image_pdfimage_print
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.

06/22/15

The Union Destroyers: William Tecumseh Sherman

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series The Union Destroyers

General William T. ShermanTo many Southerners then and now, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman was and is considered the Devil Incarnate. To his troops he was affectionately known as ‘Uncle Billy’. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Sherman began the war as an infantry brigade commander. After the Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas to the Confederate victors) Abraham Lincoln saw that Sherman was one of the few officers who distinguished himself and promoted him to brigadier general of volunteers (effective May 17, 1861, with seniority in rank to Ulysses S. Grant, his future commander). He was assigned as second-in-command of the Department of the Cumberland but succeeded to command of the entire department in October 1861 when Robert Anderson (of Fort Sumter fame)  retired due to failing health.

Within a month Sherman asked to be relieved when he had a breakdown. By December he was sufficiently recovered to return to duty under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck. Operating from Paducah, Kentucky, he provided logistical support for the operations of Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to capture Fort Donelson. Grant, the previous commander of the District of Cairo, had recently won a major victory at Fort Henry and been given command of the ill-defined District of West Tennessee. Although Sherman was technically the senior officer at this time, he wrote to Grant, “I feel anxious about you as I know the great facilities [the Confederates] have of concentration by means of the River and R Road, but [I] have faith in you — Command me in any way.”

Grant had been promoted to the command of the Army of the Tennessee on March 1, 1862. This partnership of the two was to lead to the ultimate Union victory in the Western Theater. They were severely tested at Shiloh in early April. but retrieved victory from the jaws of defeat on the second day of fighting. Grant’s and later Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee had nothing but victories.

They captured Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 splitting the Confederacy in half. Jefferson Davis had called the Mississippi River town, ” Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” The Army of the Tennessee, now commanded by Sherman, participated in the defeat of Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga in November 1863.

When Grant was promoted to General-in-Chief Sherman succeeded to the overall command of the Western Theater. Sherman proceeded to invade the state of Georgia with three armies: the 60,000-strong Army of the Cumberland under George Henry Thomas, the 25,000-strong Army of the Tennessee under James B. McPherson, and the 13,000-strong Army of the Ohio under John M. Schofield.

He fought a lengthy campaign of maneuver through mountainous terrain against Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, attempting a direct assault only at the disastrousThe Burning of Atlanta Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. In July, the cautious Johnston was replaced by the more aggressive John Bell Hood, who played to Sherman’s strength by challenging him to direct battles on open ground. Meanwhile, in August, Sherman “learned that I had been commissioned a major-general in the regular army, which was unexpected, and not desired until successful in the capture of Atlanta.”

Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign concluded successfully on September 2, 1864, with the capture of the city, which Hood had been forced to abandon. This success made Sherman a household name and helped ensure Lincoln’s presidential re-election in November. Lincoln’s defeat could well have meant the victory of the Confederacy, as the Democratic Party platform called for peace negotiations based on the acknowledgment of the Confederacy’s independence. Thus the capture of Atlanta, coming when it did, may have been Sherman’s greatest contribution to the Union cause.

After ordering almost all civilians to leave the city in September, Sherman gave instructions that all military and government buildings in Atlanta be burned, although many private homes and shops were burned as well. This was to set a precedent for future behavior by his armies.

Meanwhile, after the November elections, Sherman began a march with 62,000 men to the port of Savannah, Georgia, living off the land and causing, by his own estimate, more than $100 million in property damage. It was a huge sum for 1864. Sherman called this harsh tactic of material war “hard war,” often seen as a species of total war. At the end of this campaign, known as Sherman’s March to the Sea, his troops captured Savannah on December 21, 1864. Sherman then dispatched a famous message to Lincoln, offering him the city as a Christmas present.

If the march through Georgia was devastating Sherman’s March through the Carolinas was even more so. He persuaded Grant that he should march north through the Carolinas, destroying everything of military value along the way, similar to his march to the sea through Georgia. Sherman was particularly interested in targeting South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, for the effect it would have on Southern morale.

Sherman’s army commenced toward Columbia, South Carolina, in late January 1865. His 60,079 men were divided into three wings: the Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard (who succeeded to command after James McPherson was killed during the Atlanta Campaign), the Army of the Ohio under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, and two corps, the XIV and XX, under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, which was later formally designated the Army of Georgia. Reinforcements arrived regularly during his march north, and by April 1 he commanded 88,948 men.

The Confederates were hopelessly outnumbered. The primary force in the Carolinas was the battered Army of Tennessee, again under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston (who had been relieved of duty by Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the Atlanta Campaign against Sherman). His strength was recorded in mid-March at 9,513 and 15,188 by mid-April. The army was organized into three corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, and Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee. Also in the Carolinas were cavalry forces from the division of Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton and a small number in Wilmington under Gen. Braxton Bragg.

The Burning of Columbia, SCHis army proceeded north through South Carolina against light resistance from the Confederate troops Upon hearing that Sherman’s men were advancing on corduroy roads through the Salkehatchie swamps at a rate of a dozen miles per day, Johnston “made up his mind that there had been no such army in existence since the days of Julius Caesar.”

Sherman captured the state capital of Columbia, South Carolina, on February 17, 1865. Fires began that night and by next morning most of the central city was destroyed. The burning of Columbia has engendered controversy ever since, with some claiming the fires were accidental, others a deliberate act of vengeance, and still others that the retreating Confederates burned bales of cotton on their way out of town. One Union soldier wrote,”Here is where treason began and, by God, here is where it will end!”

The Union Army destroyed everything of military value in its path. They burned barns, government buildings and warehouses. They paid special attention to the railroads. Sherman’s men removed the rails, softened them over fires made from the sleepers and wrapped them around poles and trees. They came to called Sherman’s neckties or bowtie’s.

Sherman’s Carolina Campaign, in which his troops marched 425 miles (684 km) in 50 days, had been similar to his march to the sea through Georgia, although physically more demanding. However, the Confederate forces opposing him were much smaller and more dispirited. When Joseph E. Johnston met with Jefferson Davis in Greensboro in mid-April, he told the Confederate president:

Our people are tired of the war, feel themselves whipped, and will not fight. Our country is overrun, its military resources greatly diminished, while the enemy’s military power and resources were never greater and may be increased to any extent desired. … My small force is melting away like snow before the sun.

On April 18, three days after the death of President Abraham Lincoln, Johnston signed an armistice with Sherman at Bennett Place, a farmhouse near Durham Station. Sherman got himself into political hot water by offering terms of surrender to Johnston that encompassed political issues as well as military, without authorization from General Grant or the United States government. The confusion on this issue lasted until April 26, when Johnston agreed to purely military terms and formally surrendered his army and all Confederate forces in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.

Sherman's March to the Sea

Carolinas Campaign

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.

 

06/25/15

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.