Marsena R. Patrick, Provost Marshal General

General Marsena R. PatrickMarsena Rudolph Patrick was the provost marshal for the Army of the Potomac and later held the same position for the armies of the Eastern Theater under General Ulysses S. Grant.

Patrick was born in Jefferson County, New York on March 15, 1811. He worked on the Erie Canal and briefly taught school before his appointment to West Point. He graduated in 1835 and was commissioned in the infantry. In 1839 he served in the Seminole Wars. He served in the Mexican War where he was promoted to captain in 1847. Promoted to major in 1849, nevertheless he resigned his commission a year later.

Initially, he was president of the Sackett’s Harbor and Ellisburg Railroad. He later became an expert farmer, studying and using the latest farming practices. In 1859, he was appointed president of the the New York State Agricultural College, serving in that role for two years before the outbreak of the Civil War.

At the onset of the war Patrick enlisted in the New York State Militia as its inspector general. By March 1862 he was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers and given command of a brigade. His unit was part of  a division commanded Brig. Gen. Rufus King. They were part of Irvin McDowell’s Army in the Shenandoah Valley. It was here that they battled the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah led by Gen. Thomas J. Jackson who had become the famous ‘Stonewall’ at the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas).

Patrick was almost immediately appointed military governor of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in April 1862. Transferred later in the year to the Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, he commanded the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, I Corps in the defenses of Washington, D.C..

Patrick’s brigade (renumbered as the 3rd Brigade) suffered hundreds of casualties in the Maryland Campaign, seeing action at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. At Antietam Patrick’s Brigade was part of the assaults on the West Woods on the morning of the battle.

Following the Battle of Antietam, the Army of the Potomac’s command structure was reorganized with the removal of McClellan and his replacement by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Patrick was named provost marshal of the Army of the Potomac on October 6, 1862 and given the equivalent of a brigade of troops to carry out his duties. At times this formation included the following units:

His unit was responsible for a variety of tasks including maintaining military discipline behind the lines. In November of 1862 the were unable to stop the sacking and looting of Fredericksburg, Virginia from vengeful Union troops. This incident was to dog Patrick for some time as political leaders blamed him for the actions of the out-of-control soldiers.

“The Soldiery were sacking the town!” Patrick wrote, uncharacteristically using an exclamation mark in his diary. “Men with all sorts of utensils & furniture, all sorts of eatables & drinkables & wearables, were carried off. I found the town in a most deplorable state of things. Libraries, pictures, furniture, every thing destroyed & the brutal Soldiery still carrying on the work.”

Patrick described his efforts to restore order with near-melancholy: “Couch sent over for me to clear the town. This was impossible although I put in my Cavalry & 4 companies of Infy.”

In 1863, new army commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker had Patrick create the Bureau of Military Information, a network of intelligence agents. Patrick assigned his deputy provost marshal, Colonel George H. Sharpe, to the task. Sharpe was assisted by John C. Babcock, a civilian and former employee of Allan Pinkerton.

His unit was also responsible for processing captured Confederate troops from the battlefield and into captivity. They policed the area behind the battlefields and behind the marching army for deserters and stragglers. In general, it was their job to main order and discipline for the Army of the Potomac.

Patrick’s job as provost marshal began with a marching army. Whether in advance or retreat, a force the size of the Army of the Potomac had to contend with clogged roads, narrow bridges, mud, swift rivers and a host of other situations bound to slow progress. Patrick had to keep the army moving while rounding up stragglers, looters or worse.

Artillery, Packs, Ambulances, Servants, Orderlies & detached commands, with Stragglers of all kinds, began to pour in” as the army approached a narrow bridge, Patrick wrote in his diary. “I was at the Bridge & thereabouts, whip in hand, using it freely & directing the movement successfully, until every wheel & hoof had crossed the bridges.”

As battle neared, Patrick’s job evolved into helping concentrate the army. He had to round up drunks, skedaddlers, looters, stragglers and other unsavory men who were supposed to be in line against the enemy. On June 30, 1863, as the army approached Gettysburg, Patrick wrote, “I was called into town and sent for two Squadrons of Cavalry to go back to Frederick & clean out that town, which was reported full of drunken men & Stragglers.”

During battle, Patrick performed the thankless job of turning around or corralling the men who ran from the battle. He also had to deal with prisoners. During Pickett’s Charge, Patrick and his men were behind the main Federal line. “I had my hands full with those that broke to the rear, but we succeeded in checking the disorder & organized a guard of Stragglers to keep nearly 2000 Prisoners all safe.”

After the battle, Patrick saw to the dead and the mountains of government equipment left on the field. On July 6, 1863, Patrick wrote, “I was soon ordered by Gen. Meade to go into the town & make arrangements with responsible parties for the burial of the dead & Securing of the property on the battle field.”

When Ulysses S, Grant became General-in-Chief in March of 1864, He appointed Patrick as provost marshal for the combined forces operating against Richmond, Virginia. He carried out the same duties as he had previously but on a larger scale. After the surrender of Robert E. Lee, he was appointed as provost of the District of Henrico in the Department of Virginia.

Although appointed a brevet major general in the volunteer army, Patrick resigned from the Army a second time on June 12, 1865, preferring to return to civilian life rather than accept a role in the smaller postbellum regular army. In 1865, he ran on the Democratic ticket for New York State Treasurer but was defeated by Republican Joseph Howland.

Patrick moved to Manlius, NY, and from 1867 through 1868, Patrick served as president of the New York State Agricultural Society, then spent the next two years as a state commissioner, a role he again held from 1879 through 1880. He became a widely known public speaker, particularly on topics related to technological advances in agriculture.

Interested in the care of former soldiers, Patrick moved to Ohio and became the governor of the central branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Marsena Patrick died in Dayton, Ohio, and was buried in the Dayton National Cemetery. His diary, frequently critical of the Army’s commanders, wasn’t published until 1964.




The Union’s State Provost Marshal System

James Barnett FryThe Union Army had a robust and organized provost marshal system for their field army. Their goal was to collect stragglers, police the battlefields and hunt down deserters. Away from the armies the Lincoln government created a state-by state system after the passage of the Conscription or Enrollment Act on March 3, 1863.

On March 17th, Lincoln appointed Colonel James Barnett Fry, an Illinois West Pointer as the head of Provost Marshal General’s Bureau. Fry created the administrative machinery of his Bureau, dividing it into four branches.

The first branch, Fry’s staff, consisted of two officers, one who served as his assistant and the other as an assistant adjutant-general. The second or enrollment branch was in charge of enrolling and drafting. Its responsibilities were to supervise and keep all records relating to enrollment and draft, to keep records of volunteers recruited from each district and to work out draft quotas. It goes without saying that this branch received the special attention of Fry and his assistants.

The other two branches were disbursement and accounts, and deserters and their rolls. It was necessary later to add several other branches because of increased responsibilities. The later branches dealt with medical affairs, the invalid or veterans reserve corps, and disbursements and accounts for volunteering.

The original act had only made provision for a provost marshal in each congressional district. The need for regional or state offices had not been considered. Fry insisted on the need for such offices and the appointment of an assistant provost marshal general for each state was made. This officer was to coordinate the work of all other provost marshals and boards of enrollment in the state with the central office in Washington.

Since the states were to continue their former recruiting, and drafting was to be only a final resort, it was necessary that a genuine feeling of cooperation
and harmony be reached between Federal and State officials. There was also a desire to have state support in case of violence resulting from the draft.

To better understand how the bureaus functioned, let’s take Ohio as an example. Ohio was divided according to the newly established congressional districts which resulted in the creation of nineteen enrollment districts. Each of these districts was supervised by three individuals. The over-all responsibility rested with the district provost marshal who was assisted by an office force and the enrollment board; the latter composed of the provost marshal, a practicing physician or surgeon, and a civilian called the commissioner.

These officials were appointed in Washington upon the recommendation of local politicians, congressmen, and the governor. The task of appointing this group, the Provost Marshal General later reported, was especially difficult because of the lack of information on the qualifications of many of the applicants. In some districts appointees failed to answer or if they did answer they declined to serve. In other districts men applied but failed to have proper recommendations submitted. All of this was time consuming.

To facilitate enrollment, Congress had authorized enrollment boards, when they deemed it expedient, to sub-divide their congressional districts into sub-districts, at the rate of one for each city ward, one for each county, and, in sparsely populated districts, one for each township. The officers in these areas enrolled all men subject to the draft and were hired only long enough to complete this work and temporarily rehired to make corrections.

The most obvious reason for the presence of the provost marshals in the different districts was to guarantee the Lincoln Administration that the soldiers needed to fill the depleted ranks in the Union Army would be furnished. Behind this was a more ingenious reason; one which was just as effective in stimulating recruiting and in some respects more important, that of preserving loyalty and peace within the community.


Antietam: 152 Years Later

The Battle of AntietamThis is a post that I wrote two years ago on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. It bears repeating to inform people about the horrific price that America paid during the American Civil War. Let us all fervently pray that we will never be asked to pay that steep a price again. But if we are asked to defend our rights let us hope that we can show the same type of courage and bravery that our forebears did.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, also known as Sharpsburg. Whatever you call it, this battle marked the first great turning point in the American Civil War in the East.

Historians argue endlessly about turning points in the Civil War but about Antietam there is very little argument. Everything after the battle was changed by its impact on Union policy. Let’s start with the smaller changes that came from the battle and move up to the one great change that turned the fortunes of war in favor of the North.

Antietam marked the last battle of Maj. Gen. George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. His inability to pursue the shattered Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and allow it to return to the safety of Virginia was simply too much for Abraham Lincoln to bear.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote in his official report, “The long inactivity of so large an army in the face of a defeated foe, and during the most favorable season for rapid movements and a vigorous campaign, was a matter of great disappointment and regret.” Lincoln relieved McClellan of his command of the Army of the Potomac on November 7, effectively ending the general’s military career.

Following McClellan at the helm of the Army of the Potomac was Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside who had turned the President down before McClellan’s reinstatement. He claimed that he was not qualified to command the army. At Fredericksburg in December, Burnside proved that his own opinion of himself was correct.

He was followed by Maj. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker was thoroughly whipped by Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville and was relieved of command three days before the momentous Battle of Gettysburg. He in turn was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade who retained command for the rest of the war.

Antietam was to begin the process that eventually brought General Ulysses S. Grant to the position of general-in-chief of all the Union armies. His military genius was to change the face of war and bring victory to the forces of the Union.

Antietam was the battle that brought that face of war to the general public of the North. Mathew Brady, the well-known New York photographer, Alexander Gardner at Antietamhad dispatched Alexander Gardner to the battle field to take photographs of the aftermath of the battle.

In October 1862, the results of Gardner’s battlefield images were exhibited in Brady’s New York gallery titled “The Dead of Antietam.” Many images in this presentation were graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This was the first time that many Americans saw the realities of war in photographs as distinct from previous “artists’ impressions”.

The images of the wholesale slaughter on the battlefield of Antietam brought the war home to northern civilians in a way that casualty lists and battlefield sketches could not. The images of piles of dead soldiers in the Cornfield and the Sunken Road were so graphic that many people were shocked into understanding the death and destruction that this war was causing.

Both armies was severely wounded after the battle. With over 23,000 casualties inflicted, both armies took several months to recover. Some historians say that the Confederate army never recovered from the wholesale bloodletting at Antietam. But recover they did and defeated the Union Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville due to the superior generalship of their commander, Robert E. Lee.

The most important result of the Battle of Antietam was Lincoln’s issuing of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. On September 22nd, the President issued the proclamation that would change the Union war aims and his country forever.

Earlier that summer Lincoln had said, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the Dead Confederates at the Sunken Roadslaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.” 

The Emancipation Proclamation when it came into effect on January 1, 1863 would forever change the war from one that only sought to preserve the Union but one that would set men free. Lincoln’s ringing phrase, “…thenceforward, and forever free” would change the United States of America for all time.

As a direct result of the proclamation 180,000 African-Americans would enlist in the Union army and assist in the ultimate victory over the Confederate states. Their value to the Union cause cannot be understated.

So, today is not only a turning point in the American Civil War but also a turning point in the history of the United States.

I have the honor of being the great-great grandson of Michael Patrick Murphy, Sergeant, Company D, 61st New York Volunteer Infantry, Caldwell’s Brigade, Richardson’s Division. On September 17th, 1862 he fought at the Sunken Road, forever known afterward as ‘Bloody Lane’. Everytime that I look in a mirror his blue eyes are looking back at me, just like my grandmother told me they would when I was a child. We, his descendants, have a fierce pride that one of our ancestors helped to save the Union.


The Provost Marshal System in the Armies

Civil War Provost Marshal badgeThe American Civil War was the great divide in American history. Everything during and after was changed in the way we did things. The military changed dramatically but not in the way most people might think. After the war the Army reverted to much of its former size and practices but one department remained, that of the Provost Marshal.

The provost marshals were the military police of both armies. They hunted and arrested deserters, spies, and civilians suspected of disloyalty; confined prisoners; maintained records of paroles and oaths of allegiance; controlled the passage of civilians in military zones and those using Government transportation; and investigated the theft of Government property. In some instances, provost courts were set up to try cases that fell under the provost marshal’s jurisdiction and those cases where military personnel were accused of civil crimes.

That’s a broad description of how each side used their provost marshals. But how they organized them were quite different. The Union had a more hierarchical structure while the Confederates used a more ad hoc approach. But first a little historical background is in order.

On July 18, 1861, Union General Irvin McDowell issued General Order No. 18, defining the authority of the provost marshal in the Army of Northeast Virginia, as the troops moved southward on campaign. In 1862, General George B. McClellan assumed command of the newly formed Division of the Potomac, which included the departments of Northeast Virginia and Washington.

McClellan issued the first orders describing the duties of provost marshals within a field army during the Civil War. For the duration of the war, each division, brigade, and corps of the Union Army included a provost marshal. Guards were assigned to the provost marshal to assist in carrying out assigned functions, chief of which was preservation of order.

The Federal army was much more organized in constructing the provost system than the Confederates were. McClellan realized that there needed to be an immediate generation of the Provost Marshal’s Department. Army divisions, and later corps, were directed to appoint provost marshals and guards. By March of 1863, all military police duties were being handled by the Provost Marshal’s Department. These marshals and guards used specific badges, often based on their corps design, to designate them as provost.

In September 1862, the federal Adjutant General’s office issued General Order No. 140, appointing special provost marshals for each state. The special provost marshal had many responsibilities, which included investigating charges or acts of treason and arresting deserters, spies, and persons deemed disloyal. James Fry was appointed on March 3, 1863 to be the first Provost Marshal General during the American Civil War.

A reorganization of the War Department in 1863 eliminated the position of special provost marshal, but appointed an assistant provost marshal general (APMG) for each state, a provost marshal for each congressional district and a deputy provost marshal for each county. The duties remained much the same. In addition, the provost marshal assigned to the district was responsible for maintaining troop discipline, assuming custody of prisoners and deserters, administering punishment, and suppressing any depredations and disturbances caused by Army troops or individual soldiers.

Confederate Provost Marshals were originally sanctioned by the Articles of War which were adopted on March 6, 1861. References to brigade provost marshals prior to the 1st Battle of Bull Run make it clear a provost structure was operating within the Confederate military structure early on.

While the Federal army had organized the provost department into actual corps, the Confederate Army never incorporated this into their system. They relied more on line officers and volunteers. In relation to this, there were two very different types of provost marshals during the war: 1) provost marshals taking the field with the armies and 2) district and town provost marshals.

The first usually consisted of line officers of a high caliber and they either had been recommended for the job, been wounded, or were recovering from some illness. These line officers proved to be very effective provost marshals for the armies on the march as they were field officers who knew how to handle men.

On June 5, 1862, the Department of Northern Virginia put out a general order directing that provost guards be chosen for their reliability and efficiency. This order directed that each divisional guard would consist of one officer, one noncommissioned officer, and ten men from each regiment in the division. These men would be answerable to the division provost marshal. In fact, General Robert E. Lee considered this role so important that following the Seven Days Battle he directed that officers with provost commands be “effective, energetic, and firm”.

However, the district and town provost marshals were usually untrained ruffians that used provost duty as an excuse to escape active military service and were thus known fondly as “skulkers” or “Bomb-proofs”. The number of men making up these “units” were undetermined, and often they were involved with shady deals of their own. They often abused their authority and were able to arrest anyone simply out of suspicion and without evidence.

We will cover the provost marshals in the states in a later post.



South Carolina Unionists

The Union is in danger posterIn 1860, South Carolina ‘unionists’ believed in unionism as a matter of policy and not of principle. In other words, they saw it as a vehicle to continue to maintain the Union in order to rule the Union.

The South had held the upper hand in the governance of the United States for several reasons. There was an absolute solidarity among the Southerners in the Congress. Every so-called compromise had been devised to assuage Southern beliefs on the issue of slavery. Threats of secession and nullification kept their northern adversaries on edge.

The counting of slaves as 3/5th of whites allowed the South to maintain a numerical advantage in the House of Representatives from the very beginning of the Republic.

The measure of the South’s actual power can be seen in the office of the Presidency. Of the first fifteen Presidents seven were from the South while two more were born in the South. Seven of the fifteen were born in Virginia. This southernness gave the southern Presidents a sense that the South was right about slavery. They tended to favor their native region on national policy issues.

In fact, during the years leading up to the 1860 Presidential election the radical secessionists in South Carolina led by Robert Barnwell Rhett had lost their ascendancy to a union of National Democrats and co-operationists. This party held that the dominance of the South in the national government could only be maintained by the Democratic Party. They also believed that the South would not be ruined economically by the continuation of the Union.

The secessionists continued to attempt to split the Democratic Party. By doing so they believed that the upcoming Presidential election would be won by the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, and precipitate a split in the Union. But the majority of South Carolinians were in favor of a candidate who would be agreeable to both wings of the Democratic Party. This would assure a victory for the party and continued dominance of the South on the national stage.

But the South Carolina state convention after beating back the Alabama proposal to withdraw from the national convention inexplicably sent sixteen delegates to the Charleston convention without instructions. Succumbing to pressure from both the secessionists and telegrams from South Carolina’ Congressional representatives, thirteen of the sixteen voted to withdraw from the national convention. The stampede had begun.

Over the following weeks the radicals gained the upper hand in South Carolina. The state convention was totally controlled by the radicals. After the election of Robert Rhett as their leader the conservatives withdrew allowing the radicals to fill the delegation with like-mined individuals. The Richmond convention nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky who was the sitting Vice President. The South Carolinians vowed to campaign for the continuation of a ‘Constitutional Union’.

As Lincoln’s strength began to grow serious discussions took place among politicians in South Carolina. Voices in South Carolina began to be heard for dissolution of the Union in the event of a Republican victory. Meanwhile, the conservatives began to argue that the state should not go it alone but only in concert with the other Southern states.

As election day approached South Carolina teetered on the edge. The secessionists attempted to win the majority of Presidential electors while the conservatives still held the upper hand in Charleston and the Upper Districts along the South Carolina-North Carolina border. Lincoln’s election ignited the desire of the secessionists for a state convention to discussion secession. The conservatives attempted to stem the emotional tide by calling for delay.

The event that precipitated the calling of the secession conventions appears to be the resignation of A.G. McGrath as United States District Court Judge who announced that he was preparing to obey the wishes of his state. This news caused the wildest excitement in Charleston and Columbia. Once it appeared that Georgia was prepared to join South Carolina the convention was pushed up by a month to December 6th.

The delegates to the South Carolina were considered to be the best men that the state had: ex-governors, members of the bench, clergy, congressmen and businessmen. These were men of moderation and thoughtfulness who had the confidence of the people.

The convention was originally slated to meet in Columbia but the threat of a smallpox epidemic had many calling for a move to Charleston. On December 17th the convention voted to adjourn and meet in Charleston. But speeches by commissioners from Alabama and Mississippi urging the immediate secession of South Carolina changed the delegate’s minds. They voted for immediate secession and appointed a committee to draw up the ordinance of secession. Three days later the delegates met in Charleston and signed the fatal document of secession.

Something like 23% of South Carolina’s white men would serve in the Confederate Army and state militia. Among Union troops not a single South Carolinian can be identified. South Carolina is the only state of the South to have that distinction. Five regiments of African-Americans were raised in the state after the Union Army occupied the coastal areas.




Texas and Unionism

Sam HoustonTexas was unique among the Southern states when it came to secession from the Union. Most Texans saw the many benefits of remaining in the Union and in the 1850’s were anti-secessionists. Some historians believe that as many as one-third of Texas’ population remained neutral after secession and that another third supported the Union.

Being in a union of many states provided Texas  with the United States Army which gave the state the twin benefits of adequate protection from the Indians and a good market for surplus labor and crops.  It also gave Texas a wider area in which to sell their produce and other products. They also viewed the Union as a surer defender of slavery and economic growth than a smaller nation composed of southern states.

By 1860 the population of the state was splintered between a small group of secessionists, a much larger group of Whigs and citizens from the Upper South and the German culture. The last three groups were unwilling as yet to listen to any arguments for secession. A final group of about the same size as the ardent secessionists was unwilling to listen to any practical argument for secession.

Slavery was the single most troubling problem for Texas Unionists in the 1850’s. Texans viewed their slaves as essential to economic prosperity. In the 1850’s Texas was labor poor but land rich. Texans realized that the most efficient and profitable cultivation of cotton required the use of organized gangs of labor working large units of land. Slavery provided that labor, and it also separated the white and black races.

Whites generally considered themselves superior to blacks and thought that any mixing of the two races would debase the whites. Besides, the law sanctioned the institution of slavery. Thus criticism of slavery threatened two of the pragmatic props of Unionism, economic development and social stability. Reverence for law was closely coupled with reverence for the Union. Meanwhile, many northerners disregarded the fugitive slave law, supported slave insurrections, and talked about the abolition of slavery. Southerners saw this as a threat to own and exchange all forms of property.

With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 the growth of a near-hysterical secession movement in the lower South led the large center group of Democrats and former residents of the lower South to swing toward secession. Eventually the other large center group of Whigs and Germans or former upper South residents either kept quiet or accepted secession with the passage of the Secession Referendum of February 23, 1861. Many members of this group fought for the Confederacy.

Perhaps the most prominent Unionist was Sam Houston who was adamantly opposed to destroying the Union.  He had been elected governor of Texas in 1859 despite campaigning vigorously against secession.  He had worked for years after Texas won its independence from Mexico to secure statehood for Texas, and after the Secession Convention voted to secede on February 1, 1861, he refused to sign the loyalty oath to the Confederacy.  He was removed from office on March 6, and returned to his home in Huntsville where he died in July 1863.

For the most dedicated supporters of the Union, however, secession presented serious problems. Most tried to keep quiet, but others openly condemned the states’ actions and left their homes to fight for the Union. The institution of the draft in the summer of 1862 forced many more who had attempted to wait out the war in peace to flee their homes. Some wound up in the Union Army. Others lived in the back country of the state until the war was over.

Most German immigrants, however were apathetic to slavery. A vocal minority of them was actively antagonistic to the institution of slavery. These antagonistic Germans included liberal and republican-minded Germans known as Achtundvierziger or Forty-Eighters. Many Forty-Eighters supported federal authority and opposed slavery. Most Anglo Texans found this to be an affront to a legal institution. German opposition to slavery led to an animosity between the two groups throughout the 1850’s. These disputes were magnified by Texas secession from the United States in March 1861 and the start of the American Civil War on April 12, 1861.

As might be expected, the obstinate Unionists were persecuted by the majority. Several accused Unionists were hanged at Gainesville in October 1862. Although the majority of Germans either were neutral or supported the Confederacy, Germans in the western counties often remained loyal to the Union. A band of Germans fleeing the draft was massacred along the Nueces River in August 1862.

Others simply left or were forced to leave the state as reported in the Austin State Gazette “We learn from Capt. Harrison that the men in Northern Texas who have been opposing the action of Texas in favor of the South, and who have had secret complicity with the Black Republicans, are now leaving the state.  Some one hundred and twenty wagons were seen wending their way to the North.” 

Some of these men later joined the Union army; it is estimated that 2,000 Texans did so. Edmund Jackson Davis, a south Texas judge, led the Union’s First Texas Cavalry, which fought in south Texas early in the war. A second Texas Union cavalry regiment was led by John L. Haynes, a former state legislator from Rio Grande City, composed primarily of Mexicans. Both units would fight later in the war in Louisiana.

Groups such as the Peace Party or the Loyal League were organized to actively undermine the Confederacy in Texas through spying, resisting the draft, and deserting from the Confederate army during battle. The San Antonio area had a large share of Union sympathizers who celebrated Confederate defeats and attempted to discredit the Confederate economy by overcharging when Confederate money was used for purchases. Pro-Union Germans in the city published broadsides calling for a Unionist revolt, the death of civic leaders, and the hanging and burning of secessionists.

Terrorism and violence occurred on both sides, resulting in destruction of property and numerous deaths. Organizations such as the Knights of the Golden Circle took actions against individuals and businesses that openly supported the Union. Treason charges were trumped up against Unionists who had “something to say on all passing events” or because of their ability to “create discontent and dissatisfaction” or for being “active in speaking his mind…” Unionists from the Hill Country began physically attacking secessionists and killed one Confederate spy.

To some degree Unionism persisted in the minds of all but the most doctrinaire secessionists. It was not something that could be turned on or off. It rose and fell in the hearts and minds of most, but it seldom vanished entirely. A twinge of feeling for the nation of George Washington and Andrew Jackson, a fond remembrance of the prosperity partially engendered by belonging to the Union, made it difficult for Confederate nationalism to develop and made it easier for most to give up the war effort. Rejoining the Union in 1865 was for the majority a relatively painless process because Unionism never totally died.



Louisiana Unionism and Ben Butler

Signing of the Ordinance of SecessionEven though 47% of Louisiana’s population was enslaved by 1860, there was a strong streak of Unionism running through the state of Louisiana. Many Louisianans opposed slavery and the Confederacy for a number of reasons.

Among the reasons were local politics, economics and family connections with the North, particularly among the merchant classes. Strangely the proponents of secession had a difficult time convincing the aristocratic elites, particularly sugar planters, to join their movement. But eventually through the secession winter of 1860/1861 the opposition to secession was beaten down and the elites mostly acquiesced to secession.

On January 26, 1861 Louisiana officially seceded from the Union. Despite this seemingly ironclad vote pockets of Unionism persisted throughout the state. In the southeastern parishes of Ascension, Assumption, Terrabonne, Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard Unionists voters outnumbered secessionists by a two to one margin. In St. James and St. Johns parishes the margin was four to one. And the largest area of Unionism was in Caldwell, Catahoula and Winn parishes in north-central Louisiana where the margin of two to one. The river parishes remained loyal to the Union for the economic benefits that the protective tariff granted them.

New Orleans was the largest city in the Confederacy. More importantly it was the largest port and controlled the outlet of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and the wider world. In the spring of 1862 the city of New Orleans was introduced to Maj. Gen. Ben Butler and the Union Army. Their relationship would be a tumultuous one.

New Orleans was the commercial center of the Deep South. In 1840 it had the largest slave market in the South. By then slaves were being shipped to the Deep South from the Upper South and many of the slaves were sold in the slave markets of New Orleans. In 1857 fully half of the $156 million in exports came from cotton, followed by tobacco and sugar. The city boasted a U.S. Mint and a U.S. Customs House. All in all, New Orleans was a cosmopolitan city.

Benjamin Franklin Butler was a Massachusetts lawyer and politician who had a reputation as a dogged criminal defense lawyer who seized on every misstep of his opposition to gain victories for his clients. Using his skills as a lawyer, Butler compounded them into successful investments in Massachusetts businesses. Butler was a Democrat who regularly spoke out for the abolition of slavery. With all of these talents he soon embarked on a political career in the Massachusetts legislature. By 1858 he was elected to the State Senate. He was among the first major generals commissioned by President Lincoln.

In April 1862, Flag Officer (later Admiral) David Farragut captured New Orleans with a combined force of naval and army units. Butler was the commander of the army troops and had been named as the commander of the occupying force.

The population of New Orleans was many times the size of the occupying force and was largely in favor of secession. Realizing that he needed to act promptly to overawe the citizenry, Butler moved as soon as he was given an opportunity. When a local secessionist tore down the American flag from the U.S. Mint, Butler had him arrested, tried and hung for the offense. The population was shocked by Butler’s immediate response.

His most famous action was General Order No. 28. He issued it when the ladies of New Orleans expressed their Confederate sympathies by insulting Union officers and men on the streets of the city. Butler issued an order that in part read that any female who did so would “be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her trade.” 

This was in response to women in the town who were pouring buckets of their own urine on Union soldiers, and who at the time could get away with anything as respectable women. If a woman punched a soldier, he could punch her back. The order stopped all of their behavior, without arresting anyone or firing a bullet. It provoked protests both in the North and the South, and also abroad, particularly in England and France.

When a New Orleans woman openly laughed as a Union officer’s funeral possession went by, Butler had her arrested and imprisoned for ten weeks on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. Like General Halleck had done in St. Louis, he imposed contributions on wealthy secessionists in New Orleans to pay for relief to the poor.

He also received an undeserved nickname as “Spoons” Butler due to the rumor that he was systematically stealing silverware from the homes that he used as his headquarters. While no proof exists that Butler was corrupt it is possible that he knew of the illegal activities of his brother Andrew, also in the army in New Orleans.

Shortly after the Second Confiscation Act became effective in September 1862 General Butler increasingly relied upon it as a means of grabbing cotton. Butler used the act to allow his brother Andrew to buy up cotton at bargain prices. The general sent expeditions into the countryside with no military purpose other than to confiscate cotton from residents assumed to be disloyal.

Despite these seemingly draconian measures, Butler understood civilians and his general rule was not too overbearing. He allowed the newspapers to publish with a minimum of censorship after several earlier confiscations by Union authorities. Historian John D. Winters wrote that most of the newspapers “were allowed to reopen later but were so rigidly controlled that all color and interest were drained away”.

However, his occasionally harsh measures overwhelmed the overall mildness of his rule. By the summer of 1862, Ben Butler had been transformed in “Beast” Butler, the most hated man in the South. Although Butler’s governance of New Orleans was popular in the North, some of his actions, notably those against the foreign consuls, concerned President Lincoln, who authorized his recall in December 1862.  Butler was replaced by Nathaniel Banks but was given command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina in November 1863.

In the state as a whole the number of regiments that were raised by the Union Army was significant. There were four artillery units (one regiment and three batteries), two cavalry regiments and sixteen infantry regiments. They were a mixture of whites, free blacks and former slaves. Some of the units had former Confederate native troops that were enlisted by General Butler to assist in the occupation of New Orleans. Some units fought in various campaigns while others were used for guard duty and other occupation tasks.

In other more remote parts of the state some Unionists formed guerrilla units to battle the Confederates. The Confederates did the same attempting to damage the Union Army of occupation. Guerrilla warfare spread to all parts of the state and only ended with the end of the war as a whole.


The Three States of Tennessee

Tennessee's Grand DivisionsOf all of the eleven states Tennessee matched Virginia for the number of battles fought on its soil. It was also unsurpassed for the number of soldiers that joined the Union Army with 42,000. Besides Virginia, Tennessee was the most conflicted state over the issue of slavery. The main reason was that there were three states of Tennessee and not one homogeneous whole.

Tennessee developed differently than many of the other states. The state has three distinct sections called Grand Divisions. The Grand Divisions are three geographic regions, each constituting roughly one-third of the state’s land area, that are geographically, culturally, legally, and economically distinct. The Grand Divisions are legally recognized in the state constitution and state law and are represented on the flag of Tennessee by the flag’s three prominent stars.

East, Middle, and West Tennessee, are sometimes referred to as “three states of Tennessee” or “the three Tennessees”. As such they are legally defined in the state constitution as the “eastern, middle, and western” grand divisions of the state. The law lists the counties in each region.

Tennessee monument at ShilohThe boundary between East Tennessee and Middle Tennessee is on the Cumberland Plateau, which was a major barrier to travel and commerce during much of the state’s early history. The boundary is close to the line between the Eastern and Central time zones. All but three counties of East Tennessee are in the Eastern Time Zone, while Middle and West Tennessee are entirely in the Central Time Zone. The reach of the Tennessee River that flows northward to Kentucky from Mississippi and Alabama demarcates the boundary between Middle and West Tennessee.

The three regions are geographically and culturally distinct.

  • East Tennessee’s landscape is dominated by the Appalachian mountain chain, including the Great Smoky Mountains on the eastern border of the state, the ridge-and-valley region where East Tennessee’s principal cities (Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the Tri-Cities) are located, and the rugged Cumberland Mountains.
  • East and Middle Tennessee are separated along the Cumberland Plateau. Middle Tennessee, which includes the state’s capital city of Nashville, is dominated by rolling hills and fertile stream valleys.
  • West Tennessee, located between the Tennessee and the Mississippi Rivers, is the lowest-lying of the three Grand Divisions. It is part of the Gulf Coastal Plain physiographic region, characterized by relatively flat topography. Except for the Memphis metropolitan area, land use in this region is mostly agricultural. Historically, cotton was West Tennessee’s dominant crop.

More than most other southern states, antebellum Tennessee was divided over the issue of slavery. Slaves had accompanied their owners into Tennessee in the 18th century, and by 1850, they constituted about one-fourth of the state’s population. Although slaveholders lived in all sections of the state, they predominated in the west, where cotton was grown profitably, as well as in Middle Tennessee. In East Tennessee, where blacks made up less than 10% of the population, antislavery sentiment thrived.

With the geographic divisions of the state came political divisions. The battle over secession highlights these divisions. In February 1861, Governor Isham Tennessee Union SoldierHarris, a West Tennessean, sought to lead Tennessee out of the Union by asking for a vote to hold a secession convention. However, his initiative was defeated by a margin of 54 to 46%.

The main opposition came from East Tennessee whose resident were pro-Union. Later that year, East Tennessee attempted to secede from Tennessee but were denied by Tennessee’s General Assembly. Although the Assembly rejected East Tennessee’s bid for statehood, it assured the region that the state would not pass any conscription laws.

Following the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers, the governor began military mobilization, submitted an ordinance of secession to the General Assembly, and made direct overtures to the Confederate government. The Tennessee legislature ratified an agreement to enter a military league with the Confederate States on May 7, 1861.

On June 8, 1861, voters approved a second referendum calling for secession, becoming the last state to do so. In the referendum, East Tennessee held firm against separation, while West Tennessee returned an equally heavy majority in favor. The deciding vote came in Middle Tennessee, which went from 51 percent against secession in February to 88 percent in favor in June.

Governor Isham Harris sent sent Confederate troops under General Felix Zollicoffer to occupy East Tennessee and prevent secession. Harris initially tried to sway eastern Tennessee’s pro-Union population with a lenient policy and the stationing of only fifteen companies of troops in the region.

On July 26, 1861, Harris, who was still in charge of the Tennessee state force, ordered Zollicoffer and 4,000 raw recruits to Knoxville to be in position to suppress resistance to secession in East Tennessee, appointing him to command the District of East Tennessee. On August 18, Harris ordered Zollicoffer to arrest and, if necessary, banish leaders of pro-Union factions from the State, changing his policy from leniency to force.

East Tennessee thus came under Confederate control from 1861 to 1863. Nevertheless East Tennessee supplied significant numbers of troops to the Federal army. (See also Nickajack). Many East Tennesseans engaged in guerrilla warfare against state authorities by burning bridges, cutting telegraph wires, and spying for the North. 

East Tennessee became an early base for the Republican Party in the South. Strong support for the Union challenged the Confederate commanders who controlled East Tennessee for most of the war. Generals Felix K. Zollicoffer, Edmund Kirby Smith, and Sam Jones oscillated between harsh measures and conciliatory gestures to gain support, but had little success whether they arrested hundreds of Unionist leaders or allowed men to escape the Confederate draft. Union forces finally captured the region in 1863. Many battles were fought in the state, most of them victories by the larger Union forces.

Here are the series links to the fighting in Tennessee:

The Fort Henry and Fort Donelson Campaign Series: http://wp.me/p1BuMY-xR

Partisan Warfare in Tennessee: http://wp.me/p1BuMY-1qh

The Battle of Shiloh Series: http://wp.me/p1BuMY-yH

The Chattanooga Campaign: http://wp.me/p1BuMY-La

The Franklin-Nashville Campaign Series: http://wp.me/p1BuMY-xR

Sam Watkins and “Company Aytch”: http://wp.me/p1BuMY-1gE






Georgia Unionists

Southern UnionistsWithin the state of Georgia the Unionist experience barely survived among the fire-breathing Confederates. The Georgia Unionists, like all others of their ilk, found themselves in a country that they didn’t wish to live in surrounded by those who believed in the new country. We don’t know exactly how many Georgians were Unionists because in order to survive they needed to be extremely cautious with what they said, wrote and did.

Not all who were disaffected could be termed Unionists. Many southerners, simply apathetic about the war and the issues for which it was fought, sought to avoid any military involvement or dissented against the often intrusive Confederate policies toward civilians. Neither of these stances made one a true Unionist.

Perhaps the best definition comes from William G. “Parson” Brownlow of East Tennessee, one of the most prominent southern Unionists, who cited three essential traits of a true Unionist: an “uncompromising devotion” to the Union; an “unmitigated hostility” to the Confederacy; and a willingness to risk life and property “in defense of the Glorious Stars and Stripes.”

Perhaps, as many as 100,000 southern men joined the Union Army. In Georgia only about 400 were recognized as Georgians, the lowest total with the exception of South Carolina. This is compared with around 5,000 in North Carolina, more than 3,000 in Alabama, and a remarkable 42,000 in Tennessee.

Of the few Georgians who chose to join Union forces, most were from the mountains and had to cross state lines to enlist. As many as 270 Georgians enlisted in the First Alabama Cavalry, organized near Huntsville in mid-1862. Nearly half the Fifth Tennessee Mounted Infantry consisted of exiled Georgia Unionists.

In November 1864 eight men from FanninTowns, and Union counties, all poor farmers who had deserted the Confederate army, were on their way to join the Fifth Tennessee in Cleveland, Tennessee, when they encountered John P. Gatewood‘s notorious Confederate guerrilla force near the state line. In what came to be known as the Madden Branch Massacre, Gatewood’s men captured six of the eight, lined them up, and gunned them down at close range.

The First Georgia State Troops Volunteers, organized in the spring of 1864 during William T. Sherman’s Atlanta campaign, was the only official Union force established within the state. Its approximately 200 enlistees were motivated as much by the defense of their homes against Confederate raids into the mountains as by any loyalty to the Union. The First Georgia’s commander, Union general James Steedman, called the battalion “utterly worthless” and ensured that it was disbanded a month later.

Much of the anti-Confederate activity in the state was concentrated in North Georgia where the mountain residents had little reason to support the Confederacy. The lack of slaves and a slave-based economy was the main reason for their disaffection for the Southern cause. But it was not universal which gave rise to savage guerrilla warfare in the area.

The passage of the Confederate Conscription Act in 1862, for example, “provoked widespread dissension in North Georgia”. The Confederacy’s efforts to enforce the draft in mountain communities were seen by many as an infringement on “community, family, and local justice”. Since conscription was viewed by some as a “direct assault upon the community,” many defected from the Southern cause and became anti-Confederates.

Many of the Unionist residents formed organized bands and carried on a war against Confederate neighbors, home guard units, or conscription officials. Pockets of Unionists, often working even further underground than the rural highlanders, appeared in Georgia cities as well. Researchers have gathered information (much of it anecdotal) about these urban Unionists from their journals and diaries, several of which have been discovered in recent years.

These groups of isolated Unionists helped Union prisoners of war and wounded soldiers brought to Atlanta. They also smuggled information about Confederate Army activities around the city as Sherman’s army came closer. Once the city was captured many eventually went North to greater safety.

Atrocities committed by both sides were remembered long after the war’s end. Thus, as the rest of the nation embraced peace after 1865, a civil war of words and deeds continued in North Georgia’s mountain counties as ex-Unionists and ex-Confederates continued to defend their communities, families, past actions, and reputations.

The divide which characterized the region during the Civil War continued through the Reconstruction period and the New South era as both sides tried to define the meaning of the conflict. Those who embraced the Lost Cause attempted to write Unionists and dissenters out of history. Unionists, too, recast the past into versions which favored their cause, especially as they sought compensation for their services from the federal government.




Don’t remove the flags and rewrite history

Robert E. Lee in dress uniformI thought that I would interrupt my series on The Divided States of the Confederacy and reprint a post that I saw today. The subject of this article has been in the news recently and it deserves a comment. Recently, the president of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia decided that the Confederate flags around General Lee’s tomb should be removed so as not to stir up any controversy.

We need to be mindful that we in the 21st Century have no right to judge those who in the 19th Century who fought and may have died for something that they believed in. We can not rewrite history just because we don’t like it. Linda Nezbeth speaks eloquently in her post on the subject.

Nezbeth is a genealogist and history buff who lives in Goodview, Virginia.

Lee myths and propaganda to delude and calm the masses abound in the liberal media.

First let us quickly dispatch the column by Glen Ayers (“Lee redeemed himself at W&L,” Aug. 21).

Neither Gen. Robert E. Lee nor anyone else in Confederate service committed treason. No one was tried, convicted or punished for treason. Although he applied as ordered, Lee did not grovel for a pardon. He was ultimately included in the Dec. 25, 1868, general amnesty. Confederate Gen. Jubal Early correctly observed that the amnesty was an admission by federal authorities that Confederates had broken no law and the government knew it could not successfully prosecute.

Lee’s honorable resignation released him from any further obligation to the U.S. government. Ayers’ remaining thoughts about Lee and his moral obligation to “his people,“ while chronologically correct, exhibits a lack of social and political context and understanding.

Who was Lee and what did he believe in? The unauthorized remaking of Lee continues as W&L and The Roanoke Times selectively choose which Lee they will acknowledge as ever having lived and which Lee is worthy to be honored at W&L. This is part of their liberal progressive agenda to create Lee in their own image.

By removing the Confederate flags from around the statue depicting Lee resting on his camp bed, suitably attired in his Confederate general’s uniform, they hope to sweep under the rug his proud service to what he considered his country. Lee very well understood what he was fighting for and never renounced it.

Lee knowingly sold his name to Washington College to help raise money. He is buried in Lexington at the insistence of his wife and the Washington College faculty, which hoped having his monument there would continue to assist in fund raising. Thousands of Confederate veterans and their families worked to have Lee buried in Richmond, but finally gave in to Mrs. Lee’s desires for Lexington.

From day one, the Lee Chapel memorial was dedicated to the whole Confederate general Lee, not simply limited to his college experience. Thousands have made the trip to honor the Confederate general, not the university president.

Let us deal with unpleasant reality here. We have degenerated into a racially polarized society where liberals and progressives will remove any symbol, rewrite any history, deny any heritage, excuse any shortcoming and promote any myth to mollify the black community. This is all in the name of increasing self-esteem and allegedly providing better opportunities, thus producing better citizens.

The communion rail story of Lee (“Which Lee do we honor?,” Aug. 24 editorial), although not authenticated by historians, is a simple lesson about a Confederate general living out his Christian faith. It is a weak crutch when used by The Roanoke Times to justify denial of any merit to Lee’s Confederate service.

Myth-building of historical figures is as old as humans. One would think we had reached a point where we could acknowledge the whole person, faults and all, yet still honor his achievements as we see them. We in the Southern heritage community understand Lee had flaws but respect the whole person, not some caricature designed to fit today’s morality.

Many people still honor the Lincoln myth while not dealing with his publicly stated racist opposition to black voting rights and social equality. His plan for black deportation is ignored.

Others continue the pilgrimage to UVa and admire Mr. Jefferson while conveniently ignoring his role in slavery, including apparent sexually abusing one of his female slaves. His extravagant lifestyle finally resulted in a sell-off of his slaves and breaking up of families.

Andrew Jackson is hailed for his military victory at New Orleans. While he is remembered as a staunch Union supporter, somehow his stature has been polished enough to forget the horrible, cruel atrocities his administration committed against the peaceful Native American tribes and the heartless brutality of the Trail of Tears.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is hailed as our savior in World War II, yet we forget about the racial concentration camps he established and filled with Japanese-American citizens. Never mind that he sent a racially segregated army to fight another racist regime.

So what is the point of this? Leave history alone. Have the intellectual and moral integrity to understand each and every hero and admire all for what good they did. Try to better understand them and their times.

Let each citizen have the unimpeded right to understand and honor their heroes without interposing someone else’s interpretation and removing flags.