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06/21/16

The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part Two)

This entry is part 4 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

George B. McClellan in 1861-The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part Two)After Irvin McDowell’s defeat in the First Battle of Manassas, the Lincoln government took several actions. The most important decision in the near-long term was the recall and promotion of Maj. Gen. George McClellan to command the newly forming Army of the Potomac in the Eastern Theater.

McClellan had been trumpeted by the newspaper for several small victories over the Confederates at the Battle of Philippi (which came to be known as the ‘Philippi Races’ after the Confederates fled) and the Battle of Rich Mountain. His opponent at the latter was General Robert E. Lee who had such a lackluster performance that he was relieved of command and transferred to the North Carolina coast to supervise the building of fortifications.

McClellan was the most successful failure as a general ever to serve in the Eastern Theater. He was a superb organizer and trained the new Army of the Potomac its peak yet he was a timid field commander. He was one of a number of generals who believed in conciliation with the Confederates. McClellan had been a Democrat before the war and did not hold the abolitionist of say Maj. Gen. David Hunter who was known as ‘Black Dave’ for his views on abolition.

George McClellan’s other major contribution to the Union war effort was his supervision of the building of Washington’s defenses. When they were  complete the nation’s capital was the most heavily defended city in the world. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists.

McClellan was finally prodded into action in early March 1862. He was relieved of his position as general-in-chief in order to devote his full attentions to the coming Peninsula campaign. Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and a War Board of officers assumed command of the Union armies for the next four months.

McClellan’s huge army landed at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula and immediately spent built up resources for a siege at Yorktown. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston ordered his forces to withdraw as soon as it became apparent that they would be overwhelmed by the Union Army. The entire month of May was spent in the same fashion with the Confederates grudgingly retreating up the Peninsula.

The two forces finally came to a halt along the Chickahominy River and fought the  Battle of Seven Pines (also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks), fought on May 31 – June 1, 1862. Although the battle was inconclusive two important strategic effects resulted; both were in favor of the Confederacy. General Johnston was severely wounded and replaced by the more aggressive Robert E. Lee.

Second, General McClellan chose to abandon his offensive operations to lay siege and await reinforcements he had requested from President Lincoln; as a consequence, he never regained his strategic momentum. The two armies fought seven battles in seven days from June 25th to July 1st.

The cost to both sides was high. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia suffered almost 20,000 casualties out of a total of over 90,000 soldiers during the Seven Days, McClellan almost 16,000 out of 105,445. The Army of the Potomac’s offensive strength had been blunted by the Confederates and he withdrew to Harrison’s Landing on the James River. Northern morale was crushed while the South reveled in Lee’s successes.

The Union government appointed John Pope to command the newly formed Army of Virginia. Pope had achieved some success in the Western Theater, and Lincoln sought a more aggressive general than McClellan. Pope’s force numbered some 50,000 men amid three corps. Pope’s mission had two objectives: protect Washington and the Shenandoah Valley, and draw Confederate forces away from McClellan by moving in the direction of Gordonsville.

Lee’s Northern Virginia campaign was a triumph with the Army of Northern Virginia defeating the Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Manassas from August 28th to August 30th. Despite the three corps that had been transferred from McClellan’s Army of the Potomac Pope’s army was crushed by the Confederates. Unlike the First Battle of Manassas, the Union army retreated in somewhat good order.

At the Battle of Chantilly the Union army suffered a grievous loss when two of its generals, Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny, were killed during the fighting. Pope ordered his army to retreat back to the Washington defenses. Pope was relieved of command on September 13th and his army was merged with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.  He spent the remainder of the war in the Department of the Northwest in Minnesota.

Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams, who served briefly under Pope, held the general in particularly low esteem. In a letter to his daughter, he wrote:

“All this is the sequence of Gen. Pope’s high sounding manifestoes. His pompous orders . . . greatly disgusted his army from the first. When a general boasts that he will look only on the backs of his enemies, that he takes no care for lines of retreat or bases of supplies; when, in short, from a snug hotel in Washington he issues after-dinner orders to gratify public taste and his own self-esteem, anyone may confidently look for results such as have followed the bungling management of his last campaign….I dare not trust myself to speak of this commander as I feel and believe. Suffice it to say (for your eye alone) that more insolence, superciliousness, ignorance, and pretentiousness were never combined in one man. It can with truth be said of him that he had not a friend in his command from the smallest drummer boy to the highest general officer. All hated him.”

McClellan was once more perceived as the savior of the nation but Lincoln’s cabinet thought differently. A majority of them signed a petition declaring to the president “our deliberate opinion that, at this time, it is not safe to entrust to Major General McClellan the command of any Army of the United States.”

The president admitted that it was like “curing the bite with the hair of the dog.” But Lincoln told his secretary, John Hay, “We must use what tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.”

McClellan was immediately thrust into a crisis when Lee moved from Manassas across the Potomac into Maryland. Lee’s goal was to penetrate the major Northern states of Maryland and Pennsylvania and cut off the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line that supplied Washington. He also needed to supply his army and knew the farms of the North had been untouched by war, unlike those in Virginia.

McClellan organized a pursuit of the smaller Confederate army. Then, he experienced an incredible stroke of luck when Union soldiers discovered Lee’s orders to the commanders of his army. General Order Number 191 indicated that Lee had divided his army, making it possible to be defeated in detail. McClellan waited 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this intelligence, a delay that almost squandered his opportunity.

On September 14th McClellan’s forces defeated the Confederates at the Battle of South Mountain and pushed through to confront Lee along Antietam Creek. Meanwhile, Lee frantically moved to concentrate his army. The two armies met on September 17th east of Sharpsburg, Maryland in the Battle of Antietam.

The two armies fought the bloodiest single-day engagement of the war along the banks of the creek and in the surrounding farm fields. After twelve hours of inconclusive combat during which over 23,000 casualties were sustained by both armies, the Confederates disengaged and retreated back to Virginia.

McClellan’s performance was criticized on a number of fronts. During the battle, he never took control of his forces. Rather he allowed the field commanders to proceed according to the pre-battle plan. He never sent in his reserves, some say that Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter cautioned him that they were the last reserves of the army. Finally, with Lee’s Army in retreat he did not order any pursuit.

On November 25, 1862, Fitz John Porter was arrested and court-martialed for his actions at Second Bull Run. By this time, McClellan had been relieved by Lincoln and could not provide political cover for his protégé. Porter’s association with the disgraced McClellan and his open criticism of Pope were significant reasons for his conviction at court-martial. Porter was found guilty on January 10, 1863, of disobedience and misconduct, and he was dismissed from the Army on January 21, 1863.

George McClellan was relieved by Abraham Lincoln on November 7th. From September 17 to October 26, despite repeated entreaties from the War Department and the president himself, McClellan declined to pursue Lee across the Potomac, citing shortages of equipment and the fear of overextending his forces.

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.” He never held another position during the war.

 

06/14/16

Lincoln’s Conciliationist Generals

This entry is part 17 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Winfield ScottAt the onset of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln had a serious problem. There were not very many Republicans at the higher levels of the Union Army. Most of the higher officers were Democrats. There were very few generals, a mere handful in the antebellum Army. Lincoln was concerned that the war might be seen as a Republican war rather than a war of the united North.

He solved his problem in a variety of ways, some were successful, others were utter failures. The most well-known one was his attempt through General Winfield Scott to recruit Robert E. Lee for a top command. Lee demurred and accepted the commission to command the Virginia state forces.

Other top officers in the U.S. Army left to command Confederate forces. Joseph E. Johnston was the Quartermaster General who left to command Confederate troops in the field. Albert Sidney Johnston left his command of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific in California for the eventual position as commander of the Western Department.

Many of the men who would command large formations of troops, Brigades, Divisions or Corps, had never commanded much more than a company. They learned on the job, so to speak.

At the start of the war most of the Union generals were Democrats. Some were also conciliationists. Two commanders, Brevet Lieutenant Winfield Scott and Major General George B. McClellan, personified the conciliatory policy at the beginning of the war. Both officers had many differences but on this issue they were complete agreement. They thought of the war as product of political extremism on both sides.

Throughout his military career Scott displayed tact and patience both to his troops and his adversaries. Scott advised President James Buchanan to hold the military posts in the Deep South with overwhelming force to discourage any attack by secessionists. But he was opposed to a military invasion of the South. Instead, he suggested that warships be stationed off the coast of Southern ports to collect import duties. This would establish the continued authority of the federal government.

Many of those who espoused non-confrontation believed that Unionist sentiment in the South would resurface and the seceded states would return to the Union voluntarily. Within Lincoln’s cabinet incoming Secretary of State William Seward was an adherent of conciliation.

Scott sent the following memorandum to Seward with four options for the new government to take against the South.

Hoping that, in a day or two, the new President will have, happily, passed through all personal dangers, & find himself installed an honored successor of the great Washington — with you as chief of his cabinet — I beg leave to repeat, in writing, what I have before said to you, orally, this supplement to my printed “views,” (dated October last) on the highly disordered condition of our (so late) happy & glorious union. To meet the extraordinary exigencies of the times, it seems to me that I am guilty of no arrogance in limiting the President’s field of selection to one of the four plans of procedure, subjoined: –

I. Throw off the old, & assume a new designation — the Union party; — adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace convention, & my life upon it, we shall have no new case of secession, but, on the contrary, an early return of many, if not a;l the states which have already broken off from the Union, without some equally benign measure, the remaining slave holding states will, probably, join the Montgomery confederacy in less than sixty days, when this city — being included in a foreign country — would require permanent Garrison of at least 35,000 troops to protect the Government within it.

II. Collect the duties on foreign goods outside the ports of which this Government has lost the command, or close such ports by acts of congress, & blockade them.

III. Conquer the seceded States by invading Armies. No doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young able General — a Wolfe, a Desaix or a Hoche, with 300,000 disciplined men — estimating a third for Garrisons, & the loss of a yet greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles & southern fevers. The destruction of life and property, on the other side, would be frightful — however perfect the moral discipline of the invaders.

The conquest completed at that enormous waste of human life, to the north and north west — with at least $250[,]000,000, added thereto, and cui bono? — Fifteen devastated provinces — not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors; but to be held, for generations, by heavy garrisons — at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes which it would be possible to extract from them — followed by a Protector or an emperor.

IV. Say to the seceded — States — wayward sisters, depart in peace!

The firing on Fort Sumter ended any hope of peaceful compromise. Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion brought the secession of four more states: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Scott cast around for a new plan to bring the seceded states back into the Union with a minimum of bloodshed. The centerpiece of his Anaconda Plan was an air-tight blockade of all Southern ports. He also planned to send a strong column from Cairo, Illinois to secure the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two. Scott that these two actions would bring out the Unionists.

Seward asked the well-regarded Montgomery C. Meigs, then a captain, to draft a memorandum on the war in general and the Virginia situation in particular. Meigs endorsed Scott’s view that the government should defer action until the army was better trained.

A split developed within the Union government with Postmaster General Montgomery Blair calling for immediate action. He said that Scott’s group were overestimating the strength of the secessionists. Lincoln, meanwhile, decided on a policy of deliberation. Some Northern newspapers called for immediate action.

The First Battle of Bull Run would put an end to conciliation and any hopes of a rapid Union victory. The defeat of the Union field army led by Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell ushered in Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to command the Army of the Potomac. McClellan was a Democrat and a conciliationist. These two facts would impact the Union war effort in the Eastern Theater for some time.

06/13/16

Lincoln’s Abolitionist Generals

This entry is part 1 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

John C. FremontOne hundred and fifty-one years after the end of the war most Americans believe that the Civil War was all about freeing the slaves. That could not be further from the truth. There were a variety of reasons precipitated the war. For the South the war was about States Rights. Of course, slavery was part of that but the right of each state to govern themselves was their major concern. For the Union the war was about preserving the Union. In both cases diaries, letters and books attest to each reason.

Today, we celebrate Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator but in his letter to Horace Greeley,  editor of the influential New York Tribune, we realize that he was a practical politician:

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves 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. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

Just as Lincoln was ambivalent about slavery so too were his generals. Some were outright opposed to emancipation. Others were lukewarm on the issue. But there was a group who were true abolitionists. Let’s look at four of the abolitionist generals who had an impact on the issue. You’ll note that three of the four were ‘political’ generals. Here are two of the four.

John C. Fremont was known as the Pathfinder who led five expeditions into the West. He explored most of the American West including the Rocky Mountains and all of the way to California. He made a great deal of money in the form of gold. It allowed him to purchase land in northern California. In 1850 California entered the Union and Fremont was selected as one of the two United States Senators. However, he only served for 175 days before being defeated for reelection. He was a Free Soil Democrat and was defeated for reelection largely because of his strong opposition to slavery.

In 1856 Fremont was nominated as the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party. His slogan was Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, and Fremont – John C. Fremont. Unfortunately, he was defeated by the Democrat James Buchanan.

Frémont was promoted to Major General and Commander of the Department of the West on July 1, 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln. Frémont brought with him his skills and great reputation as the Pathfinder, and he was focused on driving the Confederate forces from Missouri. His term as Commander of the Department of the West was controversial, at times successful, and lasted until November 2, 1861, when he was abruptly dismissed by President Lincoln for insubordination and corruption charges in his supply line.

On August 30, 1861, Frémont, without notifying President Lincoln, issued a controversial proclamation putting Missouri under martial law. Frémont made this emancipation proclamation in response to the Confederate tactics of guerrilla warfare and to reduce Confederate sympathies in the stronger slave-holding counties. The edict stipulated that civilians in arms would be subject to court martial and execution, the property of those who aided secessionists would be confiscated, and the slaves of rebels would be emancipated.

President Lincoln, fearing that Frémont’s emancipation order would tip Missouri (and other slave states in Union control) to the southern cause, asked Frémont to revise the order. Frémont refused to do so, and sent his wife to plead the case. President Lincoln reprimanded her husband and told Jessie that Frémont “should never have dragged the Negro into the war.” Lincoln responded by publicly revoking the proclamation and relieving Frémont of command on November 2, 1861, simultaneous to a War Department report detailing Frémont’s iniquities as a major general. Although Lincoln opposed Frémont’s method of emancipation, the episode had a significant influence on Lincoln. It helped shape, his opinions on the appropriate steps towards emancipation and in January 1863, Lincoln issued his own Emancipation Proclamation.

Nathaniel Banks was from Massachusetts and gradually became an abolitionist. He was at first moderate on the expansion of slavery, but recognizing the potency of the burgeoning abolitionistNathaniel P. Banks movement, he became more strongly attached to that cause. In 1850 Banks became Speaker of the Massachusetts House. His role as house speaker and his effectiveness in conducting business raised his status significantly, as did work he did on the side for the state Board of Education.

In 1852 Banks won a seat in the Congress despite losing party support due to his abolitionist leanings. In 1853 he presided over the state Constitutional Convention of 1853. This convention produced a series of proposals for constitutional reform, including a new constitution, all of which were rejected by voters. The failure, which was led by Whigs and conservative anti-abolitionist Democrats, spelled the end of the Democratic-Free Soil coalition.

In Congress Banks sat on the Committee of Military Affairs. He bucked the Democratic party line by voting against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which overturned the 1820 Missouri Compromise. Supported by his constituents, he then publicly endorsed the abolitionist cause. In 1854 he formally joined the Know Nothing cause, was renominated for Congress by the Democrats and Free Soilers, and won an easy victory in the Know Nothing landslide.

At the opening of the 34th Congress in December 1855, men from several parties opposed to slavery’s spread gradually united in supporting Banks for speaker. After the longest and one of the most bitter speakership contests on record, lasting from December 3, 1855 to February 2, 1856, Banks was chosen on the 133rd ballot. This has been called the first national victory of the Republican party.

He gave antislavery men important posts in Congress for the first time, and cooperated with investigations of both the Kansas conflict and the caning of Senator Charles Sumner. Because of his fairness in dealing with the numerous factions, as well his parliamentary ability, Banks was lauded by others in the body, including former Speaker Howell Cobb, who called him “in all respects the best presiding officer [I] had ever seen.”

In 1857 Banks ran for Governor of Massachusetts against the incumbent Henry Gardner. His nomination by the Republicans was contentious, with opposition coming primarily from radical antislavery interests opposed to his comparatively moderate stand on the issue. After a contentious campaign Banks won a comfortable victory.

As the Civil War became imminent, President Lincoln considered Banks for a cabinet post, and eventually chose him as one of the first major generals of volunteers, appointing him on May 16, 1861. Perceptions that the Massachusetts militia was well organized and armed at the beginning of the Civil War likely played a role in the appointment decision, as Banks had also been considered for quartermaster general.

Banks held a number of positions in the Union Army. His initial command was in the Shenandoah Valley where he met and was defeated by Stonewall Jackson. Banks next received command of the defense forces at Washington. Then he moved South where he was given command of the Army of the Gulf. He commanded the Union forces at the successful siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana. In 1864 he commanded the ill-fated Red River Campaign. On April 22, 1864, Grant wired Chief of Staff Halleck asking for Banks’ removal. He was replaced by Edward Canby, who was promoted to major general.

 

 

06/6/16

Lincoln’s Political Generals

This entry is part 16 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

Abraham Lincoln after his nominationThe history of the American Civil War can be divided in two halves: before Vicksburg and Gettysburg in mid 1863 and after. The two year time before the two important events, the battle of Gettysburg and the Fall of Vicksburg, were disastrous for the Union in most cases. There were some exceptions, usually fighting in which Ulysses S. Grant commanded the Union forces.

At the start of the war Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, made a fateful decision that almost created the permanent division of the country. Quite simply, he put the wrong generals in charge. Concerned that the war would be seen by Northerners as a Republican war he chose to appoint Democrats to positions of power in the Union Army.

Most of the Democrats were politicians and many had never served a day in their lives in the Army. Those that did usually left  the Army at a low rank and returned to civilian life. Meanwhile, the Confederates appointed men who been active in the Army; men like Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnson, Thomas J. Jackson and Jeb Stuart.

Those officers who remained loyal to the Union were often non-entities that suffered defeat after defeat as the better men rose to the top like cream. It was a close-run thing. In the East the Union Army suffered a number of defeats, including twice at Bull Run or Manassas as the Confederate victors called it. They were defeated at Ball’s Bluff and Big Bethel.

They fought the Confederates to a standstill at Antietam but should have swept them from the field. They were surprised a Chancellorsville but at Gettysburg the professional soldiers were able eke out a defensive victory that gave the Army of the Potomac a lift in their morale.

Let’s take a look at some of the political generals. The most prominent was Ben Butler of Massachusetts. Although he sympathized with the South, Butler stated that “I was always a friend of southern rights but an enemy of southern wrongs”.  Butler was appointed as a major-general in the Union Army. His policies regarding slaves as contraband so they could be treated as free men, his administration of occupied New Orleans, his ineffectual leadership in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, and the fiasco of Fort Fisher rank him as one of the most controversial political generals of the war.

Nathaniel Banks was another Bay Stater who Lincoln chose as one of the first major generals of volunteers, appointing him on May 16, 1861. After suffering an inglorious defeat in the Shenandoah at the hands of the newly famous ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, Banks replaced Benjamin Butler at New Orleans as commander of the Department of the Gulf, charged with liberating the Mississippi. But he failed to reinforce Grant at Vicksburg, and only took the surrender of Port Hudson after Vicksburg had fallen. He was then put in charge of the Red River campaign, a doomed attempt to occupy eastern Texas. Banks had no faith in this strategy, but the outgoing General-in-Chief, Henry Halleck, is believed to have told Grant that it was Banks’ idea, in order to dodge responsibility for this expensive failure, for which Banks was removed from command.

Franz Sigel was a German immigrant was a graduate of Karlsruhe Military Academy in 1843, and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Baden Army. He left the army in 1847 and became a leader of in the Revolution of 1848. equipped and more experienced Prussian and Württemberg troops. In 1852 he emigrated to the United States and settled in St. Louis. Throughout the summer, President Abraham Lincoln was actively seeking the support of anti-slavery, pro-Unionist immigrants. Sigel, always popular with the German immigrants, was a good candidate to advance this plan. He was promoted to brigadier general on August 7, 1861, to rank from May 17, one of a number of early political generals endorsed by Lincoln.

Sigel had a mixed career with fine performances at the Battle of Pea Ridge but utter defeats at the Battle of New Market. After the battle, Sigel was replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter. In July, Sigel fought Lt. Gen.Jubal A. Early at Harpers Ferry, but soon afterward was replaced by Albion P. Howe. Sigel spent the rest of the war without an active command.

John C. Fremont was an American military officer, explorer, and politician who became the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the Mexican American War, Frémont, a major in the U.S. Army, took control of California from the Bear Flag Republic in 1846. Frémont then served as military Governor of California; however, he was court-martialed for mutiny and insubordination. Frémont became one of the first two U.S. senators elected from the new state of California in 1850.

During the Civil War, he was given command of Department of the West by President Abraham Lincoln. Although Frémont had successes during his brief tenure as Commander of the Western Armies, he ran his department autocratically, and made hasty decisions without consulting Washington D.C. or President Lincoln. After Frémont’s emancipation edict that freed slaves in his district, he was relieved of his command by President Lincoln for insubordination.

John Alexander McClernand was an American lawyer and politician, and a Union general in the Civil War. He was a classic case of the politician-in-uniform coming into conflict with career Army officers, graduates of the United States Military Academy. He was a prominent Democratic politician in Illinois and a representative in the U.S. Congress before the war and then served as a subordinate commander under Ulysses S. Grant in the Western Theater, fighting in the battles of Belmont, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh in 1861–62.

A close friend and political ally of Abraham Lincoln, McClernand was given permission to recruit a force to conduct an operation against Vicksburg, Mississippi, which would rival the effort of Grant, his department commander. Grant was able to neutralize McClernand’s independent effort after it conducted an expedition to win the Battle of Arkansas Post, and McClernand became the senior corps commander in Grant’s army for the Vicksburg Campaign in 1863. During the siege of Vicksburg, Grant relieved McClernand of his command for his intemperate and unauthorized communication with the press, finally putting an end to a rivalry that had caused Grant discomfort since the beginning of the war. McClernand left the Army in 1864 and served as a judge and a politician in the postbellum era.

Stephen Augustus Hurlbut was a politician, diplomat, and commander of the U.S. Army of the Gulf in the American Civil War. He was one of the most successful of the political generals of the war. When the Civil War erupted, Hurlbut joined the Union Army and became a brigadier general on May 17, 1861 and a major general on September 17, 1862. He commanded the 4th Division, Army of the Tennessee at the Battle of Shiloh and in the advance towards Corinth and the subsequent siege. He also led a division at the Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge, taking command of the entire Union force after Gen Edward Ord was wounded.

Hurlbut commanded XVI Corps from his headquarters at Memphis. It has been suggested by the historian Bertram Korn, that during his garrison duty at Memphis, Hurlbut issued antisemitic orders confiscating Jewish property and preventing Jews from trading. He led a corps under William T. Sherman in the 1864 Meridian expedition. Hurlbut subsequently commanded the Department of the Gulf, succeeding Nathaniel P. Banks and serving in that capacity for the remainder of the war. Hurlbut was suspected of embezzlement during his term as department commander.

Lewis “Lew” Wallace was an American lawyer, Union general in the Civil War, governor of the New Mexico Territory, politician, diplomat, and author. Among his novels and biographies, Wallace is best known for his historical adventure story, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880), a bestselling novel that has been called “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century.”

Wallace’s military career included service in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. He was appointed Indiana’s adjutant general and commanded the 11th Indiana Infantry Regiment. Wallace, who attained the rank of major general, participated in the battles of Fort Donelson, Shiloh and Monocacy. He also served on the military commission for the trials of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, and presided over the military investigation of Henry Wirz, a Confederate commandant of the Andersonville prison camp.

At Monocacy Wallace much smaller force (5,800) was able to delay Jubal Early’s much larger force (14,000) for a full day until Union reinforcements arrived. Early was forced to retreat with his dream of capturing Washington thwarted. When the full extent of the battle became known Wallace became the man of the hour. Grant assessed Wallace’s delaying tactics at Monocacy in his memoirs:

If Early had been but one day earlier, he might have entered the capital before the arrival of the reinforcements I had sent …. General Wallace contributed on this occasion by the defeat of the troops under him, a greater benefit to the cause than often falls to the lot of a commander of an equal force to render by means of a victory.

 

 

06/25/15

Totaling the Damage to the Confederacy

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series The Union Destroyers

Broad Street Charleston South Carolina

The Union Army’s hard war visited massive destruction on the Southern states. Much of the war had been fought on its territory. Many of its cities had been burned or destroyed. Many of its railroads had been torn up. Many of the fields only had weeds growing in them.

There was no American money anywhere in the South. The people only had worthless Confederate money. The Southern banks could not loan out any money because they didn’t have any. To make matters worse, the price of cotton fell drastically on the world market. Before the war, most of the world cotton supply was grown in the South. During the last year of the war, the slaves stopped growing cotton, so England began looking for places in its colonies where it could grow cotton.

The British planted very much cotton in their colonies, especially in Egypt and India. As a result, there was too much cotton on the world market. The price of cotton fell. Everybody in the South became poor. The economy of the South was in ruins. During the next eighty years, the world market price for cotton remained low. The South had nothing but cotton, so the South remained poor until World War II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In certain areas like the Shenandoah Valley there was organized destruction of farms, government buildings and warehouses, in addition to the railroads. Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan reported that he destroyed 1,400 barns. He also reported the destruction of countless other farm structures, seventy mills, several factories, three iron furnaces, warehouses and railroad buildings, and hundreds of thousands of bushels of wheat, oats and corn, and crops standing in the fields. In Rockingham County alone over 10,000 head of livestock were driven off. And that was in the Valley alone.

On his way to Appomattox his Cavalry Corps destroyed everything of value to the Confederate government its paths. They destroyed the Virginia Central Railroad, mills, farms, the Kanawha Canal on the James River (although they weren’t that successful because it was built with concrete) and tobacco warehouses.

Many of the South’s largest cities, and much of its human and material resources, were destroyed during the Civil War by the Union armies. Much of the livestock and farming supplies of the South were also destroyed. The South transformed from a prosperous minority of landholders to a tenant agriculture system or sharecropping. Many of the recently freed slaves could only find jobs in unskilled and service industries.

The Confederacy in 1861 had 297 towns and cities with a combined population of 835,000; of these, 162 locations with 681,000 total residents were at one point occupied by Union forces. Eleven were destroyed or severely damaged by war action, including Atlanta, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia. These eleven contained 115,900 people in the 1860 census, or 14% of the urban South. The number of people who lived in the destroyed towns represented just over 1% of the Confederacy’s combined urban and rural populations. In addition, 45 courthouses were burned (out of 830), destroying the documentation for the legal relationships in the affected communities.

The South’s farms were not highly mechanized, but the value of farm implements and machinery in the 1860 Census was $81 million and was reduced by 40% by 1870. The South’s farms were not highly mechanized, but the value of farm implements and machinery in the 1860 Census was $81 million and was reduced by 40% by 1870.

The most devastating statistic was that one in four white Southern men of military age was killed during the war. Over a fourth of Southern white men of military age—meaning the backbone of the South’s white workforce—died during the war, leaving countless families destitute. Per capita income for white southerners declined from $125 in 1857 to a low of $80 in 1879. By the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th century, the South was locked into a system of poverty. How much of this failure was caused by the war and by previous reliance on agriculture remains the subject of debate among economists and historians.

 

06/24/15

The Union Raiders: George Stoneman

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series The Union Destroyers

General George StonemanGeneral George Stoneman was an unusual cavalryman. At 6 feet 4 inches he towered over most of his subordinates.By comparison he was a full foot taller than his fellow cavalry commander, General Philip Sheridan. He also suffered from chronic hemorrhoids, a condition that relegated him to a desk job after the Battle of Chancellorsville.

George Stoneman graduated from West Point in 1946 where his roommate was the future Confederate general Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. He served the years before the war in a variety of positions across the West in the Cavalry. By 1861 he held the rank of captain.

Returning east, he served as a major of the 1st U.S. Cavalry and then adjutant to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan in western Virginia. As the cavalry was being organized in the Army of the Potomac, he commanded the Cavalry Reserve and then the Cavalry Division, with the title Chief of Cavalry. He was promoted to brigadier general on August 13, 1861. He did not relate well to McClellan, who did not understand the proper use of cavalry in warfare, relegating it to assignment in small units to infantry brigades. This organization fared poorly in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles of 1862, where the centralized Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart seriously outperformed their Union counterparts.

From the end of the Peninsula Campaign to the aftermath of the disaster at Fredericksburg, Stoneman served as an infantry corps commander. He was promoted to major general of volunteers on November 29, 1862. Following Fredericksburg, a new commanding general took over the Army of the Potomac: Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Hooker had a better understanding of the strategic value of a centralized Cavalry Corps and he named Stoneman to lead it. The centralized corps could undertake long raids into enemy territory, destroying supplies, and gathering intelligence about the enemy forces. They were not subject to the commanders of small infantry units.

Hooker’s plan for the cavalry at Chancellorsville was daring. Hooker assigned Stoneman a key role in which his Cavalry Corps would raid deeply into Robert E. Lee’s rear areas and destroy vital railroad lines and supplies, distracting Lee from Hooker’s main assaults. However, Stoneman was a disappointment in this strategic role. The Cavalry Corps got off to a good start in May 1863, but quickly bogged down after crossing the Rapidan River.

During the entire battle, Stoneman accomplished little and Hooker considered him one of the principal reasons for the Union defeat at Chancellorsville. Hooker needed a scapegoat to blame for the defeat and Stoneman was relieved of command to deflect criticism from him. He was moved into a desk job in Washington as Chief of the U.S. Cavalry Bureau.

By 1864 Stoneman had grown tired of the desk job and asked for an active duty assignment. Stoneman was given the command of the Cavalry Corps of what would be known as the Army of the Ohio. Stoneman and his aide Major Myles Keogh were captured outside of Macon, Georgia but were exchanged after almost three months in captivity.

In December 1864, he led a raid from East Tennessee into southwestern Virginia. Stoneman, soon after arriving at Knoxville, made up his mind to capture the Salt Works, and on the 11th inst. had concentrated three brigades. Both sides were not at all evenly matched with Stoneman having 4,500 troopers and his Confederate adversaries 2,800. The expedition resulted in the Battle of Marion and the Second Battle of Saltville against a Confederate force under the command of John C. Breckinridge and accomplished the destruction of the saltworks at Saltville, Virginia

His revised orders from Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland, were to ‘dismantle the country to obstruct Lee’s retreat’ by destroying parts of the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, the North Carolina Railroad, and the Danville-Greensboro line. Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Union commander, believed that Stoneman’s raid, in conjunction with a simultaneous raid by Northern cavalry in Alabama, would ‘leave nothing for the rebellion to stand upon.’

With a force of 6,000 cavalrymen Stoneman was opposed by Confederate home guardsmen scattered about in various places such as Watauga County, where Major Harvey Bingham had two companies, or Ashe County where a Captain Price commanded a small company. The area had been placed under the direction of General P.G.T. Beauregard, but the regular troops in his command were described as ‘insufficient to stop [Stoneman].’ Stoneman took advantage of this by dividing his force several times to cover more ground.

Stoneman’s men took Salem, Martinsville, and other towns, destroyed Moratock Iron Furnace (a Confederate foundry), struck at Boone on March 28, then divided his force again and sent part into Virginia on April 2. It returned to North Carolina a week later. On April 12, the Federals occupied Salisbury and burned the already abandoned prison, as well as public buildings, industrial structures, and supply depots. Stoneman moved west the next day, dividing his command again in the face of limited resistance.

Other than a fight at Swannanoa Gap, Stoneman and his cavalrymen encountered only bushwhackers and isolated groups of Confederate soldiers. Stoneman’s forces approached Asheville on April 23, negotiated a truce, and rode through the streets on April 26, while Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnson surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham. In recognition of his service, he was brevetted major general in the regular army.

 

06/23/15

The Union Raiders: Grierson’s Raid

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series The Union Destroyers

Benjamin GriersonWe think that we know everything there is to know about Grierson’s Raid because of the 1959 movie The Horse Soldiers starring John Wayne, William Holden and Constance Towers. But reality is totally different from the movies.

The only things that are the same between reality and the movies are just these few facts. The raid began at LaGrange, Tennessee. The cavalry units were the same in the movie and real life. They destroyed everything of military value at Newton Station, Mississippi. And they rode to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Everything else in the movie is simply made up.

The Union raiders were commanded by Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher who, oddly, hated horses after being kicked in the head by one as a child. The raid lasted from April 17, 1863 until May 2, 1863.

Grierson’s cavalry brigade consisted of the 6th and 7th Illinois and 2nd Iowa Cavalry regiments. Grierson and his 1,700 horse troopers, some in Confederate uniforms serving as scouts for the main force, rode over six hundred miles through hostile territory (from southern Tennessee, through the state of Mississippi and into Union-held Baton Rouge, Louisiana), over routes no Union soldier had traveled before.

Total casualties for Grierson’s Brigade during the raid were three killed, seven wounded, and nine missing. Five sick and wounded men were left behind along the route, too ill to continue.

Although many Confederate cavalry units pursued Grierson vigorously across the state (most notably those led by Wirt Adams and Robert V. Richardson), they were unsuccessful in stopping the raid.

Grierson had several objectives during the raid. First, the Union high command wanted to see how the Confederates would react to a cavalry into the heart of the South. Detachments of his troops made feints confusing the Confederates as to his actual whereabouts, intent and direction.

At the same time his troops were ordered to tear up railroads and burn crossties, free slaves, burn Confederate Grierson's Raidstorehouses, destroy locomotives and commissary stores, rip up bridges and trestles and burn buildings. They inflicted ten times the casualties they received.

On April 24th Grierson’s troops attacked the key railroad crossing at Newton Station, Mississippi. They succeeded in securing the town without any serious fighting, and captured two Confederate trains. The raiders also destroyed several miles of railroad track and telegraph wires in the vicinity, severing communications between Confederate-held Vicksburg and the Eastern Theatre commanders.

The two trains (one a freight and the second a mixed freight and passenger) were actually captured by Lt-Colonel William Blackburn, who had ridden ahead in darkness to scout the town. His men set fire to the trains, and exploding ammunition led the nearby Grierson to assume the worst, that a major battle had started. He arrived with the main force to find Blackburn’s men helping themselves to confiscated whiskey.

Over the next few hours Union forces destroyed trackage and equipment, east to the Chunkey River and west as far as possible. A large building in the town with uniforms and arms was burned, and the railroad depot was burned (not before local hospital staff were allowed to remove medicine and food). Assembling his forces Grierson departed the area around 2pm, leaving ruin and wreckage.

Grierson and his exhausted troopers ultimately rode in to Union-occupied Baton Rouge, Louisiana. An entire division of Pemberton’s soldiers were tied up defending the vital Vicksburg-Jackson railroad from the evasive Grierson.

Combined with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s feint northeast of Vicksburg (the Battle of Snyder’s Bluff), the beleaguered Confederates were unable to muster the forces necessary to oppose Grant’s eventual landing below Vicksburg on the east side of the Mississippi at Bruinsburg.

 

 

06/18/15

The Union Destroyers: Philip Sheridan

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series The Union Destroyers

General Philip Sheridan seatedMajor General Philip Sheridan was Ulysses S. Grant’s protege and moved with him to the Eastern Theater from the West. Grant transferred Sheridan from command of an infantry division in the Western Theater to lead the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the East.

Fully grown, he reached only 165 cm (5 feet 5 inches) tall, a stature that led to the nickname, “Little Phil.” Abraham Lincoln described his appearance in a famous anecdote: “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.”

At the start of the war the 30-year old Sheridan, a West Point graduate, was a captain in the Regular Army. He was ordered to report to Jefferson Barracks in the St. Louis area for assignment to the 13th U.S. Infantry. But Major General Henry W. Halleck commandeered his services to audit the financial records of his immediate predecessor, Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont, whose administration of the Department of the Missouri was tainted by charges of wasteful expenditures and fraud that left the status of $12 million in doubt. Sheridan sorted out the mess, impressing Halleck in the process.

In December, Sheridan was appointed chief commissary officer of the Army of Southwest Missouri, but convinced the department commander, Halleck, to give him the position of quartermaster general as well. In January 1862, he reported for duty to Maj. Gen.Samuel Curtis and served under him at the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Sheridan soon discovered that officers were engaged in profiteering. They stole horses from civilians and demanded payment from Sheridan. He refused to pay for the stolen property and confiscated the horses for the use of Curtis’s army. When Curtis ordered him to pay the officers, Sheridan brusquely retorted, “No authority can compel me to jayhawk or steal.” Curtis had Sheridan arrested for insubordination but Halleck’s influence appears to have ended any formal proceedings.

Sheridan performed aptly in his role under Curtis and, now returned to Halleck’s headquarters, he accompanied the army on the Siege of Corinth and served as an assistant to the department’s topographical engineer, but also made the acquaintance of Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman, who offered him the colonelcy of an Ohio infantry regiment. This appointment fell through, but Sheridan was subsequently aided by friends (including future Secretary of War Russell A. Alger), who petitioned Michigan Governor Austin Blair on his behalf. Sheridan was appointed colonel of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry on May 27, 1862, despite having no experience in the mounted arm.

After the Battle of Booneville on July 1, 1862 Sheridan was promoted to brigadier general. By the fall of 1862 he was in command of a division at the Battle of Perryville. For his actions at the Battle of Stone’s River Sheridan was promoted to major general on April 10, 1863. In six months, he had risen from captain to major general.

At the Battle of Chickamauga Sheridan’s division made a gallant stand on Lytle Hill against an attack by the Confederate corps of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, but was swamped by retreating Union soldiers. The Confederates drove Sheridan’s division from the field in confusion. He gathered as many men as he could and withdrew toward Chattanooga, rallying troops along the way. He returned to the field but took no part in the further fighting.

During the Battle of Chattanooga, at Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, Sheridan’s division and others in George Thomas’s army broke through the Confederate lines in a wild charge that exceeded the orders and expectations of Thomas and Ulysses S. Grant. Just before his men stepped off, Sheridan told them, “Remember Chickamauga,” and many shouted its name as they advanced as ordered to a line of rifle pits in their front. General Grant reported after the battle, “To Sheridan’s prompt movement, the Army of the Cumberland and the nation are indebted for the bulk of the capture of prisoners, artillery, and small arms that day. Except for his prompt pursuit, so much in this way would not have been accomplished.”

In April of 1864 General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant transferred Sheridan to the Army of the Potomac as Cavalry Corps commander. When Meade quarreled with Sheridan for not performing his duties of screening and reconnaissance as ordered, Sheridan told Meade that he could “whip Stuart” if Meade let him. Meade reported the conversation to Grant, who replied, “Well, he generally knows what he is talking about. Let him start right out and do it.”

Meade deferred to Grant’s judgment and issued orders to Sheridan to “proceed against the enemy’s cavalry” and from May 9 through May 24, sent him on a raid toward Richmond, directly challenging the Confederate cavalry. The raid was less successful than hoped; although his raid managed to mortally wound Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart at Yellow Tavern on May 11 and beat Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee at Meadow Bridge on May 12.

The Cavalry Corps fought in a number of engagements the most significant being holding the critical crossroads at Cold Harbor and withstood a number of assaults until reinforced. Grant then ordered Sheridan on a raid to the northwest to break the Virginia Central Railroad and to link up with the Shenandoah Valley army of Maj. Gen. David Hunter. He was intercepted by the Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton at the Battle of Trevilian Station (June 11–12), where in the largest all-cavalry battle of the war, he achieved tactical success on the first day, but suffered heavy casualties during multiple assaults on the second. He withdrew without achieving his assigned objectives.

In August of 1864 Grant appointed Sheridan to command the Army of the Shenandoah. His mission was not only to defeat Early’s army and to close off the Northern invasion route, but to deny the Shenandoah Valley as a productive agricultural region to the Confederacy. Grant told Sheridan, “The people should be informed that so long as an army can subsist among them recurrences of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them at all hazards. … Give the enemy no rest … Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock of all descriptions, and negroes, so as to prevent further planting. If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.”

On September 19, Sheridan beat Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s much smaller army at Third Winchester and followed up on September 22 with a victory at Fisher’s Hill. As Early attempted to regroup, Sheridan began the punitive operations of his mission, sending his cavalry as far south as Waynesboro to seize or destroy livestock and provisions, and to burn barns, mills, factories, and railroads. Sheridan’s men did their work relentlessly and thoroughly, rendering over 400 miles uninhabitable.

The destruction presaged the scorched earth tactics of Sherman’s March to the Sea through Georgia—deny an army a base from which to operate and bring the effects of war home to the population supporting it. The residents referred to this widespread destruction as “The Burning.” The destruction of the Valley is still remembered today. It is believed that Sheridan’s troops burned every barn in the northern end of the Valley. The Confederates were not idle during this period and Sheridan’s men were plagued by guerrilla raids by partisan ranger Col. John S. Mosby.

At Cedar Creek Sheridan made his well-documented ride from Winchester ten miles to rally his men and reverse the Confederate tide. Early had been dealt his most significant defeat, rendering his army almost incapable of future offensive action. Sheridan received a personal letter of thanks from Abraham Lincoln and a promotion to major general in the regular army as of November 8, 1864, making him the fourth ranking general in the Army, after Grant, Sherman, and Meade.

In February 1865 Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps moved out of their winter quarters and headed East. The orders from Gen. Grant were largely discretionary: they were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad and the James River Canal, capture Lynchburg if practicable, then either join William T. Sherman in North Carolina or return to Winchester. They destroyed everything of value to the Confederate government in their path.

Sheridan interpreted Grant’s orders liberally and instead of heading to North Carolina in March 1865, he moved to rejoin the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg. He wrote in his memoirs, “Feeling that the war was nearing its end, I desired my cavalry to be in at the death.” His finest service of the Civil War was demonstrated during his relentless pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s Army, effectively managing the most crucial aspects of the Appomattox Campaign for Grant.

Sheridan’s aggressive and well-executed performance at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek on April 6 effectively sealed the fate of Lee’s army, capturing over 20% of his remaining men. President Lincoln sent Grant a telegram on April 7: “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.” At Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865, Sheridan blocked Lee’s escape, forcing the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia later that day. Grant summed up Sheridan’s performance in these final days: “I believe General Sheridan has no superior as a general, either living or dead, and perhaps not an equal.”

The thirteen-day burning of the richest agricultural counties in Virginia by Sheridan’s troops is only mentioned in passing in the regimental histories that were written after the war. Stephen Starr wrote in his Union Cavalry in the Civil War: “The deliberate planned devastation of the Shenandoah Valley has deservedly ranked as one of the grimmest episodes of a sufficiently grim war. Unlike the haphazard destruction caused by (Gen. William T.) Sherman’s bummers in Georgia, it was committed systematically, and by order.” The residents of the Valley remembered. If nothing else stuck in their minds, the time the burners came did, and individual stories of the sufferings of the people were passed from generation to generation.

From September 26 to the close of October 8 there were thirteen days of continuous burning of property and confiscation of livestock in four Valley counties; Augusta, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Page. As the top two wheat-producing counties in Virginia, Augusta County and Rockingham County deserved the nickname of the Breadbasket of the Confederacy.

The campaign of destruction, misunderstood from the very beginning, continues to be little understood today. It is often referred to as a “raid,” although it was well planned and involved 5,000 cavalrymen and a brigade of infantry doing the actual destruction, while thousands of additional soldiers in blue were called upon to drive off or kill livestock. To an individual farm family watching hogs slaughtered in the pens and barn and other outbuildings going up in smoke, it must have seemed a random orgy of destruction. In reality, Sheridan had given specific orders: barns and mills containing grain or forage were to be reduced to ashes; but, the properties of widows, single women, and orphans were not to be molested and private homes were not to be harmed. Evidence shows that most of the soldiers followed orders, though there were a number of instances of looting.

From a hill near Mt. Jackson Union cavalrymen counted 168 barns burning at one time. When it was all over Sheridan’s men had systematically destroyed around 1,400 barns, countless other farm structures, seventy mills, several factories, three iron furnaces, warehouses and railroad buildings, and hundreds of thousands of bushels of wheat, oats and corn, and crops standing in the fields. In Rockingham County alone over 10,000 head of livestock were driven off.

06/17/15

The Union Destroyers: David Hunter

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series The Union Destroyers

David HunterBy 1864 Ulysses S. Grant had been named as General-in-Chief of the Union Army with the rank of Lieutenant-General, only the third man after Washington and Winfield Scott to hold that rank. As overall commander of all of the Union Armies Grant knew that he had to destroy both the Confederate armies in the field and the means to allowed them to continue, namely farms, mills and railroads.

Grant ordered his forces to make a coordinated attack on the Confederate armies in the Western Theater, the Shenandoah Valley and the Eastern Theater in early May 1864. He hoped to overwhelm the Confederates by not allowing them to reinforce from one theater to another. His strategy had mixed results due to the generals that commanded them and not the men under their commands.

The Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley were commanded by Major General Franz Sigel. He was a German military officer, revolutionist and immigrant to the United States where he was a teacher, newspaperman and politician.

At the start of the Civil War Sigel was living in St. Louis. He was commissioned as the colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry. Throughout the summer of 1861, Abraham Lincoln was actively seeking the support of anti-slavery, pro-Unionist immigrants.

Sigel, always popular with the German immigrants, was a good candidate to advance this plan. He was promoted to brigadier general on August 7, 1861, to rank from May 17, one of a number of early political generals endorsed by Lincoln.

By 1864 Sigel was in command of the new Department of West Virginia. In his new command, Sigel opened the Valley Campaigns of 1864, launching an invasion of the Shenandoah Valley. He was soundly defeated by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge at the Battle of New Market, on May 15, 1864. After the battle, Sigel was replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter.

Hunter was a 62-year old major general when he was given  command of the Army of the Shenandoah and the Department of West Virginia on May 21, 1864.

Previous to that appointment Hunter was a controversial officer in the Union Army. He was appointed the fourth-ranking brigadier general of volunteers, commanding a brigade in the Department of Washington. He was wounded in the neck and cheek while commanding a division under Irvin McDowell at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861.

In August, he was promoted to major general of volunteers. He served as a division commander in the Western Army under Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont, and was appointed as commander of the Western Department on November 2, 1861, after Frémont was relieved of command due to his attempt to emancipate the slaves of rebellious slave holders.

That winter, Hunter was transferred to command the Department of Kansas and, in March 1862, was transferred again to command the Department of the South and the X Corps.

Hunter served as the president of the court-martial of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter (convicted for his actions at the Second Battle of Bull Run, but for which he was exonerated by an 1878 Board of Officers), and on the committee that investigated the loss of Harpers Ferry in the Maryland Campaign. He also served briefly as the Assistant Inspector General of the Department of the Gulf.

Hunter was a strong advocate of arming blacks as soldiers for the Union cause. After the Battle of Fort Pulaski, he began enlisting black soldiers from the occupied districts of South Carolina and formed the first such Union Army regiment, the 1st South Carolina (African Descent), which he was initially ordered to disband, but eventually got approval from Congress for his action.

A second controversy was caused by his issuing an order emancipating the slaves in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida:

The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States — Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina— heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.

— Maj. Gen. David Hunter, Department of the South, General Order No. 11, May 9, 1862

President Lincoln immediately rescinded the order because he was concerned about the political effects that it would have in the border states and who advocated instead a gradual emancipation with compensation for slave holders.

Undeterred by the president’s reluctance and intent on extending American freedom to potential black soldiers, Hunter again flouted orders from the federal government and enlisted ex-slaves as soldiers in South Carolina without permission from the War Department. This action incensed border state slave holders, and Kentucky Representative Charles A. Wickliffe sponsored a resolution demanding a response.

Hunter quickly obliged with a sarcastic and defiant letter on 23 June 1862, in which he delivered a stern reminder to the Congress of his authority as a commanding officer in a war zone.

The War Department eventually forced Hunter to abandon this scheme, but the government nonetheless moved soon afterward to expand the enlistment of black men as military laborers. Congress approved the Second Confiscation Act in July 1862, which effectively freed all slaves working within the armed forces by forbidding Union soldiers to aid in the return of fugitive slaves.

Hunter was given command of the Army of the Shenandoah by Ulysses S. Grant with orders to employ scorched earth tactics similar to those that would be used later in that year during Sherman’s March to the Sea. He was to move through Staunton to Charlottesville and Lynchburg, “living off the country” and destroying the Virginia Central Railroad “beyond possibility of repair for weeks.”

On June 5, Hunter defeated Maj. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones at the Battle of Piedmont. Following orders, he moved up the Valley (southward) through Staunton to Lexington, destroying military targets and other industries (such as blacksmiths and stables) that could be used to support the Confederacy.

After reaching Lexington, his troops burned down VMI on June 11 in retaliation of that institution sending cadets to fight in at New Market. Hunter ordered the home of former Governor John Letcher burned in retaliation for its absent owner’s having issued “a violent and inflammatory proclamation … inciting the population of the country to rise and wage guerrilla warfare on my troops.

Hunter also wreaked havoc on Washington College in Lexington (later Washington and Lee University). According to Fitzhugh Lee’s biography of his uncle, Robert E. Lee,

[Hunter] had no respect for colleges, or the peaceful pursuits of professors and students, or the private dwellings of citizens, though occupied by women and children only, and during his three days occupancy of Lexington in June, 1864, the college buildings were dismantled, apparatus destroyed, and the books mutilated.

Hunter’s campaign in the Valley came to an end after he was defeated by Early at the Battle of Lynchburg on June 19. Grant brought in Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, making him Hunter’s subordinate, but making it clear that Sheridan would lead the troops in the field and that Hunter would be left with only administrative responsibilities.

Hunter, feeling that Grant had a lack of confidence in him, requested to be relieved. He would serve in no more combat commands. He was promoted to brevet major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865, an honor that was relatively common for senior officers late in the war.

05/5/15

After the War: Ulysses S. Grant

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series After the War: Military Leaders

Ulysses S. GrantMany of the men who fought on both sides during the Civil War became prominent politicians and businessmen after the war. In this series we are going to take a look at them. We’ll start with the Union General-in-Chief, Ulysses S. Grant.

At the end of the war Grant was approaching 43 years old, not very old for a man of his high position, even in the 19th century. He continued as the Commanding General of the United States Army until March 4, 1869 when he was succeeded by his good friend William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman held the position until November 1, 1883.

Grant stepped down because he was elected the 18th President of the United States. Grant won the election by 300,000 votes out of 5,716,082 votes cast, receiving an electoral college landslide, of 214 votes to Seymour’s 80. Grant, at the age of 46 was (at the time) the youngest president ever elected. He held that position for two terms leaving in 1877.

Grant stabilized the nation during the turbulent Reconstruction period, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, and enforced civil and voting rights laws using the army and the Department of Justice.

He used the army to build the Republican Party in the South, based on black voters, Northern newcomers (“carpetbaggers”), and native Southern white supporters (“scalawags”). After the disenfranchisement of some former Confederates, Republicans gained majorities and African Americans were elected to Congress and high state offices.

In his second term, the Republican coalitions in the South splintered and were defeated one by one as redeemers (conservative whites) regained control using coercion and violence.

Grant’s Indian peace policy initially reduced frontier violence, but is best known for the Great Sioux War of 1876, where George Custer and his regiment were killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Throughout his presidency, Grant faced congressional investigations into corruption in executive agencies, including bribery charges against two of his Cabinet members. Grant’s administration implemented a gold standard and sought to strengthen the dollar.

In foreign policy, Grant sought to increase American trade and influence, while remaining at peace with the world. His administration successfully resolved the Alabama Claims with Great Britain, ending wartime tensions. Grant avoided war with Spain over the Virginius Affair, but Congress rejected his attempted annexation of the Dominican Republic. His response to the Panic of 1873 gave some financial relief to New York banking houses, but was ineffective in halting the five-year economic depression that produced high unemployment, low prices, low profits, and bankruptcies.

After he left the White House Grant and his wife embarked on a two-year world tour. The trip began in Liverpool in May 1877, where enormous crowds greeted the ex-president and his entourage. The Grants dined with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, and Grant gave several speeches in London.

After a tour on the continent, the Grants spent a few months with their daughter Nellie, who had married an Englishman and moved to that country several years before. Grant and his wife journeyed to France and Italy, spending Christmas 1877 aboard USS Vandalia, a warship docked in Palermo.

A winter sojourn in the Holy Land followed, and they visited Greece before returning to Italy and a meeting with Pope Leo XIII. They toured Spain before moving on to Germany, where Grant discussed military matters with Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, telling him that in final stages of the Civil War, the Union Army fought to preserve the nation and to “destroy slavery”.

The Grants left from England by ship, sailing through the Suez Canal to India. They visited cities throughout the Raj, welcomed by colonial officials. After India, they toured Burma, Siam (where Grant met with King Chulalongkorn), Singapore, and Cochinchina (Vietnam). 

Traveling on to Hong Kong, Grant began to change his mind on the nature of colonization, believing that British rule was not “purely selfish” but also good for the colonial subjects. Leaving Hong Kong, the Grants visited the cities of Canton, Shanghai, and Peking, China.

He declined to ask for an interview with the Guangxu Emperor, a child of seven, but did speak with the head of government, Prince Gong, and Li Hongzhang, a leading general. They discussed China’s dispute with Japan over the Ryukyu Islands, and Grant agreed to help bring the two sides to agreement. After crossing over to Japan and meeting the Emperor Meiji, Grant convinced China to accept the Japanese annexation of the islands, and the two nations avoided war.

Both of the Grants were homesick and in 1879 they returned to the United States by way of San Francisco where they were greeted by cheering crowds. By the end of the year the were back in Philadelphia. Grant’s new-found popularity encouraged the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party to press him to run for a third term. The 1880 convention became in a bitter contest that lasted 36 ballots until James Garfield, a compromise candidate was nominated.

Grant tried several business but eventually they were all unsuccessful. The ventures depleted Grant’s savings and he was forced to sell  his Civil War mementos and the sale or transfer of all other assets. By 1884 he was bankrupt and destitute.

After writing several articles about the war which were well received, Grant began to write his memoirs at the urging of the editor, Robert Underwood Johnson.

By late 1884 Grant had received a diagnosis of throat cancer. Despite his debilitating illness, Grant worked diligently on his memoirs at his home in New York City, and then from a cottage on the slopes of Mount McGregor, finishing only days before he died.

Century magazine offered Grant a book contract with a 10 percent royalty, but Grant accepted a better offer from his friend, Mark Twain, who proposed a 75 percent royalty. His memoir ends with the Civil War, and does not cover the post-war years, including his presidency.

The book, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, was a critical and commercial success. In the end, Julia Grant received about $450,000 in royalties. The memoir has been highly regarded by the public, military historians, and literary critics.

After a year-long struggle with the cancer, Grant died at 8 o’clock in the morning in the Mount McGregor cottage on July 23, 1885, at the age of 63. Phillip Sheridan, then Commanding General of the Army, ordered a day-long tribute to Grant on all military posts, and President Grover Cleveland ordered a thirty-day nationwide period of mourning.

After private services, the honor guard placed Grant’s body on a special funeral train, which traveled to West Point and New York City. A quarter of a million people viewed it in the two days before the funeral. Tens of thousands of men, many of them veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) or other veterans’ organizations, marched with Grant’s casket drawn by two dozen horses to Riverside Park in Manhattan. His pallbearers included Union generals Sherman and Sheridan, Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph E. Johnston, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and Senator John A. Logan, the head of the GAR.

Grant’s body was laid to rest in Riverside Park, first in a temporary tomb, and then—twelve years later, on April 17, 1897—in the General Grant National Memorial, also known as “Grant’s Tomb”. The tomb is the largest mausoleum in North America. Attendance at the New York funeral topped 1.5 million.Ceremonies were held in other major cities around the country, and those who eulogized Grant in the press likened him to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Ulysses S. Grant had come a long way from Galena, Illinois to the height of fame. His main character trait as a general was highlighted by Abraham Lincoln. When he was pressed to remove Grant after the Battle of Shiloh, Lincoln told the critic: ‘I can’t spare this man; he fights.'”