American Civil War
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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