American Civil War

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: →']);" class="more-link">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:

→']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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? →']);" class="more-link">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: →']);" class="more-link">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: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

July 14, 1864: Battle of Tupelo

TUPEbattleMap285wide_1

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: →']);" class="more-link">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.

battle-of-fort-stevens-925

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

July 9, 1864: Battle of Monocacy

Monocacybattle_svg

 

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: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

June 27, 1864: Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Kennesaw_Mountain

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.

 

atlanta_campaign_17-27

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: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Follow TAC by Clicking on the Buttons Below
Bookmark and Share
Subscribe by eMail

Enter your email:

Recent Comments
Archives
Our Visitors. . .
Our Subscribers. . .