June 13, 1863: Second Battle of Winchester Begins

Second_Winchester_Map

In order for Lee to invade the North it was necessary for the Shenandoah Valley to be cleared of Union troops that would otherwise could pose a threat to Richmond in the absence of Lee’s army.  Lee assigned the Second Corps, Jackson’s old veterans who were quite familiar with the Shenandoah to accomplish this.

The Shenandoah was defended by a Union division of approximately 7,000 men under General Robert H. Milroy who concentrated his troops in forts around Winchester, a town well know to the men of the Second Corps who had fought and won the First Battle of Winchester in September of the previous year.  Not realizing that he face approximately 12,000 men of the Second Corps, Milroy ignored suggestions from General in Chief Halleck that Milroy abandon Winchester and retreat to Harper’s Ferry.

June 13 consisted of skirmishing as the troops of the Second Corps marched and deployed, following a battle plan of General Jubal Early to outflank both the left and right flanks of Milroy’s force.  Milroy retreated into the fortifications around Winchester.

On June 14 the Confederate outflanking attacks forced Milroy to retreat down the valley overnight to Stephenson’s Depot.

On June 15 Milroy’s force was routed and effectively destroyed as it attempted to reach Stephenson’s Depot.  The casualties were lopsided in favor of the Confederates:  4,443 Union casualties, 4000 of them prisoners or missing, to 269 Confederate losses.  Immense amounts of supply were captured by the Confederates along with 23 cannon.  Confederate morale was heartened by this victory, while the Union morale was shaken.  With the valley now cleared of Union troops the Army of Northern Virginia was free to commence the invasion of the North.  Here is Ewell’s report on the battle: (more…)

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June 10, 1864: Battle of Brice’s Crossroads

 

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Forrest is the devil, and I think he has got some of our troops under cower…I will order them to make up a force and go out to follow Forrest to the death. If it costs ten thousand lives and breaks the Treasury. There will never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest is dead.

General William T. Sherman to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton-June 15, 1864

 

General Nathan Bedford Forrest gained some incredible victories in the Civil War, but his victory at Brice’s Cross Roads, in which he routed a well supplied Union force outnumbering his by almost three to one, ensured that he would enjoy mythic stature for the remainder of his life.

Sherman made Forrest one of his chief targets in the late spring of 1864, Sherman being concerned that Forrest would raid and shred his supply lines as he moved further south into Georgia.  For that purpose Major General Samuel D. Sturgis was assigned a mixed force of 8500 infantry and cavalry and given the mission of finding Forrest and destroying him.  Leaving Memphis on June 1, 1864, Sturgis headed into Mississippi.

As in so many times in his Civil War career, Forrest the hunted quickly became Forrest the hunter.  Commanding only 3200 men, Forrest decided that he would fight Sturgis on ground of his choosing.  Realizing that Sturgis was heading for Tupelo, Mississippi, Forrest decided to fight at Brice’s Crossroads about 15 miles north of Tupelo.  The prospective battlefield had heavily wooded areas and one creek, Tishomingo Creek, with only one bridge across it, which the Union force would have to use to reach Brice’s cross roads.  Forrest was aware that the Union cavalry part of the force of Sturgis was about three hours ahead of the Union infantry, wearily marching over muddy roads.

At 9:45 AM a brigade of General Benjamin Grierson’s cavalry division crossed the bridge over  Tishomingo Creek and headed towards Brice Crossroads.  Forrest immediately launched a delaying attack with one of his cavalry brigades.  By 11:30 AM all of the Union cavalry was committed and Forrest was driving them back with his cavalry. (more…)

A Second Review of the Grand Army

Recently I have been reading of the Grand Review of the Armies which occurred in Washington DC on May 23 and May 24, 1865.  This was a victory parade of Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Sherman’s Army.  I was struck by a banner that was spread on the capitol dome those two days: “The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.”   Indeed.    So the boys in blue enjoyed two days of being cheered as heroes and saviors of their country, before they were demobilized and went back to their homes, the War left behind to fading memories and imperishable history.

However, there were silent victors who could not march in the Grand Review, and humorist Bret Harte remembered them in this poem:

I read last night of the Grand Review
    In Washington’s chiefest avenue,–
Two hundred thousand men in blue,
    I think they said was the number,–
Till I seemed to hear their trampling feet,
The bugle blast and the drum’s quick beat,
The clatter of hoofs in the stony street,
The cheers of the people who came to greet,
And the thousand details that to repeat
    Would only my verse encumber,–
Till I fell in a revery, sad and sweet,
    And then to a fitful slumber.
   
When, lo! in a vision I seemed to stand
In the lonely Capitol. On each hand
Far stretched the portico, dim and grand
Its columns ranged, like a martial band
Of sheeted spectres whom some command
    Had called to a last reviewing.
And the streets of the city were white and bare;
No footfall echoed across the square;
But out of the misty midnight air
I heard in the distance a trumpet blare,
And the wandering night-winds seemed to bear
    The sound of a far tatooing.

Then I held my breath with fear and dread;
For into the square, with a brazen tread,
There rode a figure whose stately head
    O’erlooked the review that morning.
That never bowed from its firm-set seat
When the living column passed its feet,
Yet now rode steadily up the street
    To the phantom bugle’s warning:
   
Till it reached the Capitol square, and wheeled,
And there in the moonlight stood revealed
A well known form that in State and field
    Had led our patriot sires;
Whose face was turned to the sleeping camp,
Afar through the river’s fog and damp,
That showed no flicker, nor warning lamp,
    Nor wasted bivouac fires.
   
And I saw a phantom army come,
With never a sound of fife or drum,
But keeping time to a throbbing hum
    Of wailing and lamentation:
The martyred heroes of Malvern Hill,
Of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville,
The men whose wasted figures fill
    The patriot graves of the nation.
   
And there came the nameless dead,–the men
Who perished in fever-swamp and fen,
The slowly-starved of the prison-pen;
    And marching beside the others,
Came the dusky martyrs of Pillow’s fight,
With limbs enfranchised and bearing bright;
I thought–perhaps ’twas the pale moonlight–
    They looked as white as their brothers!
   
And so all night marched the Nation’s dead,
With never a banner above them spread,
Nor a badge, nor a motto brandished;
No mark–save the bare uncovered head
    Of the silent bronze Reviewer;
With never an arch save the vaulted sky;
With never a flower save those that lie
On the distant graves–for love could buy
    No gift that was purer or truer.
   
So all night long swept the strange array;
So all night long, till the morning gray,
I watch’d for one who had passed away,
    With a reverent awe and wonder,–
Till a blue cap waved in the lengthening line,
And I knew that one who was kin of mine
Had come; amd I spake–and lo! that sign
    Awakened me from my slumber.

Published in: on May 26, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis

 

It has been said ‘The world loves, not those who would sacrifice themselves for others, if they could find an opportunity, but those who have found one and used it.’ She, our mother, the state, saw the distinction, and applied it to her sons of the sword and gun; and now it is the text of the sermon she means these stones to preach immemorially. In other words, making this matchless structure speak for her, she says: ‘They are my best beloved, who in every instance of danger to the nation, discover a glorious chance to serve their fellow men and dare the chance, though in so doing they suffer and sometimes die.’

General Lew Wallace, speech on the dedication of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis in 1902

 

My family and I vacation each year in Indianapolis in August as we attend the GenCon Convention.  A city of approximately 850,000, the state capitol of Indiana is a very livable city where it is still possible to park on the street in the major business section.  Indianapolis is filled with monuments and the most striking by far is the Civil War memorial, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indie.  Dedicated in 1902 to Indiana’s silent victors, the Hoosiers who fell in the War, the monument stands 284 feet tall on Monument Circle.  The Monument is huge, taking up an acre of space.  Costing a bit over a half million when built, the estimated cost to build such a structure today is half a billion.

There is an observation deck on top and tourists can either take an elevator or climb the seemingly endless and narrow winding  331 steps.  I recommend the elevator.  Twelve years ago I climbed the steps with my kids.  Being young teenagers then, they had no trouble.  I was about fifty at the time, and on that muggy day almost killed myself getting to the top! (more…)

Published in: on May 22, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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We Are All Americans

 

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic, and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”

 

The expression of these kindly feelings were not restricted to a section of the country, nor to a division of the people. They came from individual citizens of all nationalities; from all denominations—the Protestant, the Catholic, and the Jew; and from the various societies of the land—scientific, educational, religious or otherwise. Politics did not enter into the matter at all.

I am not egotist enough to suppose all this significance should be given because I was the object of it. But the war between the States was a very bloody and a very costly war. One side or the other had to yield principles they deemed dearer than life before it could be brought to an end. I commanded the whole of the mighty host engaged on the victorious side. I was, no matter whether deservedly so or not, a representative of that side of the controversy. It is a significant and gratifying fact that Confederates should have joined heartily in this spontaneous move. I hope the good feeling inaugurated may continue to the end.

Ulysses S. Grant, ending of his Personal Memoirs

 

 

I have long held that the great lesson of the Civil War is that we are all Americans:  North and South, white and black.  That some Leftist ideologues seem now, as part of their ceaseless use of identity politics to divide us, determined to argue the contrary is to be deplored.  Dale Price on his Facebook page has a brilliant post on the reconciliation that ocurred after the bloodiest war in our history, that could so easily have been a prelude to endless civil wars:

 

My friend Joe Long tells the story of his great-great grandfather, William Berrien Long, the sole survivor of five sons of William Long, who himself had fought in our War of Independence.

Yes, they fought for the Confederacy. Yes, the Union was in the right.

But every last man on each side was an *American.* And here’s the amazing thing: virtually every Southerner–every American–who bore arms for the Confederacy reconciled himself to the verdict of the battlefield and became an American again. Some faster than others, but in the end even Jefferson Davis told his fellow Southerners to be productive and loyal Americans.

Yes, the reconciliation after the War was the equivalent to a great white group hug which excluded the freedmen and women, and to a lesser extent Southern Unionists. The unfinished revolution on behalf of former slaves was abandoned and the people of color were left in the hands of ex-Confederates. Who, in turn, began to spin a “Lost Cause” narrative which was a bad blend of fact, fancy and sometimes even fabrication.

However, the fate of freedmen and women is the much more the fault of the Union, which lost interest in the matter when Grant left office and would not remember its duties and responsibilities until the Cold War.

But. While it may have been a “white thing,” the reconciliation between Unionists and Confederates was real, enduring and *essential.* America escaped the fates of Europe and Latin America, where defeat bred resentment which led to subjugation which bred more resentment which led to repression which bred even more resentment….

If you want the dream world of Mr. Idiot, Ph.D., take a look at Harry Turtledove’s short story, “Must and Shall.” Set in 1942, it features a garrison-state America which imposed a Carthaginian peace on the South in 1865. Freedmen were given the vote…and the franchise was stripped away from anyone who had taken up arms against the United States, as well as their descendants. The Federal Bureau of Suppression works frantically to keep the lid on the South whilst the Nazis ship in weapons to white Southerners via U-Boats…

 

Go here to read the rest.  Lincoln in his immortal Second Inaugural set us on the path of peace and reconciliation:

Published in: on May 14, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on We Are All Americans  
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May 12, 1865: Palmito Ranch-Last Battle of the Civil War

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At the beginning of the Civil War what would later have been called skirmishes were called battles, so I guess we can call Palmito Ranch at the end of the War a battle.

At the beginning of 1865 the Union and Confederate troops engaged in an informal truce in south Texas, since the War was manifestly about to come to an end, and both sides could see that nothing that was done in Texas would have any impact on the outcome.  Negotiations began in March for the surrender of the Confederate troops in Texas but came to nothing. Why a Union force advanced on Brownsville, Texas in May is something of a mystery since a surrender was obviously in the offing.  At any rate in a two day fight the Confederates succeeded in causing the Union force of about 500 men to retreat.  The Confederate force of 300 sustained casualties of 5-6 wounded and 3 captured.  The Union force had 4 killed, 3 wounded and 101 captured.  Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana had the sad distinction  of being the last man to be killed in action in the Civil War.  Here is the report of the commander of the luckless Union force:

(more…)

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May 7, 1864: Grant Wins the War

Grant wins the War

Grant has come East to take up his last command

And the grand command of the armies.

                                    It is five years

Since he sat, with a glass, by the stove in a country store,

A stumpy, mute man in a faded Army overcoat,

The eldest-born of the Grants but the family-failure,

Now, for a week, he shines in the full array

Of gold cord and black-feathered hat and superb blue coat,

As he talks with the trim, well-tailored Eastern men.

It is his only moment of such parade.

When the fighting starts, he is chewing a dead cigar

With only the battered stars to show the rank

On the shoulderstraps of the private’s uniform.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Fighting was not resumed at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 7, 1864.  The Confederates had fortified their positions and further Union assaults would have been fruitless.  Veteran Union troops knew what was going to happen next.  The latest offensive under the latest General had been stopped, with over 17,000 casualties, the same as at the Union defeat at Chancellorsville the year before.  The army would retire north for a period of rest and recuperation before trying again.  Likely Grant would be removed and a new General brought in to try his luck.  The Union troops had been through this many times before over the past three years. (more…)

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Sam Davis-Nathan Hale of the Confederacy

The Civil War seems colorful to many of us in retrospect, grey against the blue, all the romance that has built up about the War, etc.  To those who lived through it, I suspect the War seemed more like a dreadful nightmare from which they could not wake.  It is important to remember then those men and women who behaved with courage during this national calamity.  I can think of few people braver in that conflict than Sam Davis.

Davis was born in Smyrna Tennessee in 1842.  When the War came he enlisted in the Confederate 1rst Tennessee.  By 1863 he had transferred to Coleman’s Scouts, a group of Confederate mounted scouts and spies who operated behind Union lines in Tennessee.  On November 20, 1863 he was captured by Union forces.  He was wearing a Confederate unform, but he had Union battle plans in his possession.  Under the laws of war he could be hung as a spy.  He was sentenced by a courtmartial to be hanged unless he revealed to his captors who had given him the battle plans, which he adamantly refused to do.  Seven days after his capture he was taken out to be hanged in Pulaski, Tennessee.  The night before he wrote this letter to his mother: (more…)

Published in: on May 2, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Sam Davis-Nathan Hale of the Confederacy  
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Southern Belles

 

 

Union troops writing home would often mention that Southern women were much more outspoken in support of the Confederacy than Southern men and far more bitter to the Union than them.  I think that those Southern women would have taken that as high praise!  The Confederacy lacked almost everything when it went to war, except brave men and braver women.  Stephen Vincent Benet noted this in his epic poem of the Civil War, John Brown’s Body:

 

This view may be reckoned a trifle narrow,
But it had the driving force of an arrow,
And it helped Mary Lou to stand up straight,
For she was gentle, but she could hate
And she hated the North with the hate of Jael
When the dry hot hands went seeking the nail,
The terrible hate of women’s ire,
The smoky, the long-consuming fire.
The Yankees were devils, and she could pray,
For devils, no doubt, upon Judgment Day,
But now in the world, she would hate them still
And send the gentlemen out to kill.

The gentlemen killed and the gentlemen died,
But she was the South’s incarnate pride
That mended the broken gentlemen
And sent them out to the war again,
That kept the house with the men away
And baked the bricks where there was no clay,
Made courage from terror and bread from bran
And propped the South on a swansdown fan
Through four long years of ruin and stress,
The pride–and the deadly bitterness.

 

Published in: on May 1, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Southern Belles  
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April 25, 1861: Stephen A. Douglas: “Protect the Flag”

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the great antagonist of Abraham Lincoln, gave many eloquent speeches in his career, but the finest one he delivered was at the end of that career on April 25, 1861 to a joint session of the General Assembly of the State of Illinois.  In broken health, his coming death on June 3, 1861 already foreshadowed, he summoned the energy to help save his country.  Always first and foremost a patriot, Douglas was intent on rallying members of his party to the cause of the Union.  After one of the most vitriolic presidential contents in the history of the nation, it was an open question as to whether most members of the Party of Jackson would stand in support of the efforts of the Lincoln Administration to fight to preserve the Union.  Douglas, putting country above party, helped ensure that they would.

Immediately after the election of Lincoln he made it clear that he would make every effort in his power to fight against secession.  At the inaugural speech of Lincoln, he held the new President’s hat, giving a strong symbol of his support.  Illinois was a key state for the Union in the upcoming conflict.  Pro-Southern sentiment was strong among Illinois Democrats in the southern portion of the State, with even some talk that “Little Egypt”, as the extreme southern tip of Illinois is called, should secede from the rest of the state and join the Confederacy.  To rally his supporters for the Union, and at the request of President Lincoln, Douglas returned to Illinois and on April 25, 1861 had his finest hour. 

The speech he delivered that day has gone down in Illinois history as the “Protect the Flag” speech.  It was received by both Republicans and Democrats with thunderous applause and cheers throughout.  Although there would be much dissension in Illinois during the War, Douglas helped ensure that Illinois would be in the forefront of the war effort, with its quarter of a million troops,  among whom was Ulysses S. Grant, who would ultimately fight under the Stars and Stripes being absolutely crucial to Union victory.

Here is the speech, interspersed with comments by me: (more…)

Published in: on April 25, 2019 at 3:30 am  Comments Off on April 25, 1861: Stephen A. Douglas: “Protect the Flag”  
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