading the singing of the hymn, including a memorable tour of the Allatoona battlefield in 1876, where they gave an emotional rendition of the hymn. Here is the account of the battle by Sherman in his memoirs: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading