June 21-23 1864: First Battle of Weldon Railroad

Petersburg_June21-22

With the War in the East now centering on the siege of Petersburg, Lee faced the daunting problem of protecting the rail lines that kept Petersburg, Richmond and his army supplied.  It took no military genius to realize that if the Union captured those rail lines, Lee’s position would be rendered untenable.  So that is what Grant promptly commenced to do.  The II and VI Corps were tasked with seizing, and destroying as much of the Weldon Railroad as they could take.

Skirmishing occurred on June 21 as the II Corps probed toward the rail line.   On June 22 both the II and the VI corps advanced towards the railroad, with rugged terrain causing a gap to open up between the corps.  Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone concealed his division in a ravine and launched an attack on the rear of the II Corps which wreaked havoc until the lines stabilized by nightfall. (more…)

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June 3, 1864: Cold Harbor-Not War But Murder

ColdHarbor-June3

And, after that, the chunky man from the West,

Stranger to you, not one of the men you loved

As you loved McClellan, a rider with a hard bit,

Takes you and uses you as you could be used,

Wasting you grimly but breaking the hurdle down.

You are never to worship him as you did McClellan,

But at the last you can trust him.  He slaughters you

But he sees that you are fed.  After sullen Cold Harbor

They call him a butcher and want him out of the saddle,

But you have had other butchers who did not win

And this man wins in the end.

 

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

The main Union assault at Cold Harbor went in on the foggy morning of June 3 at 4:30 AM, the three corps of Smith, Wright and Hancock hitting the Confederate left.  Some of the Union veteran troops, in those pre-dog tag days, pinned white notes with their names and addresses on the backs of their uniforms so their bodies could be identified, they having learned the hard lesson that assaulting fortified lines held by Confederate infantry was bound to cause huge casualties among the attacking force.  The attack went in blind, as, stunningly, no had bothered to reconnoiter the Confederate lines and draw up maps.  One Union soldier in Gibbon’s division had an apt comment on this military malpractice:   “We felt it was murder, not war, or at best a very serious mistake had been made.”

Smith’s attack on the right quickly bogged down, his men being funneled through two ravines where they were cut down in large numbers.  Wright’s men in the middle, still weary from their attacks on June 1, made little effort, and their attack was pinned down almost as soon as it started.  Hancock’s attack on the Union far left pierced the Confederate lines, but the breach was sealed and the Confederates repulsed Hancock with heavy loss. The attacks were all over by 7:30 AM.  Grant wanted attacks to resume, but by 12:30 PM  he had become convinced that further attacks were simply impossible.

The Union casualties from the assault have been estimated from 3,000-7,000.  I believe the upper estimate is more likely correct.  The Confederates incurred about 1500 casualties.  The armies would remain confronting each other at Cold Harbor until June 12, but there would be no further attacks.  Total Union casualties from all the fighting at Cold Harbor were around 12,000 to 5,000 Confederate, the same disparity as at Fredericksburg, the Cold Harbor assault of June 3 resembling the futile Union assaults of that battle. (more…)

Robert E. Lee and Hatred

 

 

Sometimes I wonder if we learned anything from the Civil War at all:

 

 

On March 9, 2018, a book was pulled from both the Washington and Lee University Bookstore and the Lee Chapel Museum Shop after a W&L professor accused the book of painting a sympathetic picture of the Confederate States of America and the Old South. The book was not The Clansmen, the basis of D.W. Giffith’s The Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, or the notoriously problematic History of the American People by Woodrow Wilson, but a children’s book written about one of Robert E. Lee’s most beloved companions and most trusted warhorse, Traveller.

The book, entitled My Colt: The Story of Traveller, was written by Margaret Samdahl, who worked at the Lee Chapel Museum for thirteen years. Samdahl says that she decided to write the book to respond to Lee Chapel patron’s demands for a child-friendly book on Traveller. Using the Special Collections archive at Washington and Lee as well as other research materials available at Leyburn Library on W&L’s campus, Mrs. Samdahl embarked on a decade-long effort to bring the story of Traveller to a younger audience. Lee Chapel purchased copies of My Colt on February 27, and the University Bookstore followed suit on March 3. However, after the book and a book signing event at the university were advertised in the daily Campus Notices on March 8, the administration received a complaint from a professor who objected to the content of the book. It was subsequently removed from both the Museum Shop and the University Bookstore, and the book signing event was abruptly cancelled on March 9.

Though the professor’s outrage over the contents of the book was cited as the initial cause of the book’s removal, the university called Mrs. Samdahl two weeks later to explain that the book had been removed because it was self-published and had not been peer-reviewed. This explanation by the university administration does not hold up because the book had already been accepted by the Museum Shop and the University Bookstore, implying that it had already received some sort of review by the managers of those respective venues, and had been for sale in those venues for almost two weeks before it was removed. Meanwhile, both Virginia Military Institute and Stratford Hall, Robert E. Lee’s birthplace, reviewed and accepted the book with no problems.

An uproar soon erupted within the Washington and Lee and Lexington community. Don Samdahl, husband of the author as well as a longtime librarian at VMI, sent several letters to President Dudley protesting the removal of his wife’s book. In a letter written to President William Dudley on March 19, Mr. Samdahl accused W&L of ignoring the commitment that it made to free speech on campus in its 2015 “Affirmation of Freedom of Expression at Washington and Lee University” and of attempting to censor the books available for sale in Lee Chapel and the University Bookstore. Soon after Mr. Samdahl’s initial letter on March 19, other members of the community lent their voices to the protest. After three weeks off of the shelves, My Colt was restored to the Lee Chapel Museum Shop and the University Bookstore on April 2. President Dudley explained to Mr. Samdahl in his reply on April 2:

 

Go here to read the rest.  My first impulse was to wonder whether the Professor outraged by a kid’s book about Robert E. Lee’s horse was also outraged that his paycheck comes from an institution named after two men who owned slaves during their lifetimes.  A more positive impulse however recalled these words by Robert E. Lee after the War when  writing to a young mother who expressed animosity towards the North:

Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.

The great truth of the Civil War is that we are one people:  North and South, white and black.  People who try to stir up old hatreds are spitting upon the graves of those who lost their lives seeking to preserve the Union, and the graves of the men on both sides who after the War counseled reconciliation.  Time to recall these other words of Lee after the War:

 

We must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them.

 

 

Published in: on May 22, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Robert E. Lee and Hatred  
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May 20 1861: Kentucky Proclamation of Neutrality

“I hope to have God on my side but I must have Kentucky.”  Anyone, North or South, who could read a map would have agreed with that sentiment of Abraham Lincoln for their side in 1861.  With Kentucky part of the Confederacy, the South would have a broad rampart in which to defend Tennessee and the Deep South.  With Kentucky part of the Union, the North had a clear hand to punch into Tennessee, capture Memphis and Nashville, and begin dual invasions down the Mississippi and into Georgia and Alabama.

Kentucky was a house bitterly divided.  Governor Beriah Magoffin, although not a full fledged secessionist, had little sympathy for Lincoln’s attempt to preserve the Union by force.  The Kentucky legislature leaned towards the Union, and in June elections in Kentucky Unionists would win nine of 10 Congressional seats and a 76-24 majority in the state House of Representatives and a 27-11 majority in the state Senate.

One thing all Kentuckians could agree on was an effort to avoid the War coming to Kentucky.  A Proclamation of Neutrality was passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor on May 20, 1861.  On the same day North Carolina became the eleventh state to join the Confederacy, underlining the impossibility of neutrality in the conflict.

On September 4, 1861 Confederate forces seized Columbus, propelling Kentucky fully into the arms of the Union.  The Dark and Bloody Ground would be one of the prime battlefields of the War.

Published in: on May 20, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 20 1861: Kentucky Proclamation of Neutrality  
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May 16, 1863: Battle of Champion Hill

champion-hill-ms-battle-map-southern-portion-8-22-2007

The decisive battle of the Vicksburg Campaign, and one of the decisive battles of the War, the battle of Champion Hill led to the siege of Vicksburg, and once it became a siege, with the Union able to bring endless reinforcements to reinforce Grant during the siege via the Mississippi, the fall of Vicksburg became merely a matter of time.  Pemberton with 22,000 men had planned to attempt to attack Union supply columns coming from Grand Gulf, south of Vicksburg, to Raymond, Mississippi.  Receiving repeated orders that he move on Clinton, Mississippi instead, he counter-marched and took up a defensive position against the advancing Federals at Champion Hill.

Here is Pemberton’s description of how the battle began, taken from his official report: (more…)

May 10, 1863: “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

 

 

“I have but to show him my design, and I know that if it can be done it will be done.  Straight as the needle to the pole he advances to the execution of my purpose.”

Robert E. Lee on Stonewall Jackson

Of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, nicknamed Stonewall by General Barnard Bee at the battle of Bull Run, it was said he lived by the New Testament and fought by the Old.  Certainly throughout his life he was a convinced Christian.  As a young man he would attend services of various Christian denominations.  In Mexico, during his service in the Mexican War, he attended mass, although he did not convert to Catholicism.  Instead he eventually became a Presbyterian.  His Bible was his constant companion, and he would often speak of God and theological matters in private conversation.

Jackson in his professional life was a soldier.  Just before the Civil War he was a professor of natural and experimental philosophy (science) and artillery instruction at the Virginia Military Institute.  As a teacher he made a good soldier.  His lectures were rather dry.  If his students seemed to fail to grasp a lecture, he would repeat it the next day, word for word.

His home life was a mixture of sorrow and joy.  His first wife died in childbirth along with their still-born son, a tragedy that would have crushed many a man less iron-willed than  Jackson.  His second marriage, like his first, was happy, but heartache also haunted it.  A daughter died shortly after birth in 1858.  A second daughter was born in 1862, Julia, shortly before Jackson’s own death in 1863.  His wife would spend a widowhood of 52 years, dedicated to raising their daughter, cherishing the memory of her husband, and helping destitute Confederate veterans.  For her good works she became known as the Widow of the Confederacy.  Their daughter Julia would marry and have children before her early death of typhoid fever at age 26.  Her two children had several children and there are many living descendants of Jackson.

He and his second wife established and taught a Sunday school for black slaves.  At the time it was against the law in Virginia to teach slaves to read, but apparently that is precisely what Jackson and his wife did.   One of the last letters he ever posted was his regular contribution he mailed off throughout the war for the financial support of the Sunday school for slaves he and his wife had founded.

 

 

(more…)

Published in: on May 10, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 10, 1863: “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”  
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General Benjamin Butler

 

Something for the weekend.  General Butler sung by Bobby Horton who wages a one man crusade to bring authentic Civil War music to modern audiences.  Butler was cordially hated by the South due to his tenure as military governor of New Orleans during which time he issued his infamous “Woman Order”:

 

DQRS. DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF

New Orleans, May 15, 1862.
As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.
By command of Major-General Butler:
GEO. C. STRONG,
Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff.

 

Jefferson Davis ordered that if he were ever captured Butler was to be executed as a common enemy of mankind.  This was ironic because at the 1860 Democrat Convention Butler voted 57 times to nominate Davis for President of the United States.  Without a doubt, however, Butler was the most hated Union general in the South.

However, due to Butler’s military incompetence, Union soldiers who had the misfortune to be under his command also had good reason to curse his name.

 

 

 

There are of course several generals in the running for the title of most incompetent Union general:  Ambrose Burnside, Don Carlos Buell, John Pope, Henry Halleck, Nathaniel Banks and the list could go on for some length.  However, for me the most incompetent general clearly is Benjamin Butler.  A political general appointed by Lincoln to rally War Democrats for the war effort, Butler in command was a defeat waiting to happen for any Union force cursed to be under him.  Butler during the Bermuda Hundred campaign in 1864 threw away chance after chance to take Richmond, with a timidity that rose to astonishing levels and an ineptitude at leading his forces that defies belief.  Grant summed up Butler’s generalship well in his Personal Memoirs when he recalled a conversation with his Chief of Engineers:

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place. (more…)

Published in: on April 28, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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April 27, 1865: Sultana: Death on the Mississippi

After the massive bloodletting of the Civil War, one would have hoped that Death would have taken at least a brief holiday in the US.  Such was not the case.  On April 27th 1865, the SS Sultana, a Mississipi paddlewheeler steamer, constructed in 1863 for the cotton trade, was serving as a transport.  Its cargo was appoximately 2500 Union soldiers, many of them former POWS, some of them survivors of Andersonville.  The Union soldiers boarded at Vicksburg.  The Sultana while in port at Vicksburg had a patch put on its steam boiler.  The repair was clearly inadequate, a new  boiler being needed.  (more…)

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April 16, 1862: District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act

 

It is sometimes asked why compensated emancipation wasn’t attempted instead of fighting a Civil War, as if that had been the choice.  Although Lincoln was in favor of compensated emancipation, neither the slave states nor the border states, in spite of Lincoln’s vigorous efforts, were interested.  There was one area, however, where Congress had the power to impose compensated emancipation, and that was in the District of Columbia which was under the direct control of Congress.  On April 16, 1862 President Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emanipation Act.  Under the Act some 3,185 slaves were emancipated with the owners receiving approximately a million dollars in compensation.  The Civil War cost about two and a half million dollars a day for the Union.  In purchasing power a million Civil War era Union dollars has the spending power of about 27 million dollars today.

April 3, 1862: Johnston Begins His March to Shiloh

It is rare for any soldier to attain the rank of general, but Albert Sidney Johnston managed that feat in three armies:  rising from private to brigadier general in the army of the Republic of Texas, brevet brigadier general in the United States Army, and full general in the Confederate States Army.  On April 3, 1862 he led his newly created Army of Mississippi out of the town of Corinth, Mississippi and began the march which would end in the surprise Confederate attack in the early morning of April 6, 1862, the beginning of the two day mammoth battle known to history as Shiloh.

The battle would result in the death of Johnston, his dying caused probably by his act of mercy in dispatching his personal surgeon to attend a wounded Union officer and none of his remaining staff having the presence of mind to fashion a tourniquet to stanch Johnston’s bleeding after he was wounded, and the fighting would inflict over 23,000 total Union and Confederate casualties, exceeding in two days all of the battlefield casualties in all of America’s wars prior to the Civil War.  Shiloh told the nation, North and South, that this was going to be a very grim war, and that their adversary would fight it with all the strength and will that they could muster.  After Shiloh the myth of a quick victorious war died on both sides. (more…)

Published in: on April 3, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 3, 1862: Johnston Begins His March to Shiloh  
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