Our Under Studied Civil War

 

 

It seems shockingly counter-intuitive to suggest that the Civil War is under studied. Beginning while the War was being waged, and continuing to the present day, there have been an avalanche of books about that conflict. However, certain aspects of the War have been understudied. With the advent of almost cost free e-publishing, the legions of amateur Civil War scholars can help rectify this situation. I expect to retire in approximately a decade. If God grants me a long life and good health after retirement I will attempt to aid in shedding light and analysis on facets of the War which have received comparatively little scholarship. Here are ten such areas. I would note that the inclusion of an area for further work does not mean that books and articles have not been written on the subject, but that they are comparatively sparse, especially in reference to topics that receive endless treatment.

The Trans Mississippi- Both the Union and the Confederacy frequently used the conflict beyond the Mississippi as a dumping ground for failed and/or troublesome Generals and that perceived taint has apparently descended down the years to make this the most ignored theater of the War. This has helped give a false impression of the War overall. In the far West the War was fought to the knife and the knife to the hilt, engendering hatreds that lingered for generations after the last shot was fired. The conflict was important with the Union dedicating manpower and resources against local Confederate forces that could have been better spent elsewhere. If the Union had lost the War, the conflict in the Trans Mississippi might well have been blamed for being a drain on Union military and naval resources.

Jefferson Davis-Unsurprisingly, the scholarship on Davis is infinitesimal when compared to the mountain of studies on Lincoln. That imbalance will never be addressed, nor should it be. However, the day to day activities of Jefferson as commander in chief do need a serious and comprehensive study.
United States Colored Troops-Some 180,000 blacks fought for the Union, most in the United States Colored Troops. The scholarship on this organization is limited, weak and much of it dated.

Regimental histories-In the decades immediately following the Civil War, many regimental histories were written, most by former members of the regiments. Although there is valuable history contained in these tomes, the scholarship usually ranged from non-existent to shoddy. Modern regimental histories, in the mode of the pioneering history of the 20th Maine, aren needed. Here, especially, amateur scholars could be quite helpful.

Alcohol and the Civil War-Alcohol tends to be mentioned in most Civil War histories only in reference to General Grant. It was a hard-drinking time and drunkenness was a common problem among officers and men. Alcohol and its impact on the Civil War awaits good, and detailed, studies.

Artillery-Compared to the infantry and cavalry, books on Civil War artillery have been relatively few in numbers. The men who served the king of battle deserve better.

Logistics-Serious consideration of logistics and its impact on Civil War operations tends to be scarce in most histories. A logistical history of the Civil War needs to be written.

Foreign Volunteers-For decades after the Civil War Heroes von Borcke proudly flew the Stars and Bars from the battlements of his Prussian estate, a memento of his service under Jeb Stuart. Considering how many of them there were, the foreign volunteers who fought for the Union and the Confederacy have received little attention in most histories.

Staff work-Ah, the Remfs, always unloved by the frontline soldiers in every conflict. Nonetheless, staff work often determines the success or failure of most military operations, and the scholarship devoted to this important topic is minuscule.

War Governors-Considering the key role they played, the war governors, Union and Confederate, have received, the majority of them, relatively little scholarly attention.

In regard to America’s greatest war, much work remains to be done. Scholars, to your key boards!

Published in: on September 30, 2022 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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September 14, 1862: South Mountain

Following up on his intelligence coup of learning of Lee’s plans from Special Order No. 191, read about it here, McClellan threw his Army of the Potomac against three passes on South Mountain in order to attack Lee’s scattered units.

The three mountain passes attacked were Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap in the North and Crampton Gap in the South.  McClellan organized his army into three wings.  Major General Ambrose Burnside commanding the Right Wing with two corps was sent to attack Turner and Fox.  Major General William B. Franklin, commanding the Left Wing consisting of a corps and a division was tasked with taking Crampton.  Major General Edwin Sumner, commanding the Center Wing with two corps was left in reserve.  (One of McClellan’s vices as a commander was always keeping far too large a reserve.)

Franklin seized Crampton Gap, after a very slow preparation for the assault, from a miniscule Confederate force.

D.H. Hill’s division of 5,000 men initially was the only Confederate force defending the two northern gaps.  Lee, reacting with his usual preternatural skill to new circumstances, hurried reinforcements to Hill and, after a very hard-fought day, the Confederates held the two gaps. (more…)

September 4, 1864: Death of General John Hunt Morgan

 

One of the most colorful cavalry commanders in American history, General John Hunt Morgan had enough exploits during the War for several lifetimes.  Go here and here to read about two of them.  Alas Morgan had only one lifetime, and that ended on September 4, 1864 when he was surprised by a sudden Union cavalry attack on Greeneville, Tennessee outside a house where he was visiting family friends.  Here is a contemporary account:

 

HEADQUARTERS UNITED STATES FORCES, BULL’s GAP, Tenn., Sept. 9, 1864.

REV. W.G. BBOWNLOW: The General Commanding directs me to forward to you for publication the inclosed correspondence relative to the killing of the late Gen. JOHN H. MORGAN.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

O.C. FRENCH,

Lieut. and A.A.A.G. on Gen. GILLEM’s Staff.

HEADQUARTERS UNITED STATES FORCES, BULL’s GAP, Tenn., Sept. 3, 1864.

SIR: It has been stated that Gen. JOHN H. MORGAN, late of the Confederate army, was killed by our forces, in Greenville, Tenn., after he had surrendered, and in direct violation of the rules of war. You will confer a personal favor upon myself, and be doing an act of justice to this command, by stating what you know to be the facts connected with the killing of the General.

I am, Captain, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

O.C. FRENCH,

Lieut. and A.A.A.G., Gen. GILLEM’s Staff.

To J.T. ROGERS, Captain and A.A.A.G., late Gen. MORGAN’s Staff.

HEADQUARTERS FORCES EAST TENNESSEE, Sept. 5. LIEUTENANT: In answer to your communication relative to the surrender and killing of the late Gen. JOHN H. MORGAN, I must say that I was with Gen. MORGAN. When he left Mrs. WILLIAMS’ he handed me one of his pistols, and said that he wished me to aid him in making his escape. I told him it was almost useless as we were entirely surrounded. He replied saying, that we must do it if possible. We were concealed in a clump of bushes, when a soldier road up to the fence, wearing a brown jean jacket; we naturally supposed him to be a Confederate soldier come out of the bushes. Gen. MORGAN stepping at the same time through the fence, the soldier demanded a surrender, much to our surprise. Capt. WILCOX, of the Federal army, with some other soldiers, rode up.

I, with Mr. JOHNSON, hastened towards him, looking back in the direction of Gen. MORGAN. I saw him throwing up his hands, exclaiming, “O, God!” I saw nothing more of him until he was brought to the street dead. I am satisfied that JOHNSON and myself were fired on after we surrendered, but by men so far from us that it must have been impossible to know that we were prisoners. I asked Capt. WILCOX to leave a soldier with me after I had surrendered for my own safety, which he did. We were possibly fired upon almost from every direction, but from such a distance that I am satisfied the men did it innocently. I, however, do not condemn them for firing on me after I surrendered, under the circumstances. If Gen. MORGAN surrendered before being shot I do not know it. I am, Lieutenant, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

J.T. ROGERS,

Captain and A.A.A., late of General MORGAN’s Staff.

C.C. FRENCH, Lieut. and A.A.G., General GILOMAN’s Staff. (more…)

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September 3, 1864: Proclamation of Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving

Lincoln Quote

Something for the weekend.  Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Abraham Lincoln understood that with the capture of Atlanta, victory in the War was almost assured, and he reminded the American people who to thank for it.
Executive Mansion,
Washington City September 3d. 1864

The signal success that Divine Providence has recently vouchsafed to the operations of the United States fleet and army in the harbor of Mobile and the reduction of Fort-Powell, Fort-Gaines, and Fort-Morgan, and the glorious achievements of the Army under Major General Sherman in the State of Georgia, resulting in the capture of the City of Atlanta, call for devout acknowledgement to the Supreme Being in whose hands are the destinies of nations. It is therefore requested that on next Sunday, in all places of public worship in the United-States, thanksgiving be offered to Him for His mercy in preserving our national existence against the insurgent rebels who so long have been waging a cruel war against the Government of the United-States, for its overthrow; and also that prayer be made for the Divine protection to our brave soldiers and their leaders in the field, who have so ofen and so gallantly perilled their lives in battling with the enemy; and for blessing and comfort from the Father of Mercies to the sick, wounded, and prisoners, and to the orphans and widows of those who have fallen in the service of their country, and that he will continue to uphold the Government of the United-States against all the efforts of public enemies and secret foes.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

 

Published in: on September 3, 2022 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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August 31, 1864: Death Comes For Father Emery

 

 

Destiny attended Emmeran Bliemel at his birth on the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron saint of soldiers, in 1831 in Bavaria.  From his early boyhood his burning desire was to be a missionary to German Catholics in far off America.  Joining a Benedictine Abbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1851, he was ordained a priest in 1856. (more…)

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August 29, 1864: Democrat Party Platform

 

The convention of the Democrats in 1864 to nominate a standard bearer for President opened on August 29, 1864 in Chicago.  The convention was badly split between War Democrats and Peace Democrats.  The Peace Democrats were strong enough to have a platform approved which dealt with one issue, the War, and which was highly critical of a continuation of the War and called for immediate peace negotiations:

 

Resolved, That in the future, as in the past, we will adhere with unswerving fidelity to the Union under the Constitution as the only solid foundation of our strength, security, and happiness as a people, and as a framework of government equally conducive to the welfare and prosperity of all the States, both Northern and Southern.

Resolved, That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity of war-power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view of an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that, at the earliest practicable moment, peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.

Resolved, That the direct interference of the military authorities of the United States in the recent elections held in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware was a shameful violation of the Constitution, and a repetition of such acts in the approaching election will be held as revolutionary, and resisted with all the means and power under our control.

Resolved, That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired, and they hereby declare that they consider that the administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution; the subversion of the civil by military law in States not in insurrection; the arbitrary military arrest, imprisonment, trial, and sentence of American citizens in States where civil law exists in full force; the suppression of freedom of speech and of the press; the denial of the right of asylum; the open and avowed disregard of State rights; the employment of unusual test-oaths; and the interference with and denial of the right of the people to bear arms in their defense is calculated to prevent a restoration of the Union and the perpetuation of a Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

Resolved, That the shameful disregard of the Administration to its duty in respect to our fellow-citizens who now are and long have been prisoners of war and in a suffering condition, deserves the severest reprobation on the score alike of public policy and common humanity.

Resolved, That the sympathy of the Democratic party is heartily and earnestly extended to the soldiery of our army and sailors of our navy, who are and have been in the field and on the sea under the flag of our country, and, in the events of its attaining power, they will receive all the care, protection, and regard that the brave soldiers and sailors of the republic have so nobly earned. (more…)

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August 25, 1864: Second Battle of Ream’s Station

Second Battle of Reams Station

 

The massive casualties taken by the Army of the Potomac since the beginning of Grant’s drive on Richmond  had destroyed the combat effectiveness of many units in the Army, with large numbers of veteran troops either killed or in hospital to recover from wounds and the ranks filled up with hastitly trained recruits.  This decrease in combat capability was dramatically demonstrated at the Second Battle of Reams Station.  On August 24, Grant sent Hancock and his II corps south along the Weldon railroad to destroy as much of the rail line currently in Confederate hands as he could, to increase the difficulties of the Confederates in transporting supplies from the portion of the Weldon railroad they stilled controlled to Petersburg and Richmond.

All went well initially with Hancock’s corps destroying three miles of track.  However on the afternoon of the 25th a Confederate attack routed the II corps, with Hancock being forced to withdraw to the Union fortified lines.  Union casualties were 2,743 to 814 Confederate.  2073 of the Union casualties were prisoners, many of whom surrendered after only brief resistance.  Hancock’s reaction to all this, no doubt remembering the days when his troops were considered the elite of the Army, was to remark in despair to an aide as he was unable to rally his retreating troops:   “I do not care to die, but I pray God I may never leave this field.” (more…)

August 23, 1864: Secret Cabinet Memo

We are Coming Father Abraham, written by Stephen Foster in 1862.  Few songs better conveyed Northern determination to win the War.  However, by August 1864 that determination seemed to be wearing thin.

 

With the War stalled both East and West Union morale was faltering.  On August 22, 1864 Lincoln received a letter from Republican party chairman Henry J. Raymond suggesting that Lincoln offer peace terms to Jefferson Davis on the sole term of acknowledgement of the supremacy of the Constitution with slavery to be dealt with at a later date.   Lincoln’s morale remained unshaken, but he was a veteran politician and could read the political tea leaves as well as any political prognosticator.  That he read defeat in the tea leaves is demonstrated by what has become known as The Blind Memorandum.  Lincoln sealed this document and on August 23, 1864 asked his cabinet officers to sign it unread.  They complied.  Here is the text:

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.

A. Lincoln (more…)

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August 18, 1864: Capture of the Weldon Railroad

 Petersburg_Aug18-19

 

On August 17, 1864 Grant was heartened when he received a telegram of support from President Lincoln.  Go here to read about it.  Grant remarked to his staff after reading the telegram:   “The President has more nerve than any of his advisors.”

Lincoln had advised Grant:  Hold on with a bull-dog gripe, and chew & choke, as much as possible.  Unbeknownst to the President, Grant already had underway an operation to do just that.  Major General Gouverneur K. Warren was ordered by Grant to take his V corps, supported by units of the IX and II corps and a small cavalry division, and move to the left to capture a section of the Weldon railroad, the main supply line for the Confederate forces at Richmond and Petersburg, which led south to Wilmington, the last major port of the Confederacy.

By 9:00 AM on August 18, 1864, Warren had brushed aside Confederate pickets and reached the Weldon railroad at Globe Tavern.  He deployed a division of his corps to destroy track, held another division in reserve and set another brigade, deployed in line of battle, north to guard against Confederate attempts to retake the railroad.  A.P. Hill, launching his attack at 2:00 PM used two divisions from his corps to retake Globe Tavern, but Warren counterattacked and recovered the ground he lost, his troops entrenching as night fell.

On the 19th, the IX corps reinforced Warrens V corps while the Confederates received three brigades of Major General William Mahones’ division along with “Rooney” Lee’s cavalry division.  Mahone, cementing his reputation, after the part he played in retaking the Crater, as one of the best generals for the Confederacy in 1864, launched a slashing flank attack that captured two Union brigades.  A Confederate frontal assault by Major General Henry Heth was easily repulsed, and the fighting ended with a IX corps counterattack leading to hand to hand fighting as nightfall brought a  close to the day’s fighting.

Torrential rains on the 20th prevented large scale combat.  Warren withdrew on the night of the 20-21 to a new fortified line.  Confederate attacks failed to dislodge him, and the battle of Globe Tavern ended with the Union in permanent possession of several miles of the Weldon railroad which necessitated the Confederates to bring in supplies to Petersburg and Richmond thirty miles from the nearest section of the Weldon railroad not under Union control.  Union casuaties were 4, 296 to 1,620 Confederates but the noose had been tightened around Petersburg and the Confederacy.

Here are the comments of General Grant on this operation in his Personal Memoirs: (more…)

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August 3, 1864: Lincoln to Grant

Anti-Lincoln Cartoon

The gaunt man, Abraham Lincoln, lives his days.
For a while the sky above him is very dark.
There are fifty thousand dead in these last, bleak months
And Richmond is still untaken.
                              The papers rail,
Grant is a butcher, the war will never be done.
The gaunt man’s term of office draws to an end,
His best friends muse and are doubtful.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

By the beginning of August 1864 Lincoln began to suspect that he was going to lose re-election and the Union was going to lose the War.  Grant, at an immense cost in blood, had pushed Lee back to Richmond and Petersburg, but both cities still were controlled by the Confederates and Lee’s army was still a force to be reckoned with.  The North was still reeling from Early’s victories in the Shenandoah, his daring raid on Washington and his burning of Chambersburg on July 30.  In the West the Confederate Army of Tennessee still clung to Atlanta, and the Confederacy still controlled almost all of its heartland.  The War seemed to be entering a stalemate, and if it remained so until November, Lincoln would be a one term president and the Union would be permanently sundered.  With that on his mind, Lincoln sent a warning telegram to Grant.  Lincoln never lost his faith in Grant, but clearly he wanted Grant to understand that unless victories were forthcoming the Union was in peril.  Ironically, in this telegram Lincoln approves Sheridan being place in command in the Shenandoah, and it was Sheridan’s string of victories in the fall that probably ensured Lincoln’s re-election:

 

(more…)

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