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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

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Field of Lost Shoes

Field of Lost Shoes, a film on the role played by cadets of the Virginia Military Institute at the battle of New Market on May 15, 1864, is in limited release now.  If I cannot see it in a theater, I will certainly buy it on dvd when it comes out.  Here is my post on the battle of New Market that I ran earlier this year.

“And New Market’s young cadets.”

Southern Birthright, Bobby Horton

New_Market_svg

John C. Breckinridge, fourteenth Vice-President of the United States and current Confederate Major General, had a big problem.  His task was to hold the Shenandoah Valley, the bread basket of the Army of Northern Virginia, for the Confederacy, and he was confronted with two Union columns seeking to rendezvous at Staunton, Virginia and place the Valley under Union control.  One column under George Crook was coming from the West Virginia.  The second column under Franz Sigel was coming down the Valley.  Sigel had twice the men that Breckinridge could muster, 9,000 to 4000, but Breckinridge saw no alternative but to march north and engage Sigel before the two Union columns could join against him.

 

The Confederacy by this time was robbing the cradle and the grave to fill out its ranks.  In the cradle contingent with Breckinridge were 257 cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, who ranged in age from 15-24.

 

Breckinridge brought Sigel to battle at mid-morning on May 15, 1864 south of New Market.  With detachments Sigel’s force was down to 6,000 men.  However, 2 to 3 was still very poor odds for an attacking army. Continue Reading

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

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

 

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

 

 

MARCH 15, 1865

     EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON

     DEAR MR. WEED:

     Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech and on the recent inaugural address. I expect the latter to wear as well as–perhaps better than–anything I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told, and, as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.

          Truly yours,

                    A. Lincoln

Price’s Raid

Price's Raid

The last significant military offensive of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi, Price’s Raid started on August 28, 1864 when Major General Sterling Price, a former governor of Missouri, departed Camden, Arkansas on his horse Bucephalus.  Leading three divisions of Confederate cavalry, approximately 12,000 troopers, in the longest raid of the war, traveling 1, 434 miles across Missouri, into Kansas, through the Indian Territory and back into Arkansas.  During the raid Price and his men fought some 43 battles and skirmishes.

The raid was launched more out Department Head Lieutenant General Kirby Smith’s frustration than anything else.  With the Union control of the Mississippi, Smith and his Trans-Mississippi Theater was effectively cut off from the West of the War.  Smith hit upon the idea of sending Sterling Price into Missouri to retake it for the Confederacy.  With 12,000 men, Price had no chance of doing that.  The Union had some 35,000 troops stationed in Missouri, tens of thousands of pro-Union Missouri militia on call, and ample reinforcements available from the east by rail or by river.  What Price could do however, was to assist the pro-Confederate guerillas who were part of a conflict that pre-dated the Civil War with the struggle between Kansas and Missouri in the fifties, and which would continue in Missouri through Reconstruction and, with outlaw gangs like that led by Jesse James, well into the 1870’s.

Price named his force the Army of Missouri.  All cavalry, the infantry units he had been initially promised being diverted for other tasks, his army lacked much essential equipment, many of his men being barefoot and dressed in near rags.  However, Price, although he had his failings as a commander did not lack daring, and on September 19, he led his three divisions into his home state of Missouri.

On September 27 at Fort Davidson, near Ironton, Missouri, Price had his first battle and his first victory of the raid, but incurred high casualties.  Union troops were rushing to defend Saint Louis and Price, realizing that taking Saint Louis was well beyond his strenth, veered off to the west and Jefferson City.  Finding Jefferson City too heavily fortified, Price led his army to Booneville, north of Jefferson City.  Here on October 10, 1864 his troops got out of hand and alienated the pro-Confederate populace of the town.  On October 11, his troops repulsed a Union attack.  Bloody Bill Anderson and his gang of cutthroats joined Price’s force at Booneville, with Price outraged by the Union scalps displayed by Anderson and his men.  Ordered by Price to attack the North Missouri Railroad, Anderson and his men instead plundered numerous small towns north of the Missouri river, further alienating public sentiment.

At Glasgow, Missouri on October 15, Price gained the surrender of the Union garrison and a treasure trove of supplies, rifles, uniforms and horses.  His forces also took Sedalia, Missouri the same day.  Price’s army stayed in Glasgow for three days, which allowed the Union to bring troops to attack his force.

Riding towards, Kansas City, Price won several victories, but his progress was checked by Major General Samuel Curtiss leading a 22,000 man Union force he designated the Army of the Border.  On October 23,  at Westport, Missouri, now part of Kansas City, Price in four hours of attack was unable to break the Union lines, each side incurring 1500 casualties.

Price then began a long retreat along the Kansas-Missouri border, pursued by Union forces.  His command was reduced to near starvation as it made its way back through the Indian Territory and Texas.  On December 2, 1864 Price led back into Arkansas 6,000 of the 12,000 troops he started out with.

Here is Price’s report of his raid, which gives a fairly rosy hue on a campaign that ultimately accomplished nothing of value for the Confederacy: Continue Reading

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October 12, 1864: Death of Roger B. Taney

Roger Taney

Death came for Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of the United States Supreme Court 150 years ago.  Nominated as Chief Justice by his friend President Andrew Jackson and had sat on the court for 28 years.  Although he had authored many important decisions, he is remembered today only for one:  Dred Scott.  87 years old at the time of his death, Taney, a slave owner, had mirrored the tragic trajectory of the views of the South in regard to slavery in his own life.  As a young man he regarded slavery as a blot on our national character, as he said in his opening argument in defense of a Methodist minister accused in 1819 of inciting slave insurrections.  He emancipated his own slaves.  However, by the time he authored the Dred Scott decision in 1857 he would write:

It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

Taney thought that the decision in Dred Scott would settle the slavery issue in regard to the territories and remove it from politics.  Instead the decision inflamed public opinion North and South and manifestly helped bring on the Civil War.  Taney lived to see his nation riven by Civil War and an administration in power dedicated to restoring the Union and abolishing slavery, and more than willing to ignore the paper edicts of Taney’s court when necessary.  Old and sick, Taney remained on the bench,  unwilling to have Lincoln name his successor, a living relic of a bygone era.  The best epitaph for Taney I have ever read was that given by Justice Antonin Scalia in his magnificent dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: Continue Reading

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The Civil War In Historical Memory

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

Shelby Foote

An episode of an excellent series on YouTube, the Civil War in Four Minutes, the above video takes a look at the differing interpretations of the War by Americans.  The Civil War is, of course, an immense event in American history, perhaps the immense event in American history.  Most Americans I think do not understand how huge it is, simply because we think we are familiar with it, and because we are still too close to it in time for us to gain the historical perspective to judge.  The many, many differing interepretations of it:  a glorious war for human liberty, a valiant defense of States’ Rights, the war against the rebellion, the second American revolution, a needless conflict, etc, often say more about the times when the interpretations are made, than they do the Civil War itself.  Almost my entire life I have been studying the conflict.  However, the scholarly necromancy that we perform in historical texts can, at best, only put before our eyes pale shadows of what the War was like for the men and women on both sides who lived the triumphs and tragedies of a conflict so vast as to perhaps dwarf all our other historical experiences as a people.  Sadly, perhaps this scene from the John Adams miniseries sums up the daunting, if not futile, task of presenting to succeeding generations the reality of an event as historically significant as the Civil War: Continue Reading

October 5, 1864: Hold the Fort

Map of Allatoona

 

Few battles have inspired a hymn, but the successful defense by a Union garrison of Allatoona Pass, fought 150 years ago,  did.  At a meeting held in Rockford, Illinois, on April 28 through April 29, 1870 Daniel Webster Whittle, formerly a Major in Sherman’s army and now an evangelist and hymn writer, regaled an audience with the tale of how the garrison at Allatoona withstood the Confederate attack, with Union signal flags from Sherman signaling the defenders:  “Hold the Fort; I am coming!”.  In the audience was hymn writer Philip Paul Bliss who was inspired to write the hymn Hold the Fort: 

Ho, my comrades, see the signal,
Waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing,
Victory is nigh.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

See the mighty host advancing,
Satan leading on,
Mighty men around us falling,
Courage almost gone!

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

See the glorious banner waving,
Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s name we’ll triumph,
Over every foe.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

Fierce and long the battle rages,
But our help is near,
Onward comes our great Commander,
Cheer, my comrades, cheer.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

Although Major Whittle had almost all the facts right, Sherman, as Sherman noted in a letter in 1875, did not use the exact words hold the fort, although as he later wrote that was clearly the intent of his messages to the garrison.  What was actually singaled to the defenders was:  Sherman is moving in force; Hold Out!  General Sherman says Hold Fast. We are coming.

The hymn proved very popular and Whittle and Bliss toured the country, speaking to audiences and leading the singing of the hymn, including a memorable tour of the Allatoona battlefield in 1876, where they gave an emotional rendition of the hymn.  Here is the account of the battle by Sherman in his memoirs: Continue Reading

Abraham’s Daughter

 

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

October 2, 1864: First Battle of Saltville

Saltville

 

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

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September 28, 1864: Hood Launches His Tennessee Campaign

Franklin-Nashville_campaign_svg

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

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

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

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September 25, 1864: Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle

 

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

September 21, 1864: Battle of Fisher’s Hill

Fisher's Hill

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

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

Here is Early’s report to General Robert E. Lee on the engagement: Continue Reading

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September 7, 1864: Beginning of Sherman-Hood Correspondence

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

 

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

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

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

I am, with respect, your obedient servant,
W. T. SHERMAN,
Major-General, Commanding.
Continue Reading

September 4, 1864: Death of General John Hunt Morgan

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

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Republican Party Platform 1864

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So Atlanta Is Ours, and Fairly Won

Fall of Atlanta

In the above dispatch on September 3, 1864 Sherman informed Chief of Staff Halleck of the news that Atlanta had fallen.  Hundreds of telegrams, and thousands of letters, of congratulation from the great and humble of the North  descended on Sherman’s headquarters.  In his memoirs Sherman noted the two he cherished above all:  Continue Reading

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August 31, 1864: Death Comes For Father Emery

father-emery

 

Destiny attended Emmeran Bliemel at his birth on the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron saint of soldiers, in 1831 in Bavaria.  From his early boyhood his burning desire was to be a missionary to German Catholics in far off America.  Joining a Benedictine Abbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1851, he was ordained a priest in 1856. Continue Reading

August 31, 1864: Battle of Jonesborough

 images

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

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

Here are Sherman’s comments on the movement that led to the fall of Atlanta: Continue Reading

August 29, 1864: Democrat Party Platform

 

The convention of the Democrats in 1864 to nominate a standard bearer for President opened on August 29, 1864 in Chicago.  The convention was badly split between War Democrats and Peace Democrats.  The Peace Democrats were strong enough to have a platform approved which dealt with one issue, the War, and which was highly critical of a continuation of the War and called for immediate peace negotiations:

 

Resolved, That in the future, as in the past, we will adhere with unswerving fidelity to the Union under the Constitution as the only solid foundation of our strength, security, and happiness as a people, and as a framework of government equally conducive to the welfare and prosperity of all the States, both Northern and Southern.

Resolved, That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity of war-power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view of an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that, at the earliest practicable moment, peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.

Resolved, That the direct interference of the military authorities of the United States in the recent elections held in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware was a shameful violation of the Constitution, and a repetition of such acts in the approaching election will be held as revolutionary, and resisted with all the means and power under our control.

Resolved, That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired, and they hereby declare that they consider that the administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution; the subversion of the civil by military law in States not in insurrection; the arbitrary military arrest, imprisonment, trial, and sentence of American citizens in States where civil law exists in full force; the suppression of freedom of speech and of the press; the denial of the right of asylum; the open and avowed disregard of State rights; the employment of unusual test-oaths; and the interference with and denial of the right of the people to bear arms in their defense is calculated to prevent a restoration of the Union and the perpetuation of a Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

Resolved, That the shameful disregard of the Administration to its duty in respect to our fellow-citizens who now are and long have been prisoners of war and in a suffering condition, deserves the severest reprobation on the score alike of public policy and common humanity.

Resolved, That the sympathy of the Democratic party is heartily and earnestly extended to the soldiery of our army and sailors of our navy, who are and have been in the field and on the sea under the flag of our country, and, in the events of its attaining power, they will receive all the care, protection, and regard that the brave soldiers and sailors of the republic have so nobly earned. Continue Reading

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In Defense of John Bell Hood

John B. Hood

Yellow-haired Hood with his wounds and his empty sleeve,

Leading his Texans,

a Viking shape of a man,

With the thrust and lack of craft of a berserk sword,

All lion, none of the fox.             

When he supersedes Joe Johnston, he is lost, and his army with him,

But he could lead forlorn hopes with the ghost of Ney.

His big boned Texans follow him into the mist.

Who follows them?

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Few Civil War generals get as bad a historical trouncing as John Bell Hood.  A talented regimental, division and corps commander, his tenure as commander of the Army of Tennessee is regarded as a disaster, with Hood being depicted as a reckless head on fighter who threw away any chance of victory by losing Atlanta and then leading his army to near annihilation during the Franklin-Nashville campaign.  I have largely accepted that historical verdict, but a new book, John Bell Hood, The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General, gives me pause.

Stephen M. “Sam” Hood, a distant relative of the general, does a masterful job of defending Hood from sloppy historical accounts.  For example, the quote from John Brown’s Body about Hood being all of the lion and none of the fox has often been falsely attributed to Robert E. Lee.  Among many other historical howlers that have made their way into historical accounts is that Hood, due to his injuries, was a laudanum addict.  Stephen Hood demonstrates that there is no contemporary evidence to substantiate this.  Stephen Hood does a service in this book, not just to General Hood, but also to Civil War scholarship.  Too many supposed factoids about the War, firmly ensconced in secondary sources, are mere fables, and John Bell Hood,  The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General is an unsettling book length demonstration of how these myths need to be dispelled. Continue Reading

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August 25, 1864: Second Battle of Ream’s Station

Second Battle of Reams Station

 

The massive casualties taken by the Army of the Potomac since the beginning of Grant’s drive on Richmond had destroyed the combat effectiveness of many units in the Army, with large numbers of veteran troops either killed or in hospital to recover from wounds and the ranks filled up with hastitly trained recruits.  This decrease in combat capability was dramatically demonstrated at the Second Battle of Reams Station.  On August 24, Grant sent Hancock and his II corps south along the Weldon railroad to destroy as much of the rail line currently in Confederate hands as he could, to increase the difficulties of the Confederates in transporting supplies from the portion of the Weldon railroad they stilled controlled to Petersburg and Richmond.

All went well initially with Hancock’s corps destroying three miles of track.  However on the afternoon of the 25th a Confederate attack routed the II corps, with Hancock being forced to withdraw to the Union fortified lines.  Union casualties were 2,743 to 814 Confederate.  2073 of the Union casualties were prisoners, many of whom surrendered after only brief resistance.  Hancock’s reaction to all this, no doubt remembering the days when his troops were considered the elite of the Army, was to remark in despair to an aide as he was unable to rally his retreating troops:   “I do not care to die, but I pray God I may never leave this field.” Continue Reading

August 23, 1864: Secret Cabinet Memo

Something for the weekend.  We are Coming Father Abraham, written by Stephen Foster in 1862.  Few songs better conveyed Northern determination to win the War.  However, by August 1864 that determination seemed to be wearing thin.

 

With the War stalled both East and West Union morale was faltering.  On August 22, 1864 Lincoln received a letter from Republican party chairman Henry J. Raymond suggesting that Lincoln offer peace terms to Jefferson Davis on the sole term of acknowledgement of the supremacy of the Constitution with slavery to be dealt with at a later date.   Lincoln’s morale remained unshaken, but he was a veteran politician and could read the political tea leaves as well as any political prognosticator.  That he read defeat in the tea leaves is demonstrated by what has become known as The Blind Memorandum.  Lincoln sealed this document and on August w3, 1864 asked his cabinet officers to sign it unread.  They complied.  Here is the text:

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.

A. Lincoln Continue Reading

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August 22, 1864: Lincoln Addresses the 166th Ohio

 

Lincoln, six feet one in his stocking feet,

The lank man, knotty and tough as a hickory rail,

Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves,

Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,

Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field–

Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down

The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,

And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay

As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine

Plutarchan sentences carved in a Latin bronze;

The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,

The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,

State-character but comparative failure at forty

In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,

Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,

Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,

And a self-confidence like an iron bar:

This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,

Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches

Which make the monumental booming of Webster

Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.

Stephen Vincent Benet

(I originally posted this on February 9, 2012.  The comments it contains regarding my late son Larry reminds me that in this Vale of Tears we can never know the ending of our personal history, but we can do our best to make it a tale worth reading when we come to our end, something that I think both Mr. Lincoln and my son accomplished on vastly different scales.)

Today is the 203rd birthday of the Sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  The above video is an interesting and imaginative interview of Lincoln, if the film technology of the Thirties of the last century had been available in 1860.

Lately I have been reading a book on Lincoln with my autistic son.  I point at the words and he reads them, an early morning ritual we have carried out for the last 14 years.  Young Lincoln’s struggles against the poverty of his early years, and his lack of more than one year in total of formal education, strikes a chord with me in regard to my son’s struggles against his autism.  One of the many reasons why I find Mr. Lincoln’s life endlessly fascinating is the theme throughout it of the most extraordinary possibilities in all of us, no matter the cards that Fate dealt to us initially. more

August 18, 1864: Capture of the Weldon Railroad

Petersburg_Aug18-19

 

 

On August 17, 1864 Grant was heartened when he received a telegram of support from President Lincoln.  Go here to read about it.  Grant remarked to his staff after reading the telegram:   “The President has more nerve than any of his advisors.”

Lincoln had advised Grant:  Hold on with a bull-dog gripe, and chew & choke, as much as possible.  Unbeknownst to the President, Grant already had underway an operation to do just that.  Major General Gouverneur K. Warren was ordered by Grant to take his V corps, supported by units of the IX and II corps and a small cavalry division, and move to the left to capture a section of the Weldon railroad, the main supply line for the Confederate forces at Richmond and Petersburg, which led south to Wilmington, the last major port of the Confederacy.

By 9:00 AM on August 18, 1864, Warren had brushed aside Confederate pickets and reached the Weldon railroad at Globe Tavern.  He deployed a division of his corps to destroy track, held another division in reserve and set another brigade, deployed in line of battle, north to guard against Confederate attempts to retake the railroad.  A.P. Hill, launching his attack at 2:00 PM used two divisions from his corps to retake Globe Tavern, but Warren counterattacked and recovered the ground he lost, his troops entrenching as night fell.

On the 19th, the IX corps reinforced Warrens V corps while the Confederates received three brigades of Major General William Mahones’ division along with “Rooney” Lee’s cavalry division.  Mahone, cementing his reputation, after the part he played in retaking the Crater, as one of the best generals for the Confederacy in 1864, launched a slashing flank attack that captured two Union brigades.  A Confederate frontal assault by Major General Henry Heth was easily repulsed, and the fighting ended with a IX corps counterattack leading to hand to hand fighting as nightfall brought a  close to the day’s fighting.

Torrential rains on the 20th prevented large scale combat.  Warren withdrew on the night of the 20-21 to a new fortified line.  Confederate attacks failed to dislodge him, and the battle of Globe Tavern ended with the Union in permanent possession of several miles of the Weldon railroad which necessitated the Confederates to bring in supplies to Petersburg and Richmond thirty miles from the nearest section of the Weldon railroad not under Union control.  Union casuaties were 4, 296 to 1,620 Confederates but the noose had been tightened around Petersburg and the Confederacy.

Here are the comments of General Grant on this operation in his Personal Memoirs: Continue Reading

August 17, 1864: Lincoln to Grant

Lincoln and Grant

The gaunt man, Abraham Lincoln, lives his days.
For a while the sky above him is very dark.
There are fifty thousand dead in these last, bleak months
And Richmond is still untaken.
                              The papers rail,
Grant is a butcher, the war will never be done.
The gaunt man’s term of office draws to an end,
His best friends muse and are doubtful.  He thinks himself
For a while that when the time of election comes
He will not be re-elected.  He does not flinch.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

In August of 1864 the bottom seemed to be giving out from underneath the Union war effort.  Grants’s drive against Richmond and Sherman’s drive against Atlanta seemed to have stalled, with Confederate armies holding tenaciously to both cities.  Casualties, especially in the eastern theater of the War, had been appallingly high since the campaigning season opened in April, and after a massive effusion of blood the War seemed no closer to a Union victory.  Northern governors feared draft riots in their cities in the face of a growing conviction that the South could not be conquered.  On August 15, Grant wrote to Chief of Staff General Henry Halleck, in response to proposals that troops could be sent from the Army of the Potomac to put down draft riots:

CITY POINT, VA., August 15, 1864-9 p. m.

Major-General HALLECK,

Washington, D. C.

If there is any danger of an uprising in the North to resist the draft or for any other purpose our loyal Governors ought to organize the militia at once to resist it. If we are to draw troops from the field to keep the loyal States in harness it will prove difficult to suppress the rebellion in the disloyal States. My withdrawal now from the James River would insure the defeat of Sherman. Twenty thousand men sent to him at this time would destroy the greater part of Hood’s army, and leave us men wherever required. General Heintzelman can get from the Governors of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois a militia organization that will deter the discontented from committing any overt act. I hope the President will call on Governors of States to organize thoroughly to preserve the peace until after the election.

U. S. GRANT,

Lieutenant-General.

Lincoln responded to Grant, and, if the anachronism may be allowed, his message back had a Churchillian ring to it: Continue Reading

August 14, 1864: Second Battle of Deep Bottom

Deep_Bottom_August

 In late July Northern newspapers were filled with the raids into the North being staged by Jubal Early and his corps in the Shenandoah Valley.  In order to distract Lee from sending reinforcements to Early, Grant decided to make another attempt on Richmond  at the sector named Deep Bottom north of the James River.  (Grant had just made a similar attempt at Deep Bottom to divert Confederate attention just before the mine explosion of the battle of the Crater.  Go here to read about the first battle of Deep Bottom.)  As in the first battle of Deep Bottom, Hancock’s corps crossed to the north side of the James, with hard fighting on August 14-20. Hancock could not make any substantial headway and withdrew south of the James on the night of the 20th.    Union casualties were 2,889 -1500 Confederates.

Here is Grant’s account of this operation in his Personal Memoirs: Continue Reading

Battles Around Atlanta

HD_EzraChurch28Jul64WPz_preview

Following the Battle of Atlanta, the Union effort to put Atlanta under siege began.  Of course, so long as the Confederates controlled the rail lines out of Atlanta leading to the Atlantic & West railroad and the Macon & Western railroad, the city was not really under siege.  Sherman now manuevered to take these rail lines.  At the battle of Ezra Church on July 27, 1864, a movement by Howard’s Union Army of the Tennessee against the Confederate rail lines was stopped  by two corps of the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Stewart and S.D. Lee.  Howard, who had the presence of mind to entrench one of his divisions prior to the Confederate attack, inflicted some 3,000 casualties on the Confederates in exchange for 642 of his own.  However, his movement against the Confederate rail lines was thwarted.  A simultaneous Union cavalry raid on the rail lines came to grief with both Union divisions being smashed by the Confederate cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler.

Continuing his effort to extend his right to cut the Confederate rail lines, in early August Sherman moved the small Army of the Ohio, which consisted of the XXIII corps, under Major General James Schofield from his left, and through August 5-7, a division of Schofield’s army attempted to break through the Confederate  lines south of Utoy creek without success. Total Union casualties were 850 to 35 Confederate, showing yet again the folly of attempting to attack prepared defenses at this stage of the War.  Sherman was stymied again.

Here is Sherman’s report on these engagements:

Continue Reading

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August 3, 1864: Lincoln to Grant

Anti-Lincoln Cartoon

The gaunt man, Abraham Lincoln, lives his days.
For a while the sky above him is very dark.
There are fifty thousand dead in these last, bleak months
And Richmond is still untaken.
                              The papers rail,
Grant is a butcher, the war will never be done.
The gaunt man’s term of office draws to an end,
His best friends muse and are doubtful.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

By the beginning of August 1864 Lincoln began to suspect that he was going to lose re-election and the Union was going to lose the War.  Grant, at an immense cost in blood, had pushed Lee back to Richmond and Petersburg, but both cities still were controlled by the Confederates and Lee’s army was still a force to be reckoned with.  The North was still reeling from Early’s victories in the Shenandoah, his daring raid on Washington and his burning of Chambersburg on July 30.  In the West the Confederate Army of Tennessee still clung to Atlanta, and the Confederacy still controlled almost all of its heartland.  The War seemed to be entering a stalemate, and if it remained so until November, Lincoln would be a one term president and the Union would be permanently sundered.  With that on his mind, Lincoln sent a warning telegram to Grant.  Lincoln never lost his faith in Grant, but clearly he wanted Grant to understand that unless victories were forthcoming the Union was in peril.  Ironically, in this telegram Lincoln approves Sheridan being place in command in the Shenandoah, and it was Sheridan’s string of victories in the fall that probably ensured Lincoln’s re-election: Continue Reading

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July 30, 1864: Debacle at the Crater

battle-of-the-crater-

When looking at the battle of the Crater, it is a study in contrasts.  The digging of the tunnel and the explosion of the mine at dawn on July 30, 1864, go here to read about the tunnel construction, was a tribute to the ingenuity and sheer compentence of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants and his men of the 48th Pennsylvania, who, with almost no help from the rest of the army, gave the Army of the Potomac a golden opportunity to take Petersburg and bring the War to a rapid conclusion.  That this opportunity was missed was largely attributable to criminal incompetence on the part of the generals involved.

Here are the generals who contributed to the debacle:

1.  Grant and Meade-Burnside, the commander of the IX corps making the assault, had trained a division of United States Colored Troops to lead the advance after the explosion of the mine.  The day before the battle Meade, concerned that the attack would fail and that their would be political repercussions if black troops incurred heavy casualties as a result, ordered Burnside to assign a white division to lead the attack.  Burnside protested this decision, but Grant backed Meade up.

2.  Burnside-Burnside had the white division chosen by lot rather than picking the best division.  Burnside made no effort to make certain that his attacking divisions had access ways cleared of debris and fortifications so they could rapidly advance after the explosion.  He made no effort to inform the new white division leading the assault that it was to go around any crater created by the explosion instead of going down into it, which is precisely what the attacking divisions did, making themselves sitting ducks at the bottom of a large hole when the Confederate counter-attack began.  Rather than calling off the attack after it became obvious that no breakthrough was possible, Burnside kept feeding troops into the Crater with the only effect being to lengthen the list of Union dead and wounded.

3.  James H. Ledlie-Brigadier General James H. Ledlie earned a notable distiction during the battle.  It was not unusual for Civil War generals to make bad decisions, and to not infrequently show a distinct lack of common sense, however almost all of them were very brave men.  Ledlie was not.  In addition to being a very bad commander as indicated by his failure to inform his division of what was expected of them after his division was chosen by lot to lead the assault, he spent the battle drunk and well behind the lines, safe and secure as his men went into the meat grinder.  He richly earned his dismissal from the Army after the battle.

4.  Edward Ferrero-Brigadier General Edward Ferrero was the foremost dance instructor in the country prior to the War.  He should have stuck to that trade.  The commander of the black division involved in the battle of the Crater, he spent the battle in the same bomb proof dugout behind the line as Ledlie, and he shared Ledlie’s bottle with him.  Ferrero’s behavior is somwhat incomprehensible as he had shown extreme valor in other battles.  Astonishingly he was not cashiered from the service, and in December of 1864 he received a brevet promotion to Major General of Volunteers for “bravery and meritorious services”.

With this type of leadership it is no wonder that the attack failed.  The initial mine explosion killed 278 Confederates and wounded hundreds of others.  For 15 minutes the stunned Confederates did not fire at the attacking Union units.  Union troops went down into the Crater and within an hour were receiving heavy fire from Confederate troops at the top of the side of the Crater facing Petersburg.  Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone, in charge of the Confederate counterattack, called it a turkey shoot.  Instead of calling off the attack  when it became clear that the Confederates had sealed the breach caused by the explosion, Burnside kept sending divisions, including the black division, down into the Crater where they were quickly slaughtered.  Some Confederate troops murdered black troops who were trying to surrender.  When General Lee heard of this he supposedly sent a message to General Mahone telling him to put a stop to this or he would be removed from command.

Union casualties were 4000 to 1500 for the Confederates.  The whole debacle was the subject of a lengthy investigation by the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

Here is Grant’s assessment of the fiasco from his Personal Memoirs: Continue Reading

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Digging of The Tunnel at Petersburg

By far the most unusual event during the siege of Petersburg was the attempt by Grant to take Petersburg by a huge mining operation.

The idea of the tunnel was devised by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants, the 33 year old commanding officer of the 48th Pennsylvania.  Pleasants was a mining engineer in civilian life and many of his men were coal miners.  He became convinced that his men could dig a tunnel under the Confederate fort known as Elliot’s Salient, then fill a mine under the fort sufficient to blow it to kingdom come, along with nearby Confederate trenches.  Pleasants took the idea to his corps commander Major General Ambrose Burnside.  He and his men had received permission, but he received virtually no assistance from the rest of the Army in the digging of the tunnel, he and his men having to improvise everything they used.  Engineering officers told Pleasants that he was crazy and at 511 feet the tunnel would be too long and his men would die of asphyxiation digging the tunnel long before it could be completed.

Petersburg Tunnel

The tunnel was elevated as it advanced toward the Confederate fort to prevent moisture clogging it up.   Fresh air was pumped in by air-exchange mechanism near the entrance. Pleasants had constructed a ventilation shaft located well behind Union lines, and connected it to the mine with canvas. At the shaft’s base, a fire was kept continuously burning. A wooden duct ran the entire length of the tunnel which protruded into the outside air. The fire heated stale air inside of the tunnel, forcing it up the ventilation shaft and out of the mine. The resulting vacuum then sucked fresh air in from the mine entrance via the wooden duct which transported the fresh air to the digging miners. 

The took took a bit over two weeks to dig and the mine fifty feet under the Confederate fort took almost another two weeks to construct.  It was filled with four tons of gunpowder.  The Confederates attempted some desultory countermining operations, but the Union tunnel troops went about their work undiscovered.  By July 28, 1864 the mine was ready to explode whenever the high command gave the word.  That word would be given on July 30, 1864.

Here is a portion of an article on the tunneling operation that led up to the Battle of the Crater, written by Major William H. Powell, United States Army, which appeared in volume 4 of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Continue Reading

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The Past: Through A Contemporary Glass Darkly

 

When I was down in Springfield last week, go here to read about my family’s annual pilgrimage to the Lincoln sites this year, I purchased several books at The Prairie Archives.  That bookstore is a treasure trove for those interested in the Civil War and/or Lincoln.  Two of the books were written by James G. Randall, the first volume of his four volume study of Lincoln as President and his Constitutional Problems under Lincoln.  Randall, who died in 1953, was a history professor at my alma mater, the University of Illinois, for three decades.  The foremost Lincoln scholar of his day, his body of work on Lincoln demonstrates how historians are influenced by the contemporary history they live through, and how the march of history after they are dead can make their interpretations obsolete, at least until history shifts again.

The formative event in Randall’s life was World War I.  He viewed the immense carnage as a huge waste, a war fought over issues that were unimportant compared to the huge loss of life involved.  World War II confirmed his belief in the futility of war, as he interpreted that conflict as being brought on by fanatics, this time Fascists, who caused millions of deaths in a completely unnecessary conflict.

In regard to the Civil War, Randall saw it too as an unneccessary conflict brought on by fanatics, fire eating secessionists in the South and, especially, abolitionists in the North.  Randall viewed the abolitionists as earning most of the blame for bringing on the War, turning political differences over slavery to be settled by compromise, into a crusade that could only be resolved by rivers of blood.

Randall summed up his argument in a paper entitled The Blundering Generation delivered to the Mississippi Valley Historical Society on May 2, 1940 at a conference in Omaha, Nebraska.  Randall’s thesis was that the War largely came about over a controversy over slavery that was merely a phantom.  There was never a question that the Western territories were going to be free territories due to the greater numbers heading for the West from the North, and the unwillingness of slave holders in the South to risk their slaves in the West on land not suitable for large scale plantation crops such as cotton and where they would be without the legal protections afforded by slave states to slaves as a species of property.

Randall’s argument found considerable support during his lifetime, but now is rarely presented as a viewpoint held by contemporary historians.  Why? Continue Reading

July 27, 1864: First Battle of Deep Bottom Begins

Deep_Bottom_July

Unbeknownst to the Confederates, on July 27, 1864 the Union forces around Petersburg were putting the finishing touches on a huge mine under a fort in the Confederate defenses known as Elliot’s Salient.  To divert Confederate attention from this sector of the line, Grant ordered Hancock and Sheridan to cross the James River at Deep Bottom and make a lunge towards Richmond.  Grant assumed this would cause a weakening in the Confederate defenses around Petersburg and he was correct in that assumption.  Lee in response to Grant’s move pulled some 16,500 men out of the Petersburg lines and into the Richmond fortifications.

In fighting on the 27th and 28th which resulted in 488 Union casualties to 679 Confederate, Hancock and Sheridan’s drive toward Richmond was stopped, but Grant had achieved his goal of drawing Lee’s men to the north side of the James, as Grant noted in his Memoirs: Continue Reading

July 22, 1864: Battle of Atlanta

After the battle of Peachtree Creek Hood ordered his army to withdraw to Atlanta, hoping that an opportunity would present itself to destroy a portion of the Union army as Sherman advanced on Atlanta.

 

 

 

atlanta_battle

 

While Stewart’s corps held the fortifications north of Atlanta, Hood planned to attack McPhersons Army of the Tennessee which was approaching from the east.  Cheatham’ corps would attack from the eastern fortifications of Atlanta, while Hardee’s corps would attack from the south, with Wheeler’s cavalry launching assaults on the supply lines of the Army of the Tennessee.

Hardee’s corps took much longer to get into position for the attack than Hood anticipated, and McPherson reinforced his left to meet this anticipated attack.  The attack of Hardee when it went in caused the Union line to waver and begin to retreat before it was repulsed.  It was during this attack that McPherson was slain.  Major General John “Blackjack” Logan, the most able of the Union political generals, took temporary command of the Union army and successfully led it during the remainder of the battle.

Cheatham’s corps attacked from the Atlanta entrenchments.  Here most of the fighting centered on Baldy Hill, with that conflict going on to nightfall.  Two miles to the north Cheatham’s corps made a breakthrough of the Union lines, that was only repulsed after much hard fighting, spearheaded by Logan’s corps supported by a heavy Union artillery bombardment.

At the end of the day, Union casualties were 3,000 to Confederate casualties of 5,000.  Hood was unable to repulse the Union forces and the battle of Atlanta now became the siege of Atlanta.

 

 

The essential tragedy of the Civil War is that it was “a war without an enemy” in which Americans were fighting each other.  This sad fact is epitomized by this tribute penned by Hood in regard to his classmate and roommate James Birdseye McPherson:

I will record the death of my classmate and boyhood friend, General James B. McPherson, the announcement of which caused me sincere sorrow. Since we had graduated in 1853, and had each been ordered off on duty in different directions, it has not been our fortune to meet. Neither the years nor the difference of sentiment that had led us to range ourselves on opposite sides in the war had lessened my friendship; indeed the attachment formed in early youth was strengthened by my admiration and gratitude for his conduct toward our people in the vicinity of Vicksburg. His considerate and kind treatment of them stood in bright contrast to the course pursued by many Federal officers.

 

 

Here is Sherman’s report of the battle: Continue Reading

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July 20, 1864: Battle of Peachtree Creek

peachtreemap1BattleMap

Sherman was closing in on Atlanta.  General Joseph Johnston had delayed the advance of Sherman but he had not been able to stop him.  On July 8 Sherman crossed the Chattahoochie River, the last major physical obstacle between him and Atlanta.  Johnston withdrew across Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta, planning to attack Sherman’s army as it crossed the creek.  As he made his preparations, Johnston was suddenly removed from his command by Davis.  Davis and Johnston were old enemies, but Davis removing Johnston was more an act of desperation than anything else.  If Atlanta fell, the Confederate heartland was open for an invasion by Sherman, and Johnston’s strategy of maneuver and retreat convinced Davis that Johnston would not fight for Atlanta.  Rolling the dice, Davis promoted one of Johnston’s corps commanders to the temporary rank of full general and John Bell Hood found himself in command of the Army of Tennessee.

Thirty-three years old and a West Point graduate, Hood had earned a reputation as an aggressive and successful division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia.  At Gettysburg he was severely wounded and lost the use of his left arm.  At Chickamauga he led the assault that cracked the Union army, and was again wounded losing his right leg.  Equipped now with a wooden leg, Hood had lost none of his aggression and self-confidence.  Under him retreat was to be a thing of the past, as he swiftly readied his army to take aggressive action to save Atlanta.

On July 19, Hood learned that Sherman was dividing his army, following his usual course of having the Army of the Cumberland under Thomas cross Peachtree Creek for a direct advance on Atlanta, while the Army of the Tennessee under McPherson and the Army of the Ohio under Schofield maneuvered to the East, to outflank the Confederates and to cut rail lines and the Confederate supply lines.  For a commander as fond of attack as Hood this was a golden opportunity to launch an assault on Thomas. Continue Reading

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The Better Angels

The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln, conclusion of his First Inaugural Address

A video clip of a movie, The Better Angels, coming out in the fall of this year.  The film deals with the boyhood of Lincoln and centers on the death of his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.  She died when Lincoln was nine and Lincoln helped his father make her coffin.  Throughout his life Lincoln was surrounded by death:  his younger brother Thomas who lived only three days, his mother, his beloved sister Sarah who died at age 20 giving birth to a still born son, his son Eddie who died in 1850 age three, his son Willie who died in 1862, age 11 and the grim death toll of the Civil War, larger than that of all other American wars combined until Vietnam.  These deaths helped increase the melancholy that always lurked below the surface for Lincoln and which he fought off with his humorous story telling.

Lincoln’s religious beliefs during his life were a subject of controversy and so they have remained after his death.  However, all the deaths that he personally witnessed convinced him that God had His own purposes that were unknown to mortals.  Lincoln gave this belief immortal form in his Second Inaugural:

 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. Continue Reading

July 14, 1864: Battle of Tupelo

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General Nathan Bedford Forrest did not lose many battles during the Civil War, and the battle of Tupelo is one of the handful he lost.  After his masterpiece of Brice’s Cross Roads, go here to read about it, Forrest was regarded as a potential mortal threat to the supply lines of Sherman.  Major General Andrew C. Smith was sent out from La Grange, Tennessee on July 5, 1864 with a Union force of 14,000 men.  His mission was to find Forrest and defeat him, and thereby prevent him from staging raids into middle Tennessee to cut Sherman’s supplies.  On July 11, 1864 Smith was in Pontotoc, Mississippi.  Forrest was nearby at Okolona, Mississippi, and was under orders from his commander Stephen D. Lee not to engage Smith until Lee reinforced him.  On July 13, Smith became apprehensive of an ambush and marched his force to Tupelo, Mississippi and took up a defensive position.

Lee having reinforced Forrest, on July 14, beginning at 7:30 AM, Lee launched a series of uncoordinated attacks with his force of 8,000, all of which were bloodily repulsed.  Lee halted the attacks after a few hours.  Forrest would attack again,  once in the evening and once on the morning of the 15th, both attacks being repulsed.  Smith attempted no pursuit, for which he was heavily criticized,  and on July 15 retreated himself back to Memphis, pursued by Forrest. Smith did accomplish his goal of stopping Forrest from raiding into Tennessee and he was now a member of the exclusive, and minute, club of Union commanders who defeated Forrest in battle.  Union casualties were 648 to 1300 Confederate.

Here is Forrest’s report of the battle: Continue Reading

July 11, 1864: Battle of Fort Stevens

 

 

The culmination of Early’s raid on Washington, the skirmishing at Fort Stevens, one of the many forts guarding Washington, on July 11-12, really didn’t amount to much, Early quickly realizing that the fort was now manned partially by veteran troops of the VI corps from the Army of the Potomac, dispatched by Grant to guard Washington, and that whatever opportunity he had ever had to seize Washington by a coup de main was now gone.

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Early withdrew on the evening of July 12 and by July 13 was south of the Potomac, his raid on Washington becoming simply a matter for historians.  The attack on Fort Stevens is now chiefly remembered for the visit by President and Mrs. Lincoln during the engagement, and Lincoln becoming the only American president during his term of office to come under combat fire. Continue Reading

July 9, 1864: Battle of Monocacy

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In early July 1864 Washington was in something of a panic.  Jubal Early fresh from his victories in the Shenandoah Valley was driving north towards Washington.  The extensive fortifications of Washington had been stripped of men, sent south to participate in Grant’s Overland Campaign.  Grant on July 6, ordered two veteran brigades of the VI Corps to be shipped to Baltimore by sea.  Until they arrived, all that stood between early was Major General Lew Wallace and 6300 Union troops, many of them recently recruited 100 day men, short term enlistees mustered into service in the Spring of 1864.  Few of Wallace’s men had ever seen combat.

The future author of the block buster novel Ben Hur, the West Point trained Wallace had not had a good war up to this point.  Unfairly made a scape goat after Shiloh, Wallace had been shunted aside to non-combat assignments, his most notable achievement being his preparation of Cincinnati for a Confederate attack that never came during Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky in 1862.

Now the commander of the Mid-Atlantic region, the War had come to him.

Wallace decided to stand and fight at Monocacy Junction three miles south of Frederick, Maryland.  At Monocacy the Georgetown Pike to Washington and the National Road to Baltimore both crossed the Monocacy River there as did the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  Delaying Early here would give at least one more day for reinforcements to get to Washington.  Wallace was in luck and VI Corps troops from Baltimore reached him before the battle.  The odds were still long however, 5800 Union troops facing 14000 Confederates, with Wallace’s men defending a six mile front to guard the Georgetown Pike, the National Road and the Baltimore and Ohio.

The Union beat off two attacks by Confederate divisions attacking along both the Georgetown Pike and the National Road.  An attack by Gordon’s division on the left forced a retreat of Wallace to Baltimore beginning in the late afternoon.  However, he and his men succeeded in delaying Early just long enough to save Washington, as Early noted in his memoirs:

Some of the Northern papers stated that, between Saturday and Monday, I could have entered the city; but on Saturday I was fighting at Monocacy, thirty-five miles from Washington, a force which I could not leave in my rear; and after disposing of that force and moving as rapidly as it was possible for me to move, I did not arrive in front of the fortifications until after noon on Monday, and then my troops were exhausted…

Union casualties were 1294 to some 700-900 Confederate.

Wallace proposed that a memorial should be built at Monocacy to the Union troops who died there stating:

“These men died to save the National Capital, and they did save it.”

Such a memorial has never been built, but it should be.  The report of Lew Wallace on the battle: Continue Reading

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July 6, 1864: Ransom of Hagerstown, Maryland

Brigadier General John McCausland, Jr.

On July 5, 1864, Early’s Corps marched into Maryland in an attempt to take the pressure off Lee.  As part of this invasion Early sent Brigadier General John McCausland, Jr. to occupy Hagerstown, Maryland and demand a ransom from the town of $200,000.00 in recompense for the destruction wreaked in the Valley by Union General Hunter.  McCausland took the town without fighting early in the morning of July 6.

For some unknown reason McCausland demanded only $20,000.00 and 1500 suits of clothes for the ragged Confederates.  The dismayed citizens of Hagerstown raised the sum from three local banks and the clothes were provided.  McCausland and his men rode off at 1:00 AM on July 7.

Hagerstown got off lightly.  Frederick, Maryland during this campaign paid a ransom of $200,000.00.  The city of Frederick would be paying off this debt to local banks for almost a century, with the last payment made in 1951. Continue Reading

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Top Ten Civil War Movies for the Fourth

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

 

Shelby Foote

 

I agree with historian Shelby Foote that it is impossible to understand the United States without understanding the Civil War, and it is “therefore fitting and proper” that over the Fourth Civil War movies come to mind.  This is a repeat of a post I originally did in 2011, with changes to some of the video clips.

 

10.   Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)-We begin with a non-Civil War movie with the video clip at the beginning of this post.  In 1908 English Bulter Charles Ruggles, well played by actor Charles Laughton, comes to work in the American West.  It is a hilarious fish out of water comedy, as Ruggles, with his culture and British reserve comes face to face with the Wild West.  While living in America, Ruggles becomes interested in American history, and becomes a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  When he recites the Gettysburg Address, the impact on his listeners is obvious, and reminds us that for Americans the Civil War will never be a matter simply relegated to books or memory, but is something that still has a vast impact on us to this day.

 

 

9.    Friendly Persuasion (1956)-Starring Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War, the film is a superb mix of drama and comedy as the Quakers have to determine whether to continue to embrace their pacifist beliefs or to take up arms against General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry during his Great Raid of the North in June-July of 1863.  When the oldest son of the Birdwell family, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days, takes up arms, his mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is aghast, but Cooper, as Jess Birdwell, defends him.  Although he remains true to his pacifist convictions, Birdwell understands that his son is acting in obedience to his conscience, and, as he tells his wife, ” A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”

 

 

8.    Major Dundee (1965)-Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65.  Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers.  Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon.  Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West.   The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.

 

 

7.    The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid. Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg. John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest. Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech: Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’. You think our boys are asleep down here. Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it. Continue Reading

June 27, 1864: Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

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I have heard men say that if they ever killed a Yankee during the war

they were not aware of it. I am satisfied that on this memorable day,
every man in our regiment killed from one score to four score, yea,
five score men. I mean from twenty to one hundred each. All that was
necessary was to load and shoot. In fact, I will ever think that the
reason they did not capture our works was the impossibility of their
living men passing over the bodies of their dead. The ground was piled
up with one solid mass of dead and wounded Yankees. I learned afterwards
from the burying squad that in some places they were piled up like cord
wood, twelve deep.
Private Sam Watkins, Company H, First Tennessee Infantry

Throughout his maneuvers to slow Sherman’s drive on Atlanta, General Joseph Johnston often occupied strong positions that he hoped Sherman would assault.  At Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864 he got his wish.

Following the battle of Pickett’s Mill on May 27,1864, go here to read about it, the Union and Confederate armies would spend June with Sherman attempting to find some way to outflank or make his way through the defensive lines constructed by Johnston to defend Marietta, Georgia, and his rail supply line.

 

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Sherman having successfully turned his initial line, Johnston fell back on a previously prepared fortified line astride Kennesaw Mountain, an immensely strong position, on June 18-19.  Sherman’s attempt to turn the left of Johnston’s position came to a halt at the Battle of Kolb’s Farm on June 22.  Here Hood, in a foreshadowing of dark days to come for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, had his corps attack without adequate reconnaissance and incurred heavy losses of 1500 to 250 Union.  Nonetheless, Sherman’s flanking movement was stopped.

Growing impatient, on June 27 Sherman launched the last frontal assault of his career.  Assuming that Johnston had stretched his line too thin, Sherman attacked the Confederate center.  The attack began with a furious cannonade at 8:00 AM involving 200 cannon.  The Union attack went in and was bloodily repulsed with 3000 Union casualties to 1000 Confederates.  The fighting was over by 10:45 AM.  Sherman twice urged General Thomas to renew the assault.  Thomas flatly refused, saying “One or two more such assaults would use up this army.” 

The aftermath of the battle was anti-climactic.  The armies stood facing each other for five days, until July 2, 1864 when Sherman again attempted to outflank Johnston’s left, this time with success, Johnston retreating to prepared lines at Smyrna.  Here is Sherman’s account of the battle in his memoirs: Continue Reading

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June 19, 1864: Sinking of the Alabama

The greatest of the Confederate commerce raiders that wreaked havoc on the Union merchant fleet, the CSS Alabama in her two year career took 65 prizes.  That career came to a screeching halt when she was sunk by the USS Kearsarge in a dramatic battle off the coast of Cherbourg on June 19, 1864.  Here is the account of Captain John Winslow, Captain of the Kearsarge, of the engagement:

U. S. S. KEARSARGE,
English Channel, July 30, 1864

 SIR:   In obedience to the instructions of the Department I have the honor to make the following supplementary report of the action between the Kearsarge and the Alabama: On the morning of the 19th ultimo, the day being fine, with a hazy atmosphere, wind moderate from the westward, with little sea, the position of the Kearsarge at 10 o’clock was near the buoy which marks the line of shoals to the eastward of Cherbourg, and distant about 3 miles from the eastern entrance, which bore to the southward and westward. At 10:20 o’clock the Alabama was descried coming out of the western entrance, accompanied by the Couronne (ironclad). I had, in an interview with the admiral at Cherbourg, assured him that in the event of an action occurring with the Alabama the position of the ships should be so far offshore that no question could be advanced about the line of jurisdiction. Accordingly, to perfect this object, and with the double purpose of drawing the Alabama so far offshore that if disabled she could not return, I directed the ship’s head seaward, and cleared for action with the battery pivoted to starboard. Having attained a point about 7 miles from the shore, the head of the Kearsarge was turned short round and the ship steered directly for the Alabama, my purpose being to run her down, or if circumstances did not warrant it, to close in with her. Hardly had the Kearsarge come round before the Alabama sheered, presented her starboard battery, and slowed her engines. On approaching her, at long range of about a mile, she opened her full broadside, the shot cutting some of our rigging and going over and alongside of us. Immediately I ordered more speed, but in two minutes the Alabama had loaded and again fired another broadside, and following it with a third, without damaging us except in rigging. We had now arrived within about 900 yards of her, and I was apprehensive that another broadside, nearly raking us as it was, would prove disastrous. Accordingly, I ordered the Kearsarge sheered, and opened on the Alabama. The position of the vessels was now broadside and broadside, but it was soon apparent that Captain Semmes did not seek close action. I became then fearful, lest after some fighting he would again make for the shore. To defeat this, I determined to keep full speed on, and with a port helm to run under the stern of the Alabama and rake, if he did not prevent it by sheering and keeping his broadside to us. He adopted this mode as a preventive, and as a consequence the Alabama was forced with a full head of steam into a circular track during the engagement. Continue Reading

June 16, 1864: Lincoln’s Speech at the Great Sanitary Fair

The United States Sanitary Commission was a private organization established in 1861 to aid sick and wounded Union soldiers.  During the War it raised 25 million dollars in private contributions, and sent thousands of volunteers, many of them women, to work in camps as nurses and cooks, and to administer hospitals and hospital ships and to establish rest homes and soldier’s homes for Union troops.  The Sanitary Commission was quite successful in improving the health and living condition of the common soldiers and was much appreciated by them.  Fairs were held by the Sanitary Commission in Northern cities to raise funds and Lincoln spoke at such a fair in Philadelphia on June 16, 1864.  Lincoln was a highly unusual politician and we see this in the speech.  He does not sugarcoat the horrors of war and while acknowledging that everyone is anxious for the ending of the War, that he, and he assumes the nation, are willing to fight on if it takes three more years to attain the goals for which the War was initially begun.  Here is the text of Lincoln’s speech: Continue Reading

June 15, 1864: Assault on Petersburg Begins

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Generals Lee and Grant were two of the finest generals in American history.  However, they both had off days, and few episodes in the Civil War cast both of these men in a poorer light than the failure of the Union attempt to seize Petersburg from June 15-18, 1864.

Grant inexplicably assigned to Butler’s Army of the James the task of spearheading the Union effort to take Petersburg.  Considering the poor performance of this army during the Bermuda Hundred campaign and the assault on Petersburg on June 9, this was a poor choice.  Smith’s corps and the cavalry of Kautz would attack over the same route followed on the June 9 attack.  Hancock’s corps of the Army of the Potomac would follow up after the initial assault.

The attack didn’t get under way until 7:oo PM with Smith then taking 3.5 miles of entrenchments from the almost unmanned Confederate defenses.  Smith then decided to wait until dawn before advancing further.  Hancock, demonstrating yet again that he was no longer the aggressive battlefield commander he had been earlier in the War, agreed with Smith’s decision to wait until dawn.

Beauregard, commanding the defenses of Petersburg, having no other troops, stripped the fortified Howlett line that kept most of Butler’s army of Confederate troops bottled up at Bermuda Hundred.  Butler could then have smashed through the Howlett line with  ease, but he did nothing.  Beauregard now had 14000 men to hold Petersburg while he awaited reinforcements from General Lee.

He now confronted three corps of 50,000 men, Burnside’s corps having come up to join Smith’s and Hancock’s.  Hancock, in temporary command of the Army of the Potomac until Meade arrived, launched a three corps attack at 5:30 PM on June 16.  Beauregard and his men hanging on just barely, constructing entrenchments behind their lines to contain Union breaches.

June 17 was a day of uncoordinated Union assaults which gave Beauregard the opportunity to construct a new defensive line around Petersburg to which he and his men withdrew on the evening of June 17-18.

Throughout the struggle for Petersburg Beauregard had frantically been asking Lee to send him reinforcements.  Lee denied all such entreaties until his son General Fitzhugh Lee and his cavalry finally confirmed that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the James and was attacking Petersburg.  At 3:00 AM on June 18, Lee dispatched two divisions to shore up the Petersburg defenses.

Beauregard now had 20,000 troops against 67,000 Federals.  The Union attacks on June 18 were repulsed with heavy loss and the siege of Petersburg began.  The Union had sustained 11000 casualties against 4000 Confederate casualties during the fighting of June 15-18, and the last opportunity to end the War quickly had vanished.

Here is an account of the fighting from June 15-18th by General Beauregard that he wrote for the North American Review in 1887: Continue Reading

June 12, 1864: Grant’s Crossing of the James Begins

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After the attack on Lee’s Cold Harbor line was bloodily defeated on June 3, Grant realized that trying to bull his way through Lee’s fortified line was useless.  As he had throughout the Overland Campaign Grant decided to move again south and east around Lee’s left.  He chose to not only cross the Chickahominy River but also the James River, a move he hoped would take Lee completely by surprise and allow him to seize Petersburg, the rail hub supplying Richmond.

To divert Lee’s attention he sent Sheridan and most of his cavalry on a raid to the West.  Grant then began the construction of an entrenchment line behind his Cold Harbor position.  On the night of the 12th Hancock’s and Wright’s corps withdrew to the new entrenchments.  Warren’s corps crossed the Chickahominy River and headed south.  Burnsides corps followed with Hancock and Wright’s corps taking up the rear.  Smith’s corps marched to White House on the Pamunkey River and were shipped by the navy to Bermuda Hundred.

At 4:00 PM on June 15th Union engineers began work on a 2200 feet pontoon bridge on the James between Windmill Point to Fort Powhatan and completed it seven hours later.  Grant then crossed his army over the James during the next two days with Lee still unsure as to his intentions, in one of the most daring, and successful, maneuvers of the War.  Grant in his Memoirs describes why he decided to take his biggest gamble of the War: Continue Reading

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June 10, 1864: Battle of Brice’s Crossroads

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Forrest is the devil, and I think he has got some of our troops under cower…I will order them to make up a force and go out to follow Forrest to the death. If it costs ten thousand lives and breaks the Treasury. There will never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest is dead.

General William T. Sherman to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton-June 15, 1864

General Nathan Bedford Forrest gained some incredible victories in the Civil War, but his victory at Brice’s Cross Roads in which he routed a well supplied Union force outnumbering his by almost three to one, ensured that he would enjoy mythic stature for the remainder of his life.

Sherman made Forrest one of his chief targets in the late spring of 1864, Sherman being concerned that Forrest would raid and shred his supply lines as he moved further south into Georgia.  For that purpose Major General Samuel D. Sturgis was given a mixed force of 8500 infantry and cavalry and given the mission of finding Forrest and destroying him.  Leaving Memphis on June 1, 1864, Sturgis headed into Mississippi.

As in so many times in his Civil War career, Forrest the hunted, quickly became Forrest the hunter.  Commanding only 3200 men, Forrest decided that he would fight Sturgis on ground of his choosing.  Realizing that Sturgis was heading for Tupelo, Mississippi, Forrest decided to fight at Brice’s Crossroads about 15 miles north of Tupelo.  The prospective battlefield had heavily wooded areas and one creek, Tishomingo Creek, with only one bridge across it, which the Union force would have to use to reach Brice’s cross roads.  Forrest was aware that the Union cavalry part of the force of Sturgis was about three hours ahead of the Union infantry, wearily marching over muddy roads.

At 9:45 AM a brigade of General Benjamin Grierson’s cavalry division crossed the bridge over  Tishomingo Creek and headed towards Brice Crossroads.  Forrest immediately launched a delaying attack with one of his cavalry brigades.  By 11:30 AM all of the Union cavalry was committed and Forrest was driving them back with his cavalry.

By 1:30 PM Union the exhausted Union infantry regiments began to arrive after struggling all morning marching along the muddy roads..  The Union force briefly went on the offensive attacking Forrest’s left.  Forrest repulsed this attack and launched attacks on both Union flanks while battering the Union center with his artillery.   An unsuccessful attack on the bridge over  Tishomingo Creek at 3:30 PM caused a panic  in the Union force.  Sturgis decided to retreat and the retreat became a rout with panic beginning as the bridge across the creek became a bottle neck.  Sturgis by this time was hoping merely to escape as he indicated to Colonel Edward Bouton of the 59th US Colored Infantry: “For God’s sake, if Mr. Forrest will let me alone I will let him alone. You have done all you could and more than was expected of you, and now all you can do is to save yourselves. ”  Continue Reading

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June 3, 1864: Cold Harbor-Not War But Murder

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And, after that, the chunky man from the West,

Stranger to you, not one of the men you loved

As you loved McClellan, a rider with a hard bit,

Takes you and uses you as you could be used,

Wasting you grimly but breaking the hurdle down.

You are never to worship him as you did McClellan,

But at the last you can trust him.  He slaughters you

But he sees that you are fed.  After sullen Cold Harbor

They call him a butcher and want him out of the saddle,

But you have had other butchers who did not win

And this man wins in the end.

 

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

The main Union assault at Cold Harbor went in on the foggy morning of June 3 at 4:30 AM, the three corps of Smith, Wright and Hancock hitting the Confederate left.  Some of the Union veteran troops, in those pre-dog tag days, pinned white notes with their names and addresses on the backs of their uniforms so their bodies could be identified, they having learned the hard lesson that assaulting fortified lines held by Confederate infantry was bound to cause huge casualties among the attacking force.  The attack went in blind, as, stunningly, no had bothered to reconnoiter the Confederate lines and draw up maps.  One Union soldier in Gibbon’s division had an apt comment on this military malpractice:   “We felt it was murder, not war, or at best a very serious mistake had been made.”

Smith’s attack on the right quickly bogged down, his men being funneled through two ravines where they were cut down in large numbers.  Wright’s men in the middle, still weary from their attacks on June 1, made little effort, and their attack was pinned down almost as soon as it started.  Hancock’s attack on the Union far left pierced the Confederate lines, but the breach was sealed and the Confederates repulsed Hancock with heavy loss. The attacks were all over by 7:30 AM.  Grant wanted attacks to resume, but by 12:30 PM  he had become convinced that further attacks were simply impossible.

The Union casualties from the assault have been estimated from 3,000-7,000.  I believe the upper estimate is more likely correct.  The Confederates incurred about 1500 casualties.  The armies would remain confronting each other at Cold Harbor until June 12, but there would be no further attacks.  Total Union casualties from all the fighting at Cold Harbor were around 12,000 to 5,000 Confederate, the same disparity as at Fredericksburg, the Cold Harbor assault of June 3, resembling the futile Union assaults of that battle.

Cold Harbor represented the nadir of Union fortunes during the Overland Campaign.  After huge casualties, 55,000, the Army of the Potomac still confronted an Army of Northern Virginia that could hold any position it chose to defend.  Grant seemed at loose ends for a while after the defeat of June 3, uncertain what to do next.  However, during the Civil War Grant never allowed any setback he suffered to remain final.  A failure all of his life except for war, matrimony and his last gallant race with the Grim Reaper at the very end to complete his Personal Memoirs to restore the family fortunes, he was determined that neither the Union nor he was going to lose this War.  Here are his comments in his Memoirs about the assault at Cold Harbor of June 3: Continue Reading

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Marching Along

Something for the weekend.  Marching Along by William B. Bradbury.  Bradbury was a human song writing machine of the 19th century.  Of all the songs he wrote, doubtless the best known is the tune for Yes, Jesus Loves Me which I frequently sang as a child.  He wrote that tune the same year, 1862, that he wrote Marching AlongMarching Along, appropriately enough, was a favorite marching song of the Army of the Potomac, and they sang it endlessly during their marathon marches of the Civil War.