January 15, 1864: Fall of Fort Fisher

sail-mar

 

With the fall of Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865, the last major port of the Confederacy was sealed.  After Butler’s blundering attempt to take the Fort ended in a disgraceful retreat, the Union wasted no time in outfitting a second expedition.  60 ships under Admiral David Porter made up the naval component while Major General Alfred Terry led a force of 9000 troops from the Army of the James.  Colonel William Lamb commanded the 1900 man garrison of Fort Fisher, while Major General Hoke commanded a division of 6400 men a few miles north of the fort.

On January 13, Terry landed north of the Fort, between it and Hoke’s division.  Scouting the fort on January 14, Terry decided it could be taken by an infantry assault.  The Union fleet opened an intense bombardment of the fort on the morning of the 15th.  The assault did take the fort, in the teeth of a determined Confederate defense, after fighting that lasted until 10:00 PM.  Union casualties were 1341, with the entire Confederate garrison captured in addition to 538 killed and wounded.  Here is Secretary of War Stanton’s report on the battle:

 

FROM SECRETARY STANTON.

FORTRESS MONROE, Tuesday, Jan. 17 — 10 P.M.

The rebel flag of Fort Fisher was delivered to me on board the steamer Spalding, off that place, yesterday morning, Jan. 16, by Major-Gen. TERRY.

To the President:

An acknowledgment and thanks for their gallant achievement was given in your name to Admiral PORTER and Gen. TERRY, from whom the following particulars were obtained: The troops arrived off Fort Fisher Thursday night. Friday they were all landed under cover of a heavy fire from the squadron. A reconnoissance was made by Gen. TERRY on Saturday. A strong defensive line against any of the enemy’s forces coming from Wilmington was established on Saturday, and held by 4,600 men, chiefly colored troops, and an assault was determined on. The assault was made on Sunday afternoon at 3 1/2 o’clock. The sea-front of the fort had been greatly damaged and broken by a continuous and terrible fire of the fleet for three days, and the front was assaulted at the hour mentioned by a column of seamen and marines, 1,800 strong, under command of Capt. BREESE. They reached the parapet, but after a short conflict this column was checked, driven back in disorder, and was afterward placed on the defensive line, taking the place of a brigade that was brought up to reinforce the assaulting column of troops. Although the assault on the sea front failed, it performed a useful part in diverting the attention of the enemy, and weakening their resistance to the attack by the troops on the other side. The assault on the other and most difficult side of the fort was made by a column of 3,000 troops of the old Tenth Corps, led by Col. CURTIS, under the immediate supervision of Gen. TERRY. The enemy’s force in the fort was over 2,200. The conflict lasted for seven hours. The works were so constructed that every traverse afforded the enemy a new defensive position from whence they had to be driven. They were seven in number, and the fight was carried on from traverse to traverse, for seven hours, by a skilfully directed fire thrown into the traverses. One after another they were occupied by the enemy. Admiral PORTER contributed to the success of the assaulting column by signals between himself and Gen. TERRY at brief intervals. This fire was so well managed as to damage the enemy without injury to our own troops. (more…)

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January 13, 1862: Letter From Mudd

 

 

 

Orestes A. Brownson, a Catholic convert, was the greatest Catholic writer of mid-Nineteenth Century America.  He published Brownson’s Quarterly Journal, an influential and popular magazine which examined the political, cultural and literary scene of the America of its time.  One hundred and fifty years ago one of his subscribers sat down and wrote him a letter.  Dr. Samuel Mudd was an unknown figure at the time, but just over three years hence all of America would know his name as the physician who  treated the assassin John Wilkes Booth after he had slain President Lincoln.  Mudd was arrested in the aftermath of the assassination.  Mudd claimed to be completely innocent.  However, at his trial evidence was presented that established that Mudd had contacts with Booth in late 1864.  What they talked about is lost to history.  Evidence by Mudd’s former slaves helped establish that Mudd had been part of the conspiracy.  He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, escaping the death penalty by a single vote.

Mudd was held for four years at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.  During a yellow fever epidemic in 1867 the prison doctor died and Mudd volunteered to take his place.  His efforts helped stem the outbreak and the soldiers at the fort wrote a petition to President Johnson asking for clemency for Mudd:  He inspired the hopeless with courage and by his constant presence in the midst of danger and infection…. [Many] doubtless owe their lives to the care and treatment they received at his hands.  Due to this, and the ceaseless efforts of his defense attorney Thomas W. Ewing, Jr. who was influential with the Johnson administration, on February 8, 1869 Johnson pardoned Mudd.  Since Mudd’s release there have been continuing efforts to clear his name.  In 1992 my former Congressman, Republican Thomas Ewing, co-sponsored with Steny Hoyer, Democrat Maryland, House bill 1885 to overturn the conviction of Mudd.  The bill failed in committee.

Here is the text of Mudd’s letter to Brownson: (more…)

Published in: on January 13, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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January 8, 1863: Second Battle of Springfield, Missouri

An unusual example of urban combat during the Civil War, the hard-fought Second Battle of Springfield, Missouri on January 8, 1863 was one of the endless engagements that made Missouri one of the most fought over states during the Civil War.  The Union had heavily fortified Springfield and used it as linchpin of Union control of southwestern Missouri.

The Union garrison numbered only 1324 Union veteran troops, but four strong forts surrounded the city and Missouri Union militia swelled the number of the defenders to slightly more than 2000 men.  Brigadier General Egbert Brown, the commander of the garrison decided to stand and fight.

The Confederates consisted of about 2000 veteran cavalry under General John S. Marmaduke.  The standout unit among the Confederates was the Iron Brigade led by Colonel Jo Shelby, one of the more talented Confederate cavalry commanders of the War. (more…)

December 31, 1862: Battle of Stones River Begins

“Non nobis Domine! non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam.”

General William S. Rosecrans at the end of his report on the battle of Stones River, attributing the Union victory to God.

An unjustly obscure battle of the Civil War began 150 years ago today:  Stones River.  Based on the number of combatants involved, it was the bloodiest battle fought in an extremely bloody War.  The two armies involved, the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee, were struggling for control of middle Tennessee.  If the Confederate Army of Tennessee could be chased out of middle Tennessee, then Union control of Nashville was secure, and it could be used as a springboard for the conquest of southeastern Tennessee and the eventual invasion of Georgia.  If the Union Army of the Cumberland could be defeated, then Nashville might fall, and the Confederate heartland be secured from invasion.  The stakes were high at Stones River.  A critical factor for the Union was that morale in the North was plummeting.  The Army of the Potomac had suffered a shattering defeat a few weeks before at Fredericksburg, and Grant and his Army of the Tennessee seemed to be stymied by the Confederate fortress city of Vicksburg.  The War for the Union seemed to be going no place at immense cost in blood and treasure.  If the Army of the Cumberland led by General Rosecrans was defeated, voices raised in the North to “let the erring sisters go” might swell into a chorus that would lead eventually to a negotiated peace, especially after election losses for the Republicans in the Congressional elections already demonstrated deep dissatisfaction in the North as to the progress of the War.

General Rosecrans led the Army of the Cumberland out of Nashville the day after Christmas and marched southeast 40 miles to challenge the Army of Tennessee at Murfreesboro.  The armies were comparable in size with the Army of the Cumberland having 41,000 men opposed to the 35,000 of the Army of the Tennessee.  Both Rosecrans and Bragg planned to attack the opposing army by attacking its right flank.  On December 31, Bragg struck first.

December 31, 1862 Stones River

Confederate General William J. Hardee led his corps in a slashing attack at 8:00 AM against General Alexander M. McCook’s corps, and by 10:00 AM had chased the Union troops back three miles  before they rallied.  Rosecrans cancelled the attack against the Confederate right by General Thomas L. Crittenden’s corps, and rushed reinforcements to his embattled right.  Confederate General Leonidas Polk, an Episcopalian bishop in civilian life, launched simultaneous attacks against the left of McCook’s corp.  Here General Phil Sheridan’s division put up a stout resistance, but was eventually driven back.

Stones_River_Dec31_0945

By late morning the Union army had its back to Stones River and its line perpendicular on its right to its original position.  Rosecrans, who seemed to be everywhere on the battlefield that day, succeeded in rallying his troops.  The left of the Union line held against repeated assaults, the fiercest fighting centering on a four-acre wooded tract, known until the battle as the Round Forest, held by Colonel William B. Hazen’s brigade.  The ferocity of the fighting can be judged by the fact that after the battle the tract of land would ever be known as Hell’s Half Acre.  The Union forces held and by 4:30 PM. winter darkness brought an end to that day’s fighting.

Rosecrans held a council of war that night to determine if the army should stand or retreat.  General George H. Thomas who had led his corps in the center with his customary skill and determination made the laconic comment that “There is no better place to die” and Rosecrans readily agreed.  The Army of the Cumberland would stand and fight. (more…)

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges

 

In times of war the laws fall silent.  That is from the Latin maxim Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges.  A  study of history reveals just how true that is, and Justice Scalia reminds us of that fact:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told law students at the University of Hawaii law school Monday that the nation’s highest court was wrong to uphold the internment of Japa­nese-Americans during World War II but that he wouldn’t be surprised if the court issued a similar ruling during a future conflict.

Scalia was responding to a question about the court’s 1944 decision in Kore­ma­tsu v. United States, which upheld the convictions of Gordon Hira­ba­ya­shi and Fred Kore­ma­tsu for violating an order to report to an internment camp.

“Well, of course, Kore­ma­tsu was wrong. And I think we have repudiated in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again,” Scalia told students and faculty during a lunchtime question-and-answer session.

Scalia cited a Latin expression meaning “In times of war, the laws fall silent.”

“That’s what was going on — the panic about the war and the invasion of the Pacific and whatnot. That’s what happens. It was wrong, but I would not be surprised to see it happen again, in time of war. It’s no justification but it is the reality,” he said.

Avi Soifer, the law school’s dean, said he believed Scalia was suggesting people always have to be vigilant and that the law alone can’t be trusted to provide protection.

Go here to read the rest.

Internment camps were set up after Pearl Harbor during the invasion scare.  Several thousand Italian-Americans and eleven thousand German Americans were interned during the war, but these were individuals who were picked up because investigations indicated that they could be a domestic threat.  The west coast  Japanese were simply scooped up with no individual investigations.  J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, opposed the internment of the Japanese, regarding it as completely unnecessary, but his views sadly were ignored.  About 120,000 Japanese -Americans were interned during the war, the vast majority loyal Americans.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the internment in the case of Korematsu v. United States.  The vote was 6-3.  Six out of the eight Supreme Court Justices appointed by FDR voted to affirm the constitutionality of the internment.  The lone Republican on the court, Justice Owen Roberts, wrote a dissent which deserves to be remembered.  It begins simply and directly:

I dissent, because I think the indisputable facts exhibit a clear violation of Constitutional rights.

This is not a case of keeping people off the streets at night as was Kiyoshi Hirabayashi v. United States,  320  U.S. 81, 63 S.Ct. 1375,  [323  U.S. 214, 226] nor a case of temporary exclusion of a citizen from an area for his own safety or that of the community, nor a case of offering him an opportunity to go temporarily out of an area where his presence might cause danger to himself or to his fellows. On the contrary, it is the case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States. If this be a correct statement of the facts disclosed by this record, and facts of which we take judicial notice, I need hardly labor the conclusion that Constitutional rights have been violated.

 

On the same day as the ruling in Korematsu was handed down, the Supreme Court ruled the internment of loyal Americans unconstitutional in December of 1944 in the case of Ex Parte Endo.  After the decision Japanese-Americans were free to leave the internment camps, although about a quarter of the internees had already left to live and work in areas of the country other than the west coast zones excluded to them, or by volunteering for military service.  This decision was unanimous and Justice Roberts correctly pointed out that the two decisions contradicted each other.  (The Supreme Court in 2018 in Trump v Hawaii, via the majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts noted that Korematsu was no longer good law:

Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—‘has no place in law under the Constitution.’”)

What happened in World War II was not an aberration.  Whenever this country has gone to war some infringement on civil liberties has occurred.  Sometimes these infringements have been massive as occurred during the Revolution and the Civil War. (more…)

December 9, 1863: Mutiny at Fort Jackson

Corps d'Afrique

Fort Jackson, one of two forts guarding the Mississippi route to New Orleans, seemed to have a predilection for mutinies during the Civil War.  In 1862 the Confederate garrison mutinied after it was placed under siege by the Union.  On December 9, 1863 a mutiny occurred by the black troops of the Fourth Regiment Infantry of the Corp d’Afrique, caused by the brutal whipping of two drummer boys by Lieutenant Colonel  Augustus W. Benedict, who had engaged in ill treatment of his men prior to this incident.  About half the regiment mutinied.  No one was killed, but the disturbance lasted from the afternoon until 7:30 PM.  In the aftermath a military commission was appointed to investigate the mutiny, and punish the guilty.  Benedict was cashiered from the service.  The ringleaders of the mutiny were sentenced to punishments ranging from 30 days confinement to execution.  Go here to read an account of the mutiny which occurred in the New York Times.  Here is the report of the commission: (more…)

Published in: on December 9, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 9, 1863: Mutiny at Fort Jackson  
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Myths of the Civil War

 

An excellent post at the blog Letters From Cato on Myths of the Civil War:

Jesse Kelly tweeted this out the other day:*

1. Slavery is a repulsive thing and a stain on the history of our country. 2. Did you know in the beginning Lincoln would have stopped the war and let the South keep their slaves? See? Complicated.

*This was either before or after he was suspended, which is another matter in and of itself.

This is a fairly standard talking point about the civil war. The longer form of it goes something like this: “The civil war wasn’t really about slavery, and as proof, look at Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was perfectly willing to go back to the status quo ante had the confederates laid down their arms early on in the war. So see – the civil war wasn’t really about slavery because Lincoln himself was willing to allow slavery to continue.”

This is one of several arguments about the war that I come across with some regularity, so I’ve decided to post about it and a few of the other common myths I’ve heard repeated.

Before I begin, let me note that I use “myth” with some reservation, because many of these arguments have a grain of truth. Therefore they are not complete myths or fabrications. Rather, they are arguments that either distort the context or leave off important bits of information. For simplicity’s sake, though, that’s the title I’ve gone with.

Myth #1: Lincoln’s aim was to preserve the union, not to end slavery.

I’ll start with the above-stated one first. As I said, there is a grain of truth to it. Lincoln’s primary aim truly was to restore the union, and he was willing at first to retain slavery if it meant an early end to the war. What’s more, Lincoln was anti-slavery, but he was not an abolitionist, meaning he desired the eventual eradication of slavery, but did not advocate immediate measures for its end. (Of course this is a point against another myth, which I’ll get to later.)

That being said, there are several reasons this argument is misleading. First of all, it leaves the impression that Lincoln wasn’t concerned about slavery at all, or that his passion for emancipation was lacking. While he may not have favored immediate abolition, he nonetheless spent almost the entirety of his public career forcefully and unequivocally condemning slavery, expressing a desire for its eventual abolition.

Also, one has to consider his House Divided speech. Only in the context of a united country could we arrive at a nation that was totally free. If the slave states removed themselves from the union, then abolition no longer is a possibility. So whole Lincoln was primarily interested in maintaining the union at all costs, it was to preserve a union which would eventually pave the way for the total eradication of slavery.

What’s more, as the war progressed, it became a war for emancipation. The Emancipation Proclamation is often dismissed as a cynical prop for perpetuating the war, but the proclamation changed the moral arc of the war. That most of Lincoln’s cabinet urged Lincoln not to issue the proclamation would seem to be a point of proof in how passionately Lincoln felt about this measure.

 

Go here to read the rest.

Published in: on December 6, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Myths of the Civil War  
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November 30, 1864: Battle of Franklin

Battle of Franklin

With Sherman embarking on his March to the Sea, John Bell Hood and his Army of Tennessee were left confronting the Union forces in Tennessee, some sixty thousand troops to the 39,000 under Hood.  The odds were actually longer than that, as Union control of the railroads and rivers of Tennessee would allow rapid Union reinforcement in Tennessee if necessary.  Hood decided that his only option for victory was to take Tennessee from the Union.  This was the longest of long shots, but at this stage of the War no Confederate commander had strategic options that could be called anything other than bleak.  Hood’s plan at least had his army taking the initiative, and he could hope for some massive Union blunders that might transform an impossible situation into one that gave him some hope of at least slowing what he no doubt perceived as an inevitable Union victory in the War.

Hood entered Tennessee on November 21, and his campaign began with some promise.  The Union forces were divided by 75 miles with Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, and Schofield and his Army of the Ohio, some 27,000 men, at Pulaski, Tennessee.

Hood did his best to bring Schofield to battle before he could unite with Thomas and succeeded in doing so on November 30 at Franklin, Tennessee, some 21 miles south of Nashville, after the Army of Tennessee missed a golden opportunity to destroy a portion of Schofield’s retreating force at Spring Hill the day before.

Schofield had abandoned his pontoon bridge during the retreat and thus his army fought the Battle of Franklin with its back to the Harpeth River, and potential annihilation if the Confederates could dislodge his defense.  Hood realized the opportunity that presented itself and ordered an all out assault that began at 4:00 PM.

Some of the most desperate fighting of the Civil War ensued.  An initial Confederate breakthrough in the Union center was sealed after ferocious combat, much of it hand to hand. Confederate attacks continued until 10:00 PM.  The unsuccessful attacks devastated the Army of the Tennessee.  Union total casualties of approximately 2,200 included 189 killed.  Confederate killed were ten times that number with total Confederate casualties of 6200.  The tenor of the Confederate losses is illustrated by their generals who were casualties that day.  Six Confederate generals died, including perhaps the best Confederate division commander, Major General Patrick Cleburne, seven Confederate generals were wounded and one was captured.  Schofield withdrew across the river that night and march his army to Nashville.  Hood followed with his army, now a pale reflection of the force that he led into battle the day before.  November 30, 1864 was the black day of the Army of Tennessee.

Here is the report of General Thomas on the battle: (more…)

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November 26, 1863: Mine Run Campaign

Mine_Run_Campaign

The Mine Run Campaign which began on November 26, 1863 illustrates that Major General George Gordon Meade, although he would later prove effective as, in effect, Grant’s chief of staff after Grant came East and took de facto command of the Army of the Potomac, was completely outclassed in generalship by Robert E. Lee, Gettysburg notwithstanding.  Meade with 81,000 men, had a golden opportunity to inflict a severe defeat on Lee, who only had 48,000 men with Longstreet’s Corps stuck besieging Knoxville in Tennessee.

Meade’s plan was to conduct a lightning march through the Wilderness, the tangle of forest and shrub where Hooker had been defeated at Chancellorsville and where the first battle of the Overland Campaign would be fought in 1864.

Delays crossing the Rapidan on November 25,  allowed Lee time to slow the Union advance at Payne’s Farm on November 26.  Withdrawing behind Mine Run creek, Lee fortified his position.  Meade planned an assault on Lee’s position but cooler heads prevailed and Meade withdrew during the night on December 1-2.  This chagrined Lee who had been preparing his own attack for December 2.  This ended the Virginia campaign of 1863, a campaign that was barren of results for the Union after the big victory of Gettysburg.  Here is Lee’s official report on the Mine Run Campaign: (more…)

Published in: on November 26, 2018 at 11:30 pm  Comments Off on November 26, 1863: Mine Run Campaign  
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Gettysburg Addresses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presidents during their presidencies make hundreds of speeches.  Most are utterly forgotten soon after they are delivered.  Even most of the speeches by a president who is also a skilled orator, as Lincoln was, are recalled only by historians and trivia buffs.  Yet the Gettysburg address has achieved immortality.

 

Lincoln was invited to say a few words at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.  The featured speaker was Edward Everett, one of the most accomplished men in American public life, who gave a two hour oration.  It is a fine example of nineteenth century oratory, full of learning, argument and passion.  It may seem very odd to contemplate in our sound bite age, but audiences in America in Lincoln’s time expected these type of lengthy excursions into eloquence and felt cheated when a speaker skimped on either length or ornateness in his efforts.

Lincoln then got up and spoke for two minutes.

We are not really sure what Lincoln said.  There are two drafts of the speech in Lincoln’s hand, and they differ from each other.  It is quite likely that neither reflects precisely the words that Lincoln used in the Gettysburg Address.  For the sake of simplicity, and because it is the version people usually think of when reference is made to the Gettysburg address, the text used here is the version carved on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle- field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Here was the masterpiece of Lincoln’s passion for concise, almost terse, argument.  No doubt many in the audience were amazed when Lincoln sat down, probably assuming that this was a preamble to his main speech.

“Fourscore and seven years ago”

Lincoln starts out with an attention grabber.  Rather than the prosaic eighty-seven years, he treats his listeners to a poetic line that causes them to think and follow Lincoln back in time to the founding. (more…)

Published in: on November 19, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Gettysburg Addresses  
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