Saint Albans Raid

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When one thinks of the Civil War, bucolic Vermont usually does not come to mind, except for the troops from Vermont who fought for the Union.  However, on October 19, 1864 the Civil War came to Saint Albans, Vermont.

21 Confederate raiders from Canada disguised as civilians, the border being only 15 miles from the town, entered Saint Albans beginning October 10, two or three arriving each day so as not to attract attention.  At 3:00 PM they staged three simultaneous bank robberies.  Several armed citizens of Saint Albans resisted the raiders, with one of the civilians killed and one wounded.  Infuriated by the resistance, the raiders attempted to burn the town but succeeded only in burning a shed.  Escaping with $208,000.00 dollars the raiders, under pursuit, escaped to Canada.

The raid caused an enormous furor in Canada which wanted no part of the Civil War.  The raiders were arrested and $88,000 returned to the banks in Saint Albans, all that could be recovered by the Canadian authorities.  A Canadian court however ruled that the Confederates, because they were members of the Confederate Army, were not criminals and could not be extradited to the Union.  No further raids were stage from Canada.

The leader of the raid, Lieutenant Bennett Young, was excluded from President Andrew Johnson’s amnesty and spent several years abroad, studying law and literature in Ireland and Scotland.  Being permitted to return to the US in 1868, he became a prominent attorny in Louisville, Kentucky.  His charitable works were legion, including founding the first black orphanage in Louisville and a school for the blind, along with quite a bit of pro bono legal work for the poor.  He served as national commander of the United Confederate Veterans. (more…)

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Published in: on October 18, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Father John B. Bannon: Confederate Chaplain and Dilomat

There were a great many brave men, during the Civil War, but I think it is a safe wager that none were braver than Father John B. Bannon.  Born on January 29, 1829 in Dublin, Ireland, after he was ordained a priest he was sent in 1853 to Missouri to minister to the large Irish population in Saint Louis.  In 1858 he was appointed pastor of St. John’s parish on the west side of the city.  Always energetic and determined, he was instrumental in the construction Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist church.  Out of his hectic schedule he somehow found time to become a chaplain in the Missouri Volunteer Militia and became friends with many soldiers who, unbeknownst to them all, would soon be called on for something other than peaceful militia drills.  In November 1860 he marched with the Washington Blues under the command of Captain Joseph Kelly to defend the state from Jayhawkers from “Bleeding Kansas”.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, most of the Saint Louis Irish were strongly Confederate in their sympathies and Father Bannon was of their number.  The Irish viewed the conflict in light of their experiences in Ireland with the English invaders, with the Southerners in the role of the Irish and the Northerners as the English.   Confederate militia gathered at Camp Jackson after the firing on Fort Sumter, and Father Bannon went there as chaplain of the Washington Blues.  Camp Jackson eventually surrendered to Union forces, and Father Bannon was held in Union custody until May 11, 1861.  He resumed his parish duties, although he made no secret from the pulpit where his personal sympathies lay.  Targeted for arrest by the Union military in Saint Louis, on December 15, 1861, he slipped out of the back door of his rectory, in disguise and wearing a fake beard,  as Union troops entered the front door.

He made his way to Springfield, Missouri where Confederate forces were gathering, and enlisted in the Patriot Army of Missouri under the colorful General Sterling Price, who would say after the War that Father Bannon was the greatest soldier he ever met.

He became a chaplain in the First Missouri Confederate Brigade, and would serve in that capacity until the unit surrendered at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863.  He quickly became a legend not only in his brigade, but in the entire army to which it was attached and an inspiration to the soldiers, Catholic and Protestant alike.  At the three day battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, March 6-8, 1862, he disobeyed orders for chaplains to remain in the rear and joined the soldiers on the firing line, giving human assistance to the wounded, and divine assistance for those beyond human aid.  For Catholic soldiers he would give them the Last Rites, and Protestant soldiers, if they wished, he would baptize. (more…)

Published in: on October 16, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Unlucky Chambersburg

Most Northern cities and towns came through the Civil War unscathed, far from the combat that raged in the Confederacy and the Border States.  Not so Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, located only 13 miles north of the Maryland border in southcentral Pennsylvania which would be occupied three times during the Civil War.

The first occupation occurred on October 10, 1862 when General Jeb Stuart, launching a raid in the aftermath of Antietam, captured it with 1800 cavalrymen, destroying a quarter of a million in railroad property and seizing hundreds of horses.

During the Gettysburg campaign in 1863, the town was occupied by the Confederates for a number of days in June, with General Lee establishing his headquarters for a time in a nearby farm.  Once again railroad property was destroyed along with several warehouses.

On July 30, 1864 for the third and final time, with much of the town burned when a ransom of half a million dollars could not be raised.  This was done in retaliation for burnings carried out by the Union in the Shenandoah Valley.  Go here to read an article in defense of the burning which appeared in The Confederate Veteran in 1903. (more…)

Published in: on October 10, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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October 2, 1864: First Battle of Saltville

Saltville

 

By 1864 the Confederacy was running short on everything, including salt.  Therefore it comes as no surprise that the Union targeted the major Confederate saltworks located at the aptly name town of Saltville in southwestern Virginia.   On October 2, 1864 some 2500 Confederates under Brigadier General Alfred E. “Mudwall” Jackson repulsed at Saltville a Union force of some 5,000 Union troops under Major General Stephen G. Burbridge.  The Union attacks were uncoordinated,  Burbridge exercising poor command control.  Some Union black troops who were captured were murdered after the battle.  Just how many has been a subject of controversy.  Go here to read about it.   Below are two reports of the battle written by General Burbridge.  They are fine examples of fairly meretricious reports, attempting to transform a defeat into an almost victory. (more…)

September 30, 1862: First Battle of Newtonia

The first notable battle in the Trans-Mississippi theater of operations after the battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March of 1862, the battle was fought at Newtonia, Missouri in the southwest portion of the State, near the border with Arkansas and the Indian territory.  A brigade of Confederate troops under  Colonel Douglas H. Cooper occupied Newton on September 27, 1862.    They were attacked by Union Brigadier General Frederick G. Salomon, a German immigrant, leading two small brigades totaling 1500 men, on September 30.

Initially the Union attack made headway, but Confederate reinforcements arriving turned the tide, and the Union brigades retreated.  A strong Confederate pursuit turned the retreat into a rout.  Total Union casualties were 250 compared to 100 for the Confederates.  In spite of the Confederate victory, the Confederate stay in Southwestern Missouri was brief, due to being heavily outnumbered by Union troops in the area.  The battle today is chiefly remembered as a result of the large number of American indians that fought on both sides.  Colonel  Cooper, the commander of the Confederate troops, was a former Indian agent and  led Confederate Indian troops throughout the War.  After the War he lived in the Indian Territory and was an ardent supporter of Choctaw and Chickasaw land claims against the Federal government.  Here is his report on the battle: (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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September 29, 1864: Grant’s Fifth Offensive at Petersburg Begins

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Historians designate nine different offensive operations by the Union during the siege of Petersburg.  Although the battles involved in these offensives are unknown except to careful students of the Civil War, they were instrumental cumulatively in making Lee’s position untenable by March 1865 leading to the final military operations of the long struggle between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.

Grant began his Fifth Offensive largely to make certain that Lee did not send reinforcements to Early in his struggle against Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley.  Here is Grant’s account of the beginning of the Fifth Offensive:

 

 

Sheridan, in his pursuit, got beyond where could hear from him in Washington, and the President became very much frightened about him. He was afraid that the hot pursuit had been a little like that of General Cass was said to have been, in one of our Indian wars, when he was an officer of army. Cass was pursuing the Indians so closely that the first thing he knew he found himself in front, and the Indians pursuing him. The President was afraid that Sheridan had got on the other side of Early and that Early was in behind him. He was afraid that Sheridan was getting so far away that reinforcements would be sent out from Richmond to enable Early to beat him. I replied to the President that I had taken steps to prevent Lee from sending reinforcements to Early, by attacking the former where he was.   
 On the 28th of September, to retain Lee in his position, I sent Ord with the 18th corps and Birney with the 10th corps to make an advance on Richmond, to threaten it. Ord moved with the left wing up to Chaffin’s Bluff; Birney with the 10th corps took a road farther north; while Kautz with the cavalry took the Darby road, still farther to the north. They got across the river by the next morning, and made an effort to surprise the enemy. In that, however, they were unsuccessful.  
  The enemy’s lines were very strong and very intricate. Stannard’s division of the 18th corps with General Burnham’s brigade leading, tried an assault against Fort Harrison and captured it with sixteen guns and a good many prisoners. Burnham was killed in the assault. Colonel Stevens who succeeded him was badly wounded; and his successor also fell in the same way. Some works to the right and left were also carried with the guns in them—six in number—and a few more prisoners. Birney’s troops to the right captured the enemy’s intrenched picket-lines, but were unsuccessful in their efforts upon the main line.   
  Our troops fortified their new position, bringing Fort Harrison into the new line and extending it to the river. This brought us pretty close to the enemy on the north side of the James, and the two opposing lines maintained their relative positions to the close of the siege.  
  In the afternoon a further attempt was made to advance, but it failed. Ord fell badly wounded, and had to be relieved ; the command devolved upon General Heckman, and later General Weitzel was assigned to the command of the 18th corps. During the night Lee reinforced his troops about Fort Gilmer, which was at the right of Fort Harrison, by eight additional brigades from Petersburg, and attempted to retake the works which we had captured by concentrating ten brigades against them. All their efforts failed, their attacks being all repulsed with very heavy loss. In one of these assaults upon us General Stannard, a gallant officer who was defending Fort Harrison, lost an arm. Our casualties during these operations amounted to 394 killed, 1,554 wounded and 324 missing.  
  Whilst this was going on General Meade was instructed to keep up an appearance of moving troops to our extreme left. Parke and Warren were kept with two divisions, each under arms, ready to move leaving their enclosed batteries manned, with a scattering line on the other intrenchments. The object of this was to prevent reinforcements from going to the north side of the river. Meade was instructed to watch the enemy closely and, if Lee weakened his lines, to make an attack.   
  On the 30th these troops moved out, under Warren, and captured an advanced intrenched camp at Peeble’s farm, driving the enemy back to the main line. Our troops followed and made an attack in the hope of carrying the enemy’s main line; but in this they were unsuccessful and lost a large number of men, mostly captured. The number of killed and wounded was not large. The next day our troops advanced again and established themselves, intrenching a new line about a mile in front of the enemy. This advanced Warren’s position on the Weldon Railroad very considerably. (more…)

September 25, 1864: Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle

 

Nathan Bedford Forrest again demonstrated that so long as he was in the vicinity no Union supply line was safe.  On September 23, 1864, near Athens, Alabama, he and 4500 troopers were engaged in destroying a Union controlled  rail trestle.  He easily beat a Union force that sallied from Fort Henderson to stop him.   Taking Athens, he began an artillery barrage on Fort Henderson on the morning of the 24th.  Convincing the Union commander that he had 8,000-10,000 men, a common Forrest trick, the garrison capitulated.  Shortly after the capitulation, 350 men of the 18th Michigan and the 102nd Ohio had the misfortune to arrive by rail.  Forrest promptly attacked them, and they surrendered after losing a third of their numbers. (more…)

Published in: on September 25, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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September 10, 1863: Fall of Little Rock

 

 

On September 10, 1863 the drive of the Union of Arkansas, under Major General Frederick Steele to take Little Rock was crowned with success when Little Rock fell following a minor skirmish at Bayou Fourche.  With the fall of Little Rock, the number of state capitals occupied by Union troops rose to three:  Nashville, Jackson and Little Rock, all capitals of western Confederate states, and all adjacent to the Union controlled Mississippi.  This was a graphic sign that the Confederate war effort in the West was beginning to collapse.  It was because of bad news such as this that Lee reluctantly agreed to Longstreet’s corps to travel by rail to the West, a journey which we will look at in a future post.

Published in: on September 10, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 10, 1863: Fall of Little Rock  
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On Wisconsin

Arthur Macarthur

The men of the 24th Wisconsin weren’t sure about this.  They were coming under heavy fire and from the looks of things they were being asked to commit suicide.  Charging uphill into Confederate entrenchments, how could they win?  When their second standard bearer went down, they were convinced this attack was a very bad idea.  Then an eighteen year old Lieutenant stepped forward and grabbed the flag.  Turning to the men he yelled, “On Wisconsin!” and began clambering up Missionary Ridge.  With a roar, the men followed, the Lieutenant eventually planting their standard on top of Missionary Ridge.  That night of November 25, 1863 the corps commander of the 24th Wisconsin, hard bitten regular army, Major General Phil Sheridan, tearfully embraced the young Lieutenant, and told the men of the 24th to take care of him, because he had just won the Medal of Honor.  He had too, although like many of the Civil War recipients, he would not receive the Medal until decades after the War.

In the battles and campaigns that followed the young Lieutenant, who had lied about his age to join the Union Army at 17, rose steadily in rank, eventually commanding the regiment and ending the war as a 19 year old brevet Colonel, the youngest colonel in the Union Army.  In Wisconsin he would ever after be known as the “boy colonel”.

After the War, he briefly studied law, but in 1866 he re-enlisted in the Army as a Second Lieutenant, retiring in 1909 as a Lieutenant General.  (more…)

Published in: on September 6, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on On Wisconsin  
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September 3, 1864: Proclamation of Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving

Lincoln Quote
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, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 3, 1864: Proclamation of Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving  
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