American Civil War

Field of Lost Shoes

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

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

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.

          Truly yours,

                    A. Lincoln

Price’s Raid

Price's Raid

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

October 12, 1864: Death of Roger B. Taney

Roger Taney

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

The Civil War In Historical Memory

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 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

October 5, 1864: Hold the Fort

Map of Allatoona

 

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.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
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

Abraham’s Daughter

YouTube Preview Image

 

Something for the weekend.  Abraham’s Daughter.  One hundred and fifty years ago the presidential election was in full swing.  I doubt if this song was popular with either the Republicans or the Democrats since it mentions both Lincoln and McClellan, the two opposing candidates.  The composer Septimus Winner, yep, that was really his name, was probably a partisan of McClellan.  After McClellan was removed from command by Lincoln after Antietam, Winner was arrested for treason after he published “Give Us Back Our Old Commander: Little Mac, the People’s Pride”, a song which sold an astounding, for those days, 80,000 copies in its first two days on sale.  He was held until he agreed to destroy the unsold copies.  Nonetheless the song featured in McClellan’s campaign for president in 1864, and Grant’s campaign used it when Grant ran for president with the lyrics changed to be praising him.  Here is that song: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

October 2, 1864: First Battle of Saltville

Saltville

 

By 1864 the Confederacy was running short on everything, including salt.  Therefore it comes as no surprise that the Union targeted the major Confederate saltworks located at the aptly name town of Saltville in southwestern Virginia.   On October 2, 1864 some 2500 Confederates under Brigadier General Alfred E. “Mudwall” Jackson repulsed at Saltville a Union force of some 5,000 Union troops under Major General Stephen G. Burbridge.  The Union attacks were uncoordinated,  Burbridge exercising poor command control.  Some Union black troops who were captured were murdered after the battle.  Just how many has been a subject of controversy.  Go here to read about it.   Below are two reports of the battle written by General Burbridge.  They are fine examples of fairly meretricious reports, not uncommon in the Civil War, attempting to transform a defeat into an almost victory. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

September 28, 1864: Hood Launches His Tennessee Campaign

Franklin-Nashville_campaign_svg

After the fall of Altlanta, General John Bell Hood, commander of the Army of Tennessee, faced a quandry.  He confronted an army led by Sherman that heavily outnumbered his force.  Confederate manpower reserves were used up, and he could look for no further substantial reinforcements, while Sherman could rely upon an apparently inexhaustible flow of supplies and men from the North.  If Hood remained on the defensive the initiative remained with Sherman who was clearly readying his army to plunge into the heart of the Confederacy.

In these dire circumstances Hood hit upon the plan of heading north and forcing Sherman to follow him to protect his supply lines.  This would perhaps forestall a futher advance by Sherman into the deep South and with luck allow the Confederates to retake Atlanta and other occupied territory.

It was a desperate throw of the dice.  Moving north Hood moved ever closer to areas that the Union held in strength, and risked his Army being caught in a vice between Sherman and the forces that the Union could quickly amass due to their control of the rail net and the rivers of Tennessee.  However, it was probably the best of the very bad options confronting Hood.  Here are his comments on the start of his Tennessee campaign which appeared in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, condensed from his memoirs, Advance and Retreat: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

September 25, 1864: Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle

 

Nathan Bedford Forrest again demonstrated that so long as he was in the vicinity no Union supply line was safe.  On September 23, 1864, near Athens, Alabama, he and 4500 troopers were engaged in destroying a Union controlled  rail trestle.  He easily beat a Union force that sallied from Fort Henderson to stop him.   Taking Athens, he began an artillery barrage on Fort Henderson on the morning of the 24th.  Convincing the Union commander that he had 8,000-10,000 men, a common Forrest trick, the garrison capitulated.  Shortly after the capitulation, 350 men of the 18th Michigan and the 102nd Ohio had the misfortune to arrive by rail.  Forrest promptly attacked them, and they surrendered after losing a third of their numbers. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

September 21, 1864: Battle of Fisher’s Hill

Fisher's Hill

After his defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, go here to read about it,  Early retired south to a strong position near Strasburg, Virignia, with his right anchored on the North Branch of the Shenandoah River, and his left on Fisher’s Hill, grandiloquently known during the Civil War as the Gibraltar of the Valley.  The position was a very strong one, but with only 10,000 men to cover four miles, Early did not have enough troops to man it adequately.

Sheridan with 29,000 men quickly decided that a frontal attack would be fruitless without a flank attack.  Crook was sent with his corps on an arduous march to flank the Confederate left on Fisher’s Hill.  Crook was in position to commence his attack at 4:00 PM on September 22, while Sheridan pressed Early from the front.  After some desultory fighting, the Confederate army routed.  Battle losses in dead and wounded were minimal, but 1000 Confederates were taken prisoner.  Early retreated to Waynesboro leaving Sheridan in undisputed control of the lower Valley, a control that Sheridan was going to use to destroy the granary of the Confederacy.

Here is Early’s report to General Robert E. Lee on the engagement: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

September 7, 1864: Beginning of Sherman-Hood Correspondence

After Sherman determined upon his March to the Sea, he contacted his opposite number, Confederate General John Bell Hood, regarding the evacuation of Atlanta of the civilian population of the town, prior to Sherman burning around one-third of the town.  The correspondence makes interesting reading and it is set forth below:

 

HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Atlanta, Ga., September 20, 1864.

Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Chief of Staff, Washington, D.C.:

        GENERAL: I have the honor herewith to submit copies of a correspondence between General Hood, of the Confederate army, the mayor of Atlanta, and myself touching the removal of the inhabitants of Atlanta. In explanation of the tone which marks some of these letters I will only call your attention to the fact that after I had announced my determination General Hood took upon himself to question my motive. I could not tamely submit to such impertinence, and I have seen that in violation of all official usage he has published in the Macon newspapers such parts of the correspondence as suited his purpose. This could have had no other object than to create a feeling on the part of the people, but if he expects to resort to such artifices I think I can meet him there too. It is sufficient for my Government to know that the removal of the inhabitants has been made with liberality and fairness; that it has been attended by no force, and that no women or children have suffered, unless for want of provisions by their natural protectors and friends. My real reasons for this step were, we want all the houses of Atlanta for military storage and occupation. We want to contract the lines of defenses so as to diminish the garrison to the limit necessary to defend its narrow and vital parts instead of embracing, as the lines now do, the vast suburbs. This contraction of the lines, with the necessary citadels and redoubts, will make it necessary to destroy the very houses used by families as residences. Atlanta is a fortified town, was stubbornly defended and fairly captured. As captors we have a right to it. The residence here of a poor population would compel us sooner or later to feed them or see them starve under our eyes. The residence here of the families of our enemies would be a temptation and a means to keep up a correspondence dangerous and hurtful to our cause, and a civil population calls for provost guards, and absorbs the attention of officers in listening to everlasting complaints and special grievances that are not military. These are my reasons, and if satisfactory to the Government of the United States it makes no difference whether it pleases General Hood and his people or not.

I am, with respect, your obedient servant,
W. T. SHERMAN,
Major-General, Commanding.
→']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

September 4, 1864: Death of General John Hunt Morgan

One of the most colorful cavalry commanders in American history, General John Hunt Morgan had enough exploits during the War for several lifetimes.  Go here and here to read about two of them.  Alas Morgan had only one lifetime, and that ended on September 4, 1864 when he was surprised by a sudden Union cavalry attack on Greeneville, Tennessee outside a house where he was visiting family friends.  Here is a contemporary account: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Republican Party Platform 1864

 

 

Last week we looked at the Democrat party platform of 1864.  Go here to read it.  It was one long attack on the conduct of the War by the Lincoln administration.  Today we look at the Republican platform.

Well, technically it was the platform of the National Union Party, a temporary name given to the Republican party in 1864, the better to attract war Democrat votes.  Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was dumped as Veep and Andrew Johnson, the military governor of Tennessee and life long Democrat, was nominated as Veep as part of this strategy.  The party convention was held in Baltimore, not the friendliest of venues for Republicans, on June 7 and June 8, when the War news was unremittingly grim.  It is striking therefore how uncompromising the platform approved on June 7 was in regard to the War and Emancipation.  Here is the text of the platform:

1. Resolved, That it is the highest duty of every American citizen to maintain against all their enemies the integrity of the Union and the paramount authority of the Constitution and laws of the United States; and that, laying aside all differences of political opinion, we pledge ourselves, as Union men, animated by a common sentiment and aiming at a common object, to do everything in our power to aid the Government in quelling by force of arms the Rebellion now raging against its authority, and in bringing to the punishment due to their crimes the Rebels and traitors arrayed against it.

2. Resolved, That we approve the determination of the Government of the United States not to compromise with Rebels, or to offer them any terms of peace, except such as may be based upon an unconditional surrender of their hostility and a return to their just allegiance to the Constitution and laws of the United States, and that we call upon the Government to maintain this position and to prosecute the war with the utmost possible vigor to the complete suppression of the Rebellion, in full reliance upon the self-sacrificing patriotism, the heroic valor and the undying devotion of the American people to the country and its free institutions.

3. Resolved, That as slavery was the cause, and now constitutes the strength of this Rebellion, and as it must be, always and everywhere, hostile to the principles of Republican Government, justice and the National safety demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic; and that, while we uphold and maintain the acts and proclamations by which the Government, in its own defense, has aimed a deathblow at this gigantic evil, we are in favor, furthermore, of such an amendment to the Constitution, to be made by the people in conformity with its provisions, as shall terminate and forever prohibit the existence of Slavery within the limits of the jurisdiction of the United States.

4. Resolved, That the thanks of the American people are due to the soldiers and sailors of the Army and Navy, who have periled their lives in defense of the country and in vindication of the honor of its flag; that the nation owes to them some permanent recognition of their patriotism and their valor, and ample and permanent provision for those of their survivors who have received disabling and honorable wounds in the service of the country; and that the memories of those who have fallen in its defense shall be held in grateful and everlasting remembrance.

5. Resolved, That we approve and applaud the practical wisdom, the unselfish patriotism and the unswerving fidelity to the Constitution and the principles of American liberty, with which ABRAHAM LINCOLN has discharged, under circumstances of unparalleled difficulty, the great duties and responsibilities of the Presidential office; that we approve and indorse, as demanded by the emergency and essential to the preservation of the nation and as within the provisions of the Constitution, the measures and acts which he has adopted to defend the nation against its open and secret foes; that we approve, especially, the Proclamation of Emancipation, and the employment as Union soldiers of men heretofore held in slavery; and that we have full confidence in his determination to carry these and all other Constitutional measures essential to the salvation of the country into full and complete effect. more

August 31, 1864: Death Comes For Father Emery

father-emery

 

Destiny attended Emmeran Bliemel at his birth on the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron saint of soldiers, in 1831 in Bavaria.  From his early boyhood his burning desire was to be a missionary to German Catholics in far off America.  Joining a Benedictine Abbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1851, he was ordained a priest in 1856. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

August 31, 1864: Battle of Jonesborough

 images

Frustrated by his failures to cut the railroad lines to Atlanta,  Sherman at the end of August 1864 decided to use most of  his force to accomplish that goal.  On August 25, Sherman marched six of his seven corps out of the siege lines of Atlanta and moved them south east to cut both the rail lines into Atlanta.  Hood sent out Hardee with two corps to attempt to stop the Union movement.

By the 28th the Union was in control of a section of  West Point & Atlanta Railroad  and Sherman’s men were busy destroying it.  On the 30th, the Union corps closed in on Jonesborough, held by Hardee.  Hardee launched an attack on the Union force on the morning of August 31, that was beaten back after hard fighting.  Fearing a direct attack on Atlanta, Hood withdrew Stephen Lee’s corps from Hardee that evening.  On September 1, 1864, Sherman attacked the heavily outnumbered Hardee at 4:00 PM.  After tenacious fighting by the Confederates, the Union troops took Jonesborough and the last rail line into Atlanta.  Atlanta was now untenable for the Confederates to hold.

Here are Sherman’s comments on the movement that led to the fall of Atlanta: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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