American Civil War
Something for the weekend. The Cavalier’s Glee, a song which captures well the daring spirit of the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia under General Jeb Stuart. The song was written by Captain William W. Blackford, an engineer on the staff of General Stuart. It is sung by Bobby Horton, a man who every American is indebted to for his constant efforts to bring Civil War songs to modern audiences.
Orestes A. Brownson, a Catholic convert, was the greatest Catholic writer of mid-Nineteenth Century America. He published Brownson’s Quarterly Journal, an influential and popular magazine which examined the political, cultural and literary scene of the America of its time. One hundred and fifty years ago one of his subscribers sat down and wrote him a letter. Dr. Samuel Mudd was an unknown figure at the time, but just over three years hence all of America would know his name as the physician who treated the assassin John Wilkes Booth after he had slain President Lincoln. Mudd was arrested in the aftermath of the assassination. Mudd claimed to be completely innocent. However, at his trial evidence was presented that established that Mudd had contacts with Booth in late 1864. What they talked about is lost to history. Evidence by Mudd’s former slaves helped establish that Mudd had been part of the conspiracy. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, escaping the death penalty by a single vote.
Mudd was held for four years at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. During a yellow fever epidemic in 1867 the prison doctor died and Mudd volunteered to take his place. His efforts helped stem the outbreak and the soldiers at the fort wrote a petition to President Johnson asking for clemency for Mudd: He inspired the hopeless with courage and by his constant presence in the midst of danger and infection…. [Many] doubtless owe their lives to the care and treatment they received at his hands. Due to this, and the ceaseless efforts of his defense attorney Thomas W. Ewing, Jr. who was influential with the Johnson administration, on February 8, 1869 Johnson pardoned Mudd. Since Mudd’s release there have been continuing efforts to clear his name. In 1992 my former Congressman, Republican Thomas Ewing, co-sponsored with Steny Hoyer, Democrat Maryland, House bill 1885 to overturn the conviction of Mudd. The bill failed in committee.
Here is the text of Mudd’s letter to Brownson: Continue reading
Prince Albert, husband and consort of Queen Victoria, died one hundred and fifty years ago. Only 42, he died of typhoid fever, a mass killer in the nineteenth century in crowded cities like London. In November of 1861 he had arisen from what would become his death-bed to tone down a British ultimatum over the seizure of two Confederate diplomats, Mason and Slidell, from a British mail steamer the Trent by the USS San Jacinto, in what has come down in history as the Trent Affair: Continue reading
James B. Sheeran knew many roles in his life: husband, father, Catholic priest and soldier, and whatever his role he gave everything he had. Born in Temple Mehill, County Longford, Ireland, in either 1814 or 1818, he emigrated to Canada at the age of 12. Eventually he settled in Monroe, Michigan and taught at a school run by the Redemptorist Fathers. He married and he and his wife had a son and daughter.
Tragedy stalked the family. Sheeran’s wife died in 1849 and his son also died of illness. His daughter became a nun, but also died young of an illness. Rather than retreat into bitterness, always a temptation for a man afflicted with so much sorrow, Sheeran decided that God was calling him to a new path and joined the Redemptorists, being ordained a priest in 1858. He was sent to a parish in New Orleans. In the Crescent City he found that he liked the people and became an ardent Southerner. When Louisiana seceded, he became a chaplain in the 14th Louisiana, which served in the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee.
Father Sheeran was a priest who believed in speaking his mind. An example of this was caused by his habit of helping enemy wounded after he had helped the wounded Confederates. His unit had captured a Union field hospital and Father Sheeran went over to it and was appalled to see that the wounded were not being cared for. He kept a diary throughout the War and he recorded the following:
The union soldiers “told me that they had no bandages to dress the wounds, no instruments to operate with, and that they were fatigued from the labors of the night.”
“I remarked it would be some consolation to their wounded if they would but visit them and wash the wound of those who were bathed in their own blood. I next went to their men paroled to attend to the wounded, asked why they did not wait on their companions, many of whom were suffering for a drink of water. They told me that they had no one to direct them, that their surgeons seemed to take no interest in the men.”
“I became somewhat indignant to hear the excuses of these worthless nurses, and putting on an air of authority ordered them to go to the rifle pits filled with the dead bodies of their companions and they would find hundreds of knapsacks filled with shirts, handkerchiefs and other articles that would make excellent bandages.”
“They obeyed my orders with the utmost alacrity and soon returned with their arms full of excellent bandage material, and bringing them to me asked: ‘Now sir, what shall we do with them?’” Sheeran was fully prepared to give the required final direction. “Go and tell your surgeons that you have bandages enough now.”
“Off they went to the surgeons….”. “In about two hours I returned and was pleased to find the surgeons and nurses all at work attending to their wounded.”
Father Sheeran did not restrict his outspokenness only to Union soldiers. His friend Father James Flynn in 1892 wrote about one memorable run in Father Sheeran had with the legendary Stonewall Jackson:
“Going to his [Father Sheeran’s] tent one day, General Jackson sternly rebuked the priest for disobeying his orders, and reproached him for doing what he would not tolerate in any officer in his command. [The exact offense is unknown.] ‘Father Sheeran,’ said the general, ‘you ask more favors and take more privileges than any officer in the army.’ [Sheeran apparently replied] ‘General Jackson, I want you to understand that as a priest of God I outrank every officer in your command. I even outrank you, and when it is a question of duty I shall go wherever called.’ The General looked with undistinguished astonishment on the bold priest and without reply left his tent.”
This incident obviously left an impression on General Jackson. Just before the battle of Chancellorsville he had ordered that all baggage be sent to the rear which included tents. Chaplain Sheeran immediately sent in his resignation, claiming that his tent was necessary for him to perform his duties as a priest. Dr. Hunter McGuire, chief surgeon of the Second Corps, reported on what happened next:
“I said to General Jackson, that I was very sorry to give up [the] Father–; that he was one of the most useful chaplains in the service. He replied: ‘If that is the case he shall have a tent.’ And so far as I know this Roman Catholic priest was the only man in the corps who had one.” Continue reading
If a nation ever needed Divine assistance it was our own America during the Civil War. Riven in two, the nation must have seemed on a path to destruction by many of those who lived through that terrible trial. Abraham Lincoln, as he led the United States through that struggle, increasingly found his mind turning to God. This Proclamation was written by Secretary of State Seward, but the sentiments are no doubt ones in which Lincoln fully joined.
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State Continue reading
On November 18, 1861, Jefferson Davis issued a report to the Confederate Congress on the progress of the War. It is a fascinating document. It details how he perceived the War at this early stage. Here is the text of the report, interspersed with comments by me:
Richmond November 18th 1861
The few weeks which have elapsed since your adjournment have brought us so near the close of the year that we are now able to sum up its general results. The retrospect is such as should fill the hearts of our people with gratitude to Providence for His kind interposition in their behalf. Abundant yields have rewarded the labor of the agriculturist, whilst the manufacturing industry of the Confederate States was never so prosperous as now. The necessities of the times have called into existence new branches of manufactures, and given a fresh impulse to the activity of those heretofore in operation. The means of the Confederate States for manufacturing the necessaries and comforts of life within themselves increase as the conflict continues, and we are gradually becoming independent of the rest of the world for the supply of such military stores and munitions as are indispensable for war. The operations of the army soon to be partially interrupted by the approaching winter have afforded a protection to the country, and shed a lustre upon its arms through the trying vicissitudes of more than one arduous campaign, which entitle our brave volunteers to our praise and our gratitude.
The Confederacy would expand its industrial plant enormously during the War, but it could never compete with the industrial might of the Union. The crop of 1861 was indeed bountiful, and it did small good for the Confederacy since Davis had decided on an informal cotton embargo which it was assumed would convince Great Britain to recognize the Confederacy since the British textile industry relied upon cotton from the South. It was a ghastly mistake. With the Union blockade in its infancy, most of the cotton crop of 1861 could have been shipped to Europe and earned much-needed hard currency for the purchase of badly needed supplies and weapons. Instead, what cotton was not used for domestic purposes in the Confederacy in 1861, simply sat in warehouses and on docks. This policy was one of the main blunders of the Davis administration in 1861. Continue reading
As we observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it is all too easy in studying battles, strategies, emancipation, political conflicts, etc., to lose sight of the fact that those going through this immense struggle were individuals like us. The video above, with photos of Confederate soldiers, helps remind us of what just an immense tragedy the Civil War was for the loved ones of every soldier who fell in that war. Virtually every soldier was loved by some one, and usually many people: parents, siblings, friends, other relatives, and a wife or girlfriend. It is fitting and proper that we study the war, but we must never lose sight of the human suffering behind what we study. Many of the men in the photos in the video above doubtless died of illness or battlefield wounds far from family and loved ones. It is for us to draw meaning from why they fought and what they died for. Continue reading
Recently I have been reading of the Grand Review of the Armies which occurred in Washington DC on May 23 and May 24, 1865. This was a victory parade of Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Sherman’s Army. I was struck by a banner that was spread on the capitol dome those two days: “The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.” Indeed. So the boys in blue enjoyed two days of being cheered as heroes and saviors of their country, before they were demobilized and went back to their homes, the War left behind to fading memories and imperishable history.
However, there were silent victors who could not march in the Grand Review, and humorist Bret Harte remembered them in this poem: Continue reading
I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”
Ulysses S. Grant, written just before his death
Something for the weekend. Quotations from Ulysses S. Grant to the Beatles song In My Life. A follow up to my post on Robert E. Lee, the Beatles and the Internet. Another demonstration of what a wild and wacky place the internet truly is!
Few men in American history have gone from complete obscurity to being a central figure in the life of the nation faster than Ulysses Simpson Grant. Known as Sam Grant by his West Point friends, his first two initials making Sam an inevitable nickname, Grant had an unerring ability to fail at everything he put his hand to, except for war, his marriage and his last gallant race against the Grim Reaper, as he was dying of cancer, to finish his memoirs and provide financially for his wife and children. Most great figures in our history have known success more than failure. Not so Sam Grant. He would encounter humiliating defeats throughout his life, from beginning to end.
At the beginning of the Civil War, he was a clerk, barely able to support his family. Seemingly a dull plodder, but possessed of iron determination and an uncanny ability to never let the trees obscure the forest; happily married and a firm believer in God, but subject to bouts of depression when he would grasp for the bottle; the shabby little man who, incredibly, ended up winning the greatest war in American history.
His men didn’t hold him in awe as Lee’s men did Lee; Grant was far too common and prosaic a figure for that. However, they did respect him, as this section of Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, indicates: Continue reading
They do not know what they say. If it came to a conflict of arms, the war will last at least four years. Northern politicians will not appreciate the determination and pluck of the South, and Southern politicians do not appreciate the numbers, resources, and patient perseverance of the North. Both sides forget that we are all Americans. I foresee that our country will pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation, perhaps, for our national sins.
Robert E. Lee
Something for the weekend. Further evidence of what a wild and wacky place the internet truly is! Quotations from Robert E. Lee teamed up with the Beatles song Let it Be. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the video, although for share emotional impact, and a nice recreation of what Lee meant to the ragged, indomitable troops in the Army of Northern Virginia, nothing can top this scene from Gettysburg: Continue reading
In 1864 the Reverend Elias Brewster Hilliard, a minister from Connecticut, at the request of a Hartford publisher, set out on the task of interviewing the seven surviving veterans of the American Revolution in the North, writing down their memories of the American Revolution and obtaining their views of the Civil War. In 1958 American Heritage published a fascinating story on the results of these interviews, and the story may be read here.
The American Revolution is not normally associated with photography, but some elderly veterans of that conflict lived long enough to have their pictures taken by the then cutting edge technology of photography. Some of the photographs were taken for the 1864 interviews. Among the veterans pictured above is John Gray, the last surviving veteran of the Revolution. He was born fittingly enough near Mount Vernon. His father was killed at the battle of White Plains in 1776. John joined up at 16 in 1780 and was present at Yorktown when Cornwallis’ army marched by in surrender. He died on March 29, 1868, age 104. He was not among the veterans interviewed in 1864, and I assume he was overlooked.
How brief our history as an independent nation truly is! Men who fought to give this nation birth lived to see the Civil War and the ultimate preservation of the nation. The last surviving veteran of the Civil War, Albert Woolson, died in 1956 just six months before I was born in 1957. We are still a very young nation. Continue reading
The above video is an interview with Amanda Foreman who has written a fascinating study of Great Britain and the Civil War, A World on Fire, a book that I have been reading lately. It is a comprehensive history, 958 pages in length, fully sourced and end noted, not only looking at the diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War, but also examining individual Brits who fought on both sides of the War, and studying the travails of British war correspondents who covered the War for British papers. If the British Empire had entered the War on the side of the Confederacy it is hard to see how the Union would have prevailed, and Great Britain came within inches of doing so during the furor over the Trent affair, the Union seizure of Confederate diplomats Mason and Sliddel from the British mail ship Trent, in 1861. Foreman masterfully retells this tale, and explains why the Brits ultimately did not intervene throughout the War. Her tome is one of the more original books on the Civil War that I have read in many a year and very well written.
Whenever I come across a book that I enjoy by an author I am not familiar with, sooner or later I will research the background of the author. For most historians it is usually dry stuff: where they attended college, which historians they studied under, academic positions they have held and a list of the books they have written. The ink stained wretches who serve Clio, the Muse of History, may write about exciting events, but they usually live fairly dull and colorless lives themselves, a historian like Winston Churchill being very much the exception. Well, I quickly learned that there is very little dull about Ms. Foreman!
Born in 1968 she is a daughter of the late Carl Foreman, a former Commie who was blacklisted in the Fifties. He was also a screenwriter of genius, producing the script for High Noon. Foreman embraced Communism, which he later renounced, while studying at my Alma Mater, the University of Illinois. (Well, living among the corn fields at Urbana can do strange things to college students unused to bucolic Central Illinois.!) After he was blacklisted he moved to England where he enjoyed great success with such films as The Guns of Navarrone and Young Winston, becoming a Commander of the British Empire. He also married, for the second time, and had two children, Jonathan and Amanda Foreman. Jonathan Foreman has achieved fame in Britain as a war journalist in Iraq, being embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division, and helped found, and writes for, StandPoint , a center-right journal of opinion in Britain that celebrates Western Civilization. (I wonder what Carl would think?)
Ms. Foreman was educated at a boarding school in England, although she lived with her father in California prior to his death in 1984 of brain cancer. She attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and then Columbia. She earned a Phd in history at Oxford, writing her doctoral dissertation on Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, 1757-1807. In 1998 she published her doctoral dissertation. Normally such books fall stillborn from the press, and are usually read only by professors, people who are paid to read them, and students, people who are forced to read them. Not so this book, which, while a superb history of the Duchess and her era, was written in a lively style by Ms. Foreman, who obviously had inherited a full measure of the dramatic skills of her father. The book rapidly became a best seller, and was made into a play and a movie. Not the usual fate for a doctoral dissertation. Continue reading