2

Eisenhower on Lee

 

 

Hattip to Michael W. Lively.  It has become fashionable to denigrate Robert E. Lee and to call for the removal of all statues honoring him.  57 years ago President Dwight Eisenhower answered such an attack:

 

August 1, 1960
Mr. Dwight D. Eisenhower
White House
Washington, D.C. 

Dear Mr. President: 

At the Republication Convention I heard you mention that you have the pictures of four (4) great Americans in your office, and that included in these is a picture of Robert E. Lee. 

I do not understand how any American can include Robert E. Lee as a person to be emulated, and why the President of the United States of America should do so is certainly beyond me. 

The most outstanding thing that Robert E. Lee did, was to devote his best efforts to the destruction of the United States Government, and I am sure that you do not say that a person who tries to destroy our Government is worthy of being held as one of our heroes. 

Will you please tell me just why you hold him in such high esteem? 

Sincerely yours,

Leon W. Scott

Eisenhower responded: Continue Reading

4

Grant and the Wounded of Cold Harbor

Ulysses S. Grant was a great man and a great general, but he did make mistakes.  At Cold Harbor, Virginia he made two very big mistakes.  He made foolish assaults on Lee’s heavily entrenched lines on June 3, 1864 which cost the lives of 1844 Union soldiers compared to the lives of 83 Confederate troops who fell in this battle.  This was the lesser of his mistakes. Continue Reading

14

Lost For Over a Century

I once sent the government a check for some $35,000.00 to pay estate tax on behalf of a client.  The check was lost for several months by the Feds.  At the time I recalled this historical event:

Robert E. Lee was an advocate of reconciliation after the Civil War.  This was demonstrated by his application for a Presidential Pardon on June 13, 1865, high confederate officers having been excluded from President Johnson’s general pardon and amnesty of May 29, 1865 and being required to appeal directly to the President.  Lee wrote:

Being excluded from the provisions of amnesty & pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th Ulto; I hereby apply for the benefits, & full restoration of all rights & privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Mil. Academy at West Point in June 1829. Resigned from the U.S. Army April ’61. Was a General in the Confederate Army, & included in the surrender of the Army of N. Va. 9 April ’65.

Lee was not aware that an oath of loyalty was required and he took such an oath on October 2, 1865:

“I, Robert E. Lee, of Lexington, Virginia, do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States thereunder, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

The oath went to Secretary of State Seward, and then it vanished from history for over a century until it was found by Elmer O. Parker, an archivist at the National Archives, in 1970 among State Department papers in a cardboard box  clearly indexed V for Virginia and L for Lee.  Lee had inquired frequently about his application over the five years he had to live from 1865-1870.  Whether his application was lost deliberately or lost through ineptitude is unclear.

On August 5, 1975 President Ford restored the citizenship rights of Lee, making these remarks: Continue Reading

April 20, 1865: Lee’s Final Report

imagesUSIUCBQ2

 

 

Although he had no idea where the fugitive President of the Confederacy precisely was, Robert E. Lee on April 20, 1865 wrote his final report to Davis which contained a plea for peace instead of partisan warfare:

 

Robert E. Lee
to
Jefferson Davis

Richmond, Virginia
April 20, 1865

Mr. President

The apprehensions I expressed during the winter, of the moral [sic] condition of the Army of Northern Virginia, have been realized.   The operations which occurred while the troops were in the entrenchments in front of Richmond and Petersburg were not marked by the boldness and decision which formerly characterized them.   Except in particular instances, they were feeble; and a want of confidence seemed to possess officers and men.   This condition, I think, was produced by the state of feeling in the country, and the communications received by the men from their homes, urging their return and the abandonment of the field.   The movement of the enemy on the 30th March to Dinwiddie Court House was consequently not as strongly met as similar ones had been.   Advantages were gained by him which discouraged the troops, so that on the morning of the 2d April, when our lines between the Appomattox and Hatcher’s Run were assaulted, the resistance was not effectual:   several points were penetrated and large captures made.   At the commencement of the withdrawal of the army from the lines on the night of the 2d, it began to disintegrate, and straggling from the ranks increased up to the surrender on the 9th.   On that day, as previously reported, there were only seven thousand eight hundred and ninety-two (7892) effective infantry.   During the night, when the surrender became known, more than ten thousand men came in, as reported to me by the Chief Commissary of the Army.   During the succeeding days stragglers continued to give themselves up, so that on the 12th April, according to the rolls of those paroled, twenty-six thousand and eighteen (26,018) officers and men had surrendered.   Men who had left the ranks on the march, and crossed James River, returned and gave themselves up, and many have since come to Richmond and surrendered.   I have given these details that Your Excellency might know the state of feeling which existed in the army, and judge of that in the country.   From what I have seen and learned, I believe an army cannot be organized or supported in Virginia, and as far as I know the condition of affairs, the country east of the Mississippi is morally and physically unable to maintain the contest unaided with any hope of ultimate success.   A partisan war may be continued, and hostilities protracted, causing individual suffering and the devastation of the country, but I see no prospect by that means of achieving a separate independence.   It is for Your Excellency to decide, should you agree with me in opinion, what is proper to be done.   To save useless effusion of blood, I would recommend measures be taken for suspension of hostilities and the restoration of peace.

I am with great respect, yr obdt svt
R. E. Lee
Genl

7

April 10, 1865: Lee’s Farewell to the Army of Northern Virginia

Starving army,
Who, after your best was spent and your Spring lay dead,

Yet held the intolerable lines of Petersburg
With deadly courage.
                    You too are a legend now
And the legend has made your fame and has dimmed that fame,
–The victor strikes and the beaten man goes down
But the years pass and the legend covers them both,
The beaten cause turns into the magic cause,
The victor has his victory for his pains–
So with you–and the legend has made a stainless host
Out of the dusty columns of footsore men
Who found life sweet and didn’t want to be killed,
Grumbled at officers, grumbled at Governments.
That stainless host you were not.  You had your cowards,
Your bullies, your fakers, your sneaks, your savages.
You got tired of marching.  You cursed the cold and the rain.
You cursed the war and the food–and went on till the end.
And yet, there was something in you that matched your fable.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

It was fitting that one of the great armies of American history would go out of that history with a salute from its commander, Robert E. Lee.

Against high odds Lee and his army had come close to creating a new nation.  Always outnumbered, with troops often dressed in rags, ill-fed, ill-supplied, he led his men to magnificent victories in the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  Fighting another great general, Grant, he achieved a stalemate in 1864 against an army that had more than a two-to-one advantage, and prolonged the life of his country by almost a year.  A fighting general with a propensity for taking huge risks, he was also a humane man with unfailing courtesy for both friend and foe.  In this final order he told the men who loved him, how much he loved them: Continue Reading

16

April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders

 

 

And so the Civil War ended.  Oh, not immediately.  The surrender process throughout the Confederacy would take until June, and skirmishes would be fought.  But with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, no one, except perhaps Jefferson Davis, north or south, doubted that the Civil War had ended with a Union victory.  At Appomattox Lee and Grant, with the ways in which they both behaved at this all important event in American history, planted the seeds of American reunification.

Lee, as ever noble, viewed surrender as a painful duty, and trusted in Grant to give just terms.  Grant, who would forbid the firing of cannon salutes in celebration of the surrender, gave as his main term that the Confederates simply go home and get on with their lives, agreeing to them taking with them a horse if they claimed one to help with the spring planting, and specifying that Confederate officers would retain their side arms so that he would not have to accept Lee’s sword in token of surrender.

The best account of the surrender is Grant’s, contained in his memoirs:

When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview.   
  What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us. 
  General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field. In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of a lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form. But this was not a matter that I thought of until afterwards.   
  We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years’ difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, and said that he had asked for this interview for the purpose of getting from me the terms I proposed to give his army. I said that I meant merely that his army should lay down their arms, not to take them up again during the continuance of the war unless duly and properly exchanged. He said that he had so understood my letter.  Continue Reading

3

April 8, 1865: Lee Rejects Guerrilla Warfare

On April 8, 1865 the last hope of escape for Lee’s army flickered out.  Union cavalry under Custer seized the critical supplies waiting for the Confederates at Appomattox Station.    Lee’s line of march to the west was now blocked as parts of three Union corps were making forced marches to reinforce Custer and would arrive on the morning of the ninth.  On the eighth Grant and Lee exchanged these letters:

APRIL 8, 1865

General R. E. LEE:

Your note of last evening, in reply to mine of same date, asking the condition on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply I would say that, peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon, namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to yell, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.

U.S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General.

________
 
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
APRIL 8, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received at a late hour your note of to-day. In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army, but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, but as far as your proposal may affect the C. S. forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at 10 a.m., to-morrow; on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.

R. E. LEE,
General.

 

It was becoming clear to the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia that surrender loomed and most of them were heartsick at this fact.

 

We Americans today view the Civil War as part of our history.  If different decisions had been made at the end of that conflict, the Civil War could still be part of our current reality.  Just before the surrender at Appomattox, General Porter Alexander, General Robert E. Lee’s chief of artillery, broached to  Lee a proposal that the Army of Northern Virginia disband and carry out a guerrilla war against the Union occupiers.  Here history balanced on a knife edge.  If Lee had accepted the proposal, I have little doubt the stage would have been set for an unending war between the North and the South which would still be with us.  Douglas Southall Freeman, in his magisterial R. E. Lee, tells what happened next, based upon Alexander’s memoirs, Fighting for the Confederacy :

“Thereupon Alexander proposed, as an alternative to surrender, that the men take to the woods with their arms, under orders to report to governors of their respective states.

“What would you hope to accomplish by that?” Lee queried.

It might prevent the surrender of the other armies, Alexander argued, because if the Army of Northern Virginia laid down its arms, all the others would follow suit, whereas, if the men reported to the governors, each state would have a chance of making an honorable peace. Besides, Alexander went on, the men had a right to ask that they be spared the humiliation of asking terms of Grant, only to be told that U. S. “Unconditional Surrender” Grant would live up to the name he had earned at Fort Donelson and at Vicksburg.

Lee saw such manifest danger in this proposal to become guerillas that he began to question Alexander: “If I should take your advice, how many men do you suppose would get away?”

“Two-thirds of us. We would be like rabbits and partridges in the bushes and they could not scatter to follow us.”

“I have not over 15,000 muskets left,” Lee explained. “Two-thirds of them divided among the states, even if all could be collected, would be too small a force to accomplish anything. All could not be collected. Their homes have been overrun, and many would go to look after their families.

“Then, General,” he reasoned further, “you and I as Christian men have no right to consider only how this would affect us. We must consider its effect on the country as a whole. Already it is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live. They would become mere bands of marauders, and the enemy’s cavalry would pursue them and overrun many sections they may never have occasion to visit. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from. And, as for myself, you young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Lee paused, and then he added, outwardly hopeful, on the strength of Grant’s letter of the previous night, whatever his inward misgivings, “But I can tell you one thing for your comfort. Grant will not demand an unconditional surrender. He will give us as good terms as this army has the right to demand, and I am going to meet him in the rear at 10 A.M. and surrender the army on the condition of not fighting again until exchanged.”

Alexander went away a humbler man. “I had not a single word to say in reply,” he wrote years afterwards. “He had answered my suggestion from a plane so far above it, that I was ashamed of having made it.” Continue Reading

April 7, 1865: Surrender Correspondence Begins

Appomattox_Campaign_Overview

 

April 7, 1865 was a day of intense frustration for Robert E. Lee.  Hoping to feed his army with rations waiting at Farmville,  Union troops prevented that, crossing the Appomattox at bridges that Lee had ordered to be burned.  His army had no choice but to continue on its hungry way, the nearest rations being at Appomattox Court House some twenty-five miles away.  Longstreet in his memoirs recalled that dismal day.

 

I heard nothing of the affair at Sailor’s Creek, nor from General Lee, until next morning. Our work at Rice’s Station was not very serious, but was continued until night, when we marched and crossed the Appomattox at Farmville without loss, some of Rosser’s and Mumford’s cavalry following.  We crossed early in the morning and received two days’ rations,–the first regular issue since we left Richmond,–halted our wagons, made fires, got out cooking utensils, and were just ready to prepare a good breakfast. We had not heard of the disasters on the other route and the hasty retreat, and were looking for a little quiet to prepare breakfast, when General Lee rode up and said that the bridges had been fired before his cavalry crossed, that part of that command was cut off and lost, and that the troops should hurry on to position at Cumberland Church.

I reminded him that there were fords over which his cavalry could cross, and that they knew of or would surely find them. Everything except the food was ordered back to the wagons and dumped in.

Meanwhile, the alarm had spread, and our teamsters, frightened by reports of cavalry trouble and approaching fire of artillery, joined in the panic, put whips to their teams as quick as the camp-kettles were tumbled over the tail-boards of the wagons, and rushed through the woods to find a road somewhere in front of them. The command was ordered under arms and put in quick march, but General Lee urged double-quick. Our cavalry was then engaged near Farmville, and presently came a reckless charge of Gregg’s troopers towards parts of Rosser’s and Mumford’s commands. Heth’s division of infantry was sent to support them. As the balance of the command marched, General Lee took the head of the column and led it on the double-quick.

I thought it better to let them pass me, and, to quiet their apprehensions a little, rode at a walk. General Mahone received the attack of part of the enemy’s Second Corps, like Gregg’s cavalry making reckless attack. The enemy seemed to think they had another Sailor’s Creek affair, and part of their attack got in as far as Poague’s battery, but Mahone recovered it, and then drove off an attack against his front. General Gregg and a considerable part of his command were captured by Rosser and Mumford. At Cumberland Church the command deployed on the right of Poague’s battery, but Mahone reported a move by part of Miles’s division to turn his left which might dislodge him. G. T. Anderson’s brigade of Field’s division was sent with orders to get around the threatening force and break it up.  Mahone so directed them through a woodland that they succeeded in over-reaching the threatened march, and took in some three hundred prisoners,[211] the last of our trouble for the day. General Lee stopped at a cottage near my line, where I joined him after night; the trains and other parts of his army had moved on towards Appomattox Court-House.

Just after sunset, a letter from General Grant arrived: Continue Reading

2

April 6, 1865: Battle of Sailor’s Creek

Appomattox_Campaign_Overview

One last battle between the old adversaries the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.  While moving towards the Appomattox River to cross it on his march to the west, Lee was intercepted by a large Union force under Sheridan.  Ewell’s corps, the rearguard of the army, was surrounded and after hard fighting surrendered.  Lee lost one quarter of his army.  Union casualties were slightly in excess of 1,000 while Confederate casualties were 7,700, mostly prisoners.

 

 

Major General William Mahone relates this poignant moment with General Lee: Continue Reading

April 5, 1865: Endgame

 

 

Appomattox_Campaign_Overview

With the fall of Richmond the Civil War was drawing rapidly to a close.  However, Lee still led the remnants of his army and he had a plan:  march to the west and break contact with the Army of the Potomac and head south to join up with Johnston in North Carolina.  It was unlikely that he could accomplish this, but Lee felt duty bound to try.  His main initial problem was to feed his army.  To accomplish this he had the army concentrate at Amelia Court House where he expected to find supplies.  To his astonishment he found plenty of ammunition but no food.  To feed his army he had to draw upon the civilian population:

 

Amelia C. H., April 4, 1865.

To the Citizens of Amelia County, Va.

The Army of Northern Virginia arrived here today, expecting to find plenty of provisions, which had been ordered to be placed here by the railroad several days since, but to my surprise and regret I find not a pound of subsistence for man or horse. I must therefore appeal to your generosity and charity to supply as far as each one is able the wants of the brave soldiers who have battled for your liberty for four years. We require meat, beef, cattle, sheep, hogs, flour, meal, corn, and provender in any quantity that can be spared. The quartermaster of the army will visit you and make arrangements to pay for what he receives or give the proper vouchers or certificates. I feel assured that all will give to the extent of their means.

R. E. Lee, General

The next day Lee found his path south blocked as the Army of the Potomac occupied Jetersville.  General Longstreet in his memoirs gives us the details:

 

Continue Reading

5

April 2, 1865: Third Battle of Petersburg

1280px-Petersburg_Apr2

 

 

 

With Union victory at Five Forks, General Lee desperately shifted troops to the west to protect the Southside Railroad.  Grant, realizing that Lee was thinning his lines around Petersburg and Richmond to protect the railroad, ordered a general assault against the Confederate fortifications.

The VI Corps achieved  a major breakthrough up the Boydton Plank Road.  Lee telegraphed Secretary of War Breckenridge:

I see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here until night. I am not certain I can do that. If I can I shall withdraw to-night north of the Appomattox, and, if possible, it will be better to withdraw the whole line to-night from James River. I advise that all preparations be made for leaving Richmond tonight. I will advise you later according to circumstances.

The II Corps to the left of the VI Corps and the XXIV Corps to the right of the VI Corps also achieved breakthroughs.  Union casualties were about 4,000 compared to 5000 Confederate, most of whom were taken prisoner.  The siege of Petersburg and Richmond was at an end as Lee moved his army out of his lines and began the march to the west that would end at Appomattox Court House.

 

 

Here is General Longstreet’s account of the Third Battle of Petersburg in his memoirs: Continue Reading

3

Palm Sunday One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago

The chiefs and the captains meet,
Lee erect in his best dress uniform,
His dress-sword hung at his side and his eyes unaltered.
Chunky Grant in his mudsplashed private’s gear
With the battered stars on his shoulders.
                                         They talk a while
Of Mexico and old days.
                       Then the terms are stated.
Lee finds them generous, says so, makes a request.
His men will need their horses for the spring-ploughing.
Grant assents at once.
                      There is no parade of bright sword’s
Given or taken.  Grant saw that there should not be.
It is over, then. . . .
                       Lee walks from the little room.
His face is unchanged.  It will not change when he dies.
But as he steps on the porch and looks toward his lines
He strikes his hands together once with a sound. . . .

In the room he has left, the blue men stare at each other
For a space of heartbeats, silent.  The grey ride off.
They are gone–it is over. . . .

The room explodes like a bomb, they are laughing and shouting,
Yelling strange words, dragging chairs and tables outdoors,
Bearded generals waltzing with one another
For a brief, wild moment, punching each others’ ribs,
Everyone talking at once and nobody listening,
“It’s over–it’s done–it’s finished!”
                                      Then, order again.
The grey ghost-army falls in for the last time,
Marching to stack its arms.
                           As the ranks move forward
The blue guns go to “Present.”  Gordon sees the gesture.
He sweeps his sabre down in the full salute.

There are no cheers or words from blue lines or grey.
Only the sound of feet. . . .
It is over, now. . . .
                      The arms are stacked from the war.
A few bronzed, tattered grey men, weeping or silent,
Tear some riddled bits of cloth from the color-staffs
And try to hide them under their uniforms.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

 

 

 

I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865.  Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox.  We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history.  The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war.  The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south.  Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated.  All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox. Continue Reading

The Last Confederate Offensive

Fort Stedman

 

Few generals in American history have been as aggressive as Robert E. Lee.  Faced with a hopeless military situation in March of 1865, he decided that he had no alternative but to launch an attack.  His starving army was down to 50,000 men, and with the lines around Petersburg and Richmond so extensive, when Grant began to move with an army nearly three times the size of Lee’s it did not take a military genius to realize that he would break Lee’s lines.  However, if Lee could break Grant’s lines first, it might buy Lee time.  Grant would perhaps consolidate his lines around the breakthrough and delay his Spring offensive.  That might give General Joseph E. Johnston sufficient time to march up ahead of Sherman from North Carolina and link up with Lee.  At that time Lee could attempt to defeat Sherman and then Grant seriatim.  The plan relied far too much on hopes and wishes, but other than surrender, it was the best of the bleak options facing Lee. Continue Reading

Lee Ponders the Coming Campaign

 Lee Ponders Defeat

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

1

Both Prayed to the Same God

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

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural

 

 

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

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

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

4

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

2

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

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

June 15, 1864: Assault on Petersburg Begins

Petersburg_June15-18

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

Richmond-Petersburg%20fall%201864

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

2

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

ColdHarbor-June3

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

7

70 Years Ago This Week

The video above was produced 7 years ago.  If D-Day were to occur today under the current administration I suspect that the coverage of most of the media would be in the nature of  “OBAMA STORMS ASHORE IN NORMANDY!” or “THE NAZIS ARE AFRAID OF OBAMA!”.  When the press isn’t in the tank however, their coverage of military matters normally is in accord with this sarcastic comment of General Robert E. Lee:

“We made a great mistake in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal mistake. We appointed all our worst generals to command our armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.”

Continue Reading

1

June 1, 1864: Initial Assaults at Cold Harbor

Overland_Campaign_June_1

As May 1864 faded into June, Grant’s Overland Campaign was clearly headed for some sort of climax.  Grant had forced Lee back to the outskirts of Richmond. With Lee’s lines along,  and south east of, Totopotomoy  Creek being too strong in Grant’s estimation, he moved yet again south and east to flank Lee’s right.  On May 31, Union cavalry took Old Cold Harbor while Confederate cavalry held New Cold Harbor.  Both locations were  only ten miles from Richmond.

Lee planned to seize New Cold Harbor on the morning of June 1 from the Union cavalry holding it.  Bungled command arrangements and a fierce defense from the entrenched Union cavalry gave sufficient time for the infantry of Wright’s corps to come up and hold New Cold Harbor. Continue Reading

May 30, 1864: Battle of Totopotomoy Creek

Overland_Campaign_May_29-30

Lee realized that he was reaching a limit to how he could respond to Grant’s continual movement to the southeast.  Protecting Richmond was nailing his army in place, depriving it of the ability to maneuver as Grant used his superior numbers to outflank Lee’s defense.   Lee’s left and center along the Totopotomoy were relatively easy to defend, but his right was at a right angle tot he creek as the Union forces were continuing their push south to outflank him.  It was for this reason that Lee ordered Early, now in command of the II corps after Lee had relieved Ewell, attack Warren’s V corps.

The Confederate attack, although pressed heroically by the men of Ramseur’s division, proved a costly failure with 1500 Confederate casualties to 700 Union, the Union troops cheering the valor of the Confederate troops they repulsed and captured.  Continue Reading

May 26-28, 1864: Movement From the North Anna

Overland_Campaign_May_27-29

Grant, after the fruitless skirmishing on the North Anna, decided to resume his drive by once again heading east and south, around Lee’s left, the same type of movement he had been making since the outset of this campaign.  However, he had a tricky problem to resolve:  How to cross to the north bank of the North Anna without Lee becoming wise to his intentions, and launching an assault on the Union army as it straddled the North Anna?  To divert Lee’s attention, Grant sent two divisions of cavalry west to convince Lee that Grant was going to move west instead of east.  The ruse worked, and Grant quietly moved his infantry corps successfully across the North Anna on the evening of the 26th-27th.

Lee on the 27th instantly realized what Grant was doing, and sent his army hurtling south to take up a strong defensive position at Atlee’s Station, only nine miles north of Richmond, where he could guard the railroads that supplied Richmond and his army.

Grant sent his cavalry ahead to blaze a path across the Pamunkey River for his infantry marching southeast.  On May 27th Union cavalry established a bridgehead over the Pamunkey at Dabney Ford with a Union engineer regiment building a pontoon bridge.  General Custer’s cavalry beat off a Confederate counterattack and Union infantry and Cavalry passed over the Pamunkey on the pontoon bridge.

On the 28th Union and Confederate cavalry fighting dismounted, clashed at Haw’s Shop while the remainder of Grant’s army crossed the Pamunkey, except for Burnside’s corps that was guarding the army’s wagon train.

Lee now knew that Grant was across the Pamunkey but was unsure what Grant’s next move would be, and for now held his position behind  Totopotomoy Creek at Atlee’s Station.  Here is Grant’s account of this movement in his Personal Memoirs: Continue Reading

May 23-26, 1864: Missed Opportunity at the North Anna?

north-anna-battle-map

We can lie about him,
Dress up a dummy in his uniform
And put our words into the dummy’s mouth,
Say “Here Lee must have thought,” and “There, no doubt,
By what we know of him, we may suppose
He felt—this pang or that—” but he remains
Beyond our stagecraft, reticent as ice,
Reticent as the fire within the stone.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

 

Ultimately the North Anna portion of the Overland Campaign produced little in the way of fighting.  Four skirmishes fought over four days with total casualties of 2600 for the Union and 1500 for the Confederacy, high enough for the men killed and wounded  and their families but as nothing compared to the casualties amassed at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania.  However, one tantalizing question emerges from this section of the campaign:  did the Confederates miss a golden opportunity to defeat Grant on May 24 due to the illness of General Lee.  The armies now were closer in size than they would be at any time before or later during the campaign:  68,ooo in the Army of the Potomac and 53,000 in the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee having received reinforcements, consisting of Breckinridge’s Valley force, fresh from their victory at New Market and three out of four brigades from Pickett’s James River defense force, Butler and his Army of the James now being safely bottled up.  If the Confederates were to go over on the offensive, this was their window of opportunity from a numerical standpoint.

After skirmishing on the 23rd, Lee confronted an interesting strategic situation.  Warren had his corps ready to cross the North Anna on his left at Jericho Mills.   Wright, Burnside and Hancock’s corps were still north of the North Anna confronting his center and right.  In the face of this Lee fortified his line in an inverted V with its apex on Ox Ford.  Lee hoped that Grant would assume that he was retreating and cross, allowing Lee to use his inverted V fortifications to divide Grant’s force and allow him to attack the Union troops crossing on his right while his left held off the Union troops crossing the North Anna on the left side of the inverted V. Continue Reading

May 21, 1864: The Movement to the North Anna Begins

Overland_Campaign_Wilderness_to_North_Anna

 

 

Extricating himself from the Spotsylvania battlefield, Grant moved southeast, with Lee moving to keep ahead of him, ultimately stopping Grant with defensive lines south of the North Anna river and north of Hanover Junction.  Grant was now just a little over 25 miles from Richmond, and Lee’s options regarding maneuver were becoming limited if he was to keep Grant from taking the city.  Grant’s account below of the movement is interesting for two reasons.

First Grant states that the army had no maps of the area, which is stunning after three years of war that highly detailed maps of Virginia from Richmond and its environs north had not been prepared and distributed throughout the army.  Even elementary staff work was sometimes missing in the Civil War.

Second Grant believes that Lee missed a golden opportunity to defeat Union corps separately during this march.

Here is Grant’s account: Continue Reading

2

May 18, 1864: Final Attacks at Spotsylvania

Spotsylvania_Court_House_May_17

 

You see him standing,

Reading a map, unperturbed, under heavy fire.

You do not cheer him as the recruits might cheer

But you say “Ulysses doesn’t scare worth a darn.

Ulysses is all right. 

He can finish the job.”

And at last your long lines go past in the Grand Review

And your legend and his begins and are mixed forever

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

One hundred and fifty years ago the battle of Spotsylvania was drawing to a close.  Since the attack at the Bloody Angle on May 12, Grant had been shifting towards his left and he assumed that Lee would be weakening Ewell’s lines as a result to move forces over to his right.  Grant had Hancock’s corps move back into position to attack Ewell during the evening of May 17, with the attack to go in at dawn.  Lee had not weakened Ewell’s position however, and Ewell’s artillery alone was sufficient to break up Hancock’s attack before it got past the abatis  in front of his lines.  Grant’s reaction was to decide that no further attacks could succeed at Spotsylvania, and to continue to move to the southeast to drive Lee back towards Richmond.  Casualties at Spotsylvania were 18,000 for the Union and 12,000 for the Confederacy.  Adding in the Wilderness casualties, in less than two weeks the Union had lost 35,000 casualities and the Confederacy 23,000.  Northern public opinion was appalled at the shocking casualty lists in such a short period, but the Union could easily replace every man lost, while Lee was losing the veterans that his outnumbered army needed to maintain an essential combat edge.

Grant in his Personal Memoirs recalled this time as one of the low points for the Union of the Campaign of 1864:

But that night Hancock and Wright were to make a night march back to their old positions, and to make an assault at four o’clock in the morning. Lee got troops back in time to protect his old line, so the assault was unsuccessful. On this day (18th) the news was almost as discouraging to us as it had been two days before in the rebel capital. As stated above, Hancock’s and Wright’s corps had made an unsuccessful assault. News came that Sigel had been defeated at New Market, badly, and was retreating down the valley. Not two hours before, I had sent the inquiry to Halleck whether Sigel could not get to Staunton to stop supplies coming from there to Lee. I asked at once that Sigel might be relieved, and some one else put in his place. Hunter’s name was suggested, and I heartily approved. Further news from Butler reported him driven from Drury’s Bluff, but still in possession of the Petersburg road. Banks had been defeated in Louisiana, relieved, and Canby put in his place. This change of commander was not on my suggestion. All this news was very discouraging. All of it must have been known by the enemy before it was by me. In fact, the good news (for the enemy) must have been known to him at the moment I thought he was in despair, and his anguish had been already relieved when we were enjoying his supposed discomfiture, But this was no time for repining. I immediately gave orders for a movement by the left flank, on towards Richmond, to commence on the night of the 19th. I also asked Halleck to secure the co-operation of the navy in changing our base of supplies from Fredericksburg to Port Royal, on the Rappahannock. Continue Reading

May 12, 1864: The Bloody Angle

Spotsylvania_Court_House_May_12

After his attacks on May 10, 1864, Grant used May 11 as a planning day.  Impressed by the initial success of Upton’s charge on May 10, 1864, Grant decided to use Upton’s tactics of a swift attack along a narrow front, by troops with unloaded rifles, on a much larger scale.  Hancocks II corps was to attack the mule shoe salient using Upton’s tactics, while Burnside launched a supporting attack on the Mule Shoe from the east and Wright attacked the Mule Shoe from the west, while Wright launched decoy attacks on the Laurel Hill sector of the Confederate lines west of the Mule Shoe.

Attack preparations showed a complete break down in elementary staff work.  Hancock’s corps was completely ignorant of the configuration of the Confederate position they were to attack, the obstacles in their way, or indeed the basic nature of the ground to be covered.  Hancock had his attack columns assemble in torrential rain.  The attack was to begin at 4:00 AM. Hancock wisely delayed the attack until 4:35 AM, fearing that his men could not find the Confederate position, let alone attack it, in the rainy dark.

Now luck began to shine on the Union.  The rain stopped and dawn broke with a mist to conceal the Union attack.  Unbeknownst to the Union attackers, the Confederate division holding the section of the Mule Shoe they were going to attack, had been denuded of its artillery due to a false report received by Lee that the Union army was going to withdraw to Fredericksburg.  If this occurred, Lee wanted his artillery to be withdrawn and readied for an attacking that he planned to make on the withdrawing Federals.  Confederate Major General Allegheny Johnson, commanding the target division of the Union assault, became fearful of a forthcoming attack and appealed to his corps commander Lieutenant General Ewell for the return of his artillery.  Ewell granted the request at 3:30 AM, too late for the artillery to be put back into place before the start of Hancock’s assault.

Hancock’s 15,000 men attacking on a half mile front crashed into the Mule Shoe and overran Johnson’s division.  The rain had made useless much of the Confederate and Union gunpowder and the fighting was grim hand to hand combat.  Hancock’s men, fighting on such a narrow front, quickly lost all unit cohesion and became an armed mob, wading through the mud to battle the Confederates.  General Lee swiftly sent reinforcements to attempt to plug the breakthrough made by Hancock. Continue Reading

May 8, 1864: The Battle of Spotsylvania Begins

Spotsylvania_Court_House_May_07

Grant, undaunted by his losses at the battle of the Wilderness, sent his army racing down Brock Road on the night of May 7-8 to seize the crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House and get between Lee and Richmond.

Lee was unsure of Grant’s plan, reasoning that Grant would either be heading east towards Fredericksburg or moving south.  In either case it was obvious to Lee that the Spotsylvania Court House crossroads would be essential and sent his cavalry ahead to delay the advance of the Union troops and to seize the crossroads.  He also ordered the First corps under its new commander General Richard Anderson to seize the crossroads.

Union cavalry under Sheridan was bogged down during the nights in running battles with the Confederate cavalry.

By dawn on May 8 the Confederates had control of the crossroads.  Fighting ensued throughout the day as Confederate and Union arriving units were fed into  battle with the Confederates beating off badly coordinated Union attacks.  As night fell, both armies began to dig in and prepare fortifications.

 

Spotsylvania_Court_House_May_09

The Union and Confederate armies would spend another 11 days at Spotsylvania, with more bloody fighting to come.  Here is Lee’s brief reports to the Secretary of War regarding the fighting on May 8. Continue Reading

3

May 7, 1864: Grant Wins the War

Grant wins the War

Grant has come East to take up his last command

And the grand command of the armies.

                                    It is five years

Since he sat, with a glass, by the stove in a country store,

A stumpy, mute man in a faded Army overcoat,

The eldest-born of the Grants but the family-failure,

Now, for a week, he shines in the full array

Of gold cord and black-feathered hat and superb blue coat,

As he talks with the trim, well-tailored Eastern men.

It is his only moment of such parade.

When the fighting starts, he is chewing a dead cigar

With only the battered stars to show the rank

On the shoulderstraps of the private’s uniform.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

 

Fighting was not resumed at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 7, 1864.  The Confederates had fortified their positions and further Union assaults would have been fruitless.  Veteran Union troops knew what was going to happen next.  The latest offensive under the latest General had been stopped, with over 17,000 casualties, the same as at the Union defeat at Chancellorsville the year before.  The army would retire north for a period of rest and recuperation before trying again.  Likely Grant would be removed and a new General brought in to try his luck.  The Union troops had been through this many times before over the past three years. Continue Reading

May 6, 1864: Battle of the Wilderness-Second Day

Wilderness_May6_1400

 

 

 

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

 

Private Robert Campell, 5th Texas Infantry

 

 

The fighting erupted early on the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness.  Grant assumed that Hill’s corps had been fought out on the first day and could be overrun with a strong attack.  At 5:00 AM Hancock attacked with three divisions, with two in support.  By 6:00 AM Hill’s corps was in full retreat and disaster loomed for Lee.  At that time the 800 man Texas Brigade, perhaps the elite fighting unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the vanguard of Longstreet’s corps arrived and saved the day.  Longstreet launched a two division counterattack up the Orange Plank Road, with the Texans, who suffered 650 casualties, leading the attack on the north side of the Road.  By 11:00 AM Hancock’s corps was in full retreat after Longstreet launched a four brigade attack against the left wing of Hancock’s line.  Hancock’s men rallied behind fortifications along the Brock Road.  In an episode reminiscent of Jackson’s fatal wounding a year ago, Longstreet was shot in the neck by a group of Virginians who thought he and his party were Union troops.  Longstreet, unlike Jackson, would survive his wounding, but he would be unable to rejoin the army until October.  Lee the next day would place General Richard Anderson in command of the First Corps in place of Longstreet.

On the Orange Court House Turnpike inconclusive fighting raged all day.  Shortly before dark General John B. Gordon launched a divisional assault against Sedgwick’s right that made good progress until Union reinforcements restored the Union line.  That brief crisis elicited this famous event:  a nervous Union officer stated his fears to Grant:  “General Grant, this is a crisis that cannot be looked upon too seriously. I know Lee’s methods well by past experience; he will throw his whole army between us and the Rapidan, and cut us off completely from our communications.”  Greatly annoyed, Grant responded , “Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do. Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.”

Here is Lee’s report on the second day. Continue Reading

May 5, 1864: The Battle of the Wilderness Begins

Wilderness_May5

If you take a flat map And move wooden blocks upon it strategically,

The thing looks well, the blocks behave as they should.

The science of war is moving live men like blocks.

And getting the blocks into place at a fixed moment.

But it takes time to mold your men into blocks

And flat maps turn into country where creeks and gullies

Hamper your wooden squares. 

They stick in the brush,

They are tired and rest, they straggle after ripe blackberries,

And you cannot lift them up in your hand and move them.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

One assumes that there would be worse places for an attacking army to attempt to fight a battle than the Wilderness, but none come readily to mind.  With the dense shrubs and trees it was like trying to fight a battle blindfolded, determining where the enemy was more by sound than sight.

The battle of the first day of the wilderness was effectively divided into two actions.

On the Orange Court House Turnpike, Warren and his corps attacked Ewell’s corps.  Warren was rightfully concerned that his right flank was in the air and wanted to delay his attack until Sedgwick’s corps moved to support him on his right.  Meade was irritated by the delay and ordered Warren to attack before Sedgwick could arrive.  Warren’s attack at 1:00PM was hampered from the start due to Confederate attacks on his right flank as he advanced.  Ultimately the attack was repulsed with heavy loss.  Sedgwick’s corps attacked at 3:00 PM and was beaten back after an hour of fighting.  Piecemeal attacks by the two corps ensured that their attacks would fail.

South along the Orange Plank Road Hill’s corps beat off repeated Union attacks with fierce fighting continuing to nightfall.

The battle had been a day of bewildering confusion to all involved, with generals often being unable to locate their own forces in the dense undergrowth, let alone enemy units.  The woods quickly caught fire and smoke obscured what little visibility existed.  The screams of the wounded as the fire reached them added a Hellish quality to the battle that many survivors never forgot.

Lee had held his ground and now was in position to attack with Longstreet’s corps the next day.

Lee at 11:00 PM of a very long day sent a succinct description of the day’s fighting to the Secretary of War: Continue Reading

Into the Wilderness

All the planning and preparation was done, and on May 4, 1864 Grant headed the Army of the Potomac south.  He had approximately 120,000 men to Lee’s 65,000.  Crossing the  Rapidan , Grant wanted his army to march quickly through the Wilderness, an almost unsettled area of 70 square miles of dense shrubs and second growth trees where Hooker had come to grief at Chancellorsville just a year before.  If Grant could move the Army of the Potomac fast enough through this, he would have turned Lee’s right and could then bring the Army of Northern Virginia to battle in the open country south of the Wilderness where Union numerical superiority would have maximum effect.  However, as the Army tramped through the Wilderness where visibility was nil a few yards from the roads and trails, Grant agreed with Meade that the Army would camp in the Wilderness at the conclusion of the day’s march to allow the supply train to catch up.  Grant assumed that Lee would be too far away to launch an attack in the Wilderness on the 5th, and one day more was all that Grant needed to be clear of the Wilderness. Continue Reading

8

Lee’s Greatest Victory

He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward.

Benjamin H. Hill on Robert E. Lee

 

 

“It’s a warm spring Sunday at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. As the minister is about to present Holy Communion, a tall well-dressed black man sitting in the section reserved for African Americans unexpectedly advances to the communion rail; unexpectedly because this has never happened here before.

The congregation freezes. Those who have been ready to go forward and kneel at the communion rail remain fixed in their pews. The minister stands in his place stunned and motionless. The black man slowly lowers his body, kneeling at the communion rail.

After what seems an interminable amount of time, an older white man rises. His hair snowy white, head up, and eyes proud, he walks quietly up the isle to the chancel rail.

So with silent dignity and self-possession, the white man kneels down to take communion along the same rail with the black man.

Lee has said that he has rejoiced that slavery is dead. But this action indicates that those were not idle words meant to placate a Northern audience. Here among his people, he leads wordlessly through example. The other communicants slowly move forward to the altar with a mixture of reluctance and fear, hope and awkward expectation. In the end, America would defy the cruel chain of history besetting nations torn apart by Civil War.”

From “April 1865:  the Month that Saved America” Continue Reading

1

The Reply of Jefferson Davis to Lee’s Offer to Resign

Ah, Jefferson Davis.  During the War he was a devil figure for the North and after the War many Southerners blamed him for their loss.  Actually Davis was a highly accomplished man who came close, against all odds, to achieving independence for his new nation.   Often regarded as a bloodless pedant, Davis was instead a man who usually wore his heart on his sleeve, for good and ill.  A good example of this is the letter he drafted on August 11, 1863 in which he responded to the offer to resign made by General Robert E. Lee in the wake of the Gettysburg defeat:

 

 

Richmond, Va., August 11, 1863.

General R. E. Lee, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia:

Yours of the 8th instant has just been received. I am glad that you concur so entirely with me as to the wants of our country in this trying hour, and am happy to add that after the first depression consequent upon our disasters in the West, indications have appeared that our people will exhibit that fortitude which we agree in believing is alone needful to secure ultimate success.

It well became Sydney Johnston, when overwhelmed by a senseless clamor, to admit the rule that success is the test of merit; and yet there has been nothing which I have found to require a greater effort of patience than to bear the criticisms of the ignorant, who pronounce everything a failure which does not equal their expectations or desires, and can see no good result which is not in the line of their own imaginings. I admit the propriety of your conclusions that an officer who loses the confidence of his troops should have his position changed, whatever may be his ability, but when I read the sentence I was not at all prepared for the application you were about to make. Expressions of discontent in the public journals furnish but little evidence of the sentiment of the army. I wish it were otherwise, even though all the abuse of myself should be accepted as the results of honest observation.

Were you capable of stooping to it, you could easily surround yourself with those who would fill the press with your laudations, and seek to exalt you for what you had not done, rather than detract from the achievements which will make you and your army the subject of history and object of the world’s admiration for generations to come. Continue Reading

3

She Rode in the Back of the Bus

Mary Custis Lee

 

 

Hattip to my friend Jay Anderson for advising me of this tidbit of history.  Today is the 178th birthday of Mary Custis Lee, the eldest daughter of Robert E. Lee.  She could be a pill.  Described by her siblings as “bossy” and “stern”, she asked only one thing out of life:  her own way.  She did not suffer those she considered fools gladly, and she was never shy about reminding people that she was the eldest daughter of Robert E. Lee.

On June 13, 1902 she and her black maid had sat down on an Alexandria street car, laden with packages.  Miss Lee was now in her 67th year, so no doubt she was tired.  She and her maid sat in the back of the street car.  A “Jim Crow” ordinance had recently been passed in Alexandria , and among other odious provisions it mandated racial segregation on street cars, with blacks relegated to the back.

The conductor Thomas Chauncey explained the law to her and asked her to move.  She did not.  When a black man boarded the street car, Chauncey advised her that she was occupying a seat to which he was entitled, and Chauncey threatened her with arrest.  She still refused to move.  When she got off the streetcar a few blocks later she was met by two police officers who put her under arrest.  Word spread of her arrest.  Men protested at the police station against their holding Miss Lee, some of the men doubtless having served under her father.  She was released.

She did not bother showing up for her trial on June 14.  The bond of $5.00 that a friend had posted for her was forfeited.

Was Mary just being Mary, a fairly contrary lady who wasn’t going to be pushed around by an officious conductor, or was this a protest against the new ordinance?  No one knows for sure.  However when she was asked to move perhaps this incident from the life of her great father came into her mind: Continue Reading

9

Your Turn

“We made a great mistake, Mr. Hill, in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do it will prove to be a fatal mistake.”

“What mistake is that, general?”

“Why, sir, in the beginning we appointed all our worst generals to command the armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.  As you know, I have planned some campaigns and quite a number of battles.  I have given the work all the care and thought I could, and sometimes, when my plans were completed, as far as I could see, they seemed to be perfect.  But when I have fought them through, I have discovered defects and occasionally wondered I did not see some of the defects in advance.  When it was all over, I found by reading a newspaper that these best editor generals saw all the defects plainly from the start.  Unfortunately, they did not communicate their knowledge to me until it was too late.”  Then, after a pause, he added, with a beautiful, grave expression I can never forget:  “I have no ambition but to serve the Confederacy, and do all I can to win our independence.  I am willing to serve in any capacity to which the authorities may assign me.  I have done the best I could in the field, and have not succeeded as I could wish.  I am willing to yield my place to these best generals, and I will do my best for the cause in editing a newspaper.”

Georgia Senator Benjamin H. Hill relating a conversation with General Robert E. Lee

 

Okay all you armchair generals!  Go here to see if you could have done better than Lee at Gettysburg.

July 3, 1863: Lee’s Charge

It is the third day.

 The morning wears with a stubborn fight at Culp’s Hill

 That ends at last in Confederate repulse

 And that barb-end of the fish-hook cleared of the grey.

Lee has tried his strokes on the right and left of the line.

 The centre remains–that centre yesterday pierced

 For a brief, wild moment in Wilcox’s attack,

 But since then trenched, reinforced and alive with guns.

 It is a chance.  All war is a chance like that.

 Lee considers the chance and the force he has left to spend

 And states his will.

                     Dutch Longstreet, the independent,

 Demurs, as he has demurred since the fight began.

 He had disapproved of this battle from the first

 And that disapproval has added and is to add

 Another weight in the balance against the grey.

 It is not our task to try him for sense or folly,

 Such men are the men they are–but an hour comes

 Sometimes, to fix such men in most fateful parts,

 As now with Longstreet who, if he had his orders

 As they were given, neither obeyed them quite

 Nor quite refused them, but acted as he thought best,

 So did the half-thing, failed as he thought he would,

 Felt justified and wrote all of his reasons down

 Later in controversy.

                      We do not need

 Such controversies to see that pugnacious man

 Talking to Lee, a stubborn line in his brow

 And that unseen fate between them.

                                   Lee hears him out  Unmoved, unchanging.

                     “The enemy is there

 And I am going to strike him,” says Lee, inflexibly.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

Lee’s mistake in ordering the assault on Cemetery Ridge of the third day of Gettysburg, erroneously called Pickett’s Charge since Pickett was merely attempting to carry out an impossible mission, was not an uncommon one in that War even by good generals.  Grant ordered two such hopeless attacks at Cold Harbor and Sherman did so at Kenesaw Mountain. The problem was that such charges occasionally succeeded.  The Army of the Cumberland chased the Army of the Tennessee out of an immensely strong position on Missionary Ridge just a few months later.  The improvement in weaponry had made such assaults a bad gamble, but occasionally the gamble did pay off.  At Gettysburg it did not.  The attack produced nothing but 6500 Confederate casualties, 1500 Union casualties, an end to Lee’s Northern invasion and an undying legend.

Pickett's-Charge

As the survivors of the attack came back to the Confederate lines Lee rode out to meet them.  His first words were “All my fault”.  After Lee got his Army back to the Confederacy, a feat in itself which speaks well of his generalship and poorly of that of General Meade, he wrote a letter offering his resignation to Jefferson Davis: Continue Reading

July 2, 1863: Gettysburg: The Second Day

On the second day of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 the battle became unstuck for General Lee.  If all the attacks had been properly coordinated and launched at the same time, it is quite possible that Lee’s plan of attack would have succeeded.  Instead the attacks went in piecemeal, giving the wavering Union forces opportunities throughout the day to shift troops to threatened areas and to rest troops that had been engaged.  It was the worst performance by the Army of Northern Virginia since its early days during the Seven Days battles in 1862.  Here is Lee’s report of the second day: Continue Reading

3

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Benjamin H. Hill on Robert E. Lee

An interesting character in his own right, a Confederate senator from Georgia during the Civil War and a powerhouse in Georgia politics his entire life, Benjamin H. Hill in a speech in 1874  uttered this statement on Robert E. Lee that captures that very great man perfectly:

“When the future historian shall come to survey the character of Lee he will find it rising like a huge mountain above the undulating plane of humanity, and he must lift his eyes high toward heaven to catch its summit. He possessed every virtue of other great commanders without their vices. He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward. He was obedient to authority as a servant, and royal in authority as a true king. He was gentle as a woman in life; modest and pure as a virgin in thought; watchful as a Roman vestal in duty; submissive to law as Socrates; and grand in battle as Achilles.”

3

Stonewall Jackson’s Way

“And Thou knowest O Lord, when Thou didst decide that the Confederacy should not succeed, Thou hadst first to remove thy servant, Stonewall Jackson.”

Father D. Hubert, Chaplain, Hay’s Louisiana Brigade, upon the dedication of the statue of Stonewall Jackson on May 10, 1881 in New Orleans

Something for the weekend.  After the 150th anniversary of Chancellorsville only Stonewall Jackson’s Way, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford, seems appropriate.  The song is a fitting evocation of the man, who, if he had not been mortally wounded at Chancellorsville, might well have with Lee brought about a war ending victory for the Confederacy at Gettysburg.  I fully agree with Father Hubert that the death of General Jackson was probably a necessary factor in the defeat of the Confederacy.  As a military team he and Lee were able to accomplish military miracles and with his death the Confederacy could still rely upon the endless courage of their ragged warriors and the brilliance of Lee, but the age of military miracles in the Civil War ended with the passing of Jackson.

The song was taken from a poem found on the body of a dead Confederate sergeant after the First Battle of Winchester, May 25, 1862: Continue Reading

May 3, 1863: Lee Wins the Battle of Chancellorsville

Chancellorsville_May3a

After the brilliant flank attack of Jackson on May 2, 1863 which wrecked the Union 11th Corps, Lee still faced a daunting situation as morning dawned on May 3.  Hooker had been reinforced by Reynolds Corps overnight which made good his losses and Lee’s Army of approximately 43,000 faced 76,000 troops under Hooker.  His forces were also divided with Jackson’s Corps, now temporarily commanded by General Jeb Stuart after Jackson’s wounding, located behind the right of the Union army.  If this were not a bad enough situation, Lee still had Sedgwick south of Fredericksburg with 40,000 men confronting the 11,000 of Early.  If Sedgwick attacked, Lee could be facing an attack from his rear.  Unbeknownst to Lee, in the wake of the flank attack of Jackson, Hooker had sent an urgent message to Sedgwick ordering him to attack immediately.

The first thing Lee had to do was to reunite his army confronting Hooker.  Lee in his official report details how this was done: Continue Reading

5

September 17, 1862: Antietam-America’s Bloodiest Day

Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history.  On that single day more American casualties were sustained than in all of America’s prior wars, except for the American Revolution, combined.  As for the American Revolution, the 23,000 killed and wounded at Antietam on a single day were more than one-third of the total of 58,000 Americans killed and wounded in the eight years of the Revolution.

Antietam was the culmination of Lee’s Maryland campaign. Lee had decided to enter Maryland in early September 1862 to take the pressure off war-torn Virginia, to gain supplies in Maryland and possibly recruits from sympathetic Marylanders and to inflict, if he could, punishing defeats on Union forces and, with luck, help opponents of the Lincoln administration do well in the fall elections as a result of those defeats.  Go here to read a post detailing Lee’s motivation for the Maryland Campaign.

All went superbly for Lee initially in the Maryland Campaign.  Supplies were abundant in Maryland.  Recruits from Marylanders, while not as abundant as the Confederates would have wished, were first-rate as to quality.  The Northern papers, and General Lee gained much valuable intelligence throughout the War by reading carefully every Northern newspaper he could obtain, were largely hysterical about the Confederate offensive, more than a few predicting that the War was lost.  General Stonewall Jackson’s II corps was detailed by Lee to capture Harper’s Ferry, which he did on September 15, 1862 against pathetically weak Union opposition, and inflicting one of the worst defeats on the United States Army in its history, the 12,000 Union troops being the largest mass surrender of United States military personnel until the surrender on Bataan in 1942.  Go here to read a post on the sorry tale.

Lincoln, desperate to stop Lee, placed Major General George B. McClellan, in disgrace after his humiliating defeat in the Peninsula Campaign, back in command of the Army of the Potomac.  McClellan followed Lee in a lethargic pursuit, obviously fearful of being defeated by Lee again.  The situation altered dramatically when McClellan was the beneficiary of the biggest intelligence coup of the Civil War, obtaining a copy of Lee’s Special Order No, 191 on September 13, 1862, which revealed to McClellan that Lee had divided his force and the routes that the portions of Lee’s army were to follow.  Go here to read a post on the finding of the famous Lost Order.  With this order in hand McClellan boasted that he would whip Bobby Lee or go home.

On September 14, 1862 McClellan attacked three gaps at South Mountain to seize them, to allow him to march over the mountain and fall on Lee’s separated units.  Lee held two of the gaps after a hard day’s battle.  Go here to read a post on the battle of South Mountain.  With one of the gaps lost, Lee retreated and began to swiftly reassemble his Army of Northern Virginia to confront the Army of the Potomac.  McClellan, inexplicably, threw away his advantage by doing almost nothing on September 15, instead of immediately following Lee in hot pursuit.

At dawn on September 17, 1862, the Army of the Potomac confronted part of the Army of Northern Virginia along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland.  Three of the divisions of the Army of Northern Virginia were still on the road from Harper’s Ferry, marching all night to reach Lee.  McClellan enjoyed more than a two to one advantage at the beginning of the battle, his 75,000 force confronting less than 30,000 Confederates.  McClellan, as he did throughout the War, assumed, against all evidence, that the Confederates outnumbered him.

MClellan issued attack orders for each corps.  He made no effort to coordinate attacks between the corps.  With the Union advantage in numbers McClellan could have annihilated Lee’s army if he had simply had each corps get into assault position and then attack simultaneously.  Instead, this very long day consisted of piecemeal attacks by individual Union corps which gave Lee the opportunity to shift his heavily outnumbered units to meet each threat in turn.

Continue Reading

10

June 25, 1862: The Seven Days Begin

One of the more important series of battles in American history, collectively known as the Seven Days, occurred in Virginia 150 years ago this week.  By driving away McClellan’s larger Army of the Potomac from Richmond, Robert E. Lee ensured that the Civil War was not going to be a quick Union victory, and that the Civil War, instead of a minor blip in US history, would, by the beginning of 1863, be transformed into a revolutionary struggle that would destroy slavery and alter the Union forever.

Before taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia after the wounding of General Joe Johnston at the battle of Seven Pines, Robert E. Lee had acquired the nickname of “Granny Lee” due to his construction of fortifications and a perception that he was too cautious and lacked an aggressive spirit.  Few nicknames in history have been more inapposite.  As a commander Lee was a gambler and far preferred to attack the enemy than to passively await an attack.  After taking over command from Johnston at the beginning of June, Lee began working towards a big offensive to drive the larger Union army away from the outskirts of Richmond.  To accomplish this he began to draw reinforcements to Richmond from throughout Virginia, most notably Jackson’s Valley Army.

From June 12-15th he had the cavalry of his army, brilliantly commanded by Jeb Stuart, ride around McClellan’s army to ascertain what portion of McClellan’s army was north of the Chickahominy River.

Lee got the information he  needed from Stuart’s reconnaissance.  McClellan had about 25,000-30,000 men north of the Chickahominy.  The remainder of his army, about 60,000, was south of the Chickahominy, in front of the Richmond defenses.  Lee’s plan was bold.  Leaving about 25,000 men in the Richmond defenses, he would take the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, and attack McClellan’s troop north of the Chickahominy, giving him a two-one battlefield superiority over the Union forces that side of the Chickahominy.  The plan of course was contingent on McClellan remaining passive in front of Richmond.  Lee planned on cutting McClellan’s supply lines by turning McClellan’s flank after winning on the north side of the Chickahominy and crossing to the south side and forcing McClellan to retreat or to be destroyed by the converging Confederates from Richmond and Lee’s forces.  The plan was daring and complicated, especially for an army as green as the one Lee led. Continue Reading

4

Will Success Spoil Jeff Davis?

I was four years old when the Civil War centennial began and eight years old when I ended, but even I recall what a big hoopla it all was. In the midst of it all, Thomas Lawrence Connolley, who would become the foremost historian of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, brought out a book in 1963 entitled Will Success Spoil Jeff Davis?, a satirical look at the often over the top aspects of the centennial observations. The book is a howlingly funny look at Civil War mania and still is relevant today. Here is a tiny sample:

The easiest way to publish something on the War is to submit an article to a historical journal. Better still, start your own journal. There are some two thousand in print and, judging by the tone of the articles, many of them are in need of material. Journal writing has its advantages. If he cannot write good prose, the writer can bury himself in footnotes. The footnote is a clever device, designed to confuse the general reader and absolve the author of any lawsuits. For example, consider a typical footnote to the statement “General Crumbley was a bastard.” 34

34. Ibid, see also, Cornstalk, Bastards in Gray, loc. sic.* op. sit., loc. site, sob. Many maintain that General Crumbley was not a bastard. See Thirty Years View by Mrs. Crumbley, op. sit., sic. hoc. Major Kumpley maintained that the General may have been a bastard but that he was indeed a “magnificent old bastard at that/* See diary of Isaac Bumpley, Moose University Archives, XXCI, pt, 2, Sept. 21, 1863. In addition to being a bastard, the General was also a Mason. See diary of Cornelius Kraut, 1st Wisconsin Infantry, SWMVHR (XXI, Je. 45).

Continue Reading

9

Is Robert E. Lee Overrated?

Paul Zummo, the Cranky Conservative, and I run a blog on American History:  Almost Chosen People.  Yesterday Paul raised the question:  Is Robert E. Lee Overrated?

Yeah, the post title is somewhat deliberately provocative, but it’s also meant to be a serious question that I hope will spark some discussion.  I was going to ask it in the comments to Donald’s post below, but thought it might be useful fodder for debate in its own right.

Continue Reading

9

General Lee and Guerrilla War

Hattip to commenter Dennis McCutcheon for giving me the idea for this post.  We Americans today view the Civil War as part of our history.  If different decisions had been made at the end of that conflict, the Civil War could still be part of our current reality.  Just before the surrender at Appomattox, General Porter Alexander, General Robert E. Lee’s chief of artillery, broached to Lee a proposal that the Army of Northern Virginia disband and carry out a guerrilla war against the Union occupiers.  Here history balanced on a knife edge.  If Lee had accepted the proposal, I have little doubt the stage would have been set for an unending war between the North and the South which would still be with us.  Douglas Southall Freeman, in his magisterial R. E. Lee, tells what happened next, based upon Alexander’s memoirs, Fighting for the Confederacy.

“Thereupon Alexander proposed, as an alternative to surrender, that the men take to the woods with their arms, under orders to report to governors of their respective states.

Continue Reading

8

Marse Robert

Some of our readers south of the Mason-Dixon line no doubt have perhaps felt left out in my many posts regarding Abraham Lincoln.  I am fully aware that great Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one of the greatest of Americans, of his time or any time, was Robert E. Lee.

Continue Reading

10

General Lee's Greatest Victory

robert-e-lee-hosrseback

“It’s a warm spring Sunday at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. As the minister is about to present Holy Communion, a tall well-dressed black man sitting in the section reserved for African Americans unexpectedly advances to the communion rail; unexpectedly because this has never happened here before.

Continue Reading