The Union Blockade of Southern Ports

The Union blockade of the Confederacy was one of the Federal government’s key strategies for the defeat of the Confederacy. Its goal was the economic strangulation of Southern trade with their European trading partners.

On April 19, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a naval blockade of the Southern coastline and twelve major ports to all shipping. The ports included Richmond (VA), Savannah (GA), Wilmington (NC), Charleston (SC), New Orleans (LA), Mobile (AL) and Galveston (TX). Some 3,500 miles of coastline were included in the blockade.

The Federal BlockadeInitially, the United States Navy had neither the ships nor the manpower to mount an effective blockade. In 1861 only 10% of the blockade runners were intercepted. As the U.S. Navy grew in size this figure grew to 33%. More importantly, the blockade discouraged foreign nations from trading with the South.

The proclamation of the blockade was a legal requirement that the Lincoln administration used in order to stop and search neutral ships in international waters. If the Federal government had proclaimed port closures this would not have been permissible under international law. The Lincoln administration did not want to create needless tensions with the Europeans.

The proclamation of the blockade did mean that the United States recognized the Confederate States as a belligerent rather than an insurrectionist. This gave the foreign powers the right to recognize and trade with them if they so chose.

The Federal government created a Blockade Strategy Board. It was a joint military-navy board that was chaired by Captain Samuel F. DuPont and met for the first time in June 1861. The goal of this board was to develop plans to seize Southern ports that would then be utilized to facilitate the naval blockade. Initially, the blockade strategy concentrated on the Atlantic Coast.

The Blockade Strategy Board divided the areas of responsibility. In the Atlantic there was the North Blockading Squadron’s was responsible for the area from the Potomac River to Cape Fear in North Carolina. Its main base was at Hampton Roads, Virginia

The South Blockading Squadron was responsible primarily with preventing Confederate ships from supplying troops and with supporting Union troops operating between Cape Henry in Virginia down to Key West in Florida.

The Gulf of Mexico also had two squadrons. The East Gulf Blockading Squadron, assigned the Florida coast from east of Pensacola to Cape Canaveral, was a minor command. On the other hand, the West Gulf Blockading Squadron was responsible primarily with preventing Confederate ships from supplying troops and with supporting Union troops along the western half of the Gulf Coast, from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Rio Grande and south, beyond the border with Mexico.

The first port that was seized by Union forces was Port Royal, South Carolina in November 1861. This gave the blockade forces an ocean port withThe blockade of the cotton trade repair and maintenance facilities in good working condition. As the blockade expanded into the Gulf Apalachicola, Florida was an early target for interdiction and was captured on April 3, 1862. Ship Island, Mississippi was captured by Union forces in September 1861. It was a key base for the control of both the entrances to the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay.

At the beginning of the war the United States Navy had only 42 warships with a further 48 in port for lack of crew. However, the majority of the fleet were sailing ships and only 3 were deemed capable of blockade duty. Under the leadership of Secretary Gideon Welles the Navy Department began a rapid expansion of the fleet. By the end of 1861 the United States Navy had grown to 24,000 officers and enlisted men.Before the war the navy had only 9,000 in service.

At the end of 1861 the blockading squadrons had some 160 ships. This was accomplished by purchasing and arming merchant steamers and a crash shipbuilding program. Eventually, the Union blockade squadrons numbered some 500 ships with elaborate systems for covering each port (Video). The blockade fleet was divided into four squadrons: two each for the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

The blockade of Chesapeake BayService in the blockade fleet was mostly boring duty sprinkled with bursts of action. More importantly, it could be financially rewarding. Nearly 50,000 men volunteered for blockade duty not only for the financial rewards but also due to the relatively better food and safety of sea duty. On the financial side officers and enlisted men benefited from the occasional capture of blockade runners. They were sold at with their cargoes at auction and the money was divided among the capturing ship’s crew. In four years of blockade duty about $25 million in prize money was awarded to sailors.

The Confederate response to the Union blockade was to use fast blockade runners for moving goods in and out of the South. Most of them were steam powered ships that carried small amounts of expensive cargo. We’ll cover blockade runners in greater detail in a later article.

The blockade had a significant impact on Southern trade. Its true impact can be measured not by the blockade runners who managed to penetrate the Union cordon but the ordinary merchant ships that never attempted to trade with the South throughout the Civil War. As an example, the tradeThe Battle of Galveston in cotton dropped by 95% during the war from 10 million bales to a mere 500,000. The importation of luxury goods, war materials, imported food and medicines was almost completely choked off. Once the Trans-Mississippi was cut off the eastern part of the Confederacy was truly isolated.

The Confederate States Navy made many attempts to break the blockade. The most famous was the use of the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia on March 8, 1862. The Virginia sank or forced the grounding of three ships before the U.S.S. Monitor appeared the next day and the two ironclads fought to a draw.

The Confederates also built a submarine, the C.S.S. H.L. Hunley, that sank the U.S.S. Housatonic in Charleston Harbor but was sunk itself. The Confederates also constructed torpedo boats that carried spar torpedoes. These devices would be rammed into the sides of the blockade ships and detonated after the torpedo boats backed off. They were easily counted by hanging chains over the sides of the ships.

As the Union army captured more ports the blockade gradually choked the Confederacy as General Winfield Scott had envisioned it in 1861.


The Confederate Navy and its Navy Secretary

CSS VirginiaAt the start of the Civil War the Confederate Navy simply did not exist. As Southern historian J. Thomas Scharf wrote in his 1886 history of the Confederate Navy:

“The timber…stood in the forest, and when cut and laid was green and soft; the iron required was in the mines, and there were neither furnaces nor workshops; the hemp required for the ropes had to be sown, grown, reaped, and then there were no ropewalks.”

It may not have been quite as bad as that but it was pretty grim. The only ships that the Confederacy had were those that had been seized by authorities immediately after secession. In all there were ten ships, several of which weren’t even fighting ships.

Southern naval officers were encouraged to join the Confederate Navy and bring their ships along. But none did. Instead they turned over their commands to the Union government and left for the South.

Early on a committee of four former U.S. Navy officers recommended that the Confederate Navy be restricted to the construction of small flotillas that would serve in conjunction with their coastal defensive forts. But it soon became obvious that brick and masonry forts could not stand up to modern rifled naval guns.

One suggestion by Matthew Fontaine Maury was to construct swarms of small wooden boats, each equipped with two heavy guns. Maury championed this strategy that had first been proposed by Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, it didn’t  then and it wasn’t going to work now. However, he had willing listeners in the Confederate Congress who appropriated two million dollars to build 100 small boats. However, the advent of the ironclad-era changed all of that.

The Confederates had captured Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk in April 1861. Even though the Union officer in charge of the yard was ordered to destroy anything of value. Gideon Welles had ordered him to send the USS Merrimack out to sea to preserve it for the Union. But before that could happen a mob stormed the base and the yard commander burned the ship and scuttle it. Eleven other less valuable ships were also burned.

The capture of the Gosport Navy Yard also yielded a treasure trove of other equipment. This include 1,195 naval guns of all types. Many of them were old smoothbores but they cache also included 53 Dahlgren guns. These guns were critical because the Confederacy simply did not have enough facilities to manufacture new guns, except the Tredegar Iron Works and the Bellona Gun Factory, both of which were in Richmond. Another important factory was the Naval Gun Foundry in Selma, Alabama.

Southern-born naval officers were less likely to join the Confederate service. Where two-thirds of Southern-born officers left for the Confederate Army, fewer than one-half left to join the new Confederate Navy. Despite this there simply not enough ships to go around. The Confederate Navy when established called for 4 captains, 4 commanders and 30 lieutenants. However, they already has 12 captains, 24 commanders and 53 lieutenants. By July 1861 those figures had risen to 15 captains, 33 commanders and 78 lieutenants all looking jobs.

The most important asset that the Confederate Navy had was former Florida Senator Stephen Russell Mallory who was appointed Navy Secretary by Jefferson Davis. Mallory may not have looked very heroic but he possessed the abilities that were necessary to create a viable naval force. He had served many years on the Naval Affairs Committee in the U.S. Senate. He would be one of only two cabinet officers to keep his job throughout the life of the Confederacy.

Mallory realized that he needed to establish a permanent infrastructure for his new nay. That meant that he needed to develop shipyards, gun works and iron foundries to build the ships that he needed to defend the Southern coastlines.

Mallory understood that he could not outbuild the Union government so that what he couldn’t make up in quantity he needed to make up in quality. Early on he understood that his navy needed iron armored ships. He saw them as a necessity to break the blockade of wooden ships the Union Navy was establishing along the coastlines.

Initially he attempted to purchase a ship from the French government. However, they turned down his offer as a flagrant violation of the neutrality laws. He would need to find another way. A number of Southern naval experts were also thinking along the same lines. John Mercer Brooke, the inventor of the Brooke Rifle naval gun, approached him with a proposal for an armored warship.

Others were thinking along the same lines and eventually a plan was formulated for a casemate ironclad with a flat-bottomed hull. The downfall of the plan was that it required a steam-powered, propeller-driven marine engine. The Confederacy lacked the capability to make such an engine so it would become necessary to cannibalize one. This led them to the recently raised USS Merrimack.

Once they cut away the burned upper works of the ship they began to erect the casemate on top of the hull. Meanwhile, seawater was purged from ship’s engines and they were placed back in the ship.The engineers determined that they needed two-inches of iron plate were needed. The order was given to the Tredegar Iron Works, the only manufacturer that was able to roll two-inch plate. However, it took some time and ingenuity to collect the 800 tons of iron that was needed.

By February of 1862 the ship was done and renamed the CSS Virginia.The former Merrimack carried a total of ten guns, a 7-inch Brooke Rifle for and aft and four 9-inch Dahlgrens on each broadside. In addition the Virginia was equipped with a 1,500-pound bow ram.

On March 8th the Virginia under the command of Franklin Buchanan was unleashed on the Union blocking ships off Newport News Point. In short order the Virginia rammed the USS Cumberland and she began to sink. After extricating itself from the sinking ship the Virginia turned to the USS Congress. After several hours of battering from its guns the Congress raised the white flag of surrender.

However, when Buchanan sent a smaller escort ship to take of the Union sailors before he burned the Congress it was fired upon. This was repeated when he sent an aide under a white flag. After Buchanan himself was wounded he ordered the Union ship to be set on fire with hot shot. This accomplished the goal and the Congress was soon burning briskly. The Virginia wanted to pursue another Union blockader the USS Minnesota which had run aground but darkness forced it to return to its berth.

The following day the Virginia returned to the area of the previous battle to finish off the Minnesota. It was here that it was confronted by the USS Monitor, the Union’s first ironclad. A more expansive explanation of the Battle of the Ironclads can be found here. The two ironclads fought to a draw but the age of iron ships was firmly begun.

The Virginia was subsequently destroyed by Confederate forces when it lost its base at Norfolk and was unable to ascend the James River due to its draft. This was a disaster for the Confederate Navy, one from which it would never fully recover. There would be other Confederate ironclads but the psychological blow from the loss of the Virginia was devastating.

The Confederate Congress cancelled the $2 million contract for Maury’s tiny gunboats and decided to spend the money on armored warships. Using new shipbuilding sites further inland, after the loss of Norfolk and New Orleans, the South laid down 18 ironclads in the fall of 1862. By the end of the war the Confederacy laid down a total of 50 keels of which 22 were completed. Virtually all of them were casemate-style ships.

Southern shipbuilding had two bottlenecks in their construction process. One was the scarcity of iron plate. Rather than the desired 3-inch plate they had to use three layers of 1-inch plate. The other bottleneck was the scarcity of marine engines. The powerful engines that were needed to drive the heavy ironclads were just not available and a number of ironclads were simply used as floating batteries.

The Confederacy also used vessels ‘armored’ with bales of cotton or stacks of timber in a pinch. These were mostly used on the inland rivers to fend off the Union advances into the Southern interior.

Despite all of their handicaps the Confederacy had assembled small but dangerous ironclad squadrons at Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, Wilmington and Mobile in addition to the western rivers. However, their presence never really changed the trajectory of the war and the Confederacy needed to rely on coastal forts with squadrons of small gunboats.






The Union Navy and its Navy Secretary

USS MonitorThe Union Navy had a mere 90 ships at the onset of the war. Of those 24 were modern screw frigates that had been built in the 1850s. The rest were wooden sailing ships, paddle-wheelers or sail/steam combinations. In order to carry out Abraham Lincoln’s plan to blockade the Southern coastline the Union Navy would need many more ships.

The Southern coastline was 3,500 miles from Alexandria, Virginia to Galveston, Texas. There were hundreds of rivers, inlets, creeks, bays and harbors along the way. Gideon Welles, Lincoln’s Navy Secretary had his work cut out for him. The Union Navy would need to grow by several orders of magnitude in order to successfully blockade the Southern coastlines.

Welles had been born in Glastonbury, Connecticut in 1802. Early on he had read the law and was admitted to the bar but he soon switched to journalism. He was the  founder and editor of the Hartford Times in 1826. The following year he was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives as a Democrat where he served until 1835.

Following his service in the Connecticut General Assembly, he served in various posts, including State Controller of Public Accounts in 1835, Postmaster of Hartford (1836–41), and Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing for the Navy (1846–49).

Welles gradually moved from the Democrat Party to the Free Soil Party and finally to the new Republican Party in 1854. After Lincoln’s election in 1860, Welles was a logical candidate to be named to the Cabinet. Lincoln named him Navy Secretary in March 1861, a position that he held for Lincoln’s entire tenure as President.

Welles found the Navy in a miserable state. At the start of the war, the Union Navy had 42 ships in commission. Another 48 were laid up and listed as available for service as soon as crews could be assembled and trained, but few were appropriate for the task at hand. Most were sailing vessels, some were hopelessly outdated, and one (USS Michigan (1843)) served on Lake Erie and could not be moved to the ocean. During the course of the war, the number in commission was increased by more than a factor 15, so that at the end the Navy had 671 vessels.

Welles was initially opposed to a naval blockade of the South but but was eventually overruled by Lincoln. Once he accepted the blockade as a reality Welles began to grow the Navy to the size that was required to carry out the plan.

Welles went about growing the Union Navy using a number of methods. He purchased commercial ships and had them refitted with guns and larger crew quarters in order to accommodate the lengthy times that crews would need to stay on station. At the same time he inaugurated a shipbuilding program for both screw frigates and ironclads.

Meanwhile, the Confederates had raised the USS Merrimack from the bottom of Gosport Shipyard and began to transform it into a casemate ironclad that they renamed the CSS Virginia.

The Union government responded to this news with plans of their own. John Ericsson still held something of a grudge against the Federal government from his previous experience with it. However when he was approached to evaluate another ironclad he revealed one of own design which came to be the USS Monitor. Lincoln who was fascinated in new technology pushed the Ironclad Board into approving three different designs: a wooden-hulled broadside ironclad (USS Galena), an armored frigate (USS New Ironsides and the Monitor.

After the Battle of the Ironclads in Hampton Road on March 9, 1862 Union naval construction contracted “monitor fever” and began a program of building new “monitor-type” ironclads. Ericsson received a contract to build ten more monitors. His new class of ships, the Passaic-class, had a number of modifications based on the lessons learned in the first meeting of ironclads.

His ships were longer with thicker armor, 11 inches on the turret. The Passaics had heavier guns with one 15-inch gun and either an 11-inch gun or a 100-pound Parrott Rifle. He also moved the pilothouse from the deck to the top of the turret where it would give the captain a better view and allow him better control over the guns.

During the course of the war, the number in commission was increased by more than a factor 15, so that at the end the Navy had 671 vessels. Even more significant than the increase in raw numbers was the variety of ship types that were represented, some of forms that had not been seen previously in naval war anywhere.

The nature of the conflict, much of which took place in the interior of the continent or in rather shallow harbors along the coast, meant that vessels designed for use on the open seas were less useful than more specialized ships. The Navy took over a class of armored river gunboats created for the Army, but designed by naval personnel, the Eads gunboats. So-called double-enders were produced to maneuver in the confined waters of the rivers and harbors.

The Union Navy also experimented with submarines before the Confederacy produced its famed CSS Hunley; the result, USS Alligator failed primarily because of lack of suitable targets. Building on Confederate designs, the Union Navy produced and used torpedo boats, small vessels that mounted spar torpedoes and were forerunners of both the modern torpedo and destroyer type of warship.

Because of haste in their design and construction, most of the vessels taken into the Navy in this period of rapid expansion incorporated flaws that would make them unsuitable for use in a permanent system of defense. Accordingly, at the end of the war, most of them were soon stricken from the service rather than being mothballed. The number of ships at sea fell back to its prewar level.

In total, the Union Navy had 84,415 personnel. The Union Navy suffered 6,233 total casualties with 4,523 deaths from all causes. 2,112 Union sailors were killed by enemy action and 2,411 died by disease or injury. The Union Navy suffered at least 1,710 personnel wounded in action, injured, or disabled by disease.



The Antebellum Navy

USS Hartford (1858)Like many things in the United States the great dividing line was the Civil War. The country and its government changed dramatically over the four years of the war. From culture to industry the changes in the nation were dramatic.

Slavery was ended which changed the the entire economic and social structure of the American South. The cities of the North became the homes of millions of immigrants, many of whom fought in the war for the Union. The North, at first, and then the South became industrialized changing the United States from a rural country to an industrial one.

One of the major changes was the one that took place in the United States Navy. The changes were so dramatic and widespread that an antebellum sailor would not recognize the post-war Navy. Our naval forces to this day reflect the changes and will for decades to come.

The antebellum United States Navy was a small force of wooden sailing ships that patrolled the trade routes used by major American commerce ships. Some ships had steam paddle wheels that enabled them to sail a steady speed when wind was not available.

In 1843 the United States launched the U.S.S. Princeton the first propeller-driven ship in the world. The Princeton was driven by a steam engine. The ship was designed by John Ericcsson, a Swedish immigrant. He also designed the revolutionary propeller which he called a screw.

But when the secretary of state and the secretary of the Navy were both killed by an exploding gun during a public relations cruise the following year Ericcsson was blamed despite having nothing to do with the invention of the gun. He was shut out of further contracts with the Navy until the Civil War.

In the 1850s the United States embarked on a ship-building program that focused on building steam-driven vessels called screw frigates. In 1855 the first of the screw frigates, the U.S.S. Merrimack, was launched. It was 257 feet long, displaced 3,200 tons and carried 50 guns. But the Merrimack-class was not quite as revolutionary as was believed. They still carried three masts and the full rigging of sailing-era ships and with 23-feet of draft there were a number of ports that they were unable to enter. A total of six ships of this class were built.

They were followed by another class of screw frigates, the Hartford-class. These were the first of the twin-screw frigates. They were somewhat smaller than the Merrimacks and had a draft of 18 feet enabling them to enter virtually every port in the United States. The U.S.S. Hartford was followed by the Richmond, the Brooklyn, the Pensacola and the Lancaster.

The Hartford-class was followed by yet another class of screw frigate. The first of this class was the U.S.S. Mohican which was launched in 1859. The five subsequent ships of this class were named for Indian tribes. Even though they stilled carried masts and spars their sail pattern was much reduced. They were the first to be classified as genuine steam warships rather than auxiliary steamers. They were also the first to carried large caliber pivot guns rather that guns arrayed in broadside.

At the outbreak of the war the United States Navy had fewer than 90 warships. Of these only 42 were capable of active service. Most of these were around the world showing the flag from Brazil to China. When Lincoln asked his Navy Secretary Gideon Welles what ships could be made available for immediate service he could only name 12 ships. Much would need to be done to prepare the Navy for all of the tasks that would required of it in the forthcoming war.





Alexander H. Stephens’ Corner Stone Speech

Alexander StephensAlexander H. Stephens was the Vice President of the Confederate States of America when he delivered his famous Corner Stone Speech in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861. It was controversial then and it still is controversial. In the speech Stephens laid out the reasons for secession. He also declared that slavery was the natural condition of blacks and the foundation of the Confederacy.

Here then is the famous Corner Stone Speech:

When perfect quiet is restored, I shall proceed. I cannot speak so long as there is any noise or confusion. I shall take my time I feel quite prepared to spend the night with you if necessary. I very much regret that everyone who desires cannot hear what I have to say. Not that I have any display to make, or anything very entertaining to present, but such views as I have to give, I wish all, not only in this city, but in this State, and throughout our Confederate Republic, could hear, who have a desire to hear them.

I was remarking that we are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world. Seven States have within the last three months thrown off an old government and formed a new. This revolution has been signally marked, up to this time, by the fact of its having been accomplished without the loss of a single drop of blood.

This new constitution. or form of government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited. In reference to it, I make this first general remark: it amply secures all our ancient rights, franchises, and liberties. All the great principles of Magna Charta are retained in it. No citizen is deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers under the laws of the land. The great principle of religious liberty, which was the honor and pride of the old constitution, is still maintained and secured. All the essentials of the old constitution, which have endeared it to the hearts of the American people, have been preserved and perpetuated. Some changes have been made. Some of these I should have preferred not to have seen made; but other important changes do meet my cordial approbation. They form great improvements upon the old constitution. So, taking the whole new constitution, I have no hesitancy in giving it as my judgment that it is decidedly better than the old.

Allow me briefly to allude to some of these improvements. The question of building up class interests, or fostering one branch of industry to the prejudice of another under the exercise of the revenue power, which gave us so much trouble under the old constitution, is put at rest forever under the new. We allow the imposition of no duty with a view of giving advantage to one class of persons, in any trade or business, over those of another. All, under our system, stand upon the same broad principles of perfect equality. Honest labor and enterprise are left free and unrestricted in whatever pursuit they may be engaged. This old thorn of the tariff, which was the cause of so much irritation in the old body politic, is removed forever from the new.

Again, the subject of internal improvements, under the power of Congress to regulate commerce, is put at rest under our system. The power, claimed by construction under the old constitution, was at least a doubtful one; it rested solely upon construction. We of the South, generally apart from considerations of constitutional principles, opposed its exercise upon grounds of its inexpediency and injustice. Notwithstanding this opposition, millions of money, from the common treasury had been drawn for such purposes. Our opposition sprang from no hostility to commerce, or to all necessary aids for facilitating it. With us it was simply a question upon whom the burden should fall. In Georgia, for instance, we have done as much for the cause of internal improvements as any other portion of the country, according to population and means. We have stretched out lines of railroads from the seaboard to the mountains; dug down the hills, and filled up the valleys at a cost of not less than $25,000,000. All this was done to open an outlet for our products of the interior, and those to the west of us, to reach the marts of the world. No State was in greater need of such facilities than Georgia, but we did not ask that these works should be made by appropriations out of the common treasury. The cost of the grading, the superstructure, and the equipment of our roads was borne by those who had entered into the enterprise. Nay, more not only the cost of the iron no small item in the aggregate cost was borne in the same way, but we were compelled to pay into the common treasury several millions of dollars for the privilege of importing the iron, after the price was paid for it abroad. What justice was there in taking this money, which our people paid into the common treasury on the importation of our iron, and applying it to the improvement of rivers and harbors elsewhere? The true principle is to subject the commerce of every locality, to whatever burdens may be necessary to facilitate it. If Charleston harbor needs improvement, let the commerce of Charleston bear the burden. If the mouth of the Savannah river has to be cleared out, let the sea-going navigation which is benefited by it, bear the burden. So with the mouths of the Alabama and Mississippi river. Just as the products of the interior, our cotton, wheat, corn, and other articles, have to bear the necessary rates of freight over our railroads to reach the seas. This is again the broad principle of perfect equality and justice, and it is especially set forth and established in our new constitution.

Another feature to which I will allude is that the new constitution provides that cabinet ministers and heads of departments may have the privilege of seats upon the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives and may have the right to participate in the debates and discussions upon the various subjects of administration. I should have preferred that this provision should have gone further, and required the President to select his constitutional advisers from the Senate and House of Representatives. That would have conformed entirely to the practice in the British Parliament, which, in my judgment, is one of the wisest provisions in the British constitution. It is the only feature that saves that government. It is that which gives it stability in its facility to change its administration. Ours, as it is, is a great approximation to the right principle.

Under the old constitution, a secretary of the treasury for instance, had no opportunity, save by his annual reports, of presenting any scheme or plan of finance or other matter. He had no opportunity of explaining, expounding, enforcing, or defending his views of policy; his only resort was through the medium of an organ. In the British parliament, the premier brings in his budget and stands before the nation responsible for its every item. If it is indefensible, he falls before the attacks upon it, as he ought to. This will now be the case to a limited extent under our system. In the new constitution, provision has been made by which our heads of departments can speak for themselves and the administration, in behalf of its entire policy, without resorting to the indirect and highly objectionable medium of a newspaper. It is to be greatly hoped that under our system we shall never have what is known as a government organ.

Another change in the constitution relates to the length of the tenure of the presidential office. In the new constitution it is six years instead of four, and the President rendered ineligible for a re-election. This is certainly a decidedly conservative change. It will remove from the incumbent all temptation to use his office or exert the powers confided to him for any objects of personal ambition. The only incentive to that higher ambition which should move and actuate one holding such high trusts in his hands, will be the good of the people, the advancement, prosperity, happiness, safety, honor, and true glory of the confederacy.

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.

As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief of the corner” the real “corner-stone” in our new edifice. I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph.

Thousands of people who begin to understand these truths are not yet completely out of the shell; they do not see them in their length and breadth. We hear much of the civilization and Christianization of the barbarous tribes of Africa. In my judgment, those ends will never be attained, but by first teaching them the lesson taught to Adam, that “in the sweat of his brow he should eat his bread,” and teaching them to work, and feed, and clothe themselves.

But to pass on: Some have propounded the inquiry whether it is practicable for us to go on with the confederacy without further accessions? Have we the means and ability to maintain nationality among the powers of the earth? On this point I would barely say, that as anxiously as we all have been, and are, for the border States, with institutions similar to ours, to join us, still we are abundantly able to maintain our position, even if they should ultimately make up their minds not to cast their destiny with us.
That they ultimately will join us be compelled to do it is my confident belief; but we can get on very well without them, even if they should not.

We have all the essential elements of a high national career. The idea has been given out at the North, and even in the border States, that we are too small and too weak to maintain a separate nationality. This is a great mistake. In extent of territory we embrace five hundred and sixty-four thousand square miles and upward. This is upward of two hundred thousand square miles more than was included within the limits of the original thirteen States. It is an area of country more than double the territory of France or the Austrian empire. France, in round numbers, has but two hundred and twelve thousand square miles. Austria, in round numbers, has two hundred and forty-eight thousand square miles. Ours is greater than both combined. It is greater than all France, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain, including England, Ireland, and Scotland, together. In population we have upward of five millions, according to the census of 1860; this includes white and black. The entire population, including white and black, of the original thirteen States, was less than four millions in 1790, and still less in 76, when the independence of our fathers was achieved. If they, with a less population, dared maintain their independence against the greatest power on earth, shall we have any apprehension of maintaining ours now?

In point of material wealth and resources, we are greatly in advance of them. The taxable property of the Confederate States cannot be less than twenty-two hundred millions of dollars! This, I think I venture but little in saying, may be considered as five times more than the colonies possessed at the time they achieved their independence. Georgia, alone, possessed last year, according to the report of our comptroller-general, six hundred and seventy-two millions of taxable property. The debts of the seven confederate States sum up in the aggregate less than eighteen millions, while the existing debts of the other of the late United States sum up in the aggregate the enormous amount of one hundred and seventy-four millions of dollars. This is without taking into account the heavy city debts, corporation debts, and railroad debts, which press, and will continue to press, as a heavy incubus upon the resources of those States. These debts, added to others, make a sum total not much under five hundred millions of dollars. With such an area of territory as we have-with such an amount of population-with a climate and soil unsurpassed by any on the face of the earth-with such resources already at our command-with productions which control the commerce of the world-who can entertain any apprehensions as to our ability to succeed, whether others join us or not?

It is true, I believe I state but the common sentiment, when I declare my earnest desire that the border States should join us. The differences of opinion that existed among us anterior to secession, related more to the policy in securing that result by co-operation than from any difference upon the ultimate security we all looked to in common.

These differences of opinion were more in reference to policy than principle, and as Mr. Jefferson said in his inaugural, in 1801, after the heated contest preceding his election, that there might be differences of opinion without differences on principle, and that all, to some extent, had been Federalists and all Republicans; so it may now be said of us, that whatever differences of opinion as to the best policy in having a co-operation with our border sister slave States, if the worst came to the worst, that as we were all co-operationists, we are now all for independence, whether they come or not.

In this connection I take this occasion to state, that I was not without grave and serious apprehensions, that if the worst came to the worst, and cutting loose from the old government should be the only remedy for our safety and security, it would be attended with much more serious ills than it has been as yet. Thus far we have seen none of those incidents which usually attend revolutions. No such material as such convulsions usually throw up has been seen. Wisdom, prudence, and patriotism, have marked every step of our progress thus far. This augurs well for the future, and it is a matter of sincere gratification to me, that I am enabled to make the declaration. Of the men I met in the Congress at Montgomery, I may be pardoned for saying this, an abler, wiser, a more conservative, deliberate, determined, resolute, and patriotic body of men, I never met in my life. Their works speak for them; the provisional government speaks for them; the constitution of the permanent government will be a lasting monument of their worth, merit, and statesmanship.

But to return to the question of the future. What is to be the result of this revolution?

Will every thing, commenced so well, continue as it has begun? In reply to this anxious inquiry, I can only say it all depends upon ourselves. A young man starting out in life on his majority, with health, talent, and ability, under a favoring Providence, may be said to be the architect of his own fortunes. His destinies are in his own hands. He may make for himself a name, of honor or dishonor, according to his own acts. If he plants himself upon truth, integrity, honor and uprightness, with industry, patience and energy, he cannot fail of success. So it is with us. We are a young republic, just entering upon the arena of nations; we will be the architects of our own fortunes. Our destiny, under Providence, is in our own hands. With wisdom, prudence, and statesmanship on the part of our public men, and intelligence, virtue and patriotism on the part of the people, success, to the full measures of our most sanguine hopes, may be looked for. But if unwise counsels prevail if we become divided if schisms arise if dissentions spring up if factions are engendered if party spirit, nourished by unholy personal ambition shall rear its hydra head, I have no good to prophesy for you. Without intelligence, virtue, integrity, and patriotism on the part of the people, no republic or representative government can be durable or stable.

We have intelligence, and virtue, and patriotism. All that is required is to cultivate and perpetuate these. Intelligence will not do without virtue. France was a nation of philosophers. These philosophers become Jacobins. They lacked that virtue, that devotion to moral principle, and that patriotism which is essential to good government Organized upon principles of perfect justice and right-seeking amity and friendship with all other powers-I see no obstacle in the way of our upward and onward progress. Our growth, by accessions from other States, will depend greatly upon whether we present to the world, as I trust we shall, a better government than that to which neighboring States belong. If we do this, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas cannot hesitate long; neither can Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri. They will necessarily gravitate to us by an imperious law. We made ample provision in our constitution for the admission of other States; it is more guarded, and wisely so, I think, than the old constitution on the same subject, but not too guarded to receive them as fast as it may be proper. Looking to the distant future, and, perhaps, not very far distant either, it is not beyond the range of possibility, and even probability, that all the great States of the north-west will gravitate this way, as well as Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, etc. Should they do so, our doors are wide enough to receive them, but not until they are ready to assimilate with us in principle.

The process of disintegration in the old Union may be expected to go on with almost absolute certainty if we pursue the right course. We are now the nucleus of a growing power which, if we are true to ourselves, our destiny, and high mission, will become the controlling power on this continent. To what extent accessions will go on in the process of time, or where it will end, the future will determine. So far as it concerns States of the old Union, this process will be upon no such principles of reconstruction as now spoken of, but upon reorganization and new assimilation. Such are some of the glimpses of the future as I catch them.

But at first we must necessarily meet with the inconveniences and difficulties and embarrassments incident to all changes of government. These will be felt in our postal affairs and changes in the channel of trade. These inconveniences, it is to be hoped, will be but temporary, and must be borne with patience and forbearance.

As to whether we shall have war with our late confederates, or whether all matters of differences between us shall be amicably settled, I can only say that the prospect for a peaceful adjustment is better, so far as I am informed, than it has been. The prospect of war is, at least, not so threatening as it has been. The idea of coercion, shadowed forth in President Lincoln’s inaugural, seems not to be followed up thus far so vigorously as was expected. Fort Sumter, it is believed, will soon be evacuated. What course will be pursued toward Fort Pickens, and the other forts on the gulf, is not so well understood. It is to be greatly desired that all of them should be surrendered. Our object is peace, not only with the North, but with the world. All matters relating to the public property, public liabilities of the Union when we were members of it, we are ready and willing to adjust and settle upon the principles of right, equity, and good faith. War can be of no more benefit to the North than to us. Whether the intention of evacuating Fort Sumter is to be received as an evidence of a desire for a peaceful solution of our difficulties with the United States, or the result of necessity, I will not undertake to say. I would feign hope the former. Rumors are afloat, however, that it is the result of necessity. All I can say to you, therefore, on that point is, keep your armor bright and your powder dry.

The surest way to secure peace, is to show your ability to maintain your rights. The principles and position of the present administration of the United States the republican party present some puzzling questions. While it is a fixed principle with them never to allow the increase of a foot of slave territory, they seem to be equally determined not to part with an inch “of the accursed soil.” Notwithstanding their clamor against the institution, they seemed to be equally opposed to getting more, or letting go what they have got. They were ready to fight on the accession of Texas, and are equally ready to fight now on her secession. Why is this? How can this strange paradox be accounted for? There seems to be but one rational solution and that is, notwithstanding their professions of humanity, they are disinclined to give up the benefits they derive from slave labor. Their philanthropy yields to their interest. The idea of enforcing the laws, has but one object, and that is a collection of the taxes, raised by slave labor to swell the fund necessary to meet their heavy appropriations. The spoils is what they are after though they come from the labor of the slave

That as the admission of States by Congress under the constitution was an act of legislation, and in the nature of a contract or compact between the States admitted and the others admitting, why should not this contract or compact be regarded as of like character with all other civil contracts liable to be rescinded by mutual agreement of both parties? The seceding States have rescinded it on their part, they have resumed their sovereignty. Why cannot the whole question be settled, if the north desire peace, simply by the Congress, in both branches, with the concurrence of the President, giving their consent to the separation, and a recognition of our independence?

Source: Henry Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, Before, During, and Since the War (Philadelphia, 1886), pp. 717-729.

To my readers: over the past two weeks you haven’t seen anything from me. You see, I was in the hospital for part of the time with a serious health issue. I’m on the mend now and hope to be with you for a while. Thanks for your continued support.


The Original Secret Services

Spies and scouts of the Army of the PotomacToday, the United States Secret Service is known primarily for protecting the President and other government officials but it wasn’t always the case. The original mission of the Secret Service was to apprehend counterfeiters. It still does that but in the avalanche of bad press about the Protective Division that mission has been obscured to the public.

But the Secret Service had it roots on both sides of the Civil War. On the Union side, General George C. McClellan employed Allan Pinkerton as the head of his intelligence operation in the Department of the Ohio. Pinkerton who styled himself as Major Allen naturally moved with McClellan to Washington when the latter was promoted to commander of the Army of the Potomac.

Employing a number of fellow spies Pinkerton’s main assignment was to seek out the Confederate Army’s location and estimate its strength. Unfortunately for the Union Army his estimates were always on the high side. Before the Battle of Antietam he reported that the Army of Northern Virginia was twice the size than it actually was in reality. This intelligence made McClellan extremely tentative in his movements before and during the battle.

After McClellan was removed from command by Lincoln, Pinkerton refused to continue in the military end of the service after the general’s removal in November, 1862. He remained, however, in Government service, investigating cotton claims in New Orleans, with other detective work, until the close of the war, when he returned to his agency in Chicago.

Following Pinkerton’s departure the Union intelligence effort fell into neglect. By the time General Joe Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac his knowledge of his Confederate adversary across the Rappahannock was almost non-existent. Hooker rectified the situation by appointing Colonel George H. Sharpe, of the 120th New York Infantry to command a special and separate bureau, known as Military Information. Sharpe was also appointed deputy provost-marshal-general.

From March 30, 1863, until the close of the war, the Bureau of Military Information, Army of the Potomac, had no other head. Gathering a staff of keen-witted men, chiefly from the ranks, Sharpe never let his commanding general suffer for lack of proper information as to the strength and movements of Lee’s army.

Meanwhile in the city of Washington a different type of bureau was taking shape. Spying had become endemic in Washington and the Union government found it necessary to create an organization to hunt down and apprehend Confederate spies while also spying in the Confederate capital of Richmond. For this job General Winfield Scott tapped Lafayette C. Baker.

Baker’s exploits are mainly known through his book A History of the Secret Service which he published in 1867 after his fall from grace. During the early months of the Civil War, he spied for Scott on Confederate forces in Virginia. Despite numerous scrapes, he returned to Washington, D.C., with information that Scott evidently thought valuable enough to raise him to the rank of captain.

As Provost Marshal of Washington, D.C. from September 12, 1862 to November 7, 1863, Baker took charge of the Union Intelligence Service from the Scottish-American detective Allan Pinkerton. He was appointed colonel of D.C. Cavalry, May 5, 1863. Baker’s concerns were chiefly with matters that had little to do with active conduct of the war. He took charge of all abandoned Confederate property; he investigated the fraudulent practices of contractors; he Lafayette Curry Bakerassisted the Treasury Department in unearthing counterfeiters; he was the terror of bounty-jumpers.

After Scott’s retirement, Baker owed his continued appointment largely to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton However,he suspected the secretary of corruption and was eventually demoted for tapping his telegraph lines and packed off to New York.

Baker was recalled to Washington after the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865. Within two days of his arrival in Washington, Baker’s agents in Maryland had made four arrests and had the names of two more conspirators, including the actual presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. Before the month was out, Booth along with David Herold were found holed up in a barn and Booth was himself shot and killed by Sgt. Boston Corbett.

Baker received a generous share of the $100,000 reward offered to the person who apprehended the president’s killer.President Andrew Johnson nominated Baker for appointment to the grade of brigadier general of volunteers, April 26, 1865, but the United States Senate never confirmed the appointment.Baker was mustered out of the volunteers on January 15, 1866

During the Civil War, a number of secret Confederacy organizations emerged. Some of these organizations were under the direction of the Confederate government, others operated independently with government approval, while still others were either completely independent of the government or operated with only its tacit acknowledgment.

By 1864, the Confederate government was attempting to gain control over the various operations that had sprung up since the beginning of the war, but often with little success. Secret legislation was put before the Confederate Congress to create an official Special and Secret Bureau of the War Department. The legislation was not enacted until March 1865 and was never implemented; however, a number of groups and operations have historically been referred to as having been part of the Confederate Secret Service.

In April 1865, most of the official papers of the Secret Service were burned by Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin just before the Confederate government evacuated Richmond, although a few pages of a financial ledger remain. Thus, the full story of Confederate secret operations may never be known.

The Confederate armies used a number of spies and scouts who were most often paid by the army’s high command. Perhaps, the best known was General James Longstreet’s scout Henry Thomas Harrison who worked for Longstreet from November 1861 until after the Battle of Gettysburg. It was Harrison who fixed the position and strength of the Army of the Potomac and thereby triggered the events that led to the battle.

The Confederate government had spies and couriers up and down the Eastern Seaboard who relayed information from throughout the North back to their Department of State. There were even Confederate sympathizers within the Federal government who relayed key information to their masters in Richmond.

As the war went on information-gathering became more decentralized. Army commanders on both sides employed their own scouts, spies and counter-spies who kept the information flowing to them.

The St. Albans RaidPerhaps, the most spectacular operations that was carried out by the Confederates were those that were planned by Confederate agent Jacob Thompson who was located in Canada. Among other operations, Thompson planned operations with Ohioan Clement Vallandigham who wanted to detach Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio from the Union. Their goal was that Confederate authorities would, at the same time, move sufficient forces into Kentucky and Missouri to hold those lukewarm Federal States. The five commonwealths would thereupon organize the Northwestern Confederacy upon the basis of State sovereignty.

The plot was aborted by Union spies that had infiltrated Vallandigham’s Sons of Liberty and the Confederates returned to Canada. Later in the year there was the attempted capture of the United States gunboat Michigan, which was guarding Johnson’s Island Prison Camp on Sandusky Bay of Lake Erie. This plot was also thwarted and a number of Confederates were captured.

Finally, there was the ill-fated St. Albans, Vermont raid on October 19, 1864. Shortly before 3 p.m. 21 Confederate soldiers staged simultaneous robberies of the city’s three banks. They identified themselves as Confederate soldiers and took a total of $208,000 (US$ 3,140,000 in 2014). During the robberies, eight or nine Confederates held the villagers at gun point on the village green, taking their horses to prevent pursuit. Several armed villagers tried to resist, and one was killed and another wounded.

Their leader, Bennett H. Young, ordered his men to burn the city, but the 4-US-fluid-ounce (120 ml) bottles of Greek fire they used failed to ignite, and only one shed was destroyed by fire. The raiders escaped to Canada, despite a delayed pursuit. In response to U.S. demands, the Canadian authorities arrested the raiders, recovering $88,000. However, a Canadian court ruled that because they were soldiers under military orders, officially neutral Canada could not extradite them. Canada freed the raiders, but returned to St. Albans the money they had found.





An Epitaph for the Southern Railroads

Railroads of the Confederacy

By the end of the American Civil War the Southern railroad system was all but destroyed. Where there was once 9,500 miles of track very little of it remained undamaged. Locomotives and rail cars were either captured or destroyed by the Union Army.

The Southern rail system began to deteriorate from the very beginning of the war. Most Southerners were more interested in agrarian pursuits and many of the skilled workers that were needed to maintain and run the railroads were from the North.

The skilled railroad men began to return to the North once the war began. Those who remained were overwhelmed by the maintenance and construction that was necessary during wartime.

The Southern railroads were not a system per se but a series of unconnected lines that ran from ports to inland destinations. They were seen as transportation of primarily cotton to ports for export to the North and Europe. This lack of inter-railway connections caused many railroads to become useless once the Union blockade was in place. A look at the map shows how the various rail lines were disconnected.

Another deficiency of the Southern railroads was a a break of gauge. Much of the Confederate rail network was in the broad gauge format. However, much of North Carolina and Virginia had standard gauge lines. Southern railroads west of the Mississippi were isolated, disconnected, and differed widely in gauge.

Most of the Southern locomotives had been imported from England. When the Union blockade began the steady strangling of Southern trade spare parts became hard to come by. Tracks and locomotives began to wear out. By 1863 a quarter of the South’s locomotives needed repairs and the speed of train travel in the South had dropped to only 10 miles an hour (from 25 miles an hour in 1861).

Replacement track and crossties became a problem. The South had very few steel miles that made track. The railroads resorted to tearing up track and crossties on less important lines as replacements on their key lines. The line from Nashville to Chattanooga had 1,200 broken rails in 1862 alone.

Most Southern locomotives used wood as fuel. As the Confederate army took more and more men into its service the rail lines were hard pressed to provide wood for their trains. Crews sometimes found it necessary to stop their trains and chop their own wood.

Accidents also wrecked a lot of equipment. Because telegraph communication was sporadic at best, railroad crews were often unaware of broken rails and Ruins of Atlanta's rolling mills destroyed by retreating Confederatescollapsed bridges. Cattle on the tracks caused accidents, sparks from the locomotives’ woodfires burned cars, and boilers exploded.

In the last year before the end of the war, the Confederate railroad system was always on the verge of collapse. The impressment policy of quartermasters ran the rails ragged. Feeder lines would be scrapped for replacement steel for trunk lines, and the continual use of rolling stock wore them down faster than they could be replaced.

Finally, the Union armies became quite proficient at destroying the Southern railroads. A Union Army division could destroy miles of track in a single day. Even though the Confederates repaired the track when they could the constant destruction gradually destroyed the effectiveness of the lines. In areas where the Union Army advanced the Confederates applied a scorched-earth policy by destroying their own lines and equipment.

The Union Army targeted the main rail junctions of the South in order to destroy the effectiveness of the railroads. Rail junctions in cities like Nashville, Chattanooga, Corinth and Atlanta were either captured or destroyed.

Union troops would often have to rebuild an entire line from scratch for it to be usable. Due to the vagaries of the war, some lines would be rebuilt 6 or 7 times by differing sides, especially in states like Virginia, where fighting was most intense.




The United States Military Railroad

Alexandria rail yardOne of the lesser known departments of the Union government during the Civil War years was the United States Military Railroad. Established by an act of Congress in January 1862 it began with a mere 7 miles of track under its control. By the end of the war it controlled over more than 2,000 miles.

The U.S. Military Railroad operated as autonomous units within the Department of War although the Secretary of War tended to micromanage them from time to time. Other operating military departments also affected their operations, such as Union Army commands throughout the areas of operation.

Although the department had the authority to requisition track and rolling stock across the country, in practice the USMRR restricted its authority to Southern rail lines captured in the course of the war. It started with 7 miles of track of the Washington and Alexandria Railroad but as the Union Army’s area of operations the department seized ever increasing miles of track and rolling stock.

The USMRR had the benefit of experienced railroad executives from the private sector.  Thomas A. Scott, vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad served as an Assistant Secretary of War during the period 1861-1862. In January 1862 Scott prepared a report on military transportation that anticipated the creation of the USMRR.

Daniel C. McCallum, former general superintendent of the New York and Erie Railroad, was appointed as Military Director and Superintendent of U.S. Railroads. Herman Haupt former chief engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad was appointed as Chief of Construction and Transportation in the Virginia theater.

Herman Haupt was a West Point graduate who almost immediately upon graduation at the age of 18 resigned his commission and went to work for the a railroad in Pennsylvania. He built railroads until 1862 when he accepted a commission in the Union Army in a new bureau responsible for constructing and operating military railroads in the United States.

Haupt began by repairing and fortifying war-damaged railroads around the nation’s capital. He began by arming and training railroad staff and improving telegraph communications along the railroad lines.

Among his most challenging assignments was restoring the strategic Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad line, including the Potomac Creek Bridge, after its partial destruction by Confederate forces. With an inexperienced workforce and other serious impediments, Haupt had the line back in use in under two weeks.

President Abraham Lincoln was impressed with Haupt’s work there. In a visit on May 28, 1862, he observed: “That man Haupt has built a bridge four hundred feet long and one hundred feet high, across Potomac Creek, on which loaded trains are passing every hour, and upon my word, gentlemen, there is nothing in it but cornstalks and beanpoles.”

Haupt made an enormous impact on the Union war effort. He assisted the Union Army of Virginia and Army of the Potomac in the Northern Virginia Campaign, the Maryland Campaign, and was particularly effective in supporting the Gettysburg Campaign, conducted in an area he knew well from his youth.

His hastily organized trains kept the Union Army well supplied, and he organized the returning trains to carry thousands of Union wounded to hospitals. After the Battle of Gettysburg, Haupt boarded one of his trains and arrived at the White House on July 6, 1863, being the first to inform President Lincoln that General Robert E. Lee’s defeated Confederate army was not being pursued vigorously by Union Major General George G. Meade.

Once the Union Army’s area of operations moved into the Deep South the importance of moving troops across the landscape became paramount. Both Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman were well-known as superb logistical commanders. Their use of the modern forms of transportation allowed them to move large numbers of soldiers and supplies in the most expeditious manner. At the same time the understood that the destruction of many miles of Southern track and the seizure of rolling stock was a necessary part of their campaigns against the Confederacy.

Two operations in 1863 showed how the mass movement of troops by rail could affect the operations of both armies. The Confederacy used their interior lines of communication to transfer two divisions and an artillery battalion of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s I Corps, Army of Northern Virginia by railroad from Virginia to Georgia to reinforce Gen.Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee.

The troops began arriving at the Catoosa Platform, Georgia on September 19, having begun their journey from Virginia on September 9, ultimately only 5 of Longstreet’s 10 infantry brigades arrived in time to participate in the Confederate victory at Chickamauga but they were enough to turn the tide of battle.

The Union Army responded by shipping 25,000 men over 1,200 miles overshadowing the Confederacy’s earlier movement of 12,000 men over 800 miles in 12 days. The movement involved 9 different railroads in order get the troops from Virginia to Bridgeport, Alabama. In addition to the soldiers involved, 33 cars ofThe Dictator Mortar artillery and 21 cars of baggage and horses were also moved.

Perhaps, the most spectacular use of railroads was during the Petersburg Campaign from mid-1864 until the end of the war in Virginia. General Grant ordered the armies surrounding Richmond and Petersburg to constantly raid and destroy the rail lines that were supplying the Confederates in these two cities.

At the same time he had the USMRR rebuilt and restored service along the Petersburg and City Point Railroad’s line. Eventually, some 30 miles of track were extended to the south around Petersburg. The line was used to shuttle troops along the siege lines and move giant railroad mortars into position to shell the Confederate siege lines.

It was also used to supply food to Union troops in the siege lines. It was said that 100,000 loaves of hot bread were supplied to them daily from the Union’s vast logistical bases around City Point. When Petersburg was eventually abandoned in 1865 the 25 engines and 275 pieces of other rolling stock had logged a grand total of 2,300,000 operating miles.

Over the course of the war the USMRR had grown from a mere 7 miles of track to over 2,000 miles. By the end of the war the USMRR would buy, build or capture 419 locomotives and 6,330 cars beyond the rolling stock that was requisitioned from the various Northern railroads. This vast enterprise was one of the keys to the ultimate Union victory.





The Destruction of the Southern Railroads

Union troops destroying a rail line near AtlantaWilliam Tecumseh Sherman was among the first of America’s modern generals. Like his commander, Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman understood the value and importance of railroads to the Confederate war effort. Grant, Sherman and Phillip Sheridan were proponents of ‘Hard War’, the utter destruction of every resource that the Confederates could use to continue their war against the Union.

One of Sherman’s primary targets in his campaigns in the South were the Southern railroads. His initial target after he took command of the Western Theater was the city of Atlanta. The city was one of the South’s three main rail centers, along with Chattanooga and Richmond.

The Southern government was slow to recognize the importance of railroads and rail centers in their war effort. The Union Army on the other hand understood their importance to both sides and laid out specific plans to cripple the Southern railroads.

In the Eastern Theater Grant ordered the armies surrounding Richmond and Petersburg to make every effort to cut the two cities off from sources of supply by destroying the railroads that led into the cities. The Siege of Petersburg was not so much a siege in the traditional sense but a siege on the Southern supply lines. Gradually, the Union Army began to choke the Confederate capital and the Army of Northern Virginia to death.

In Tennessee, Grant’s forces had captured the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Because of Chattanooga’s strategic location, river and rail systems, Chattanooga was considered the gateway to the Deep South and an important location for both the Union and the Confederate armies. The city had been captured by the Union Army of the Cumberland.

With the capture of Atlanta in September of 1864 Sherman completed the job by beginning a methodical destruction of the railroads that ran in all directions from Atlanta.

The Mobile and Ohio Railroad had been chartered in 1848 by the states of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It was planned to span the distance between the seaport of Mobile, Alabama and the Ohio River near Cairo, Illinois. The start of the Civil War saw it converted to military use and it quickly became a military target for both sides during the war.

According to an annual report by the railroad in 1866, the line was totally destroyed for 184 miles between Union City, Tennessee and Okolona, Mississippi.  The bridges, depots, trestles and shops were destroyed.  Even the rails were bent and deemed unusable by the Union forces.  At Mobile, most of the rolling stock and engines were destroyed.  The line was also several million dollars in debt ($5.2 million in confederate currency – translated into over $8 billion in today’s dollars).

In November 1862, Ulysses S. Grant began the Mississippi Central Railroad Campaign down the line with the ultimate goal of capturing Vicksburg in conjunction with William Tecumseh Sherman. Grant established a base in Holly Springs and began advancing south along the railroad. Confederate soldiers built earthwork fortifications to defend the railroad’s Tallahatchie River bridge near Abbeville but retreated south without firing a shot when they learned of a flanking maneuver by Grant.

Skirmishes were fought along the railroad to Oxford and in the streets of the town itself. The Confederates were pushed further south past Water Valley, Mississippi but managed to damage a railroad trestle and lead a successful ambush at Oakland, Mississippi that stalled the Federal advance.

While Grant was stalled, Confederate General Van Dorn lead a successful cavalry raid on Grant’s supply base at Holly Springs, burning most of his supplies and then moved north destroying the railroad and telegraph lines along the way. With the railroad destroyed Grant had no way to resupply his army and was forced to end the campaign and retreat to Memphis, TN.

The New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern was a 206 miles 5 ft gauge railway originally commissioned by the State of Illinois in the 1851. The railroad was the South’s longest rail line. It connected Canton with New Orleans and was completed just prior to the Civil War, in which it served strategic interests, especially for the Confederacy. The New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern was largely in ruins by the end of the War.

When the war started, it was one of the best roads in the Confederacy. It actually had 7 locomotives and 11 passenger cars in reserve for an expected increaseSherman's Bowties in traffic. When New Orleans fell under the guns of Farragut’s fleet in April 1862, the road spent four frantic days hauling troops, supplies and equipment out of the city to the north. Only when General Butler’s troops finally arrived on shore did the removal stop.

For the rest of the war, the road operated with Ponchatoula on the northern edge of Lake Pontchartrain, as its southern terminal. There were numerous Union attempts to disrupt the road, and, little by little, it ceased to operate. By the end of the war, the road had only 4 locomotives (2 partially burned) and 40 cars on a limited piece of track.

As Sherman’s forces marched to the sea and then up through the Carolina’s they methodically destroyed the Southern railroads. They used a particular method of rendering the rails useless by bending them around poles and trees. First, they would remove the rails from the sleepers. Then, they would stack the sleepers in a square with a furiously burning fire in the middle. Once the fire was sufficiently stoked they would lay the rails on top. Once the rails were soft enough the troops would bend them around a pole or tree making what became known as ‘Sherman’s Neckties’ or ‘Sherman’s Bowties’.

From 1864 until the end of the war, the Confederacy’s ability to repair the Union Army’s destruction began to decline. Sherman’s February 1864 campaign through Mississippi caused so much destruction that it took four months to repair. His later campaigns were so destructive that many of the railroads remained out of service through the end of the war.

Part of the Confederacy’s repair problems were due to the Confederate government’s near total lack of assistance to the railroads. Neither manpower nor supplies was forthcoming. This was often justified as a matter of state’s rights. On the other hand the very same government was more than willing to conscript railroad workers and supplies. The Confederate government was willing to take but not to give.


Confederate officer’s wartime diary decoded

Here’s a fascinating story by Chris Carola of the Associated Press about the decoding of a Confederate officer’s wartime diary.

Confederate wartime diary decoded

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) – A century and a half after Confederate officer James Malbone wrote his Civil War diary partly in code, a couple of Yankees have figured out why he took the precaution: He liked to gossip.

Sprinkled amid entries on camp recipes and casualties are encrypted passages in which Malbone dishes on such juicy topics as a fellow soldier who got caught in bed with another man’s wife.

Malbone also writes about meeting the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and describes her looks in an apparent echo of rumors at the time that she may have been of mixed race.

“That’s pretty shocking,” said Kent D. Boklan, the Queens College computer science professor and former National Security Agency cryptographer who deciphered Malbone’s code with little difficulty. “It’s a military diary and you expect military information, but you don’t expect the first lady of the Confederacy to make an appearance in this diary.”

According to Boklan, Malbone’s encrypted entry about Varina Howell Davis describes her as “dark complected” with “very very brown skin dark eyes” and “high cheek bones wide mouth.”

Davis’ wife was a well-educated woman for her time, and as a result, was the target of “all kind of gossipy innuendos from the ladies” in Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, according to Sam Craghead of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.

Malbone, a lieutenant with the 6th Virginia Infantry Regiment, was severely wounded in the arm at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. Assigned to light duty behind the lines, he used a leather-bound pocket diary to jot down his thoughts and even a poem.

Many of the entries were in a code he devised himself, consisting of a variety of symbols, including punctuation marks and a dollar sign, that corresponded to letters of the alphabet.

Other entries – names of deserters, costs of supplies – were written in plain text because the diary would have been submitted to his superiors so they could copy the information for their official records, according to Jim Gandy, librarian at the New York State Military Museum.

Gandy said the journal probably came into the possession of a New York soldier at the end of the war and wound up in the state’s vast collection. It is the only Confederate diary in the museum. There is no record there of Malbone’s ultimate fate.

It wasn’t until 2012 that a museum volunteer discovered the diary was written partly in code. The museum contacted Boklan, who had broken Union and Confederate codes used in other documents, and he completed the deciphering after working on it for a week in January.

“Technically, this is not very hard to break,” Boklan said. “There were some odd things. With a little bit of work and patience everything worked out.”