CIVIL WAR HISTORY

THE BATTLE OF OLUSTEE

February 20, 1864

Figure 1. “Kurz and Allison Lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee – Olustee Battlefield, Florida.” Courtesy State Library and Archives of Florida.

     It seems that during January and February in Maine much conversation involves the State of Florida in one way or another! Maine’s winter weather may also provide an opportunity for students of the Civil War to catch up on their reading but, that said, it also seems unlikely that the Civil War in Florida is generally a prominent area of study for our readers. Although Florida was on the periphery of the war, it supplied troops to the Confederate Army, was an important source of agricultural products, cattle, salt, and later in the war, African American recruits to the Union Army.

     Florida seceded from the Union at a “Convention of the People of Florida” in January 1861 and, in April, became one of the newly-formed Confederate States of America.1 During the secession crisis Florida state troops had some success seizing federal assets, but they failed to seize important federal garrisons in the Keys and Pensacola (Fort Pickens). In an effort to enforce the Union blockade, in March 1862 federal forces gained a firm foothold on Florida’s Atlantic coast at Fernandia, St. Augustine, and Jacksonville. Federal forces would evacuate and reoccupy Jacksonville several times between March 1862 and February 1864. In January 1864,

Figure 2. General Quincy A. Gillmore. Library of Congress.

Union General Quincy Gillmore, commanding the Department of the South, initiated a plan to re-occupy Jacksonville with the clear intent to move inland from the coast. The goals of the campaign were both military and political, interpreted by the State Library and Archives of Florida as follows:

This time, however, the Federals were determined to hold the city [Jacksonville] and push into the interior. The objectives of the Union campaign were to gain control of agricultural resources (especially cotton, timber, lumber, and turpentine) in East Florida, recruit slaves for service as troops, interrupt the supply of Florida beef cattle to Confederate armies out of state, disrupt the Florida railroad system, and facilitate the restoration of Florida to the Union. The last objective was the result of Florida’s potential as a source of electoral votes in the upcoming presidential election of 1864. If Florida could be restored to the Union before the Republican nominating convention, either President Lincoln, who would be running for reelection, or Secretary of the Treasury William P. Chase, who hoped to secure the Republican nomination himself, could benefit from Florida’s votes.2

Figure 3. “Northern Part of Florida.” Library of Congress. (Note: Red arrows marking points of discussion added by editor.)

Figure 4. General Truman Seymour. Library of Congress.

     On February 5 Gillmore dispatched General Truman A. Seymour to reoccupy Jacksonville and move inland to the railroad junction (Florida R.R. and Florida Atlantic & Gulf Central R.R.) at Baldwin. Over the next several days elements of Seymour’s command probed further west to Sanderson and the South Fork of the St. Mary’s River but, on February 12, Gillmore ordered Seymour to concentrate at Baldwin and establish defensive positions at Jacksonville, Baldwin, and the south fork of the St. Mary’s River. It was Seymour’s subsequent actions—or in Gillmore’s view, Seymour’s misconduct—that set the stage for the Battle of Olustee. Contrary to Gillmore’s instructions, Seymour unilaterally determined to move the bulk of his command even further inland, toward Lake City, a move that would end in a Union debacle.3

     Seymour laid out his intentions in an after-the-fact explanation to Gillmore. Seymour believed that his 5,500 man force, supported by 16 guns, was more than sufficient to accomplish his goal of  “. . . destroying the railroad communication between East and West Florida at the Suwanee River, such being the general plan of operations upon which the occupation and control of East Florida had been founded. . . . My intention was to engage the enemy in front with the artillery, supported by a regiment on either flank, while a brigade should be moved to the right so as to fall upon the prolongation of his [the Confederate] line.”4

Figure 5. General Joseph Finegan. Library of Congress.

     The Battle of Olustee unfolded when Seymour’s troops, apparently unaware that the Confederate defenders under Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan had been reinforced, advanced toward Lake City on February 20. Finegan’s 5,000 Confederates had established an entrenched defensive position at Olustee, across the Florida Atlantic & Gulf Central R.R., south of Ocean Pond. As Seymour’s columns approached from the east, Finegan sent infantry and artillery forward in an attempt to lure the federals into attacking his entrenchments. Finegan’s ruse failed and the two sides became fully engaged about two miles to the east of Olustee Station.

Figure 6. “Sketch of the Battle-Field of Ocean Pond, Fla.: February 20th, 1864.” Library of Congress.

Seymour’s initial attack was poorly coordinated and as the afternoon progressed both sides committed additional reinforcements to the ongoing battle. By late afternoon Seymour was beaten and was forced to withdraw from the field. Colonel James Montgomery’s brigade, consisting of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, U.S.C.T. (of Fort Wagner renown) and the 1st North Carolina Infantry (35th Regiment), U.S.C.T., are widely credited with repulsing a final Confederate counterattack, thereby facilitating Seymour’s successful withdrawal from the field.5 Clearly, Seymour had seriously underestimated his Confederate adversary:

But the disparity in numbers was too great and the defense too obstinate to permit of decisive results. The struggle continued until dusk, and ended with cheers of defiance, and finding it hopeless, under existing circumstances, to advance further, the troops were withdrawn in perfect order to Sanderson and then to the St. Mary’s . . . . From loss of horses alone, I was compelled to leave six guns on the field, and a small portion of the badly wounded were left in the power of the enemy from insufficient means to remove them. The losses had been heavy, particularly among superior officers. . . .6

Figure 7. Battle of Olustee. Courtesy State Library and Archives of Florida.

     Union forces would hold Jacksonville and the St. John’s River line until the end of the war, but operations in the State of Florida remained on the periphery. In a November 1865 “Report of Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, U. S. Army, commanding Department of the South” to the Adjutant General of the Army, General Gillmore took exception to General Seymour’s version of the events that led up to and during the Battle of Olustee. Gillmore’s post-mortem of the Union defeat was scathing:

     In the foregoing report of Brigadier-General Seymour he says he moved forward on February 20—

      With the intention of advancing on Lake City, and, if successful, of destroying the railroad communications between East and West Florida at the Suwannee River, such being the general plan of operations upon which the occupation and control of East Florida had been founded.

     In reference to the above statement I will say that General Seymour was never intrusted, and it was never my intention to intrust him with the execution of any general plan in Florida. I confided to him the objects I had in view in occupying East Florida, and the salient features of the plan by which I proposed to secure those objects. But he was never authorized to advance beyond the South Fork of the St. Mary’s River in my absence. On the contrary, he had plain and explicit instructions with regard to what was expected and required of him, and the ill-judged advance beyond the South Fork of the St. Mary’s River was in direct disregard of those instructions, and the disastrous battle of Olustee its legitimate fruit. General Seymour says, “But the disparity in numbers was too great, and the defense too obstinate to permit of decisive results” at the battle of Olustee. We now know since the close of the war that there was no “disparity in numbers,” and we knew at the time that the “results” were a “decisive” defeat upon the field of battle and the frustration—as well by loss of men as by loss of prestige—of a well and carefully digested plan of campaign. General Finegan, who was in command of the enemy’s forces, told two members of my staff (Capt. D. S. Leslie, One hundred and forth U. S. Colored Troops, and Capt. Henry Seton, Fifty-fourth, New York) that he had only about 5,000 men at that battle. General Seymour had 5,500 men. Our losses were 1,800 men in killed, wounded, and missing, 39 horses, and 6 pieces of artillery. Indeed, our forces appear to have been surprised into fighting, or attempting to fight, an offensive battle, in which the component parts of the command were beaten in detail. The enemy did not fight behind intrenchments or any kind of defenses.7

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NOTES

  1. R. Boyd Murphree, “Florida and the Civil War: A Short History,” Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida, https://www.floridamemory.com/learn/research-tools/guides/civilwarguide/history.php. Florida Senator Stephen R. Mallory (March 4, 1851 – January 21, 1861) served as the Confederate States Secretary of the Navy during the war, https://bioguideretro.congress.gov/Home/MemberDetails?memIndex=M000084.
  2. Murphree, “Florida and the Civil War,” State Library and Archives of Florida. See also Q. A. Gillmore to Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, March 7, 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. 35, Pt. 1, Ch. 47] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), 276-277, 278, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924079618793&view=1up&seq=3. President Lincoln’s January 13, 1864, message to General Gillmore is at page 278.
  3. Gillmore to Halleck, March 7, 1864, United States, War Dept., ORA, V. 35, Pt. 1, 276-277. Seymour to Gillmore, February 17, 1864, ORA, V. 35, Pt. 1, 284.
  4. T. Seymour to Brig. Gen. J. W. Turner, March 25, 1864, ORA, V. 35, Pt. 1, 288.
  5. Murphree, “Florida and the Civil War,” State Library and Archives of Florida. “Olustee (Ocean Pond),” American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/olustee. “10 Facts: The Battle of Olustee,” American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/10-facts-battle-olustee.
  6. T. Seymour to Brig. Gen. J. W. Turner [Chief of Staff], March 25, 1864, ORA, V. 35, Pt. 1, 288-290.
  7. Q. A. Gilmore [Indorsement.], November 1, 1865, ORA, V. 35, Pt. 1, 290-291.

ILLUSTRATIONS

Figure 1. “Kurz and Allison Lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee – Olustee Battlefield, Florida,” Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida, Image Number N046635, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/154548.

Figure 2. Quincy A. Gillmore. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-07354. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 3. “Northern Part of Florida.” Selected Civil War maps: reproduced from originals made by the U.S. Coast Survey, 1861-65. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 4. Truman Seymour, U.S.A. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-07121. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 5. Portrait of Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan, officer of the Confederate Army. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-06278. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 6. “Sketch of the Battle-Field of Ocean Pond, Fla.: February 20th, 1864,” U.S. War Department [Calvin W. Cowles, comp.], Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891-1895), Plate 53, Map 3, https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3701sm.gcw0099000/?sp=78. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 7. Illustration of the Battle of Olustee – Olustee Battlefield, Florida. Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida, Image Number N034712, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/144078. (Cropped for presentation.)

Editor’s note and acknowledgements: In preparing this summary of the Battle of Olustee, particular thanks and appreciation is due to Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida (Florida Department of State, Division of Library & Information Services, State Archives of Florida) for the inspiration and insights provided in R. Boyd Murphree’s website article entitled “Florida and the Civil War: A Short History,” at https://www.floridamemory.com/learn/research-tools/guides/civilwarguide/history.php. As can be seen in the list of illustrations, the State Library and Archives of Florida has also made available free access to a number of pertinent illustrations. As always, special thanks are also directed to the American Battlefield Trust for the insights provided in the web-based articles identified in the endnotes.

Phil Schlegel, Editor

* * * * *

THE MERIDIAN CAMPAIGN

February 1864

     Union General William T. Sherman is perhaps best remembered, and in some circles reviled, for the Atlanta Campaign, the “March to the Sea,” and the subsequent invasion of the Carolinas. Sherman emerged from the Civil War as one of the North’s most revered military leaders. Like general officers on both sides of the conflict, Sherman suffered hard won victories and grievous defeats along the way, but Sherman’s Civil War experience suggests a military evolution that progressed into a resolute determination to destroy the Confederacy itself—to not only defeat the Confederate Army in battle, but to destroy the South’s ability, and it’s will, to continue the war.

Figure 1. General William T. Sherman. (Library of Congress)

     During the winter of 1863-1864 General Sherman, who then commanded the Army of the Tennessee, devised a plan to “clean out” Confederate resistance that continued to threaten navigation on the Mississippi River. Sherman conceived and implemented a focused, fast paced, unencumbered operation—essentially a large-scale raid—into central Mississippi that became known as the Meridian Campaign. The significance of Sherman’s Meridian Campaign is appropriately summarized by the Mississippi Historical Society: “It was on this raid to protect the Mississippi River from Confederate guerillas that Sherman first demonstrated the ability to operate independently deep in enemy territory, far from headquarters. It was on this raid that Sherman pioneered the art of destroying Confederate war-making capability.”1

     Sherman’s primary operational objectives, supported by Generals Halleck and Grant, were two-fold: to destroy the critical railroad junction and supply center at Meridian, Mississippi, and to eliminate the persistent threats posed by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. The single caveat was that he return to Vicksburg in time to support General Nathaniel Banks’ expedition west of the Mississippi River. Sherman’s main infantry component for the campaign consisted of four divisions: two from Stephen A. Hurlbut’s XVI Corps at Memphis and two from

Figure 2. General Stephen A. Hurlbut. (Library of Congress)

Figure 3. General James McPherson. (Library of Congress)

James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps at Vicksburg. An additional and integral component of Sherman’s plan was to dispatch 7,000 cavalrymen, commanded by General William Sooy Smith, to confront General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry, thereby eliminating the ongoing threats against federal garrisons, railroad communications, supply routes, and river commerce. Smith’s calvary expedition would also serve to keep Forrest from disrupting the infantry advance toward Meridian.2

     Sherman’s tactical plan was audacious. He proposed to undertake the mission in the month of February which was, in itself, unconventional. The overall plan was to have the infantry component move due east from Vicksburg toward Meridian while General Smith’s cavalry force was to advance southeast from Memphis, by way of Okolona, toward Meridian. At Okolona Sherman ordered Smith to “disable that road [the Mobile and Ohio Railroad] as much as possible, consume or destroy the resources of the enemy along that [rail]road, break up the connection with Columbus, Miss., and finally reach me at or near Meridian as near the date I have mentioned as possible [February 10].”3

     On February 3, 1864, The infantry component advanced east from Vicksburg in two columns, one under General McPherson and the other under General Hurlbut. General Sherman’s orders reflected his focus on speed  and agility  in conducting the Meridian operation:

     III. The command designated for the field will be lightly equipped—no tents or luggage save what is carried by the officers, men, and horses. Wagons must be reserved for food and ammunition. Cartridge-boxes must be filled full of fresh ammunition, and a hundred rounds extra carried along in wagons or on pack animals. Ten days’ meat and bread and thirty days’ of salt, sugar, and coffee will be carried in wagons; beef-cattle driven along, and pack animals, at the rate of one per company, when practicable, in lieu of wagons.

      IV. Artillery will be cut down one-half, and that double-teamed, and 200 rounds of ammunition for each gun will suffice, but must be carried in caissons belonging to each battery. Artillery carriages must not be loaded down with men and packs, nor must imperfect ammunition be carried along, nor shots wasted at imaginary objects. Chiefs of artillery will see that each box is inspected, and the heavy artillery wagons and forges left at the depots.

      V. The expedition is one of celerity [swiftness, speed, rapidity], and all things must tend to that. Corps commanders and staff officers will see that our movements are not embarrassed by wheeled vehicles improperly loaded. Not a tent will be carried, from the commander-in-chief down. The sick must be left behind, and the surgeons can find houses and sheds for all hospital purposes.4

     Sherman’s orders to General Smith are significant in that they reveal General Sherman’s intentions for the campaign:

I want you with your cavalry to move . . . down near the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, disable that road as much as possible, consume and destroy the resources of the enemy along that road, break up the connection with Columbus, Miss., and finally reach me at or near Meridian as near the date I have mentioned as possible. This will call for great energy of action on your part . . . . I wish you to attack any force of cavalry you meet and follow them southward, but in no event be drawn into the forks of the streams that make up the Yazoo nor over into Alabama. Do not let the enemy draw you into minor affairs, but look solely to the greater object, to destroy his communication from Okolona to Meridian and thence eastward to Selma. From Okolona south you will find abundance of forage collected along the railroad, and the farms have standing corn in the fields. Take liberally of all of these, as well as horses, mules, cattle, &c. As a rule respect dwellings and families as something too sacred to be disturbed by soldiers, but mills, barns, sheds, stables, and such like things use for the benefit and convenience of your command. If convenient, send into Columbus and destroy all the machinery there and the bridge across the Tombigbee, which enables the enemy to draw the resources of the east side of the valley, but this is not of sufficient importance to delay your movement. Try and communicate with me by scouts and spies from the time you reach Pontotoc. Avoid any large force of infantry, leaving them to me. We have talked over this matter so much that the above covers all points not provided for in my published orders of to-day.5

     To prevent a coordinated Confederate response to his incursion into central Mississippi Sherman also initiated several diversionary operations. General Nathaniel Banks executed a diversion against Mobile, Alabama, as did General George Thomas in northern Georgia. In addition, a joint army-navy expedition was to move up the Yazoo River to engage any Confederate forces and seize or destroy enemy property. Sherman’s emergent philosophy was also clear in his preliminary correspondence with navy Lieutenant Commander Elias K. Owen:

I desire to confuse the enemy as to our plans, and know that the appearance of a force up the Yazoo as far as possible will tend to that result. . . . Impress on the people along Yazoo and Sunflower [rivers] that we intend to hold them responsible for all acts of hostility to the river commerce. The planters along the Mississippi have been damaged enough, and it is now their turn to feel that war may reach their doors. If the enemy burns cotton we don’t care. It is their property and not ours, but so long as they have cotton, corn, horses, or anything, we will appropriate it or destroy it so long as their confederates in war act in violence to us and our lawful commerce. They must be active friends or enemies. They cannot be silent or neutral.6

Figure 4. Meridian Campaign Overview. (Center of Military History)

     Assuming that General Smith had left Memphis as ordered on February 1, Sherman and his 10,000-strong infantry component departed Vicksburg in two columns on February 3. Pushing aside light resistance, the two infantry columns joined in Jackson on February 5 – 6. Sherman was in Morton by February 9 and paused to “break” the railroad there. As the expedition advanced, Confederate cavalry harassed the flanks but, as Sherman acknowledged, “they gave us little concern, save in scaring in our stragglers and foraging parties.” Road obstructions and burned bridges did little to slow Sherman’s advance and the expedition entered Meridian during the afternoon of February 14.7

     Despite his rapid advance, upon arriving at Meridian Sherman found that the Confederates had successfully removed the rolling stock and supplies. That was a considerable setback, but for the next six days Sherman’s command laid waste to Meridian and the surrounding areas. In Sherman’s own words:

So I rested the Army on the 15th, and on the 16th began a systematic and thorough destruction of the railroads centering at Meridian. The immense depots, warehouses, and length of sidetrack demonstrated the importance to the enemy of that place. . . . For five days 10,000 men worked hard with a will in that work of destruction, with axes, crowbars, sledges, clawbars, and with fire, and I have no hesitation in pronouncing the work as well done. Meridian, with its depots, store-houses, arsenal, hospitals, offices, hotels, and cantonments [military quarters or camps] no longer exists.” 8

     Sherman’s infantry departed Meridian on February 20, thereby allowing about ten days to return to Vicksburg to coordinate with General Banks regarding operations west of the Mississippi River. But, much to his chagrin, Sherman left Meridian entirely unaware of the location or fate of General Smith’s cavalry.

Figure 5. General William Sooy Smith. (Library of Congress)

     While the infantry component of the Meridian Campaign successfully fulfilled its mission, General William Sooy Smith’s cavalry component failed miserably. To closely coordinate the infantry and cavalry components of the campaign, Sherman had ordered Smith’s cavalry to depart Memphis on or about February 1 and to join Sherman’s main infantry force at Meridian on or about February 10. As a result of delays in assembling his force Smith did not leave Memphis until February 11. Once they finally left Memphis, Smith’s cavalry moved south toward Okolona at an excessively slow pace, caused in part by weather-related issues, but also in the process of destroying Confederate property. Perhaps most egregious of all, when Smith’s federal cavalry finally encountered Forrest’s Confederate cavalry near West Point (Mississippi) he and his cavalry were completely intimidated, and he turned back toward Memphis. The ensuing battles near West Point, Okolona, and Ivy Farm sealed Smith’s fate. Smith’s badly beaten and demoralized command returned to Memphis on February 26. To make matters worse, Smith failed to advise Sherman as to his status (again, contrary to orders) at any time during his failed mission. As a result, Nathan Bedford Forrest remained free to continue to wreak havoc seemingly at will.9 Sherman’s disappointment in Smith’s performance during the Meridian Campaign was palpable in subsequent correspondence and in his memoirs.

     Although Sherman’s expedition from Vicksburg to Meridian undoubtedly disrupted and diminished the Confederacy’s operational capabilities, its impact, from a strictly military perspective, was limited. A U.S. Army Center of Military History publication concludes that:

     For all it’s destructiveness, the Meridian Campaign failed to inflict the kind of long-term damage that Sherman had intended. In addition to rescuing a considerable stockpile of supplies, the Confederates managed to repair the railroads within a month of the raid, and guerrillas continued to harass Federal detachments throughout the region. Worse yet, Forrest’s cavalry remained as dangerous as ever. While Polk had bungled the defense of Meridian, he at least had kept his command intact and ready for more strenuous duty elsewhere.10

     It is evident that the most significant impact of the Meridian Campaign was its impact on the Southern psyche and the ability or the will to sustain the fight against an increasingly dominant federal military. Sherman left Vicksburg with the clear intent  to sustain his army off the Mississippi countryside and that he did. Food and forage along the way was plentiful and the army took full advantage. In addition to destroying rail and support infrastructure, horses and mules were confiscated, and a considerable amount of property was destroyed. The expedition reinforced Sherman’s emergent approach to ending the war—expeditious and unencumbered movement, avoiding superfluous deviation from campaign objectives, the destruction of Southern military and economic infrastructure, and materially demonstrating the futility of continued resistance was both militarily sound and pragmatic. A correspondent from the Chicago Tribune, who appears to have travelled with the expedition, effectively summed it up:

It shows more plainly than anything else that has transpired the real weakness of the Confederacy. Had they the troops to spare from any point, or could they have been raised in any manner, he [Sherman] would not have been allowed to return without serious opposition. It is an eye-opener to the people of Mississippi, and can hardly but convince them that it is useless to protract the war longer. Nearly all with whom we conversed, confessed as much. Regarded in this light the expedition has done a great deal of good.11

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NOTES

  1. Kevin Dougherty, “Sherman’s Meridian Campaign: A Practice Run for the March to the Sea,” April 2007, Mississippi History Now, Mississippi Historical Society, https://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/issue/shermans-meridian-campaign-a-practice-run-for-the-march-to-the-sea.
  2. Derek W. Frisby, Campaigns in Mississippi and Tennessee: February-December 1864 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2014), 10-12, 18, https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-15/CMH_Pub_75-15.pdf. William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Vol. 1, (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1875), 389, 394, https://archive.org/details/memoirsofgeneral00sher.
  3. W. T. Sherman to Brig. Gen. William Sooy Smith, January 27, 1864, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series 1, Vol. 32, Ch. 44, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), 181, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924080787462&view=1up&seq=3.
  4. “Special Field Orders, No. 11,” January 27, 1864, ORA, V. 32, 182.
  5. W. T. Sherman to Brig. Gen. William Sooy Smith, January 27, 1864, ORA, V. 32, 181-182.
  6. Frisby, Campaigns in Mississippi and Tennessee, 11. W. T. Sherman to Lieut. Commander E. K. Owen, January 30, 1864, ORA, V. 32, 184-185.
  7. W. T. Sherman to Brig. Gen. John A. Rawlins, March 7, 1864 [Sherman’s after-action report], ORA, V. 32, 175.
  8. Frisby, Campaigns in Mississippi and Tennessee, 14-15. W. T. Sherman to Brig. Gen. John A. Rawlins, March 7. 1864 [Sherman’s after-action report], ORA, V. 32, 176.
  9. Frisby, Campaigns in Mississippi and Tennessee, 15-18.
  10. Frisby, Campaigns in Mississippi and Tennessee, 19.
  11. “The Great Mississippi Expedition,” Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1864, p. 2. [Accessed through Newspapers.com™, a subscription service.]

ILLUSTRATIONS

Figure 1. Maj. Gen’l W.T. Sherman, U.S.A. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-83786. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 2. Portrait of Maj. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut, officer of the Federal Army [Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries, photographer]. Anthony-Taylor-Rand-Ordway-Eaton Collection and Selected Civil War Photographs. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-05688. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 3. General James McPherson of Aide-de-Camp U.S. Volunteers Infantry Regiment and General Staff U.S. Volunteers Infantry Regiment in uniform. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-40680. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 4. Map 1. Derek W. Frisby, Campaigns in Mississippi and Tennessee: February-December 1864 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2014), 13.

Figure 5. Brigadier General William Sooy Smith of 13th Ohio Infantry Regiment; 1st Division, XVI Army Corps and Military Division of the Mississippi in uniform [Jefferson T. Upson, photographer]. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-83326. (Cropped for presentation.)

Phil Schlegel, Editor

* * * * *

“NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION”

     The well-known saying “necessity is the mother of invention” had a special meaning for James Edward Hanger, a young Confederate enlistee in the Churchville Cavalry. On June 3, 1861, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. But Hanger’s misfortune became, at the same time, a catalyst of hope for many who would follow him to a surgeon’s table during the long war that was to follow and far beyond.

     June 3, 1861, was a calamitous day for James Hanger. Various accounts of his catastrophic wound are quite consistent. According to one short biography: “On June 1, 1861, 18-year-old engineering student James Edward Hanger left his family, forgoing his studies at Washington College (now Washington & Lee University), to join his brothers as a soldier during the early days of the Civil War. On June 3, less than two days after enlisting, a cannonball tore through his leg early in the Battle of Philippi. Becoming the first amputee of the Civil War, the young Hanger survived an excruciating battlefield amputation that was necessary to save his life.”1

     Unwilling to accept the limitations resulting from his wound, Hanger’s engineering prowess emerged. Over several intervening months he devised an artificial limb that incorporated articulating  joints. The American Battlefield Trust describes it this way: “The prosthetic limb that was provided to Hanger by the Confederate Medical Department was awkward and painful. As an engineering student prior to the war, he worked to do something about it. Over the course of a few months, Hanger designed a better artificial limb using oak barrel staves, rubber bumpers, and nails to create a prosthetic limb that was able to bend at the knee and the ankle.”2

     James Hanger’s efforts to mitigate the effects of his catastrophic wound would prove to be a godsend to amputees for generations to come. Again, the American Battlefield Trust summarized the immediate wartime impact as follows:

     With the success of his prototype, James took his “Hanger Limb” and opened up a shop in Staunton, Virginia, with one of his brothers to begin helping fellow Confederate soldiers with more comfortable prosthetic limbs at a more reasonable rate. Just over a year later, Hanger had filed and received a design patent (No. 155) for an “Artificial Leg” through the Confederate Patent office. A second patent was issued a few months later in August 1863. Working from his shop in Staunton, Hanger sent one of his limbs to the headquarters of the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers with the promise to produce ten to fifteen limbs for a reasonable price: $200 for above-the-knee limbs and $150 for below-the-knee styles. By March 1864 Hanger was the leading supplier of artificial limbs to Confederate Veterans through the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers and later through the Commonwealth of Virginia. While J. E. Hanger Artificial Limbs was busy during the Civil War, in the post-war era that business expanded exponentially with the flood of veterans looking to become customers.3

Hanger, J.E. [C.M. Bell, photographer]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-bellcm-15661. (Cropped for presentation.)

     In addition to the two prosthetic patents issued by the Confederate government, Hanger was granted several post-war United States patents, two of which are directly related to the manufacture of prosthetics.4 For those among our readers who are interested, the technical drawings and descriptions of an “Artificial Leg” (patent number 111,741 patented February 14, 1871) and a “Lathe for the Manufacture of Artificial Limbs” (patent number 339,879 patented April 13, 1886), accessed from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, are linked below:

https://image-ppubs.uspto.gov/dirsearch-public/print/downloadPdf/0111741

https://image-ppubs.uspto.gov/dirsearch-public/print/downloadPdf/0339879

     James E. Hanger died on June 15, 1919, at his home in Washington D.C. An obituary indicates that he had passed operational control of the J. E. Hanger Company, Inc., to his six sons in about 1904. It is notable that despite relinquishing operational control of the business, Hanger remained in an “advisory capacity” and his commitment to his company’s founding principles remained active: “He spen[t] 1915 in Europe studying new methods and advanced inventions that were the outcome of surgical experience among the wounded of the war.”5

     The company that James E. Hanger founded during the Civil War thrives to this day. A 2023 Hanger, Inc. corporate website post provides a current overview of the company while recognizing and appreciating the importance of their historical antecedents:

More than 160 years ago, Hanger’s founder, James Edward (J.E.) Hanger, revolutionized the prosthetic industry and paved the way for ground-breaking prosthetic innovations, including the incorporation of microprocessors, carbon fiber, accelerometers, robotics, and advanced socket materials.

J.E. Hanger was forward-thinking, collaborative, and patient-focused, and made history in the way that he transformed himself and transformed the world for the better for all people needing prosthetic solutions. As we look to the future, we continue to honor our history of service and innovation and are committed to our core values of integrity, patient-focused, outcomes, collaboration, and innovation.

Today . . . Hanger, Inc. is a company with $1.1 billion in annual revenue and 5,600 employees collaborating to fulfill a shared purpose of empowering human potential together.6

__________

  1. “The J. E. Hanger Story,” Hanger, Inc., https://corporate.hanger.com/about/our-history/je-hanger-story/.
  2. “The Story of James E. Hanger: Amputee Turned Entrepreneur,” American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/story-james-e-hanger-amputee-turned-entrepreneur.
  3. Ibid.
  4. H. Jackson Knight, Confederate Invention: The Story of the Confederate States Patent Office and Its Inventors (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011), 154, 268 – 269.
  5. “James E. Hanger Dies at His Home,” The Washington Times (Washington, District of Columbia), June 16, 1919, p. 15. [Accessed through Newspapers.com™, a subscription service.]
  6. “Our History,” Hanger, Inc., https://corporate.hanger.com/about/our-history/.

Phil Schlegel, Editor

* * * * *

THE DEATH KNELL OF HOOKER’S CHANCELLORSVILLE CAMPAIGN

THE BATTLE OF SALEM CHURCH

     For the Army of the Potomac General Ambrose Burnside’s January 1863 “Mud March” only added further misery and insult to the devastating defeat it had suffered at Fredericksburg a month earlier. By late January 1863 the armies faced each other across the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg, Burnside was relieved of command, Major General Joseph Hooker had taken command, the Army of the Potomac would be rebuilt and reorganized yet again, and a new plan was being developed to trap and annihilate Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker’s plan was straightforward enough: send his newly-formed cavalry corps to get behind Lee’s army, thereby cutting his supply line and line of retreat toward Richmond; leave two corps (Reynolds’ First and Sedgwick’s Sixth) at Fredericksburg to recross the Rappahannock and move to the Confederate front; march his remaining five corps to the northwest and recross the Rappahannock west of Lee’s position at Fredericksburg; and, finally, crush the Army of Northern Virginia between his five corps to the west and the federals advancing from the east.

     Despite weather-related delays that disrupted General George Stoneman’s cavalry advance against Lee’s supply lines, the Army of the Potomac was put into motion on April 27. At first, the plan was capably executed. To counter Hooker’s flanking march, Lee moved his army west leaving a reinforced division (Jubal Early’s) to face General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps at Fredericksburg (Reynolds was ordered to join the Union main force on May 2). Each army’s moves and counter moves culminated at the critical Virginia crossroads dubbed Chancellorsville. Lee’s bold counter move and a series of ill-advised tactical decisions by Hooker combined to bring the Army of the Potomac to the brink of disaster. By the morning of May 3, Union General

Couch’s Corps forming line of battle in the fields at Chancellorsville to cover the retreat of the Eleventh Corps disgracefully running away [Alfred R. Waud, artist]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-22527. (Cropped for presentation.)

O. O. Howard’s XI Corps was in shambles, Hooker had abandoned a critical, commanding location on the battlefield exposing his command to punishing Confederate artillery barrages, Hooker himself had been knocked unconscious as the result of a well-placed artillery round, and the Army of the Potomac was being pushed back at all points along the battlefront.

     The situation for the Army of the Potomac seemed grim but, in fact, there was hope on the eastern horizon. Hooker’s fallback position north of Chancellorsville was formidable. Moreover, about ten miles to the east at Fredericksburg, Sedgwick gathered his vastly superior force, launched several assaults, and finally overwhelmed Early’s Confederates on Marye’s Heights.

“Capture of the Heights of Fredericksburg by the Sixth Maine Regiment, of Sedgwick’s Corps.” Harper’s Weekly 7, No. 334 (May 23, 1863): 324. Courtesy of HathiTrust https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015022644960&seq=304.

Early retreated to the southeast, leaving Lee’s rear flank vulnerable as Sedgwick moved west toward Chancellorsville.

     To thwart the threat posed by Sedgwick’s advance from the east, Lee was forced to pull McLaws’ Division off the Confederate line and head east, thereby interrupting the advance against Hooker’s main force at Chancellorsville. Initial contact was made about four miles east, near Salem Church, on the afternoon of May 3, but the contest would not be settled until the next day. Convinced that Hooker would remain on the defensive, Lee heavily reinforced McLaws

Map 5. Bradford A. Wineman, The Chancellorsville Campaign: January – May 1863 (Washington, D.C.: United States Army, Center of Military History, 2013), 41, https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-9/CMH_Pub_75-9.pdf. (Cropped for presentation.)

(with Wilcox, who had been in position west of Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock, at Taylor’s Mill); pulled Anderson from the Chancellorsville line; and Early advanced from the south. General Lee took personal command of the Confederate forces near Salem Church.

     For his part, Sedgwick aligned his troops into a horseshoe-shaped line just east of Salem Church, south of the Rappahannock with Scott’s and Bank’s Fords at his back.According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History the battle developed as follows:

Lee deployed around the Union position with McLaws to the west, Anderson to the south, and Early to the east. Getting the three divisions in position for an attack took most of the day, and not until 1700 did Early launch two of his brigades . . . against the Federal left. Early’s troops gained some ground after fierce fighting, but Anderson’s and McLaws’ assaults never achieved any momentum due to difficult terrain, poor communications, and the fading sunlight. Lee fumed over the failure to crush the isolated VI Corps. He intended to finish the job on 5 May, but Sedgwick withdrew across the Rappahannock under cover of darkness.2

     The battle fought near Salem Church on May 4, 1863, was far more than a footnote to the Battle of Chancellorsville. The fact that General Lee took personal command of his troops there emphasizes the magnitude of the threat posed by Sedgwick’s advance from the east. Despite Lee’s disappointment as to how the battle unfolded, he had foiled General Hooker’s grand design for a decisive victory. During the morning hours of May 5 “Fighting Joe” Hooker conceded defeat and, to the chagrin of several of his corps commanders (Meade, Reynolds, and Howard), withdrew back across the Rappahannock. The Chancellorsville Campaign was over.

___________

  1. Bradford A. Wineman, The Chancellorsville Campaign: January – May 1863 (Washington, D.C.: United States Army, Center of Military History, 2013), 8 42, https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-9/CMH_Pub_75-9.pdf.
  2. Wineman, The Chancellorsville Campaign, 42.

Editor’s note and acknowledgement: This summary of the Battle of Salem Church was derived primarily from two sources: Bradford A. Wineman, The Chancellorsville Campaign: January – May 1863 (Washington, D.C.: United States Army, Center of Military History, 2013) and the maps and commentary found in 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] Maps 88 – 91. https://www.loc.gov/item/map62000023/. Courtesy Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The 6th Maine’s assault on Marye’s Heights (Harper’s Weekly illustration, shown above) and their subsequent action at Salem Church, is described in Charles A. Clark, Campaigning with the Sixth Maine (Des Moines, IA: Kenyon Press, 1897), 31 – 42. [A paper read before the Iowa Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.] Clark’s paper is available through the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/campainsixthma00clarrich/mode/2up.

Phil Schlegel, Editor

Salem Church. Photo courtesy Mike Bell.

* * * * *

DEDICATION OF MAINE’S MONUMENTS AT GETTYSBURG

ERECTED BY THE STATE OF MAINE ON THE BATTLEFIELD OF GETTYSBURG

OCTOBER 3, 1889

     By all accounts October 3, 1889, was a beautiful fall day at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On that day, hundreds of Maine veterans, from privates to major generals, were again on the battlefield. It was reported that many veterans recounted the moments that had been etched in their memories, but it is likely that others simply pondered, in quiet reflection, the life-altering events that had occurred there more than twenty-six years earlier. What brought the Mainers to Gettysburg on that occasion was the formal dedication of the monuments erected by the State of Maine saluting Maine’s contributions and sacrifice during what was arguably the Civil War’s preeminent battle.

     Following a national salute fired at 9:00 a.m. from Cemetery Hill, much of the day was dedicated to an “inspection of the Maine Monuments by the Governor of Maine [Edwin C. Burleigh], the Maine Gettysburg Commissioners, accompanied by the Hon. Hannibal Hamlin and other members of the Maine party. Regimental reunions and dedicatory exercises at the different Monuments on the visit of the carriage party.”1 In a lengthy special supplement to the October 9, 1889, edition, the Portland Daily Press reported extensively on the events of the day. The Portland Daily Press supplement included detailed descriptions of many of the monuments, regimental histories, and the text of several addresses by regimental officers. According to the newspaper: “The Maine party, to the number of two or three hundred, started out by carriages very early this morning to visit the Maine Monuments. Governor Burleigh and General Charles Hamlin rode in the first carriage, members of the staff followed, and then came Hon. Hannibal Hamlin, Major S. W. Thaxter, General Seldon Connor, members of the Commission, Colonels of Maine regiments, and other veterans and visitors.”2 The delegation visited many of the Maine monuments including those of the Second Maine [Hall’s] Battery; the Sixteenth Maine Infantry; a marker on Seminary Ridge that identified the location of the Fifth Maine [Stevens’] Battery on the first day of the battle; the First Maine Cavalry [several miles out of town on the Hanover Road]; the Third Maine Infantry; the Seventeenth Maine Infantry; and the Fourth Maine Infantry.3

     After a stop for lunch, the delegation visited the Twentieth Maine Infantry monument on Little Round Top where “the survivors of that regiment are to hold their reunion there, and at their

Chamberlain and 20th Maine, Gettysburg reunion, 1889. Courtesy Maine Historical Society. [Gen. Chamberlain is seated, right of center, with a prominent white mustache, to the immediate left of the tattered flag. The monument is located at the upper left of the photo.]

other position on Round Top proper. . . . . Mayor [of Portland, Maine] H. S. Melcher, as president of the Twentieth Maine, called the assembled veterans and friends together on Little Round top first, who there listened to a long and critically prepared article on the battle on this spot, written by Howard L. Prince, of Washington, D. C., a veteran of the regiment.”4 Following Prince’s address, General Chamberlain recounted the fight for Little Round Top from his perspective.

20th Maine Infantry Monument, Little Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park. Courtesy U. S. National Park Service, Civil War Heritage Digital Collection.

The text of General Chamberlain’s remarks at the monument can be accessed at:

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/chamberlains-address-20th-maine-monument-gettysburg

     The delegation then proceeded to a second Twentieth Maine Infantry monument located on Big Round Top. Most of us are probably familiar with the 20th Maine monument located on Little Round Top, but the other 20th Maine monument is perhaps less familiar. Lieutenant Samuel L. Miller gave an address there, after which General Chamberlain again addressed the gathering.

20th Maine Monument, Big Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park. Courtesy Jason Martz, Gettysburg National Military Park & Eisenhower National Historic Site.

20th Maine Monument, Big Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park. [In proximity to 119th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers Monument]. Courtesy Jason Martz, Gettysburg National Military Park & Eisenhower National Historic Site.

     The tour of the Maine monuments then continued to the monuments memorializing the Sixth Maine Infantry; the Fifth Maine Infantry; Dow’s Battery; the Nineteenth Maine Infantry; the Fifth Maine [Stevens’] Battery; and the Seventh Maine Infantry. The Portland Daily Press supplement noted that components of the Tenth Maine Battalion made up the headquarters guard [actually as Provost Guard, Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum’s XII Corps] during the battle and that the Maine component of Berdan’s Sharpshooters [2nd Brigade, 1st Division, III Corps] had also been memorialized. Unfortunately, despite traversing “thirty or forty miles” during the day, the delegation was not able to visit all the Maine monuments.5

     The formal dedication exercises were held on the evening of October 3 at the Adams County Courthouse. Our round table’s namesake, General Joshua Chamberlain served as “president of the day” and was first to address the audience. After a prayer by 20th Maine veteran Rev. Theodore Gerrish, General Charles Hamlin gave a short address, thereby fulfilling the ceremonial duty of presenting the monuments from the Maine Gettysburg Commission to the Governor of Maine. In a subsequent short address, Maine Governor Edwin Burleigh presented the Maine monuments to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, which were in turn accepted by Major John M. Krauth, representing Pennsylvania Governor James Beaver. The final oration was given by General and former Maine Governor Seldon Connor, followed by a prayer and benediction by Rev. G. R. Palmer, formerly of the 19th Maine Infantry Regiment.6

__________

  1. Executive Committee, Maine at Gettysburg: Report of Maine Commissioners (Portland, ME: Lakeside Press, 1898), 545, https://archive.org/details/maineatgettysbur01main.
  2. “Maine at Gettysburg,” Portland Daily Press, October 9, 1889 – Supplement, 5. (Accessed from Newspapers.com, a subscription service.)
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “Maine at Gettysburg,” Portland Daily Press, October 9, 1889 – Supplement, 5 – 6. The bracketed clarifications were derived from “Organization of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, U. S. Army Commanding, at the battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863;” United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series 1, Vol. 27, Ch. 39, Pt. 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1889), 155-168, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077699761&view=1up&seq=175.
  6. Maine Commissioners, Maine at Gettysburg, 545 – 581.

Editor’s note and acknowledgements: As you can see from the endnotes, this summary of the dedication of the Maine monuments on October 3, 1889, was drawn from Maine Commissioners, Maine at Gettysburg: Report of Maine Commissioners (Portland, ME: Lakeside Press, 1898) and “Maine at Gettysburg,” an October 9, 1889, supplement to the Portland Daily Press. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies and various reports of the Maine Adjutant General were utilized for fact checking. Maine at Gettysburg  is an invaluable resource, which includes photos of the monuments. The dedication of the Maine monuments was widely publicized in the media. I am particularly grateful to Jason Martz, Communications Specialist, Gettysburg National Military Park & Eisenhower National Historic Site, who provided a series of photos of the 20th Maine Monument located on Big Round Top.

Phil Schlegel, Editor

* * * * *

     Welcome to the 2023 – 2024 Chamberlain CWRT program season! Our website evolved from the previous First Call newsletter and was rolled out in November 2019. Since then, we’ve continued to consider many of the battles and the soldiers who fought them, but we have also endeavored to touch on subjects that impacted the day-to-day lives of people living in a nation at war. Among them have been the draft, the issuance of paper money and various coinage, the implementation of a national income tax, the Homestead Act, rapidly expanding telegraph services, inventions, medical innovations, journalists and artists, home front activities, the frontline and hospital service of nurses, and various aspects of the U.S. Sanitary and Christian Commissions.

CIVIL WAR POSTAL SERVICE

Figure 1. A mail wagon leaving headquarters.

     While considering topics for the “Civil War History” feature of our website for the 2023 – 2024 season, I came across an article published by the United States Postal Service entitled “Mail

Figure 2. Montgomery Blair, U.S. Postmaster General.

Service and the Civil War.” It is a fascinating story of the significance of postal activities that provides a brief description of Union and Confederate postal practices, letters crossing enemy lines, postal rates, the use of postage stamps as currency, and related subjects.

     The USPS article is copied below, highlighted in blue, for your enjoyment and edification. To augment the commentary of the USPS article, I have taken the liberty of collecting and embedding illustrations of some of the subjects that the [unnamed] author discusses in the article. I hope that you enjoy the USPS article and the added illustrations as much as I enjoyed putting it together!

Mail Service and the Civil War

(Text as published in about.usps.com.)

 

Figure 3. U.S. Mail Wagon.

Mail was a treasured link between Civil War camps and battlefields and “back home.” Recognizing its importance to morale, the armies assigned personnel to collect, distribute, and deliver soldiers’ mail; wagons and tents served as traveling Post Offices. Some soldiers wrote home weekly; some seemed to spend all their free time writing. A letter from home could be tucked into a pocket close to a soldier’s heart, to be read and re-read in moments of loneliness. Many soldiers carried letters in their pockets, to be forwarded to loved ones if they were killed in action.

The U.S. Post Office Department introduced several improvements during the war which made it easier to send and receive mail. Since soldiers sometimes had trouble acquiring postage stamps.

Figure 4. Example of “Soldier’s Letter.”

If they did get them, they had trouble keeping the gummed bits of paper from congealing into sodden lumps. Soldiers were allowed to mail letters without stamps beginning in July 1861 by writing “Soldier’s Letter” on the envelope; postage was collected from the recipient. In July 1863, postage rates were simplified and in some cases lowered when distance-based letter rate categories were eliminated and all letters given the lowest rate. That same month, free home delivery of mail was introduced in the nation’s largest cities. And in November 1864 the money order system began, making it safer for soldiers and citizens to send money through the mail.

Figure 5. John H. Reagan, Postmaster General, CSA.

The Confederacy established its own Post Office Department in February 1861, two months before the start of the war, with former U.S. Congressman John Henninger Reagan appointed Postmaster General in March. Reagan sent job offers to southern men in the Post Office Department in Washington; many accepted and brought along their expertise, as well as copies of postal reports, forms in use, postal maps, and other supplies. Prior to the war the cost of mail service in the South was more than three times its revenue. By raising postage rates, reducing service, and practicing strict economy, Reagan made the Confederate Post Office Department self-sustaining by the end of 1863. But blockades and the invading Northern army, as well as a scarcity of postage stamps, severely hampered operations.

Figure 6. Example of Confederate five-cent postage stamp.

Figure 7. Example of Confederate ten-cent postage stamp.

Figure 8. Example of Confederate patriotic envelope with ten-cent stamp.

Figure 9. Example of Confederate patriotic envelope, without postage stamp, marked “paid.”

The United States banned the exchange of mail between citizens of the North and South in August 1861, although smugglers often carried mail illegally across the lines. Prisoner-of-war mail was exchanged between North and South at designated points under a flag-of-truce. Citizens could also send letters via the flag-of-truce system, although like prisoners’ mail, their letters were read by censors and rejected if the contents were objectionable.

Stamps and the Civil War

In 1861, the cost of mailing a half-ounce letter up to 3,000 miles by the U.S. Post Office Department was 3 cents (77 cents in 2011 dollars). On June 1, 1861, the Confederate Post Office began charging 5 cents ($1.30 in 2011 dollars) for mailing half-ounce letters up to 500 miles.

To prevent the fraudulent use of the large quantity of U.S. postage stamps held by postmasters in the seceded states, the U.S. Post Office Department redesigned its postage stamps soon after it suspended mail service to the South. The newly designed stamps were distributed to postmasters and customers beginning in August 1861, in exchange for the old ones. Initially Postmasters were instructed to give customers six days following notification in which to exchange old stamps for new ones, after which time the old ones were demonetized (rendered valueless). But the time limit was stretched in some cases to accommodate customers. In New York City, citizens were given about six weeks to exchange their postage stamps.

Figure 10. Example of U.S. patriotic envelope featuring 34-star flag.

Figure 11. Example of U.S. patriotic envelope featuring a naval theme.

Figure 12. Example of U.S. patriotic envelope featuring General Grant.

Figure 13. Example of U.S. patriotic envelope featuring Zouaves.

Figure 14. Example of U.S. patriotic envelope featuring Mississippi River gunboat.

Figure 15. Example of hospital “soldier’s letter.”

As the war progressed, coins, which were more highly valued than paper money, gradually disappeared from the marketplace. By the summer of 1862, the lack of coinage posed a serious hardship to trade. Merchants began issuing their own promissory notes, called “shinplasters,” and many people began using postage stamps as small change. Unfortunately, shinplasters were often redeemable only where received, and stamps were liable to crumple and clump together.

A law of July 17, 1862, authorized the use of postage stamps as currency, and beginning in August 1862 the Treasury Department issued special “postage currency” — reproductions of postage stamps on larger, thicker, ungummed pieces of paper, in denominations of 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents. Due to coin shortages the Treasury Department continued issuing paper notes representing fractions of a dollar through 1876, although beginning in October 1863 they were called “fractional currency” and did not feature reproductions of stamps.1

     Examples of Civil War-era mail abound. Whether letters were sent on their way in plain envelopes, homemade envelopes, or in envelopes adorned with graphics, it was the contents of those envelopes that touched the lives of the recipients at home, in camp, on the march, at the battlefront, at sea, or in the hospital. In addition, the business of the country continued on with the often unsung work of the postal service. In closing, I was left to wonder if Sergeant James Reid ever received his letter. The sender thought Sergeant Reid was in Washington, D.C. but, like so many soldiers before and since the Civil War, he really could have been anywhere! Hopefully, the postal service was able to sort it out.

Figure 16. Letter addressed to Sergeant James Reid, thought to be in Washington, D.C., “Or Elsewhere.”

NOTES

  1. United States Postal Service, “Mail Service and the Civil War,” https://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2012/pr12_civil-war-mail-history.pdf

ILLUSTRATIONS

Figure 1. Army Mail leaving Hd.Qts. Post Office. Army Potomac. Alfred R. Waud Artist, ca. March 1863. Morgan collection of Civil War drawings (Library of Congress). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-21422.

Figure 2. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair. Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries, photographer. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-79544. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 3. Mail wagon of 2d Army Corps. Anthony-Taylor-Rand-Ordway-Eaton Collection and Selected Civil War Photographs. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-34235. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 4. Civil War envelope [“Soldiers Letter”]. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-34624.

Figure 5. Portrait of Postmaster-general John H. Re[a]gan, officer of the Confederate States Government. Anthony-Taylor-Rand-Ordway-Eaton Collection and Selected Civil War Photographs. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-06039. (Cropped for presentation.)

Figure 6. Envelope addressed to Genl. Henry A. Wise, Roanoke Island, N. Carolina. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-33547.

Figure 7. Envelope addressed to Brig. Gen. Taliaferro, Commanding Forces on James Island, Charleston, S.C.; postmarked Charleston, S.C. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-33543.

Figure 8. Civil War envelope showing Confederate stars and bars flag over cannon with patriotic verse. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-64825.

Figure 9. Civil War envelope showing Confederate stars and bars flag flying over tent. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-64827.

Figure 10. Civil War envelope showing 34-star American flag. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-31962.

Figure 11. Civil War envelope showing eagle holding American flags above naval instruments. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-34710.

Figure 12. Civil War envelope showing portrait of Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-31702.

Figure 13. Civil War envelope showing three Zouave soldiers with rifles, swords, and an American flag. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-52008.

Figure 14. Civil War envelope showing flotilla of gunboats engaged in battle on the Mississippi River at Fort Wright, Tennessee. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-31961.

Figure 15. Civil War envelope with message “Soldier’s letter” from Cuyler U.S. Army Hospital, Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, signed by L. Ward Smith, Hospital Chaplain. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-31716.

Figure 16. Civil War envelope showing Columbia with American flag and sword. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-31720.

Figure 17. Danl Webster army mail boat on James river. Alfred R. Waud, artist. Morgan collection of Civil War drawings (Library of Congress). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-21221.

Phil Schlegel, Editor

 

Figure 17. Army mail boat Daniel Webster.

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