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  Comments Off on April 13, 1865: Holy Thursday in Washington  
Tags: , , ,

April 26, 1865: Johnston Surrenders

 

Sherman and Johnston

After the rejection of the surrender terms that he had negotiated with Johnston, with Breckinridge cleverly pulling the strings, go here to read about it, a clearly irked Sherman wasted no time in carrying out his orders to arrange new surrender terms with Johnston:

HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI
IN THE FIELD, RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, April 25, 1865.

Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT, present.

GENERAL: I had the honor to receive your letter of April 21st, with inclosures, yesterday, and was well pleased that you came along, as you must have observed that I held the military control so as to adapt it to any phase the case might assume.

It is but just I should record the fact that I made my terms with General Johnston under the influence of the liberal terms you extended to the army of General Lee at Appomattox Court-House on the 9th, and the seeming policy of our Government, as evinced by the call of the Virginia Legislature and Governor back to Richmond, under yours and President Lincoln’s very eyes.

It now appears this last act was done without any consultation with you or any knowledge of Mr. Lincoln, but rather in opposition to a previous policy well considered.

I have not the least desire to interfere in the civil policy of our Government, but would shun it as something not to my liking; but occasions do arise when a prompt seizure of results is forced on military commanders not in immediate communication with the proper authority. It is probable that the terms signed by General Johnston and myself were not clear enough on the point, well understood between us, that our negotiations did not apply to any parties outside the officers and men of the Confederate armies, which could easily have been remedied.

No surrender of any army not actually at the mercy of an antagonist was ever made without “terms,” and these always define the military status of the surrendered. Thus you stipulated that the officers and men of Lee’s army should not be molested at their homes so long as they obeyed the laws at the place of their residence.

I do not wish to discuss these points involved in our recognition of the State governments in actual existence, but will merely state my conclusions, to await the solution of the future.

Such action on our part in no manner recognizes for a moment the so-called Confederate Government, or makes us liable for its debts or acts.

The laws and acts done by the several States during the period of rebellion are void, because done without the oath prescribed by our Constitution of the United States, which is a “condition precedent.”

We have a right to, use any sort of machinery to produce military results; and it is the commonest thing for military commanders to use the civil governments in actual existence as a means to an end. I do believe we could and can use the present State governments lawfully, constitutionally, and as the very best possible means to produce the object desired, viz., entire and complete submission to the lawful authority of the United States.

As to punishment for past crimes, that is for the judiciary, and can in no manner of way be disturbed by our acts; and, so far as I can, I will use my influence that rebels shall suffer all the personal punishment prescribed by law, as also the civil liabilities arising from their past acts.

What we now want is the new form of law by which common men may regain the positions of industry, so long disturbed by the war.

I now apprehend that the rebel armies will disperse; and, instead of dealing with six or seven States, we will have to deal with numberless bands of desperadoes, headed by such men as Mosby, Forrest, Red Jackson, and others, who know not and care not for danger and its consequences.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding. (more…)

Published in: on April 26, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 26, 1865: Johnston Surrenders  
Tags: , , , ,

April 21, 1865: Stanton to Grant: Hostilities to Be Resumed

 

 

 

 

 

Sherman and Johnston

 For all his world weary cynicism, General Sherman was a complete innocent when it came to political matters, in which he had little interest.  He demonstrated this by the terms of the memorandum of agreement which he entered into with General Johnston on April 18, 1865:

 

T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding.

HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI
IN THE FIELD, RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, April 18, 1865.

Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT, or Major-General HALLECK, Washington, D. C.

GENERAL: I inclose herewith a copy of an agreement made this day between General Joseph E. Johnston and myself, which, if approved by the President of the United States, will produce peace from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. Mr. Breckenridge was present at our conference, in the capacity of major-general, and satisfied me of the ability of General Johnston to carry out to their full extent the terms of this agreement; and if you will get the President to simply indorse the copy, and commission me to carry out the terms, I will follow them to the conclusion.

You will observe that it is an absolute submission of the enemy to the lawful authority of the United States, and disperses his armies absolutely; and the point to which I attach most importance is, that the dispersion and disbandment of these armies is done in such a manner as to prevent their breaking up into guerrilla bands. On the other hand, we can retain just as much of an army as we please. I agreed to the mode and manner of the surrender of arms set forth, as it gives the States the means of repressing guerrillas, which we could not expect them to do if we stripped them of all arms.

Both Generals Johnston and Breckenridge admitted that slavery was dead, and I could not insist on embracing it in such a paper, because it can be made with the States in detail. I know that all the men of substance South sincerely want peace, and I do not believe they will resort to war again during this century. I have no doubt that they will in the future be perfectly subordinate to the laws of the United States. The moment my action in this matter is approved, I can spare five corps, and will ask for orders to leave General Schofield here with the Tenth Corps, and to march myself with the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-third Corps via Burkesville and Gordonsville to Frederick or Hagerstown, Maryland, there to be paid and mustered out.

The question of finance is now the chief one, and every soldier and officer not needed should be got home at work. I would like to be able to begin the march north by May 1st.

I urge, on the part of the President, speedy action, as it is important to get the Confederate armies to their homes as well as our own.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding.

Memorandum, or Basis of agreement, made this 18th day of April, A. D. 1865, near Durham’s Station, in the State of North Carolina, by and between General Joseph E. JOHNSTON, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major-General William T. SHERMAN, commanding the army of the United States in North Carolina, both present:

1. The contending armies now in the field to maintain the statu quo until notice is given by the commanding general of any one to its opponent, and reasonable time–say, forty-eight hours–allowed.

2. The Confederate armies now in existence to be disbanded and conducted to their several State capitals, there to deposit their arms and public property in the State Arsenal; and each officer and man to execute and file an agreement to cease from acts of war, and to abide the action of the State and Federal authority. The number of arms and munitions of war to be reported to the Chief of Ordnance at Washington City, subject to the future action of the Congress of the United States, and, in the mean time, to be needed solely to maintain peace and order within the borders of the States respectively.

3. The recognition, by the Executive of the United States, of the several State governments, on their officers and Legislatures taking the oaths prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, and, where conflicting State governments have resulted from the war, the legitimacy of all shall be submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.

4. The reestablishment of all the Federal Courts in the several States, with powers as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

5. The people and inhabitants of all the States to be guaranteed, so far as the Executive can, their political rights and franchises, as well as their rights of personal property, as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

6. The Executive authority of the Government of the United States not to disturb any of the people by reason of the late war, so long as they live in peace and quiet, abstain from acts of armed hostility, and obey the laws in existence at the place of their residence.

7. In general terms–the war to cease; a general amnesty, so far as the Executive of the United States can command, on condition of the disbandment of the Confederate armies, the distribution of the arms, and the resumption of peaceful pursuits by the officers and men hitherto composing said armies.

Not being fully empowered by our respective principals to fulfill these terms, we individually and officially pledge ourselves to promptly obtain the necessary authority, and to carry out the above programme.

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding Army of the United States in North Carolina.

J. E. JOHNSTON, General,
Commanding Confederate States Army in North Carolina.

The agreement had been masterminded by Breckenridge, a canny politician and former Vice-President of the United States.  If accepted, the agreement would have short-circuited Reconstruction and basically re-established state governments in the Confederate States as if the War had never occurred.  Lincoln would not have accepted this, and in the wake of his assassination the terms were angrily repudiated by Washington as indicated by this letter from Stanton to Grant:

 

War Department, Washington City, April 21, 1865

Lieutenant-General Grant.

General:

The memorandum or basis agreed upon between General Sherman and General Johnston having been submitted to the President, they are disapproved.  You will give notice of the disapproval to General Sherman, and direct him to resume hostilities at the earliest moment.

The instructions given to you by the late President, Abraham Lincoln, on the 3d of March, by my telegraph of that date, addressed to you, express substantially the views of President Andrew Johnson, and will be observed by General Sherman.  A copy is herewith appended.

The President desires that you proceed immediately to the headquarters of Major-General Sherman, and direct operations against the enemy.

Yours truly,
Edwin M. Stanton,
Secretary of War. (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…)

Published in: on January 15, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on January 15, 1864: Fall of Fort Fisher  
Tags: , , , ,

February 28, 1864: Beginning of the Kirkpatrick-Dahlgren Raid

Portrait of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren

One of the more hare-brained schemes of the Civil War, a cavalry raid towards Richmond with 4,000 Union troopers under Brigadier General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, a reckless blustering officer fully deserving of his nickname “Kill-Cavalry”, began on February 28, 1864.  Colonel Ulric Dahlgren’s brigade was detailed to penetrate the Richmond defenses, ostensibly to free Union prisoners.  The raid ended in a complete fiasco on March 2, with 324 of the raiders killed or wounded, and 1000 taken prisoner.

Among the dead was Dahlgren.  The Confederates found two interesting documents on his body, including one that contained this sentence:

“The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city it must be destroyed and Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed.”

The sentence was part of two pages written by Dahlgren, which appear to be instructions for his men.  The other document was a speech to his men which contained this sentence:

‘We hope to release the prisoners from Belle Island first & having seen them fairly started we will cross the James River into Richmond, destroying the bridges after us & exhorting the released prisoners to destroy & burn the hateful City & do not allow the Rebel Leader Davis and his traitorous crew to escape.’

The Confederates made huge propaganda hay out of this and were justifiably outraged.  Calls went out to hang the raiders, a call successfully resisted by General Robert E. Lee.  The Union denounced the alleged documents as  forgeries, but after the fall of Richmond, Secretary of War Stanton made certain that the documents were brought to him, and they were never seen again, although the Confederates had made photographs of them, so we know their contents. (more…)

September 24, 1863: Hooker to Chattanooga

 

 

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was an irascible and cantankerous man who didn’t suffer fools, or anyone else for that matter, gladly.  He was often a pain to be around.  However he more than made up for his lack of people skills, with driving energy, imagination and tenacity.  These characteristics all came into play in the wake of the Union defeat at Chickamauga.

On the night of September 23 he went to the White House and took the drastic step of summoning the President from his bed to attend a hurried council of war.  Stanton proposed to dispatch to Chattanooga from the Army of the Potomac the XI and XII corps, some 20,000 men.  Lincoln was dubious that the troops, having to travel some 1200 miles by rain, would arrive in time to aid Rosecrans.  Stanton came prepared for this objection.  Present at the meeting was Colonel D.C. McCallum, head of the Department of Military Railroads, who, at Stanton’s prompting, promised that the troops could be shipped in a week, and vouched for it with his life.  Lincoln, reassured, agreed to the plan.  The expedition was to be commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac given another opportunity to play a major role in the War. (more…)

Published in: on September 24, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

March 25, 1863: First Awards of the Medal of Honor

Original Army Medal of Honor

On March 25, 1865 Secretary of War Stanton made the first awards of the Medal of Honor.  Amazingly enough, the United States had no medals for members of its armed forces who distinguished themselves in battle at the beginning of the Civil War.  General in Chief Winfield Scott, who ironically had been awarded  gold medals by Congress in 1814 and 1848, was adamantly against officers and men receiving medals for valor, viewing them as a European affectation and that it was insulting to give special recognition for courage, since officers and men had a duty to be brave and giving anyone a medal for simply doing his duty was preposterous in his opinion.  Medals had been used during the American Revolution but not in following conflicts, other than Congress voting a special gold medal, except in the Mexican War during which Congress authorized the issuance of certificates of merit. (more…)

Published in: on March 25, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War

Undoubtedly the most effective Secretary of War, or Secretary of Defense, that the nation has ever had, brilliant. irascible Edwin M. Stanton loved the Union and was determined to do whatever it took to make certain that it prevailed over the Confederacy.  A Democrat who supported the pro-slavery Breckinridge in the 1860 election, the War converted Stanton into a radical Republican.   At first a harsh critic of Mr. Lincoln, Stanton and Lincoln had worked on the McCormick reaper patent case together in 1857 and Stanton had not been impressed by him,  after his appointment he swore that he would make Abe Lincoln President of the United States.  In accomplishing that Stanton spared the feelings of no man, especially that of Mr. Lincoln, as recalled by Congressman George W. Julian:

It is related that a committee of Western men, headed by [Congressman Owen] Lovejoy, procured from the President an important order looking to the exchange of Eastern and Western soldiers with a view to more effective work. Repairing to the office of the Secretary, Mr. Lovejoy explained the scheme, as he had done before to the President, but was met by a flat refusal.
    ‘But we have the President’s order sir,’ said Lovejoy.
    ‘Did Lincoln give you an order of that kind?’ said Stanton.
    ‘He did, sir.’
    ‘Then he is a d—d fool,’ said the irate Secretary.
    “Do you mean to say the President is a d—d fool?’ asked Lovejoy, in amazement.
    ‘Yes, sir, if he gave you such an order as that.’
    The bewildered Congressman from Illinois betook himself at once to the President, and related the result of his conference.
    ‘Did Stanton say I was a d–d fool? Asked Lincoln at the close of the recital.
    ‘He did, sir; and repeated it.’
    After a moment’s pause, and looking up, the President said:
    ‘If Stanton said I was a d–d fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him. (more…)

Published in: on January 14, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War  
Tags: , ,

Edwin M. Stanton and Temporary Insanity

Edwin M. Stanton could be a pill.  Irritable, sarcastic and often completely unreasonable, no doubt many of the Union Generals who had to deal with him often thought that they were dealing with a very mad man.  Mad in an emotional sense Stanton often was, anger often seeming to be the prime emotion he displayed throughout his career, at least after the death of his beloved first wife in 1844 which had a souring impact on his disposition.  However, he was also a very able man, and that compensated for his complete lack of tact in dealing with virtually everyone he came into contact.  Prior to becoming Secretary of War he had been one of the ablest attorneys in the country.  Doubtless his most famous, or rather infamous case, was in the defense of future Union general Daniel Sickles.

Sickles in 1859 was a Democrat Congressman from New York, already notorious for having been censured for bringing a prostitute into the New York General Assembly chamber.  Leaving his pregnant wife at home, on a trip to England he had introduced the same prostitute, Fanny White, to Queen Victoria under an alias, the surname of which was that of a political opponent in New York.  Sickles obviously viewed his vow of marital fidelity with complete contempt.  However he did not view the vow of fidelity given to him by his wife Teresa in the same light.  When he found out on February 26, 1859 that his long-suffering wife was carrying on an affair with the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key II, the son of Francis Scott Key, the composer of the Star Spangled Banner, he murdered Key the next day in Lafayette Park across from the White House, shooting him through the heart.  Sickles immediately surrendered to the Attorney General who lived just a few blocks away.

His trial was one of the most sensational in American history.  Public opinion was almost totally on his side, painting Sickles as an outraged husband defending his wife Teresa from a villain who had seduced her.  Sickles engaged a stellar defense team which included Stanton.  The defense team had a problem.  No matter what the public thought as to his motivation, Sickles was manifestly guilty.  Stanton hit upon the idea of raising the novel defense of temporary insanity which had never before been successful in the United States.  This was a true stroke of legal genius.  It allowed the defense to put on endless lurid testimony as to the affair and, in effect, have the dead man tried rather than Sickles.  In his closing argument Stanton portrayed the ever adulterous Sickles as a defender of marriage: (more…)

Published in: on November 27, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,