Eisenhower on Lee

Thursday, June 15, AD 2017

 

 

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:

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2 Responses to Eisenhower on Lee

  • How is it one can honor a military officer who betrayed his oath to defend the US? He admittedly did so reluctantly. Did he repent his betrayal? I will grant he had many noble qualities. I can understand why a fellow general could admire him, but still, he fought against his country.

  • “I can understand why a fellow general could admire him, but still, he fought against his country.”

    What the country consisted of was what the Civil War was all about. If the Confederacy had prevailed, I assume the usual analysis would be that the Union troops were brave but foolish, attempting to keep people part of a nation that they no longer belonged to. The Civil War answered a lot of questions, and the answers were by no means clear prior to the War.

Grant and the Wounded of Cold Harbor

Sunday, May 7, AD 2017

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.

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4 Responses to Grant and the Wounded of Cold Harbor

  • Given that Lee was a military engineer, Grant was foolish in ordering a rush. He was playing to one of Lee’s strengths.

  • Civil War generals were slow in understanding how quickly firepower had increased.

  • I am a contrarian when it comes to the brilliance of Lee. He disregarded strategic realities, especially later in the war when some sort of political solution was not remotely possible. Even with disparities like these, the south could never beat the north, Lee should have (surely did) know it, and fought battles that were mathematical losers no matter how elegant his maneuver. Grant finally got it, and could have fought the Confederacy literally to the last man standing. Indeed, Lee’s very brilliance merely extended the war and cost lives usually attributed to Grant. Not that Lee was not brilliant in what he pulled off, usually at a disadvantage.

  • “the south could never beat the north,”

    It didn’t have to my Bruin friend, it merely had to outlast the North, and it came close to doing that, largely because of Lee’s success in blocking the Union conquest of Virginia. But for the iron determination of Lincoln, the North probably would have tossed in the towel in 1864 after Grant ran up 50,000 Union casualties in a month in the Overland Campaign. Lincoln was above all a shrewd politician, and in August 1864 he thought he was not going to be re-elected, and he was probably right. Thanks to Sherman taking Atlanta and Sheridan’s victories in the Valley Lincoln was re-elected, but that election could easily have gone the other way if the stalemate that Lee had placed on Grant’s drive against Richmond had been replicated for another two months in the rest of the Confederacy.

Lost For Over a Century

Friday, September 4, AD 2015

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:

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14 Responses to Lost For Over a Century

  • Interesting story about Lee’s petition, I’d not heard that.

    Lee was cut from the same cloth as Washington, and had the Confederacy prevailed, would no doubt be considered the Washington of that nation.

    Sadly, our modern day iconoclasts are diligently working to efface any memory of Lee from the many prominent public places in which he’s remembered here in Virginia.

  • Wish I could say I was surprised by a govt bureaucracy losing something that long!

  • Judging by recent petitions to remove Gen Lee’s name from schools and public buildings and his statues from public property in 2015, I’d guess that it was a punitive move by some beauracrat in 1865 when though vanquished by the North feelings against the South were still raw. Very sad that a man who contributed so much to the United States of America before and after the War Between the States would be still vilified by the politically correct know nothings. (That’s know nothings with lower case.) What must the old man have thought those last years of his life when there was no answer to his request?

  • “In 1865, Robert E. Lee wrote to a former Confederate soldier concerning his signing the Oath of Allegiance, and I quote: “This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony….”
    If only Lee had done this before the Civil War. Lee was fighting a war to establish slavery. History finds Lee wanting.

  • CAM: ” Very sad that a man who contributed so much to the United States of America before and after the War …” How about during the war?

  • Mary de Voe,
    During the war Lee’s service to the Confederacy did contribute in a way to the United States. His generalship on the field of battle was such that his tactics are still taught at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy. Lee Barracks was built in 1962 and named after him.

    Lee did not fight the war to establish slavery. It was already a fixture of Virginia plantations by 1640. (The first African-Americans, so called because they were from the Caribbean, had arrived in Jamestown as indentured servants in 1619.) In a letter to his wife Lee wrote that slavery was a moral and political evil and an evil to the white man as well.
    In 1857 the father of Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, died. She was the only child of George Washington Parke Custis, grand stepson and adopted son of George Washington. Lee was named Custis’ executor. The will stipulated that his slaves were to be freed within 5 years after all debts and expenses of his estate were settled. Because the estate was in disarray, Lee had to take a 2 year leave of absence from the army. He freed the slaves in 1862 as directed.

    Before the Civil War most U S citizens self identified according to their state. Despite being against secession, as a Virginian he reluctantly resigned his commission in the U.S. Army after a 32 year career.
    Realizing that the South needed more men under arms, General Lee urged the Confederate Congress to allow slaves to serve in the Confederate army with the proviso that they would receive the same training, pay and treatment as the white soldiers and additionally that they and their families would be manumitted. Under pressure from the agro-industrial complex Congress ultimately refused.

  • CAM: Lee’s strategies may have been wonderful but they were enacted and good men died.

  • Lee’s stated purpose for fighting with the Confederates was to defend Virginia.

  • “Lee’s stated purpose for fighting with the Confederates was to defend Virginia.”

    Was Virginia a slave state?

  • Wikipedia shows that Virginia was a slave state. It would not be incorrect for me then, to believe that Gen. Lee was fighting to defend slavery.
    Gen Lee was fighting to defend the state of Virginia for what and from what?

  • “Gen. Lee was fighting to defend the state of Virginia for what and from what?”

    The horrors of being over run & conquered in a war, my dear. Remember, both sides thought at the beginning that the war would not last very long.

    How does one not fight to defend your neighbors, family, extended kin, property, and friends from being over run, killed, and lost? I would fight to defend my friends, family, community, & property.

    There are plenty of first hand accounts re: what happened to private citizens and their property through the actions of the Yankee soldiers over running their communities. My widowed great grandmother’s thousand acre farm was stripped of everything of value–even the doors to her house for use to carry the wounded. The Union Army left her with 10 children to feed on a stripped farm in the middle of a civil war.

  • Barbara Gordon, from the links you cited: Until the day after Ft Sumter was fired upon, all cadets entering USMA swore an allegiance to their home state. On the day after the entire corps of cadets were required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves in the country; the border states were exempted (for obvious reasons). President Lincoln referred to secession as the cause for the war between the states. He could not tolerate the “rebellion”.
    Not being a native Virginian I did not know that Virginia seceeded later than the lower South. Today the South still seems mindful of states’ rights as regards the continued over reach of the federal government.

  • The article is nonsense. Edwin Stanton did not become Secretary of War until 1862. Cadets at West Point never took an oath of allegiance to their home states. Here is the 1857 oath of allegiance at West Point:

    I, ______ of the State of _______ aged _____ years, ______ months, having been selected for an appointment as Cadet in the Military Academy of the United States, do hereby engage with the consent of my (Parent or Guardian) in the event of my receiving such appointment, that I will serve in the army of the United States for eight years, unless sooner discharged by competent authority. And I ____________ DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR [emphasis original], that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them HONESTLY and FAITHFULLY [emphasis original], against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever; and that I will observe and obey the orders of the President of the United
    States, and the orders of the Officers appointed over me, according to the Rules and Articles of War.”

    In August 1861 Bowman, the Superintendent of West Point, had all the Cadets who remained at West Point sign an oath of allegiance to which these words were appended:

    ‘I will maintain and defend the sovereignty of the United States, paramount to any and all allegiance, sovereignty, or fealty I may owe to any State, county, or country whatsoever.’

    http://www.historynet.com/americas-civil-war-comes-to-west-point.htm

April 20, 1865: Lee’s Final Report

Monday, April 20, AD 2015

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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

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

Friday, April 10, AD 2015

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:

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

  • From ” Appomattox, The Passing of the Armies”, by Joshua Chamberlain who ” . . . sought no authority nor asked forgiveness.”
    .

    “The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?
    .

    “Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”

  • T Shaw- i may have read a similar excerpt in J.L.C’ s book- the 20th Maine-and i believe it is in Gordon’s reminiscences of the civil war pg 444-445 too – it impressed me then as now as perhaps one of the most magnificent moments in all of depicted history – to envision Gordon’s horse rearing up and descending, he with his sabre extended to the boot toe, returning the unexpected grand gesture /salute from Brevet Gen’l Chamberlain – these two armies salute one another!! it is finished. silently…. not a murmur but perhaps some weeping. on both sides. [ny times, may 4,1901

  • I recall the beginning of one of the Civil War episodes, the one about Gettysburg. The Confederates marched into south central Pennsylvania, which was not far from Virginia, with the goal to take Harrisburg and seize the rail lines there. Confederate troops seized free blacks and sent them South into slavery.

    It was not bad enough to secede from the Unites States and set up a government that permanently preserved slavery within its own borders. Kidnapping free American men from their homes and selling them as slaves is a special kind of evil. General Lee led that campaign. While he showed considerable wisdom in refusing to fight a guerrella war, his refusal – and that of his subordinates – to see that the Confederate cause was a lost one cost countless lives on both sides.

    The South never had any real chance to win. All they could do was make the North tired of war and want to quit. Instead they fought on to a crushing defeat and left much of the South in ruins and in depression for generations, with the enactment of Jim Crow laws that institutionalized segregation for 100 years.

  • “The South never had any real chance to win. All they could do was make the North tired of war and want to quit. Instead they fought on to a crushing defeat and left much of the South in ruins and in depression for generations, with the enactment of Jim Crow laws that institutionalized segregation for 100 years.”

    What you have said is, of course, true; but history, because it is the chronicle of the lives of poor sinners, is inherently messy. This is my problem with the way history is generally written and taught. For all his faults, and they were many, Lee had freed his own slaves years before Appomatox. Grant kept his former slaves “by indenture” and had “house darkies” in his home in NYC long after the war ended.

    Until the day she died, our family did not publicly celebrate July 4, because my granny’s father was killed that day in the Fall of Vicksburg. With your allusion to the South’s former segregationism and Jim Crow laws, may I remind you that the 2 largest klaverns of the KKK were in New Jersey and Indiana? Where I live, we Catholics had it far worse than many African-Americans simply because most of them were at least protestants. Black Catholics had it especially hard, even here in Cajun Catholic South Louisiana. After his land was taken from him during Reconstruction, my great-grandfather became a share cropper on what had formerly been his own farm. My dad’s godparents were the black foreman of that same farm and his wife — my grandparents’ next door neighbors, French-speaking Black Catholics. This was in 1932. History is so much more complicated when you consider that it was lived by real people with real lives. God bless!

  • “Grant kept his former slaves “by indenture” and had “house darkies” in his home in NYC long after the war ended.”

    Grant freed the only slave he ever owned in 1859. This was a slave he purchased from his brother-in-law Frederick Dent in 1858. This was at a time when he could ill-afford the financial loss that emancipating William Jones entailed. (Jones would have fetched a 1000-1500 dollars. During the Civil War privates earned $14.00 per month.) Painting Grant as a friend of slavery is ahistoric rubbish.

  • Fr. Frank, the Klan was never limited to the South. My grandmother, who died two years ago, remembered the Klan marching through the streets of her Greene County, Pennsylvania home town as a child. The Klan hated Catholics and Jews as much as blacks.

  • Bury the bygone South.
    Bury the minstrel with the honey-mouth,
    Bury the broadsword virtues of the clan,
    Bury the unmachined, the planters’ pride,
    The courtesy and the bitter arrogance,
    The pistol-hearted horsemen who could ride
    Like jolly centaurs under the hot stars.
    Bury the whip, bury the branding-bars,
    Bury the unjust thing
    That some tamed into mercy, being wise,
    But could not starve the tiger from its eyes
    Or make it feed where beasts of mercy feed.
    Bury the fiddle-music and the dance,
    The sick magnolias of the false romance
    And all the chivalry that went to seed
    Before its ripening.

April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders

Thursday, April 9, AD 2015

 

 

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. 

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16 Responses to April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders

  • Well that was certainly considerate of Grant to allow them to keep their horses.After reading the book “Killer Angels” I got the impression Gen. Lee knew the war was lost after the battle of Gettysburg. Would you agree with that assessment, Donald?

  • I think that Lee from the onset of the War was skeptical about the chances of the Confederacy. However, he was enough of a soldier to know that nothing was certain in War. My guess is that after the re-election of Lincoln, Lee, like most Confederates, thought the War was lost.

    At the time of the Gettysburg Campaign Lee noted in a letter to Davis the rising power of the Northern peace movement and recommended attempting to start negotiations, assuming that once such negotiations started it would be hard to restart the War. If Lee had shattered the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, I think that is the path history might have taken, with a despairing North overruling Lincoln’s determination to carry on with the War.

    The Civil War is an endless field of might have beens.

  • Thanks, I was not aware of everything going on in the background. In his book, Michael Shaara describes Lee as one resigned to accepting God’s will if he were to lose at Gettysburg.

  • I’m a southern girl (Virginian) living in Alaska and we always considered General Lee our most revered leader. I was just telling my husband that it’s a testament to his personal character and military acumen that he’s admired even by those who beat him.

    I was very sheltered about the Civil War, growing up in southwestern Virginia. It wasn’t until I went to college with “Yankees” from Pennsylvania and New York that I realized many outside the south saw the “War of Northern Aggression” as a battle between the immoral southern slave owners and the virtuous northern liberators. To us, the war was always about states’ rights and self-determination; VMI’s 1861 class ring has “Let Virginia choose” inscribed prominently on it. Given the disturbingly unfettered power of our federal government today, I find myself wishing that the Confederacy had had the foresight to take the moral high ground of its own volition…can you imagine what would have happened if the south had issued the Emancipation Proclamation?

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane with these letters…it’s always cool to read the original sources. My 5 kids and I read them tonight while enjoying BBQ chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, fried pickles, and buttermilk biscuits in memory of the 150th anniversary of the surrender.

  • BTW, I recently read that Pius IX actually supported the Confederacy and sent Jefferson Davis a letter of support and a signed photograph of himself. And that Lee kept a framed picture of the pontiff in his home until death, saying that the Vatican was “one of the Confederacy’s only friends in the world.” Have you ever heard of this? I’m an adult convert to the Church and would love to confirm this if it’s true.

  • Pius IX may have privately leaned to the Confederacy, thinking, erroneously, that it was an illiberal state (actually it was more liberal, in the 19th century use of the term, slavery aside, than any other state in the world except for the US), but he never publically supported the Confederacy. Pio Nono sent Davis a framed picture of himself after the War when he was in captivity. Lee did keep a framed picture of Pius IX in his house and probably did say he was the only foreign head of state who had been friendly to the Confederacy. The posts linked below have more information:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2010/08/13/jefferson-davis-and-pio-nono/

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2010/08/03/jefferson-davis-and-the-crown-of-thorns/

  • Dawn, point was, the federal government had no authority to suppress a practice that was viewed as immoral but nevertheless accepted by a number of states.

    It would be like today, if the federal government believed that abortion was wrong (and it *is*), moral disapproval of a state law is not a constitutional rationale to authorize invading states to get rid of the law.

    Lincoln clearly knew he had no constitutional authority to “abolish slavery” and had to rely on the “Union forever” rationale to justify invading states. Only later, when war support in the North was flagging, did Lincoln advance abolition as a war aim. Since he knew abolition was unconstitutional as a war justification, it was clearly a political decision to advance abolition as a war aim (even though Lincoln clearly personally did oppose slavery).

    We have to be careful to cede to the federal government authority to impose its moral views on states by force. We’ve already seen it happen with abortion; it was no more justified then than it is now.

    Pius IX likely viewed favorably the Catholic notion of subsidiarity represented in the South ordering its own affairs; the South’s religious tolerance as opposed to the Knownothing anti-Catholic intolerance pervasive in the North; and the agrarian nature of their society (as opposed to the often dehumanizing emerging industrialization movement in the North).

  • “Pius IX likely viewed favorably the Catholic notion of subsidiarity represented in the South ordering its own affairs; the South’s religious tolerance as opposed to the Knownothing anti-Catholic intolerance pervasive in the North; and the agrarian nature of their society (as opposed to the often dehumanizing emerging industrialization movement in the North).”

    No, he simply viewed the Confederates as opposed to the Liberals who were toppling his rule of the Papal States. He was wrong in that, but acuity in secular matters was never a strong point for Pio Nono. When he first came to the Papal throne he was regarded as a liberal. Metternich stated at the time he had planned for everything except a liberal Pope! When liberals began to agitate for reforms greater than he was willing to tolerate, Pio Nono embraced his inner reactionary. Pio Nono knew little about conditions in America, as attested by American clerics serving at the Vatican during his long reign.

  • Thanks so much for clarification… I don’t know what was more enjoyable to me–reading your other blog post or reading the spirited comments about it!

  • The South was not the primary destination for most of the Irish, Italian, German and Slavic Europe Catholic immigration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It therefore stands to reason that there would be more Southerners who have a connection to the Civil War than those in the North.

    Arguing about the causes of the War will never end, but I have a hard time sharing the admiration of General Lee simply for the cause he supported and fought for.

    The federal government we endure today is something I consider to be an effort first started by Wilson and accelerated by FDR, who used the Great Depression as an opportunity to expand federal government power and that is just what he did.

    The South had the better generals but could never match the North in manpower or industrial output. Great Britain was not going to recognize the Confederacy as she had abolished slavery in its Empire and besides, Lincoln threatened the UK with an invasion of Canada if the UK got involved.

  • Saying that you can’t admire General Lee because he fought for the side that supported self determination re: slavery would seem to make it difficult to admire anyone outside of modern, fully enlightened Catholics. After all, I don’t recall St. Paul openly stating that slavery is a mortal sin against the inherent dignity of the person enslaved, so perhand he’s not to be admired, either? What about all of the Old Testament prophets and saints like Abraham, who owned slaves themselves? Given Lee’s lack of experience with the darkest horrors of American slavery, I can’t see why his support for his home state–to retain an institution that he erroneously believed to be moral as long as the masters followed Paul’s exhortation to be fair and generous with their slaves–this doesn’t, to me, negate the man’s overall integrity and by virtually all accounts of those who knew him, honorable character. I suppose I don’t subscribe to the idea that one has to have believed and lived with complete righteousness to be someone I admire…especially since we are all sinners. I also tend to make allowances for those not blessed with the gift of sacramental grace; if more is expected of those to whom more (grace) is given, then it seems reasonable to make allowances for men like Lee and Jackson, who arguably lived more righteous lives than many of us do today who are blessed with access to the sacraments and a more enlightened understanding of the Gospel.

  • Dawn, your argument is a straw man. It appears that you have taken almost as a personal slap in the face my criticisms of General Lee and by extension the Confederate Army. I stand by my statement that General Lee’s incursion into Pennsylvania where the Confederate Army kidnapped free black American men and sold them into slavery is an inexcusable evil.

    I’m from Western Pennsylvania, not southern Virginia. Neither the Revolutionary War nor the Civil War made their ways here. As far as I know the first ancestor of mine that made it to the US came to Allegany County, Maryland (Cumberland) in 1866 (a rarity – a Catholic Scot) so I have no ancestors who fought in the Civil War. I grew up in Ohio and Ohio does not commemorate General Sherman at all. There is no General Sherman Day.

    I am 100% sure that General Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Pickett and Johnston lived far more moral personal lives than, for example, the overblown dimwits who end up on the covers of celebrity rags that infest supermarket checkout lines.

    I don’t care that St. Paul did not write opposition to slavery in his letters and that didn’t make it right for the Confederacy to make slavery an institution.

    Queen Isabel the Catholic, the greatest Catholic queen ever short of the Queen of Heaven, despised slavery and forbid it in Castille and in the realms discovered by Columbus. This was almost 400 years before the Civil War.

    I understand the point of view of Virginians (mostly those outside of the Washington suburbs that I escaped) who cherish their Commonwealth’s past and its most famous men – Washington, Jefferson, Lee and others.

    General Lee has nothing on Jan III Sobieski and Josef Pilsudski. Lee fought the Union Army and lost. Sobieski crushed invading Turks and Pilsudski whipped the Soviet Army.

    Lee did do the right thing by reaffirming his allegiance to the United States after the war. So did Longstreet.

    As we approach Divine Mercy Sunday, I wish all of “yunz” “sto lat”.

  • Penguins Fan, I really don’t take anything criticizing Lee et al personally. I’m not related to the man, just find much to admire about him. I don’t in any way condone the sins committed by Lee or any human being. I simply don’t think that his mistakes eclipse his admirable qualities. You’re free to disagree, of course, but I do challenge the idea that anyone who supported slavery is by necessity to be dismissed and/or reviled.

  • “Queen Isabel the Catholic, the greatest Catholic queen ever short of the Queen of Heaven, despised slavery and forbid it in Castille and in the realms discovered by Columbus. This was almost 400 years before the Civil War.”

    Of course she also expelled the Jews from Spain and was a big supporter of the Inquisition. I happen to admire her greatly, but the historical record is the historical record. The same with Lee. Compared to most Southerners of his day he was enlightened in his views regarding slavery which he regarded as an unmitigated evil. He regarded secession as nothing but rebellion. He was a good man just as Isabella was a good woman. They were also both children of their times just as we are children of ours. Future generations will probably condemn and praise current prominent figures about issues that might well surprise us if we could see centuries from now. In assessing people of the past it is often best to use the standards of their time and place, while not forgetting to mention both the good and evil of those times and places, but not ascribing to one man or woman the invention of either the good or the evil. Rare indeed are the pure saints or pure monsters of history, and common indeed are flawed, sinful men and women, usually striving to do their best and often failing. When someone achieves greatness despite these flaws, and shows nobility, that deserves remembrance and celebration.

  • I plead guilty to partial thread drift in bringing up one of my favorite historical leaders, Queen Isabel. We can debate the expulsion of Jews and the Inquisition another time.

    Back to General Lee – no doubt he was likely the most skilled military mind of his time anywhere in the world. His troops loved him. His leadership caused the South to fight on even after he likely realized it was a lost cause, which probably happened after Gettysburg.

    His cause is something I find wrong.

  • “His cause is something I find wrong.”

    As do I PF, although one should recall that Lee said after the War that he rejoiced in the ending of slavery as a result of the War and acted in a manner that it was clear that those were not mere words. Additionally he constantly admonished Southerners to lay aside all rancor and become good citizens of the one nation. Lee was an American hero and not merely because of his military genius.

April 8, 1865: Lee Rejects Guerrilla Warfare

Wednesday, April 8, AD 2015

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.”

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April 7, 1865: Surrender Correspondence Begins

Tuesday, April 7, AD 2015

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:

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April 6, 1865: Battle of Sailor’s Creek

Monday, April 6, AD 2015

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:

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April 5, 1865: Endgame

Sunday, April 5, AD 2015

 

 

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:

 

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April 2, 1865: Third Battle of Petersburg

Thursday, April 2, AD 2015

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:

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5 Responses to April 2, 1865: Third Battle of Petersburg

  • Don, I appreciate how you have tied these battle accounts to our current calendar. I think it really accomplishes the goal you stated in the first article, of relating these events to the passion of Holy Week.

    Some aspects are so sad. My in-laws have a similar event in their history: my wife’s maternal grandmother’s first fiancé died in combat in the U.S. Army on November 10, 1918.

  • Thank you Tom. Being killed in a war is bad enough, being killed when it is almost over is a fathomless tragedy.

  • Unrelated but significant topic – today is the tenth anniversary of the death of Pope St. John Paul II. It’s worth a minute or two of time to sit back and reflect.

  • This post was of particular interest to me because of a bit of family history. My great-grandfather by this time was a senior (possibly THE senior) NCO of the 11th North Carolina Regiment (Heth’s Division, A.P. Hill’s Corps). About 50 years later, he wrote down his memorys of his service and his account of this final Federal assault on the Peterburg line is both vivid and amusing. Evidently, the Federal troops approached so quietly that the Confederates in his portion of the line weren’t aware of the assault until their oppenents were almost on top of them, so they “skedaddled” in a hurry. He recounts that, prompted by a reluctance to finish the war at Point Lookout or some other prison hellhole, he was running so fast that he passed some Yankee bullets going the same way. He and others were consequently out of contact with their unit for a day or two, but rejoined it before the fight a Saylor’s Creek and were present for the capitulation at Appomattox Court House on the 9th.

Palm Sunday One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago

Sunday, March 29, AD 2015

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.

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3 Responses to Palm Sunday One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago

  • Family members were divided and battled amongst themselves in this “civil” war. The recognition of Almighty God was equally planted in the hearts of both leaders, so I wonder if the timing was a “surrender of sorts” to His Divine authority as another form..higher form of surrender was about to be recalled throughout the nation, divided, in her churches. Just pondering aloud.

  • In the Civil War, in the Catholic Church, I do not know of decent men from the Bergoglio – Kasper camp. None of them seem to care at all about our souls. They seem to care about our groins and our feelings.

    I have had much more than enough of them.

    When they are willing to slap a proud adulterer in the face, in public, and require them to repent or to face formal excommunication, I will secure my sword in its scabbard. Until then, it is war….at least from me.

    Karl

  • Stay on the topic of the post please.

The Last Confederate Offensive

Tuesday, March 24, AD 2015

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.

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Lee Ponders the Coming Campaign

Sunday, March 1, AD 2015

 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:

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Both Prayed to the Same God

Wednesday, November 5, AD 2014

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.

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One Response to Both Prayed to the Same God

  • From everything I have read, Robert E. Lee was an exceptional human being. It saddens me when there are attempts to denigrate him and remove his name from schools, highways, etc.
    I now live in rural VA. It seems to me that there is an abundance of churches throughout the state. The churches aren’t just buildings; they have active congregations. There is a big disconnect between the heartland and Washington, DC, though the recent elections results have given me hope.

August 14, 1864: Second Battle of Deep Bottom

Thursday, August 14, AD 2014

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:

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July 30, 1864: Debacle at the Crater

Wednesday, July 30, AD 2014

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:

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