Taps

Something for the weekend.  The mournful tones of Taps, the song written by Union general Daniel Butterfield,  first sounded at the conclusion of the Seven Days on July 1, 1862.  It is a fitting memorial to the Americans, wearing blue or gray, who died in those seven days 150 years ago. (more…)

Published in: on June 30, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off  
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June 30, 1862: Battles of Frazier’s Farm and White Oak Swamp

As June 3oth dawned the Union army was in full retreat to the James.  By noon, one-third of the Army of the Potomac had reached the James, while the other two-thirds was strung out on roads leading to the James between Glendale and White Oak Swamp.  This presented a tempting target to General Lee.  Ordering Jackson in the north to cross White Oak Creek and press the Union rear guard, the remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia, some 45,000 men, would attack two miles southwest at Glendale, and inflict what Lee hoped would be a crushing defeat on the Union forces marching to the James.  It was a good plan that fell down almost completely in execution.

Jackson, with that strange lethargy that marred all his operations in the Seven Days, spent all of the day north of White Oak Creek, launching feeble assaults which were easily repulsed by the Union VI Corp under General William Franklin.

The Confederate attack at Glendale fared little better.  Huger’s division failed to participate in the offensive,  slowed by felled trees and the failure of Huger to take an alternative route.  Holmes and Magruder launched a weak attack against the V Corps of General Fitz John Porter, the attack being broken up by Union artillery fire, supplemented by naval bombardment.

At 4:00 PM the divisions of Longstreet and A.P. Hill attacked at Glendale with the fighting centering on Frazier’s Farm, held by the Pennyslvania Reserves division of the V Corps under General George McCall.  Hard fighting continued until 8:30 PM.  The Union line held, and the Union army continued its retreat to Malvern Hill on the James.  The battle resulted in similar casualties for both sides:  Confederate 3,673 and Union 3, 797.  A golden opportunity to do severe damage to the Union army had been missed due to the poor execution which was a hallmark of the inexperienced Confederate command structure during the Seven Days.  Here is General Lee’s report written on March 6, 1863: (more…)

June 29, 1862: Battle of Savage’s Station

On June 29, 1862, the bulk of the Army of the Potomac had gathered at Savage’s Station, a supply depot on the James River, preparing to pass over the White Oak Swamp.  Lee had again devised a complex plan of attack that his green army would have difficulty carrying out.  AP Hill’s and Longstreet’s division were ordered east towards Richmond and then southeast to take the Glendale crossroads, eliminating the possibility that they could participate in the attack on Savage’s Station. Holmes’ division was sent even farther south towards Malvern Hill.  Left for an attack on Savage’s Station was Magruder’s division to attack from the west and Jackson’s three divisions north of the Chickahominy above Savage’s Station.

Magruder attacked at 9:00 AM in a skirmish.  His main attack was not launched until 5:00 PM, Magruder realizing he was heavily outnumbered, 14,000 to 26,000.  Jackson did not attack, spending his time repairing bridges over the Chickahominy, and confused by a badly garbled order from Lee that caused him to think that he was ordered to stay north of the Chickahominy.  The battle was a bloody stalemate, with about 1500 casualties.  The Union army continued to retreat abandoning 2500 wounded in Savage’s Station.  Jackson got across the Chickahominy at 2;30 AM on June 30, far to late to participate in the battle or prevent the retreat of the Union army.  It is hard to believe that the Jackson who performed so ineptly in the Seven Days was the same man who had performed so brilliantly in the Valley just a few weeks before.

Here is General Lee’s report on the battle of Savage’s Station which was written on March 6, 1863: (more…)

Published in: on June 29, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off  
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June 28, 1862: McClellan Orders Retreat to Harrison’s Landing

After the Confederate victory at Gaines Mill on June 27, General McClellan, the commander of the Army of the Potomac completely lost his nerve.  Certain that he was massively outnumbered by the Confederate’s, he ordered the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac from its positions in front of Richmond to Harrison’s Landing on the James River.  McClellan did not direct this retreat, abandoning the army while he went to a position south of Malvern Hill.  He gave no marching orders for the corps under his command, leaving it to his corps commanders to do so.  Massive mountains of supplies and ordinance were set on fire, and the Union wounded were abandoned after the retreat following the battle of Savage’s Station.  Few episodes have been as shameful in the history of the United States Army, and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of McClellan.  Instead of acting as the commander of an Army, McClellan was busily attempting to shift the blame for the debacle his inept generalship had created: (more…)

Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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June 27, 1862: Battle of Gaines Mill

Continuing on with our look at the Confederate offensive of the Seven Days, we come to the battle of Gaines Mill.  After the battle of Mechanicsville, Lee assembled a Confederate attack force of six divisions, 57,000 men, for the largest Confederate attack of the War, aimed at Porter’s V Corps, McClellan neither sending sufficient units from south of the Chickahominy to reinforce Porter, nor attacking against the weak Confederate forces holding Richmond, McClellan paralyzed by his belief that he was massively outnumbered both north and south of the Chickahominy.

McClellan’s order for Porter to withdraw came just before dawn on the 27th.  Numerous men in Brigadier General McCall’s division were captured by the Confederates due to the precipitate retreat necessary to comply with the order.  Porter picked out a good defensive position on a plateau behind Boatswain’s Swamp to make his stand.   He placed two divisions on the line and two divisions in reserve.

The battle began at 1:00 PM with a series of unsuccessful frontal assaults.  Jackson on the Confederate left was late again and not in position to attack until the general assault of 7:00 PM.  By this time the outnumbered Union troops were weary and the Union line crumpled up, Porter withdrawing in good order to the bridges over the Chickahominy, his corps crossing to the south side at 4:00 AM on June 28.  The battle was a clear-cut Confederate victory, although their casualties of 7,933 were slightly greater than the Union casualties of 6, 833.  The victory could have been greater if Jackson had been in position by 1:00 PM.  A retreat by Porter with eight hours of daylight could easily have ended in the destruction of Porter’s Corps.  As it was, McClellan was completely unnerved by the Confederate victory, and ordered a full retreat of his entire army from Richmond, which Lee and his army had saved.

Here is General Lee’s report on the Battle of Gaines Mill and its aftermath which was written on March 6, 1863: (more…)

Published in: on June 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm  Comments Off  
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June 26, 1862: Battle of Mechanicsville

The Battle of Mechanicsville, also known as the battle of Beaver Dam Creek. which opened the Confederate offensive of the Seven Days on June 26, 1862 was a tactical fiasco and defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia and a strategic defeat for the Army of the Potomac.

Lee’s plan to attack Porter’s V Corps, the only corps of the Army of the Potomac north of the Chickahominy, defeat it and turn the right flank of the Army of the Potomac went badly awry in execution.  Beginning the poor performance that would plague him throughout the Seven Days, Jackson was four hours late in attacking the north flank of Porter’s corps.  Instead, AP Hill attacked with his division  in futile and bloody frontal assaults which were easily repulsed by Porter.  After Jackson’s arrival, he bivouacked his men, although the sounds of a major attack were clear.  AP Hill renewed his attacks, reinforced by DH. Hill’s brigade, although Lee had ordered no more attacks and was again bloodily repulsed.  Confederate casualties were 1461 with Union casualties half this number.  So a humiliating tactical defeat for the Confederates marked by an inept inability on the part of Lee to put forward a coordinated attack.

However, McClellan turned this day of Confederate defeat into one of victory.  Assuming, as he always did, that he was heavily outnumbered, and fearing that Jackson was positioned to march into his rear and cut off his supply lines, McClellan ordered Porter to retreat, and decided to abandon his supply line which relied upon the rail line north of the Chickahominy, the York and Richmond Railroad, and to rely upon a supply line by water up the James River.  This decision meant that he was going to have to withdraw from his positions in front of Richmond and retreat down the Peninsula.  Few defeats have reaped such rich rewards as Mechanicsville did for the Confederacy.  Here is General Lee’s report on the battle of Mechanicsville which was written on March 6, 1863: (more…)

Rewriting Jefferson

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a link to David Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. It’s almost like my friend, knowing my academic interest in Thomas Jefferson, cast some bait in my direction. And two months later, I took it.

I can honestly say that I went into it with an open mind. Even if Barton misinterpreted Jefferson, maybe he would do so in at least a semi-convincing way. After all, it’s possible for individuals to have high opinions of Thomas Jefferson without being historical hacks. I have tremendous respect for David Mayer, for example, and his opinion of Jefferson is completely different than mine.

Sadly, my low expectations were met. (more…)

Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 10:10 pm  Comments Off  

June 25, 1862: The Seven Days Begin

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

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

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

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

Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  

Fortnight For Freedom Day 4: John Carroll, Bishop and Patriot

(Part of a two week series on American freedom that I am running at The American Catholic.  I thought this post the History mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy.)

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church.

Pope Leo XIII on John Carroll, first Bishop in the United States

Beginning for two weeks, up to Independence Day, the Bishops are having a Fortnight For Freedom:

On April 12, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a document, “Our First,  Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the bishops’ concerns over threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad. The bishops called for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4.

Bishops in their own dioceses are encouraged to arrange special events to  highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. Catholic  institutions are encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation  with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths and all who wish to  defend our most cherished freedom.

The fourteen days from June  21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to  July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for  freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face  of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,  St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the  Church of Rome.  Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our  Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that  would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for  religious liberty.

We here at The American Catholic will be participating in the Fortnight For Freedom with special blog posts on each day.  This is the fourth of these blog posts.

From the beginning of our Republic, American Catholics were at the forefront of the battle to free America from British rule and to enshrine a committment to liberty in our founding documents.  The remarkable Carroll family of Maryland was at the head of this effort by American Catholics.  Charles Carroll of Carrollton signed the Declaration of Independence.  His cousin Daniel Carroll signed both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.  Daniel Carroll’s younger brother John Carroll, was the first bishop in the United States of America.

Born on January 8, 1735 in Maryland, he went abroad to study in Flanders and France, joined the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest in 1769.  With the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, he returned to his native Maryland as a missionary priest.  A patriot, he served on a diplomatic mission to Canada for the Continental Congress in 1776.  During the War he continued his efforts as a missionary priest, along with efforts to persuade the new states to remove disabilities from Catholics in their new state constitutions.  He was ever an advocate for religious freedom:

When men comprehend not, or refuse to admit the luminous principles on which the rights of conscience and liberty of religion depend, they are industrious to find out pretences for intolerance. If they cannot discover them in the actions, they strain to cull them out of the tenets of the religion which they wish to exclude from a free participation of equal rights. Thus this author attributes to his religion the merit of being the most favorable to freedom, and affirms that not only morality but liberty likewise must expire, if his clergy should ever be contemned or neglected: all which conveys a refined insinuation, that liberty cannot consist with, or be cherished by any other religious institution; and which therefore he would give us to understand, it is not safe to countenance in a free government.

I am anxious to guard against the impression intended by such insinuations; not merely for the sake of any one profession, but from an earnest regard to preserve inviolate for ever, in our new empire, the great principle of religious freedom. The constitutions of some of the States continue still to intrench on the sacred rights of conscience; and men who have bled, and opened their purses as freely in the cause of liberty and independence, as any other citizens, are most unjustly excluded from the advantages which they contributed to establish. But if bigotry and narrow prejudice have prevented hitherto the cure of these evils, be it the duty of every lover of peace and justice to extend them no further. Let the author who has opened this field for discussion, be aware of slyly imputing to any set of men, principles or consequences, which they disavow. He perhaps may meet with retaliation. He may be told and referred to Lord Lyttleton, as zealous a Protestant as any man of his days, for information, that the principles of non-reistence seemed the principles of that religion which we are not told is most favorable to freedom; and that its opponents had gone too far in the other extreme! (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off  
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The Infantry

Something for the weekend.  A Confederate paean to The Infantry sung by Bobby Horton, who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War music to modern audiences.   After the Civil War, a veteran of the conflict, I can’t recall his name, said that with Confederate infantry and Union artillery there was no position on Earth that he could not take.

Published in: on June 23, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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