American Civil War

January 11, 1865: Mission to Richmond

 

Francis P. Blair

 

Francis P. Blair, patriarch of the politically powerful Blair family of Missouri, had spent virtually all of his life politically well-connected.  In the 1820’s he had been an ardent supporter of Andrew Jackson.  He had taken over the failing paper The Washington Globe, and transformed it into a political powerhouse, the chief organ of the Democrat Party.  From the wealth he amassed as a result, he built his Blair House in Washington, and made it a site for the powerful to dance attendance upon him, in search of advice and the use of Blair’s immense influence.  In spite of owning slaves himself, in the 1840s he became convinced that the expansion of slavery into new territories had to cease.  In the 1850’s he was instrumental in the foundation of the Republican Party and he became a supporter of Lincoln.  With his son Montgomery Blair as Postmaster General, and his son Frank as Congressman and Union general, along with the immense influence he had not only in Missouri but also in Maryland, when Blair spoke Lincoln listened. Continue reading

The Flag of Sumter

Flag of Fort Sumter

As we close this year, one hundred and fifty years ago defeat loomed for the Confederacy.  It is good to recall at this point in our almost four year examination of the Civil War the courage with which the Confederates maintained for four deadly years their lop-sided struggle for independence against a nascent world power.  This courage is not better symbolized I think than by Conrad Wise Chapman’s Flag of Sumter.  The son of a famous American painter, Chapman painted a series of 31 paintings of Charleston Harbor at the request of General Beauregard while Chapman was on duty as an enlisted man during the long siege of Charleston.  This painting, with its lone Confederate sentry standing in the bombed out ruins of Fort Sumter under a proud but tattered Confederate banner, shows how Chapman perceived the War and how most Confederates viewed their fight.  On the horizon of the painting we barely glimpse the Union fleet, its power so much greater than any force the Confederate defenders could hope to summon, but the will to resist remains in spite of the overwhelming odds.  A majority of former Confederates in the decades after the War came to eventually accept that it had been good that the Union had been preserved and slavery abolished, but they always took great pride in the fight they had waged for a cause they thought a just one at the time.  One cannot hope to truly understand our Civil War without understanding that pride, preserved forever by this painting. Continue reading

Grant on the Fort Fisher Fiasco

Fort Fisher

 

 

Examples of gross military incompetence were not rare in the Civil War.  Perhaps the most outstanding example is the bungling of Major General Benjamin Butler in his handling of the first assault on Fort Fisher, the fort that guarded the last major port open in the Confederacy, Wilmington.  Grant in his Personal Memoirs gives us the details:

 

I selected General Weitzel, of the Army of the James, to go with the expedition, but gave instructions through General Butler. He commanded the department within whose geographical limits Fort Fisher was situated, as well as Beaufort and other points on that coast held by our troops; he was, therefore, entitled to the right of fitting out the expedition against Fort Fisher.   

 
  General Butler conceived the idea that if a steamer loaded heavily with powder could be run up to near the shore under the fort and exploded, it would create great havoc and make the capture an easy matter. Admiral Porter, who was to command the naval squadron, seemed to fall in with the idea, and it was not disapproved of in Washington; the navy was therefore given the task of preparing the steamer for this purpose. I had no confidence in the success of the scheme, and so expressed myself; but as no serious harm could come of the experiment, and the authorities at Washington seemed desirous to have it tried, I permitted it. The steamer was sent to Beaufort, North Carolina, and was there loaded with powder and prepared for the part she was to play in the reduction of Fort Fisher.   

 
  General Butler chose to go in command of the expedition himself, and was all ready to sail by the 9th of December (1864). Very heavy storms prevailed, however, at that time along that part of the sea-coast, and prevented him from getting off until the 13th or 14th. His advance arrived off Fort Fisher on the 15th. The naval force had been already assembled, or was assembling, but they were obliged to run into Beaufort for munitions, coal, etc.; then, too, the powder-boat was not yet fully prepared. The fleet was ready to proceed on the 18th; but Butler, who had remained outside from the 15th up to that time, now found himself out of coal, fresh water, etc., and had to put into Beaufort to replenish. Another storm overtook him, and several days more were lost before the army and navy were both ready at the same time to co-operate.  

 
  On the night of the 23d the powder-boat was towed in by a gunboat as near to the fort as it was safe to run. She was then propelled by her own machinery to within about five hundred yards of the shore. There the clockwork, which was to explode her within a certain length of time, was set and she was abandoned. Everybody left, and even the vessels put out to sea to prevent the effect of the explosion upon them. At two o’clock in the morning the explosion took place—and produced no more effect on the fort, or anything else on land, than the bursting of a boiler anywhere on the Atlantic Ocean would have done. Indeed when the troops in Fort Fisher heard the explosion they supposed it was the bursting of a boiler in one of the Yankee gunboats.    

 

 

 
  Fort Fisher was situated upon a low, flat peninsula north of Cape Fear River. The soil is sandy. Back a little the peninsula is very heavily wooded, and covered with fresh-water swamps. The fort ran across this peninsula, about five hundred yards in width, and extended along the sea coast about thirteen hundred yards. The fort had an armament of 21 guns and 3 mortars on the land side, and 24 guns on the sea front. At that time it was only garrisoned by four companies of infantry, one light battery and the gunners at the heavy guns less than seven hundred men with a reserve of less than a thousand men five miles up the peninsula. General Whiting of the Confederate army was in command, and General Bragg was in command of the force at Wilmington. Both commenced calling for reinforcements the moment they saw our troops landing. The Governor of North Carolina called for everybody who could stand behind a parapet and shoot a gun, to join them. In this way they got two or three hundred additional men into Fort Fisher; and Hoke’s division, five or six thousand strong, was sent down from Richmond. A few of these troops arrived the very day that Butler was ready to advance.  

 
  On the 24th the fleet formed for an attack in arcs of concentric circles, their heavy iron-clads going in very close range, being nearest the shore, and leaving intervals or spaces so that the outer vessels could fire between them. Porter was thus enabled to throw one hundred and fifteen shells per minute. The damage done to the fort by these shells was very slight, only two or three cannon being disabled in the fort. But the firing silenced all the guns by making it too hot for the men to maintain their positions about them and compelling them to seek shelter in the bomb-proofs.    

 
  On the next day part of Butler’s troops under General Adelbert Ames effected a landing out of range of the fort without difficulty. This was accomplished under the protection of gunboats sent for the purpose, and under cover of a renewed attack upon the fort by the fleet. They formed a line across the peninsula and advanced, part going north and part toward the fort, covering themselves as they did so. Curtis pushed forward and came near to Fort Fisher, capturing the small garrison at what was called the Flag Pond Battery. Weitzel accompanied him to within a half a mile of the works. Here he saw that the fort had not been injured, and so reported to Butler, advising against an assault. Ames, who had gone north in his advance, captured 228 of the reserves. These prisoners reported to Butler that sixteen hundred of Hoke’s division of six thousand from Richmond had already arrived and the rest would soon be in his rear.  

 

 

 
  Upon these reports Butler determined to withdraw his troops from the peninsula and return to the fleet. At that time there had not been a man on our side injured except by one of the shells from the fleet. Curtis had got within a few yards of the works. Some of his men had snatched a flag from the parapet of the fort, and others had taken a horse from the inside of the stockade. At night Butler informed Porter of his withdrawal, giving the reasons above stated, and announced his purpose as soon as his men could embark to start for Hampton Roads. Porter represented to him that he had sent to Beaufort for more ammunition. He could fire much faster than he had been doing, and would keep the enemy from showing himself until our men were within twenty yards of the fort, and he begged that Butler would leave some brave fellows like those who had snatched the flag from the parapet and taken the horse from the fort.  

 

 

Continue reading

December 22, 1864: Sherman’s Christmas Gift

 

 

 

 

Sherman and his men completed their March to the Sea with the siege of Savannah, Georgia.  The end of the siege was anti-climactic with Lieutenant General W. J. Hardee evacuating his garrison from the city of Savannah.  Sherman sent this message to Lincoln announcing the fall of Savannah.

 

SAVANNAH, GA., December 22, 1864
(Via Fort Monroe 6.45 p.m. 25th)

His Excellency President LINCOLN:

I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.

W.T. Sherman,
Major General.

The message reached the White House on Christmas Day.  It was published in the papers and roused huge joy throughout the North as another sign that the end of the War was in sight.  Lincoln spoke for the North when he telegrammed back to Sherman:

MY DEAR GENERAL SHERMAN:

Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift, the capture of Savannah. When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ‘nothing risked, nothing gained,’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is yours; for I believe none of us went further than to acquiesce. And taking the work of General Thomas into the county, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages, but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole — Hood’s army — it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgments to your whole army, officers and men. Continue reading

Union Christmas Dinner

Published on December 31, 1864, and drawn by Thomas Nast,  the above picture has Lincoln inviting the starving Confederate states to join the Christmas dinner of the Union States.  The print brings  to mind the phrase that  Lincoln would make immortal in his Second Inaugural in a few short months:  “With malice towards none, with charity for all”.  Not a bad sentiment to recall at Christmas time, or any time.

December 15, 1865: Battle of Nashville Begins

Battle of Nashville

 

 

 

The final major battle in the West in the American Civil War, the two day battle of Nashville that commenced on December 15, 1864 ,was a decisive Union victory.  Delayed by bad weather, Union general Thomas endured a steady stream of telegrams from Washington and Grant demanding that he attack.  Thomas would not do so until he was ready.  Grant, who had never had a good relationship with Thomas, decided to remove him, and only the knowledge that an  attack was imminent stayed the decision:

I consequently urged Thomas in frequent dispatches sent from City Point to make the attack at once. The country was alarmed, the administration was alarmed, and I was alarmed lest the very thing would take place which I have just described that is, Hood would get north. It was all without avail further than to elicit dispatches from Thomas saying that he was getting ready to move as soon as he could, that he was making preparations, etc. At last I had to say to General Thomas that I should be obliged to remove him unless he acted promptly. He replied that he was very sorry, but he would move as soon as he could.  
  General Logan happening to visit City Point about that time, and knowing him as a prompt, gallant and efficient officer, I gave him an order to proceed to Nashville to relieve Thomas. I directed him, however, not to deliver the order or publish it until he reached there, and if Thomas had moved, then not to deliver it at all, but communicate with me by telegraph. After Logan started, in thinking over the situation, I became restless, and concluded to go myself. I went as far as Washington City, when a dispatch was received from General Thomas announcing his readiness at last to move, and designating the time of his movement. I concluded to wait until that time. He did move, and was successful from the start. This was on the 15th of December. General Logan was at Louisville at the time this movement was made, and telegraphed the fact to Washington, and proceeded no farther himself.
Heavily outnumbering the Confederates, Thomas planned to attack the exposed Confederate left while making feint attacks on the Confederate right.  Hood was not fooled by the feint attacks and throughout the day sent reinforcements to the Confederate left.  After hard fighting, Thomas took the five redoubts guarding the Confederate left.
The next day Thomas repeated his tactics, with attacks on the new Confederate left and feint attacks on the Confederate right.  As the sun was going down, the Confederate left disintegrated and Thomas had won the battle.  Thomas pursued Hood relentlessly until Hood crossed the Tennessee River on December 28.  The Confederate Army of Tennessee was finished as an effective combat force.  Confederate casualties were 6000 to 3000 Union. Continue reading

December 10, 1864: Letter From Lamon to Lincoln

Ward Hill Lamon

 

 

Virginia born Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s lawyer friend from Bloomington, Illinois, spent a frustrating Civil War attempting to protect the President, who appointed him the US Marshal for the District of Columbia.  Lincoln took a fatalistic attitude towards security, assuming that no precautions could protect him from an assassin determined to kill him.  Lamon’s frustration boiled over in an eerily prophetic letter written very early on December 10, 1864:

Washington, D. C.
Dec. 10, 1864, 1.30 o’clock, A. M.

Hon. A. Lincoln:

Sir, — I regret that you do not appreciate what I have repeatedly said to you in regard to the proper police arrangements connected with your household and your own personal safety. You are in danger. I have nothing to ask, and I flatter myself that you will at least believe that I am honest. If, however, you have been impressed differently, do me and the country the justice to dispose at once of all suspected officers, and accept my resignation of the marshalship, which is hereby tendered. I will give you further reasons which have impelled me to this course. To-night, as you have done on several previous occasions, you went unattended to the theatre. When I say unattended, I mean that you went alone with Charles Sumner and a foreign minister, neither of whom could defend himself against an assault from any able-bodied woman in this city. And you know, or ought to know, that your life is sought after, and will be taken unless you and your friends are cautious; for you have many enemies within our lines. You certainly know that I have provided men at your mansion to perform all necessary police duty, and I am always ready myself to perform any duty that will properly conduce to your interest or your safety.

God knows that I am unselfish in this matter; and I do think that I have played low comedy long enough, and at my time of life I think I ought at least to attempt to play star engagements.

I have the honor to be

Your obedient servant,

Ward H. Lamon.

Continue reading

Lincoln’s Final Annual Message

 

Lincoln’s Final Annual Message to Congress, what we would call the State of the Union speech, dated December 6, 1864, is a good corrective to the idea that nothing occurred during the Lincoln administration except the Civil War.  Most of the Message deals with non War related matters, and reminds us that History did not sit still until the War was concluded.  The War itself is briefly touched upon, Lincoln assuming correctly that there were few citizens unaware of the fact that the War was going very well indeed and that the Union was on the verge of winning it.  Lincoln does pick out for mention Sherman’s March to the Sea, no doubt a common topic of conversation at that time in the North, and a demonstration, as Lincoln observes, of the increasing weakness of the Confederacy to impede Union military operations.  Lincoln devotes the end section of his Message to comments about reconstruction:

On careful consideration of all the evidence accessible it seems to me that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short of severance of the Union, precisely what we will not and can not give. His declarations to this effect are explicit and oft repeated. He does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union; we can not voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory. If we yield, we are beaten; if the Southern people fail him, he is beaten. Either way it would be the victory and defeat following war. What is true, however, of him who heads the insurgent cause is not necessarily true of those who follow. Although he can not reaccept the Union, they can. Some of them, we know, already desire peace and reunion. The number of such may increase. They can at any moment have peace simply by laying down their arms and submitting to the national authority under the Constitution. Alter so much the Government could not, if it would, maintain war against them. The loyal people would not sustain or allow it. If questions should remain, we would adjust them by the peaceful means of legislation, conference, courts, and votes, operating only in constitutional and lawful channels. Some certain, and other possible, questions are and would be beyond the Executive power to adjust; as, for instance, the admission of members into Congress and whatever might require the appropriation of money. The Executive power itself would be greatly diminished by the cessation of actual war. Pardons and remissions of forfeitures, however, would still be within Executive control. In what spirit and temper this control would be exercised can be fairly judged of by the past.

Lincoln’s attention was beginning to shift from winning the War to winning the peace.  It is one of the great tragedies of American history that he would win the former and not be present for the latter.  Here is the text of the message: Continue reading

December 2, 1864: Non-Siege of Nashville Begins

Nashville_campaign_svg

 

One of the oddest episodes in the history of the Civil War begins.  His army badly mangled at the battle of Franklin, Hood entrenches his army before the Union lines at Nashville.

Hood explained his rationale for doing so in his official report of the campaign which he submitted on February 15, 1865:

On the 2d of December the army took position in front of Nashville, about two miles from the city. Lieutenant-General Lee’s corps constituted our center, resting upon the Franklin pike, with Cheatham’s corps upon the right and Stewart’s on the left, and the cavalry on either flank, extending to the river. I was causing strong detached works to be built to cover our flanks, intending to make them inclosed works, so as to defeat any attempt of the enemy should he undertake offensive movements against our flank and rear. The enemy still held Murfrees-borough with about 6,000 men, strongly fortified; he also held small forces at Chattanooga and Knoxville. It was apparent that he would soon have to take the offensive to relieve his garrisons at those points or cause them to be evacuated, in which case I hoped to capture the forces at Murfreesborough, and should then be able to open communication with Georgia and Virginia. Should he attack me in position I felt that I could defeat him, and thus gain possession of Nashville with abundant supplies for the army. This would give me possession of Tennessee. Necessary steps were taken to furnish the army with supplies, which the people were ready and willing to furnish. Shoe-shops were in operation in each brigade. We had captured sufficient railroad stock to use the road to Pulaski, and it was already in successful operation. Having possession of the State, we should have gained largely in recruits, and could at an early day have moved forward to the Ohio, which would have frustrated the plans of the enemy, as developed in his campaign toward the Atlantic coast. Continue reading

Rebel Yell

I have been listening lately as I drive about to an audio book, Rebel Yell:  The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson  by SC Gwynne.    I purchased the audio book with a bit of diffidence since I have been studying Jackson for a half century now, and I thought I had little to learn about him, either as a man or as a general.  I was wrong.  In  brilliantly written prose Gwynne has given me a better understanding of the evolution of Jackson throughout his life as both a human being and a soldier.  Jackson in many ways was an odd duck.  Often harsh and unyielding in matters of either military discipline or violations of his strict beliefs of right and wrong, Jackson was unfailingly kind and sweet in his personal relations with almost all the people he encountered in this Vale of Tears.

Most of us can act very differently under different circumstances, but Jackson was almost a different person depending upon how a person encountered him.  As a general he could be a martinet who would refuse a subordinate during the Valley Campaign time to go to the bedside of his dying children, explaining that the needs of the service must always come first.  However, he could then surrender his bed to a subordinate officer he did not like when he learned that the man was unwell.  He shot men out of hand for desertion following swift military trials, and he could weep like a child upon learning of the death of a child he had known from Scarlet Fever.  Suggesting at the beginning of the War that the Confederacy should raise the Black Flag and take no prisoners of invaders from the North, during the War he allowed Union surgeons to continue treating captured Union wounded and then freed them to return to their own lines.  Ostensibly a man fighting to help the South preserve slavery, he founded a Sunday school for blacks in the teeth of resistance in his home town and taught blacks to read in violation of Virginia state law.  A grim religious warrior who would have been at home in the ranks of Cromwell’s Ironsides during the English Civil War, he became a good friend of General Jeb Stuart, the embodiment of the Cavalier legend of the South.  Complex has always been a word that pops into my mind when I think of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, and Gwynne holds up to the readers all of these contradictory facets of Jackson and manages the considerable feat of making his readers see the whole man behind them. Continue reading

November 30, 1864: Battle of Franklin

Battle of Franklin

With Sherman embarking on his March to the Sea, John Bell Hood and his Army of Tennessee were left confronting the Union forces in Tennessee, some sixty thousand troops to the 39,000 under Hood.  The odds were actually longer than that, as Union control of the railroads and rivers of Tennessee would allow rapid Union reinforcement in Tennessee if necessary.  Hood decided that his only option for victory was to take Tennessee from the Union.  This was the longest of long shots, but at this stage of the War no Confederate commander had strategic options that could be called anything other than bleak.  Hood’s plan at least had his army taking the initiative, and he could hope for some massive Union blunders that might transform an impossible situation into one that gave him some hope of at least slowing what he no doubt perceived as an inevitable Union victory in the War.

Hood entered Tennessee on November 21, and his campaign began with some promise.  The Union forces were divided by 75 miles with Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, and Schofield and his Army of the Ohio, some 27,000 men, at Pulaski, Tennessee.

Hood did his best to bring Schofield to battle before he could unite with Thomas and succeeded in doing so on November 30 at Franklin, Tennessee, some 21 miles south of Nashville, after the Army of Tennessee missed a golden opportunity to destroy a portion of Schofield’s retreating force at Spring Hill the day before.

Schofield had abandoned his pontoon bridge during the retreat and thus his army fought the Battle of Franklin with its back to the Harpeth River, and potential annihilation if the Confederates could dislodge his defense.  Hood realized the opportunity that presented itself and ordered an all out assault that began at 4:00 PM.

Some of the most desperate fighting of the Civil War ensued.  An initial Confederate breakthrough in the Union center was sealed after ferocious combat, much of it hand to hand. Confederate attacks continued until 10:00 PM.  The unsuccessful attacks devastated the Army of the Tennessee.  Union total casualties of approximately 2,200 included 189 killed.  Confederate killed were ten times that number with total Confederate casualties of 6200.  The tenor of the Confederate losses is illustrated by their generals who were casualties that day.  Six Confederate generals died, including perhaps the best Confederate division commander, Major General Patrick Cleburne, seven Confederate generals were wounded and one was captured.  Schofield withdrew across the river that night and march his army to Nashville.  Hood followed with his army, now a pale reflection of the force that he led into battle the day before.  November 30, 1864 was the black day of the Army of Tennessee.

Here is the report of General Thomas on the battle: Continue reading

Thanksgiving Proclamation: 1864

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

 

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions: Continue reading

Confederate Thanksgiving

 

 

 

Once more upon the plains of Manassas have our armies been blessed by the Lord of Hosts with a triumph over our enemies. It is my privilege to invite you once more to His footstool, not now in the garb of fasting and sorrow, but with joy and gladness, to render thanks for the great mercies received at His hand. A few months since, and our enemies poured forth their invading legions upon our soil. They laid waste our fields, polluted our altars and violated the sanctity of our homes. Around our capital they gathered their forces, and with boastful threats, claimed it as already their prize. The brave troops which rallied to its defense have extinguished these vain hopes, and, under the guidance of the same almighty hand, have scattered our enemies and driven them back in dismay. Uniting these defeated forces and the various armies which had been ravaging our coasts with the army of invasion in Northern Virginia, our enemies have renewed their attempt to subjugate us at the very place where their first effort was defeated, and the vengeance of retributive justice has overtaken the entire host in a second and complete overthrow.

To this signal success accorded to our arms in the East has been graciously added another equally brilliant in the West. On the very day on which our forces were led to victory on the Plains of Manassas, in Virginia, the same Almighty arm assisted us to overcome our enemies at Richmond, in Kentucky. Thus, at one and the same time, have two great hostile armies been stricken down, and the wicked designs of their armies been set at naught.

In such circumstances, it is meet and right that, as a people, we should bow down in adoring thankfulness to that gracious God who has been our bulwark and defense, and to offer unto him the tribute of thanksgiving and praise. In his hand is the issue of all events, and to him should we, in an especial manner, ascribe the honor of this great deliverance. Continue reading

November 24, 1864: Thanksgiving for the Troops

In 1864 the Union League decided to raise a fund to supply Thanksgiving dinner on November 24, 1864 for the Union soldiers and sailors fighting in the East.  The reaction of the Northern public to this plan was overwhelming.  over $56,000 in cash was raised, an enormous sum at the time, 250,000 pounds of fowl, and enormous contributions of foodstuffs of every type.  The Union soldiers and sailors loved their feast and the reminder that they had not been forgotten by the folks back home.  For Confederate soldiers, on starvation rations, there was of course no feast, a fact underlining the overwhelming tragedy of the Civil War.  Here is the Union League appeal which was printed in the New York Times on November 8, 1864.  Note that  Theodore Roosevelt, the father of the future president of the same name, is the Treasurer: Continue reading

November 21, 1864: Letter to Mrs. Bixby

Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

 

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

 

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

 

A. LINCOLN.

 

It is a magnificent letter and repeats themes from the Gettysburg address and looks forward to the Second Inaugural.  Alas, the letter demonstrates how frequently ill advised it is to rely on government records.  Two of Mrs. Bixby’s sons died fighting for the Union, another died as either a deserter or a prisoner of war and another deserted and survived the war.  The final son was honorably discharged from the Army.  (This is not that unusual.  One of my friends, when it came time for him to retire from the Marines, had quite a time convincing the Pentagon that he had not died fighting in Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968.) Mrs. Bixby did not find the letter of comfort apparently.  According to a granddaughter, Mrs. Bixby was secretly in sympathy with the Confederacy and had little good to say of Mr. Lincoln.  She probably destroyed the letter soon after it was delivered to her on November 24, 1864, as the original letter, which was published at the time, promptly vanished from history.

 

Lincoln, although he signed the letter, may not have written it.  Theodore Roosevelt had a copy of it in his office and greatly admired it.  A witness indicated that at one point his Secretary of State John Hay, who had been one of Lincoln’s private secretaries, stated that he had written the letter, which would not have been an unusual procedure, although Lincoln wrote quite a bit of his own correspondence as President.  The question remains open, although on balance I think the authorship of the letter by Hay, mimicking Lincoln’s thoughts and style, probably has the stronger case than Lincoln’s own authorship. Having said all of that, I assume that Lincoln’s heart did go out to Mrs.  Bixby.  He had seen two of his own sons die, and friends and relatives of his had fallen in the War.  He was a frequent visitor to Union hospitals around Washington to visit the Union wounded and knew well the immense human cost of the War that now, mercifully, was drawing to a close. Continue reading

Roosevelt’s Rebel Uncles

Bulloch_Brothers_James_&_Irvine

During the Civil War, Theodore Roosevelt’s home was literally a house divided.  His father was whole heartedly for the Union, while his mother backed the Confederacy with the same passion.  Our of respect for his wife, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr, put aside his strong desire to enlist in the Union army and served in a civilian non-combatant capacity.  Many of his mother’s relations fought for the Confederacy, and Roosevelt, Jr, was especially fond of two of his uncles who had served in the Confederate Navy:

“My mother’s two brothers, James Dunwoody Bulloch and Irvine Bulloch, came to visit us shortly after the close of the war. Both came under assumed names, as they were among the Confederates who were at that time exempted from the amnesty. “Uncle Jimmy” Bulloch was a dear old retired sea-captain, utterly unable to “get on” in the worldly sense of that phrase, as valiant and simple and upright a soul as ever lived, a veritable Colonel Newcome. He was a commander in the Confederate navy, and was the builder of the famous Confederate war vessel Alabama. My uncle Irvine Bulloch was a midshipman on the Alabama, and fired the last gun discharged from her batteries in the fight with the Kearsarge. Both of these uncles lived in Liverpool after the war. “

My uncle Jimmy Bulloch was forgiving and just in reference to the Union forces, and could discuss all phases of the Civil War with entire fairness and generosity. But in English politics he promptly became a Tory of the most ultra-conservative school. Lincoln and Grant he could admire, but he would not listen to anything in favor of Mr. Gladstone. The only occasions on which I ever shook his faith in me were when I would venture meekly to suggest that some of the manifestly preposterous falsehoods about Mr. Gladstone could not be true. My uncle was one of the best men I have ever known, and when I have sometimes been tempted to wonder how good people can believe of me the unjust and impossible things they do believe, I have consoled myself by thinking of Uncle Jimmy Bulloch’s perfectly sincere conviction that Gladstone was a man of quite exceptional and nameless infamy in both public and private life.” Continue reading

Stonewall Jim

stonewall jim

 

 

In 1852 a cadet challenged Professor Thomas Jonathan Jackson to a duel.  A brilliant student, the cadet had been expelled from the Virginia Military Institute due to charges brought against him by Professor Jackson alleging classroom disobedience.  Enraged the cadet challenged him to a duel and threatened that if Jackson would not fight him in a duel he would seek him out and kill him.  Jackson was not going to fight a duel with a cadet and considered taking out a restraining order.  However, the former cadet,  James Alexander Walker, eventually calmed down and went on with his life.  He studied law at the University of Virginia and began practicing law.  He married and he and his wife would eventually have six children.  Then the war came.

Enlisting in the Confederate army as a captain, he quickly was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and then Colonel of the 13th Virginia.  The 13th Virginia served in the Valley Campaign under now General Thomas Jonathan Jackson.  Jackson admired the courage and discipline of the cadet that had been dismissed from VMI due to his charges, which Walker regarded Jackson as a military genius and the ideal commander.  On his deathbed, Jackson recommended that Walker be promoted to general and given command of his old unit, the elite Stonewall Brigade.

Called Stonewall Jim by his troops, Walker led the brigade from Gettysburg to Spotsylvania where he was severely wounded.  Late in the war he commanded a division in the Second Corps.

After the war he had an illustrious career at both the bar and in politics.  He served in the Virginia legislature as a Democrat, eventually being elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.  In 1893 he switched to the Republican party and served two terms in Congress, being defeated in a hotly contested election for a third term.  At a deposition over the election results, he was shot and wounded.  Nothing dismayed, he ran against his opponent again and lost again in 1900.  He died in 1901. Continue reading

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