July 7, 1861: William Tillman

 

One hundred and fifty years ago, while war raged on land in America, a lesser known struggle was also being waged on the high seas.  Confederate privateers were beginning  a campaign which would decimate the United States merchant fleet by the end of the Civil War.

William Tillman,  a free black, was cook and steward aboard the S. J. Waring.  Sailing out of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, the Waring was bound for Montevideo, Uruguay with a mixed cargo.  Three days out from Sandy Hook, at latitude 38 degrees, longitude 69 degrees, the Waring was captured by the rebel privateer Jeff Davis.  The Captain of the Waring was taken aboard the Jeff Davis.  A prize crew was put aboard the Waring.  The Confederates advised Tillman that they were sailing the Waring to Charleston where she would be sold as a prize of war and Tillman would be sold as a slave. (more…)

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July 6, 1864: Ransom of Hagerstown, Maryland

Brigadier General John McCausland, Jr.

On July 5, 1864, Early’s Corps marched into Maryland in an attempt to take the pressure off Lee.  As part of this invasion Early sent Brigadier General John McCausland, Jr. to occupy Hagerstown, Maryland and demand a ransom from the town of $200,000.00 in recompense for the destruction wreaked in the Valley by Union General Hunter.  McCausland took the town without fighting early in the morning of July 6.

For some unknown reason McCausland demanded only $20,000.00 and 1500 suits of clothes for the ragged Confederates.  The dismayed citizens of Hagerstown raised the sum from three local banks and the clothes were provided.  McCausland and his men rode off at 1:00 AM on July 7.

Hagerstown got off lightly.  Frederick, Maryland during this campaign paid a ransom of $200,000.00.  The city of Frederick would be paying off this debt to local banks for almost a century, with the last payment made in 1951. (more…)

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June 22, 1865: Last Shot Fired in the American Civil War

 

The Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah, a converted steam merchant ship, steamed out of London on October 8, 1864.  Her skipper was James Iredell Waddell, a veteran of twenty years in the United States Navy prior to the Civil War, and a graduate of Annapolis.  Under Waddell, the Shenandoah would spend the next year at sea taking or sinking 38 ships, mostly New Bedford whaling ships, virtually destroying the American whaling fleet.  The last shot of the War was a blank fired on June 22, 1865 in the Bering Strait, to indicate to a Union whaling ship the wisdom of surrender.  Some of the captured Yankee seamen claimed the War was over, but Waddell assumed they were lying.

Waddell remained unconvinced that the War was over until he encountered a British ship on August 2, 1865.  Fearing imprisonment or worse for his men, Waddell then embarked on an epic three month voyage, pursued by the US Navy, to Liverpool where Waddell surrendered his ship and lowered the Confederate flag for the last time on November 6, 1865.  The Union wished to try Waddell and his men as pirates.  The British decided to parole Waddell and his men, as reported by The Liverpool Mercury on November 9, 1865: (more…)

Published in: on June 22, 2020 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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June 19, 1864: Sinking of the Alabama

The greatest of the Confederate commerce raiders that wreaked havoc on the Union merchant fleet, the CSS Alabama in her two year career took 65 prizes.  That career came to a screeching halt when she was sunk by the USS Kearsarge in a dramatic battle off the coast of Cherbourg on June 19, 1864.  Here is the account of Captain John Winslow, Captain of the Kearsarge, of the engagement: (more…)

June 17-18, 1864: Battle of Lynchburg

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When it came to military matters Robert E. Lee was a gambler.  His decision to send Jubal Early and his Second Corps off to the Shenandoah Valley in June of 1864 was an example of this, in spite of facing the Army of the Potomac that outnumbered him almost two to one.  Lee’s calculation was simple:  if the Union had control over the Shenandoah it became increasingly difficult for him to feed his army, losing access to the grain bin of the Confederacy and the rail line that allowed it to supply Richmond and Lee’s army.  A Union army under David Hunter was approaching Lynchburg, and Early’s initial mission was to save that essential rail depot. (more…)

June 15, 1864: Assault on Petersburg Begins

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Generals Lee and Grant were two of the finest generals in American history.  However, they both had off days, and few episodes in the Civil War cast both of these men in a poorer light than the failure of the Union attempt to seize Petersburg from June 15-18, 1864.

Grant inexplicably assigned to Butler’s Army of the James the task of spearheading the Union effort to take Petersburg.  Considering the poor performance of this army during the Bermuda Hundred campaign and the assault on Petersburg on June 9, this was a poor choice.  Smith’s corps and the cavalry of Kautz would attack over the same route followed on the June 9 attack.  Hancock’s corps of the Army of the Potomac would follow up after the initial assault.

The attack didn’t get under way until 7:oo PM with Smith then taking 3.5 miles of entrenchments from the almost unmanned Confederate defenses.  Smith then decided to wait until dawn before advancing further.  Hancock, demonstrating yet again that he was no longer the aggressive battlefield commander he had been earlier in the War, agreed with Smith’s decision to wait until dawn.

Beauregard, commanding the defenses of Petersburg, having no other troops, stripped the fortified Howlett line that kept most of Butler’s army of Confederate troops bottled up at Bermuda Hundred.  Butler could then have smashed through the Howlett line with  ease, but he did nothing.  Beauregard now had 14000 men to hold Petersburg while he awaited reinforcements from General Lee.

He now confronted three corps of 50,000 men, Burnside’s corps having come up to join Smith’s and Hancock’s.  Hancock, in temporary command of the Army of the Potomac until Meade arrived, launched a three corps attack at 5:30 PM on June 16.  Beauregard and his men hanging on just barely, constructing entrenchments behind their lines to contain Union breaches.

June 17 was a day of uncoordinated Union assaults which gave Beauregard the opportunity to construct a new defensive line around Petersburg to which he and his men withdrew on the evening of June 17-18.

Throughout the struggle for Petersburg Beauregard had frantically been asking Lee to send him reinforcements.  Lee denied all such entreaties until his son General Fitzhugh Lee and his cavalry finally confirmed that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the James and was attacking Petersburg.  At 3:00 AM on June 18, Lee dispatched two divisions to shore up the Petersburg defenses.

Beauregard now had 20,000 troops against 67,000 Federals.  The Union attacks on June 18 were repulsed with heavy loss and the siege of Petersburg began.  The Union had sustained 11000 casualties against 4000 Confederate casualties during the fighting of June 15-18, and the last opportunity to end the War quickly had vanished.

Here is an account of the fighting from June 15-18th by General Beauregard that he wrote for the North American Review in 1887: (more…)

June 11, 1863: Raid on Darien, Georgia

 

 

Commanded by an old Jayhawker, Colonel James Montgomery, the commander of the 2nd South Carolina, go here to read about him, with the participation of the 54th Massachusetts, the Union raid on June 11, 1863 degenerated into the looting and burning of Darien, much to the disgust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the 54th.  Here is letter to his newly wed wife in which he details his opinion of the raid:

St. Simons Island, Ga. [RGS] Tuesday, June 9, 1863

My Dearest Annie,

We arrived at the southern point of this island at six this morning. I went ashore to report to Colonel [James] Montgomery, and was ordered to proceed with my regiment to a place called “Pike’s Bluff,” on the inner coast of the island, and encamp. We came up here in another steamer, the “Sentinel,” as the “De Molay” is too large for the inner waters,—and took possession to-day of a plantation formerly owned by Mr. Gould. We have a very nice camping-ground for the regiment, and I have my quarters in “the house”; very pleasantly situated, and surrounded by fine large trees. The island is beautiful, as far as I have seen it. You would be enchanted with the scenery here; the foliage is wonderfully thick, and the trees covered with hanging moss, making beautiful avenues wherever there is a road or path; it is more like the tropics than anything I have seen. Mr. Butler King’s plantation, where I first went ashore, must have been a beautiful place, and well kept. It is entirely neglected now, of course; and as the growth is very rapid, two years’ neglect almost covers all traces of former care.

June 12th—If I could have gone on describing to you the beauties of this region, who knows but I might have made a fine addition to the literature of our age? But since I wrote the above, I have been looking at something very different.

On Wednesday, a steamboat appeared off our wharf, and Colonel Montgomery hailed me from the deck with, “How soon can you get ready to start on an expedition?” I said, “In half an hour,” and it was not long before we were on board with eight companies, leaving two for camp-guard.

We steamed down by his camp, where two other steamers with five companies from his regiment, and two sections of Rhode Island artillery, joined us. A little below there we ran aground, and had to wait until midnight for flood-tide, when we got away once more.

At 8 A.M., we were at the mouth of the Altamaha River, and immediately made for Darien. We wound in and out through the creeks, twisting and turning continually, often heading in directly the opposite direction from that which we intended to go, and often running aground, thereby losing much time. Besides our three vessels, we were followed by the gunboat “Paul Jones.”

On the way up, Montgomery threw several shells among the plantation buildings, in what seemed to me a very brutal way; for he didn’t know how many women and children there might be.

About noon we came in sight of Darien, a beautiful little town. Our artillery peppered it a little, as we came up, and then our three boats made fast to the wharves, and we landed the troops. The town was deserted, with the exception of two white women and two negroes.

Montgomery ordered all the furniture and movable property to be taken on board the boats. This occupied some time; and after the town was pretty thoroughly disembowelled, he said to me, “I shall burn this town.” He speaks always in a very low tone, and has quite a sweet smile when addressing you. I told him, “I did not want the responsibility of it,” and he was only too happy to take it all on his shoulders; so the pretty little place was burnt to the ground, and not a shed remains standing; Montgomery firing the last buildings with his own hand. One of my companies assisted in it, because he ordered them out, and I had to obey. You must bear in mind, that not a shot had been fired at us from this place, and that there were evidently very few men left in it. All the inhabitants (principally women and children) had fled on our approach, and were no doubt watching the scene from a distance. Some of our grape-shot tore the skirt of one of the women whom I saw. Montgomery told her that her house and property should be spared; but it went down with the rest.

The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were, that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old. In theory it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to being made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it. Then he says, “We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare” but that makes it none the less revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenceless. (more…)

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June 2, 1865: Civil War Ends

 

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It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy.  Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death.  It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach;  for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it.  From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth.  In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth.  But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.

Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884

 

With the signing of the articles of surrender in Galveston by Kirby Smith on June 2, 1865, the terms having been agreed to on May 26, 1865, the Civil War was at an end.  This is a good time to give a few thoughts as to what this immense event in American history meant to the nation.

1.  Secession-A temptation for Americans whenever national fortunes grew rough or when it seemed that different sections could not compromise and agree, secession as a mainstream political option was as dead as the Confederacy.

2.  Slavery-The stain of chattel slavery was ended.  As the years have rolled by, it has become fashionable to pooh pooh emancipation and to focus on the terrible disabilities that the freed slaves and their descendants would labor under.  All true and all irrelevant.  Those who lived at the time, both white and black, realized what a vast change the end of slavery made in America.  An institution that had grown up over 250 years, it seemed almost divinely inspired that it ended so swiftly over four years, and at a terrible cost.

3.  National Pride-It is odd that such a blood letting would be a source of pride North and South, but such was the case after the War.  Celebrating the courage of the men who fought, and the genius of the great generals of the conflict, was a common impulse North and South.  Union and Confederate veterans began holding joint reunions in the 1880s.  Fond remembrance of what seemed at the time a national nightmare, and honoring the veterans who fought in the conflict, helped reunify the nation.

4.  The Solid South-A legacy of the Civil War was enmity against the Republican party in most of the South and domination by the Democrat Party.  It was a heavily factionalized Democrat Party, where people who would have been Republicans elsewhere in the country, shoehorned themselves into a party with natural political adversaries.  The Democrat primaries, restricted to whites, were where the real contested elections were conducted.  This feature of American political life was so taken for granted for generations, that insufficient study has been given as to how this warping of the usual course of politics impacted the South and the nation as a whole.

5.  Civil Rights-The ultimate failure of Reconstruction to safeguard the rights of blacks, coupled with Supreme Court decisions that reflected a country concerned with national unity rather than the rights of minorities, set up a situation which held back the economic development of the South, leading to massive black exoduses in the early and mid twentieth centuries to the urban centers of the North.  One of the more dramatic results of the Civil War era, although it is not often thought of as a legacy of the Civil War. (more…)

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May 26, 1865: Kirby Smith Surrenders

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The last major Confederate force to surrender, General Edmund Kirby Smith, the commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, signed the articles of surrender on May 26, 1865 in Galveston, Texas.  Consisting of Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, the Trans-Mississippi had been cut off from the rest of the Confederacy since the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in mid 1863.  Smith then conducted the War in his sprawling Department on his own initiative, his command becoming known in the rest of the Confederacy as “Kirby Smithdom”. (more…)

Published in: on May 26, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Memorial Day: Why?

 

Not long ago I heard a young man ask why people still kept up Memorial Day, and it set me thinking of the answer. Not the answer that you and I should give to each other-not the expression of those feelings that, so long as you live, will make this day sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth–but an answer which should command the assent of those who do not share our memories, and in which we of the North and our brethren of the South could join in perfect accord.

 

So far as this last is concerned, to be sure, there is no trouble. The soldiers who were doing their best to kill one another felt less of personal hostility, I am very certain, than some who were not imperiled by their mutual endeavors. I have heard more than one of those who had been gallant and distinguished officers on the Confederate side say that they had had no such feeling. I know that I and those whom I knew best had not. We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win; we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluable; we, or many of us at least, also believed that the conflict was inevitable, and that slavery had lasted long enough. But we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred conviction that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every men with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief. The experience of battle soon taught its lesson even to those who came into the field more bitterly disposed. You could not stand up day after day in those indecisive contests where overwhelming victory was impossible because neither side would run as they ought when beaten, without getting at least something of the same brotherhood for the enemy that the north pole of a magnet has for the south–each working in an opposite sense to the other, but each unable to get along without the other. As it was then , it is now. The soldiers of the war need no explanations; they can join in commemorating a soldier’s death with feelings not different in kind, whether he fell toward them or by their side. (more…)

Published in: on May 25, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Memorial Day: Why?  
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