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March 2, 1865: End of the War in the Valley

 

300px-Waynesboro_svg

 

It had been a long and grueling War in the Shenandoah Valley with some towns changing hands some seventy times between Union and Confederate forces.  On March 2, 1865 it came to an end.  Jubal Early’s force, stripped over the winter to shore up Lee’s thin ranks holding the lines at Petersburg, was now reduced to 1500 men.  Sheridan was moving South, initially under orders to move into North Carolina and link up with Sherman advancing into North Carolina.  Not wanting to leave Early in his rear, Sheridan sent twenty-five year old Brigadier General George Armstrong with a division of cavalry, 2,500 men, to find Early.

Custer had graduated dead last in his class at West Point in 1861, making him the class goat.  The “goat” had a spectacularly successful War, rising in rank from Second Lieutenant to Major General of Volunteers. (He had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General of Volunteers, passing over the intervening ranks, in 1863.)  Daring and combative, Custer had helped transform Union cavalry from lackluster to an able strike force.

Early posted his small force on a ridge due west of Waynesboro, Virginia.  Arriving at 2:00 PM on March 2, Custer quickly saw that Early had fortified his position and that head on attacks would probably not work, but that Early’s left could be turned.  (Early had thought that a thick wood adequately protected this flank.)  Sending one brigade to turn the Confederate left while he attacked frontally with two brigades worked  to perfection.  Virtually the entire Confederate force was taken prisoner with Early and fifteen to twenty Confederates escaping.  Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle from his Memoirs: Continue Reading

Lee Ponders the Coming Campaign

 Lee Ponders Defeat

One hundred and fifty years ago, Winter still held the nation in its grip, but all knew that Spring was coming, and with Spring an inevitable push by Grant against Lee to end the War.  In a letter of February 22, 1865 to Longstreet, Lee considers the options of the Army of Northern Virginia in the coming campaign.  Like a master chess player who is losing a game, all the moves are clear to Lee, but a path to victory for the Confederacy is not.  At best Lee can contemplate his Army either striking Grant or Sherman’s army but leaving unsaid what Longstreet already knew:  that either Grant or Sherman’s forces were strong enough to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia in open battle.  Here is the text of Lee’s letter: Continue Reading

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February 25, 1865: Lee Will Not Give Up the Texas Brigade

 

..”Attention Texas Brigade” was rung upon the morning air, by Gen. Gregg, “the eyes of General Lee are upon you, forward, march.” Scarce had we moved a step, when Gen. Lee, in front of the whole command, raised himself in his stirrups, uncovered his grey hairs, and with an earnest, yet anxious voice, exclaimed above the din and confusion of the hour, “Texans always move them.”
…never before in my lifetime or since, did I ever witness such a scene as was enacted when Lee pronounced these words, with the appealing look that he gave. A yell rent the air that must have been heard for miles around, and but few eyes in that old brigade of veterans and heroes of many a bloody field was undimmed by honest, heart-felt tears. Leonard Gee, a courier to Gen. Gregg, and riding  by my side, with tears coursing down his cheeks and yells issuing from his throat exclaimed, “I would charge hell itself for that old man.”

 

Private Robert Campell, 5th Texas Infantry

The fighting erupted early on the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness.  Grant assumed that Hill’s corps had been fought out on the first day and could be overrun with a strong attack.  At 5:00 AM Hancock attacked with three divisions, with two in support.  By 6:00 AM Hill’s corps was in full retreat and disaster loomed for Lee.  At that time the 800 man Texas Brigade, perhaps the elite fighting unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the vanguard of Longstreet’s corps arrived and saved the day.  Longstreet launched a two division counterattack up the Orange Plank Road, with the Texans, who suffered 650 casualties, leading the attack on the north side of the Road.

This action by the Texan Brigade, and similar actions on many other fields, caused Lee to treasure the unit as his shock troops.  This caused Lee to deny a request by the Governor of Texas in February of 1865.  The request and the denial are contained in this letter from Jefferson Davis to the Governor of  Texas: Continue Reading

Robert Todd Lincoln Goes to War

 

Robert Todd Lincoln

 

A recent biography of Robert Todd Lincoln is entitled Giant in the Shadows and that is an accurate description of him.  One of the foremost attorneys of his day, a noted philanthropist, Secretary of War and Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, he lived a life of accomplishment, and from the election of his father as President, he knew that nothing that he did mattered to History and he would always be remembered for being the son of Abraham Lincoln.  It is hard being the son of a great man, and it is to his credit that Robert did not allow his accident of birth to overwhelm him.  Throughout his life he never ran away from his father and his memory, a man and a memory that he loved.  However, he was intent on being his own man, and his first major action demonstrating this was his desire to enlist in the Union Army.  His father was sympathetic to his desire to fight for his country but was fearful that his wife would lose what often seemed to be a tenuous grasp on sanity if harm should come to Robert and he be added to the ranks of the two Lincoln sons who had already died.  Nevertheless, he sided with Robert and told Mary on several occasions that many families had lost all their sons in the War and that Robert had to obey his conscience and join the Army.  Mary Todd Lincoln knew that it was a “noble and manly” impulse, as she called it, that led her oldest son to want to join the Army, but allowed her fears to long cause her to battle against his desire to serve.  It didn’t help that many of her relatives had already died serving in both the Confederate and Union Armies.

Abraham Lincoln, ever a born compromiser, found a solution which he set forth in a letter to Grant.

 

Lieut. General Grant:

Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President, but only a friend.  My son, now in his twenty second year, having graduated at Harvard, wishes to see something of the war before it ends.  I do not wish to put him in the ranks, nor yet to give him a commission, to which those who have already served long, are better entitled, and better qualified to hold.  Could he, without embarrassment to you, or detriment to the service, go into your Military family with some nominal rank, I, and not the public, furnishing his necessary means?  If no, say so without the least hesitation, because I am as anxious, and as deeply interested, that you shall not be encumbered as you can be yourself.

Yours truly

A. LINCOLN

Grant assured Lincoln that his son would be welcome as an officer on his staff.  On February 11, 1865, Robert joined the Army as an adjutant on Grant’s staff with the rank of Captain.  By all accounts he was a hardworking officer, and well-liked by his fellow staff officers.  He would have preferred a combat assignment, but by that time of the War he was probably more useful where he was.  The Union army had no shortage by the end of the War of seasoned combat officers, and with his Harvard education Robert was probably more useful as a staff officer than as a green officer in a combat command. Continue Reading

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For Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things, and Battles Long

Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

William Wordsworth, The Solitary Reaper

 

 

An interesting collection in the video above of photos of Civil War generals during and after the War.  As the Civil War was drawing to a close one hundred and fifty years ago, the hundreds of thousands of photographs taken during the War ensured that it would not be remembered as other conflicts had been remembered.  Unlike, say, the American Revolution, the reality of the War would not be sweetened by a few score paintings that would fix the War visually in historical memory.    Unthinkable in 1865, even when the millions of men who had fought in the War were all dust, the photographs would remain to show a small part of what they saw.  John Adams, who feared that the true history of the American Revolution was lost forever and that posterity was being given myths instead of truths regarding the great times he lived through, would have hailed the advent of photography as helping to preserve some of the reality of the stubborn facts of history. Continue Reading

February 18, 1865: Charleston is Taken

The Civil War began with the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.  The Confederates had tenaciously held onto Charleston in the face of repeated assaults by sea and land during the course of the War.  The fall of the city was anti-climactic, with General Beauregard evacuating the Confederate garrison on February 15, and the mayor of Charleston surrendering the town to the Union forces.  The North went wild in celebration with the news, although by this point in the War Charleston had little military significance in the face of the overwhelming tide of Union victory.

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Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis

 

It has been said ‘The world loves, not those who would sacrifice themselves for others, if they could find an opportunity, but those who have found one and used it.’ She, our mother, the state, saw the distinction, and applied it to her sons of the sword and gun; and now it is the text of the sermon she means these stones to preach immemorially. In other words, making this matchless structure speak for her, she says: ‘They are my best beloved, who in every instance of danger to the nation, discover a glorious chance to serve their fellow men and dare the chance, though in so doing they suffer and sometimes die.’

General Lew Wallace, speech on the dedication of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis in 1902

 

My family and I vacation each year in Indianapolis in August as we attend the GenCon Convention.  A city of approximately 850,000, the state capitol of Indiana is a very livable city where it is still possible to park on the street in the major business section.  Indianapolis is filled with monuments and the most striking by far is the Civil War memorial, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indie.  Dedicated in 1902 to Indiana’s silent victors, the Hoosiers who fell in the War, the monument stands 284 feet tall on Monument Circle.  The Monument is huge, taking up an acre of space.  Costing a bit over a half million when built, the estimated cost to build such a structure today is half a billion.

There is an observation deck on top and tourists can either take an elevator or climb the 331 steps.  I recommend the elevator.  Several years ago I climbed the seemingly endless and narrow winding steps with my kids.  Being young teenagers then, they had no trouble.  I was about fifty at the time, and on that muggy day almost killed myself getting to the top! Continue Reading

February 10, 1865: Lincoln Reports to the House

Thaddeus Stevens

On February 10, 1865, pursuant to a House of Representatives Resolution drafted by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Lincoln sent a report to the House which basically consisted of a timeline of the events that led up to the Hampton Roads Conference.  Radical Republicans were furious when they first learned of the Hampton Roads Conference, afraid that Lincoln was trying an end run around them by ending the War on terms generous to the Confederates.  After the report was read in the House, tension ebbed when it was clear that the Hampton Roads Conference had ended without any agreement being reached, or any further meetings planned.  Here is the text of Lincoln’s report: Continue Reading

February 8, 1865: Lincoln to Grant

 

 

Lincoln and Grant

 

As news spread of the abortive Hampton Roads Conference, members of Congress demanded to know what was said.  Lincoln sent the following telegraph to Grant on February 8, 1865:

Lieut. Gen. Grant Executive Mansion
City Point, Va. Washington, Feb. 8. 1865

I am called on by the House of Representatives to give an account of my interview with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter & Campbell; and it is very desireable to me to put in your despatch of Feb. 1st. to the Sec. of War, in which among other things you say “I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence” I think the despatch does you credit while I do not see that it can embarrass you. May I use it?

A LINCOLN

 

Here is the message from Grant to Stanton on February 1:

CITY POINT, VA., February 1, 1865-10.30 p.m.

Honorable EDWIN M. STANTON,

Secretary of War:

Now that the interview between Major Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr. Stephens and party has ended, I will state confidentially, but not officially to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs. Stephens and Hunter, that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticence. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time, and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this despatch, if not all there now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the President’s instructions contemplated, to secure their safe conduct, if they had used the same language to Major Eckert.

U. S. GRANT,

Lieutenant-General. Continue Reading

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February 5, 1865: Lincoln Proposes Compensated Emancipation

Lincoln, February 5, 1865

Throughout the War Lincoln had made several attempts to propose compensated emancipation to end the War.  All such initiatives were still-born, killed by the twin facts that Congress was uninterested in providing the funding and that the slaveholders were uninterested in ending slavery, even with compensation.  On February 5, 1865, Lincoln proposed this plan to his cabinet:

Fellow citizens of the Senate, and [February 5, 1865]

House of Representatives.

I respectfully recommend that a Joint Resolution, substantially as follows, be adopted so soon as practicable, by your honorable bodies.

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives, of the United States of America in congress assembled: That the President of the United States is hereby empowered, in his discretion, to pay four hundred millions of dollars to the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West-Virginia, in the manner, and on the conditions following, towit: The payment to be made in six per cent government bonds, and to be distributed among said States pro rata on their respective slave populations, as shown by the census of 1860; and no part of said sum to be paid unless all resistance to the national authority shall be abandoned and cease, on or before the first day of April next; and upon such abandonment and ceasing of resistance, one half of said sum to be paid in manner aforesaid, and the remaining half to be paid only upon the amendment of the national constitution recently proposed byPage  261congress, becoming valid law, on or before the first day of July next, by the action thereon of the requisite number of States”

The adoption of such resolution is sought with a view to embody it, with other propositions, in a proclamation looking to peace and re-union.

Whereas a Joint Resolution has been adopted by congress in the words following, towit

Now therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known, that on the conditions therein stated, the power conferred on the Executive in and by said Joint Resolution, will be fully exercised; that war will cease, and armies be reduced to a basis of peace; that all political offences will be pardoned; that all property, except slaves, liable to confiscation or forfeiture, will be released therefrom, except in cases of intervening interests of third parties; and that liberality will be recommended to congress upon all points not lying within executive control. Continue Reading

February 3, 1865: Hampton Roads Conference

Hampton Roads Conference

The Hampton Roads Conference between President Lincoln and three representatives of the Confederacy, led by Lincoln’s old friend, and fellow former Whig, Vice President Alexander Stephens, was an exercise in pointlessness, as Lincoln and Stephens both knew it would be.  Lincoln was willing to negotiate on anything except Union and the end of Slavery, the two items that the Confederate emissaries lacked any authority to concede.  The only result of the conference was that Lincoln agreed to release from captivity a nephew of Stephens, a Confederate POW.  (Stephens did not request this until he was pressed by Lincoln as to whether there was anything he could do of a personal nature for him.)  The war would go on and both Lincoln and Davis could tell their peoples that negotiations had been attempted and that only success on the battlefield could lead to peace.  Here are the comments of Grant on this curious incident in the War: Continue Reading

National Freedom Day

 

 

One hundred and fifty years ago President Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment which had just been passed by Congress.  Unknown to most Americans, it is also National Freedom Day, so proclaimed by President Truman on January 25, 1949.  Here is the text of his proclamation:

Whereas, near the end of the tragic conflict between the Northern and Southern States, the Congress adopted a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution which would outlaw slavery in the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction; and

Whereas the resolution was signed by President Lincoln on February 1, 1865, and thereafter led to the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution; and

Whereas that Amendment is a corner stone in the foundation of our American traditions, and the signing of the resolution is a landmark in the Nation’s effort to fulfill the principles of freedom and justice proclaimed in the first ten amendments to the Constitution; and

Whereas, by a joint resolution approved June 30, 1948 (62 Stat. 1150), the Congress authorized the President to proclaim the first day of February of each year as National Freedom Day in commemoration of the signing of the resolution of February 1, 1865; and

Whereas the Government and people of the United States wholeheartedly support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, which declares that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”:

Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate February 1, 1949, and each succeeding February 1, as national Freedom Day; and I call upon the people of the United States to pause on that day in solemn contemplation of the glorious blessings of freedom which we humbly and thankfully enjoy.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this 25th day of January in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and seventy-third. Continue Reading

January 31, 1865: Passage of the Thirteenth Amendment

Something for the weekend.  Battle Cry of Freedom.  After the fall elections in 1864 passage of the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery was inevitable.  In 1864 the Thirteenth Amendment passed the Republican controlled Senate with an overwhelming majority of 38-6.  In the House the Amendment failed 93-65, thirteen votes shy of the two-thirds necessary for passage.  In November the Republicans in the House gained 46 seats and would have a majority of 134 when the new House was seated.  Nonetheless, the Lincoln administration was eager to undertake another vote in the House when the old Congress came into session after the election.  Lincoln made direct emotional appeals to several Democrats in favor of the Amendment.   Favors and appointments were offered to Democrats who switched their votes.  The Amendment passed 119-56.  Black spectators cheered after passage and several members of Congress openly wept.  Here is the text of the Amendment: Continue Reading

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January 30, 1865: Sherman’s March Through South Carolina Begins

 

 

On this day Sherman began his march through the Carolinas, with his ultimate destination Lee’s army, trapping it between his army and Grant’s army.  Most Union troops had very little love for the Palmetto State, blaming it for starting the War, and Sherman’s boys were strictly on their worst behavior in South Carolina, as this diary entry by Lieutenant Colonel George Nichols, a Union staff officer, indicates:

January 30th-The actual invasion of South Carolina has begun. The 17th Corps and that portion of the 15th which came around by way of Thunderbolt Beaufort moved out this morning, on parallel roads, in the direction of McPhersonville. The 17th Corps took the road nearest the Salkahatchie River. We expect General Corse, with the 4th Division of the 15th Corps, to join us at a point higher up. The 14th and 20th Corps will take the road to Robertville, nearer the Savannah River. Since General Howard started with the 17th we have heard the sound of many guns in his direction. To-day is the first really fine weather we have had since starting, and the roads have improved. It was wise not to cut them up during the rains, for we can now move along comfortably. The well-known sight of columns of black smoke meets our gaze again; this time houses are burning, and South Carolina has commenced to pay an installment, long overdue, on her debt to justice and humanity. With the help of God, we will have principal and interest before we leave her borders. There is a terrible gladness in the realization of so many hopes and wishes. This cowardly traitor state, secure from harm, as she thought, in her central position, with hellish haste dragged her Southern sisters into the caldron of secession. Little did she dream that the hated flag would again wave over her soil; but this bright morning a thousand Union banners are floating in the breeze , and the ground trembles beneath the tramp of thousands of brave Northmen, who know their mission, and will perform it to the end.

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Frederick Douglass Speech on the Thirteenth Amendment

 

In May 1865 William Lloyd Garrison moved at its convention for the disbanding of the American Anti-Slavery Society on the grounds that the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery by Congress in February 1865, and its certain ratification by a sufficient number of states, the abolition of slavery was now in sight and the goal of the organization reached.  Frederick Douglass, prophetically, in a response speech the next day said in effect, not so fast.  Here is a portion of his speech:

I do not wish to appear here in any fault-finding spirit, or as an impugner of the motives of those who believe that the time has come for this Society to disband. I am conscious of no suspicion of the purity and excellence of the motives that animate the President of this Society [William Lloyd Garrison], and other gentlemen who are in favor of its disbandment. I take this ground; whether this Constitutional Amendment [the thirteenth] is law or not, whether it has been ratified by a sufficient number of States to make it law or not, I hold that the work of Abolitionists is not done. Even if every State in the Union had ratified that Amendment, while the black man is confronted in the legislation of the South by the word “white,” our work as Abolitionists, as I conceive it, is not done. I took the ground, last night, that the South, by unfriendly legislation, could make our liberty, under that provision, a delusion, a mockery, and a snare, and I hold that ground now. What advantage is a provision like this Amendment to the black man, if the Legislature of any State can to-morrow declare that no black man’s testimony shall be received in a court of law? Where are we then? Any wretch may enter the house of a black man, and commit any violence he pleases; if he happens to do it only in the presence of black persons, he goes unwhipt of justice [“Hear, hear.”] And don’t tell me that those people down there have become so just and honest all at once that they will not pass laws denying to black men the right to testify against white men in the courts of law. Why, our Northern States have done it. Illinois, Indiana and Ohio have done it. Here, in the midst of institutions that have gone forth from old Plymouth Rock, the black, man has been excluded from testifying in the courts of law; and if the Legislature of every Southern State to-morrow pass a law, declaring that no Negro shall testify in any courts of law, they will not violate that provision of the Constitution. Such laws exist now at the South, and they might exist under this provision of the Constitution, that there shall be neither slavery not involuntary servitude in any State of the Union….

Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot. While the Legislatures of the South retain the right to pass laws making any discrimination between black and white, slavery still lives there. [Applause.] As Edmund Quincy once said, “While the word ‘white’ is on the statute-book of Massachusetts, Massachusetts is a slave State. While a black man can be turned out of a car in Massachusetts, Massachusetts is a slave State. While a slave can be taken from old Massachusetts, Massachusetts is a slave State.” That is what I heard Edmund Quincy say twenty-three or twenty-four years ago. I never forget such a thing. Now, while the black man can be denied a vote, while the Legislatures of the South can take from him the right to keep and bear arms, as they can-they would not allow a Negro to walk with a cane where I came from, they would not allow five of them to assemble together the work of the Abolitionists is not finished. Notwithstanding the provision in the Constitution of the United States, that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, the black man has never had the right either to keep or bear arms; and the Legislatures of the States will still have the power to forbid it, under this Amendment. They can carry on a system of unfriendly legislation, and will they not do it? Have they not got prejudice there to do it with? Think you, that because they are for the moment in the talons and beak of our glorious eagle, instead of the slave being there, as formerly, that they are converted? I hear of the loyalty at Wilmington, the loyalty at South Carolina-what is it worth?

[“Not a straw.”]

Not a straw. I thank my friend for admitting it. Continue Reading

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Memoriae Positum

(Reposted from 2013.)

 He leads for aye the advance,

 Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good

For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;

James Russell Lowell

Memoriae Positum, memory laid down.  The Latin phrase is a good short hand description of  what History accomplishes.  In 1864 the poet James Russell Lowell wrote a poem entitled Memoriae Positum in tribute to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who died heroically at age 25  leading the unsuccessful assault of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black Union regiments, on the Confederate stronghold of Fort Wagner at Charleston, South Carolina on July 18th, 1863.  The poem predicts that Shaw’s memory will live forever and feels sorrow only for those, unlike Shaw, who are unwilling or unable to risk all for their beliefs.  It is a poem completely out of step with the predominant sentiments of our day which seem to value physical survival and enjoyment above everything else.  Here is the text of the poem: Continue Reading

January 18, 1865: Lincoln Note to Blair

Lincoln v. Davis

 

After Francis P. Blair returned to Washington from Richmond with a note from Jefferson Davis indicating a willingness to enter into negotiations, go here and here for background on Blair’s mission and his meeting with Davis, Lincoln had a decision to make.  Refuse to enter into negotiations and that would anger both moderate Republicans and Democrats.  Enter into negotiations, and both mainstream and radical Republicans would be dismayed.  Lincoln hit upon a shrewd response.  He would enter into negotiations, but he would couch his agreement in such terms as clearly to indicate no weakening in his resolve to preserve the Union: Continue Reading

January 16, 1865: Special Field Order No. 15

 

Sherman

In an attempt to deal with the tens of thousands of black refugees who were following his army, General Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15.  Issued to deal with an emergency situation and not as an attempt to chart Reconstruction Policy, the order looms large in the mythology of Reconstruction and is the origin of the belief that freed slaves were all promised 40 acres and a mule.  The order was rescinded by President Johnson in the fall of 1865.

Sherman commented on the Order in his Memoirs:

During Mr. Stanton’s stay in Savannah we discussed this negro question very fully; he asked me to draft an order on the subject, in accordance with my own views, that would meet the pressing necessities of the case, and I did so. We went over this order, No. 15, of January 16, 1865, very carefully. The secretary made some verbal modifications, when it was approved by him in all its details, I published it, and it went into operation at once. It provided fully for the enlistment of colored troops, and gave the freedmen certain possessory rights to land, which afterward became matters of judicial inquiry and decision. Of course, the military authorities at that day, when war prevailed, had a perfect right to grant the possession of any vacant land to which they could extend military protection, but we did not undertake to give a fee-simple title; and all that was designed by these special field orders was to make temporary provisions for the freedmen and their families during the rest of the war, or until Congress should take action in the premises. All that I now propose to assert is, that Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, saw these orders in the rough, and approved every paragraph thereof, before they were made public.

Here is the text of the Order:

IN THE FIELD, SAVANNAH, GA., January 16th, 1865.

SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, No. 15.

I. The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.

II. At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations–but on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress.  By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro is free and must be dealt with as such.  He cannot be subjected to conscription or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of the Department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe.  Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters and other mechanics, will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States, to contribute their share towards maintaining their own freedom, and securing their rights as citizens of the United States.

Negroes so enlisted will be organized into companies, battalions and regiments, under the orders of the United States military authorities, and will be paid, fed and clothed according to law.  The bounties paid on enlistment may, with the consent of the recruit, go to assist his family and settlement in procuring agricultural implements, seed, tools, boots, clothing, and other articles necessary for their livelihood. Continue Reading

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January 15, 1864: Fall of Fort Fisher

sail-mar

 

With the fall of Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865, the last major port of the Confederacy was sealed.  After Butler’s blundering attempt to take the Fort ended in a disgraceful retreat, the Union wasted no time in outfitting a second expedition.  60 ships under Admiral David Porter made up the naval component while Major General Alfred Terry led a force of 9000 troops from the Army of the James.  Colonel William Lamb commanded the 1900 man garrison of Fort Fisher, while Major General Hoke commanded a division of 6400 men a few miles north of the fort.

On January 13, Terry landed north of the Fort, between it and Hoke’s division.  Scouting the fort on January 14, Terry decided it could be taken by an infantry assault.  The Union fleet opened an intense bombardment of the fort on the morning of the 15th.  The assault did take the fort, in the teeth of a determined Confederate defense, after fighting that lasted until 10:00 PM.  Union casualties were 1341, with the entire Confederate garrison captured in addition to 538 killed and wounded.  Here is Secretary of War Stanton’s report on the battle:

 

FROM SECRETARY STANTON.

FORTRESS MONROE, Tuesday, Jan. 17 — 10 P.M.

The rebel flag of Fort Fisher was delivered to me on board the steamer Spalding, off that place, yesterday morning, Jan. 16, by Major-Gen. TERRY.

To the President:

An acknowledgment and thanks for their gallant achievement was given in your name to Admiral PORTER and Gen. TERRY, from whom the following particulars were obtained: The troops arrived off Fort Fisher Thursday night. Friday they were all landed under cover of a heavy fire from the squadron. A reconnoissance was made by Gen. TERRY on Saturday. A strong defensive line against any of the enemy’s forces coming from Wilmington was established on Saturday, and held by 4,600 men, chiefly colored troops, and an assault was determined on. The assault was made on Sunday afternoon at 3 1/2 o’clock. The sea-front of the fort had been greatly damaged and broken by a continuous and terrible fire of the fleet for three days, and the front was assaulted at the hour mentioned by a column of seamen and marines, 1,800 strong, under command of Capt. BREESE. They reached the parapet, but after a short conflict this column was checked, driven back in disorder, and was afterward placed on the defensive line, taking the place of a brigade that was brought up to reinforce the assaulting column of troops. Although the assault on the sea front failed, it performed a useful part in diverting the attention of the enemy, and weakening their resistance to the attack by the troops on the other side. The assault on the other and most difficult side of the fort was made by a column of 3,000 troops of the old Tenth Corps, led by Col. CURTIS, under the immediate supervision of Gen. TERRY. The enemy’s force in the fort was over 2,200. The conflict lasted for seven hours. The works were so constructed that every traverse afforded the enemy a new defensive position from whence they had to be driven. They were seven in number, and the fight was carried on from traverse to traverse, for seven hours, by a skilfully directed fire thrown into the traverses. One after another they were occupied by the enemy. Admiral PORTER contributed to the success of the assaulting column by signals between himself and Gen. TERRY at brief intervals. This fire was so well managed as to damage the enemy without injury to our own troops. Continue Reading

January 12, 1865: Davis Note to Blair

Lincoln v. Davis

 

Go here to read about the peace initiative of Francis P. Blair who travelled to Richmond to meet with President Davis.

Jefferson Davis was a very shrewd man, much shrewder I think than most historians have given him credit for being.  He realized that little could be expected from negotiations with Lincoln because Lincoln would never agree to Confederate independence, the one non-negotiable issue as far as both Lincoln and Davis were concerned.  Additionally, he regarded a joint Union Confederate war against the French in Mexico, the core of the Blair initiative,  to be a fairly bizarre proposal.  However, he was eager to negotiate.  The Confederate military situation was beyond dire.  If the negotiations led to Confederate independence, victory would be snatched at the last instant.  If, as Davis expected, the negotiations led to nothing, he could tell his people that he had attempted negotiations and the Union would not negotiate in good faith, and all that remained was a last ditch struggle to secure on the battlefield what the North would never concede on the negotiating table.   Here is the note that he gave to Blair to take back to Lincoln:  Continue Reading

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

November 16, 1864: March to the Sea Begins

 

The last of the Union troops pulled out of Atlanta today one hundred and fifty years ago as the most successful military operation of the Civil War got underway.  Sherman was out to establish that a Union army could promenade through the hitherto untouched heart of the Confederacy and that there was absolutely nothing the Confederates could do about it.  The destruction wreaked by his army was important from a military standpoint, but the dagger against the morale of the Confederacy was the fact that he proceeded at a deliberate pace for 300 miles, with his army spread out over sixty miles, burning as they went, and the Confederate army might as well have not existed for all the impact it had on this huge Yankee military stroll.  Here is Sherman’s account in his memoirs of the beginning of the March: Continue Reading

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Sherman in Paint

An interesting look at a painting of General Sherman in 1866.  Paintings do not bulk very large in our historical memory of the Civil War.  The cutting edge technology of photography had by the Civil War usurped the role of painting in preserving the images of the famous for posterity.  Sherman  looks distinctly more haggard and old in his Civil War photographs than in this 1866 portrait.  Of course, it is post war, so some of the difference is no doubt due to the easing of the burden of command and the trauma of war that Sherman had to the full during the conflict.  However, paintings do seem to often smooth the rough edges of the subjects of portraits with a calm that may not have been typical of the person being painted.  Photographs, even the primitive photography of the Civil War era, captured the more immediate emotions of the subjects than a portrait painted over several sittings.  Additionally, photographs made no pretensions to be art, but simply a utilitarian means of preserving likenesses, while portrait paintings usually strove to be both.

 

The portrait was  painted by George Peter Alexander Healy, perhaps the most renowned American portrait painter of his day.  Sherman, at least as represented in popular memory as a no nonsense soldier, one would expect to have a fairly prosaic mind and not to be interested in art.  Such was not at all the case.  Sherman suggested to the painter a portrait known as The Peacekeepers which recalled a meeting of Lincoln, Grant and Sherman near the end of the War: Continue Reading

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November 9, 1864: Sherman’s Special Field Orders 120

 

After a frustrating month during which Sherman’s planned March to the Sea had been delayed due to jitters of Grant and Sherman regarding Hood’s foray into Tennessee, Sherman readied his troops for their epic march by issuing Special Field Orders 120.  This made clear that the army was to live off the land and that supply lines were to be of no consequence during the march:

 

Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, In the Field, Kingston, Georgia, November 9, 1864

I. For the purpose of military operations, this army is divided into two wings viz.: The right wing, Major-General O. O. Howard commanding, composed of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps; the left wing, Major-General H. W. Slocum commanding, composed of the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps.

II. The habitual order of march will be, wherever practicable, by four roads, as nearly parallel as possible, and converging at points hereafter to be indicated in orders. The cavalry, Brigadier – General Kilpatrick commanding, will receive special orders from the commander-in-chief.

III. There will be no general train of supplies, but each corps will have its ammunition-train and provision-train, distributed habitually as follows: Behind each regiment should follow one wagon and one ambulance; behind each brigade should follow a due proportion of ammunition – wagons, provision-wagons, and ambulances. In case of danger, each corps commander should change this order of march, by having his advance and rear brigades unencumbered by wheels. The separate columns will start habitually at 7 a.m., and make about fifteen miles per day, unless otherwise fixed in orders.

IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day’s provisions for the command and three days’ forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

V. To army corps commanders alone is intrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or bridges. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.

VII. Negroes who are able-bodied and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms. Continue Reading

November 8, 1864: Lincoln Re-elected

Ohio claims they are due a president as they haven’t had one since Taft. Look at the United States, they have not had one since Lincoln.

Will Rogers

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Lincoln and Liberty Too.  Mr. Lincoln was re-elected 150 years ago.  The 1864 campaign songs have been long forgotten, while Lincoln and Liberty Too from the 1860 campaign is probably the most famous campaign song in American political history.

With the re-election the last faint hope for the Confederacy vanished.  The War would be fought to a finish and slavery was as dead as the hundreds of thousands of men who had fallen in the bloodiest conflict in American history.

Lincoln garnered 55% of the vote to 45% for McClellan.  The electoral vote was a landslide of epic proportions:  221-21.  Even if all the Confederate states had been able to cast unanimous votes against Lincoln, he still would have won a solid majority in the electoral college.  The margins in some of the Northern States were close, but as the saying goes, that only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Continue Reading

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Both Prayed to the Same God

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural

 

 

A look at religion in the Civil War from the internet series the Civil War in Four Minutes.  Most people on both sides, as Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, assumed God was on their side.  Some viewed their causes as crusades.  Typical of those who embraced that interpretation is a Union officer who upbraided a chaplain who had given a stern sermon to the men of his regiment on the pains of Hell, and informed him that every one of his boys who fell in this great fight for human liberty was going straight to Heaven and he would allow no other doctrine to be preached while he was in command of the regiment.

Perhaps the most insightful view was that embraced by Abraham Lincoln, Robert  E. Lee and others who saw the War as the punishment for national sins.  Rather than a crusade, the War was a chastisement that God was using for His purposes.  I think there is much wisdom in this view.  God often brings good out of human weakness, folly and even sin, and out of the Civil War, with all of its ghastly loss of life, came freedom for the slaves and a united nation. Continue Reading

November 4, 1864: Battle of Johnsonville Begins

Next Johnsonville attracted his attention, where Sherman had collected his stores, and the gunboats once terrible conniption floated grandly and proudly at its doors, but Forrest’s artillery battalion, Morton, Rice and Waltham and Thrall, set fire to Sherman’s gunboats and transports, nor ceased till they had burned them all.

Line from Confederate song celebrating the victories of General Nathan Bedford Forrest

The handwriting was on the wall by the beginning of November in 1864 that the Confederacy was going down to defeat, but that did not stop General Nathan Bedford Forrest from staging perhaps his greatest raid.  The Union had established a huge supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee on the Tennessee River and that was Forrest’s target.  On October 29-30 with artillery he placed at Fort Heiman, Forrest captured three Union gunboats.  Repairing two of them he used them for his attack on Johnsonville.  With his artillery and his tiny flotilla, Forrest closed river traffic to Johnsonville, beat off Union gunboats, and got close enough to Johnsonville to bombard it.  28 Union steamboats and barges were lost, either sunk by Forrest’s artillery, or burned by the Union commander who feared that Forrest would capture them.  Seeing the depot ablaze, Forrest withdrew, his mission accomplished.  Forrest destroyed millions of dollars worth of Union supplies and destroyed 4 gunboats, 14 transports, 20 barges, 26 pieces of artillery.  This raid crippled Sherman’s supply line, and  made Grant nervous about Sherman’s planned March to the Sea with a raider of the caliber of Forrest left free to devastate Union supply lines.  Here is Forrest’s report on the raid: Continue Reading

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November 2, 1864: Saving Private Wilson

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During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln commuted, as did Jefferson Davis, almost every military sentence of death for desertion or cowardice that reached his desk.  One of his last acts before his own death was to pardon a soldier on April 13, 1865.   As Lincoln put it,”I don’t believe it will make a man any better to shoot him, while if we keep him alive, we just may get some work out of him.”  

On November 2, 1864 he telegrammed General Grant ordering him to suspend the pending execution of Nathan Wilson, who had been found guilty of desertion from the 22nd Massachusetts.  Unlike most men Lincoln pardoned, Private Wilson was politically connected.  His uncle was New York State Senator Albert Hobbs, a Republican, who had interceded with Lincoln on behalf of his nephew.  Continue Reading

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October 27, 1864: Battle of Boydton Plank Road

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The last significant military operation at Petersburg in 1864, the battle of Boydton Plank Road, was  part of the efforts of the Army of the Potomac to cut the Confederate South Side Railroad that supplied Petersburg and Richmond from the west. This was no small operation, consisting of Winfield Scott’s corps, reinforced by infantry divisions from other corps and a cavalry division.

On October 27, 1864 Hancock crossed Hatcher’s Run creek and moved around the Confederate right flank heading for Burgess Mill.  General Henry Heth, commanding A.P. Hill’s corps due to the illness of Hill, interposed two divisions to stop Hancock.  Hancock made good progress when Meade ordered a hault to the offensive, concerned about a five mile gap developing between the Union left and Hancock.

Hancock retreated to Hatcher’s Run, only to find the ford now being held by Confederate cavalry.  Heth now went on the offensive, hoping to bag Hancock’s corps, isolated as it now was from the rest of the Union army.

Hancock kept calm, beat off the Confederate attacks and retreated across Hatcher’s Run during the night.  Union casualties were 1700 to 1300 Confederate.  Grant in his memoirs summed up this action and the closing down of operations around Petersburg for the remainder of the year: Continue Reading

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October 26, 1864: Bloody Bill Anderson Killed

LeBoeuf: The force of law! This man is a notorious thumper! He rode by the light of the moon with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson!
Rooster Cogburn: That men was patriots, Texas trash!
LeBoeuf: They murdered women and children in Lawrence, Kansas.
Rooster Cogburn: That’s a G-d d—-d lie! What army was you in, mister?
LeBoeuf: I was at Shreveport first with Kirby-Smith, then…
Rooster Cogburn: Yeah? What side was you on?
LeBoeuf: I was in the army of Northern Virginia, Cogburn, and I don’t have to hang my head when I say it!
Rooster Cogburn: If you had served with Captain Quantrill…
LeBoeuf: Captain? Captain Quantrill indeed!
Rooster Cogburn: Best let this go, LeBoeuf!
LeBoeuf: Captain of what?
Rooster Cogburn: Good, then! There are not sufficient dollars in the state of Texas to make it worth my while to listen to your opinions. Our agreement is nullified.
LeBoeuf: That suits me!

Charles Portis, True Grit

 

 

Our Civil War was a relatively clean war in that the mass murder  of civilian populations that are often a feature of civil wars was mercifully absent from that conflict.  However, some atrocities did occur, and many of them were in the ferocious fighting that raged in Kansas and along the Kansas-Missouri border.  There the Civil War had begun in 1854, with a brief truce in 1859-60.

Anderson, born in 1839, came from a family of horse thieves.  Residing in Agnes, Kansas in March 1862, his father was shot by a local Judge in regard to a stolen horse.  Bloody Bill and his brother Jim took revenge by shooting to death the Judge and his brother-in-law.   Bloody Bill left Agnes, Kansas with his family and moved to Western Missouri.

By the spring of 1863 Bloody Bill and Jim had joined up with William Quantrill and his Confederate guerillas.

Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr., the commander of the military district which comprised Kansas and Western Missouri, ordered the arrest of relatives of the members of Quantrill’s band.  12 women among those arrested were housed in a three story house in Kansas City, Missouri.  The house collapsed on August 14, 1863, killing four of the women.  Anderson’s sister Josephine was killed in the collapse and his sister Mary was rendered a permanent cripple.

Anderson went crazy with grief and rage when he heard the news.   In retaliation, Quantrill raided Lawrence, Kansas on August 21.  200 men and boys were murdered by Quantrill’s men, with Bloody Bill living up to the nickname by which he is known to history. Continue Reading

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Elections

Something for the weekend.  The score to the movie Lincoln (2012).  Go here to read my review of this masterpiece.  One hundred and fifty years ago there was little doubt now that Lincoln was going to be re-elected and the Union was going to win the War.  The Civil War had just a little over six months to go, as did Lincoln’s life.

After he was re-elected, Lincoln on November 10, 1864 responded to a serenade outside the White House with this brief speech:

It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies.
 
On this point the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test; and a presidential election occurring in regular course during the rebellion added not a little to the strain. If the loyal people, united, were put to the utmost of their strength by the rebellion, must they not fail when divided, and partially paralized, by a political war among themselves?  But the election was a necessity.
 
We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. The strife of the election is but human-nature practically applied to the facts of the case. What has occurred in this case, must ever recur in similar cases. Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.
 
But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility. It shows also how sound, and how strong we still are. It shows that, even among candidates of the same party, he who is most devoted to the Union, and most opposed to treason, can receive most of the people’s votes. It shows also, to the extent yet known, that we have more men now, than we had when the war began. Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.
 
But the rebellion continues; and now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.
 
While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.
 
May I ask those who have not differed with me, to join with me, in this same spirit towards those who have?
 
And now, let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skilful commanders.

Continue Reading

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Saint Albans Raid

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When one thinks of the Civil War, bucolic Vermont usually does not come to mind, except for the troops from Vermont who fought for the Union.  However, on October 19, 1864 the Civil War came to Saint Albans, Vermont.

21 Confederate raiders from Canada disguised as civilians, the border being only 15 miles from the town, entered Saint Albans beginning October 10, two or three arriving each day so as not to attract attention.  At 3:00 PM they staged three simultaneous bank robberies.  Several armed citizens of Saint Albans resisted the raiders, with one of the civilians killed and one wounded.  Infuriated by the resistance, the raiders attempted to burn the town but succeeded only in burning a shed.  Escaping with $208,000.00 the raiders, under pursuit, escaped to Canada.

The raid caused an enormous furor in Canada which wanted no part of the Civil War.  The raiders were arrested and $88,000 returned to the banks in Saint Albans, all that could be recovered by the Canadian authorities.  A Canadian court however ruled that the Confederates, because they were members of the Confederate Army, were not criminals and could not be extradited to the Union.  No further raids were stage from Canada.

The leader of the raid, Lieutenant Bennett Young, was excluded from President Andrew Johnson’s amnesty and spent several years abroad, studying law and literature in Ireland and Scotland.  Being permitted to return to the US in 1868, he became a prominent attorny in Louisville, Kentucky.  His charitable works were legion, including founding the first black orphanage in Louisville and a school for the blind, along with quite a bit of pro bono legal work for the poor.  He served as national commander of the United Confederate Veterans. Continue Reading

And Sheridan Twenty Miles Away

Thomas Buchanan Read was an artist and poet who served as a staff officer in the Civil War.  Inspired by Sheridan’s decisive victory at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, Read dashed off the poem, Sheridan’s Ride in an hour.  The poem was a sensation throughout the North.  To a war weary population, Cedar Creek was welcome proof that the seemingly endless War would soon end in Union victory.  Public performances were held throughout the North.   Republican rallies for the upcoming election featured readings of the poem with coconut shells used to mimic the sound of the horse’s hooves on the road.  The Cedar Creek sensation helped to re-elect Lincoln.

Here is a newspaper interview of Phil Sheridan on the poem which originally appeared in the Philadelphia Press:

“Boys, those of you who are not cowards follow me; for I’ll sleep in that camp tonight or I’ll sleep in Hell!”
That was the “terrible oath” the author of  “Sheridan’s Ride” referred to and it had the effect intended. The soldiers knew that “Little Phil” was frightfully in earnest, and there wasn’t a man in all the shattered army who wouldn’t share his bed. I asked General Sheridan the other day if he knew the author of the poem. 

“Yes” he replied, “I knew him well. I first met Mr. Read at the headquarters of Gen. Rosecrans, just before the battle of Stone River. He was a guest of the General, and remained in camp quite a while, so that we all got to know him.” 

“Do you know how he came to write the poem?”

 “Yes” said the General, “I have heard him tell about it several times. There has been a number of stories published about the origin of the poem, but I will tell you the true one, just as Mr. Read told it to me. Did you know that James E. Murdock suggested the idea?” 

“Murdock the elocutionist?”

 “The very man. He was an actor at one of the Cincinnati theaters at the time, where I had known him. Murdock has always been a great friend of mine, and I am glad to know the old man keeps so well. I see that he was able to appear at the memorial services in honor of Chief Justice Chase the other day. Murdock lost a son at the battle of Missionary Ridge – the boy was in my command and the old man came down to get the body, don’t you know? The enemy occupied the place where the boy was buried, and Mr. Murdock remained a guest at my headquarters until we recovered the ground. He used to ride the lines with me every day, and always used my black horse ‘Rienzi’ – the one that was afterward called ‘Winchester’ and the same that I had under me on that twenty mile canter. No man ever straddled a better animal, and old Murdock became very fond of him. He was a horse that it was an honor to mount, you see, and in that poem Read gave him a good sendoff.  

“Well” continued Sheridan, “things were very exciting down around Chattanooga those days, and Mr. Murdock saw a good deal of war. On Sundays he always used to recite poems to the troops around headquarters, and there was one of Browning’s that the boys never missed a chance to call for. It was a great favorite with me, don’t you know, just as it was with the soldiers, and we never let the old man off without reading it. It was the story of the ride from Ghent to Aix – you remember it.  

“Well, you see, after the battle of Cedar Creek, there was published in Harper’s Weekly a story of my ride from Winchester and a picture of me on the back of old Rienzi. Murdock had agreed to recite a poem at the Sanitary Fair that was being held at Cincinnati at that time, and Read had promised to write something new and appropriate for him. But when Murdock called on him for the manuscript the afternoon he was to recite, he hadn’t touched a pen to the paper – said he didn’t know what to write about. Well, Murdock had just seen a man who was in the battle, and was full of the story, being a friend of mine, you see; so he pulled the copy of Harper’s Weekly from his pocket, and repeated to Read all the officer had told him. Read jumped up, locked himself in his room, wrote the poem off-handed in an hour, got his wife to make a copy, and had it over to Murdock’s before dark. The latter was delighted with it, and read it at the Sanitary Fair that night.” 

“Where did you first see it?” 

The first I ever saw of it was in the newspapers. One of my officers brought it to my tent one morning in the camp down in the Shenandoah Valley.” 

“It is said that you have the original manuscript.” 

“I wish I had, but I have never seen it. I don’t suppose it is in existence. As I understand, it was originally written in pencil, and Mrs. Read copied it for Mr. Murdock.”

 “How did Read come to paint the picture of Sheridan’s Ride?”

 “Well, the poem made a great sensation, you know, and Read, being a painter as well as a poet, got a commission from the Union League Club of Philadelphia for the picture. They sent him down to New Orleans, where I was stationed, and I sat for him there. He was going to Rome that fall and did not finish it, but made some sketches and then completed the picture in Italy. I have never had a copy of the picture, but he afterward gave me the sketches, which I still have at my house.” 

“Who were with you on that ride?” 

“Sandy Forsythe, who is down in New Mexico with the Fourth Cavalry, and Colonel O’Keefe. The latter was killed at the battle of Five Forks.” Continue Reading

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October 19, 1864: Battle of Cedar Creek

Battle-of-Cedar-Creek

The last major battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War, it was fitting that the topsy turvy nature of the battle of Cedar Creek reflected the see-saw fights waged by the Union and the Confederacy for control of the Valley since the start of the War.

After his victories in the Shenandoah Valley in September, and his destruction of the most valuable agricultural regions in the Valley, Sheridan assumed that the War was at an end in the Valley for the winter, at least as far as major battles were concerned.  Delploying his 31,000 Army of the Shenandoah along Cedar Creek northeast of Strasburg, Viriginia, Sheridan felt secure enough, even with Early’s 21,000 Army of the Valley in the vicinity, to attend a conference with Grant in Washington on October 18.  On the evening of October 18 he slept at Winchester, twelve miles from his army.

Sheridan of course did not know that Early had received a letter from General Lee on October 12 urging him to attack.  Examing the Union position carefully, Early decided that an attack on the Union left, which relied for its security on natural obstacles might succeed, Early assuming correctly that the Union commanders would be more concerned about an attack from the west which was free of such obstacles.

The Confederates on the evening of October 18 in three columns made a night march against the Union left.  By 3:30 AM they were in position to laucher their attack.  The attack began at 5:00 AM in darkness and a thick fog.  Surprise was complete and the division sized Union Army of West Virginia which was at the far left of the Union force was quickly overwhelmed.  By 10:00 AM, Early had driven the seven Union divisions from the field, captured 1300 prisoners, taken 24 cannon, and his famished troops were feeding off Union supplies in the abandoned Union camps.  His troops seemed to have won an against the odds victory.  Then Sheridan arrived at the battlefield and changed everything.

At 6:00 AM pickets at Winchester reported that they heard the faint sound of artillery.  Not expecting an attack Sheridan thought nothing of it.  However he ordered his horse Rienzi to be saddled and after a quick breakfast he began at 9:00 AM to ride towards Cedar Creek.  The sounds of fighting became louder the closer approached and Sheridan realized a fight was in progress.  Sheridan was cheered by stragglers from the fight as he approached Cedar Creek.  Sheridan ordered the stragglers to follow him which most of them did, convinced that little Phil would bring them victory again.  Sheridan arrived at the battlefield at 10:30 AM.

Sheridan immediately began planning his counterattack.  Early had effectively lost control of his army due to the plundering of the Union supplies, and Sheridan had plenty of time to perfect his plan before he launched his attack at 4:00 PM.  The smaller Confederate force resisted for about an hour when its left began to crumble and the Confederates routed from the field.

Union casualties were 5,665 to 3000 Confederate.   Among the Confederate dead was Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who died the day after the battle in spite of the best medical care his Union captors could provide.  The day before the battle he had learned that his wife had borne him a daughter.  His last words were   “Bear this message to my precious wife—I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven.”  He was 27 years old.

The battle was decisive and Early’s army was no longer a threat to Union control of the Shenandoah.  The victory provided a great boost to the re-election campaign of Lincoln during the closing weeks of the campaign leading up to election day November 8.

Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle in his memoirs: Continue Reading

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Picture on the Wall

Something for the weekend.  Picture on the Wall.  Written in 1864 by Henry Clay Work, it captures the overwhelming tragedy of each of the 650-800,000 deaths in our Civil War.  One victory that can be claimed by each of the fallen, North and South, is that after the terrible trial of the Civil War our nation has never repeated that fratricidal struggle.  Perhaps the lessons that Rossiter Johnson hoped would be learned from the War were learned: Continue Reading