Union Efforts at Conciliation: 1861

This entry is part 1 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

Fort Sumter in 1860One hundred and fifty two years after the start of the American Civil War many Americans are uneducated about the facts surrounding the war. In most people’s minds the war between the North and South was just that a war between two monolithic opponents. Today, many Americans are unaware of the anti-war sentiments that were circulating throughout both regions of the United States. They also do not understand that the Union government was hoping for conciliation before blood was spilled.

Not all Northerners were in favor of the war. Not all Southerners were in favor of the Confederacy. In fact, there were many regiments composed of white southerners and many African-American regiments that were recruited in the South.

This series of posts attempts to explain the Union government’s policy to the South; from conciliation to total war. This descent into the hell of total war was gradual and measured and took years to occur.

The Union government of Abraham Lincoln did not begin the war with the goal of destroying the South. On the contrary, they attempted to persuade the Southerners to return to the Union without the violence that would characterize the latter stages of the war.

The Lincoln administration’s early policy was to spare Southern civilians from the horrors of war. Their constitutional rights were to be respected and their property was not to be touched in the course of military combat.

At the start of the war the Lincoln administration specifically renounced any intention of attacking slavery. In fact, Abraham Lincoln himself articulated his policy as preserving the Union. Lincoln believed that most white Southerners were lukewarm about secession. After all, who wants their lives and livelihoods disrupted?

Many of the Northern officers in high commands agreed with the Lincoln government’s policy, although like the South there were some firebrands who called for the abolition of slavery as the main objective of the war.

Lincoln felt that the Union war effort must not be seen as a strictly Republican policy but a national one that spanned their entire spectrum of the northern political parties. He appointed a number of prominent Democrats as major generals in order to carry out his goal.

These Democrats were more conciliatory to their fellow Southern Democrats and therefore shaped the military strategy for the first fifteen months of the war.

The Lincoln administration and its high command attempted a number of things to try to draw the South back in the Union. On the one hand they continued to try conciliation. The General-in-Chief Winfield Scott was a believer in a non-confrontational approach to the South.

He was supported in this by the new Secretary of State William Seward who believed that if military confrontations could be avoided, then the latent Unionist sentiment across the South would rise to the surface and the Southern states would return to the Union.

Scott drafted a memorandum for the incoming administration that laid out four possible courses of action that they could take.

First, they could undertake a full-scale invasion of the South. Scott proposed a timeline of two or three years. He also felt that the Union government would need an army of 300,000 trained troops under a superior general. Approximately one-third would be needed for garrisons as the army moved further south.

Scott foresaw a frightful loss of life and the destruction of property throughout the region. In addition he forecast a staggering cost of some $250 million with only devastation to show for it.

His second option was some compromise like the Crittenden proposal that would return the Southern states to the Union under terms acceptable to them.

Scott’s third option was to close Southern ports to trade using a naval blockade and collect the duties on foreign goods from warships stationed off Southern harbors. Considering that the United States Navy had less than sixty ships, this option might take some time to implement.

His final option was simply to “say to the seceded States, Wayward Sisters, depart in peace.” This last was a non-starter for the Lincoln administration. In essence, they would have admitted defeat before a shot had been fired.

When the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 any possibility of a peaceful resolution of the crisis ended. Lincoln promptly called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion.

Besides cheering those in the North who favored the return of the seceded states to the Union, it triggered the secession of the four states of the Upper South. The sides were now set and the Union government began to plan its strategy.


Toward A Real Civil War: Spring and Summer 1861

This entry is part 2 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

Ohio VolunteersThe antebellum United States Army had about 16,000 officers and men. Of these about one-quarter of the officer corps resigned to join the Confederate Army. At the onset of the war both armies were no better than armed mobs, untrained, undisciplined and unblooded. Both sides were simply groping toward civil war without a firm plan.

The U.S. Army consisted of ten regiments of infantry, four of artillery, two of cavalry, two of dragoons, and one of mounted infantry. The regiments were scattered widely. Of the 197 companies in the army, 179 occupied 79 isolated posts in the West, and the remaining 18 manned garrisons east of the Mississippi River, mostly along the Canada–United States border and on the Atlantic coast.

President Abraham Lincoln initially issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for three months to put down the “insurrection”. Some have said that the Union government was overly optimistic but in reality that was the limits of Lincoln’s legal authority. Until Congress reconvened he could only ask for that many volunteers.

While the army was forming, the Lincoln administration went about seeking ways to heal the breach between the North and the South. Many Northerners retained the belief that a settlement with the Southerners could be achieved without too much bloodshed. Those who supported General Scott believed as he did that quick, bloody action would push the Southern Unionists into supporting the secessionists. There was a significant group who was of the opposite opinion that quick action could ignite the Southern Unionists into action on the side of the Union.

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair was on the side of those who pushed for quick, decisive. He wrote Lincoln that in his opinion the officer corps was making a fatal flaw by overestimating the strength of the secessionist spirit in the South. Blair predicted that if the North didn’t move rapidly then the South would only be subjugated by complete conquest.

As the spring moved into early summer and no offensive action was undertaken Lincoln began to have doubts in Scott’s policy of deliberation. The South had achieved a number of minor victories: the capture of the shipyard, the seizure of Harper’s Ferry and the minor but humiliating defeat at Big Bethel, Virginia.

Both the New York Tribune and the Chicago Tribune called for the Union army to drive on Richmond with the slogan, “Forward to Richmond.” General Irvin McDowellHowever, the majority of the nation’s newspapers continued to support General Scott’s plan of deliberately fencing the Confederates in. Scott hoped that by amassing huge armies in the east and west, he would discourage the Confederate troops. He was hoping that loyal citizens would rise up and prevent any further attacks, like Fort Sumter.

At the cabinet meeting on June 29th, Lincoln gave the Army command marching orders. He insisted that they advance as far as Manassas within two or three weeks. Scott resisted but eventually agreed to the order. By July 8th, Lincoln issued order for General Irvin McDowell, the field commander, to launch his offensive. McDowell launched his forces on July 16th.

McDowell had been a supply officer from 1848 until 1861. He was pushed for a field command by his mentor, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Although McDowell knew that his troops were inexperienced and unready, and protested that he was a supply officer, not a field commander, pressure from the Washington politicians forced him to launch a premature offensive against Confederate forces in Northern Virginia.

In order not to antagonize the Southern civilians, McDowell gave instructed his men to conduct themselves ” with as much forbearance and propriety as if they were at their own homes.”    

McDowell’s army met their Confederate counterparts near Manassas Junction on July 21st where an all-day battle ensued. His strategy during the First Battle of Bull Run was imaginative but ambitiously complex, and his troops were not experienced enough to carry it out effectively, resulting in an embarrassing rout. The Union defeat ended any hopes of a Confederate collapse and peaceful reconciliation. President Lincoln summoned Maj. Gen. George Brinton McClellan to take command of the Union Army in the East.                                                                                                                                         


General Winfield Scott’s Plan to End the Rebellion

This entry is part 3 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

General Winfield ScottThe prime mover of conciliation with the South in the Lincoln administration was its General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Scott was a Virginian but also a steadfast supporter of the Union. He was the most recognizable soldier in the United States and had served his country longer than any other man in American history, and many historians rate him the best American commander of his time. Over the course of his forty-seven-year career, he commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Black Hawk War and the Second Seminole War.

Now, he was called upon to craft a strategy that would preserve the Union with a minimum amount of bloodshed. This would be the most difficult task in his distinguished career.

Throughout the late spring and early summer of 1861, Scott crafted his strategy. However, elements within the administration and in the press began to agitate for immediate action. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, an influential Republican, led the opposition to Scott’s gradualism. Blair in a letter to Lincoln insisted that Scott and other Army officers underestimated the depth of the secession spirit in the South.

Blair contended that unless immediate action was undertaken the Confederate government would consolidate their hold on the southern states. Blair warned that if that occurred only the complete conquest of the South could end secession. In retrospect Blair was absolutely correct and only the complete and utter conquest of the South brought the southern states back into the Union.

Scott’s plan was an all-encompassing strategy that became known as the Anaconda Plan. The plan called for the complete blockade of the Southern ports which would deny the South revenue from the trading of cotton. It would also deny the South those items that the Confederacy required to conduct the war.

The major problem with a complete naval blockade was that the United States lacked the navy to conduct such an all-encompassing 3,500 mile operation. The hundreds of ships needed to carry out such an operation would need to be built, equipped and crewed. This would require time to accomplish and in fact Scott’s plan provided no details only an overall strategy. Eventually, the Union Navy had 500 ships to carry out this operation.

The land phase, in part, called for a force of about 80,000 men to move down the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in half. A spearhead The Anaconda Planconsisting of a relatively small amphibious force, army troops transported by boats and supported by gunboats, should advance rapidly, capturing the Confederate positions down the river in sequence.

They would be followed by a more traditional army, marching behind them to secure the victories. The culminating battle would be for the forts below New Orleans; when they fell, the river would be in Federal hands from its source to its mouth, and the rebellion would be cut in two.

This was in fact what the Union did. Starting from Cairo, Illinois, Union forces worked their way downriver capturing strategic locations. At the same time naval and army forces moved upriver from the Mississippi Delta until both forces met at Vicksburg.

Scott also called for a similar force to move from Washington into the Virginia countryside. He hoped that the threat of large forces on their home grounds would bring the Southerners to their senses. He also expected that the appearance of large Union forces would encourage loyal citizens to rise up against the secessionists.

He then anticipating the landing of strong naval and army troops along various points of the coast. This, he hoped, would force the state governments to recall their troops and fragment the “grand army and make it powerless for any offensive movement.”

All of Scoot’s grand strategy came to naught with the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run or Manassas as the victorious Confederates named it. This defeat any hopes of a rapid Confederate collapse. Once the South became united by this stunning victory any hopes that the Anaconda Plan had held out.


1862: The End of Conciliation in the East

This entry is part 4 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

Map of US with divisionsWhile 1861 same several attempts to settle the war without shedding an ocean of blood, 1862 would see the gradual descent of the war into a bitter conflict on both sides. In order to understand this period we’ll look at the war from various perspectives. This post will cover the Eastern Theater.

After the First Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run as the losing Union side named it, both sides began a gradual feeling-out process that was the antithesis of the later total war waged by both sides. The reality of First Manassas convinced both sides that their armies were no more than armed mobs. Both armies were deficient in training, leadership and even uniforms.

Both sides had uniforms that in some cases caused confusion on the battlefield. There were Confederate units with blue uniforms and Union units with a sort of blue/gray uniform. Some of the uniforms were garish and impractical like the Zouave uniforms worn by units on both sides. Even the early Confederate battle flags caused confusion because of their similarity to Old Glory.

Both armies in the Eastern Theater spent the fall and winter reorganizing, training and equipping their troops. In the Western Theater there were tentative probes down the Mississippi River and into Kentucky which had tried to remain neutral.

Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant would make his first major foray from his base at Cairo, Illinois on November 7, 1861. The Battle of Belmont would see a limited clash of arms on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River with limited aims and a small loss of life.

In the Eastern Theater there were several engagements at the edges of the conflict but Maj. Gen. George McClellan refused to be pushed into major combat before he felt that his massive Army of the Potomac was ready to advance. By the end of 1861, McClellan had fortified Washington into one of the most defended cities in the world with 48 forts, 480 guns and 7,200 artillerymen.

The Army of the Potomac, McClellan’s chosen weapon of “shock and awe” had grown to over 190,000 men, the largest army ever assembled on the North American continent. It was was considered by far the most colossal military unit the world had seen in modern historical times. But McClellan wanted more. He envisioned an army of 273,000 with 600 guns to “crush the rebels in one campaign.”

McClellan continually overestimated the numbers of enemy troops that were facing him in the Washington area. On August 8, believing that the Confederates had over 100,000 troops facing him (in contrast to the 35,000 they actually deployed at Bull Run a few weeks earlier), he declared a state of emergency in the capital.

By August 19, he estimated 150,000 enemy to his front. McClellan’s future campaigns would be strongly influenced by the overblown enemy strength estimates of his secret service chief, detective Allan Pinkerton, but in August 1861, these estimates were entirely McClellan’s own.

The result was a level of extreme caution that sapped the initiative of McClellan’s army and caused great condemnation by his government. Historian and biographer Stephen W. Sears has called McClellan’s actions “essentially sound” if he had been as outnumbered as he believed, but McClellan in fact rarely had less than a two-to-one advantage over his opponents in 1861 and 1862. That fall, for example, Confederate forces ranged from 35,000 to 60,000, whereas the Army of the Potomac in September numbered 122,000 men; in early December 170,000; by year end, 192,000.

Eventually after much debate and arguments between McClellan and the Lincoln government, the Army of the Potomac was transported to the tip of the Peninsula where they began a slow advance northwest to their ultimate goal of Richmond. From the siege of Yorktown to Malvern Hill, McClellan and first, Joseph E. Johnston and then Robert E. Lee slugged it out over a four-month period. Eventually, the Confederates deflected the huge Union army from its goal.

While McClellan was left idle at Harrison’s Landing, Lee turned and thrashed Maj. Gen. John Pope at Second Manassas. He then turned north and headed into Maryland where Lee and McClellan met in the bloodiest one-day battle of the war at Antietam. After a bloodletting that caused almost 23,000 casualties, McClellan was relieved of command and replaced by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside.

With the departure of McClellan the war in the Eastern Theater began a slide to total war. Burnside’s first major battle was at Frederickburg on the Rappahannock River. The Union artillery preparation for the crossing of the river would destroy a large part of the town.

Union cavalry units were sent into the Virginia countryside to seize food and fodder thus denying it to the Confederates. This would establish a pattern for both armies to prey upon the civilian populations. The Confederate cavalry would do the same in Maryland and later Pennsylvania.


Missouri: The War Inside the War

This entry is part 5 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

A State DividedWhile attempts at conciliation seemed to be prevalent in the Eastern Theater, events in the Trans-Mississippi Theater took a different tack. Missouri and her neighbors to the north and the south were the scenes of violent activity against the civilian populations.

The Missouri-Kansas border war of the 1850s set the tone for this bloody activity. Free Soil Jayhawkers and pro-slavery Border Ruffians repeatedly clashed in a bloody proxy war that presaged the Civil War. John Brown and his sons were militant Jayhawkers who eventually took their campaign to the East and Harper’s Ferry.

Missouri was a Border slave state and had been a key state in the North-South seesaw battle before the war. At the onset of the war Missouri was deeply divided. The Missouri legislature called for a special convention to vote on secession. The convention voted decisively to remain with the Union but Pro-Southern Governor Claiborne F. Jackson had other ideas. He mobilized several hundred members of the state militia who had gathered in a camp in St. Louis for training.

Union General Nathaniel Lyon struck first, encircling the camp and forcing the state troops to surrender. Lyon directed his soldiers, largely non-English-speaking German immigrants, to march the prisoners through the streets, and they opened fire on the largely hostile crowds of civilians who gathered around them. Soldiers killed unarmed prisoners as well as men, women and children of St. Louis in the incident that became known as the “St. Louis Massacre“.

These events heightened Confederate support within the state yet Missouri never left the Union and 75% of Missourians who wore a uniform served in the Union Army or the Unionist State Militia. Despite this the Union Army treated Missouri as if it was enemy territory.

This attitude was due primarily to Nathaniel Lyon and Francis P. Blair Jr. Their uncompromising attitude almost immediately ignited a guerrilla war that was to last throughout the entire war.

After the St. Louis Massacre, Lyon declared war against Jackson and his pro-Southern Missouri State Guard. He chased them as far as Wilson’s Creek where he was killed in a fight where his forces were outnumbered 2-to-1. But by then he had been instrumental in keeping Missouri in the Union.

But by then the die was cast. Missouri would be the scene of many bloody confrontations that were devoid of any semblance of gallantry or fairness. The pro-Southern Missourians formed companies of bushwackers that attacked Union troops at every opportunity and then disappeared into the general population.

Unable to strike back at their tormentors, Union authorities decided to make the civilian population pay for their attacks. Lyon gave orders that were similar to other Union commanders. He condemned pillaging and urged his men to respect private property. But when it came to active secessionists he was extremely harsh.

In the central Missouri district nicknamed “Little Dixie” Brig. Gen. John Pope appointed committees of public safety. At least two members were prominent secessionists. If the attacks did not stop, Pope said, “…I desire that you will give them plainly to understand that unless peace is preserved, their property will be immediately levied upon, and their contribution collected at once in any kind of property at hand.” Other Union commanders used the same techniques to tamp down support for the secessionists.

Though regular Confederate troops staged some large-scale raids into Missouri, the fighting in the state for the next three years consisted chiefly of guerrilla warfare. “Citizen soldiers” or insurgents such as Colonel William QuantrillFrank and Jesse James, the Younger brothers, and William T. Anderson made use of quick, small-unit tactics.

Pioneered by the Missouri Partisan Rangers, such insurgencies also arose in portions of the Confederacy occupied by the Union during the Civil War. Recently historians have assessed the James brothers’ outlaw years as continuing guerrilla warfare after the official war was over.

In 1863 following the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. accused farmers in rural Missouri of either instigating the attack or supporting it. He issued General Order No. 11 which forced the evacuation of all residents of rural areas of the four counties (Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon) south of the Missouri River on the Kansas border to leave their property, which was then burned.

The order applied to farmers regardless of loyalty, although those who could prove their loyalty to the Union could stay in designated towns and those who could not were exiled entirely. Among those forced to leave were Kansas City founder John Calvin McCoy and its first mayor, William S. Gregory.




The Descent Into Total War

This entry is part 6 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

The Burning of the Shenandoah ValleyTotal War is an oft-used phrase in modern warfare. The textbook description of Total War is war in which a belligerent engages in the complete mobilization of fully available resources and population.

However, Total War in the American Civil War did not begin with a formal directive from the Lincoln administration. It was a gradual descent from a war conducted by rank amateurs to one in which increasingly veteran soldiers foraged throughout the countryside at will with the passive approval of their commanders.

The average Union soldier never accepted the policy of conciliation with the Confederacy. They looked upon them as the reason why they had left their homes and families to defend the Union. For northern soldiers the concept of the Union and its defense was paramount. They did not volunteer to free the slaves but to preserve the Union. Gary Gallagher in The Union War is very clear about this and backs his theory up with numerous quotations from contemporary sources.

Gallagher insists, abolition always “took a back seat” to the paramount goal of saving the Union. Most Northerners remained indifferent to the plight of the slaves. They embraced emancipation only when they concluded it had become necessary to win the war.

They fought because they regarded the United States as a unique experiment in democracy that guaranteed political liberty and economic opportunity in a world overrun by tyranny. Saving the Union, in the words of Secretary of State William H. Seward, meant “the saving of popular government for the world.”

They also saw the need to punish the South for their secession in a Biblical sense. One Ohio soldier wrote, “I believe, generally, there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood and the sin of rebellion is no exception. True here as very often, the blood of the innocent must mingle their blood with the guilty.”

Nearly every military order that touched on soldier’s conduct toward civilian populations emphasized that Southern property was to be respected. Soldiers were told that bad behavior would embitter the local populations and prevent reconciliation.

But tell that to cold, wet soldiers who have just marched 20 miles whose supply system was inadequate or downright broken. The supply systems of both armies were not capable of maintaining the ever-increasing sizes of both armies. Until the latter stages of the war the Union supply chain was unable to adequately feed their troops. As the Union armies picked the South clean, Confederate troops in all theaters suffered with shortages in all areas of supply.

Initially, Union troops offered to pay for food with greenbacks but in many cases most Southerners refused to accept payment. Union soldiers were always in need of firewood and rail fences and farm structures were always in danger to foragers. Anecdotes from throughout the war tell stories where deserted hamlets were quite literally taken apart for soldier’s needs.

Soldiers who felt that their normal rations were inadequate simply decided on their own to forage for food. Despite the official policy of issuing vouchers, local inhabitants constantly complained to higher authorities.

In some areas, local farmers engaged in a blatant form of price gouging. They raised the prices of all of their commodities to extremely high levels. In Unionist western Maryland farmers raised the price of watermelons from two cents to twenty-five cents. Other commodities also saw a precipitous rise in prices.

Civilians in the contested areas of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia often found that they were at the mercy of both armies. As the tide of battle ebbed and flowed across the countryside, soldiers from both armies foraged for food, livestock and wood.

Especially contested was the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, an area that was contested throughout the war. By 1864, the agricultural economy of the Valley was wrecked with barns burned, livestock taken and fields stripped of food sources. More importantly, farmers were drafted into the Confederate Army which further reduced the production from this vital area. Here is the link to a series that gives an overview of the destruction of the Shenandoah Valley.

Gradually, soldiers on both sides used foraging as a means of supplementing their diets. They regularly seized food stuffs, livestock and other supplies without compensation. Officers in some cases deliberately ignored orders and allowed their men to forage freely. Some Union commanders were well known for allowing their men to pillage at will.

Brig. Gen. Louis Blenker and Maj. Gen. David Hunter were two such commanders who used wholesale pillaging as a weapon against the secessionists. In Western Virginia, Col. Robert McCook‘s brigade was well-known for their pillaging the homes of secessionists. As early as October 1861, the brigade was already burning houses and public buildings along its line of march.

The success of the policy of conciliation was dependent on two variables: the willingness of Union soldiers to leave civilians alone and the willingness of civilians to leave soldiers alone. Almost from the outset, soldiers found that neither condition was possible.

Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan’s 1864 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley is still remembered today as “The Burning”.


The Sacking of Fredericksburg

This entry is part 7 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

The Sacking of FredericksburgThe town of Fredericksburg was at the center of fighting in Central Virginia from 1862 until 1864. Early on the town on the Rappahannock River was occupied by Union troops. The Union Army withdrew but returned to the area in December 1862.

Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside chose to cross the Rappahannock from his bases around Falmouth on the north side of the river. With this decision Robert E. Lee had no choice but to contest the crossing. The ensuing battle which ran from December 11th until the 15th led to artillery bombardments by both sides.

The Union artillery bombed the private residences to prevent their use by Confederate sharpshooters who attempted to prevent the completion of Union pontoon bridges. Eventually Union troops crossed the river in pontoon boats and laboriously cleaned out the Confederate sharpshooters from the buildings in the town.

During the fighting Union troops sacked the town, something that was quite in the Middle Ages. Fredericksburg was the first American town or city to be sacked during the American Civil War. The fact that an American town sacked by Americans was not lost on either side. It would not be the last.

The Union troops crossed the river on the pontoon bridges under enemy fire. Dozens of Union soldiers were wounded by shrapnel. They would be the lucky ones. Early on they were met by an enterprising undertaker who busily handed out cards to all takers. Eventually he was run off but his appearance made the Union troops realize that this might be a one-way trip.

Once across the river Union troops began an exhaustive search for tobacco, food other items. Minor pilfering quickly degenerated into wholesale pillage.  For several hours discipline and order vanished as soldiers dashed from building to building, stealing whatever they could find.

“The ladies [of Fredericksburg] said before the battle they would sooner see the city destroyed & their homes made desolate forever than to see it surrendered to us,” crowed one Union soldier.  “We have accommodated them in every particular for there is not a building left untouched in the whole city.”

Soldiers took whatever caught their fancy , not even thinking about how they would get it home. A Connecticut soldier saw his comrades leave houses carrying absurd plunder: a stuffed alligator, a pair of brass andirons, an apothecary’s pestle, musical instruments, and even mouse traps—“everything that was ever made to eat, drink, wear or use.”

Financial institutions were a favorite target of the thieves.  A group of particularly determined soldiers managed to crack the safe at the Bank of Virginia, where they found silverware, half dollar coins, and a large quantity of currency.  “…Everything valuable was carried away,” wrote an approving lieutenant.

Theft gave way to outright vandalism and systematic destruction of private property. Soldiers bayoneted paintings, smashed mirrors and china, hurled glasses through windows, pulled down draperies, and tore up carpeting.  Books from private libraries were hurled into the muddy streets; barrels brimming with flour were turned over and poured onto the floor.  “The soldiers seemed to delight in destroying everything,” wrote one witness.

Furniture was dragged into the street and smashed for kindling. Pianos were carried into the streets and battered into pieces. “Vandalism reigned supreme,’ wrote one disgusted artilleryman.  “Men who at home were modest and unassuming now seemed to be possessed with an insatiate desire to destroy everything in sight.”

Some soldiers donned women’s clothing and paraded down the street with parasols and bonnets, adding a bizarre twist to the chaotic events of the day.  “It was a rich scene” thought a Minnesota man.  “There was a dirty soldier dressed in the choicest silks, escorted by other soldiers dressed in long tail coats, and plug hats…. One of the boys picked up a violin, and a soldier was soon found who could play it, so they took positions for a cotillion…. But I cannot do justice to the scene.”  A chaplain put the best face on the matter, claiming, “This was simply the spirit of eternal youth exemplified, the thing that kept men’s hearts from ‘failing them.’”

Sketch artist Arthur Lumley described the deplorable behavior of Federal soldiers on the eve of battle fittingly: “Friday Night in Fredericksburg. This night the city was in the wildest confusion sacked by the union troops = houses burned down furniture scattered in the streets = men pillaging in all directions a fit scene for the French revolution and a discrace [sic] to the Union Arms. this is my view of what I saw. Lumley.”


General David Hunter and Scorched Earth

This entry is part 8 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

General David HunterMaj. Gen. David Hunter was a true believer in the abolition of slavery. With his strong relationship with President Lincoln, Hunter had a meteoric rise from colonel to major general in four short months in 1861. By November he was appointed as commander of the Western Department. And in March 1862, he was transferred to the command of the Department of the South and the X Corps.

Hunter was a strong advocate of arming blacks as soldiers for the Union cause. After the Battle of Fort Pulaski in April 1862, Hunter enlisted free d slaves in the occupied districts of South Carolina. He formed the first such Union Army regiment, the 1st South Carolina (African Descent) but was almost immediately ordered to disband. The authorities in Washington were concerned with the reaction from the border states. Eventually, Hunter received Congressional approval for his action.

Hunter followed up this controversy with a second one, that of issuing an order emancipating the slaves in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. 

General Order No. 11 – HDQRS Dept. of the South, Hilton Head, Port Royal, S.C.

“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, General David Hunter

President Lincoln  rescinded this order for the same reason: the border states’ reaction. Hunter’s order raised the ire of Confederates to the point where Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued orders to the Confederate States Army that Hunter was to be considered a “felon to be executed if captured”.

Hunter was reassigned to the Shenandoah Valley where he replaced Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel in command of the Army of the Shenandoah and the Department of West Virginia on May 21, 1864. The Valley was the base of supply for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered Hunter to cut off the Confederate’s supplies.

Grant ordered Hunter 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.” Lee was so concerned about Hunter that he dispatched Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early with a corps to deal with him.

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 the Virginia Military Institute (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’s depredations came to an end when he was defeated by Early at the Battle of Lynchburg on June 19th. Grant brought in Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan as Hunter’s subordinate. However, Grant made it clear that Hunter would only have an administrative role and Sheridan would command the military formations. With that, Hunter promptly resigned. He would have no further combat commands.


Henry W. Halleck and The Union’s Pragmatic Policy

This entry is part 9 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

General Henry W. HalleckThe chief proponent of the Union’s pragmatic policy was Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, the Union commander of the key western Department of the Missouri. Halleck, known in the Army as “Old Brains” for his brilliance, had left the military in order to pursue more lucrative opportunities in law and business. He settled in California where he became a wealthy man as a lawyer and land speculator.

Halleck was a Democrat and was sympathetic to the South but was a strong Unionist. With a strong recommendation from General-in-Chief Winfield Scott he was appointed as the four most senior general after Scott, George B. McClellan, and John C. Frémont in August 1861. By November, he was named commander of the Department of the Missouri replacing Frémont.

Halleck’s initial orders from George McClellan who had succeeded Scott at about the same time were quite conservative. He was required “to impress upon the inhabitants of Missouri and the adjacent states, that we are fighting solely for the integrity of the Union, to uphold the power of our National Government, and restore to the nation the blessings of peace and good order.”

Halleck’s General Order No. 3 barred fugitive slaves from his lines. General Order No. 8 expressed his severe disapproval for numerous cases of “alleged seizure and destruction of private property.” According to Halleck this showed “an outrageous abuse of power and violation of the rules of war.” Halleck cautioned his area commanders to use restraint in the seizure of property from active rebels.

However, Halleck’s resolve would only last a few weeks. The constant attacks by Confederates and guerrillas against Unionists in Missouri forced him to change his policy. Thousands of Unionist refugees were streaming into St. Louis and they began demanding a response. Halleck collected the large sum of $11,000 from St. Louis secessionists in order to provide relief for the Unionist refugees.

Halleck announced to his troops, “Peace and war cannot exist together.” Halleck declared the need for retribution against bushwackers then secessionists must pay a price for these acts of violence. However, Halleck was against military actions that went beyond the scope of legitimate reprisals. He ion fact agreed with Confederate General Sterling Price that certain Union elements along the Missouri-Kansas border were carrying out attacks that were outside of the rules of war.

It was from these beginnings that the Union’s pragmatic policy began to take shape. Adherents to this pragmatic policy believed that the war had to be won militarily rather than those who saw the possibility of using civilian morale against the Confederacy. They did not see a large role for civilian morale in the war. They supported Unionists, punished secessionists and expected the remaining population to remain quiescent.

With this policy in place Halleck unleashed his forces into the interior of the Confederacy. He ordered a two-pronged assault led by Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis whose force embarked from Springfield, Missouri and defeated the Confederates in March 1862 at Pea Ridge. The Union force was outnumbered by their adversaries but nevertheless carried the day. The Union victory cemented their control over Missouri and northern Arkansas.

The second prong of the offensive was led by Ulysses S. Grant with a combined army-navy force that set off from Cairo, Illinois. Sailing up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, Grant captured Forts Henry and Donelson, the twin linchpins of the Confederates in Tennessee.

Missouri continued to see guerrilla warfare and retribution from both sides throughout the war but it increasingly became a backwater in the Western Theater. However, the policy that began there was carried by Union forces under Halleck as they moved from western Tennessee into northern Mississippi.





Ben Butler and the Occupation of New Orleans

This entry is part 10 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

General Benjamin ButlerNew 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.

Butler stated that “I was always a friend of southern rights but an enemy of southern wrongs”, and sought to serve in the Union army at the beginning of the war. He maneuvered a position as a brigadier general of the Massachusetts militia and set off for Washington with the first of the Massachusetts troops.

When the earlier-arriving troops were attacked in Baltimore, Butler was instrumental in negotiating with the Maryland governor to allow troops to land by sea at Annapolis and from there proceed by train to Washington. Lincoln appointed him one of the first major generals of U.S. Volunteers, ranking from May 16, 1861. He was third behind John Dix and Nathaniel Banks.

Butler was then given command of Fortress Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. On June 10, 1861, six weeks before the Battle of First Bull Run, a Union Army force under Butler’s command suffered a humiliating, albeit minor in retrospect, defeat at the Battle of Big Bethel.

More importantly, he was involved in the first declaration of escaping slaves as contraband of war. Butler declined to return to their owners fugitive slaves who had come within his lines, on the grounds that, as laborers for building fortifications and other military activities, they were contraband of war, thereby justifying granting these slaves a relative freedom, in spite of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

In April 1862, Flag Officer (later Admiral) David Farragut captured New Orleans with a combined force of naval and army units. Butler had been 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”.

When the editor of the Commercial Bulletin William Seymour asked Butler what would happen if the newspaper ignored his censorship, an angry Butler reportedly stated “I am the military governor of this state — the supreme power — you cannot disregard my order, Sir. By God, he that sins against me, sins against the Holy Ghost.” His newspaper was confiscated and he was imprisoned for three months for writing a favorable obituary of his father, who had been killed serving in the Confederate army in Virginia.

The rabidly secessionist clergy were allowed to preach with little interference from occupation authorities. However, that churches that planned a special day of prayer and fasting for the Confederacy were forbidden from doing so. Several clergymen were placed under arrest for refusing to pray for President Lincoln. The Episcopal churches were closed, and their three ministers were sent to New York City under military escort.

Butler also took aim at foreign consuls in New Orleans. He ordered the seizure of $800,000 that had been deposited in the office of the Dutch consul, imprisoned the French Champagne magnate Charles Heidsieck, and took particular aim at George Coppell of Great Britain, whom he suspended for refusal to cooperate with the Union. Instead, Butler accused Coppell of giving aid to the Confederate cause.

U.S. Secretary of State William Henry Seward sent Reverdy Johnson to New Orleans to investigate complaints of foreign consuls against certain Butler policies. Even when told by President Lincoln to restore a sugar shipment claimed by Europeans, Butler undermined the order. He also imposed a strict quarantine to protect against yellow fever, which had the added impact of delaying foreign commerce and bringing complaints to his headquarters from most foreign consuls.

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.