June 21-23 1864: First Battle of Weldon Railroad

Petersburg_June21-22

With the War in the East now centering on the siege of Petersburg, Lee faced the daunting problem of protecting the rail lines that kept Petersburg, Richmond and his army supplied.  It took no military genius to realize that if the Union captured those rail lines, Lee’s position would be rendered untenable.  So that is what Grant promptly commenced to do.  The II and VI Corps were tasked with seizing, and destroying as much of the Weldon Railroad as they could take.

Skirmishing occurred on June 21 as the II Corps probed toward the rail line.   On June 22 both the II and the VI corps advanced towards the railroad, with rugged terrain causing a gap to open up between the corps.  Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone concealed his division in a ravine and launched an attack on the rear of the II Corps which wreaked havoc until the lines stabilized by nightfall. (more…)

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Published in: on June 21, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 21-23 1864: First Battle of Weldon Railroad  
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June 3, 1864: Cold Harbor-Not War But Murder

ColdHarbor-June3

And, after that, the chunky man from the West,

Stranger to you, not one of the men you loved

As you loved McClellan, a rider with a hard bit,

Takes you and uses you as you could be used,

Wasting you grimly but breaking the hurdle down.

You are never to worship him as you did McClellan,

But at the last you can trust him.  He slaughters you

But he sees that you are fed.  After sullen Cold Harbor

They call him a butcher and want him out of the saddle,

But you have had other butchers who did not win

And this man wins in the end.

 

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

The main Union assault at Cold Harbor went in on the foggy morning of June 3 at 4:30 AM, the three corps of Smith, Wright and Hancock hitting the Confederate left.  Some of the Union veteran troops, in those pre-dog tag days, pinned white notes with their names and addresses on the backs of their uniforms so their bodies could be identified, they having learned the hard lesson that assaulting fortified lines held by Confederate infantry was bound to cause huge casualties among the attacking force.  The attack went in blind, as, stunningly, no had bothered to reconnoiter the Confederate lines and draw up maps.  One Union soldier in Gibbon’s division had an apt comment on this military malpractice:   “We felt it was murder, not war, or at best a very serious mistake had been made.”

Smith’s attack on the right quickly bogged down, his men being funneled through two ravines where they were cut down in large numbers.  Wright’s men in the middle, still weary from their attacks on June 1, made little effort, and their attack was pinned down almost as soon as it started.  Hancock’s attack on the Union far left pierced the Confederate lines, but the breach was sealed and the Confederates repulsed Hancock with heavy loss. The attacks were all over by 7:30 AM.  Grant wanted attacks to resume, but by 12:30 PM  he had become convinced that further attacks were simply impossible.

The Union casualties from the assault have been estimated from 3,000-7,000.  I believe the upper estimate is more likely correct.  The Confederates incurred about 1500 casualties.  The armies would remain confronting each other at Cold Harbor until June 12, but there would be no further attacks.  Total Union casualties from all the fighting at Cold Harbor were around 12,000 to 5,000 Confederate, the same disparity as at Fredericksburg, the Cold Harbor assault of June 3 resembling the futile Union assaults of that battle. (more…)

Published in: on June 3, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 3, 1864: Cold Harbor-Not War But Murder  
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Lost For Over a Century

I once sent the government a check for some $35,000.00 to pay estate tax on behalf of a client.  The check was lost for several months by the Feds.  At the time I recalled this historical event:

Robert E. Lee was an advocate of reconciliation after the Civil War.  This was demonstrated by his application for a Presidential Pardon on June 13, 1865, high confederate officers having been excluded from President Johnson’s general pardon and amnesty of May 29, 1865 and being required to appeal directly to the President.  Lee wrote:

Being excluded from the provisions of amnesty & pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th Ulto; I hereby apply for the benefits, & full restoration of all rights & privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Mil. Academy at West Point in June 1829. Resigned from the U.S. Army April ’61. Was a General in the Confederate Army, & included in the surrender of the Army of N. Va. 9 April ’65.

 

Lee was not aware that an oath of loyalty was required and he took such an oath on October 2, 1865:

 

 

“I, Robert E. Lee, of Lexington, Virginia, do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States thereunder, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

 

The oath went to Secretary of State Seward, and then it vanished from history for over a century until it was found by Elmer O. Parker, an archivist at the National Archives, in 1970 among State Department papers in a cardboard box  clearly indexed V for Virginia and L for Lee.  Lee had inquired frequently about his application over the five years he had to live from 1865-1870.  Whether his application was lost deliberately or lost through ineptitude is unclear.

On August 5, 1975 President Ford restored the citizenship rights of Lee, making these remarks: (more…)

Published in: on April 29, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Palm Sunday 151 Years Ago

 

 

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 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.

(more…)

Published in: on March 25, 2018 at 5:29 am  Comments Off on Palm Sunday 151 Years Ago  
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Grant Puts a Stop to Treason Trials

 

It is little remembered now, but in 1865 there was a brief attempt to conduct treason trials against Confederate generals. On June 7, 1865, U.S. District Judge John C. Underwood in Norfolk, Virginia issued indictments against Lee, Longstreet, Early and other Confederate generals on charges of treason. Lee wrote to General Grant asking if the terms granted at Appomattox were still in effect. Furious at this attempt to undo his work, Grant immediately wrote to Secretary of War Stanton:

In my opinion the officers and men paroled at Appomattox Court-House, and since, upon the same terms given to Lee, cannot be tried for treason so long as they observe the terms of their parole. This is my understanding. Good faith, as well as true policy, dictates that we should observe the conditions of that convention. Bad faith on the part of the Government, or a construction of that convention subjecting the officers to trial for treason, would produce a feeling of insecurity in the minds of all the paroled officers and men. If so disposed they might even regard such an infraction of terms by the Government as an entire release from all obligations on their part. I will state further that the terms granted by me met with the hearty approval of the President at the time, and of the country generally. The action of Judge Underwood, in Norfolk, has already had an injurious effect, and I would ask that he be ordered to quash all indictments found against paroled prisoners of war, and to desist from further prosecution of them. (more…)

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Robert E. Lee And Our Contemporary Political Battles

He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward.

Benjamin Hill on Robert E. Lee

 

 

My how General Robert E. Lee still raises passions..  Adam Serwer has a one sided attack on Lee in The Atlantic, which reeks of presentism and displays little understanding of Lee or his times Go here to read it.  Dan McLaughin gives a half-hearted defense of Lee at National Review Online.  (Did all boldness die at National Review with Buckley?)  Go here to read it.  As Lincoln’s biggest fan on the internet, my views on Lee are well known to faithful readers of this blog:

 

Great Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one of the greatest of Americans, of his time or any time, was Robert E. Lee.

(more…)

Published in: on June 15, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Robert E. Lee And Our Contemporary Political Battles  
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Eisenhower on Lee

 

 

Hattip to Michael W. Lively.  It has become fashionable to denigrate Robert E. Lee and to call for the removal of all statues honoring him.  57 years ago President Dwight Eisenhower answered such an attack:

 

August 1, 1960
Mr. Dwight D. Eisenhower
White House
Washington, D.C. 

Dear Mr. President: 

At the Republication Convention I heard you mention that you have the pictures of four (4) great Americans in your office, and that included in these is a picture of Robert E. Lee. 

I do not understand how any American can include Robert E. Lee as a person to be emulated, and why the President of the United States of America should do so is certainly beyond me. 

The most outstanding thing that Robert E. Lee did, was to devote his best efforts to the destruction of the United States Government, and I am sure that you do not say that a person who tries to destroy our Government is worthy of being held as one of our heroes. 

Will you please tell me just why you hold him in such high esteem? 

Sincerely yours,

Leon W. Scott

Eisenhower responded: (more…)

Published in: on June 13, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Eisenhower on Lee  
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April 20, 1865: Lee’s Final Report

imagesUSIUCBQ2

 

 

Although he had no idea where the fugitive President of the Confederacy precisely was, Robert E. Lee on April 20, 1865 wrote his final report to Davis which contained a plea for peace instead of partisan warfare:

 

Robert E. Lee
to
Jefferson Davis

Richmond, Virginia
April 20, 1865

Mr. President

The apprehensions I expressed during the winter, of the moral [sic] condition of the Army of Northern Virginia, have been realized.   The operations which occurred while the troops were in the entrenchments in front of Richmond and Petersburg were not marked by the boldness and decision which formerly characterized them.   Except in particular instances, they were feeble; and a want of confidence seemed to possess officers and men.   This condition, I think, was produced by the state of feeling in the country, and the communications received by the men from their homes, urging their return and the abandonment of the field.   The movement of the enemy on the 30th March to Dinwiddie Court House was consequently not as strongly met as similar ones had been.   Advantages were gained by him which discouraged the troops, so that on the morning of the 2d April, when our lines between the Appomattox and Hatcher’s Run were assaulted, the resistance was not effectual:   several points were penetrated and large captures made.   At the commencement of the withdrawal of the army from the lines on the night of the 2d, it began to disintegrate, and straggling from the ranks increased up to the surrender on the 9th.   On that day, as previously reported, there were only seven thousand eight hundred and ninety-two (7892) effective infantry.   During the night, when the surrender became known, more than ten thousand men came in, as reported to me by the Chief Commissary of the Army.   During the succeeding days stragglers continued to give themselves up, so that on the 12th April, according to the rolls of those paroled, twenty-six thousand and eighteen (26,018) officers and men had surrendered.   Men who had left the ranks on the march, and crossed James River, returned and gave themselves up, and many have since come to Richmond and surrendered.   I have given these details that Your Excellency might know the state of feeling which existed in the army, and judge of that in the country.   From what I have seen and learned, I believe an army cannot be organized or supported in Virginia, and as far as I know the condition of affairs, the country east of the Mississippi is morally and physically unable to maintain the contest unaided with any hope of ultimate success.   A partisan war may be continued, and hostilities protracted, causing individual suffering and the devastation of the country, but I see no prospect by that means of achieving a separate independence.   It is for Your Excellency to decide, should you agree with me in opinion, what is proper to be done.   To save useless effusion of blood, I would recommend measures be taken for suspension of hostilities and the restoration of peace.

I am with great respect, yr obdt svt
R. E. Lee
Genl

Published in: on April 20, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 20, 1865: Lee’s Final Report  
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April 10, 1865: Lee’s Farewell to the Army of Northern Virginia

Starving army,
Who, after your best was spent and your Spring lay dead,

Yet held the intolerable lines of Petersburg
With deadly courage.
                    You too are a legend now
And the legend has made your fame and has dimmed that fame,
–The victor strikes and the beaten man goes down
But the years pass and the legend covers them both,
The beaten cause turns into the magic cause,
The victor has his victory for his pains–
So with you–and the legend has made a stainless host
Out of the dusty columns of footsore men
Who found life sweet and didn’t want to be killed,
Grumbled at officers, grumbled at Governments.
That stainless host you were not.  You had your cowards,
Your bullies, your fakers, your sneaks, your savages.
You got tired of marching.  You cursed the cold and the rain.
You cursed the war and the food–and went on till the end.
And yet, there was something in you that matched your fable.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

It was fitting that one of the great armies of American history would go out of that history with a salute from its commander, Robert E. Lee.

Against high odds Lee and his army had come close to creating a new nation.  Always outnumbered, with troops often dressed in rags, ill-fed, ill-supplied, he led his men to magnificent victories in the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  Fighting another great general, Grant, he achieved a stalemate in 1864 against an army that had more than a two-to-one advantage, and prolonged the life of his country by almost a year.  A fighting general with a propensity for taking huge risks, he was also a humane man with unfailing courtesy for both friend and foe.  In this final order he told the men who loved him, how much he loved them: (more…)

Published in: on April 10, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 10, 1865: Lee’s Farewell to the Army of Northern Virginia  
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April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders

 

 

And so the Civil War ended.  Oh, not immediately.  The surrender process throughout the Confederacy would take until June, and skirmishes would be fought.  But with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, no one, except perhaps Jefferson Davis, north or south, doubted that the Civil War had ended with a Union victory.  At Appomattox Lee and Grant, with the ways in which they both behaved at this all important event in American history, planted the seeds of American reunification.

Lee, as ever noble, viewed surrender as a painful duty, and trusted in Grant to give just terms.  Grant, who would forbid the firing of cannon salutes in celebration of the surrender, gave as his main term that the Confederates simply go home and get on with their lives, agreeing to them taking with them a horse if they claimed one to help with the spring planting, and specifying that Confederate officers would retain their side arms so that he would not have to accept Lee’s sword in token of surrender.

The best account of the surrender is Grant’s, contained in his memoirs:

When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview.   
  What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us. 
  General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field. In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of a lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form. But this was not a matter that I thought of until afterwards.   
  We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years’ difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, and said that he had asked for this interview for the purpose of getting from me the terms I proposed to give his army. I said that I meant merely that his army should lay down their arms, not to take them up again during the continuance of the war unless duly and properly exchanged. He said that he had so understood my letter.  (more…)

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