Riding a Raid

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Riding a Raid, sung by Bobby Horton, the man who has dedicated his life to bringing Civil War music to modern audiences.  Stuart and his cavalry troopers were the glamor boys of the Army of the Northern Virginia.  Twice they rode around the Army of the Potomac, and until 1863 they completely dominated the Union cavalry, although they were usually heavily outnumbered on the battlefield.  This song captures well the spirit of the cavaliers in grey.

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Published in: on February 4, 2023 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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January 20, 1863: Mud March

Mud March Painting

 

Probably the nadir of the Union war effort was reached by the Mud March of the Army of the Potomac which began 160 years ago on January 20, 1863.  Desperate to redeem himself after the bloody fiasco at Fredericksburg the commander of the Potomac, General Ambrose Burnside, ordered an unusal winter offensive, planning to cross over the Rappahannock at Banks ford, .

The weather was unseasonably mild on the 20th.  On the evening of the 20th-21st the rains began and did not stop.  Burnside quick began throwing pontoons over the river, but as the landscape dissolved into a sea of mud, the progress of the Army slowed.  Lee had ample time as a result to station the Army of Northern Virginia across from Burnside on the southern banks of the  Rappahannock.  Other than sharpshooter fire, Lee made no effort to stop Burnside from crossing, perhaps thinking that fighting Burnside with a swollen Rappahannock in the rear of the Army of the Potomac gave an excellent prospect of destroying the Union force. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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January 3, 1860: Albert Gallatin Brown Explains Why Slavery in the Territories Caused the Civil War

On January 3, 1860 Albert Gallatin Brown, Senator from Mississippi took to the floor of the Senate.  In many ways Brown was a remarkable man.  An ardent advocate of education and foe of illiteracy, as governor of Mississippi in 1844-48, he was largely responsible for the creation of a public school system in Mississippi and the foundation of the University of Mississippi.  He was also an ardent advocate of the spread of slavery, and on January 3, 162 years ago, he explained why the issue of slavery in the territories was leading to secession and the Civil War: (more…)

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Two Minutes to Change the World

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…)

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December 12, 1862: Hardluck Ironclad: USS Cairo

 

A book I purchased, Hardluck Ironclad, by Edwin C. Bearss, a distinguished Civil War historian,  was written in 1966 and detailed the history of the Union gunboat Cairo that was sunk during the Civil War, and his ultimately successful efforts to begin to raise her from the Yazoo River.

The centennial observation of the Civil War began an effort across the nation to recover our Civil War past, and the recovery of portions of the Cairo is a prime example of the successes and limitations of that effort. (more…)

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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…)

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December 2, 1864: Non-Siege of Nashville Begins

Nashville_campaign_svg

 

One of the oddest episodes in the history of the Civil War begins.  His army badly mangled at the battle of Franklin, Hood entrenches his army before the Union lines at Nashville.

Hood explained his rationale for doing so in his official report of the campaign which he submitted on February 15, 1865:

On the 2d of December the army took position in front of Nashville, about two miles from the city. Lieutenant-General Lee’s corps constituted our center, resting upon the Franklin pike, with Cheatham’s corps upon the right and Stewart’s on the left, and the cavalry on either flank, extending to the river. I was causing strong detached works to be built to cover our flanks, intending to make them inclosed works, so as to defeat any attempt of the enemy should he undertake offensive movements against our flank and rear. The enemy still held Murfrees-borough with about 6,000 men, strongly fortified; he also held small forces at Chattanooga and Knoxville. It was apparent that he would soon have to take the offensive to relieve his garrisons at those points or cause them to be evacuated, in which case I hoped to capture the forces at Murfreesborough, and should then be able to open communication with Georgia and Virginia. Should he attack me in position I felt that I could defeat him, and thus gain possession of Nashville with abundant supplies for the army. This would give me possession of Tennessee. Necessary steps were taken to furnish the army with supplies, which the people were ready and willing to furnish. Shoe-shops were in operation in each brigade. We had captured sufficient railroad stock to use the road to Pulaski, and it was already in successful operation. Having possession of the State, we should have gained largely in recruits, and could at an early day have moved forward to the Ohio, which would have frustrated the plans of the enemy, as developed in his campaign toward the Atlantic coast. (more…)

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December 1, 1861: Memo to McClellan

 

One hundred and sixty-onme years ago Abraham Lincoln sent a memo to General McClellan.  McClellan had been in command of the Army of the Potomac since shortly after Bull Run.  Although he had demonstrated great talent in organizing, equipping and training his army, it was becoming increasingly clear to Lincoln that McClellan was reluctant to risk his force in battle.  This memorandum, which McClellan ignored, was Lincoln’s first attempt to prod the “young Napoleon” into action.  McClellan ignored the memo, an attitude which would lead Lincoln to dismiss McClellan twice from his command in the next year.  Here is the text of the memo: (more…)

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