Grant’s Final Strategy

Grant in full uniformAfter being turned down by the high Command and the President, Grant revisited his strategic plan. Washington was a risk-averse town and the military and civilian leaders of the Union government were the most risk-averse of all. Grant’s initial plans for the campaigns across the South were extremely radical.

His proposal to drive across North Carolina in order to cut off Lee’s supply lines was, in their view, the riskiest of all. Moving troops from northern Virginia would uncover the nation’s capital would risk raids by the Confederates. What if Lee didn’t take the bait and drove right up Pennsylvania Avenue? No, that just wouldn’t do.

Grant’s pincer attack from Mobile to Montgomery was rejected because Abraham Lincoln was fixated on a show of strength for the French in Mexico. He felt that the Union government needed to send a message by sending an expedition up the Red River. It was as if he was saying that we can protect all of our territory. So, it was back to the drawing board for General Grant.

Grant now proposed a new strategy. Grant had seen the war from a Western Theater point of view. In the Eastern Theater the war was mostly confined to Virginia with two confederate invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania. In the Western Theater the view was very different.

The war in the Western Theater exposed Grant to a war against the entirety of Southern society. He understood that the Southerners were unrepentant, their armies were resilient and the war zone was expansive.

In Virginia, the war was a one-on-one conflict between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. In the Western Theater, the war had to carried out against all of the elements: the population, the Confederate Army and Southern society. Therefore, Grant tailored his strategy based on these principles.

When asked about his opinion on Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini’s book on strategy, Grant was said to have replied:

I have never read it carefully; the art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on. 

Seems simple enough.

Grant’s first element of his strategy was the destruction of the Confederate field armies. His plan called for placing as much pressure as possible on Robert E. Lee’ Army of Northern Virginia and Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. His plan was to draw them out into the open field and destroy them by a series of major engagements.

In order to successfully carry out these objective, Grant planned to coordinate all of the Union armies. By doing this the Confederates would not be able to shift their forces across theater lines, as they had done when General James Longstreet’s Second Corps had been sent to the Western Theater. This would eliminate the Confederacy’s advantage of interior lines of supply.

Grant estimated that if he couldn’t annihilate his enemies in battle, he would be able to exhaust them logistically, economically and psychologically. It has been characterized by historians either as a annihilation or attrition or both.

Grant and his disciples, the foremost being William T. Sherman, saw war as brutal and unpleasant. They believed in the “hard war” or total war that would be necessary in order to bring the Civil War to swift and successful conclusion.

In order to carry out his strategy, Grant would need commanders that agreed with his belief in “hard war” but here he ran into the political realities of the war.

Sherman was a logical choice as commander of the Army of the Tennessee and eventually overall commander of the Western Theater. Today, he is best remembered for his pronouncement: “All war is hell” but in a letter to the mayor and city council of Atlanta he wrote:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.

Sherman was an easy position to fill but the others were not so easy. General Nathaniel Banks was in command of the Army of the Gulf. He was a former Massachusetts Congressman and Governor with very little military experience. His Red River Expedition was defeated before the campaigns in Virginia and Georgia could even begin. This gave Grant the opportunity to replace him with General Edward Canby. By then Grant lamented that the Red River Expedition had eliminated the use of 40,000 troops for the Sherman’s campaign and the attack on Mobile.

The commander in the Shenandoah Valley was General Franz Sigel, a German immigrant. So far, Sigel was a best inept and at worst incompetent. He had been appointed to his position by Lincoln who hoped to secure German immigrant support for the Republican Party. Sigel failed miserably at the Battle of New Market on May 15th and retreated North to safety. Grant was furious and replaced him with General David Hunter.

Grant’s plan called for the movement of the Army of the James to threaten Richmond from the East. The commander of the Army of the James was another Massachusetts politician, General Ben Butler. Butler was a former Democrat turned Radical Republican. Lincoln needed the support of that wing of his party so Butler’s appointment was a foregone conclusion.

Initially, Grant was favorably impressed with Butler when they met at Fortress Monroe in April. Grant’s initial judgment of Ben Butler was a serious mistake. He was indecisive and needed constant supervision. Grant constantly needed to prod him to take action. He was unable to break through the Confederate lines at Bermuda Hundred even though he outnumbered General P.G.T. Beauregard 33,000 to 18,000. This allowed Lee to move troops from this line.

Finally, Grant kept George Gordon Meade as the commander of the Army of the Potomac even though he offered to resign. Grant was impressed by Grant’s willingness to step aside for the welfare of the nation. Grant kept him on but decided to travel with the Army of the Potomac where he could guide his chief weapon.


You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.


Grant’s Original Strategy

Grant as a Lieutenant GeneralIn the late summer of 1863, Ulysses S. Grant was asked by then-General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to outline his plans on a broader strategy against the South. After all, Grant was the most successful commander that the Union Army had. He had led the Western armies in an almost unbroken series of victories against his nation’s foe. Why wouldn’t the high command in Washington wish to know his thinking?

Halleck had been Grant’s direct commander in the West and based on they way that he treated him thought little of his intellect and military knowledge. Either Halleck realized that his earlier judgments of Grant were wrong or he realized that change was in the air. He better begin to find out Grant’s thinking before he became the boss.

Grant responded with two letters to Halleck. In them he outlined a bold campaign scheme. Grant had called for the consolidation of the Western armies under one consolidated command. Grant was widely viewed by the Easterners as a plodding butcher who achieved his victories by sheer overwhelming force. However, his views on strategy both in the Western Theater and in the overall war changed that dismissive attitude.

It turned out the Ulysses S. Grant was a strategic thinker of considerable ability and sophistication. Earlier, Grant had called for the consolidation of the Western armies under one consolidated command.

He put forward a plan that called for his own Army of the Tennessee and Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf to start at Mobile and drive north to capture Montgomery, Alabama.

Meanwhile, General William S. Rosecrans was to advance overland from Chattanooga to Atlanta. All military resources in the area were to be destroyed, depriving the Confederacy of vital supplies.

Grant ran in to Lincoln’s desire to send Banks up the Red River to ‘show the flag.’ The French had installed  Maximillian, the archduke of Austria, as emperor in Mexico, a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Lincoln wanted to make it clear that the United States would defend its territory despite the Civil War. Grant’s military plans fell victim to Lincoln’s political plans.

In October 1863, all of the armies in the West, except Banks’ Army of the Gulf, were consolidated under Grant’s command. In November Grant was victorious at Chattanooga and he wasted little time in putting forward his strategic plan for the Western Theater. Grant once again proposed his Mobile to Montgomery campaign and once again Lincoln pointed out the needs of Union diplomacy with regards to Mexico.

Grant was encouraged by Washington to expand his plans to include the entire war zone. In his second letter Grant proposed what must have seemed like heresy to Eastern-centric high command. Grant proposed flanking Lee by moving deep into North Carolina and cutting off his supply lines from the South.

He proposed a starting point of Suffolk in southeastern Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina as the objective point. He proposed to use New Bern as his supply base until the strategic port of Wilmington, North Carolina could be captured. He proposed using a force of 60,000 men to carry out the destruction of the rail lines south of Richmond. Should Lee move South to counter this force, a large force would not be required on the Potomac.

Grant saw this line of attack as most productive. It would destroy key lines of communication and supply. It would also increase desertion rates among North Carolina troops who would be eager to defend their homes. Slaves would be encouraged to leave their plantations, further diminishing the Confederate supply base. Finally Grant felt that it would “virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee.”

In summation, Grant felt that there would no longer be the need for an attack on Richmond since it would be necessary for the Confederate government to abandon their capital. Once Lee would find it necessary to move South, Richmond would cease to be important to the enemy.

In putting forward his radical plan, Grant was making the point that the destruction of the Confederate armies were the objection rather than capturing cities and towns. Grant’s plans also emphasized the use of the offensive by the Union armies would deny the offensive to Lee who many in both armies viewed as an offensive genius.

Henry W. Halleck was conservative to the core and he viewed Grant’s plan both in the East and the West as too risky. Removing so many troops from northern Virginia would leave the capital defenseless in his view. Grant’s Western strategy would never be approved by Lincoln. The President had a continued desire to control more parts of Louisiana and the Tran-Mississippi Region. The troops that Grant had designated for the Mobile Campaign were sent to Banks for his ill-advised Red River Campaign.

In the next post we’ll look at how Grant’s strategy evolved in light of the risk-averse thinking in the Washington high command.

If you’re interested in reading about Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign, here is the link to the first post in the five-part series.



William Tecumseh Sherman: Uncle Billy to his troops

Uncle Billy at AtlantaUnlike his commanding officer, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman was successful in almost every endeavor that he embarked upon. Sherman’s father was a successful lawyer who served on the Ohio Supreme Court. But Charles Sherman died when Sherman was about leaving a widow and eleven children with inadequate financial resources.

Sherman was raised by a neighbor and family friend Thomas Ewing, a prominent member of the Whig Party who served as senator from Ohio and as the first Secretary of the Interior. At the age of 16 Sherman, Ewing secured an appointment for the 16-year-old Sherman as a cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1840 ranking as number 6 in his class and excelling in drawing, chemistry, mathematics, and natural philosophy.

He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the artillery and fought in the Seminole Wars in Florida and Georgia. Sherman spent the Mexican War in the captured territory of California.

Despite his promotion to captain, Sherman was disappointed about his lack of a combat assignment. In 1850 Sherman married the daughter of his patron, Eleanor Boyle (“Ellen”) Ewing. They went on to have 8 children. In 1853 Sherman resigned from the army and became manager of the San Francisco branch of the St. Louis-based bank, Lucas, Turner & Co.

Sherman’s San Francisco branch closed in May 1857, and he relocated to New York on behalf of the same bank. When the bank failed during the financial Panic of 1857, he closed the New York branch. In early 1858, he returned to California to wrap-up the bank’s affairs there. Later in 1858, he moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he tried his hand at law practice.

The following year, Sherman accepted a job as the first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy in Pineville, which would later become Louisiana State University (LSU). Colonel Joseph P. Taylor, the brother of the late President Zachary Taylor, declared that “if you had hunted the whole army, from one end of it to the other, you could not have found a man in it more admirably suited for the position in every respect than Sherman.”

Sherman resigned from his position in January of 1861 rather than compromise his integrity by cooperating with a secessionist state government. He took a position in St. Louis but after several months his brother, Senator John Sherman, secured him a commission as as colonel of the 13th U.S. Infantry regiment, effective May 14, 1861.

Sherman was one of the few officers to distinguish himself at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, where he was grazed by bullets in the knee and shoulder. Sherman began to question his abilities but Abraham Lincoln thought better and promoted him to brigadier general of volunteers (effective May 17, 1861, with seniority in rank to Ulysses S. Grant, his future commander).

He was assigned to serve under General Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame in the Department of the Cumberland but Anderson resigned but in October Anderson resigned and Sherman moved up to his spot. But Sherman who was always afraid of failing had what many consider a nervous breakdown and was put on leave to recover.

Upon his return to active duty in December, Sherman was assigned rear-echelon duties where he became acquainted with Ulysses S. Grant who had just captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.

Sherman got his wish to serve under Grant when he was assigned on March 1, 1862, to the Army of West Tennessee as commander of the 5th Division. His first major test under Grant was at the Battle of Shiloh. Sherman was surprised by the Confederate assault but he rallied his division and conducted an orderly, fighting retreat that helped avert a disastrous Union rout.

Meeting Grant who was sitting under a tree calmly smoking a cigar, Sherman said: “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” After a puff of his cigar, Grant replied calmly: “Yes. Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.” Sherman proved instrumental to the successful Union counterattack of April 7, 1862. Sherman was wounded twice and had three horses shot out from under him. His performance was praised by Grant and Halleck and after the battle, he was promoted to major general of volunteers, effective May 1, 1862.

Sherman’s military record in 1862–63 was mixed. In December 1862, forces under his command suffered a severe repulse at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Soon after, his XV Corps was ordered to join Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand in his successful assault on Arkansas Post, generally regarded as a politically motivated distraction from the effort to capture Vicksburg.

Before the Vicksburg Campaign in the spring of 1863, Sherman expressed serious reservations about the wisdom of Grant’s unorthodox strategy, but he went on to perform well in that campaign under Grant’s supervision.

Command in the West was unified under Grant (Military Division of the Mississippi), and Sherman succeeded Grant in command of the Army of the Tennessee. Under his leadership, the Army of the Tennessee fought at Chattanooga, Knoxville, Meridian, Mississippi and the long Atlanta Campaign. The latter culminated in the capture of that key rail center on September 2, 1864.

With Grant’s promotion to General-in-Chief in March 1864, Sherman was appointed to succeed Grant as head of the Military Division of the Mississippi. In essence, he was in command of all Union troops in the Western Theater: the 60,000-strong Army of the Cumberland under George Henry Thomas, the 25,000-strong Army of the Tennessee under James B. McPherson, and the 13,000-strong Army of the Ohio under John M. Schofield.

After the burning Atlanta, Sherman and the 62,000-man strong army began his famous March to the Sea. He moved from Atlanta to the port city of Savannah causing by his own estimation $100 million in damage. His troops captured Savannah on December 21, 1864. Sherman then dispatched a famous message to Lincoln, offering him the city as a Christmas present.

“I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

Rather than leapfrog to Virginia by steamer, Sherman convinced Grant to allow him to march north through the Carolinas. Upon capturing the South Carolina capital of Columbia, a Union soldier said to his comrades, “Here is where treason began and, by God, here is where it will end!” No one knows who started the fires but by the morning most of the central city was destroyed.

Sherman’s forces defeated the Confederates at the Battle of Bentonville on March 19 to March 21, 1865. On April 26, 1865, General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his army to Sherman.


The Opposing Sides’ Strategies

Grant and LeeStarting with the Overland Campaign and continuing until the end of the war, the two sides had diametrically opposing military and political strategies. 1864 was not only a year with military objectives but also political ones.

The Union government and their army, now completely under the control of Ulysses S. Grant, had one military goal and one political one. Grant’s military goal was to defeat the armies of the Confederacy in the field.

Grant had proposed and Abraham Lincoln had approved a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions: Grant, Meade, and Benjamin Butler against Lee near Richmond, Virginia; Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley; Sherman to invade Georgia, defeat Joseph E. Johnston, and capture AtlantaGeorge Crook and William W. Averell to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia; and Nathaniel Banks to capture Mobile, Alabama. This was the first time the Union armies would have a coordinated offensive strategy across a number of theaters.


In the east he gave George Meade one overriding command: “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” Richmond was no longer the primary goal of the Army of the Potomac. Their primary goal was to be the destruction and surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant knew that with the defeat of Lee’s army would precipitate the fall of Richmond.

In the Western Theater, Sherman had been tasked with the capture of the rail center of Atlanta. He would then seek the destruction of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Finally, Sherman would wreak destruction through Georgia, South Carolina and South Carolina, gutting the Deep South and preventing the supplying of the various Confederate armies.

Not all of Grant’s armies were led by professional soldiers and they would fall short of his goals. Butler’s mission was to deploy his 33,000-man army via the James River to the Virginia Peninsula and strike northwest to Richmond. His objective was to cut the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, a critical Southern supply line, and force Lee to send reinforcements to that front, weakening him against Grant and Meade. Ben Butler would be bottled up at Bermuda Hundred by General P.G.T. Beauregard with a force of 18,000.

Sigel would be defeated at the battle of New Market by John C. Breckinridge. Sigel staged a rapid retreat northward to Strasburg, leaving the field and the Valley to Breckinridge’s army. After learning of the Union defeat, Grant became furious and replaced Sigel with David Hunter.

Hunter waged an aggressive campaign in the southern Valley forcing Lee to dispatch Jubal Early and his Second Corps to face the Union Army. Early forced the Union forces out of the Valley and proceeded to march north into Maryland. He eventually threatened Washington, forcing Grant to send a corps to protect the city.

He returned to the Valley but Grant appointed Philip Sheridan to command the Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan conducted an aggressive campaign against Early, eventually annihilating the Second Corps and forcing the remnants to rejoin Lee. The Valley was lost as a breadbasket for the Confederacy.

Robert E. Lee had a purely defensive strategy. His initial goal was two-fold: preserve his army from attrition and defend Richmond. With an army that on occasion half the size of the Army of the Potomac, Lee would become the master of the terrain of his native state. He used every topographical feature that was available to his army.

He fought a masterful defensive campaign during May and June of 1864. Battles in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and North Anna featured the Confederates skillful use of the terrain to bleed the Union Army. Outnumbered almost 2-to-1 his army inflicted 55,000 casualties on their enemy while sustaining 33,600. However, the Confederate losses represented about half of their army.

Grant knew that he could bleed Lee’s army while his own armies had a much larger pool of manpower available. However, looming in November was the Presidential election. Lincoln needed victories in the field in order to fend off the challenge from George McClellan, the Democrat nominee. The rising casualty lists would drive the voters into the arms of the Democrats unless they saw the hope of victory on the horizon.

Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee realized that their only hope of achieving independence was the defeat of Abraham Lincoln at the polls.  1864 would therefore become the most important year of the war. Victory would hang in the balance for the greater part of the year.





Grant Takes Command

Ulysses S. GrantUlysses S. Grant had been a failure as a peace-time army officer, a farmer, a real estate agent and finally, a clerk in his father’s stare. But Ulysses S. Grant knew how to make war. His career as a commander was a an unbroken series of successes. Even though his earlier battles were rough around the edges, Grant learned from his mistakes and continued to improve as a tactician.

As a former quartermaster he was able to keep his troops well provisioned, always a plus in the eyes of his soldiers. He was perhaps least pretentious officer in either army, never striving to place himself in the forefront when the accolades were being handed out. Most importantly, Sam Grant (his West Point nickname) understand the volunteer and in an army of almost all volunteers that counted the most.

Grant understood the tactics of combined arms both on land and on the water. The Western Theater was interlaced with rivers and Grant understood that he could move his troops swiftly along the rivers. Supplies and reinforcements could be brought to the battlefields expeditiously along the rivers of the South. Grant worked well with his counterparts in the Navy and many a battle was won by this.

Grant was not one to leave things to his staff. They acted as extensions of their commanding general, reporting to him throughout the course of battles so that he could rapidly respond to changes on the battlefield. Ulysses Grant wrote his own orders. They were meticulous and to the point. It was a natural gift that many other Civil War commanders never really mastered. As an example, Joseph E. Johnston’s orders to his commander before the Battle of Seven Pines were so confusing that James Longstreet’s unit were on the wrong road.

Grant also developed the ability to command with what today we would call a hands-on approach. In some cases, he developed his tactics on the fly. His plan to attack Fort Henry and Fort Donelson was initially turned down by General Henry Halleck. Halleck eventually relented but only approved the Forty Henry phase of the operation.

In the same dispatch to Halleck reporting his success at Fort Henry, Grant informed his commanding general that he was moving on Fort Donelson. It was not a proposal but a statement of fact. Halleck responded that he was gathering reinforcement and would have them there within the month.

Rather than wait, Grant advanced on his second objective. When Halleck instructed him to dig in at Fort Henry and await reinforcements, Grant chose to ignore Halleck’s orders. Fort Donelson surrendered on February 16, 1862, just ten days after the fall of Fort Henry.

As his responsibilities grew Grant came to trust certain officers like William T. Sherman. Grant also evaluated Admiral David Porter as an excellent officer with remarkable talents. Other officers were less worthy of his trust like John McClernand.

McClernand’s constant political maneuvering annoyed Grant but he understood that President Lincoln needed the Illinois Democrat’s support. However, when McClernand violated Grant’s order about press releases without his permission, Grant summarily relieved him of his command in June 1863.

He also realized that he would need to give written orders rather than verbal ones. At Shiloh he instructed his staff officers to order General Lew Wallace to bring his much-needed division to Pittsburg Landing. Wallace interpreted this in his own way and a six-mile hike took all day and most of the night.


After this episode Grant made sure to send all orders in writing. Most often, they were written by Grant himself. Grant’s orders were so clear and concise that even today they are considered ideal models of command communications. Horace Porter, a member of his staff, has left us a description of his order-writing process:

At this time, as throughout his later career, he wrote nearly all his documents with his own hand, and seldom dictated to any one even the most unimportant despatch. His work was performed swiftly and uninterruptedly, but without any marked display of nervous energy. His thoughts flowed as freely from his mind as the ink from his pen; he was never at a loss for an expression, and seldom interlined a word or made a material correction. He sat with his head bent low over the table, and when he had occasion to step to another table or desk to get a paper he wanted, he would glide rapidly across the room without straightening himself, and return to his seat with his body still bent over at about the same angle at which he had been sitting when he left his chair.

Many army commanders operated by consensus calling councils of war to make decisions. Ulysses S. Grant was not included in this group. His comment to one staff member, Horace Porter says it all:

It was suggested, one evening, that he instruct Sherman to hold a council of war on the subject of the next movement of his army. To this General Grant replied: “No; I will not direct any one to do what I would not do myself under similar circumstances. I never held what might be called formal councils of war, and I do not believe in them. They create a divided responsibility, and at times prevent that unity of action so necessary in the field. Some officers will in all likelihood oppose any plan that may be adopted; and when it is put into execution, such officers may, by their arguments in opposition, have so far convinced themselves that the movement will fail that they cannot enter upon it with enthusiasm, and might possibly be influenced in their actions by the feeling that a victory would be a reflection upon their judgment. I believe it is better for a commander charged with the responsibility of all the operations of his army to consult his generals freely but informally, get their views and opinions, and then make up his mind what action to take, and act accordingly. There is too much truth in the old adage, ‘Councils of war do not fight.’

The next post will outline Grant’s strategic thinking in the fall and winter of 1862-1863.







The Year of Three Generals: Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee in dress uniformAt the end of 1863 both sides could each see a path to victory. The Confederacy realized that their path to victory needed to include the defeat of Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 Presidential elections and the defeat of his armies in the field. The Union side realized that their path to victory needed to be the utter defeat of the armies of the Confederacy.

Both sides began 1864 with relative equilibrium. But the events of the year would turn on the leadership of three generals: Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.

Lee was the commander of the preeminent Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. He had assumed command after the severe wounding of General Joseph E. Johnston at the Battle of Seven Pines. Despite his disappointing results in western Virginia and along the coast earlier in the war, Lee seized command of the army and outfought George B. McClellan in the Seven Days Battles.

Lee was no longer the earlier ‘King of Spades’ or ‘Granny’ Lee. He became Marse Robert, the master of the battlefield. At the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) he whipped John Pope and forced him to withdraw to the safety of the Washington Defenses.

He attempted a plan that was much too complicated during the Maryland Campaign and his army suffered severe casualties at Antietam. Returning to Virginia, he bested the new Union commander, Ambrose Burnside, at the Battle of Fredericksburg, inflicting serious casualties on the enemy.

He then followed it up with what has been called his ‘perfect battle’ at Chancellorsville where he defeated another new Union commander, Joe Hooker, whose army outnumbered his by a 2-to-1 margin. However, his strong right arm, General Stonewall Jackson, was mortally wounded by his own troops while scouting after the first days’ fighting. He died several days later and Lee never adequately replaced the Great Stonewall.

At Gettysburg, almost two months later he would miss Jackson tactical skill and offensive verve. During a three-day battle, capped by a full frontal assault on the Union defenses on Cemetery Ridge, Lee’s army sustained over 23,000 killed, wounded, captured or missing. It amounted to almost one-third of his army.

But yet another Union commander, George Gordon Meade, did not take advantage of his victory and Lee held off the Army of the Potomac  in a series of battles in northern Virginia that took place from October 13th to November 7th. The Bristoe campaign was a series of five minor battles that ended with the 2nd Battle of Rappahannock Station, a Confederate defeat. It forced Lee to order his army yo retreat southward.

Meade attempted to slip through the Wilderness, the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville, in late November 1863. His goal was to strike the right flank of the Confederate Army south of the Rapidan River. Meade’s goal for a speedy advance was thwarted when Maj. Gen. William H. French‘s III Corps got bogged down in fording the river at Jacob’s Ford. French caused traffic jams when he moved his artillery to Germanna Ford, where other units were attempting to cross.

Meade advanced on the Confederate positions at Mine Run but after concluding that a Confederate line was too strong to attack, he called off the assault. Meade ordered his army into winter quarters, ending the 1863 campaign season. Lee was disappointed that Meade had withdrawn, saying: “I am too old to command this army. We never should have permitted those people to get away.”

1864 would prove a trial for Robert E. Lee and test his skills as a tactical commander. He would need to confront a Union Army under the overall command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant who would control all of the Union armies in the field. Grant understood that the destruction of the Confederate armies, especially Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, would spell the end of the Confederacy.


Philip St. George Cooke: J.E.B. Stuart’s Father-in-Law

General Philip St. George CookeAlthough he had a very similar name to our last subject, Philip St. George Cooke was dissimilar in that even though he was a native Virginian he remained loyal to the Union. Cooke was most often associated with the cavalry having written an Army cavalry manual. He is sometimes called the “Father of the U.S. Cavalry.” But his service to the Union, although significant, was eclipsed by that of his more famous son-in-law, J.E.B. Stuart.

Philip St. George Cooke was born in Leesburg, Virginia on June 13, 1809. Graduating from West Point in 1827, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry. He served on a number of frontier posts in the West and fought in the Black Hawk War. In 1833, he was promoted to first lieutenant and assigned to the newly-formed United States Regiment of Dragoons which would become the 1st U.S. Dragoons in 1836.

The word dragoon originally meant mounted infantry, who were trained in horse riding as well as infantry fighting skills. However, usage altered over time and during the 18th century, dragoons evolved into conventional light cavalry units and personnel. The name is possibly derived from a type of firearm (called a dragon) carried by dragoons of the French Army.

Cooke served throughout the West in the years before the Civil War. During the Mexican-American War he led the Mormon Battalion from Santa Fe to California, receiving a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel for his service in California. In the 2nd U.S. Dragoons he defeated the Jicarilla Apache in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico in 1854.

He was in the 1855 Battle of Ash Hollow against the Sioux. He was sent to keep the peace in Bleeding Kansas in 1856 – 1857. Acquainted with Brigham Young, Cooke took part in the Utah expedition of 1857–58, after which he was promoted to colonel and assigned command of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons. He was an observer for the U.S. Army in the Crimean War, and commanded the Department of Utah from 1860 until 1861.

The issue of secession deeply divided the Cooke family. Although he remained loyal to the Union his son, John Rogers Cooke, joined the Confederate Army, eventually commanded an infantry brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia and was wounded seven times in the service of the Confederacy.

His more famous son-in-law, J.E.B. Stuart, was never reconciled to Cooke and said about his father-in-law’s loyalty to the Union: “He will regret it only once, and that will be continually.” Stuart had met and married Flora Cooke in 1855. Of Flora, it was written the she was “an accomplished horsewoman, and though not pretty, an effective charmer,” to whom “Stuart succumbed with hardly a struggle.”

At the start of the war, the Union Army had five regiments of cavalry. Cooke’s unit, the 2nd Dragoons, was redesignated the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Cooke had written a new cavalry manual in 1858 but the War Department did not publish it until 1862.

Cooke believed in mounted attacks as the primary use of cavalry but the adoption of the rifled musket as an infantry weapon made the classic cavalry charge essentially obsolete and recommended a mission emphasis on reconnaissance and screening.

A prominent theory of cavalry charges at the time, endorsed by future generals Henry W. Halleck and George B. McClellan, was that the cavalry should be deployed in double ranks (a regiment would deploy in two lines of five companies each), which would increase the shock effect of the charge by providing an immediate follow-up attack.

Cooke’s manual called for a single-rank formation in which a battalion of four companies would form a single line and two squadrons of two companies each would cover the flanks. A third battalion would be placed in reserve a few hundred yards to the rear. Cook believed that the double-rank offensive promoted disorder of the horses in the ranks and would be difficult to control.

Cooke was appointed a brigadier general in November 1861. At first, he commanded a brigade of regular Army cavalry headquartered in Washington as part of the defenses there. For the Peninsula Campaign he was given the command of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Reserve, a division-size formation. The Reserve had two brigades with three regiments each.

Cooke was sent along with Major General George Stoneman in pursuit of Confederate forces that had evacuated Yorktown. His cavalry was roughed up in an assault ordered by Stoneman against Fort Magruder. He saw subsequent action at the battles of WilliamsburgGaines’ Mill, and White Oak Swamp. Cooke ordered an ill-fated charge of the 5th U.S. Cavalry at Gaines’ Mill during the Seven Days Battles, sacrificing nearly an entire regiment of regulars.

After the Peninsula Campaign, Cooke left active duty service. One reason that has been given was his son-in-law’s humiliation of the Union cavalry by completely encircling the Army of the Potomac in his celebrated raid.

Stuart had set out with 1,200 troopers on the morning of June 12 and, having determined that the flank was indeed vulnerable, took his men on a complete circumnavigation of the Union army, returning after 150 miles on July 15 with 165 captured Union soldiers, 260 horses and mules, and various quartermaster and ordnance supplies. His men met no serious opposition from the more decentralized Union cavalry, commanded by his father-in-law.

Cooke served on boards of court-martial, commanded the District of Baton Rouge, and was superintendent of Army recruiting for the Adjutant General’s office. On July 17, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Cooke for appointment to the brevet grade of major general in the regular army, to rank from March 13, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on July 23, 1866.

Cooke commanded the Department of the Platte from 1866 to 1867, the Department of the Cumberland from 1869 to 1870, and the Department of the Lakes. He retired from the Army with almost 50 years service on October 29, 1873 as a brigadier general. Cooke died in Detroit, Michigan, and is buried there in Elmwood Cemetery.



Philip St. George Cocke: A Victim of PTSD

Philip St. George Cocke, 1850sBefore the modern age Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome or PTSD was often called combat fatigue, the 1,000 yard stare, shell shock or simply depression. During the American Civil War there was quite a lot of combat fatigue but in many cases the affected men were too proud to ask for help.

The Civil War was the first conflict in American history that had mass armies. The antebellum United States Army had a mere 16,000 officers and men scattered throughout the entire country. Most units were company-size, larger units were very rare. The officers and men were all volunteers. From the end of War of 1812 until the firing on Fort Sumter the United States fought against the Creeks, the Seminoles, plains Indians and the Mexicans.

The first year of the Civil War saw untrained armies fighting in essence as armed mobs. Army commanders had no experience at maneuvering large formations of troops. Despite many of the army commanders having been graduates of West Point and military academies such as the Virginia Military Institute, they were simply inexperienced at the practice of war-making.

Philip St. George Cocke was one such officer who had never seen combat despite having graduated from West Point. A native of Fluvanna County, Virginia Cocke only served two years before resigning to marry and became a cotton planter in Powhatan County, Virginia and in Mississippi. He became an accomplished agriculturalist who published frequent articles in journals and served as the president of the Virginia State Agricultural Society from 1853 to 1856.

After the firing on Fort Sumter Cocke was appointed as a brigadier general in the service of the Commonwealth of Virginia by Governor John Letcher. He was assigned command of all state forces along the Potomac River.

When Virginia’s state forces were consolidated with the Provisional Army of the Confederate States, Cocke was given the rank of colonel in the new CSA forces. Because of this effective demotion, Cocke was superseded in command at Manassas on May 21 by Brig. Gen. Milledge L. Bonham.

Cocke commanded the 5th Brigade under General P. G. T. Beauregard and was assigned to defend Centreville but in the face of advancing Union forces, withdrew behind Bull Run on July 17.

On July 20 Cocke was stationed at Ball’s Ford on Bull Run. In the subsequent First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, Cocke was assigned to advance against Centreville, a plan abandoned when the Federals began their flanking movement against the Confederate left.

While Col. Nathan George Evans, reinforced by Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee and Col. Francis S. Bartow, opposed the enemy, Cocke’s forces defended against attack in the vicinity of the Stone Bridge, with his headquarters at the Lewis house. At 2 p.m., about an hour before the arrival of Elzey, he led his brigade into action on the left with “alacrity and effect.” He was promoted to brigadier general in the Confederate Army on October 21 and given command of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division of the Confederate Army of the Potomac.

First Bull Run was Cocke’s last battle. After eight months’ service, during which he was promoted to brigadier general in the provisional Confederate army, he returned home, “shattered in body and mind.” Exhausted from the strain, and despondent over perceived slights from General Beauregard stemming from the Battle of Manassas, Cocke shot himself in the head on December 26, 1861, at his mansion, “Belmead”, in Powhatan County, Virginia. He was initially buried on the plantation grounds, but he was re-interred in 1904 at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

Philip St. George Cocke was one officer who could not withstand the strain of violent combat. Many officers could not accept the deaths of the men under their command and some resigned their commissions rather than order men to their deaths. It would be a long war with many officers and men suffering both physically and mentally.



Charles P. Stone: Scapegoat for Defeat

General Charles Pomeroy Charles Pomeroy Stone was the first of more than a few general officers who were blamed for the early Union defeats. If anything they were only guilty of leading untrained and inexperienced troops who broke under fire.

Charles Stone was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1924. He entered West Point in 1841 and graduated four years later, the seventh of 41 cadets. He was commissioned a second lieutenant of ordnance.

Stone stayed at West Point, serving as an assistant professor and teaching geography, history, and also ethics from August 28, 1845, to January 13, 1846. Afterwards he was posted to the Watervliet Arsenal in New York as Assistant Ordnance Officer, and then to Fortress Monroe, both in 1846. While there Stone worked in the facilities arsenal and was an assistant to Capt. Benjamin Huger, whom he would serve under in the war with Mexico.

Stone gave distinguished service during the Mexican War. He fought from the Siege of Veracruz to the Battle for Mexico City and was given three brevet promotions for his actions.

After the war he took a leave of absence and proceeded to Europe to study military practices of the armies there for two years. He returned in 1850 and continued on arsenal duty. He married married Maria Louisa Clary in 1853 and three years later resigned from the Army “finding the pay inadequate” for his family. In the following eight years he worked in a number of positions. He returned to Washington in 1860 and in 1861 he was writing a report on his survey of Sonora, Mexico.

Stone’s Civil War Career

After a dinner with his former commander Winfield Scott, Stone was asked to be Inspector General of the District of Columbia Militia at the rank of colonel as of January 1, 1861, and was thus reputed to be the first volunteer officer mustered into the Union Army before the Civil War. In this role, he secured the capital for the arrival of President-elect Abraham Lincoln, and was personally responsible for security at the new president’s inaugural

Stone was appointed Colonel of the 14th U.S. Infantry Regiment on May 14, and then a brigadier general in the Union Army that August, to rank from May 17. He commanded a brigade in Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson‘s Army of the Shenandoah during the First Bull Run campaign in June and July. Stone then was given command of a division, called the Corps of Observation, guarding the fords along the upper Potomac River that fall.

During this period Stone became embroiled in a controversy with his home state’s governor, John A. Andrew, and Charles Sumner, the senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, both powerful and influential Radical Republican politicians. Stone had ordered his men “not to incite and encourage insubordination among the coloured servants in the neighbourhood.” 

When the men of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry returned some runaway slaves to their masters based on Stone’s orders, several of the men wrote to their families. Eventually Andrew and Sumner found out and a series of heated letters went back and forth. Stone’s dealings with these two men would have tragic consequences in his near future.

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff (link to complete battle post)

On October 20, 1861, Stone was ordered to conduct a reconnaissance across the Potomac River in the Leesburg, Virginia area by General George B. McClellan. At the time Stone’s large 10,000-man division was bivouacked in the Poolesville, Maryland area.

McClellan hoped that this action, combined with a movement by Brig. Gen. George A. McCall‘s division of 13,000 men toward Dranesville the day before, would encourage a Confederate withdrawal from the area without an engagement occurring. Considering that the total Union force in the immediate area would be 23,000 men, It would appear that Union troops far outnumbered their adversaries.

Stone would have reasonably believed that McCall would be in a position to support any offensive actions that he might take. But Stone did not take into account McClellan’s timidity. On October 21st he ordered McCall to withdraw to his previous position at Langley. Unfortunately, Stone was not informed and he proceeded with his original plan.

Stone brought up his artillery to Edward’s Ferry on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. From this position they would be able to shell Confederate forces on the Virginia and cover the Union troops who were assigned to cross the river. He then ordered small reconnaissance parties from the 1st Minnesota Infantry across. They returned without incident.

He then sent out 20 soldiers of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry to scout toward Leesburg and see whether the Union movements had the desired effect or not. Crossing at Harrison’s Island on the river, these men scaled Ball’s Bluff and encountered what they believed was a Confederate camp of at least thirty men less than a mile inland. The patrol returned to Harrison Island around 10 p.m. and reported by messenger to Stone who was at Edwards Ferry.

Stone led part of his command across the river from Edward’s Ferry. At the same time he ordered Col. Charles Devens and 300 men of his 15thDeath of Col. Edward Baker Massachusetts to immediately cross over to Ball’s Bluff that night. Their orders were to march to the Confederate camp and destroy it at daybreak. Stone gave Devens the discretion to march to Leesburg or return to Harrison Island after the assault.

Meanwhile, Devens found that there was no camp to raid. He reported that fact to Stone. Stone ordered Colonel and U.S. Senator Edward D. Baker to take overall command. At the same time he instructed Baker that the raiding party was to be turned back into a reconnaissance. Stone ordered the rest of the 15th Massachusetts over and added the 20th Massachusetts Infantry, under Col. William R. Lee, to this effort as well. The total force numbered slightly over 1,700 troops.

Devens force now numbering about 650 became engaged with a growing force of Confederates. Devens began to withdraw back to Ball’s Bluff at about 2:00 and met Baker shortly afterward. By 3:00 the fighting became heavy with the Confederates forcing the Union force into a position that precluded any maneuvering.

Col. Nathan G. “Shanks” Evans was in charge of the forces opposing Stone, and when he learned of the crossings he split his 2,000-man command. Three of his regiments were ordered to deal with Stone by blocking the road from Edwards Ferry to Leesburg, while the remainder fought and defeated Baker’s force at Ball’s Bluff. Since Baker sent no updates to Stone, he was unaware that any fighting was taking place.

The fighting at Ball’s Bluff continued from about 3:00 and lasted until just after dark. At about 4:30 Col. Baker was struck by a volley of bullets through his heart and brain that killed him instantly. He remains the only United States Senator to die in battle. Shortly after dark the 17th Mississippi arrived and spearheaded the final assault on the Union positions.

The Union troops were routed and many of them attempted to climb down the steep slope at the southern end of Ball’s Bluff. Many of the boats were capsized and the troops were drowned. Bodies floated downriver to Washington and even as far as Mt. Vernon in the days following the battle. A total of 223 Federals were killed, 226 were wounded, and 553 were captured on the banks of the Potomac later that night.

The Aftermath of Ball’s Bluff

The abject defeat coupled with Baker’s death had an enormous impact in Washington. Stone was treated as the scapegoat for the defeat. Members of Congress suspected that there was a conspiracy to betray the Union. The desire to learn why Federal forces had lost battles at Bull Run (Manassas), Wilson’s Creek, and Ball’s Bluff, led to the establishment of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

Stone was called to testify before the committee and all of his testimony and that of 38 others remained a secret. His official report was leaked to the press and it caused an outcry. In it he praised Baker’s courage but questioned his abilities as a field commander. Massachusetts Governor Andrew and Senator Sumner, openly denounced this report and began to point accusing fingers at Stone, not at Baker.

Stone’s loyalty to the Union and his position on slavery were more in question than his military abilities and decisions. The committee’s questions accused him of improper and frequent communications with the Confederates, of not re-enforcing Baker, of using his men to protect slaveholder property in Maryland, and of returning runaway slaves to their owners—despite the last two of these following Maryland as well as Federal law.

Another problem for Stone defending himself was an order from McClellan forbidding him to give testimony “regarding his [McClellan's] plans, his orders for the movement of troops, or his orders concerning the position of troops.” This made it impossible for Stone to explain his movements to the committee, but kept McClellan out of the investigation as well.

Stone was arrested just after midnight on February 8, 1862, on orders of Maj. Gen. McClellan, who was acting under orders from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. He was taken to Fort Lafayette, an island coastal fortification in the Narrows of New York Harbor. He was held here and later at the nearby Fort Hamilton in solitary confinement until his release in August 1862. He was never charged and was never given an explanation or an apology. Some say that Stone was arrested at the orders of President Lincoln who was a close personal friend of Baker’s.

Stone returned to Washington to await a new assignment. Finally, in February of 1863 he was allowed to see the secret testimony and was able to rebut all of the charges since McClellan’s order no longer applied. The committee cleared him of all charges. Eventually he was given minor assignment finished his army career as a brigade commander in the Army of the Potomac. He resigned his commission in September 1864.

Charles Stone eventually served as chief of staff and general aide-de-camp for the khedive Isma’il Pasha of Egypt. While there he was given the rank of lieutenant general and the title of Ferik Pasha. He died on January 24, 1887 in New York City and is buried at the West Point Cemetery.




John Brown Gordon: From the Battlefield to the State House

General John Brown GordonIf the Union had Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine, then the Confederacy’s version was John Brown Gordon of Georgia. These two famous generals followed parallel paths and in the post-war period actually became acquainted. In the end both would help to foster the reconciliation of the two sides.

John Brown Gordon was born on his father’s plantation in Upson County, Georgia in February of 1832. An outstanding student at the University of Georgia, he left before graduating to read law at an Atlanta law firm. He passed the bar examination and began to practice law. Gordon was a many of many parts and he invested in a number of coal mines in Tennessee and Georgia with his father.

Gordon’s Civil War Service: 1861-1863

At the start of the war, Gordon who lacked any military education or experience was elected captain of a company of mountaineers. He quickly rose to brigadier general in November 1862 and then to major general in May 1864. Gordon was an aggressive general as a brigade commander and then a division commander. He was highly valued by Robert E. Lee who described him as being one of his best brigadiers, “characterized by splendid audacity” in a letter to President Jefferson Davis.

Gordon was wounded eight times in the service of the Confederacy including an incredible five times in the Sunken Road at Antietam. He was wounded at Malvern Hill in the eyes while fearlessly leading his brigade. During the campaign, Gordon strode fearlessly among his men, enemy bullets shattered the handle of his pistol, pierced his canteen, and tore away part of the front of his coat.

At Antietam, he commanded the troops that held the Sunken Road in the center of the Confederate line. It was during this battle that Gordon was wounded an incredible five times. First, a Minié ball passed through his calf. Then, a second ball hit him higher in the same leg. A third ball went through his left arm.

He continued to lead his men despite the fact that the muscles and tendons in his arm were mangled, and a small artery was severed by this ball. A fourth ball hit him in his shoulder. Despite pleas that he go to the rear, he continued to lead his men. He was finally stopped by a ball that hit him in the face, passing through his left cheek and out his jaw. He fell with his face in his cap and might have drowned in his own blood if it had not drained out through a bullet hole in the cap.

After months of recuperation, Gordon led a brigade of Georgians in Jubal Early’s division at Gettysburg. During the assault on Barlow’s Knoll, he stopped to aid the wounded enemy division commander, Francis Barlow.

This incident led to a story considered apocryphal by many historians that the two men met after the war in Washington and Gordon asked if he was related to the Barlow who was killed at Gettysburg.

Seated at Clarkson Potter’s table, I asked Barlow: “General, are you related to the Barlow who was killed at Gettysburg?” He replied: “Why, I am the man, sir. Are you related to the Gordon who killed me?” “I am the man, sir,” I responded. No words of mine can convey any conception of the emotions awakened by those startling announcements. Nothing short of an actual resurrection from the dead could have amazed either of us more. Thenceforward, until his untimely death in 1896, the friendship between us which was born amidst the thunders of Gettysburg was greatly cherished by both.

 The story was told by Barlow and by Gordon and was published in newspapers and in Gordon’s book.

The irony of this incident is that Francis Barlow led the 61st New York and the 63rd New York at Antietam. His combined units flanked the Sunken Road and created the famous pictures of the dead Confederates in the road, many commanded by Gordon. My own second great grandfather, Sgt. Michael Patrick Murphy, was among the Union troops who caused the carnage. In a later affidavit, he wrote how they forded the creek, organized themselves and proceeded to the attack. “We had it hot for some time.”

Gordon’s Civil War Service: 1864-1865

Gordon proposed a flanking attack at the start of the Overland Campaign at the Wilderness but his commander Jubal Early would not allow it. After the Wilderness Gordon was given command of Early’s Division when he was promoted. At Spotsylvania Court House his unit turned back the massive Union attack at the ‘Bloody Angle’ and prevented a Confederate rout. During the battle he was promoted to major general.

It was at the latter battle that Gordon found General Robert E. Lee riding his horse Traveller to the center of the line, preparing to join a charge. Gordon shouted, “General Lee, this is no place for you. These men behind you are Georgians and Virginians. They have never failed you and will not fail you here. Will you boys?” Gordon’s men yelled, “No, no, we’ll not fail him.” He then had two of his men escort General Lee to the rear and safety.

Gordon went with Early to the Valley when the latter was given command of the Army of the Valley. He  was wounded August 25, 1864, at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The incident was described by Confederate cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss in his official report, “Quite a lively skirmish ensued, in which Gordon was wounded in the head, but he gallantly dashed on, the blood streaming over him.”

After the Confederate defeat Battle of Cedar Creek, Gordon returned to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia where he was given command of the Second Corps which he led until the surrender at Appomattox. His corps defended the line during the Siege of Petersburg. commanded the attack on Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865 where he was wounded again, in the leg.

At Appomattox Court House, he led his men in the last charge of the Army of Northern Virginia, capturing the entrenchments and several pieces of artillery in his front just before the surrender.

It was at the surrender ceremony that Maj. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered a salute that at first startled Gordon who led the Southern infantry. Here is Chamberlain’s poignant account of the surrender ceremony.

My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead! 

Gordon’s Postwar Career

Appomattox was not the end of John Brown Gordon’s career but the beginning of its next phase. He was a firm opponent of Reconstruction and endorsed measures to preserve white-dominated society, including restrictions on freedmen and the use of violence. It was thought that he was the titular head of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan, a charge that he denied. He did acknowledge he was associated with a secret “peace police” organization whose sole purpose was the “preservation of peace.”

He ran for governor in 1868 but was defeated. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1873 and in 1879 became the first ex-Confederate to preside of that august body.The day after he became President Pro Tem of the Senate he obtained a promise from President Ulysses S. Grant to remove Federal officials in Georgia who had gained their positions through fraud or corruption.

John Gordon was a strong supporter of the “New South” and industrialization. Gordon resigned from the Senate in May 1880 to promote a venture for the Georgia Pacific Railway. He was elected Governor of Georgia in 1886 and returned to the U.S. Senate from 1891 to 1897.

In 1903 Gordon published an account of his Civil War service entitled Reminiscences of the Civil War. He engaged in a series of popular speaking engagements throughout the country.

John Gordon was the first Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans when the group was organized in 1890 and held this position until his death in 1904. He died while visiting one of his sons in Miami, Florida on January 9, 1904 at the age of 71. It was reported that 75,000 people attended his funeral in Atlanta where he was buried.

Gordon was a proponent of the ‘Lost Cause’ myth that sprang up after the war. Those who contributed to the movement tended to portray the Confederacy’s cause as noble and most of its leaders as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry, defeated by the Union armies through overwhelming force rather than martial skill.

Gordon often spoke at veteran’s gatherings. At one gathering of veterans from both armies, Gordon spoke after his friend, Joshua Chamberlain. He turned to Chamberlain, saying: “You were right but so were we.”