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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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…)

May 16, 1863: Battle of Champion Hill

champion-hill-ms-battle-map-southern-portion-8-22-2007

The decisive battle of the Vicksburg Campaign, and one of the decisive battles of the War, the battle of Champion Hill led to the siege of Vicksburg, and once it became a siege, with the Union able to bring endless reinforcements to reinforce Grant during the siege via the Mississippi, the fall of Vicksburg became merely a matter of time.  Pemberton with 22,000 men had planned to attempt to attack Union supply columns coming from Grand Gulf, south of Vicksburg, to Raymond, Mississippi.  Receiving repeated orders that he move on Clinton, Mississippi instead, he counter-marched and took up a defensive position against the advancing Federals at Champion Hill.

Here is Pemberton’s description of how the battle began, taken from his official report: (more…)

April 3, 1862: Johnston Begins His March to Shiloh

It is rare for any soldier to attain the rank of general, but Albert Sidney Johnston managed that feat in three armies:  rising from private to brigadier general in the army of the Republic of Texas, brevet brigadier general in the United States Army, and full general in the Confederate States Army.  On April 3, 1862 he led his newly created Army of Mississippi out of the town of Corinth, Mississippi and began the march which would end in the surprise Confederate attack in the early morning of April 6, 1862, the beginning of the two day mammoth battle known to history as Shiloh.

The battle would result in the death of Johnston, his dying caused probably by his act of mercy in dispatching his personal surgeon to attend a wounded Union officer and none of his remaining staff having the presence of mind to fashion a tourniquet to stanch Johnston’s bleeding after he was wounded, and the fighting would inflict over 23,000 total Union and Confederate casualties, exceeding in two days all of the battlefield casualties in all of America’s wars prior to the Civil War.  Shiloh told the nation, North and South, that this was going to be a very grim war, and that their adversary would fight it with all the strength and will that they could muster.  After Shiloh the myth of a quick victorious war died on both sides. (more…)

Published in: on April 3, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 3, 1862: Johnston Begins His March to Shiloh  
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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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March 2, 1864: Grant Confirmed as Lieutenant General

lieutenant general grant

I can’t spare this man, he fights!

Lincoln’s response to calls for Grant’s removal from command after Shiloh.

Few men in American history have had a more meteoric rise than Ulysses S. Grant.  In March 1861 at age 38 he was a clerk in a tanning store owned by his father.  A former Army officer, he was a complete failure in trying to support his family, going from one unsuccessful business venture to the next.  He had a happy marriage, and that was fortunate, because that appeared to be the only success he was going to enjoy in this world.

A scant three years later he was general-in-chief of the vast Union armies, and on this day 154 years ago the Senate confirmed the nomination of Lincoln to make Grant Lieutenant General, a rank only held before Grant by two men:  George Washington and Winfield Scott.

Whatever 1864 would bring for the Union in regard to the Civil War was largely up to Grant and the plans and decisions he would make.  Skeptical men and officers of the Army of the Potomac, who assumed Grant would lead them in the upcoming campaign, remarked that only time would tell whether the first name of this latest commander would be Ulysses or Useless.  North and South, most Americans realized that 1864 would likely be the decisive year of the War.  At this pivot point in their history all Americans looked at the failure from Galena, Illinois, who now had the destiny of two nations in his hands, and wondered what he would do with this completely unexpected role on the stage of History that Fate, and Grant’s innate ability as a soldier, had bestowed upon him. (more…)

Published in: on March 2, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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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…)

Published in: on September 7, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Grant Puts a Stop to Treason Trials  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

 

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

 

“I appealed to Lincoln for his own sake to remove Grant at once, and, in giving my reasons for it, I simply voiced the admittedly overwhelming protest from the loyal people of the land against Grant’s continuance in command. I could form no judgment during the conversation as to what effect my arguments had upon him beyond the fact that he was greatly distressed at this new complication. When I had said everything that could be said from my standpoint, we lapsed into silence. Lincoln remained silent for what seemed a very long time. He then gathered himself up in his chair and said in a tone of earnestness that I shall never forget: ‘I can’t spare this man; he fights.‘”

Alexander McClure recalling a meeting with President Lincoln shortly after the Battle of Shiloh (more…)

Published in: on July 18, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln  
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Grant and the Wounded of Cold Harbor

Ulysses S. Grant was a great man and a great general, but he did make mistakes.  At Cold Harbor, Virginia he made two very big mistakes.  He made foolish assaults on Lee’s heavily entrenched lines on June 3, 1864 which cost the lives of 1844 Union soldiers compared to the lives of 83 Confederate troops who fell in this battle.  This was the lesser of his mistakes. (more…)

Published in: on May 7, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Grant and the Wounded of Cold Harbor  
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Grant’s War on the Klan

President Grant has a rather deserved reputation for being a poor president.  However there were bright spots to his term in office, and one of the brightest was the war he waged against the Klan.

Basically a domestic terrorist group that used violence and the threat of violence against blacks and Republicans in the South, the activities by the Klan had aroused a fury in the North by 1870.    With Grant taking the lead Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan act on April 30, 1871.  The text of the Act is here.  The Act gave broad powers to the Executive Branch to combat the Klan, including use of the military and suspension of the writ of habeus corpus.  (more…)

Published in: on December 2, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Grant’s War on the Klan  
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