CIVIL WAR HISTORY
THE BATTLE OF MILL SPRINGS
Important social, agricultural, commercial, strategic, and political considerations led the Lincoln administration to conclude that holding Kentucky was pivotal to preserving the union.1 In early September 1861 Confederate forces entered “neutral” Kentucky and Union forces soon responded in kind, and the fight for Kentucky was on.2 General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Confederate line in Kentucky stretched from Columbus on the Mississippi (General Leonidas Polk), east to Bowling Green (General Simon B. Buckner), and then to the Cumberland Gap (General Felix K. Zollicoffer). General Zollicoffer was ordered west to Mill Springs to monitor the Cumberland River. Meanwhile, Union General George H. Thomas’ division shadowed Zollicoffer’s movements in eastern Kentucky. In setting up his position at Mill Springs, Zollicoffer, who lacked any significant prior military experience, naively positioned his troops on the north side of the Cumberland River, leaving them sandwiched between Thomas’ federals to his front and the river to his rear.3
In late December Union General Don Carlos Buell ordered General Thomas to move against Zollicoffer. On January 17, 1862, Thomas’ division reached Logan’s Crossroads, about ten miles north of Zollicoffer’s position on the Cumberland River. Confederate General George B. Crittenden, Zollicoffer’s immediate superior officer, recognized how precarious Zollicoffer’s position was and ordered him to recross to the south side of the river, but it was too late. With few options available, Crittenden opted to attack. During the early morning hours of January 19 eight regiments of infantry, supported by artillery, advanced against Thomas’ federals. Union cavalry heralded the advance and an infantry brigade was deployed to stall the Confederate advance while Thomas brought up his command.4
General Thomas quickly formed his division and attacked the advancing Confederates. Union regiments from Kentucky and Tennessee attacked the Confederate right; Union regiments from Minnesota, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio attacked along the main Confederate line and the entire Confederate line soon collapsed. The federals reformed, were resupplied with ammunition, and continued to press the retreating Confederates until they reached the entrenchments directly in front of their encampment. Rather than attack the entrenched Confederates, Thomas ordered two Union batteries to open a barrage that lasted into the evening. In an effort to prevent Crittenden’s command from retreating back across the Cumberland River, Thomas also sent one battery to target the ferry crossing. As Thomas prepared to continue his attack the next day, Crittenden recognized that he was defeated. On the night of January 19 Crittenden was able to withdraw his command back across the Cumberland River, abandoning large quantities of artillery, small arms, ammunition, wagons, horses, and stores. The Confederate defeat was stunning. General Johnston acknowledged as much in his report to then Confederate Secretary of War Judah Benjamin, finally advising the secretary that Crittenden’s command was “in full retreat” to the southeast toward Knoxville, Tennessee.5
Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer did not survive the Battle of Mill Springs. The details of Zollicoffer’s death have been clouded by time, perspective, and a dose of historical license both in print and battlefield art, but the bizarre circumstances seem to reflect Zollicoffer’s catastrophic mismanagement during Confederate operations in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. The following account appears in an online article from the American Battlefield Trust:
Gen. Zollicoffer was still hanging near the 19th Tennessee during the struggle for the fence. The 19th was fighting the remnants of the 10th Indiana on the road, but the Southerners could barely see the force opposing them. When a new group of men came into view roughly 100 yards ahead and to the right, Zollicoffer thought that they represented the left flank of the 15th Mississippi, although the direction of their shooting came dangerously close to the 19th Tennessee. The general, concerned about friendly fire and perhaps recognizing that his offensive was sputtering, rode through the smoke to reconnect with the wayward regiment and renew the attack.
The mysterious soldiers were not Mississippians—they belonged to [Union Col. Speed] Fry’s 4th Kentucky Volunteers. Fry himself rode out to greet Zollicoffer, whose Confederate uniform was concealed by a long rain jacket. Zollicoffer drew rein about thirty yards from the Union line and the two officers came so close that their knees touched.
“We must not shoot our own men,” Zollicoffer told the Union colonel. Fry was plainly wearing a Federal uniform, but Zollicoffer was near-sighted. Or perhaps he had realized his mistake, and was now bluffing for time.
“Of course not,” Fry replied, “I would not shoot our own men intentionally.” He did not recognize Zollicoffer, but thought him to be an unmet officer from Sam Carter’s brigade, which had only recently arrived.
“Those are our own men.” Zollicoffer pointed towards the 19th Tennessee.
Now somewhat suspicious, Fry rode twenty or thirty yards past Zollicoffer to examine the situation for himself. As he peered through the smoke, a Confederate staff officer dashed from behind a tree and called to Zollicoffer, “it’s the enemy, General!”
The unknown officer drew his pistol and shot Fry’s horse before turning to make his escape. A Kentucky rifleman shot him down. Zollicoffer pulled out his pistol and emptied it in Fry’s direction. Unscathed, Fry shouted, “that’s your game, is it?” and returned fire with his Colt Navy .36, striking Zollicoffer in the chest. Two more bullets from the Kentucky infantry killed him.
Fry jumped off of his horse and ran back to his regiment calling for more men to shore up the threatened flank. The men of the 19th Tennessee, frightened by the death of their general, withdrew when the Union reinforcements arrived. The 25th Tennessee advanced to take their place and the battle continued. 6
- William E. Gienapp, “Abraham Lincoln and the Border States,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 13, Issue 1, 1992, pp. 13-46, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2629860.0013.104?view=text;rgn=main.
- Garry Adelman and Mary Bays Woodside, “A House Divided: Civil War Kentucky,” American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/house-divided-civil-war-kentucky.
- Henry M. Cist, The Army of the Cumberland (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1882), 9-12, https://archive.org/details/armyofcumberland00incist/page/12/mode/2up.
- Cist, Army of the Cumberland, 13-19. D. C. Buell to General George H. Thomas, December 29, 1861; Geo. H. Thomas to Capt. J. B. Fry, January 31, 1862; A. S. Johnson to J. P. Benjamin, January 22, 1862; G. B. Crittenden to Adjutant and Inspector General, January 29, 1862; United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 7, Ch. 17] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), 78-81, 102-104, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924079609545&view=1up&seq=3&skin=2021.
- “Kentucky Chaos: The Battle of Mill Springs,” American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/kentucky-chaos.
Editor’s note: The articles cited in endnotes 1 and 2 (above) provide important, in-depth insights into how critical control of Kentucky was before and during the war. These articles are well worth study in their entirety. The January 1862 Union victory at Mill Springs is a reminder that Union General George H. Thomas is among the most under-rated and under-appreciated federal field commanders of the war.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
U.S.S. MONITOR LOST AT SEA
In the early morning hours of December 31, 1862, the U.S.S. Monitor which, the previous March, had driven off the C.S.S. Virginia in the celebrated naval battle off Hampton Roads, foundered and sank in heavy seas off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
On December 24, 1862, acting Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, ordered U.S.S. Rhode Island to take the Monitor in tow and “proceed” to Beaufort, North Carolina, as soon as possible, to support Union ground operations. The Rhode Island left Hampton Roads with the Monitor in tow during the afternoon of December 29. According to the Monitor’s captain, Commander John P. Bankhead, the weather was “clear and pleasant.” By 5 a.m. the next morning the sea had become more turbulent, with water breaking over the Monitor’s pilot house and surrounding the turret. Captain Bankhead “[f]ound that the packing of oakum under and around the base of the tower [turret] had loosened somewhat from the working of the tower as the vessel pitched and rolled,” but that the bilge pumps were doing their job and there was “no apprehension at the time.”
As the evening progressed the sea grew angrier and the Monitor, still tethered to the Rhode Island, was tossed about in increasingly rough seas. By 8:00 p.m. the situation was becoming desperate:
[T]he sea about this time commenced to rise very rapidly, causing the vessel to plunge heavily, completely submerging the pilot house and washing over and into the turret and at times into the blower pipes. Observed that when she rose to the swell, the flat under surface of the projecting armor would come down with great force, causing a considerable shock to the vessel and turret, thereby loosening still more [of] the packing around its base.
Seawater continued to inundate the ship and for a time the Monitor’s pumps held their own. But, at about 10:30 p.m., Captain Bankhead signaled the Rhode Island that his ship was in distress and requested that Captain Trenchard “send boats to take off the crew.” In an effort to keep his engines and the pumps running, Captain Bankhead ordered the tow cable cut, but to no avail. By 11:30 it was evident that all was lost. Waves were “breaking entirely over the vessel, rendering it extremely hazardous to leave the turret.” The engines and pumps soon failed. Captain Bankhead described the death throes of the Monitor in vivid detail:
The engine being stopped, and no longer able to keep the vessel head to sea, she having fallen off into the trough and rolling so heavily as to render it impossible for boats to approach us, I ordered the anchor to be let go and all the chain given her, in hopes that it might bring her up. Fortunately it did so, and she once more swung round head to wind. By this time, finding the vessel filling rapidly and the deck on a level with the water, I ordered all the men left on board to leave the turret and endeavor to get into the two boats which were then approaching us. I think, at this time, there were about twenty-five or thirty men on board. The boats approached very cautiously, as the sea was breaking upon our now submerged deck with great violence, washing several men overboard, one of whom was afterwards picked up by the boats. I secured the painter of one of the boats (which by the use of its oars was prevented from striking the side) and made as many get into her as she would safely hold in the heavy sea that was running. There were several men still left upon and in the turret who, either stupefied by fear or fearful of being washed overboard in the attempt to reach the boats, would not come down and are supposed to have gone down with the vessel. Feeling that I had done everything in my power to save the vessel and crew, I jumped into the already deeply laden boat and left the Monitor, whose heavy, sluggish motion gave evidence that she could float but a short time longer. Shortly after we reached the Rhode Island she disappeared. I must testify to the untiring efforts and zeal displayed by Captain Trenchard and his officers in their attempts to rescue the crew of the Monitor. It was an extremely hazardous undertaking, rendered particularly so by the heavy sea and the difficulty in approaching the Monitor.
In his report to Admiral Lee, Captain Bankhead stated that “I am firmly of the opinion that the Monitor must have sprung a leak somewhere in the forward part where the hull joins on to the armor, and that it was caused by the heavy shocks received as she came down upon the sea.”1
Forty-seven sailors survived the wreck of the Monitor. Sixteen of her crew perished, including 4 officers and 12 enlisted men, 3 of whom were African American. Among the lost was Maine sailor, George Littlefield, a 25-year-old stonecutter born in Saco. Littlefield was serving as a “coal heaver” when the Monitor went down.2 Eight crew members from the Rhode Island were also lost as a result of her rescue operations.
The wreck of the U.S.S. Monitor was discovered off Cape Hatteras in 1973, confirmed in 1974 and, in order to protect the site, was designated a National Marine Sanctuary on January 30, 1975. Recovery and preservation efforts have continued since the 1990’s.3 Work to recover and preserve the Monitor was a laborious task. Her propellor was raised in 1998 and her steam engine was raised in 2001. While preparing to raise the turret in 2002, Navy divers discovered the remains of two of the Monitor’s crew. Despite careful examination of physical evidence and various recovered artifacts, the two sailors could not be identified. In keeping with time-honored tradition, the two sailors were buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8, 2013. The sailors who perished aboard the U.S.S. Monitor on New Year’s Eve 1862 are memorialized on the stone shown below.
A compelling description of the recovery missions and the effort to identify the sailor’s remains, including forensic constructions of their possible appearances, is found at the Arlington National Cemetery website at:
The Naval History and Heritage Command, National Museum of the U.S. Navy, USS Monitor (Ironclad), website shows a number of technical sketches, engravings, and photographs chronicling the history of the U.S.S. Monitor, at:
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a number of informative and thoroughly enjoyable web pages that include commentary, relevant drawings, and photos concerning the recovery and restoration of the U.S.S. Monitor, at:
- S. P. Lee to Commander S. D. Trenchard, December 24, 1862, and J. P. Bankhead to Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, January 1, 1863, United States, Navy Dept., Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion [Series I, Vol. 8] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899), 338, 346 – 349, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924051350878&view=1up&seq=12&skin=2021.
- “The Lost Monitor Boys,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, accessed November 9, 2021, https://monitor.noaa.gov/150th/sailors.html.
- “USS Monitor,” Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, accessed November 9, 2021, https://monitor.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/uss_monitor.html.
ORDINARY SEAMAN LUKE M. GRISWOLD WAS AWARDED THE MEDAL OF HONOR FOR “PERSONAL VALOR” IN RECOGNITION OF HIS SERVICE ON THE NIGHT OF DECEMBER 30 – 31, 1862. THE NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND RELATES THE MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION:
FOR EXTRAORDINARY HEROISM IN ACTION WHILE SERVING ON BOARD THE USS RHODE ISLAND WHICH WAS ENGAGED IN SAVING THE LIVES OF THE OFFICERS AND CREW OF THE USS MONITOR, 30 DECEMBER 1862 NEAR CAPE HATTERAS, NORTH CAROLINA. PARTICIPATING IN THE HAZARDOUS RESCUE OF THE OFFICERS AND CREW OF THE SINKING MONITOR, ORDINARY SEAMAN GRISWOLD, AFTER RESCUING SEVERAL OF THE MEN, BECAME SEPARATED IN A HEAVY GALE WITH OTHER MEMBERS OF THE CUTTER THAT HAD SET OUT FROM THE RHODE ISLAND, AND SPENT MANY HOURS IN THE SMALL BOAT AT THE MERCY OF THE WEATHER AND HIGH SEAS UNTIL FINALLY PICKED UP BY A SCHOONER 50 MILES EAST OF CAPE HATTERAS.
THE REVERSE OF GRISWOLD’S TYPE I NAVY MEDAL OF HONOR IS ENGRAVED:
Luke M. Griswold
U.S.S. Rhode Island
Loss of the Monitor
Source and high-resolution photographs: https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/our-collections/artifacts/uniforms-and-personal-equipment/awards/medals/MedalofHonorCU0/luke-griswold.html
Phil Schlegel, Editor
MINE RUN CAMPAIGN
As November 1863 was drawing to a close, George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac was camped north of the Rapidan River while Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was camped south of the river. The month before, Lee had attempted to turn Meade’s flank in northeastern Virginia and slip between the Army of the Potomac and Washington. After a series of moves and counter-moves, Lee’s plans were foiled at Bristoe Station where, on October 14, Union General Gouverneur K. Warren’s II Corps soundly defeated Confederate General Ambrose P. Hill’s ill-fated attack on the trailing portion of the Army of the Potomac as it retired toward Centerville. Meade’s army was able to consolidate at Centerville and Lee’s campaign was finished.1
Washington was pressuring Meade to attack Lee. In mid-October Meade steadily, but cautiously (arguably too cautiously), was pursuing Lee’s army south. Meade maneuvered against Lee’s flanks as he advanced in proximity to the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, repairing the damage inflicted by the retreating Confederates along the way.2 By early November, Meade was north of the Rapidan in the vicinity of Culpepper Court House while Lee had withdrawn to his original position south of the Rapidan. According to Meade:
The position of the enemy was known to be behind his strong intrenchments on the Rapidan. These were known to extend from the junction of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers to a point as high up as Liberty Mills, west of Orange Court-House.3
As the two armies faced each other across the Rapidan, Meade perceived an opportunity was at hand. General James Longstreet’s Confederate First Corps was detached in Tennessee and there appeared to be a gap in the Confederate line, in the area of the Orange Turnpike and the Plank Road. Meade outlined his plan in his report to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck:
I could hear of no works or defenses on the Orange and Fredericksburg turnpike or plank road. Ewell’s corps, estimated between 25,000 and 35,000 men, held the line from Bartlett’s Mill to near Rapidan Station, and Hill’s corps, over 25,000 strong, held the left from Rapidan Station to Liberty Mills.
The plan I decided on was to cross the Rapidan at the lower fords, in three columns, and by a prompt movement seize the plank road and turnpike, advancing rapidly toward Orange Court-House, thus turning the enemy’s works, and compelling him to give battle on ground not previously selected or prepared, and I indulged the hope that in the execution of this plan I should be enabled to fall on part of the enemy’s forces before he could effect a concentration, and thus so cripple him as to render more certain the success of the final struggle.4
Meade’s orders were detailed, intended to execute the main attack and to protect his flanks, the fords, and the army’s trains and artillery. The attack hinged on speed of execution.5 That is, the gap in the Confederate line had to be exploited before Lee had an opportunity to consolidate Richard Ewell’s Second Corps (then commanded by Jubal Early) and Hill’s Third Corps.
The operational blueprint that Meade laid out seemed to be doomed from the start. Scheduled to commence on November 24, foul weather delayed the advance until the 26th. The Army of the Potomac moved out on the morning of November 26, but Meade’s plan to cross the Rapidan quickly broke down. General William French’s III Corps infantry moved too slowly, there were not adequate pontoons to cross the Rapidan, artillery had to be rerouted, and “the steep banks of the Rapidan at all crossings” caused backups, thereby hampering the several corps from moving into position.6 As November 26 ended, the Union Army had failed to rapidly attack, isolate, and defeat Early’s and Hill’s Corps in detail. Unfortunately for Meade, Lee utilized the delays of the 26th to move east of Mine Run on the Orange Turnpike and Plank Road respectively.
In an effort to retain the initiative, Meade planned to renew the attack on the morning of November 27. By mid-morning Warren’s II Corps pushed back Early’s skirmishers and advanced to Robertson’s Tavern according to plan, but he was compelled to stop until French’s III Corps could support the attack. Despite repeated orders to make haste connecting with Warren, a series of missteps brought French’s Corps into contact with Johnson’s Division of Early’s Corps well to the north, in the area of the Raccoon Ford Road and the Payne Farm.
To the south, on the Union left, the day opened with a cavalry engagement at New Hope Church where, according to Meade, the Union cavalry division of General David McM. Gregg “had a severe engagement with the enemy’s cavalry, in which he was successful in driving them until they were strongly re-enforced by infantry, when Gregg fell back and was relieved by Major-General Sykes . . .” The situation near Robertson’s Tavern gave Meade enough pause to halt Sykes’ V Corps advance near New Hope Church, thereby affording a route to swing north toward Robertson’s Tavern.
November 27 turned out to be another disappointing day for Meade. French repulsed Johnson’s Division at Payne Farm, but it was far too late to support Warren’s advance along the Orange Turnpike. Meade took steps to consolidate his army by ordering VI Corps (Sedgwick) to move south and V Corps (Sykes) to move north and converge on Robertson’s Tavern but, again, it was too little too late. Meade was still east of Mine Run and the opportunity to turn Early’s flank had passed.7
Meade held III Corps commander William French responsible for the failures of November 26 and 27 and French became the recipient of Meade’s well-known ire. On December 3 Meade’s chief of staff advised French that an “investigation” into the conduct of III Corps was in order and demanded that French provide a “full explanation” for the delays in advancing as directed.8 French responded in detail, but the explanation clearly did not satisfy his commander. In testimony before the U.S. Congress’ Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War (March 5, 1864), Meade again blamed the failures of November 26 and 27 on French:
Various circumstances occurred to cause delay which I had not expected—some arising from obstacles that I could not overcome or anticipate; others from the failure or neglect of subordinate officers to do what I had a right to expect they would have done. The first of these obstacles was the failure of the 3d corps, commanded by Major General French, to arrive at the Rapidan river within three hours of the time that the other corps arrived, having no longer distance to march than they had. This caused a delay in the movement of the whole army for three hours, because I would not allow the other corps to cross until he was ready to cross, not knowing what I should encounter on the other side.
In responding to a subsequent question as to whether he was “heartily sustained” by his corps commanders, Meade took another swipe at French:
I believe I have been; I have no complaint to make of want of assistance from all my corps commanders, except what is stated in my evidence in reference to Mine run.9
Meade planned to renew his attack on November 28, but found Lee’s army had withdrawn to a “formidable” position on the west bank of Mine Run. Meade described the new Confederate position in his after-action report:
A reconnaissance of the enemy’s position showed it to be extremely formidable. The western bank of Mine Run, with an elevation of over 100 feet, had a gentle and smooth slope to the creek, averaging over 1,000 yards of cleared ground. The summit, on which was the enemy’s line of battle, was already crowned with infantry parapets, abatis, and epaulements for batteries. The creek itself was a considerable obstacle, in many places swampy and impassible.10
A frontal assault being out of the question, on the evening of November 28 Meade (undoubtedly mindful of Washington’s ongoing insistence that he engage Lee) decided to send Warren’s II Corps, augmented with a division from VI Corps, to find and turn the Confederate right flank. He also ordered his corps commanders to probe the entire Confederate line for weaknesses. Warren moved left on November 29 as the probing effort continued. After considering the various reconnaissance reports, including personal assurances from Warren that he could successfully turn Lee’s flank, Meade ultimately decided to further reinforce Warren with two divisions from French’s III Corps and launch sequential attacks on the Confederate flanks: first, the main attack against Lee’s right flank with Warren’s heavily reinforced II Corps, then against Lee’s left flank with Sykes’ V Corps and Sedgwick’s VI Corps. In the event that the flank attacks were successful, Newton’s I Corps and the remainder of French’s III Corps were to join the attack at the center. Cavalry divisions under David Gregg and George Custer held the Plank Road and the upper river fords.11
At 8:00 on the morning of November 30 Union artillery opened and skirmishers demonstrated against the Confederate center, but Meade’s plan fell apart almost immediately. Warren’s confident assurances made the night before proved to be woefully premature. He reported that the Confederate defensive works were so “formidable” that he suspended his attack, refusing to proceed without further orders from Meade. Since more than half of the Army of the Potomac was with Warren, Meade could no longer support Sedgwick, so the attack on the right flank was also suspended. Meade rode out to find Warren and, after meeting, agreed that a full-scale attack would be a fool’s errand. Without viable options, the Army of the Potomac “returned to their former positions” on the night of November 30.12
Recognizing that the Mine Run operation had failed, Meade resolved to withdraw the Army of the Potomac. His preference was to withdraw due east, to “a position in front of Fredericksburg,” but General-in-Chief Henry Halleck had specifically precluded that course of action.13 In the alternative, Meade withdrew back across the Rapidan and into winter quarters.
- United States Military Academy. Department of Military Art and Engineering, Vincent J. Esposito, and Inc Frederick A. Praeger. The West Point Atlas of the Civil War. [New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962] Map 118. [Retrieved from the Library of Congress.] https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3701sm.gcw0097200/?sp=126&r=-0.059,-0.016,1.111,0.471,0.
- Geo. G. Meade to Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, December 7, 1863. United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 29, Ch. 41, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890), 13, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077699886&view=1up&seq=3&skin=2021.
- “Circular,” November 23, 1863. United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 29, Ch. 41, Part 2] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890), 480-481, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077728263&view=1up&seq=482&skin=2021.
- OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 13-14.
- OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 13-15.
- A. A. Humphries to Commanding Officer Third Corps, December 3, 1863. OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 746, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077699886&view=1up&seq=764&skin=2021.
- United States Congress, Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, at the Second Session Thirty-Eighth Congress [Army of the Potomac. Battle of Petersburg.] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1865), 344, 347, https://archive.org/details/aby3709.0004.001.umich.edu/page/344/mode/2up.
- OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 16.
- OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 16-17.
- OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 17. Esposito, West Point Atlas, Map 119, https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3701sm.gcw0097200/?sp=127&r=0.076,-0.017,0.833,0.353,0.
- OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 18. JCCW, 342. Halleck had refused Meade’s earlier request to shift the army’s operational base from the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to the Aquia Creek Railroad.
Acknowledgement: Much of this month’s summary of the Mine Run Campaign was derived from four main sources: General Meade’s December 7, 1863, after-action report to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas; Vincent J. Esposito, ed., The West Point Atlas of the Civil War [available at https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3701sm.gcw0097200/?sp=126&r=-0.059,-0.016,1.111,0.471,0]; an American Battlefield Trust website article entitled “A Deluge of Lead and Iron” [available at https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/deluge-lead-and-iron]; and a March 1, 1990, U.S. Army War College Military Studies Program Paper by Lt. Col. Kavin L. Coughenour, entitled “The Mine Run Campaign – An Operational Analysis of Major General George G. Meade.” Lt. Col. Coughenour’s paper is an exceptionally thorough and insightful analysis. [Available at https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA222913.pdf]
Phil Schlegel, Editor
THE COMPLETION OF THE TRANSCONTINENTAL TELEGRAPH: OCTOBER 24, 1861
As students of the Civil War, I expect that we often find ourselves reading fiction and non-fiction books relating to the war’s battles and leaders by familiar and newly-published authors. We probably pick up magazines that detail the nuances of epic battles and countless skirmishes. Then there are the classic films, like Gettysburg, and web-based presentations that address every aspect of the conflict. On occasion we may visit national military parks and historic sites around the country. Lately, the fate of war-related monuments and evolving historical interpretations of the war have become the subject of considerable thought and debate among historians, politicians, and the public.
While much discussion of the Civil War is focused on military personalities, battles, and campaigns, it is also important to consider the important social, cultural, and technological aspects of that era. Among the most important technological and engineering achievements was the completion of the transcontinental telegraph on October 24, 1861. This topic was the focus of a compelling 2019 in-depth lecture entitled United by Lightening: The Transcontinental Telegraph of 1861, presented by Edmund Russell, professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University and the Dibner Distinguished Fellow at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California.1
By the time Civil War erupted in April 1861, the use of electronic transmission of messages—telegraphy—had evolved considerably since its inception in 1774. Samuel F. B. Morse made two particularly significant improvements, the single-wire telegraph line and a system of “telegraphic signs” (or characters) commonly known as the “Morse Code.”2 Utilizing a federal appropriation for an experimental telegraph line, on May 24, 1844, Morse sent “the first [sentence] ever transmitted from Washington to Baltimore.” The message was succinct: “What hath God wrought?”3 As telegraph service steadily expanded in the east, it also began to emerge in the Pacific west and into Texas. Despite the remarkable expansion, when the first Confederate flag was raised over Fort Sumter, telegraph service remained essentially regional—the east was unable to “talk” to the west.
Various technical improvements and the corporate machinations that ensued from the rapid emergence of numerous telegraph companies certainly would provide a lengthy and complex study for another forum. Those issues aside, the impact of the telegraph during the Civil War is beyond dispute. The telegraph enhanced command and control capabilities between military commanders and with the civilian leadership in Washington. Despite unfortunate and unnecessary personal and operational conflicts between the young Army Signal Corps and the independent U.S. Military Telegraph (which was seen as Secretary of War Stanton’s personal domain), as the war dragged on, important advancements were made in the increasingly critical arena of battlefield communications. An enduring image of the Civil War is the ever-tormented President Lincoln pouring over messages received from the field at the War Department telegraph office.4
Connecting the existing eastern telegraph grid to the existing western telegraph grid in a mere five months was a monumental logistical accomplishment. In the lecture referenced above, Professor Russell describes the obstacles in considerable detail, characterizing the entire effort as an exercise in “muscle power,” both animal and human. Stringing 1,800 miles of telegraph line across dry, elevated terrain required 45,000 six-foot deep holes, each hand dug with pick axe and shovel. When the poles were placed a worker attached an insulator and, finally, the telegraph wire. Trees were a scarce commodity, there were no navigable rivers, and the
transcontinental railroad was eight years in the future, so the tens of thousands of telegraph poles and tons of supplies had to be hauled hundreds of miles overland by wagon. Fearing Native American reprisals for blatant territorial encroachments, armed guards were posted at intervals along the route which, eventually, became entirely “militarized.” Since the telegraph construction route closely followed the route of the soon-to-be-obsolete Pony Express, many Pony Express stations were “repurposed” into telegraph stations.5
Like the Civil War itself, the completion of the transcontinental telegraph in October 1861 had implications that reached far beyond the circumstances of the day—it was far more than a feat of engineering. As a practical matter, communication across the nation was cut from weeks (via Pony Express) to hours, but closing the vast division between the eastern states and the two western states (California and Oregon) also had important national implications. In his lecture, Professor Russell succinctly points out that as the nation devolved into civil war, there was a concern that the western states might secede because they were “more tied to the Pacific economy.” Another concern was that the western states could be invaded by a European power. Considering the length of time it took to get information from the Pacific coast to Washington (about three weeks) and the time it would take to move troops west (probably months), an invader could take full control before Washington could respond to the threat. Finally, much of the area was not under the direct control of the United States. Native Americans controlled substantial areas and the intentions of the Mormon settlers in Utah remained an issue in the aftermath of the 1857-1858 confrontations with the U.S. Army.6
Importantly, the completion of the transcontinental telegraph exemplified and accelerated the notion of technological “unification” through “new bonds of union.” Professor Russell aptly described the situation in saying “as slavery split the nation north to south, technology united the nation east to west.”7 Unification was a recurring theme in the numerous newspaper and journal announcements and the early cables that crossed the newly-strung lines. When the telegraph reached Salt Lake City, Utah, several days before the line to California was completed, Brigham Young sent the following widely published message to Hon. J. H. Wade, President, Pacific Telegraph Company, Cleveland, Ohio:
Sir: Permit me to congratulate you upon the completion of the Overland Telegraph line west to this city; to commend the energy displayed by yourself and associates in the rapid and successful prosecution of a work so beneficial, and to express the wish that its use may ever tend to promote the true interests of the dwellers upon both the Atlantic and Pacific slopes of our continent. Utah has not seceeded, but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country, and is warmly interested in successful enterprises as the one so far completed.8
At 7:30 p.m., October 24, 1861, Horace W. Carpenter, President of the Overland Telegraph Company, notified President Lincoln that the transcontinental telegraph had been completed:
Abraham Lincoln: President of the United States, Washington:
I announce to you that the telegraph to California is this day completed. May it be a bond of perpetual union between the States of the Atlantic and those of the Pacific.9
Ten minutes later, Stephen J. Field, Chief Justice of California, sent the following message to President Lincoln:
To Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States:
In the temporary absence of the Governor of the State, I am requested to send to you the first message which will be transmitted over the wires of the telegraph line which connects the Pacific with the Atlantic States. The people of California desire to congratulate you upon the completion of the great work. They believe that it will be the means of strengthening the attachment which binds both the East and the West to the Union, and they desire in this—the first message across the continent—to express their loyalty to that Union, and their determination to stand by its Government in this its day of trial. They regard that Government with affection, and will adhere to it under all fortunes.10
In The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters, eminent Civil War historian James McPherson describes the profound political, social, economic, and cultural transformations brought about by the Civil War:
In the process of preserving the Union of 1776 while purging it of slavery, the Civil War also transformed it. Before 1861 “United States” was a plural noun: The United States have a republican form of government. Since 1865 “United States” is a singular noun: The United States is a world power. The north went to war to preserve the Union; it ended by creating a nation. . . . The institutions and ideology of a plantation society and a slave system that had dominated half of the country and sought to dominate more went down with a great crash in 1865 and were replaced by the institutions and ideology of free-labor entrepreneurial capitalism. For better or for worse, the flames of Civil War forged the framework of modern America.11
The completion of the transcontinental telegraph reflected another aspect of the fundamental change that was taking place in the American psyche—the shift away from a parochial, regional view to a national outlook. Notably, the successful telegraph project demonstrated that a transcontinental railroad was eminently viable. The New York Herald, in reporting the pending completion of the transcontinental telegraph, somewhat humorously described this profoundly significant event in Civil War America: “The work of the pony express will then be done in a twinkling, and New York and California will be within an easier speaking distance than New York and Cony Island.”12
- Professor Russell’s entire lecture (about 1 hour, 12 minutes) can be heard at the Huntington’s website at https://www.huntington.org/videos-recorded-programs/united-lightning.
- “Samuel Morse: A Better Telegraph” [Who Made America. Innovators.], Public Broadcasting System, accessed September 18, 2021, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/morse_hi.html.
- “Collection: Samuel F. B. Morse Papers at the Library of Congress, 1793-1919,” Library of Congress, accessed September 18, 2021, https://www.loc.gov/collections/samuel-morse-papers/articles-and-essays/timeline/1840-1872/.
- Rebecca Robbins Raines, Getting Message Through: A Branch History of the U. S. Army Signal Corps (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History U.S. Army, 1996), 3-6, 16-31, https://history.army.mil/books/30-17/Front.htm.
- Edmund Russell, “United by Lightening: The Transcontinental Telegraph of 1861” (lecture, Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California, October 2, 2019). [https://www.huntington.org/videos-recorded-programs/united-lightning].
- “First Message over the Pacific Telegraph Line,” Fremont Weekly Journal (Fremont, Ohio) 9, no. 42 (October 25, 1861): 3, https://www.newspapers.com/image/215012007. [Accessed at Newspapers.com, a subscription online newspaper archive.]
- “Some of the First Dispatches,” Daily National Democrat (Marysville, California) 7, no. 64 (October 26, 1861): 3, https://www.newspapers.com/image/608532360. [Accessed at Newspapers.com, a subscription online newspaper archive.]
- James McPherson, The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), Kindle edition, chap. 1.
- “The Pacific Telegraph Line,” New York Herald 26, no. 292 (October 21, 1861): 4, https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030313/1861-10-21/ed-1/?q=new+york+herald+october+21,+1861&sp=4&r=0.018,0.072,0.379,0.161,0. [Accessed at the Library of Congress website.]
Phil Schlegel, Editor
BATTLE OF SOUTH MOUNTAIN
September 14, 1862
On September 4, 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia began crossing the Potomac River into Maryland, thus embarking on a campaign filled with great expectations to improve the military, political, economic, and diplomatic fortunes of the Confederate States of America. Two weeks later the campaign would end in disappointment when, on September 18, Lee’s Army recrossed the Potomac back into Virginia, badly bloodied from the battles at South Mountain and Antietam. Lee’s campaign failed to achieve any of its objectives and the Union victories opened the door for President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.
Lee’s initial plan was to cross the Potomac into Maryland east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, thereby clearing Union forces from northern Virginia. By establishing a significant threat to Baltimore and Washington the U. S. government would have to respond. Lee planned to consolidate his army at Frederick, Maryland, with several goals in mind: to cause Washington to abandon the garrisons at Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry (then Virginia), to threaten Pennsylvania, to secure his lines of communication and supply into the Shenandoah Valley and, conversely, to disrupt and extend Union supply lines for any subsequent operations west of the mountains (presumably in Pennsylvania). It was also hoped that a successful campaign would encourage Maryland, and its people, to throw in with the Confederacy. With those goals in mind, Lee deemed that the first order of business was to secure Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg.1
Simply put, Lee’s reckoning was wrong. Maryland did not rally to the “stars and bars” nor did Washington abandon Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry. As a consequence, Lee was obliged to “dislodge the enemy from those positions.” To accomplish that unanticipated task, he divided his army:
General Longstreet continued the advance to the northwest, toward Hagerstown, thereby covering Lee from the north and threatening Pennsylvania; Generals McLaws, Anderson, and Walker advanced west to envelop and capture Harper’s Ferry; and General Jackson crossed back into Virginia to secure Martinsburg and continue southeast to support the Harper’s Ferry operation. Finally, General Daniel H. Hill was ordered to position his division east of the Potomac River to prevent the escape of the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry (up Pleasant Valley) and to protect the passes across South Mountain, a formidable geographic obstacle that stood between Lee’s army and the Army of the Potomac.2
On September 4, 1862, General George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac left Washington in pursuit of Lee’s army. The Army of the Potomac was divided into three “wings” and advanced northwest toward Frederick. General Ambrose Burnside commanded the right wing (I and IX Corps), General Edwin V. Sumner commanded the center wing (II and XII Corps), General William B. Franklin commanding the left wing (VI Corps, reinforced), and General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps in reserve. Since Lee’s plans were unclear, McClellan established lines of march that considered various contingencies where Lee could turn back east and threaten Baltimore or the capitol. Then, on September 13, McClellan was handed a gift—Lee’s operational blueprint—when two Union soldiers found some cigars wrapped in Lee’s Special Orders 191.3
The story of Special Orders 191* has been well told, but the tactical advantage McClellan had gained was obvious. Not only were Lee’s plans and dispositions more clear (albeit not current), it was evident that a Confederate incursion against Baltimore or Washington was not among the operational objectives of the campaign. With that concern removed, McClellan could operate more freely. But, true to form, McClellan underreacted.4
After a delay of about 16 hours, McClellan belatedly set out to cross South Mountain during the early morning hours of September 14. The bulk of McClellan’s force advanced along the National Road toward Turner’s Gap.
General Burnside’s “right wing,” consisting of General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps and General Jesse L. Reno’s IX Corps, was tasked to secure Turner’s and, slightly further south, Fox’s Gaps. Just west of Middletown, Hooker’s I Corps deployed to the right, just north of the National Road. Reno’s IX Corps deployed to the left, south of the National Road, near Fox’s Gap. Given the terrain in front of them, Hooker and Reno faced a challenging assignment.5
When it became evident that the Army of the Potomac was moving on the passes in force, General Daniel H. Hill reinforced the defenders and Longstreet was ordered to send additional troops in support. The battle commenced during the morning of September 14 when, acting on early-morning reconnaissance provided by General Alfred Pleasanton’s cavalry, Union General Jacob D. Cox’s Division of Reno’s IX Corps attacked the right of the Confederate line near Fox’s Gap. Reno’s troops advanced steadily despite stout resistance, finally driving the defenders back.
Union reinforcements continued to arrive during the afternoon and the Confederate defenders launched several unsuccessful counterattacks but, finding their situation untenable, the Confederate defenders withdrew that night. General Reno was killed late in the day’s fighting and command of IX Corps temporarily fell to General Cox.6
While IX Corps was engaged south of the National Road near Fox’s Gap, General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps arrived at the base of South Mountain and the ridges just north of the National Road, facing Turner’s Gap. Confederate forces held the summit of South Mountain and the surrounding ridges. What the Confederate defenders lacked in numbers was offset by the steep, rough, heavily wooded terrain. On orders from McClellan, Hooker launched his attack during the afternoon. General George G. Meade’s division deployed on the right and General John P. Hatch† deployed his division on the left. Both met stiff resistance and difficult terrain. Meade was first to reach the summit of South Mountain and held it. On the left, Hatch’s hard-fought Union attack was successful as far as it went, but by nightfall they had not cleared the Confederate defenders from their front.7
During the afternoon, on direct orders from General Burnside, General John Gibbon’s brigade had been detached from Hooker’s Division (to Hooker’s chagrin) and remained in close proximity to the National Road. By late afternoon, with Reno and Hooker continuing their advance, Burnside ordered Gibbon’s detached brigade, with artillery support, to attack the Confederate left on and around the National Road itself. Gibbon’s brigade fought well into the evening, steadily pushing the Confederate defenders back.8 During the night of September 14 – 15 the remaining Confederate troops withdrew along the entire front, southwest in the direction of Sharpsburg.
With I and IX Corps locked in combat around Turner’s Gap, the continuing effort to reach Harper’s Ferry, which was surrounded and in serious jeopardy, fell to Union General William Franklin’s VI Corps. McClellan ordered Franklin to “secure and hold” Crampton’s Gap, which crossed the mountains about five miles south of Turner’s and Fox’s Gaps. Infantry and artillery from Confederate General Lafayette McLaw’s and Richard Anderson’s divisions were positioned on the hillsides to defend Crampton’s Gap. General Henry Slocum’s division led the Union assault, which began during the late afternoon. Despite Franklin’s delay in getting his corps into position, Slocum’s infantry, supported by artillery, drove the outnumbered Confederate defenders from their defensive lines and the surrounding woods and, ultimately, off the ridge.9
When the engagements collectively known as the Battle of South Mountain ended well into the night of September 14, 1862, the Confederate defenders had succeeded in delaying the Union advance, but General Robert E. Lee’s original plan was in shambles. The Army of the Potomac had either taken, or was on the verge of taking, the passes crossing South Mountain and the adjacent ridges. The Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry would surrender on the 15th, but Lee’s army remained divided and vulnerable. With the entire campaign in jeopardy, Lee withdrew from the gaps and concentrated the Army of Northern Virginia near Sharpsburg, setting the stage for the Battle of Antietam on September 17.
* The full text of Special Orders 191 (issued September 9, 1862) was published in Official Records, as follows:
The army will resume its march to-morrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson’s command will form the advance, and, after passing Middletown, with such portion as he may select, take the route toward Sharpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point, and, by Friday night, take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, capture such of the enemy as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from Harper’s Ferry.
General Longstreet’s command will pursue the same road as far as Boonsborough, where it will halt with the reserve, supply, and baggage trains of the army.
General McLaws, with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson, will follow General Longstreet. On reaching Middletown he will take the route to Harper’s Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights, and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harper’s Ferry and vicinity.
General Walker, with his division, after accomplishing the object in which he is now engaged, will cross the Potomac at Cheek’s Ford, ascend its right bank to Lovettsville, take possession of Loudoun Heights, if practicable, by Friday morning, Keys’ Ford on his left, and the road between the end of the mountain and the Potomac on his right. He will, as far as practicable, co-operate with General McLaws and General Jackson in intercepting the retreat of the enemy.
General D. H. Hill’s division will form the rear guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordnance, supply trains, &c., will precede General Hill.
General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson, and McLaws, and with the main body of the cavalry will cover the route of the army and bring up all stragglers that may have been left behind.
The commands of Generals Jackson, McLaws, and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body of the army at Boonsborough or Hagerstown.
Each regiment on the march will habitually carry its axes in the regimental ordnance wagons, for use of the men at their encampments to procure wood, &c.
Source: “Special Orders, No. 191.” United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 19, Ch. 31, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887), 42–43, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924079609610&view=1up&seq=58&skin=2021.
† It is notable that Union General John Porter Hatch was severely wounded and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his service at the Battle of South Mountain.
Photo Credit: John P. Hatch, Bv’t.-Maj. General. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-USZ62-113168. (Cropped for presentation.)
- R. E. Lee to General S. Cooper, August 19, 1863, “Capture of Harper’s Ferry and Operations in Maryland.” United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 19, Ch. 31, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887), 144–145, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924079609610&view=1up&seq=3&skin=2021.
- R. E. Lee to General S. Cooper, August 19, 1863, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 144–145. D. H. Hill to Gen. R. H. Chilton, – -, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 1019.
- Geo. B. McClellan to Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, October 15, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 24–26. Perry D. Jamieson and Bradford A. Wineman, The Maryland and Fredericksburg Campaigns: 1862-1863 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2015), 8–16, https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-6/index.html.
- Jamieson and Wineman, Maryland and Fredericksburg, 16.
- A. E. Burnside to Brig. Gen. S. Williams, September 30, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 416–418. United States Military Academy. Department of Military Art and Engineering, Vincent J. Esposito, and Inc Frederick A. Praeger. The West Point Atlas of the Civil War. [New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962] Map 65 – 66. [Retrieved from the Library of Congress.] https://www.loc.gov/item/map62000023/.
- J. D. Cox to Lieutenant-Colonel Richmond, September 20, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 458–460. D. H. Hill to Gen. R. H. Chilton, – -, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 1019.
- Joseph Hooker to Lieut. Col. Lewis Richmond, November 7, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 213–216.
- John Gibbon to Lieutenant-Colonel Richmond, September 20, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 247–248. A. E. Burnside to Brig. Gen. S. Williams, September 30, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 416–418. Geo. B. McClellan to Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, October 15, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 28.
- W. B. Franklin to Brig. Gen. S. Williams, September 30, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 374–376. Geo. B. McClellan to Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, October 15, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 25, 27–28. H. W. Slocum to Lieut. Col. Oliver D. Greene, September 24, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 380–381. R. E. Lee to General S. Cooper, August 19, 1863, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 148. Esposito, West Point Atlas, Map 66(b).
Acknowledgement: While most of this month’s dive into Civil War history was derived from the official reports of the commanders in the field, the general reference was Perry D. Jamieson and Bradford A. Wineman, The Maryland and Fredericksburg Campaigns: 1862-1863 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2015), 5–20, https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-6/index.html. The online commentaries and detailed maps provided by the American Battlefield Trust were also helpful to understanding the profoundly significant, but relatively little-known engagements known collectively as the Battle of South Mountain. Anyone who is interested in developing a deeper understanding of the events of September 14, 1862, is encouraged to visit:
Phil Schlegel, Editor
ROBERT E. LEE OFFERS TO RESIGN AS COMMANDER OF THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA
In July 1863 George G. Meade, the Army of the Potomac’s “old snapping turtle,” had decisively defeated the much-vaunted Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. The jubilation was short lived—Lee and his army managed to escape back to Virginia. Meade chafed at the suggestion President Lincoln was “dissatisfied” with his command of the Army of the Potomac. Meade’s one-sentence request to resign was just as tersely rejected, but tension, recriminations, and intrigue soon followed, quickly becoming fodder for contemporary pundits and historians to this day.1
Perhaps less well known is that in the aftermath of his defeat at Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee offered to resign his command of the Army of Northern Virginia. On August 8, 1863, General Lee sent the following letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis:
Camp Orange, August 8, 1863.
His Excellency JEFFERSON DAVIS,
President of the Confederate States:
MR. PRESIDENT: Your letters of July 28 and August 2 have been received, and I have waited for a leisure hour to reply, but I fear that will never come. I am extremely obliged to you for the attention given to the wants of this army, and the efforts made to supply them. Our absentees are returning, and I hope the earnest and beautiful appeal made to the country in your proclamation may stir up the virtue of the whole people, and that they may see their duty and perform it. Nothing is wanted but that their fortitude should equal their bravery to ensure the success of our cause. We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters. Our people have only to be true and united, to bear manfully the misfortunes incident to war, and all will come right in the end.
I know how prone we are to censure and how ready to blame others for the non-fulfillment of our expectations. This is unbecoming in a generous people, and I grieve to see its expression. The general remedy for the want of success in a military commander is his removal. This is natural, and, in many instances, proper. For, no matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of this troops disaster must sooner or later ensue.
I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army. I have seen and heard of expression of discontent in the public journals at the result of the expedition. I do not know how far this feeling extends in the army. My brother officers have been too kind to report it, and so far the troops have been too generous to exhibit it. It is fair, however, to suppose that it does exist, and success is so necessary to us that nothing should be risked to secure it. I therefore, in all sincerity, request Your Excellency to take measures to supply my place. I do this with the more earnestness because no one is more aware than myself of my inability for the duties of my position. I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire. How can I fulfill the expectations of others? In addition I sensibly feel the growing failure of my bodily strength. I have not yet recovered from the attack I experienced the past spring. I am becoming more and more incapable of exertion, and am thus prevented from making the personal examinations and giving the personal supervision to the operations in the field which I feel to be necessary. I am so dull that in making use of the eyes of others I am frequently misled. Everything, therefore, points to the advantages to be derived from a new commander, and I the more anxiously urge the matter upon Your Excellency from my belief that a younger and abler man than myself can readily be attained. I know that he will have as gallant and brave an army as ever existed to second his efforts, and it would be the happiest day of my life to see at its head a worthy leader—one that would accomplish more than I could perform and all that I have wished. I hope Your Excellency will attribute my request to the true reason, the desire to serve my country, and to do all in my power to insure the success of her righteous cause.
I have no complaints to make of any one but myself. I have received nothing but kindness from those above me, and the most considerate attention from my comrades and companions in arms. To Your Excellency I am specially indebted for uniform kindness and consideration. You have done everything in your power to aid me in the work committed to my charge, without omitting anything to promote the general welfare. I pray that your efforts may at length be crowned with success, and that you may long live to enjoy the thanks of a grateful people.
With sentiments of great esteem, I am, very respectfully and truly, yours,
R. E. LEE, General.2
Despite the failure of Lee’s campaign into Pennsylvania, Davis refused Lee’s offer to resign. Unlike the reproaches thrown at Meade for failing to aggressively pursue and destroy Lee’s army following his victory at Gettysburg, Davis’s confidence in Lee’s ability to command did not waver, even in defeat. In his response to Lee, Davis chose not to reference the defeat at Gettysburg, but instead (curiously, in this context) lamented “our disaster in the west.” He reassuringly recognized Lee’s motivation and commitment, acknowledged and sympathized with Lee’s ongoing health issues and, finally, asserted that there was no more able commander to be found.
August 11, 1863.
General R. E. LEE,
Commanding Army of Northern Virginia:
Yours of 8th instant has been received. I am glad that you concur so entirely with me as to the want of our country in this trying hour, and am happy to add that after the first depression consequent upon our disaster 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 Sidney 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 were about to make. Expressions of discontent in the public journals furnish but little evidence of the sentiment of an army. I wish it were otherwise, even though all the abuse of myself should be accepted as the results of honest observation. I say I wish I could feel that the public journals were not generally partisan nor venal.
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.
I am truly sorry to know that you still feel the effects of the illness you suffered last spring, and can readily understand the embarrassments you experience in using the eyes of others, having been so much accustomed to making your own reconnaissances. Practice will, however, do much to relieve that embarrassment, and the minute knowledge of the country which you have acquired will render you less dependent for topographical information.
But suppose, my dear friend, that I were to admit, with all their implications, the points which you present, where am I to find that new commander who is to possess the greater ability which you believe to be required? I do not doubt the readiness with which you would give way to one who could accomplish all that you have wished, and you will do me the justice to believe that if Providence should kindly offer such a person for our use, I would not hesitate to avail of his services.
My sight is not sufficiently penetrating to discover such hidden merit, if it exists, and I have but used to you the language of sober earnestness when I have impressed upon you the propriety of avoiding all unnecessary exposure to danger, because I felt our country could not bear to lose you. To ask me to substitute you by some one in my judgement more fit to command, or who would possess more of the confidence of the army, or of the reflecting men of the country, is to demand an impossibility.
It only remains for me to hope that you will take all possible care of yourself, that your health and strength may be entirely restored, and that the Lord will preserve you for the important duties devolved upon you in the struggle of our suffering country for the independence which we have engaged in war to maintain.
As ever, very respectfully and truly, yours,
- H. W. Halleck to Major-General Meade, July 14, 1863 and Geo. G. Meade to Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, July 14, 1863. United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 27, Ch. 39, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1889), 92–93, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077699761&view=1up&seq=112&skin=2021.
- R. E. Lee to His Excellency Jefferson Davis, August 8, 1863. United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 51, Ch. 63, Part 2] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1897), 752–753, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924080772241&view=1up&seq=754&skin=2021.
- Jefferson Davis to R. E. Lee, August 11, 1863. United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 29, Ch. 41, Part 2] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890), 639–640, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077728263&view=1up&seq=641&skin=2021.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
EDWIN FORBES AT GETTYSBURG
Before the widespread publication of photos, newsreels, network news, and 24-7 cable news, artists were the eyes of the public in the media. Edwin Forbes (1839-1895) is well known for his Civil War-era sketches of life, and death, at the front. At the time of his death in 1895, Forbes was remembered as a “special war correspondent for Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper during the civil war and was present and witnessed all the principal battles of the campaign, and he supplied original drawings of many exciting engagements to the same paper.” His obituary went on to point out that “the deceased leaves a large and valuable collection of the original sketches made upon the field, many of which have never been published.”1
While well-known for his wartime sketches, Forbes also produced a number of compelling oil paintings, some of which portrayed the Battle of Gettysburg. Many of Forbes’ works, including those shown below, are part of the Morgan collection of Civil War drawings at the Library of Congress. The entire collection can be accessed at the Library of Congress website.
Attack of Johnston’s Div., C.S.A. on the breastworks on Culps Hill defended by Wadsworth’s Div., 1st Corps, and a part of the 12th Corps [under] General Slocum, half past seven P.M., July 2nd / Edwin Forbes. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Morgan collection of Civil War drawings, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-22567.
- “Death of Edwin Forbes,” Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York), March 6, 1895. [Accessed June 8, 2021, at Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/557940948/?terms=edwin%20forbes&match=1. Newspapers.com is an online subscription service.]
Phil Schlegel, Editor
SURRENDER OF MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
Control of the Mississippi River was a critical component of the Union strategy to win the Civil War. To accomplish that formidable goal, naval and ground forces were to move south from Cairo, Illinois, while another fleet of vessels would sail upriver from the Gulf of Mexico, all with their sights on Vicksburg.
Accomplishing the Union’s strategic goal in the northern sector required the assembly of a river fleet. The effort was begun in May 1861 under the direction of John Rodgers, followed in September 1861 by Andrew Foote. River steamers were purchased and refitted as gunboats and support vessels. Ironclad gunboats were built under government contract, augmented with mortar boats and, later, “tinclad” gunboats, and rams. The vessels that made up the rapidly expanding Mississippi River flotilla shared an important operational requirement—shallow draft design.
The Union victories at Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in February 1862 forced the Confederate defenders to abandon Columbus, Kentucky, thus beginning a methodical, though sometimes rocky, Union advance down the Mississippi River. New Madrid fell in March and Island No. 10 was taken in April. Union naval forces then began a weeks-long bombardment of Fort Pillow, culminating in a portion of the Confederate River Defense Fleet making a spirited, but unsuccessful stand against the advancing Union river flotilla. In the face of General Grant’s victory at Shiloh, General Henry Halleck’s occupation of Corinth, and the withdrawal of the River Defense Fleet, Fort Pillow was evacuated on June 4.
By June 6, 1862, Union naval forces stood before the important transportation hub of Memphis, Tennessee. Flag Officer Charles H. Davis was now in command of the Union’s Mississippi River Flotilla. An additional force of seven rams, being stern-wheel or side-wheel steamers refitted and buttressed under the direction of Charles Ellet, joined Davis’s flotilla on the river. Two of the rams would play a critical role in the ensuing battle but, in a stunningly nonsensical command decision, they were allowed to operate independently from F.O. Davis, under the direct control of their engineer advocate, newly-minted Army Colonel Charles Ellet.
The Confederacy’s deteriorating military situation in Tennessee and northern Mississippi effectively rendered the City of Memphis indefensible. Despite that inescapable reality, on the morning of June 6, 1862, eight vessels of the Confederate River Defense Fleet took up positions near Memphis and engaged five of Davis’s gunboats and two of Ellet’s rams. The ensuing battle, which the citizens of Memphis watched from the bluffs above the river, was an unmitigated disaster for the Confederates, with seven of their eight vessels being sunk, captured, or disabled and abandoned. With the Confederate River Defense Fleet destroyed, the City of Memphis surrendered.
Charles R. Bowery Jr., The Civil War in the Western Theater 1862 [CMH Pub 75-7] (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2014), 20–21, https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-7/cmhPub_75-7.pdf.
A.[lfred] T.[hayer] Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883), 20–49, https://archive.org/details/cu31924092908643.
Note: For a more detailed description of the naval battle at Memphis see David D. Porter, The Naval History of the Civil War (New York: Sherman Publishing Company, 1886), 169–173, https://ia800503.us.archive.org/24/items/navalhistoryofci00port/navalhistoryofci00port.pdf.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN BEGINS
THE BATTLE OF RESACA, GEORGIA
On May 7, 1864, Union General William T. Sherman embarked on the campaign to take Atlanta. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was far outnumbered and faced a well-supplied, veteran Union Army. Johnston was convinced the only viable possibility for success was to lure Sherman into precipitously assaulting a strong Confederate defensive position and then to counterattack, thereby compelling a Union withdrawal and facilitating a Confederate advance back into Tennessee. Sherman’s operational plan was entirely different. He intended to force Johnston out of his defensive posture, engage and defeat him in the open. As the Atlanta Campaign commenced, neither general would have their way.1
Sherman’s reports provide detailed insights into the campaign. Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant had assigned Sherman command of the Military Division of the Mississippi in March 1864. Sherman’s command was a formidable army group consisting of General George Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, General James McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, and General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, being approximately 88,188 infantry, 6,149 cavalry, and 4,460 artillery serving 254 guns.
The map shown below, preserved by the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, provides excellent geographic reference points to put the initial phase of the campaign into context. As the campaign opened, Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland was positioned near Ringgold, McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee was positioned near Gordon’s Mills on the Chickamauga River, and Schofield’s Army of the Ohio was positioned near Red Clay, on the Tennessee – Georgia state line.
Johnston’s Army of Tennessee consisted of three corps under Generals John Bell Hood, William J. Hardee, and Leonidas Polk. Sherman estimated their strength to be about 10,000 cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler, and approximately 45,000 – 50,000 infantry and artillery. Johnston’s Confederates were centered around Dalton and deployed along Rocky Face Ridge, an elevated position running north to south and just west of Dalton, Resaca, and Calhoun.
Sherman’s three armies advanced south with the immediate goal “that General McPherson should reach the railway at Resaca, destroy it to Johnston’s rear, and then take up a strong defensive position near the mouth of the gap, and to operate on the flank of the enemy as he retreated.” To accomplish that goal, Sherman ordered Thomas and Schofield to feint against Johnston’s defensive positions toward the north end of Rocky Face Ridge while McPherson advanced on Resaca from the west. Thomas and Schofield vigorously demonstrated to the north, but McPherson failed to vigorously press his attack against Resaca and withdrew to Snake Creek Gap.
Following McPherson’s initial failure to take Resaca, Sherman ordered Thomas (except Howard’s IV Corps which was tasked to “threaten” Dalton) and Schofield to converge on Resaca by way of Snake Creek Gap. By May 12 Sherman’s army group was closing in on Resaca from the north and west. In response, Johnston withdrew from Dalton (with Howard in pursuit) and converged on Resaca.
On May 14 both armies were in position around Resaca. Sherman launched a series of attacks at various points along the Confederate line of defense on May 14 and 15 but, while sharp, these attacks were not conclusive. While Johnston was fending off the Union assaults Sherman deployed a division of infantry south of Resaca, around Johnston’s left flank, at Lay’s Ferry, to “threaten Calhoun.” He also sent a division of cavalry even further south, to cut the railroad between Calhoun and Kingston.2
Johnston mounted a stout defense of Resaca, but Sherman’s foray to the south placed the entire Confederate Army in jeopardy of being cut off and Johnston had little choice but to retreat. The first battle of the Atlanta Campaign was settled. J. Britt McCarley, writing for the U.S. Army Center of Military History, put it well: “Sherman thereby established an operational pattern he would use throughout the campaign. Using the bulk of his army group to fix Johnston’s army in place, Sherman would send a flying column to sever the Confederate supply line, forcing Johnston to choose between fighting a battle in the open or withdrawing to the next strongpoint on the road to Atlanta.”3
- J. Britt McCarley, The Atlanta and Savannah Campaigns: 1864 [CMH Pub 75-13] (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2014), 7–18, https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-13/index.html. Vincent J. Esposito, ed., The West Point Atlas of the Civil War (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962) Map 145 https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3701sm.gcw0097200/?sp=153&r=-0.069,-0.028,1.111,0.471,0.
- “Reports of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, U.S. Army, commanding Military Division of the Mississippi.” W. T. Sherman, Major-General Commanding to Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck [In the Field, Acworth, Ga.], June 8, 1864, and W. T. Sherman, Major-General Commanding to Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, Chief of Staff, Washington, D.C. [Atlanta, Ga.], September 15, 1864, United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 38, Ch. 50, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), 59–65, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077722977&view=1up&seq=3.
- McCarley, Atlanta and Savannah Campaigns, 18.
Note: The American Battlefield Trust website includes excellent information, maps, and statistics concerning the Battle of Resaca. See https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/resaca.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
THE DEATH THROES OF THE CONFEDERACY
THE BATTLE OF SAILOR’S CREEK
When General Lee’s defense of Petersburg collapsed on April 2, 1865, Lee’s plan was to link his army with General Joseph E. Johnston’s army in North Carolina. The challenge was getting there. General Grant’s cavalry and infantry were in pursuit. Lee tried to adjust to the ever-changing tactical realities as they emerged but, ultimately, each move was foiled.
By April 5 Lee’s situation was precarious. Having reached Amelia Court House, the Confederate Army remained starving and exhausted. In a last-ditch effort to resupply and escape, Lee ordered his army to continue the retreat. The Confederate order of march clarifies how the battle unfolded:
Lead: James T. Longstreet [I Corps and Ambrose P. Hill’s (KIA 4/2/1865) III Corps]
Next: Richard Anderson [two divisions only]
Next: Richard S. Ewell [essentially a reserve corps from the former Richmond garrison]
Next: The wagon train
Last: John B. Gordon [II Corps]
His original objective cut off, Lee adjusted his route slightly north and west, with the goal of being resupplied from Lynchburg. Longstreet’s command led the way and, by April 6, was able to reach Rice’s Station. Because Anderson’s Corps (marching behind Longstreet) was forced to defend against Union cavalry attacks, a gap had opened. With the battle unfolding, General Ewell ordered the wagon train to take a different route. The trailing corps (Gordon) followed the wagon train along the revised route. As a result, Ewell, the wagon train, and Gordon were now separated from both Longstreet and Anderson. Succinctly put, it was a recipe for disaster.
Sheridan and Meade quickly exploited their tactical advantage. The Union VI Corps closed on, and turned, the flanks of Ewell’s defensive position west of Sailor’s Creek. Thousands of Confederate troops were captured, including Generals Ewell, Kershaw, and George Washington Custis Lee, Robert E. Lee’s eldest son.
At the same time, three divisions of Union cavalry under Generals George Custer, George Crook, and Thomas Devin attacked Anderson’s position west of Ewell’s, inflicting thousands of casualties. Meanwhile, the Union II Corps and elements of the VI Corps attacked Gordon’s command, which had deployed to defend the wagon train trying to cross Sailor’s Creek. The Union attack cost the Confederate Army hundreds of wagons and even more casualties.1
The 1st Maine Cavalry (Lt. Col. Jonathan P. Cilley, commanding) took an active part in the battles at Sailor’s Creek. During the Appomattox campaign the regiment was assigned to the 3rd Brigade (Brig. Gen. Charles H. Smith, formerly colonel and commander of the 1st Maine), 2nd Division (Maj. Gen. George Crook).
On the morning of April 6, the regiment was screening the Confederate wagon train. The regiment’s initial attack seemed doomed from the start. As the regiment advanced through a wooded area, in what General Smith called a “thicket,” many of their mounts became bogged down in swampy ground. The advance continued before the regiment was fully reassembled when the cavalrymen encountered impassable fencing and brisk enemy fire coming from a line of woods. Now mostly dismounted, the cavalrymen continued the fight as their comrades rejoined the regiment from their ill-fated foray through the swamp. The reassembled regiment charged again, but was turned back by heavy enemy fire and withdrew.2
During the afternoon, the 1st Maine was again screening the Confederate column, but soon deployed for battle, dismounted, opposite General Anderson’s Confederate infantry.3 According to the 1st Maine Cavalry historian Edward Tobie:
The regiment was now behind a triangular piece of woods, the right of the regiment at the small end, and at the right of that was an open field, while but a short distance in front the enemy was posted behind temporary breastworks. The was hardly satisfactorily formed when the command “CHARGE!” rang along the line, and with a hearty cheer the whole line started. The enemy opened a heavy fire and fought bravely, but they failed to check the charging line, and in a moment they were scattering over the hills in confusion and the boys in blue were at their works, over them, and beyond,—still charging, yelling like fiends, wild with excitement, still onward. On and on, for more than a mile, reaching and passing the [wagon] train,—which the rebels had fired when they saw capture was inevitable, to prevent its falling into Federal hands in a serviceable condition,—going beyond the road passing hundreds of the enemy whom they had no time to capture,—leaving that for those to do who had no more exciting work.
Lieut. Poor, who was detailed as adjutant when Adjt. Little was wounded, was wounded while the line was forming for this charge. The result of the day’s fighting, in which it should be said the infantry of the old Sixth corps took a prominent part, was the capture of several general officers, thousands of prisoners, and a large portion of the enemy’s train, which was destroyed,—a glorious day’s work. The losses in the regiment during the day were one officer killed and three wounded, and three men killed, thirteen wounded, and four missing.
After driving the enemy away from their train, scattering them in every direction, the line was halted and marched back towards the starting-point, meeting the led horses on the way. The regiment was then mounted and sent after the retreating enemy, to capture as many as possible. For more than a mile it advanced, over hills and ravines, through woods and fields, finding men and munitions of war in all conceivable hiding-places, till about dark, when the men discovered a barn well filled with corn, and loaded themselves with a couple of feeds, at least, for their horses. Then back to near where they dismounted to enter the fight, and into camp for the night, passing on their way back a force of infantry which had marched up and gone into camp on the road on which General Lee had been trying to escape.4
Again, according to Tobie: “The repulse of the morning was more than balanced by the glorious affair of the afternoon, and with small loss, and all hearts beat high in thinking over what had been done.”5 General Lee surrendered three days later.
- John R. Maass, The Petersburg and Appomattox Campaigns: 1864–1865 [CMH Pub 75-16] (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2015), 53–59, https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-16/index.html. Vincent J. Esposito, ed., The West Point Atlas of the Civil War (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962) Map 144 https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3701sm.gcw0097200/?sp=152&r=0.25,-0.059,0.402,0.17,0. Chris M. Calkins, “Battle of Sailor’s Creek,” HistoryNet.com, accessed March 7, 2021, https://www.historynet.com/battle-of-sailors-creek.htm. [Following the article HistoryNet.com indicates that “This article was written by Chris M. Calkins and originally published in the January 2006 issue of Civil War Times Magazine.”]
- Edward P. Tobie, History of the First Maine Cavalry 1861–1865 (Boston: Emery & Hughes, 1887), 413–416, https://archive.org/details/historyoffirstma00tobie/page/n10. “Report of Bvt. Brig. Gen. Charles H. Smith, First Maine Cavalry, commanding Third Brigade,” United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 46, Ch. 58, Part 1, Section 2] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1894), 1158, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924079575340&view=1up&seq=424.
- Tobie, History First Maine, 417–418.
- Ibid., 418.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
THE WOMEN’S LOYAL NATIONAL LEAGUE
“CUTTING THE GORDIAN KNOT OF THE REBELLION”
Women’s History Month provides an excellent opportunity for the round table to recall the inspiring and sometimes harrowing accounts of the women who contributed to the war effort. Many of these women are now recognized as pioneers, celebrated for providing vital services during that perilous time and for carving the hard-earned path to a more inclusive society for future generations.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were no strangers to social justice issues. They had become, and to this day remain, well known for their pursuit of women’s suffrage. As the nation plunged into Civil War, these women also focused their attention and energy on the struggle to bring about the abolition of slavery. Military conquest, government policy, and executive action significantly advanced the abolitionist cause but, ultimately, only a constitutional amendment could settle the matter.
Toward that end, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were instrumental in forming the Women’s Loyal National League in May 1863: “Seeing the political significance of the war, they urged the emancipation of the slaves as the sure, quick way of cutting the gordian knot of the rebellion. To this end they organized a National League, and rolled up a mammoth petition, urging Congress to so amend the Constitution as to prohibit the existence of slavery in the United States.”1
In March 1863, Anthony and Stanton initiated a widely-circulated call to action—“The call for a meeting of the Loyal Women of the Nation,” to be held in New York in May.2 The sessions were well attended and opened with Stanton exhorting the virtue of freedom and the goal of a “true Republic.”3 Anthony emphasized the need to “aid the Government in the prosecution of this war to the glorious end of freedom.”4 The debates were lively and some disagreement emerged as to whether the issue of women’s rights should be conjoined with the issue of emancipation. At the business meeting, the “Women’s Loyal National League” was formally created. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was elected president, Susan B. Anthony was elected secretary, and the newly-formed league adopted the following resolution:
Resolved, That we, loyal women of the nation, assembled in convention in New York, this 14th day of May, 1863, do hereby pledge ourselves one to another in a Loyal League, to give support to the Government in so far as it makes the war for freedom.5
At an evening session a lengthy letter to President Lincoln was prepared, espousing “sympathy and encouragement,” thanking him for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, but urging more action: “We now ask you to finish the work by declaring that nowhere under our national flag shall the motherhood of any race plead in vain for justice and protection. So long as one slave breathes in this Republic, we drag the chain with him.”6
Perhaps the most consequential accomplishment to emerge from the work of the Women’s Loyal National League was to initiate a massive petition drive exhorting the United States Congress to pass legislation “emancipating all persons of African descent held to involuntary service or labor in the United States.”7 The Constitution guaranteed the right to petition the government and so they did. On May 29, 1863, the league adopted the following ambitious resolution:
Resolved, That for the present this League will concentrate all its efforts upon the single object of procuring to be signed by one million women and upward, and of preparing for presentation to Congress, within the first week of its next session, a petition in the following words, to wit:
“To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States: The undersigned, Women of the United States, above the age of eighteen years, earnestly pray that your honorable body will pass, at the earliest practicable day, an act emancipating all persons of African descent held to involuntary service or labor in the United States.” [Amended June 12 to include petitions for men also].8
The first batch of petitions, bearing about 100,000 signatures, reached the halls of Congress in February 1864. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner presented the petitions, rolled and divided by state, to the Senate on February 9 (Maine signatures numbered 1,225 men, 4,362 women). In a speech on the Senate floor, Sumner characterized the signators as “a mighty army, one hundred thousand strong, without arms or banners; the advance-guard of a yet larger army.” Following Senate protocol, the petitions were referred to the Select Committee on Slavery and Freedman.9
The Women’s Loyal National League proved to be a formidable presence. In the first year their membership grew to about 5,000, they established “auxiliary leagues,” and spread their message by way of speeches and the distribution of tracts. Despite those successes, the goal of gathering one million signatures proved to be overly ambitious. Many refused to sign the petitions, citing the arguments that perpetuated the “peculiar institution” before and during the war, but the league carried on. By May, 265,314 signatures had been presented to Congress, yet emancipation remained an elusive goal. Ultimately, about 400,000 signatures were collected before the effort was suspended when the U.S. House of Representatives finally passed the 13th Amendment on January 31, 1865.10
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony inspired countless women and men to advance the cause of freedom and inclusivity. As a nation, we owe these women, and those who worked and stood with them, a profound debt of gratitude.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 2, 1861 – 1876 (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1882), 50, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101075729069&view=1up&seq=68.
- Ibid., 53.
- Women’s Loyal National League, Proceedings of the meeting of the Loyal Women of the Republic, held in New York, May 14, 1863 (New York: Phair & Co., Printers, 1863),10, https://archive.org/details/proceedingsofmee00wome.
- Ibid., 32.
- Ibid., 33.
- Stanton, History, 79.
- Proceedings, 80.
- Stanton, History, 78–80.
- Ibid., 78–82. The Senate passed the 13th Amendment on April 8, 1864. On December 18, 1865, the Secretary of State verified the ratification of the 13th Amendment by the requisite number of states. See https://guides.loc.gov/13th-amendment/digital-collections.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS
March 4, 1865
Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address has endured as a presidential legacy like few others. It remains a testament to President Lincoln’s vision and depth of conviction.
The complete text of President Lincoln’s memorable Second Inaugural Address (including an audio presentation) is located at the National Park Service Lincoln Memorial website at:
One legacy of Lincoln’s second inaugural address stands out in the U.S. Army’s heraldic narrative. The Civil War was the first conflict for which the United States Army issued a campaign medal. The medal was designed by Francis Davis Millet, a Civil War veteran, noted painter and sculptor of his time. In designing the medal, Millet chose to profile President Lincoln and evoke an enduring phrase from his second inaugural: WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE WITH CHARITY FOR ALL.*
Francis D. Millet designed a number of campaign medals for the War Department and died April 15, 1912, a casualty of the RMS Titanic tragedy.
* “Description of campaign medals and ribbons designed for the War Department by Francis D. Millet.” Courtesy of the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry.
Note: The Joshua L. Chamberlain Civil War Round Table welcomes Edward Achorn’s timely presentation, “Lincoln’s Second Inaugural,” on March 11, 2021.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
NATIONAL AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH
ROBERT BLAKE: FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN NAVY MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT
When the Civil War erupted in 1861 Robert Blake was an enslaved person. Blake escaped enslavement, came aboard the steam gunboat USS Marblehead, and served as a “contraband” which was, as used in that context, a person who had escaped enslavement and reached Union lines.
On December 25, 1863, USS Marblehead was stationed off Legareville, Stono River, South Carolina. Lt. Comr. Richard W. Meade was in command. The action for which Robert Blake was awarded the Medal of Honor was described in an 1898 memorial tribute to Meade, as follows:
From September 12, 1863, until April, 1864, he [then Lt. Cmdr. Meade] commanded the steam gunboat “Marblehead,” South Atlantic blockading fleet (Rear Admiral Dahlgren), and in the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, was stationed in the Stone River on picket duty, performing a multitude of services in connection with the outposts of General George H. Gordon’s division of General Gillmore’s besieging army. The “Marblehead” was attacked at early dawn, December 25, 1863, by a large force of artillery and infantry, off Legareville, on the Stone [Stono] River, under General Del Kemper of General Wise’s division, C.S.A. The enemy having built earthworks on John’s Island, under cover of the trees, opened at dawn a very heavy and accurate fire on the “Marblehead,” hoping either to sink her, capture her (as they had done the United States steamer Isaac Smith the year before), or drive her off; then erect heavier works and drive Gillmore’s transports out of Stone Inlet, thus turning his flank. The “Marblehead” carried six guns and only seventy men, being short of her compliment; moreover, she was partially disabled, one of her boilers being under repairs. The enemy had not less than sixteen pieces of artillery, including two eight-inch guns in the earthworks, and at least 1,000 men in the entire attacking command.
Notwithstanding these formidable odds, at only 800 yards range, the “Marblehead” tenaciously held her own, and the enemy was routed. The steamer “Pawnee” came to the “Marblehead’s” help, and enfiladed the Confederate batteries from the Kiowah River, and the mortar schooner “Williams” came down the Folly River and joined in the action. The battle lasted hotly for two hours, and ended with the total defeat and precipitate flight of the enemy, who abandoned two eight-inch guns, their equipment, the dead which lay in the earthworks, and all their intrenching tools. The “Marblehead” had been struck in the hull thirty times [twenty, by Meade’s own account] and was greatly cut up aloft; she had three killed and six wounded, nearly all within the first fifteen minutes. Captain Meade was slightly wounded in this engagement by an iron splinter from a “bitt” striking his left foot, but refused to go on surgeon’s report, merely wearing a loose shoe for a week. Shortly after the flight of the enemy the captain took the gig, landed, and planted the “Marblehead’s” colors over the enemy’s earthworks, and then reported to Captain Balch, the Division Commander, on the “Pawnee,” that the abandoned guns could surely be brought away.1
In his after-action report to Admiral Dahlgren, Captain Meade applauded the manner in which his gunners performed their duty during the battle. Meade singled out Robert Blake specifically and unequivocally:
Both officers and men of this vessel behaved admirably, and, though the vessel was struck over twenty times and was much cut up aloft, on deck, and in personnel, stood to their guns until the enemy retired discomfited from theirs. . . . Robert Blake, a contraband, excited my admiration by the cool and brave manner in which he served the rifle gun.2
In response to Captain Meade’s report, Admiral Dahlgren advised Meade that Robert Blake “may be rated as seaman.”3
The Medal of Honor citation acknowledged Robert Blake’s gallantry during the action:
On board the U.S. Steam Gunboat Marblehead off Legareville, Stono River, 25 December 1863, in an engagement with the enemy on John’s Island. Serving the rifle gun, Blake, an escaped slave, carried out his duties bravely throughout the engagement, which resulted in the enemy’s abandonment of positions, leaving a caisson and one gun behind.4
Last February (2020) the Civil War service of Sergeant William Carney was highlighted on our “Civil War History” tab. Sergeant Carney, a soldier in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, was the first African American whose gallantry in action was recognized with the Medal of Honor.
Robert Blake was the first African-American sailor to be awarded the Medal of Honor and the first African American to receive the medal. (Carney’s Medal of Honor, and many others, were actually awarded decades after the fact). Since Robert Blake received his Navy Medal of Honor in 1864, it would have been the first type, which is distinctive by its fouled anchor suspension.5
An interesting and informative article concerning the naval service of African Americans during the Civil War appeared in the National Archives and Records Administration’s Prologue Magazine (Fall 2001, Vol. 33, No. 3), which is linked below:
- Wilbur F. Brown, A tribute of respect by Lafayette Post No. 140, Department of New York, Grand Army of the Republic, in memory of Commander Richard Worsam Meade, Rear Admiral (Retired), United States Navy (New York: Privately Published by the Post, 1898), 23–24, https://www.loc.gov/item/18004005/.
- “Report of Lieutenant-Commander Meade, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. S. Marblehead,” United States, Navy Dept., Official Reports of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion [Series I, Vol. 15] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902, 190–191, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924051350944&view=1up&seq=216.
- “Commendatory letter from Rear-Admiral Dahlgren, U. S. Navy, to Lieutenant-Commander Meade, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. S. Marblehead,” United States, Navy Dept., Official Reports of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion [Series I, Vol. 15] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902, 197, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924051350944&view=1up&seq=223.
- “Robert Blake,” Congressional Medal of Honor Society, accessed January 18, 2021, https://www.cmohs.org/recipients/robert-blake.
- “The History of Fort Monroe,” National Park Service, accessed January 18, 2021, https://www.nps.gov/fomr/learn/historyculture/index.htm.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
AN EFFORT TO REINFORCE AND RESUPPLY FORT SUMTER FAILS
The secession of South Carolina on December 20, 1860, placed Major Robert Anderson, the federal officer responsible for defending Charleston Harbor, in an untenable position. Fearing attack by South Carolina state forces, on December 26 Anderson transferred his command from Fort Moultrie, located in a vulnerable position on the north side of the main ship channel, to the more defensible Fort Sumter, located in the channel. In order to prevent the armaments at Fort Moultrie from falling into the hands of hostile state forces, Anderson ordered the remaining artillery spiked, the gun carriages burned, and the destruction of any ammunition that could not be moved. As 1860 transitioned to 1861, South Carolina state forces had seized Fort Moultrie, Castle Pickney, the Charleston Armory, and Fort Johnson, and more batteries were under construction—the federal garrison at Fort Sumter was surrounded.1
President Buchanan’s secessionist leaning, soon-to-be former, Secretary of War John B. Floyd,* initially rebuked Anderson for moving his command to Fort Sumter, presumably because it violated an agreement between the federal government and South Carolina that the status quo would be maintained in Charleston Harbor. Anderson’s response was quick and pointed—the transfer to Fort Sumter was a legitimate military necessity in the face of hostile forces. President Buchanan would not countermand Major Anderson’s move, South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens deemed Anderson’s move to be a provocation, and the sabre rattling continued.2
Despite the escalating crisis, President Buchanan sanctioned an effort to reenforce and resupply the beleaguered Fort Sumter. A merchant vessel, the Star of the West, was selected to undertake the operation for several good reasons: a merchant vessel might provide an element of stealth as to the intent of the mission, well-placed defensive obstructions in Charleston Harbor required a relatively shallow draft vessel, and it was thought that sending a merchant vessel would be less provocative than a warship. According to the National Park Service Fort Sumter National Monument Historical Handbook: “Two hundred men, small arms and ammunition, and several months’ provisions were placed aboard. The men were to remain below deck upon entering Charleston Harbor; the Brooklyn would follow in case the Star of the West [was] fired upon.”3
The relief force began their journey from New York Harbor aboard the Star of the West on January 5, 1861. Arriving off Charleston during the night of January 8–9, it quickly became evident that any hope of stealth had long passed. The relief force commander, Lt. Charles R. Woods, provided a concise summary of their reception at Charleston Harbor:
On Tuesday afternoon, 8th instant, arms and ammunition were issued to all the men. About midnight same evening we arrived off Charleston Harbor, and remained groping in the dark until nearly day, when we discovered the light on Fort Sumter, which told us where we were. The other coast light marking the approaches to the harbor had been extinguished, and the outer buoy marking the channel across the bar gone.
During the night we saw what we supposed to be the light of a steamer cruising off the harbor, but she did not discover us, as our lights were all out. Just before day we discovered a steamer lying off the main ship channel. As soon as they made us out they burned one blue light and two red lights, and, receiving no response from us, immediately steamed up the channel. As soon as we had light enough we crossed the bar, and steamed up the main ship channel. This was on the first of the ebb tide, the steamer ahead of us firing rockets and burning lights as she went up. We proceeded without interruption until we arrived within one and three-quarter miles of Forts Sumter and Moultrie—they being apparently equidistant—when we were opened on by a masked battery near the north end of Morris Island. This battery was about five-eighths of a mile distant from us, and we were keeping as near into it as we could, to avoid the fire of Fort Moultrie. Before we were fired upon we had discovered a red palmetto flag flying, but could see nothing to indicate that there was a battery there.
We went into the harbor with the American ensign hoisted on the flagstaff, and as soon as the first shot was fired a full-sized garrison flag was displayed at our fore, but the one was no more respected than the other. We kept on, still under the fire of the battery, most of the balls passing over us, one just missing the machinery, another striking but a few feet from the rudder, while a ricochet shot struck us in the fore-chains about two feet above the water line, and just below where the man was throwing the lead. The American flag was flying at Fort Sumter, but we saw no flag at Fort Moultrie, and there were no guns fired from either of these fortifications.
Finding it impossible to take my command to Fort Sumter, I was obliged most reluctantly to turn about, and try to make my way out of the harbor before my retreat should be cut off by vessels then in sight, supposed to be the cutter Aiken, coming down the channel in tow of a steamer, with the evident purpose of cutting us off. A brisk fire was kept up on us by the battery as long as we remained within range, but, fortunately, without damage to us, and we succeeded in recrossing the bar in safety, the steamer touching two or three times. Our course was now laid for New York Harbor, and we were followed for some hours by a steamer from Charleston for the purpose of watching us.
During the whole trip downward the troops were kept out of sight whenever a vessel came near enough to us to distinguish them, and the morning we entered the harbor of Charleston they were sent down before daylight, and kept there until after we got out of the harbor again. From the preparations that had been made for us I have every reason to believe the Charlestonians were perfectly aware of our coming. . . .
Capt. John McGowan, commanding the steamer Star of the West, deserves the highest praise for the energy, perseverance, and ability displayed in trying to carry out his orders to put the troops in Fort Sumter. . . .4
The mission to reinforce and resupply Fort Sumter seemed doomed to fail from the beginning. As the Star of the West left New York Harbor the War Department was in the midst of a last-minute effort to reroute the ship to Old Port Comfort, near Fort Monroe, at Hampton Roads, Virginia. Unfortunately, the amended orders arrived too late. An order dispatching the warship U.S.S. Brooklyn from Hampton Roads to Charleston Harbor “with all speed” to support the mission arrived too late to have any effect at all. By the time U.S.S. Brooklyn arrived at Charleston Harbor the resupply mission had already failed and the Star of the West was on her way back to New York. Given the circumstances, U.S.S. Brooklyn “put about” and returned to Hampton Roads.5
Although the events of January 9–10, 1861, did not trigger the Civil War, it had become clear that reconciliation was out of reach. When the rebel guns fired on Star of the West, the die was cast.
* John B. Floyd resigned as Secretary of War on or about December 29, 1860, and went on to became a general in the Confederate Army. Floyd was replaced by Postmaster General Joseph Holt who served on an interim basis until his Senate confirmation on January 18, 1861.
- United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 1, Ch. 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880), 1–4, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077725913&view=1up&seq=17.
- “The National Crisis,” New York Times, January 1, 1861. [This newspaper article was accessed through Newspapers.com, an online subscription service.]
- “Major Anderson Moves Garrison from Moultrie to Sumter” and “The Star of the West,” Fort Sumter National Monument, National Park Service, accessed December 10, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/hh/12/hh12b.htm.
- United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 1, Ch. 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880), 9–10, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077725913&view=1up&seq=25.
- United States, Navy Dept., Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion [Series I, Vol. 4] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896), 219–221, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924051350837&view=1up&seq=255.
For further information:
Phil Schlegel, Editor
SHERMAN TAKES SAVANNAH ENDING THE “MARCH TO THE SEA”
By the middle of December 1864 Union General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” was nearly complete. General Sherman had led an army of about 60,000 veteran soldiers and 5,500 cavalry out of a devastated Atlanta on November 16 and advanced to the southeast, leaving a swath of ruin through central Georgia. The final objective—the city and port of Savannah.
Savannah was well defended, utilizing a combination of geographic obstacles and well-fortified defensive positions. Sherman succinctly outlined the challenges in a report to the Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Henry Hallack:
These [the Confederate lines of defense] followed substantially a swampy creek which empties into the Savannah River about three miles above the city, across to the head of a corresponding stream which empties into the little Ogeechee. These streams were singularly favorable to the enemy as a cover, being very marshy, and bordered by rice fields, which were flooded either by the tide water or by inland ponds, the gates to which were controlled and covered by his heavy artillery. The only approaches to the city were by five narrow causeways—namely, the two railroads, and the Augusta, the Louisville, and the Ogeechee dirt roads—all of which were commanded by heavy ordnance, too strong for us to fight with our light field-guns. To assault an enemy of unknown strength at such a disadvantage appeared to me unwise, especially as I had so successfully brought my army, almost unscathed, so great a distance, and could surely attain the same result by the operation of time. I therefore instructed my army commanders to closely invest the city from the north and west, and to reconnoiter well the ground in their fronts, respectively, whilst I gave my personal attention to opening communications with our fleet, which I knew was waiting for us in Tybee, Wassaw, and Ossabaw Sounds.1
While the noose tightened around Savannah, Sherman had to attend to critical resupply issues which required contact with the navy. Standing between Sherman’s army and resupply by the navy stood Fort McAllister, located just south of Savannah at a bend in the Ogeechee River. The fort was a formidable defensive position, consisting of marshy approaches, IEDs* defending the approaches to the works, deep ditches, abatis, parapets, bombproofs, heavy artillery, and a garrison of about 250 Georgia troops. Brig. Gen. William B. Hazen’s Second Division, XV Corps, was ordered to assault and take the fort.
On the morning of December 13, 1864, General Hazen’s division moved into position in front of the Fort McAllister. At 4:45 p.m. the assault began and for the next fifteen minutes deadly combat ensued:
[The division was in position at] 4.45 p.m., at which time, every officer and man of the nine regiments being instructed what to do, the bugle sounded the forward, and at precisely 5 o’clock the fort was carried. The troops were deployed in one line as thin as possible, the result being that no man in the assault was struck till they came to close quarters. Here the fighting became desperate and deadly. Just outside the works a line of torpedoes had been placed, many of which were exploded by the tread of the troops, blowing many men to atoms, but the line moved on without checking, over, under, and through abatis, ditches, palisading, and parapet, fighting the garrison through the fort to their bomb-proofs, from which they still fought, and only succumbed as each man was overpowered.2
As Generals Sherman and Howard watched from a signal station at a nearby rice mill, soldiers of the 47th Ohio planted the American flag on a parapet of Fort McAllister. The circle was closed—almost. Much to Secretary of War William Stanton’s “sore disappointment,” Confederate General William J. Hardee was able to evacuate his army across the Savannah River into South Carolina, living on to continue the fight. On December 21 the Mayor of Savannah surrendered and the Union Army marched into the city.
Despite Hardee’s escape, the fall of Savannah was a significant strategic victory for the Union. In a much-quoted telegram, General Sherman presented the City of Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift. Lincoln’s response offered a remarkably frank assessment of the March to the Sea. In congratulating Sherman, it was clear that the President was finally comfortable with his senior commanders.
My dear General Sherman: Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift, the capture of Savannah. When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that “nothing risked, nothing gained,” I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went further than to acquiesce. And taking the work of General Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages, but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole—Hood’s army—it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it would be safer if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgements to your whole army, officers and men. Yours, very truly, A. Lincoln3
President Lincoln would have an answer to his question quickly. General Sherman would lead his veteran army north, into the Carolinas.
* A note about Civil War-era IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices. Referred to as “torpedoes,” land and water mines were, and remain, highly controversial weapons of war. The land mines employed during the Civil War consisted of a buried artillery shell or similar device, fitted with a pressure fuse. For follow-up see the National Museum of the United States Army and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History websites, at the following links:
- [Maj. Gen.] W. T. Sherman to Maj. Gen. H. T. Halleck, January 1, 1865, United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 44, Ch. 56] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893), 9–10, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077725939&view=1up&seq=3.
- [Brig. Gen.] W. B. Hazen to Asst. Adj. Gen., Fifteenth Army Corps, January 9, 1865, OR Armies, v. 44, 110.
- A. Lincoln to General Sherman, December 26, 1864, OR Armies, v. 44, 809.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
THE CONFEDERATE PLOT TO BURN NEW YORK CITY
On November 26, 1864, the residents of New York City woke up to find their city had been targeted for destruction, by fire, at the hands of a band of Confederate operatives. The plot that unfolded on the night of November 25 was relatively simple in design: the conspirators would set fires in a number of hotels and public buildings around the city, and at piers on the Hudson River.1
The targeted hotels were located around the city, but principally on Broadway. Using phosphorus (“Greek Fire”) as the means of ignition, the fires were meant to overwhelm the city’s ability to respond, thereby spreading destruction and mayhem. According to the New York Times, “[t]he plan was excellently well conceived, and evidently prepared with great care, and had it been executed with one-half the ability with which it was drawn up, no human power could have saved this city from utter destruction.”2
Newspapers widely reported that twelve hotels were targeted. To carry out the attack the conspirators intended to rent hotel rooms, ignite bedding and furniture, and flee the scene to continue their onslaught or, in some cases, simply escape. The critical flaw in the plan was in its execution—the means to set the fires was too complicated. In every case, the phosphorus either failed to ignite the flammable material or the fires were soon discovered and put out by hotel employees or guests. Authorities in cities around the country had been made aware of the potential for such an attack, perhaps occurring in conjunction with the presidential elections that had been held earlier that month. When the first of the New York City fires was discovered, the city police quickly sent messages to other hotels urging caution.
Another fire was set on a stairway at Barnum’s American Museum but, apparently, it never really got started. The day following the incident, P. T. Barnum published a public notice that there was no damage to the museum. Barnham went on to explain, in considerable detail, various measures that ensured the safety of museum patrons.3
Setting fires at the piers was equally unsuccessful. Two barges laden with hay were set on fire, but were discovered by “Officer Hamilton, of the Fifth Precinct” (present-day Tribeca). The fires were quickly extinguished with little damage done. As was the case at the hotels, evidence of phosphorous was found at the scene.4 The New York City Fire Marshall’s report was telling:
This plot, like many others of a similar audacious character, failed, not from any want of courage on the part of the conspirators, but from miscalculations as to the use of the combustible materials employed. The chemist had done his work sagaciously, but in carrying out the plan a blunder was committed which defeated the anticipated results. In each case the doors and windows of the room were left closed, so that when the phosphorous ignited the fire only smouldered, from the want of the oxygen necessary to give it activity, thus affording an opportunity for its detection before much harm was done.
On the night in question the first alarm came to me from the St. James Hotel, and a second from Barnum’s Museum in a few minutes afterward. I hurried first to the latter building, and there discovered on the upper story the first evidence of phosphorous having been employed. A space of about six feet in circumference, where the liquid had been spread, was charred over. Here I found also the first bottle in which the liquid had been conveyed to the spot. Subsequently, in each of the hotels, I found the same evidence of phosphorous having been used, the bed clothes in several of the apartments being piled up and saturated with it. . . .
. . . The object of the incendiaries in employing this preparation was to combine certainty of results with facilities of escape. They calculated on its acting as a sort of fuse, which would give them the requisite time to make their way out of the building without danger of detection. They were thus enabled to operate against twelve of our leading hotels and several hay barges within a comparatively short space of time on the night in question. They no doubt hoped by the simultaneousness and number of these efforts to produce confusion among the fire companies and so paralyze their exertions. Happily, as I have shown, this fiendish plan was defeated by one of those slight miscalculations which so often interpose to frustrate the designs of evil-minded men.5
On November 26 city hotels were on high alert and several “hotel keepers” offered a $3,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the guilty parties. The military response to the attack was also immediate. On November 26, Maj. Gen. John A. Dix, Commanding General, Department of the East, issued General Orders No. 92 and 93, as follows:
General Orders No. 92: A nefarious attempt was made last night to set fire to the principal hotels and other places of public resort in the city. If this attempt had succeeded, it would have resulted in a frightful sacrifice of property and life. The evidences of extensive combination, and other facts disclosed to-day, show it to have been the work of rebel emissaries and agents. All such persons engaged in secret acts of hostility here can only be regarded as spies, subject to martial law, and to the penalty of death. If they are detected, they will be immediately brought before a court-martial or military commission, and, if convicted, they will be executed without the delay of a single day.
General Orders No. 93: The Major-General Commanding renews the notice given by General Orders No. 80 to all persons from the insurgent States, to register their names at the headquarters of Major-Gen. John J. Peck, second in command in the Department, at No. 37 Bleecker-street, within twenty-four hours after their arrival in this city. If any such person fails to comply with this requirement, he will be regarded as a spy, and treated accordingly.
Keepers of hotels and boarding-houses are requested to send to the same headquarters the names of all persons from the insurgent States taking lodgings with them immediately on the arrival of such persons. It is not doubted that the danger which the city has just escaped will ensure a compliance with this request. If any one fails to comply with it he will be held responsible for any evil consequences which may result from the omission.6
The investigation was supervised by John A. Kennedy, Superintendent of the New York Metropolitan Police and Major General Dix. Immediately after the November 25 incident, authorities detained several people based on previous suspicions, the U.S. – Canada border crossings were provided with descriptions of potential fugitives, and the search was on. It appears that the investigation was conducted with considerable secrecy. The February 5, 1865, edition of the New York Herald provided a lengthy, detailed, and intriguing story describing the subsequent effort to identify the conspirators. The search involved officers from the New York City Police Department, military officers from the Department of the East, and various local law enforcement agencies; lengthy stake outs from border crossings in New York (for example, the Niagara Suspension Bridge) west to Detroit; cross-border undercover assignments involving Confederate sympathizers; numerous clandestine encounters; and the like.7
As a result of this effort, Robert Cobb Kennedy, a captain in the Confederate Army, was tried and convicted for the November 25, 1864, attack. Kennedy was arrested in Detroit and, after several failed attempts to escape and ranting about his southern sympathies, was first returned to the City of New York Police Headquarters and then Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor. Kennedy’s trial, conducted by a military commission, took place in February 1865. Sentenced to death, Kennedy was executed by hanging at Fort Lafayette on March 25, 1865. On March 26 the New York Times published a lengthy story detailing Kennedy’s last days, his final arrangements, the procession to the gallows, the spectators, the military guard, the executioner (being “a Maine deserter, who, for his work, was pardoned his offense”), closing preparations on the scaffold, and the execution itself.8
The day before his execution, Kennedy agreed to dictate a confession to the NYC Chief Detective John Young. It seems that Kennedy finally agreed to make the statement because “it would be gratifying to the officers connected with the affair, and to the court which tried him, if he should make a frank, free statement of the facts connected with the attempted burning of the city.” It also appears that Kennedy’s interview with Chief Detective Young “entirely exonerated” two alleged accomplices, [B. A.] McDonald and Allison, who were jailed in New York. Kennedy apparently responded to Detective Young’s appeal for fairness, “so that certain parties under arrest on suspicion need not be unjustly detained or punished.”9
The events that Kennedy described generally fit the fact pattern that had been uncovered during the investigation, but there were several other interesting revelations. The confession revealed the motive for the attack: “the object of the expedition was to retaliate upon the North for the atrocities of [Union General] Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley.” Contrary to how the attack was characterized in the northern press, Kennedy asserted that “the killing of women and children was the last thing we thought of. We wanted to let the people of the North understand and feel that there are two sides to this war, and that they can’t be rolling in wealth and comfort while we at the South are bearing all the hardships and privations. In retaliation for Sheridan’s atrocities in the Shenandoah we desired to destroy property, not the lives of women and children, although that would of course have followed in the train.”10
A December 17, 1864, Harper’s Weekly illustration entitled “Adjoining Rooms in a Hotel in New York” exemplified northern outrage over the plot to burn New York City.
The story of the failed incendiary attack on New York City is a fascinating tidbit of Civil War history. For those who may want to explore the incident further, there are many contemporary newspaper accounts of the story. You may also want to consider a book by Clint Johnson, A Vast and Fiendish Plot: The Confederate Attack on New York City (New York: Citadel Press, 2010).
- There was much speculation about the number of conspirators. Eight was the number given by Robert Cobb Kennedy in his confession dictated March 24, 1865. “Kennedy’s Execution,” New York Times, March 26, 1865.
- “The Plot,” New York Times, November 27, 1864.
- “The Plot,” New York Times, November 27, 1864. “Attempt to Burn the City,” New York Herald, November 27, 1864.
- “Kennedy’s Execution,” New York Times, March 26, 1865.
- “Attempt to Burn the City,” New York Herald, November 27, 1864. “The Plot,” New York Times, November 27, 1864.
- “The Plot,” New York Herald, February 5, 1865.
- “Kennedy’s Execution,” New York Times, March 26, 1865.
- “Kennedy’s Execution,” New York Times, March 26, 1865. “The Hotel-Burning Plot,” New York Times, February 28, 1865.
[Note: All of the newspaper articles cited above were accessed through Newspapers.com, an online subscription service.]
Phil Schlegel, Editor
Effective October 1, 1862, the Union’s Western Gunboat Fleet, operating on the Mississippi River, was formally transferred from the War Department to the Navy Department, becoming the Mississippi Squadron.1 The overall Union strategy on the Mississippi River was straightforward; land and naval forces would advance north from the Gulf of Mexico and, concurrently, south from Cairo, Illinois, thereby dividing the Confederate States.
Implementation of the Union strategy on the upper Mississippi required the assembly of a river fleet. The entire undertaking was put under the direction of the War Department with naval officers serving in a supporting role, thereby creating serious command and control issues. Noted naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan succinctly outlined the difficulty inherent in the arrangement:
The flotilla being at this time under the War Department, as has been already stated, its officers, each and all, were liable to orders from any army officer of superior rank to them. Without expressing a decided opinion as to the advisability of this arrangement under the circumstances then existing, it was entirely contrary to the established rule by which, when military and naval forces are acting together, the commander of each branch decides what he can or can not do, and is not under the control of the other, whatever the relative rank.2
Navy Commander (later admiral) John Rodgers oversaw the initial procurement of naval assets for the campaign, purchasing three steamers and refitting them into gunboats.
In August 1861 the War Department contracted with James Eads to construct seven shallow-draft gunboats. It would be difficult to overstate the impact of these “City-Class” gunboats during the campaign on the Mississippi and its tributaries. Historian Alfred Mahan again said it well:
They [the gunboats], with the Benton, formed the backbone of the river fleet throughout the war. Other more pretentious, and apparently more formidable, vessels, were built; but from thorough[ly] bad workmanship, or appearing too late on the scene, they bore no proportionate share in the fighting. The eight may be fairly called the ships of the line of battle on the western waters.3
Captain (later Admiral) Andrew H. Foote relieved John Rodgers in September 1861 and the Western Gunboat Fleet steadily grew despite formidable funding difficulties and a lack of experienced officers and crews. In early 1862 combined army and navy operations began in earnest, being engaged at Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, New Madrid, Island No. 10, Fort Pillow, and Pittsburg Landing (Battle of Shiloh), to name a few.
In May of 1862 Captain (later Admiral) Charles H. Davis took command of the Western Gunboat Fleet, directing the naval component of the Union advance toward Vicksburg. Memphis surrendered in June.
Meanwhile, at the end of April Flag Officer Farragut took New Orleans and was ascending the Mississippi River toward Vicksburg. Despite the fact that elements of Admiral Farragut’s squadron were able to successfully run the Vicksburg batteries and join Flag Officer Davis’ Western Gunboat Fleet above Vicksburg in June 1862, the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy,” remained firmly in Confederate hands. Union land and naval forces were compelled to withdraw.
It is in this context that Commander (later Admiral) David Dixon Porter took command of the Navy’s Mississippi Squadron in October 1862. Commander Porter’s promotion was formalized by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles on October 1, 1862, as follows:
Sir: Under the authority of an “Act to promote the efficiency of the Navy,” approved December 21, 1861, section 4, you are selected to command the Mississippi Squadron. You will therefore proceed to Cairo, Ill., by the 12th instant, and report to Acting Rear-Admiral Charles H. Davis, who will transfer command of that squadron to yourself, when you will immediately hoist your flag as acting rear-admiral. This appointment to continue in force while you are in command of that squadron.
On your way to Cairo, the Department desires that you inspect the gunboats building at Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Mound City, and St. Louis.4
It would be left to General Ulysses S. Grant and Flag Officer Porter to take Vicksburg in July 1863, successfully splitting the Confederacy in two.
1 The transfer was authorized by an Act of Congress; Thirty-Seventh Congress, Session II, Chapter 185, An Act transferring the Western Gunboat Fleet from the War to the Navy Department, approved July 16, 1862.
2 A. T. Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883), 20, https://archive.org/details/gulfinlandwaters00maha.
3 Ibid., 15.
4 United States. Naval War Records Office. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion [Series I, Vol. 23] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1910), 388, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924051351017&view=1up&seq=7.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
CONFEDERATE ARMY EVACUATES ATLANTA
On the night of September 1, 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood abandoned the City of Atlanta, ending Union General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. Sherman’s Atlanta campaign had been undertaken as the western component of a two-pronged strategy formulated as newly-minted Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant took command of all Union forces. The strategy was outlined succinctly in a U.S. Army Center for Military History publication as follows:
Sherman travelled with Grant as far as Cincinnati, Ohio. During the trip, the two men devised the Union Army’s grand strategy. In the coming campaigns, all Federal forces would advance as one; the main effort would occur on two fronts. Grant would attack General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which defended Richmond, the Confederate capital. Sherman’s objective was General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, which protected Atlanta, Georgia, the largest manufacturing and transportation center in the Deep South. Grant directed Sherman “to move against Johnston’s army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.” Through unified action, the Federals would prevent the two main Confederate armies from reinforcing each other, as they had done in 1863.1
The evacuation of Atlanta was the culmination of a campaign that began in May 1864 at Chattanooga, Tennessee. After four months of deadly thrusts and parries through Tennessee and Georgia, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s strategy of establishing defensive strongholds and General John B. Hood’s subsequent strategy of attack had failed to halt Sherman’s advance.
In a September 3, 1864, report to General Halleck Sherman outlined the final days of the Atlanta Campaign, closing on a subdued note: “So Atlanta is ours, and fairly won. I will not push much farther on this raid, but in a day or so will move to Atlanta and give my men some rest. Since May 5 we have been in one constant battle or skirmish, and need rest.”2
On September 5, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton transmitted President Lincoln’s thanks and congratulations.
The national thanks are tendered by the President to Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman and the gallant officers and soldiers of his command before Atlanta, for the distinguished ability, courage, and perseverance displayed in the campaign in Georgia, which, under Divine favor, has resulted in the capture of the city of Atlanta. The marches, battles, sieges, and other military operations that have signalized the campaign, must render it famous in the annals of war, and have entitled those who have participated therein to the applause and thanks of the nation. ABRAHAM LINCOLN 3
There are innumerable books, articles, and web-based commentaries that focus on various aspects of the Atlanta campaign, but the detailed examination provided by the National Park Service, History E-Library is particularly worthwhile for further study.
1J. Britt McCarley, The Atlanta and Savannah Campaigns 1864 (Washington, D.C.: Center for Military History, United States Army, 2014), 7–8, https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-13/CMH_Pub_75-13.pdf.
2United States. War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 38, Part 5] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), 777, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924079597013&view=1up&seq=3.
3United States. War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 38, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), 86, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077722977&view=1up&seq=3.
* * * * *
For those readers whose interest includes our equine companions, the following picture and story turned up in the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, Library of Congress. Photographs abound of the war’s well-known generals and their mounts; Grant’s Cincinnati, Lee’s Traveller, Sheridan’s Rienzi, Meade’s Old Baldy, and so forth. Union scout William Spencer and “Charlie” had an important mission at Atlanta—they did it well and were remembered.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
BATTLE OF MOBILE BAY
On August 5, 1864, a Union naval squadron under the direct command of Admiral David G. Farragut attacked the formidable land and naval defenses of Mobile Bay, ultimately closing the port and further tightening the Union blockade. The effort to secure Mobile Bay had been delayed by the Union campaigns around the Gulf and the Red River, but once underway, Admiral Farragut’s aggressive assault on the Confederate defenses was impressive. Mobile Bay was well defended by forts, pile obstructions, and mines (called torpedoes) guarding the approaches and ship channel. In addition to the fixed defenses, a squadron of vessels, most notably the ironclad ram CSS Tennessee, defended the harbor.
Running past Fort Morgan and the minefield that guarded the main ship channel, Farragut’s fleet of four ironclad monitors and fourteen wooden vessels (including Admiral Farragut’s flagship, USS Hartford) steamed into Mobile Bay. Shortly after the battle commenced the lead monitor, USS Tecumseh, struck a mine and sank, but the column advanced past the minefield to engage the CSS Tennessee and the rest of the Confederate squadron. The battle to subdue Tennessee lasted about an hour, ending with her surrender at about 10:00 a.m.
Later that afternoon, USS Chickasaw engaged Fort Powell, an earthen fortification that guarded a shallow channel at the west side of the bay known as Grant’s Pass. Chickasaw engaged the fort from the vulnerable bay side (it was designed to defend an attack from the gulf side), and the Confederate defenders abandoned the fort that evening.
Despite the naval victory, the two forts guarding the main ship channel, Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan, remained a threat. Admiral Farragut turned his attention to subduing the forts and, with the collaboration of Union army forces under General Granger, the forts capitulated on August 8 and 23, respectively.1
A particular point of interest for Maine readers is that one of the ships engaged in the Battle of Mobile Bay was the USS Kennebec, a “90-day gunboat” (or “screw gunboat”), built for the navy at Thomaston, Maine. The U.S. Navy’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships provides an interesting description of Kennebec’s role in the battle:
Kennebec helped blockade the port [of Mobile] during the spring and summer of 1864, tightening the noose around the valuable Southern port. . . . On the morning of 5 August Admiral Farragut was ready to attack Mobile [Bay]. Kennebec was lashed along side Monongahela when the Union ships got underway shortly after 6 A.M. An hour later the guns at Fort Morgan opened fire and Confederate steamers Morgan and Gaines soon joined them. Undaunted Farragut’s ships steamed steadily ahead and answered as they came within range. After an hour of fighting, the South’s ironclad ram Tennessee passed across Monongahela’s bow and struck Kennebec’s bow; glanced off; and fired into the gunboat’s berth deck as she pulled away, wounding four members of Kennebec’s crew but doing little damage to the ship. Kennebec then cast off from Monongahela and steamed up the bay. By mid-morning all major Confederate opposition afloat had been destroyed or captured; and the rest of the day was spent rounding up Southern merchant ships. Kennebec chased several and captured schooner Corina.
On 8 August Fort Gaines surrendered; and Kennebec turned her attention to shelling Fort Morgan until that valiantly-defended southern stronghold surrendered on the 23d. After repairs at Pensacola, Kennebec sailed for the Texas coast 10 March 1865 and remained on blockade there until the Confederacy collapsed.2
A detailed account of Kennebec’s role in the Battle of Mobile Bay, abstracted from the ship’s log, appears in Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Volume 21. Subsequent “detailed reports of casualties” listed Kennebec’s losses as 1 killed, 6 wounded.3
1 A[lfred]. T[hayer]. Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters, The Navy in the Civil War (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883), 218–246, https://archive.org/details/cu31924092908643.
2 Office of Chief of Naval Operations, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1968) 3:618, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015011481200&view=1up&seq=10.
3 Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Vol. 21 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1906), 406–407, 413, 805–806, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924051351009&view=1up&seq=11.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
For the Joshua Chamberlain Civil War Round Table, July 1–3, 1863, is a time to recall our namesake, the service of the 20th Maine Infantry on Little Round Top, and the Maine infantry regiments and batteries that figured prominently in the costly defeat of the vaunted Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg.
The month of July looms large in Civil War history. In addition to Gettysburg, the lexicon of battles is long and brutal—First Bull Run, Malvern Hill, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, Fort Wagner, Atlanta, the Crater, and countless other engagements. In short, July is a particularly poignant time to reflect on Civil War history.
On July 18, 1998, the over 200,000 African Americans who served in the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War were formally recognized as the African American Civil War Memorial was dedicated in Washington D.C. (https://www.nps.gov/afam/learn/historyculture/index.htm) The dedication was planned to coincide with the 135th anniversary of the July 18, 1863, assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, led by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
BATTLE OF KENNESAW MOUNTAIN
The Atlanta Campaign has been accurately described as a campaign of maneuver. The Atlanta and Savannah Campaigns: 1864, a U.S. Army Center for Military History publication, provides a concise summary of Union General William T. Sherman’s strategic thinking, which is critical to understanding the campaign as a whole. Having maneuvered Confederate General Joseph Johnston out of a strong position at Resaca in May 1864:
Sherman thereby established an operational pattern he would use throughout the campaign. Using the bulk of his army group to fix Johnston’s army in place, Sherman would send a flying column to sever the Confederate supply line, forcing Johnston to choose between fighting a battle in the open or withdrawing to the next strongpoint on the road to Atlanta.
Johnston faced an overwhelming Union force. He was able to form a number of strong defensive lines, only to be maneuvered out of position and forced to withdraw toward Atlanta. Sherman’s strategy was working, but by the end of June he had determined to “end the campaign with one decisive battle.” On the morning of June 27, Sherman launched an attack against several fortified positions along Johnston’s “Kennesaw Mountain Line.” The attacks were poorly executed and failed, but it was a pyrrhic victory for Johnston. Sherman reverted back to maneuver, again compelling Johnston to withdraw.
Source: J. Britt McCarley, The Atlanta and Savannah Campaigns: 1864 (Washington D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2014) 18, 29, 38–40, et. al.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
BATTLE OF CHANCELLORSVILLE
May 2020 marks the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville. Often characterized as Robert E. Lee’s finest battle, the stunning Confederate victory was tempered by the loss of his celebrated subordinate, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, mortally wounded by friendly fire on the night of May 2, 1863.
Among the Union casualties of that legendary battle was Major General Hiram G. Berry, a Rockland native, former Colonel of the 4th Maine Infantry, and a rising star in the ever-evolving command structure of the Army of the Potomac. In the evening of May 2, 1863, General Berry’s 2nd Division, Third Corps, had taken up positions on the Plank Road, just west of Chancellorsville, in the effort to stem the tide of Jackson’s route of the Union Eleventh Corps.
On the morning of May 3, 1863, General Berry’s division was positioned west of Chancellorsville, adjacent to the Plank Road. Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, who had taken command of Jackson’s Corps, was determined to press the attack that had crushed the Eleventh Corps during the previous afternoon and evening. As the battle unfolded, General Berry was shot and killed by a Confederate sharpshooter. An 1899 biography of General Berry described the scene:
At daylight, on the morning of the 3d of May, the enemy advanced again on the front line of Berry’s division, . . . General Mott’s brigade of his division was then in position a few rods away across the Plank road. General Berry had the habit, rarely found in a division commander, . . . of communicating orders in person when it was possible to do so. Following out this custom, he told his staff to remain where they were, while he crossed the Plank road to communicate with General Mott. His officers remonstrated and offered to go in his stead, pointing out to Berry that the rebel sharpshooters were posted in the trees and sweeping the Plank road with their unerring rifles. The General replied that he preferred to communicate the order in person and started on his way, crossing the Plank road in safety. Reaching General Mott, they conversed for a short time; then the General started to return. He had gained the Plank road, crossed it, and nearly reached the place where his staff officers were standing, when from the trees in which the North Carolina sharpshooters were posted came a wreath of smoke, followed by the sharp crack of a rifle, and Major-General Hiram G. Berry had fought his last battle. The minie-ball struck him in the arm close to the shoulder, passing downward through his vitals and lodging in his hip. . . . A tremor passed over his body, then calmly, peacefully, at 7:26 o’clock, the heart ceased its throbbing and the warrior was at rest. Thus on that beautiful Sabbath morning, the 3d of May, at the early age of 38, with the embattled lines of his division all about him, perished one of the most promising young generals the Civil War had produced.¹
Brigadier General Joseph B. Carr, who later succeeded General Berry in command of the 2nd Division, described the impact of General Berry’s death in his after-action report:
I cannot describe the vacancy his absence creates, not only in the hearts of his command but in the army with which he has served in so distinguished a manner. He had become endeared to all under him, around him, and to many above, through his honest kindness, amiability, and steady friendship. Gentleness and courage undaunted marked him as commander and leader. Endowed with sound judgement, actuated by a burning patriotism, impelled by a fiery ardor, his military career has appeared a success.²
General Berry’s remains were transported back to Rockland, where he was buried at Achorn Cemetery. The gravesite features an extraordinary statue memorializing General Berry: “This magnificent marble statue of Major-General Berry is the work of [Franklin] Simmons, the celebrated sculptor, and represents the General standing in a martial attitude, gazing into the distance, contemplating as it were the sullen ranks of foemen.”³
¹Edward K. Gould, Major-General Hiram G. Berry: His Career as a Contractor, Bank President, Politician and Major-General of Volunteers in the Civil War (Rockland, ME: Press of the Courier-Gazette, 1899), 264–267, https://ia800301.us.archive.org/19/items/majorgeneralhira00gould/majorgeneralhira00gould.pdf
²United States. War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 25, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1889), 447, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077730244&view=1up&seq=3.
³Gould, Hiram G. Berry, 290.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
— EDITOR’S NOTE —
Research often takes interesting turns. While putting together “Civil War History” for May 2020, it became evident that the sculptor who created the gravesite statue of General Hiram G. Berry was none other than the prominent sculptor Franklin Simmons. Examples of Simmons’ work abound in Maine (for example, the Civil War monument in Lewiston) and in Washington D.C. Most recognizable to Mainers might be Simmons’ Soldiers and Sailors Monument, at Monument Square in Portland, and his rendition of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, at Longfellow Square, also in Portland. Prominent among his Washington D.C. works are the Peace Monument located near the Capitol building, the statue of General John A. Logan at Logan Circle, and a number of pieces of statuary at the Capitol building.
The memorial to General Berry at Achorn Cemetery was one of Simmons’ early works. An April 17, 1868, Lewiston Evening Journal story reported that:
The first recognition the sculptor’s genius received, which gave him confidence in success and a hope that he was not born to starve, was the order to execute a statue for Gen. Berry–received during the latter part of his stay in Portland. He had previously made a small model of plaster, his eye guided only by a photograph, which so pleased Gen. Berry’s friends, that they raised the necessary funds, and in November, 1865, Simmons’ first public statue was erected–indeed the first public statue in Maine–that of the late Hiram G. Berry, at his native city of Rockland.¹
For those who may be interested in exploring Franklin Simmons life and work more thoroughly, an exceptionally interesting article appeared in a June 30, 2019, Lewiston Sun Journal article (Steve Collins, “Franklin Simmons: A forgotten giant of American sculpture got his start in Lewiston”). An internet search will, of course, yield much information. An interesting article (Lilian Whiting, “Franklin Simmons, Sculptor”) appeared in the December 1909 edition of Twentieth Century Magazine, which is available through the Internet Archive at (see page 201): https://archive.org/details/twentiethcentur35unkngoog/page/n217/mode/2up. A paper entitled “Franklin, Simmons, Sculptor,” by Henry S. Burrage, Maine State Historian, read before the Maine Historical Society on March 30, 1922, discussed General Berry’s statue in considerable detail. Henry Burrage’s paper was printed in Maine Historical Memorials, which is available through the Internet Archive at (see page 109): https://archive.org/details/mainehistoricalm00burriala/page/n10/mode/2up. Finally, the website of the Architect of the Capitol (https://www.aoc.gov/) provides superb photos and related information.
¹“Simmons the Sculptor: His departure for Europe―sketch of his artistic career,” Lewiston Evening Journal – 1868-04-17, April 17, 1868, Lewiston, Androscoggin County, ME, USA. (Source: Maine Newspapers, 1861-2008, MyHeritage.com [online database], MyHeritage Ltd., https://records.myheritagelibraryedition.com/research/collection-10622/maine-newspapers-1861-2008.)
ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN
As we approach mid-April in Civil War history, the April 14, 1865, assassination of President Lincoln comes to mind. There are many familiar, iconic images of that national tragedy: the fateful shot, John Wilkes Booth leaping from the balcony, and the scene at the Petersen House where the mortally wounded president would pass into history. The collections of the Library of Congress also include well-known photos of the interior and exterior of Ford’s Theater, the Presidential box, the conspirators, the funeral processions and funeral train.
One photo seemed less familiar–the everyday items found in President Lincoln’s pockets when he was assassinated. A Library of Congress description lists the items as:
“. . . one pair of gold-rimmed spectacles with sliging temples and with one of the bows mended with string; one pair of folding spectacles in a silver case; an ivory pocket knife with silver mounting; a watch fob of gold-bearing quartz, mounted in gold; an oversize white Irish linen handkerchief with ‘A. Lincoln’ embroidered in red cross-stitch; a sleeve button with a gold initial ‘L’ on dark blue enamel; and a brown leather wallet, including a pencil, lined in purple silk with compartments for notes, U.S. currency, and railroad tickets. The wallet held a Confederate five-dollar bill and eight newspaper clippings. The clippings were from papers printed immediately before Lincoln’s death, containing complimentary remarks about him written during his campaign for reelection to the Presidency. The Confederate five-dollar bill may have been acquired as a souvenir when Lincoln visited Petersburg and Richmond earlier in the month.” https://www.loc.gov/resource/lprbscsm.scsm1049/?st=gallery
Phil Schlegel, Editor
Bombardment of Fort Sumter
The month of April saw two momentous, well-known events in Civil War history: the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12–13, 1861, and General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. This being the first April since the launching of the Joshua Chamberlain Round Table website, it seems appropriate to recall the opening military engagement of the Civil War. A montage of photos highlighting the bombardment of Fort Sumter and its aftermath, taken from the collections of the Library of Congress, is presented below.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
THE NAVY’S FIRST HOSPITAL SHIP
The anticipated deployment of the hospital ships USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort in response to the coronavirus pandemic brings the navy’s first hospital ship, Red Rover, to mind. The Red Rover served with the Union’s Western Flotilla between June 1862 and November 1865.
U.S. hospital boat Red Rover – Mississippi River Fleet. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-34030.
The senior staff serving on Red Rover were easily identified, but what about the nurses and other staff? The Naval History and Heritage Command website recounts that on December 26, 1862, nuns from the Catholic Order of the Holy Cross reported to Red Rover, becoming the first female nurses to serve aboard a U.S. Navy ship.
Further exploration revealed a remarkably compelling story of Red Rover, her staff, and crew. Using the ship’s deck logs, medical journals, muster rolls, records from the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, and other primary source materials, the Ships’ History Section, Division of Naval History, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, produced a “History of U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Red Rover” in 1961. This history is available through the Internet Archive and can be accessed through the link below. It is a fascinating story and is well worth reading.
A commentary concerning Red Rover’s service during the Civil War can also be found at the Naval History and Heritage Command website, accessible through the link below.
Phil Schlegel, Editor
USS Red Rover (1862-1865). Moored to a Western Rivers’ shoreline, during the Civil War. Note awning spread over the ship’s foredeck, and bell at the front of her superstructure. NH 49981 courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command.
Ship’s Medical Officers and Paymaster, circa late 1864 or early 1865. Those present are (as numbered on the print): 1. Acting Assistant Surgeon James T. Field, 2. Acting Assistant Paymaster Alexander W. Pearson, 3. George Lawrence, 4. Acting Assistant Surgeon George H. Bixby, 5. Assistant Surgeon James S. Knight, 6. Fleet Surgeon Ninian Pinkney, 7. Assistant Surgeon Michael Bradley. NH 45613 courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command. (Photo lightened.)
USS Red Rover (1862-1865). Line engraving after a drawing by Theodore R. Davis, published in Harper’s Weekly, January-June 1863, page 300, depicting a scene in the ward. NH 59651 courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command.
USS Red Rover (1862-1865). Line engravings published in Harper’s Weekly, January-June 1863, page 300, depicting scene on board the U.S. Navy’s Western Rivers hospital ship during the Civil War. The scene at left, entitled The Sister, shows a nurse attending to a patient. That at right shows a convalescent ward. The middle view is of a lonely grave on the river bank. NH 59652 courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command.
WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
Memorial to the Women of the Civil War, Washington, D.C., ca. 1910–1920. [Now the American Red Cross National Headquarters.] Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, reproduction number LC-DIG-hec-13437. (Cropped.)
As the nation celebrates Women’s History Month, we recall the service of women during the Civil War. Perhaps our most common recollections are the countless women who ably served as nurses, arduously tending to wounded and dying soldiers in hospitals and devastated battlefields. We may also recall the women who risked their security and their lives, operating effectively as spies. The contributions of determined women authors, orators, and activists also motivated and advanced underlying principles that were at stake. The service of women on the home front cannot be easily measured, but their work, individually, collectively, and through organizations like the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission, advanced the nation’s economic and social well-being, and brought extraordinary comfort and relief to soldiers serving in the field.
The recent passing of Rosalind Walter, whose home-front service inspired “Rosie the Riveter” of World War II renown, brings to mind her Civil War predecessors. Wartime industry, the means to wage war, was another critical, but perhaps less heralded, role. In an article excerpted from Hallowed Ground Magazine, the American Battlefield Trust points out the dangerous and tragically deadly consequences many Civil War-era women suffered in this effort.
Passage of a Military Draft
Civil War induction officer with lottery box (ca. 1863). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ds-00292.
“An Act for enrolling and calling out the national Forces, and for other Purposes” (the “Enrollment Act” or military draft) of 1863 was meant to augment the ranks of the Union Army. The act provided certain exemptions, based on age, disability, and dependency considerations. It also included a highly controversial provision allowing a draftee to hire a substitute. The law was administered through “Enrollment Districts” (reflecting congressional districts) and sub-districts. The draft led to widespread discontent, resulting in destructive and deadly rioting in New York City. The Confederacy had passed a similar law in 1862.
Prologue Magazine, a publication of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, published an article concerning the 1863 Enrollment Act in the Winter 1994 edition (Vol. 26, No. 4), which can be accessed at https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1994/winter/civil-war-draft-records.html#U1.
The Library of Congress has a webpage called “The Civil War in America” that includes two segments concerning Civil War conscription, “Avoiding the Draft” and “The Draft Riots.” These short segments can be accessed at https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/civil-war-in-america/december-1862-october-1863.html.
NATIONAL AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH
First African American Army Medal of Honor Recipient
Sergeant William Carney
Sergeant William Carney, Company C, 54th Massachusetts Infantry, received the Medal of Honor for his service at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, as follows:
When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.
Sgt. William Carney photo (ca. 1900) courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-USZ62-118558. (Cropped.)
FOR MORE INFORMATION REGARDING SGT. WILLIAM CARNEY’S MEDAL OF HONOR SEE: https://www.army.mil/article/181896/meet_sgt_william_carney_the_first_african_american_medal_of_honor_recipient
Capture of Forts Henry and Donelson
Capture of Fort Henry by U.S. gun boats under the command of Flag Officer Foote, February 6th 1862. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-pga-03975.
Battle of Fort Donelson. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-pga-08199.
Ground forces under General Ulysses Grant and naval forces under Flag Officer Andrew Foote take Forts Henry and Donelson giving the Union control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.
CSS H.L. Hunley
In an attempt to disrupt the Union blockade of Charleston Harbor (South Carolina) the Confederate submarine CSS H.L. Hunley attacked and sank the USS Housatonic using a “spar torpedo.” The USS Housatonic thus became “the first warship to be lost to a submarine attack,” but it appears that the Hunley was also lost during the action. The Naval History and Heritage Command describes a spar torpedo as “an explosive charge fastened to the end of a spar. This spar was secured to a boat and so rigged that it could be projected forward or abeam and lowered well beyond the waterline of an enemy ship. The charge was exploded on contact or by means of a lanyard.”
Capture of Fort Hindman (Arkansas Post)
Bombardment and capture of Fort Hindman, Arkansas Post, Ark. Jany. 11th 1863. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number, LC-DIG-pga-06199. (Cropped.)
Union ground forces under General John McClernand, supported by a gunboat flotilla under the command of Admiral David Porter, reduced and captured Fort Hindman (also known as Arkansas Post) on the Arkansas River. The capture of Fort Hindman facilitated unharried movement of Union forces operating on the Mississippi River.
Capture of Fort Fisher
Capture of Fort Fisher. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number, LC-DIG-ppmsca-19925. (Lightened.)
Fort Fisher, defending the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, was captured by Union naval and ground forces. The fall of Fort Fisher shut down this vital port of entry and collapsed “the last remaining supply route open to Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.”
Maine-born General and Medal of Honor recipient Adelbert Ames played a significant role in the storming and capture of Fort Fisher. [See “Report of Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division,” The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 46, Part 1 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1894), 415–417, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924079575332&view=1up&seq=437]
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor was authorized by Congress and signed into law on December 21, 1861. The first Medal of Honor was approved for enlisted naval personnel and marines.
Photo cropped from Department of Defense, American Forces Information Service, Armed Forces Decorations and Awards, 1992, 4, https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/NAVMC%202897.pdf. (Photo lightened.)
Battle of Fredericksburg
Currier & Ives. Battle of Fredericksburg, Va. Dec 13th. United States, 1862. [New York: Currier and Ives] Photograph. https://www/loc.gov/item/90709058/. Note: Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-pga-06131.
The Grim Reality
Fredericksburg, Va. Burial of Union soldiers. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-01847.
Battle of Nashville
Union Major General George H. Thomas decisively defeated General John Bell Hood’s Confederate forces at the Battle of Nashville, December 15 – 16, 1864. A U.S. Army Center for Military History publication, American Military History, provides a concise, but compelling interpretation of General Thomas, the battle and its significance:
“Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, belonged to the last bootlace school of soldiering. In comparison with Grant and Sherman, he was slow; but he was also thorough. He had gathered and trained men and horses and was prepared to attack Hood on December 10, but an ice storm the day before made movement impossible. Grant and his superiors in Washington fretted at the delay, and the General in Chief actually started west to remove Thomas. But on December 15 Thomas struck like a sledgehammer in an attack that militarily students have regarded as virtually faultless. Thomas’ tactical plan was a masterly, co-ordinated attack. . . . It [Hood’s Army of Tennessee] no longer existed as an effective fighting force; Hood was relieved of command and his scattered units were assigned to other areas of combat. The decisive battle of Nashville had eliminated one of the two great armies of the Confederacy from a shrinking chessboard.”*
* Office of the Chief of Military History, American Military History (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army: 1989), 275 – 276, https://history.army.mil/books/AMH/AMH-12.htm. [Note: The U.S. Army’s Center for Military History has published American Military History (part of their Army Historical Series), and a significant amount of related materials, online. A search for particular areas of interest at the CMH website https://history.army.mil/index.html is well worth the time.]
General George H. Thomas photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-39801.
Major General George B. McClellan (left) was relieved from command of the Army of the Potomac. He was succeeded by Major General Ambrose Burnside (right).
McClellan photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-41848. Burnside photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-40543. (Both cropped.)
Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, November 19, 1863.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number, LC-DIG-ppmsca-19926.
Abraham Lincoln was reelected President of the United States. The Republican ticket of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson garnered 212 electoral votes and 2,220,846 popular votes defeating the Democratic ticket of George B. McClellan and George H. Pendleton who received 21 electoral votes and 1,809,445 popular votes.
Library of Congress, Virtual Services Digital Reference Section, “Presidential Election of 1864: A Resource Guide,” https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/elections/election1864.html.