The Girls Would Cry Shame and They’d Volunteer

 

Something for the weekend.  The immortal Tennessee Ernie Ford singing The Why and the Wherefore, a popular marching song for Union troops during the Civil War: (more…)

April 13, 1865: Holy Thursday in Washington

 

 

One hundred and fifty-two years ago in the Holy Week so fateful to our nation, General Grant arrived in Washington DC.  Anxious to cut costs, he advised Secretary of War Stanton that military contracts for ordinance and most supplies could be canceled and that troops no longer needed to be recruited or drafted and Stanton issued the necessary order the same day.  Grant after he became President appointed Stanton to the Supreme Court although Stanton died before he could join the Court.  Grant and Stanton had had an up and down relationship during the War, typical of the relationships of most high Union officers with the mercurial Stanton.  It is interesting to read Grant’s assessment of Stanton in his memoir:

He was a man who never questioned his own authority, and who always did in war time what he wanted to do. He was an able constitutional lawyer and jurist; but the Constitution was not an impediment to him while the war lasted. In this latter particular I entirely agree with the view he evidently held. The Constitution was not framed with a view to any such rebellion as that of 1861–5. While it did not authorize rebellion it made no provision against it. Yet the right to resist or suppress rebellion is as inherent as the right of self-defence, and as natural as the right of an individual to preserve his life when in jeopardy. The Constitution was therefore in abeyance for the time being, so far as it in any way affected the progress and termination of the war. (more…)

Published in: on April 13, 2017 at 4:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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April 9, 1865: Palm Sunday at Appomatox

 

 

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

I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865.  Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox.  We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history.  The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war.  The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south.  Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated.  All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox.

Grant recalled the surrender:

APPOMATTOX C. H., VA.,
Ap l 19th, 1865.

GEN. R. E. LEE,
Comd’g C. S. A.
GEN: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.
Very respectfully,
U. S. GRANT,
Lt. Gen.

When I put my pen to the paper I did not know the first word that I should make use of in writing the terms. I only knew what was in my mind, and I wished to express it clearly, so that there could be no mistaking it. As I wrote on, the thought occurred to me that the officers had their own private horses and effects, which were important to them, but of no value to us; also that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to call upon them to deliver their side arms.

No conversation, not one word, passed between General Lee and myself, either about private property, side arms, or kindred subjects. He appeared to have no objections to the terms first proposed; or if he had a point to make against them he wished to wait until they were in writing to make it. When he read over that part of the terms about side arms, horses and private property of the officers, he remarked, with some feeling, I thought, that this would have a happy effect upon his army.

Then, after a little further conversation, General Lee remarked to me again that their army was organized a little differently from the army of the United States (still maintaining by implication that we were two countries); that in their army the cavalrymen and artillerists owned their own horses; and he asked if he was to understand that the men who so owned their horses were to be permitted to retain them. I told him that as the terms were written they would not; that only the officers were permitted to take their private property. He then, after reading over the terms a second time, remarked that that was clear.

I then said to him that I thought this would be about the last battle of the war—I sincerely hoped so; and I said further I took it that most of the men in the ranks were small farmers. The whole country had been so raided by the two armies that it was doubtful whether they would be able to put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter without the aid of the horses they were then riding. The United States did not want them and I would, therefore, instruct the officers I left behind to receive the paroles of his troops to let every man of the Confederate army who claimed to own a horse or mule take the animal to his home. Lee remarked again that this would have a happy effect.

He then sat down and wrote out the following letter:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
April 9, 1865.

GENERAL:—I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.
R. E. LEE, General.

LIEUT.-GENERAL U. S. GRANT.

While duplicates of the two letters were being made, the Union generals present were severally present to General Lee.

The much talked of surrendering of Lee’s sword and my handing it back, this and much more that has been said about it is the purest romance. The word sword or side arms was not mentioned by either of us until I wrote it in the terms. There was no premeditation, and it did not occur to me until the moment I wrote it down. If I had happened to omit it, and General Lee had called my attention to it, I should have put it in the terms precisely as I acceded to the provision about the soldiers retaining their horses.

General Lee, after all was completed and before taking his leave, remarked that his army was in a very bad condition for want of food, and that they were without forage; that his men had been living for some days on parched corn exclusively, and that he would have to ask me for rations and forage. I told him “certainly,” and asked for how many men he wanted rations. His answer was “about twenty-five thousand;” and I authorized him to send his own commissary and quartermaster to Appomattox Station, two or three miles away, where he could have, out of the trains we had stopped, all the provisions wanted. As for forage, we had ourselves depended almost entirely upon the country for that.

Grant in his memoirs wrote, When Lee and I separated he went back to his lines and I returned to the house of Mr. McLean. Here the officers of both armies came in great numbers, and seemed to enjoy the meeting as much as though they had been friends separated for a long time while fighting battles under the same flag.”

Lee so appreciated the generosity of the terms of surrender given by Grant, that for the remainder of his life he would never allow a word of denigration about Grant to be spoken in his presence.

(Grant) rode on toward his headquarters tent, which had been found at last, along with his baggage, and pitched nearby. He had not gone far before someone asked if he did not consider the news of Lee’s surrender worth passing on to the War Department. Reining his horse in, he dismounted and sat on a large stone by the roadside to compose the telegram Lincoln would receive that night. By the time he remounted to ride on, salutes were beginning to roar from Union batteries roundabout, and he sent word to have them stopped, not only because he feared the warlike racket might cause trouble between the victors and the vanquished, both of them still with weapons in their hands, but also because he considered it unfitting. “The war is over,” he told his staff. “The rebels are our countrymen again.”

Shelby Foote, The Civil War:  A Narrative, volume III

(more…)

Published in: on April 9, 2017 at 5:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Stand Up For Uncle Sam My Boys

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Stand Up For Uncle Sam My Boys sung by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War music to modern audiences.  A pro-Union song written in 1861 by that tireless writer of Civil War tunes George F. Root.  Sadly its patriotism may seem over the top to modern audiences.  Not so to most of the fighting men on both sides during the Civil War who liked their songs about the War to be lively and very patriotic.

Published in: on March 25, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Stand Up For Uncle Sam My Boys  
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November 24, 1864: Thanksgiving for the Troops

In 1864 the Union League decided to raise a fund to supply Thanksgiving dinner on November 24, 1864 for the Union soldiers and sailors fighting in the East.  The reaction of the Northern public to this plan was overwhelming.  over $56,000 in cash was raised, an enormous sum at the time, 250,000 pounds of fowl, and enormous contributions of foodstuffs of every type.  The Union soldiers and sailors loved their feast and the reminder that they had not been forgotten by the folks back home.  For Confederate soldiers, on starvation rations, there was of course no feast, a fact underlining the overwhelming tragedy of the Civil War.  Here is the Union League appeal which was printed in the New York Times on November 8, 1864.  Note that  Theodore Roosevelt, the father of the future president of the same name, is the Treasurer: (more…)

Published in: on November 24, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 24, 1864: Thanksgiving for the Troops  
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Lincoln’s Premontions of Death

According to Ward Lamon, Marshal of Washington and a former law partner of Abraham Lincoln, three days before his assassination, Lincoln spoke about a strange dream that he had:

“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”
It is a striking account if true, and appropriate for a Halloween Day.  However, there are problems with it.  First, there was no contemporary mention of it in the aftermath of the assassination.  Surely Lamon would have mentioned such a prophetic statement by Lincoln at the time.  Second, during the time period in question when the dream purportedly occurred, the latter part of March, Lincoln was not at the White House but with the Army of the Potomac.  Third, the story didn’t appear in print until 1895, two years after Lamon’s death, in a book of reminiscences compiled by Lamon’s daughter.
However, I am inclined to believe it based upon this incident involving a Lincoln dream which is well authenticated.  Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, made this notation in his diary regarding the cabinet meeting that occurred at noon on the day of  the assassination of Lincoln: (more…)
Published in: on October 31, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln’s Premontions of Death  
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Good-bye Old Glory

Something for the weekend.  Good-bye Old Glory.  Published on September 29, 1865 with music by the most prolific song writers of the Civil War era, George Frederick Root and lyrics by L.J. Bates.  This song was popular at Union Army reunions and at meeting halls of the Grand Army of the Republic.  This rendition is performed by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War era music to contemporary audiences.

Published in: on August 6, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Good-bye Old Glory  
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Civil War Book Haul

 

While in Wisconsin, my family and I visited the Civil War museum in Kenosha.  It has quite a few fascinating exhibits, including period battle flags, uniforms, films, a toy soldier exhibit showing the stand of the Iron Brigade on the first day of Gettysburg, etc.  One of my favorite features of the museum is their gift shop which has a huge collection of used Civil War books for sale.  I never fail to find often rare books on the Civil War.  Here is a list of my purchases for 43 dollars earlier in the week:

  1. Jefferson Davis:   American Patriot 1808-1861, Hudson Strode (1955)-Poor Jefferson Davis, portrayed as the Devil incarnate by the North during the War, he was often used as a scapegoat by Southerners after the War.  The simple truth is that Davis was a gifted man who brought the Confederacy close to independence against all the odds.  Hudson Strode was the first historian to have access to many of the personal papers of Jefferson Davis and launched a vigorous counterattack to the image of Davis as a bloodless pedant, revealing him instead as a passionate and complex man.
  2. The Hidden Face of the Civil War, Otto Eisenschiml (1961)-The Austrian born Eisenschiml was an oil company executive, and a tireless Civil War historian.  He is perhaps best known for his 1937 look at the Lincoln assassination which posited that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was behind the assassination.  I regard this theory as completely loony.  However, Eisenschiml was never afraid of controversy and is always entertaining to read.    In this volume he savages both the North and the South for incompetence in the waging of the Civil War.
  3. The Celebrated Case of Fitz John Porter:  An American Dreyfus Affair, Otto Eisenschiml (1950)-Eisenschiml takes on the case of General Porter who was court-martialed and removed from the Army for his actions at Second Bull Run, and who fought for 25 years to clear his name, a fight he ultimately won.
  4. Lincoln’s Scapegoat General: A Life of General Benjamin Butler, 1818-1893, Richard S. West, Jr. (1965)-A book in defense of “Beast” Butler.  I like seeing arguments made for impossible cases, and attempting to convince me that Butler was not the most incompetent Union general is close to an impossible task.
  5. General Sherman’s Son:  The Life of Thomas Ewing Sherman, SJ, Joseph T. Durkin, SJ (1959)  A biography of the Jesuit son of General Sherman written by a Jesuit.  Go here to read about Father Sherman.
  6. Grant Wins the War, James R. Arnold (1997)-A good one volume look at the Vicksburg campaign, the most decisive campaign of the War.

(more…)

Published in: on July 25, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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To Canaan

 

 

Something for the weekend.  To Canaan.   One of the more bloodthirsty songs of our Civil War, it is based on this poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, published in 1862: (more…)

Published in: on July 23, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on To Canaan  
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March 11, 1861: Confederate Constitution Adopted

confconst_copy

 

 

It has always been intriguing to me, that as microscopically studied as the Civil War has been over the years, that more attention has not been paid to the Confederate Constitution. It is a fascinating document.  Crafted by men who had lived their entire lives under the United States Constitution and who had served in the Federal government, its similarities and differences illuminate what these men thought was good with the old Constitution and what needed improvement.  This Constitution took the place of the Provisional Constitution of the Confederacy, go here to read it, a document that by its own terms was meant to be temporary and had a hurried, improvised feel to it.  The permanent Confederate Constitution was the product of more mature reflection and the additional time that the drafters had to think about this new government and nation they were helping to midwife.  Here are some observations on this document:

  1.  The Preamble of the Constitution invokes God, 1861 being a more religious time than 1787.
  2. The preamble states that this is to be a permanent federal government, the Founding Fathers of the Confederacy obviously being eager that secession not be repeated against the Confederacy.  This is underlined by the fact that the representatives from South Carolina proposed that a right to secession be explicit in the Constitution.  Only the South Carolinians voted in favor of this proposal.
  3. Article I dealing with Congress is quite similar to that Article in the US Constitution with some significant changes:  State legislatures were given the power to impeach their members of Congress on a two/thirds vote.  Each House of the Confederate Congress could allocate seats to the heads of Executive Departments, in order to allow them to discuss the activities of their Departments, which seems to be an attempt to adopt the practice of the British Parliament.  The President of the Confederacy was granted a line item veto, but any bill on which he exercised such a veto would be resubmitted to Congress with such a veto being overridden by a two-thirds vote.  Congress was forbidden to allocate funds for internal improvements not set forth explicitly in the Constitution, such improvements being limited to waterways and coastal navigation improvements.  The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution was set forth in Article I, except for the ninth and tenth amendments which were set forth in Article VI.  All appropriations had to pass by a two-thirds vote, except as otherwise enumerated in the Confederate Constitution.  All bills appropriating money had to list the exact amount being appropriated and the purpose for which the funds were to be appropriate.  All bills had to have a single subject which was to be set out in the title to the bill.
  4. Under Article II Presidents were to be limited to a single six year term.  The only two  term President during the adult lives of the men involved in drafting the Confederate Constitution would have been Andrew Jackson, and even his most ardent partisans would have admitted that his second term had been rocky.  The frustrated desires of many Presidents following Jackson for a second term might have been regarded as a source of friction best avoided altogether under the new government.  Confederate Presidents had to have resided within the bounds of the Confederacy for 14 years.  If strictly construed this provision would have rendered every man in the Confederacy ineligible for the office.
  5. Article III dictated that no State could be sued in the Confederate court system by a citizen or a subject of any foreign State.
  6. Article IV made a two-thirds vote necessary for a State to be admitted to the Confederacy.
  7. Article V required only a two-thirds vote of the States to amend the Confederate Constitution.
  8. The most significant differences with the Federal Constitution were on the various issues arising on the question of slavery.  The Confederate document used the terms slaves and slavery.  The international slave trade is banned, except with the United States.  Congress is given the power to ban the importation of slaves from any State not a member of the Confederacy.  Congress is denied any power to pass a law impairing the right to own slaves.  No State could pass a law impairing the right of a citizen of the Confederacy to own slaves.  Slavery in Confederate territories was mandated.

 

Here is the text of the Confederate Constitution: (more…)

Published in: on March 11, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 11, 1861: Confederate Constitution Adopted  
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