American Civil War
Confederate General, and Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Stand Watie surrendered on June 23, 1865, the last Confederate general to surrender his brigade. He and his men had fought throughout the Indian Territory and the Trans-Mississippi theater, participating in more battles than any other Confederate unit in the theater, and waging a guerrilla war against Union supply lines and outposts. Here are the terms of the articles of surrender: Continue reading
The Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah, a converted steam merchant ship, steamed out of London on October 8, 1864. Her skipper was Commander James Iredell Waddell, a veteran of twenty years in the United States Navy prior to the Civil War, and a graduate of Annapolis. Under Waddell, the Shenandoah would spend the next year at sea taking or sinking 38 ships, mostly New Bedford whaling ships, virtually destroying the American whaling fleet. The last shot of the War was a blank fired on June 22, 1865 in the Bering Strait, to indicate to a Union whaling ship the wisdom of surrender. Some of the captured Yankee seamen claimed the War was over, but Waddell assumed they were lying.
Waddell remained unconvinced that the War was over until he encountered a British ship on August 2, 1865. Fearing imprisonment or worse for his men, Waddell then embarked on an epic three month voyage, pursued by the US Navy, to Liverpool where Waddell surrendered his ship and lowered the Confederate flag for the last time on November 6, 1865. The Union wished to try Waddell and his men as pirates. The British decided to parole Waddell and his men, as reported by The Liverpool Mercury on November 9, 1865: Continue reading
Doubtless “Captain” William Quantrill would have stood trial for the many crimes he and his partisan bands committed during the War, if he had not died on June 6, 1865. In the spring of 1865 he had led a series of bloody raids in Western Kentucky. The man that led to his downfall was Captain Edwin Terrell, in many ways a Union counterpart of Quantrill, who led Federal irregulars in Kentucky. Starting as a Confederate he had switched sides after murdering a superior Confederate officer and established a reputation of plundering and killing Confederate sympathizers. He was described by one of his soldiers as a bad man, perhaps as bad as Quantrill. Quantrill and his few remaining men were ambushed by Terrell and his men at Wakefield Farm on May 10, 1864. Quantrill and his men had sought shelter in a barn. As he attempted to flee on horseback, Quantrill was shot in the back. He was instantly paralyzed from the chest down.
When questioned, Quantrill denied that he was Quantrill. Terrell believed him and rode off. Frank James and four other men of Quantrill’s band attempted to rescue him after the Federals left. Quantrill realized his life was drawing to a close: Boys, it is impossible for me to get well, the war is over, and I am in reality a dying man, so let me alone. Goodbye.
Realizing ultimately that that he had shot Quantrill, Terrell rode back two days later and took Quantrill into custody. Quantrill died at the Federal prison hospital in Louisville, Kentucky on June 6, 1865. Nursed by a Catholic priest, he converted to Catholicism prior to his death and received the Last Rites. He was 27 years old. Terrell did not enjoy his notoriety long. Less than a year later, on May 26, 1866, he was ambushed and partially paralyzed by one of the bullets shot at him by a posse seeking to apprehend him for his misdeeds. He lingered for almost two and a half years in great pain, dying on December 13, 1868 unmourned, the Louisville Journal commenting in his obituary: “No man ever more richly deserved a torturous death.” He was 23 years old. Continue reading
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
With the signing of the articles of surrender in Galveston by Kirby Smith on June 2, 1865, the terms having been agreed to on May 26, 1865, the Civil War was at an end. This is a good time to give a few thoughts as to what this immense event in American history meant to the nation.
1. Secession-A temptation for Americans whenever national fortunes grew rough or when it seemed that different sections could not compromise and agree, secession as a mainstream political option was as dead as the Confederacy.
2. Slavery-The stain of chattel slavery was ended. As the years have rolled by, it has become fashionable to pooh pooh emancipation and to focus on the terrible disabilities that the freed slaves and their descendants would labor under. All true and all irrelevant. Those who lived at the time, both white and black, realized what a vast change the end of slavery made in America. An institution that had grown up over 250 years, it seemed almost divinely inspired that it ended so swiftly over four years, and at a terrible cost.
3. National Pride-It is odd that such a blood letting would be a source of pride North and South, but such was the case after the War. Celebrating the courage of the men who fought, and the genius of the great generals of the conflict, was a common impulse North and South. Union and Confederate veterans began holding joint reunions in the 1880s. Fond remembrance of what seemed at the time a national nightmare, and honoring the veterans of the conflict, helped reunify the nation.
4. The Solid South-A legacy of the Civil War was enmity against the Republican party in most of the South and domination by the Democrat Party. It was a heavily factionalized Democrat Party, where people who would have been Republicans elsewhere in the country, shoehorned themselves into a party with natural political adversaries. The Democrat primaries, restricted to whites, were where the real contested elections were conducted. This feature of American political life was so taken for granted for generations, that insufficient study has been given as to how this warping of the usual course of politics impacted the South and the nation as a whole.
5. Civil Rights-The ultimate failure of Reconstruction to safeguard the rights of blacks, coupled with Supreme Court decisions that reflected a country concerned with national unity rather than the rights of minorities, set up a situation which held back the economic development of the South, leading to massive black exoduses in the early and mid twentieth centuries to the urban centers of the North. One of the more dramatic results of the Civil War era, although it is not often thought of as a legacy of the Civil War. Continue reading
It is unsurprising that post Civil War the country entered a period of recessions. Prior to the Civil War the nation had known periods of booms and bust, both usually short-lived. The Civil War had been boom times in the North with war spending ensuring no recession during the War. With the turning off of the Federal money spigot in the wake of the War, and the return of men to civilian life, the country entered a period of recession that did not end until December 1869.
The subsequent boom period was very short lived, with a new recession stretching from June 1869-December 1870. The Panic of 1873 led to the Long Depression of October 1873-March 1879.
Demobilization after World War I led to a brief, but very sharp, recession. With these examples, government policies in the demobilization period after World War II were geared to avoid a recession, and they were successful, although I am suspicious that other economic factors likely accounted for the lack of a recession. Continue reading
The last major Confederate force to surrender, General Edmund Kirby Smith, the commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, signed the articles of surrender on May 26, 1865 in Galveston, Texas. Consisting of Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, the Trans-Mississippi had been cut off from the rest of the Confederacy since the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in mid 1863. Smith then conducted the War in his sprawling Department on his own initiative, his command becoming known in the rest of the Confederacy as “Kirby Smithdom”. Continue reading
The day after the Army of the Potomac marched in final review through Washington, it was the turn of the 65,000 men of Sherman’s Army of Georgia. Sherman was afraid that his weathered Westerners would make a poor showing in comparison to the spit and polish Army of the Potomac.
There had long been a keen rivalry between the Union troops in the East and the Union troops in the West. The troops in the West thought the Army of the Potomac got all of the publicity while the troops in the West were winning the War. The informal Westerners derided the Easterners as “paper collar” toy soldiers. The Army of the Potomac tended to look upon the Western troops as uncouth barbarians, more armed mobs than armies, and men who won victories against second rate Confederate troops and generals while they did battle with Robert E. Lee and his first team of the Army of Northern Virginia.
There was no way Sherman’s men were going to let Uncle Billy down and let the Army of the Potomac show them up. When they stepped off their uniforms were clean and repaired and they marched as if they had spent the War doing formal dress parades. Sherman was immensely pleased: Continue reading
Something for the weekend: Battle Hymn of the Republic. Doubtless many men who fought in the Civil War thought, and dreaded, that the War might go on forever. Now, however, it had ended with Union victory. Some European powers speculated that the United States would now use its vast armies to take foreign territory: perhaps French occupied Mexico, maybe settle old scores by taking Canada from Great Britain, Cuba, held by moribund Spain was certainly a tempting target. But no, the armies had been raised for the purpose of preserving the Union. Now the men in the ranks were eager to get home, and the nation was just as eager to enjoy peace.
One last duty remained however: an immense victory parade in Washington. On May 23, 1865, the 80,000 strong Army of the Potomac marched happily through the streets of Washington on a glorious spring day. For six hours they passed the reviewing stand, where President Johnson, the cabinet, General Grant and assorted civilian and military high brass, received the salutes of, and saluted, the men who had saved the Union. Most of the men had hated the Army, and were overjoyed to be going home, but for the rest of their lives they would remember this day and how all the death and suffering they had endured over the past four years had not been in vain after all. Almost all of them were very young men now, and many of them would live to old age, future generations then having a hard time picturing them as they were now: lean, battle-hardened and the victors of the bloodiest war in the history of their nation. When they died iron stars would be put by their graves, and each Decoration Day, eventually called Memorial Day, flags would be planted by their graves, as if to recall a huge banner draped over the Capitol on this day of days:
“The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.” Continue reading
Recently I have been reading of the Grand Review of the Armies which occurred in Washington DC on May 23 and May 24, 1865. This was a victory parade of Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Sherman’s Army. I was struck by a banner that was spread on the capitol dome those two days: “The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.” Indeed. So the boys in blue enjoyed two days of being cheered as heroes and saviors of their country, before they were demobilized and went back to their homes, the War left behind to fading memories and imperishable history.
However, there were silent victors who could not march in the Grand Review, and humorist Bret Harte remembered them in this poem:
I read last night of the Grand Review
In Washington’s chiefest avenue,–
Two hundred thousand men in blue,
I think they said was the number,–
Till I seemed to hear their trampling feet,
The bugle blast and the drum’s quick beat,
The clatter of hoofs in the stony street,
The cheers of the people who came to greet,
And the thousand details that to repeat
Would only my verse encumber,–
Till I fell in a revery, sad and sweet,
And then to a fitful slumber.
When, lo! in a vision I seemed to stand
In the lonely Capitol. On each hand
Far stretched the portico, dim and grand
Its columns ranged, like a martial band
Of sheeted spectres whom some command
Had called to a last reviewing.
And the streets of the city were white and bare;
No footfall echoed across the square;
But out of the misty midnight air
I heard in the distance a trumpet blare,
And the wandering night-winds seemed to bear
The sound of a far tatooing.
Then I held my breath with fear and dread;
For into the square, with a brazen tread,
There rode a figure whose stately head
O’erlooked the review that morning.
That never bowed from its firm-set seat
When the living column passed its feet,
Yet now rode steadily up the street
To the phantom bugle’s warning:
Till it reached the Capitol square, and wheeled,
And there in the moonlight stood revealed
A well known form that in State and field
Had led our patriot sires;
Whose face was turned to the sleeping camp,
Afar through the river’s fog and damp,
That showed no flicker, nor warning lamp,
Nor wasted bivouac fires.
And I saw a phantom army come,
With never a sound of fife or drum,
But keeping time to a throbbing hum
Of wailing and lamentation:
The martyred heroes of Malvern Hill,
Of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville,
The men whose wasted figures fill
The patriot graves of the nation.
And there came the nameless dead,–the men
Who perished in fever-swamp and fen,
The slowly-starved of the prison-pen;
And marching beside the others,
Came the dusky martyrs of Pillow’s fight,
With limbs enfranchised and bearing bright;
I thought–perhaps ’twas the pale moonlight–
They looked as white as their brothers!
And so all night marched the Nation’s dead,
With never a banner above them spread,
Nor a badge, nor a motto brandished;
No mark–save the bare uncovered head
Of the silent bronze Reviewer;
With never an arch save the vaulted sky;
With never a flower save those that lie
On the distant graves–for love could buy
No gift that was purer or truer.
So all night long swept the strange array;
So all night long, till the morning gray,
I watch’d for one who had passed away,
With a reverent awe and wonder,–
Till a blue cap waved in the lengthening line,
And I knew that one who was kin of mine
Had come; amd I spake–and lo! that sign
Awakened me from my slumber.
One of the odd things about the Civil War is how often statements that are assumed to be facts are not. For example, it is usually stated that Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana, killed on May 13, 1865 at the battle of Palmito Ranch is the last man killed in the Civil War. That is almost certainly incorrect. That sad distinction may belong to Corporal John W. Skinner, 1rst Florida US Cavalry, who was killed at an ambush at Hodby’s Bridge in Alabama, by Confederate guerillas. This skirmish would probably have been lost to history, but for a legal battle waged by the wounded Union soldiers for pensions. The complicating factor was whether the Union soldiers returning from a furlough were on active duty at the time, in which case they were entitled to pensions, or whether they were on furlough and not entitled to pensions. Ultimately the government ruled in favor of the soldiers in 1900 after initially rejecting the pension applications in 1896. How many other men were killed in skirmishes completely missed by history in the closing weeks of this vast struggle?
Mark Twain, like many young men North and South, decided that the Civil War was not to his taste, and went West. In 1887 he addressed a reunion of Maryland Union troops and gave a short, humorous, and dark, look at his war:
“When your secretary invited me to this reunion of the Union veterans of Maryland he requested me to come prepared to clear up a matter which he said had long been a subject of dispute and bad blood in war circles in this country – to wit, the true dimensions of my military services in the Civil War, and the effect they had upon the general result. I recognise the importance of this thing to history, and I have come prepared. Here are the details.
I was in the Civil War two weeks. In that brief time I rose from private to second lieutenant. The monumental feature of my campaign was the one battle which my command fought – it was in the summer of ’61. If I do say it, it was the bloodiest battle ever fought in human history; there is nothing approaching it for destruction of human life in the field, if you take into consideration the forces engaged and the proportion of death to survival. And yet you do not even know the name of that battle. Neither do I. It had a name, but I have forgotten it. It is no use to keep private information which you can’t show off. In our battle there were just 15 men engaged on our side – all brigadier-generals but me, and I was a second-lieutenant. On the other side there was one man. He was a stranger. We killed him. It was night, and we thought it was an army of observation; he looked like an army of observation – in fact, he looked bigger than an army of observation would in the day time; and some of us believed he was trying to surround us, and some thought he was going to turn our position, and so we shot him.
Poor fellow, he probably wasn’t an army of observation after all, but that wasn’t our fault; as I say, he had all the look of it in the dim light. It was a sorrowful circumstance, but he took the chances of war, and he drew the wrong card; he over-estimated his fighting strength, and he suffered the likely result; but he fell as the brave should fall – with his face to the front and feet to the field – so we buried him with the honours of war, and took his things.
So began and ended the only battle in the history of the world where the opposing force was utterly exterminated, swept from the face of the earth – to the last man. And yet you don’t know the name of that battle; you don’t even know the name of that man.
Now, then, for the argument. Suppose I had continued in the war, and gone on as I began, and exterminated the opposing forces every time – every two weeks – where would your war have been? Why, you see yourself, the conflict would have been too one-sided. There was but one honourable course for me to pursue, and I pursued it. I withdrew to private life, and gave the Union cause a chance. There, now, you have the whole thing in a nutshell; it was not my presence in the Civil War that determined that tremendous contest – it was my retirement from it that brought the crash. It left the Confederate side too weak.”
Twain could see the good and bad in both sides, and after the War became a friend of General Grant. The older he got the more cynical he got, and his final biting verdict on the enthusiasm for war that he saw as a young man at the start of the Civil War is his 1907 War Prayer: Continue reading
At the beginning of the Civil War what would later have been called skirmishes were called battles, so I guess we can call Palmito Ranch at the end of the War a battle.
At the beginning of 1865 the Union and Confederate troops engaged in an informal truce in south Texas, since the War was manifestly about to come to an end, and both sides could see that nothing that was done in Texas would have any impact on the outcome. Negotiations began in March for the surrender of the Confederate troops in Texas but came to nothing. Why a Union force advanced on Brownsville, Texas in May is something of a mystery since a surrender was obviously in the offing. At any rate in a two day fight the Confederates succeeded in causing the Union force of about 500 men to retreat. The Confederate force of 300 sustained casualties of 5-6 wounded and 3 captured. The Union force had 4 killed, 3 wounded and 101 captured. Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana had the sad distinction of being the last man to be killed in action in the Civil War. Here is the report of the commander of the luckless Union force: Continue reading
I imagine that there were a few sighs of relief in Washington when this farewell address of General Nathan Bedford Forrest made its way north. If any man were going to lead a guerilla resistance in the South it was Forrest. That he was ready to accept defeat was a good sign that such resistance was not going to occur. Here is the text of his address: Continue reading
Wonder how Jefferson Davis
Feels, down there in Montgomery, about Sumter.
He must be thinking pretty hard and fast,
For he’s an able man, no doubt of that.
We were born less than forty miles apart,
Less than a year apart–he got the start
Of me in age, and raising too, I guess,
In fact, from all you hear about the man,
If you set out to pick one of us two
For President, by birth and folks and schooling,
General raising, training up in office,
I guess you’d pick him, nine times out of ten
And yet, somehow, I’ve got to last him out.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
Jefferson Davis, first and last president of the Confederacy, was captured by Union cavalry near Irwinville, Georgia one hundred and fifty years ago. Secretly he is happy about this turn of events. He expects to be tried for treason and looks forward to defending himself on Constitutional grounds. Instead, he will spend two years incarcerated, and then be released on bail, never to have his day in court. He would have the misfortune to survive the War for almost a quarter of a century, and to become involved in many querulous debates with former Confederates who sought to blame him for the loss of the War. Far better for Davis if he had been killed by the Union troopers and died, the martyr of the Lost Cause. Instead, he was fated to endure the worst fate for a loser of a great historical turning point: a long life in which to play the role of scapegoat.
Robert E. Lee I think had it right when he said that he could think of no one who could have done as well as Davis as President. A great man who almost led his nation to victory, Davis had the misfortune to be opposed by a greater man leading a stronger nation. In response to his critics, he produced a two volume turgid defense entitled The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881), published, ironically, by a New York publishing house. At 1500 pages it is one of the great unread books of American history, the province of only the most obsessive of Civil War scholars, although Oscar Wilde, strangely enough, proclaimed it a literary masterpiece, although even he admitted that he skimmed the military portions. In recent decades Davis, who had his slaves run his plantation along with their own court system, has been often portrayed as a devil stick figure, as if he had invented slavery, a sort of anti-Lincoln. This is ahistoric rubbish. Davis was a fascinating, and often contradictory, man and the scholarship devoted to him has been sadly lacking. The man who came so close to changing the course of the nation deserves better from the servants of Clio.
T. H. Peabody, a member of the Union cavalry unit that captured Davis gave this account: Continue reading
Something for the weekend: When Johnny Comes Marching Home. One hundred and fifty years ago as soldiers North and South were returning to their homes this song was being played. Written by composer Patrick Gilmore, bandmaster of the 24th Massachusetts in 1863 to comfort his sister who was praying for her fiancée to return safe from the War, it proved immensely popular both North and South with the troops and was sung and played endlessly by them with varied lyrics, all centered upon their dearest hope: to go home after what they usually called this cruel War was over. Gilmore set the tune to another popular song of the day: Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.
The song retained its popularity in subsequent American wars as demonstrated by these renditions of the song by Glenn Miller and the Andrew Sisters: Continue reading
Sherman at the end of his memoirs has a chapter on the military lessons of the war. Two of the most prescient listed by him are the impact of the telegraph and railroads on the War:
For the rapid transmission of orders in an army covering a large space of ground, the magnetic telegraph is by far the best, though habitually the paper and pencil, with good mounted orderlies, answer every purpose. I have little faith in the signal-service by flags and torches, though we always used them; because, almost invariably when they were most needed, the view was cut off by intervening trees, or by mists and fogs. There was one notable instance in my experience, when the signal-flags carried a message. of vital importance over the heads of Hood’s army, which had interposed between me and Allatoona, and had broken the telegraph-wires–as recorded in Chapter XIX.; but the value of the magnetic telegraph in war cannot be exaggerated, as was illustrated by the perfect concert of action between the armies in Virginia and Georgia during 1864. Hardly a day intervened when General Grant did not know the exact state of facts with me, more than fifteen hundred miles away as the wires ran. So on the field a thin insulated wire may be run on improvised stakes or from tree to tree for six or more miles in a couple of hours, and I have seen operators so skillful, that by cutting the wire they would receive a message with their tongues from a distant station. As a matter of course, the ordinary commercial wires along the railways form the usual telegraph-lines for an army, and these are easily repaired and extended as the army advances, but each army and wing should have a small party of skilled men to put up the field-wire, and take it down when done. This is far better than the signal-flags and torches. Our commercial telegraph-lines will always supply for war enough skillful operators. Continue reading
Judging from his melodramatic “Sic, Semper Tyrannis!” at Ford’s Theater after murdering Lincoln, Booth perceived his role of assassin as being his greatest role, a chance to play in real life a doomed Romantic hero, an avenger of a wronged people. The last twelve days of his life, as he eluded capture must have been disappointing for him, as the newspapers he read, including those who had been highly critical of Lincoln, universally condemned his action. Perhaps he perceived that instead of being a hero, he was fated to be cast as a minor villain, remembered solely due to his slaying of a great hero. Booth wrote in his diary, “With every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for … And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat.” Continue reading