American Civil War
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
In the above dispatch on September 3, 1864 Sherman informed Chief of Staff Halleck of the news that Atlanta had fallen. Hundreds of telegrams, and thousands of letters, of congratulation from the great and humble of the North descended on Sherman’s headquarters. In his memoirs Sherman noted the two he cherished above all: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
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
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
The convention of the Democrats in 1864 to nominate a standard bearer for President opened on August 29, 1864 in Chicago. The convention was badly split between War Democrats and Peace Democrats. The Peace Democrats were strong enough to have a platform approved which dealt with one issue, the War, and which was highly critical of a continuation of the War and called for immediate peace negotiations:
Resolved, That in the future, as in the past, we will adhere with unswerving fidelity to the Union under the Constitution as the only solid foundation of our strength, security, and happiness as a people, and as a framework of government equally conducive to the welfare and prosperity of all the States, both Northern and Southern.
Resolved, That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity of war-power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view of an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that, at the earliest practicable moment, peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.
Resolved, That the direct interference of the military authorities of the United States in the recent elections held in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware was a shameful violation of the Constitution, and a repetition of such acts in the approaching election will be held as revolutionary, and resisted with all the means and power under our control.
Resolved, That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired, and they hereby declare that they consider that the administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution; the subversion of the civil by military law in States not in insurrection; the arbitrary military arrest, imprisonment, trial, and sentence of American citizens in States where civil law exists in full force; the suppression of freedom of speech and of the press; the denial of the right of asylum; the open and avowed disregard of State rights; the employment of unusual test-oaths; and the interference with and denial of the right of the people to bear arms in their defense is calculated to prevent a restoration of the Union and the perpetuation of a Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.
Resolved, That the shameful disregard of the Administration to its duty in respect to our fellow-citizens who now are and long have been prisoners of war and in a suffering condition, deserves the severest reprobation on the score alike of public policy and common humanity.
Resolved, That the sympathy of the Democratic party is heartily and earnestly extended to the soldiery of our army and sailors of our navy, who are and have been in the field and on the sea under the flag of our country, and, in the events of its attaining power, they will receive all the care, protection, and regard that the brave soldiers and sailors of the republic have so nobly earned. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Yellow-haired Hood with his wounds and his empty sleeve,
Leading his Texans,
a Viking shape of a man,
With the thrust and lack of craft of a berserk sword,
All lion, none of the fox.
When he supersedes Joe Johnston, he is lost, and his army with him,
But he could lead forlorn hopes with the ghost of Ney.
His big boned Texans follow him into the mist.
Who follows them?
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
Few Civil War generals get as bad a historical trouncing as John Bell Hood. A talented regimental, division and corps commander, his tenure as commander of the Army of Tennessee is regarded as a disaster, with Hood being depicted as a reckless head on fighter who threw away any chance of victory by losing Atlanta and then leading his army to near annihilation during the Franklin-Nashville campaign. I have largely accepted that historical verdict, but a new book, John Bell Hood, The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General, gives me pause.
Stephen M. “Sam” Hood, a distant relative of the general, does a masterful job of defending Hood from sloppy historical accounts. For example, the quote from John Brown’s Body about Hood being all of the lion and none of the fox has often been falsely attributed to Robert E. Lee. Among many other historical howlers that have made their way into historical accounts is that Hood, due to his injuries, was a laudanum addict. Stephen Hood demonstrates that there is no contemporary evidence to substantiate this. Stephen Hood does a service in this book, not just to General Hood, but also to Civil War scholarship. Too many supposed factoids about the War, firmly ensconced in secondary sources, are mere fables, and John Bell Hood, The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General is an unsettling book length demonstration of how these myths need to be dispelled. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
The massive casualties taken by the Army of the Potomac since the beginning of Grant’s drive on Richmond had destroyed the combat effectiveness of many units in the Army, with large numbers of veteran troops either killed or in hospital to recover from wounds and the ranks filled up with hastitly trained recruits. This decrease in combat capability was dramatically demonstrated at the Second Battle of Reams Station. On August 24, Grant sent Hancock and his II corps south along the Weldon railroad to destroy as much of the rail line currently in Confederate hands as he could, to increase the difficulties of the Confederates in transporting supplies from the portion of the Weldon railroad they stilled controlled to Petersburg and Richmond.
All went well initially with Hancock’s corps destroying three miles of track. However on the afternoon of the 25th a Confederate attack routed the II corps, with Hancock being forced to withdraw to the Union fortified lines. Union casualties were 2,743 to 814 Confederate. 2073 of the Union casualties were prisoners, many of whom surrendered after only brief resistance. Hancock’s reaction to all this, no doubt remembering the days when his troops were considered the elite of the Army, was to remark in despair to an aide as he was unable to rally his retreating troops: “I do not care to die, but I pray God I may never leave this field.” →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Something for the weekend. We are Coming Father Abraham, written by Stephen Foster in 1862. Few songs better conveyed Northern determination to win the War. However, by August 1864 that determination seemed to be wearing thin.
With the War stalled both East and West Union morale was faltering. On August 22, 1864 Lincoln received a letter from Republican party chairman Henry J. Raymond suggesting that Lincoln offer peace terms to Jefferson Davis on the sole term of acknowledgement of the supremacy of the Constitution with slavery to be dealt with at a later date. Lincoln’s morale remained unshaken, but he was a veteran politician and could read the political tea leaves as well as any political prognosticator. That he read defeat in the tea leaves is demonstrated by what has become known as The Blind Memorandum. Lincoln sealed this document and on August w3, 1864 asked his cabinet officers to sign it unread. They complied. Here is the text:
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.
A. Lincoln →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Lincoln, six feet one in his stocking feet,
The lank man, knotty and tough as a hickory rail,
Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves,
Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,
Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field–
Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down
The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,
And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay
As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine
Plutarchan sentences carved in a Latin bronze;
The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,
The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,
State-character but comparative failure at forty
In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,
Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,
Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,
And a self-confidence like an iron bar:
This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,
Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches
Which make the monumental booming of Webster
Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.
Stephen Vincent Benet
(I originally posted this on February 9, 2012. The comments it contains regarding my late son Larry reminds me that in this Vale of Tears we can never know the ending of our personal history, but we can do our best to make it a tale worth reading when we come to our end, something that I think both Mr. Lincoln and my son accomplished on vastly different scales.)
Today is the 203rd birthday of the Sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The above video is an interesting and imaginative interview of Lincoln, if the film technology of the Thirties of the last century had been available in 1860.
Lately I have been reading a book on Lincoln with my autistic son. I point at the words and he reads them, an early morning ritual we have carried out for the last 14 years. Young Lincoln’s struggles against the poverty of his early years, and his lack of more than one year in total of formal education, strikes a chord with me in regard to my son’s struggles against his autism. One of the many reasons why I find Mr. Lincoln’s life endlessly fascinating is the theme throughout it of the most extraordinary possibilities in all of us, no matter the cards that Fate dealt to us initially. more
On August 17, 1864 Grant was heartened when he received a telegram of support from President Lincoln. Go here to read about it. Grant remarked to his staff after reading the telegram: “The President has more nerve than any of his advisors.”
Lincoln had advised Grant: Hold on with a bull-dog gripe, and chew & choke, as much as possible. Unbeknownst to the President, Grant already had underway an operation to do just that. Major General Gouverneur K. Warren was ordered by Grant to take his V corps, supported by units of the IX and II corps and a small cavalry division, and move to the left to capture a section of the Weldon railroad, the main supply line for the Confederate forces at Richmond and Petersburg, which led south to Wilmington, the last major port of the Confederacy.
By 9:00 AM on August 18, 1864, Warren had brushed aside Confederate pickets and reached the Weldon railroad at Globe Tavern. He deployed a division of his corps to destroy track, held another division in reserve and set another brigade, deployed in line of battle, north to guard against Confederate attempts to retake the railroad. A.P. Hill, launching his attack at 2:00 PM used two divisions from his corps to retake Globe Tavern, but Warren counterattacked and recovered the ground he lost, his troops entrenching as night fell.
On the 19th, the IX corps reinforced Warrens V corps while the Confederates received three brigades of Major General William Mahones’ division along with “Rooney” Lee’s cavalry division. Mahone, cementing his reputation, after the part he played in retaking the Crater, as one of the best generals for the Confederacy in 1864, launched a slashing flank attack that captured two Union brigades. A Confederate frontal assault by Major General Henry Heth was easily repulsed, and the fighting ended with a IX corps counterattack leading to hand to hand fighting as nightfall brought a close to the day’s fighting.
Torrential rains on the 20th prevented large scale combat. Warren withdrew on the night of the 20-21 to a new fortified line. Confederate attacks failed to dislodge him, and the battle of Globe Tavern ended with the Union in permanent possession of several miles of the Weldon railroad which necessitated the Confederates to bring in supplies to Petersburg and Richmond thirty miles from the nearest section of the Weldon railroad not under Union control. Union casuaties were 4, 296 to 1,620 Confederates but the noose had been tightened around Petersburg and the Confederacy.
Here are the comments of General Grant on this operation in his Personal Memoirs: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading