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06/14/16

Lincoln’s Conciliationist Generals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/6/16

Lincoln’s Political Generals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

05/23/16

Lincoln and Secession

61st New York Infantry-Lincoln and SecessionAbraham Lincoln is considered one of the two or three best Presidents that the United States has ever had. But like most Presidents he had to learn the job as he went along. And quite honestly, his early decisions on the conduct of the war and who would lead his armies were mostly abysmal. In this post we’ll look at how his call for troops from the states pushed Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee into secession.

Lincoln’s initial strategy of a call for troops precipitated a number of Southern state legislatures to reverse their initial rejections of secession and join the Confederacy. Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee were three states that teetered on the secession issue.

The Virginia Convention of 1861 convened on February 13, 1861 to consider whether Virginia should secede from the United States. Its 152 delegates, a majority of whom were Unionist, had been elected at the behest of the Virginia General Assembly, which also directed that their decision be ratified by a statewide referendum.

Virginia hesitated, and debate raged on for months. On April 4, secessionists badly lost a vote but prepared for the possibility of war nevertheless. Former Virginia governor Henry A. Wise worked behind the scenes and outside the legal process to secure the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry by military means, a move that prompted a furious objection from Unionist delegate John Baldwin of Staunton. After the fall of Fort Sumter on April 13 and Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers on April 15, the momentum turned toward secession, and the convention voted on April 17 to leave the Union. Virginians expressed their agreement at the polls on May 23.

Non-slaveholding yeoman farmers made up a majority of the North Carolina population and constituted the core of the Unionist strength. They were disinclined to secede or fight for the preservation of slavery. Also, the Whig Party, which had disintegrated as a national party by 1860, still had a strong following. Whig leaders comprised the bulk of the unconditional Unionist leadership. Other Whigs and conservative Democrats advocated a “watch and wait” policy while maintaining that secession was a fundamental right of each state. The counties in the west, northeast, and Piedmont were areas of Unionist sentiment.

Democrats like Governor John W. Ellis, Senator Clingman, Congressman Thomas Ruffin, and former congressman William S. Ashe led the secessionists. The main areas of secessionist strength were the coastal counties with large slave populations and the counties that bordered South Carolina, especially Mecklenburg. Lincoln’s election prompted this group to launch local secession meetings. The first meeting was held in Cleveland County on 12 Nov. 1860, the second in New Hanover on 19 November. A series of similar gatherings were held across the state. The movement was given a boost by the secession of South Carolina on 20 Dec. 1860.

On 29 Jan. 1861 the General Assembly agreed to put the convention question to the people on 28 February. The legislature also voted to send delegates to the Washington Peace Conference on 4 February.

The convention campaign was vigorously waged. The Unionists were able to set the terms of the debate early, focusing on the question of “Union or Disunion.” Secessionist attempts to redefine the campaign based on southern self-defense failed.

The Unionists carried the northeastern counties and most of the Piedmont and Mountains. They defeated the secessionists by a vote of 47,323 to 46,672. The delegate elections are more indicative of actual sentiment. Only about a third of the 120 delegates elected were secessionists. The Unionists were helped by positive news from the Peace Conference the day before the election. The debate in the campaign had been injurious to the secessionist cause. On 4 March, a few days after the vote, Lincoln gave his inaugural address, which struck some as conciliatory.

The secessionists did not give up, however. On 22-23 Mar. 1861 delegates from 25 counties assembled in Goldsboro and organized the Southern Rights Party. They urged the legislature to call a convention and demanded that the state join the Confederacy. They posed the new debate in terms of South against North. Despite numerous meetings, by early April North Carolina seemed no nearer to secession than it had been in February.

Then came the news that Confederate forces had bombarded Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on 12 April, followed on 15 April by Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops. Governor Ellis responded, “You can get no troops from North Carolina.” Zebulon Vance was pleading for the Union with his arm upraised when word arrived of Lincoln’s summons. “When my hand came down from that impassioned gesticulation,” he recalled, “it fell slowly and sadly by the side of a secessionist.”

Ellis called a special session of the legislature for 1 May and immediately ordered the seizure of Federal property. When the General Assembly met, it voted for a delegate election on 13 May to an unrestricted convention to meet in Raleigh on 20 May, the anniversary of the so-called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The campaign for the convention was characterized by resignation rather than enthusiasm. Both Unionists and secessionists spoke of the need to act in the face of northern aggression. The major debate-whether North Carolina should separate based on “the right of revolution,” as some Unionists advocated, or on the Calhounian doctrine of secession-was over. The radical secessionists favored the latter position.

A total of 122 Democratic and Whig delegates, 108 of whom were native North Carolinians, gathered on 20 May 1861. The delegates held an average of 30.5 slaves each, with the median being 21, which meant that over one-half of the delegates belonged to the small planter class. Sixty-eight delegates had attended college, making them far better educated than those who had elected them. The average personal and real property per delegate was valued at $61,817, placing them among the wealthy citizens of the state.

The convention elected Weldon N. Edwards, a Democratic planter from Warren County, as president. (Edwards defeated William A. Graham of Orange County.) Edwards gave a speech denouncing continued connection with the “Black Republican Union.”

Onetime Unionist George E. Badger introduced a resolution for separation from the Union based on the right of revolution. An alternate ordinance, simply dissolving the Union and representing the radical position, was proposed by Burton Craige of Rowan County. The Badger proposal was defeated by a vote of 72 to 40. An attempt to modify the Craige ordinance failed. The convention then unanimously passed the ordinance of secession and voted to accept the provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America. As requested by Governor Ellis, the convention agreed not to put the secession ordinance to a popular vote. On 21 May 1861 the ordinance was signed and President Jefferson Davis proclaimed North Carolina a Confederate state.

Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union. Tennessee was a complicated state. Like its neighbor Virginia, it was profoundly divided over the issue of secession, with its mountainous eastern section deeply opposed to the idea. They weren’t alone: A special election on Feb. 9 revealed the political gulf between Governor Isham Harris and the people of the state: On the same day that Mississippi left the Union, the voters of Tennessee voted 80 percent against secession.

By the time of Lincoln’s inauguration in March, nothing short of a repudiation of the 1860 Republican platform would satisfy the state’s fire-eaters. The two sides, Unionist and secessionist, stood at a stalemate until the bombardment of Ft. Sumter in early April. While some favored immediate secession, others held that secession was unconstitutional. A larger number futilely hoped for some sort of settlement based on a constitutional compromise regarding the “question of negro slavery.” Even after the outbreak of war, Tennessee, like Missouri and Kentucky to its north, hoped that it could remain neutral.

That changed with Lincoln’s April 15 call for the states to send 75,000 troops to fight the Confederacy. If the federal government was going to “coerce” the seceded states into returning, Tennessee had no choice but to join its Southern neighbors. “Tennessee will not furnish a single man for purposes of coercion but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our Southern brothers,” wrote Harris in response to Lincoln’s request. The legislature (with 32 percent of the House and 16 percent of the Senate dissenting) voted on May 6 to join her “Southern brothers.”

Unlike every other state to join the Confederacy with the exception of Texas and Virginia, however, the legislators insisted that the public ratify their decision. While the state government prepared for secession and war following the vote for secession, Tennessee was technically not yet a member of the separatist government. But on June 8, by a two-to-one majority, Tennessee’s electorate confirmed the General Assembly’s verdict. The Volunteer State thus became the last to secede.

03/16/16

The New Orleans Slave Trade

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Slave Markets of the South

Slave Auction in the Rotunda of the St. Louis Hotel-The New Orleans Slave TradeBy the second decade of the 19th century, the largest slave markets in the United States were in New Orleans, Louisiana. Simply based on the city’s geographical location, the slave markets received slaves by boat and sold them to planters in the Deep South. More than a million slaves were sold in the slave markets of New Orleans. Two-thirds of the more than one million slaves brought to the Deep South arrived via their migration from other parts of the country.

The slave trade was an integral part of the business life of New Orleans. The city was the largest port in the southern United States and handled huge quantities of commodities for export from the interior and imported goods from other countries These were warehoused and then transferred to smaller vessels and distributed the length and breadth of the vast Mississippi River watershed.

Slaves represented half a billion dollars in property, and an ancillary economy grew up around the trade in slaves—for transportation, housing and clothing, fees, etc., estimated at 13.5 percent of the price per person. All of this amounted to tens of billions of dollars (2005 dollars, adjusted for inflation) during the antebellum period, with New Orleans as a prime beneficiary.

One of the largest slave auction sites was at the City Exchange Hotel which opened in 1838 as the St. Louis Hotel. The main entrance to the hotel led into the exchange, a beautiful domed rotunda where every afternoon between noon and 3 p.m. the auctions were held. In this elegant hotel, the center of Creole society before the Civil War, was located perhaps the most infamous of the slave auction blocks.

In 1842, British writer James Buckingham reported walking through the rotunda. He described the scene at the auction site.

… One was selling pictures and dwelling on their merits; another was disposing of some slaves. These consisted of an unhappy family who were all exposed to the hammer at the same time. Their good qualities were enumerated in English and in French, and their persons were carefully examined by intending purchasers, among whom they were ultimately disposed of, chiefly to Creole buyers; the husband at 750 dollars, the wife at 550, and the children at 220 each.

The Constitution abolished the international slave trade after 1808. This boosted the domestic slave trade. There was a large demand for slaves in Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia for the cultivation of sugar and cotton. Slave traders went throughout the upper South to purchase slaves to be sold at auction in the lower South. Slaves from Virginia were especially desired for their training and intelligence and brought the highest prices.
Slave-trading firms kept “slave pens,” where they held the people waiting to be sold or auctioned off. The pens usually held 50 to 100 slaves, crowded together in unspeakable conditions before they were taken to one of the markets: the St. Louis Hotel, the St. Charles Hotel or the exchange on Esplanade Avenue.
Frederika Bremer, a Danish writer who visited one of the slave markets in the 1850s, described the black men and women, “silent and serious” standing against the walls.
I saw nothing especially repulsive in these places excepting the whole thing and I can not help feeling a sort of astonishment that such a thing and such scenes are possible in a community calling itself Christian. It seems to me sometimes as if it could not be reality; as if it were a dream.
She also described the locations of the slave markets:
The great slave-market is held in several houses situated in a particular part of the city (New Orleans). One is soon aware of their neighborhood from the groups of colored men and women, of all shades between black and light yellow, which stand or sit unemployed at the doors.
In this video Walter Johnson, a scholar on the slave trade in New Orleans takes a tour of the sites where human beings were bought and sold.

Unlike The Forks of the Road in Natchez, Mississippi, slaves were sold in a large number of locations throughout the city. In addition to the St. Louis Hotel, later renamed the City Exchange Hotel, there was the St. Charles Hotel and the exchange on Esplanade Avenue. Besides these major locations there were numerous other locations where slave auctions and sales were transacted.

Abraham Lincoln journeyed to New Orleans in 1831 with a cargo of merchandise. It was there that saw slavery up close for the first time in his life. Though born in a slave state, he had an earnest and growing repugnance to slavery. Still, up to this time he had never seen much of its workings. At this time he saw a slave market–the auctioning off of human beings. Turning to his companions he exclaimed with a solemn oath: “Boys, if ever I get a chance to hit that thing [slavery] I’ll hit it hard!”

Northern newspapers published a number of exposes of slave auctions, especially in the 1850s. The New York Tribune stories can be found here.

 

 

 

 

09/17/14

Antietam: 152 Years Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05/12/14

Post Civil War Narratives: Other Points of View

Confederate surrender at AppomattoxThe ‘Lost Cause’ myth is probably the best-known post civil war narrative. It permeates through the writing of Douglas Southall Freeman and other Civil War historians. it can also be found interspersed throughout Ken Burns’ Civil War mini-series.

But there are at least three other post civil war narratives that we should consider.

The primary narrative on the Northern side can be called the ‘Union Cause’ narrative. It is the direct opposite of the ‘Lost Cause’ myth. This narrative has Daniel Webster as one of its heroes. Even though he died in October of 1852, Webster is looked upon as the defender of the Union in the antebellum years. He along with fellow Whig, Henry Clay of Kentucky, worked for compromises to stave off the sectionalism that threatened war between the North and the South.

Of course, Abraham Lincoln is seen as another great hero of the Union. Lincoln is looked upon as the man who saved the Union by his determination to do anything to thwart the secessionists. In a letter to Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862, Lincoln wrote:

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

Lincoln is followed in this pantheon of Union heroes by Ulysses S. Grant. The General-in-Chief is looked upon as the instrument of the destruction of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Through Grant, Lincoln’s policies were carried to fruition. William T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan held the same place in the Union pantheon as Stonewall Jackson held in the ‘Lost Cause’ pantheon.

The ‘Union Cause’ narrative celebrated the restoration of the Union. This was the paramount reason for the Civil War and it accomplished its objectives.

Among the freed slaves they is yet another narrative. For them the Civil War was referred to alternately as the Freedom War or the Slavery War. Their entire focus was, understandably so, about emancipation from bondage. All else pales by comparison.

Even today African-Americans celebrate Emancipation Day on April 16th and Juneteenth on June 19th. The former celebrates the day of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act while the latter is the day that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865. Along with the obvious celebrations of freedom, the courage and service of the black soldiers who fought for the Union cause is also celebrated.

Finally, there is the Reconciliation Cause that celebrated the valor and courage of soldiers on both sides. All other causes of the war are in the background. The surrender at Appomattox is the primary symbol of the Reconciliation Cause. How Ulysses Grant treated Robert E. Lee and Chamberlain’s order for his troops to salute the surrendering Confederates are highlights of the Reconciliation Cause.

Two former opponents who later became friends, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Brown Gordon personify this narrative. On many occasions after the war these two often presided over veteran’s reunions throughout the country.

Chamberlain explained his decision to order a salute to the defeated Confederates on his own:

The decision “was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?”

The following morning, April 12th, the Confederates marched past the victorious Union troops, stacked their arms, folded their flags and disappeared into history.

04/16/14

Grant’s Original Strategy

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

04/11/14

The Opposing Sides’ Strategies

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

03/10/14

March 9, 1864: The Day the Union Won the War

This entry is part 12 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

Lt Gen Ulysses S. GrantThere are differing opinions on the turning point or points of the American Civil War. The arguments will probably go one as long as people remember the events that took place from 1861 until 1865.

Many historians say that Gettysburg was the turning point. of war. It marked the first time that Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia was soundly defeated by the Army of the Potomac.

Others will point to the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history. It wasn’t so much the battle but what came after with the Emancipation Proclamation and the eventual dismissal of George McClellan. These two events set the Union government on a new course. The war became more than a fight over states’ rights and saving the Union. It became a struggle to free 4,000,000 slaves from bondage.

Those who favor the Western Theater and its impact on the eventual outcome of the war point to the siege and surrender of Vicksburg. Coupled with the surrender of Port Hudson, these two events split the Confederacy for as Jefferson Davis had said: “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” President Lincoln announced, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

Professor Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia feels very strongly that the Battle of Seven Pines was a turning point in the struggle. The battle which took place on May 31 to June 1, 1862 saw the severe wounding of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and his replacement in command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee’s superior ability as a field command would extend the Confederate effort for almost three more years.

But March 9, 1864 was a significant day in the Union war effort for it was on that day that Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to Lieutenant General and appointed General-in-Chief of all of the Union armies. Grant was only the third lieutenant general in the United States Army, following in the footsteps of George Washington and Winfield Scott.

It was the appointment that counted but what Grant did with it. As General-in-Chief with the overall command of five armies, Grant strategy was one that the Confederacy could not overcome. He knew that the South could neither match the North’s industrial capacity nor its manpower advantage.

He proposed a coordinated series of offensives in all theaters of combat. They would begin about May 1st and continue until the Confederacy surrendered. The Confederacy would be unable to move forces from one theater to the other in order to reinforce their forces under attack. His strategy would negate the Southern advantage of having interior lines.

The only exception would be Lee’s dispatch of General Jubal A. Early to the Shenandoah Valley where he outmatched every Union commander until Grant sent General Philip Sheridan to lead the Union effort in the Valley. He eventually defeated Early and deprived Lee’s army of the provisions from this breadbasket of the Confederacy.

Grant realized a fundamental truth. In order to win the war he needed to defeat Lee’s army. Once the South was deprived of the veteran army which was led by their national hero, they would surrender and end the war.

Grant traveled with the Army of the Potomac which was commanded by General George Gordon Meade. Grant set the strategy and Meade mostly carried out the tactics. After the bloody three-day Battle of the Wilderness, the troops expected to withdraw across the Rapidan as “Fighting Joe” Hooker had done after the Battle Chancellorsville.

But Grant had ordered that the pontoon bridges across Germanna Ford on the Rapidan and Lee knew it. Here is how Noah Andre Trudeau in Bloody Roads South relates what occurred at about 8:30 PM on May 7th.

Generals Grant and Meade, with their staffs and escort…started out by the Brock Road, along which Hancock’s men were lying behind the works in which they had been fighting so hard.

A Second Corps soldier recalled later: Shortly after dark a loud cheer suddenly uprose on the right, and was taken up by regiment after regiment, as Generals Grant and Meade, with their staffs, moved toward the left in the direction of Spotsylvania Court House.

A soldier from the 19th Maine was uncertain of the time but he vividly described the scene:

…while the Regiment was resting by the roadside and awaiting developments, Generals Grant and Meade, accompanied by their staffs, rode along and halted at General Hancock’s headquarters…The burning woods lighted up the scene, and when the faces of the commanders were recognized, wild cheers echoed through the forest.”

For two years the Union Army of the Potomac had turned back, retreated and withdrew. No more. One Ninth Corps artilleryman summed up the feelings of many of his fellow Union soldiers:

The rank and file of the army wanted no more retreating, and from the moment when we…continued straight on towards Spotsylvania. I never had a doubt that General Grant would lead us on to final victory.

Neither did Abraham Lincoln. After all, after the Battle of Shiloh when the criticism of Grant’s leadership was called into question, the President said: I can’t spare this man; he fights.

01/29/14

The Decision that transformed the Civil War

This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

Ulysses S. GrantOver the course of his presidency Abraham Lincoln made a number of decisions that changed the direction of the war. His initial response to the firing on Fort Sumter was one such decision. Another was the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation that added a new dimension to the conflict: the freeing of the slaves.

But the decisions that he made on March 9, 1865 were to to have ramifications right through to the end of the war and beyond. For it was on that day that he appointed General Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of all of the Union armies and General William T. Sherman as his replacement as overall commander of the Union armies in the Western Theater.

Up to this point in the conflict, Lincoln’s record of appointments of general officers was mixed at best. At the onset of the war the Union armies had a mix of professional soldiers and politicians as their commanders. George McClellan was a professional while his successor Ambrose was both a professional and a politician. Benjamin Butler and Nathaniel Banks were both politicians.

Lincoln felt that he needed the Democrat politicians on his side in order to have the Union war effort be seen as bi-partisan. All of the above officers and a number of other ones were by and large Democrats.

As the war progressed most of these men were found wanting and the professional, West Point-trained officers began to rise to the top of the command hierarchy. That’s not to say that they were always the best choice but overall they were the most competent officers available.

 

We also need to understand that not one single general officer, North or South, had experience commanding large bodies of troops. The antebellum United States Army numbered about 16,000 officers and men scattered in company-size units throughout the country. Like their raw recruits the army commanders were learning on the job. At First Manassas (or Bull Run), both armies could best be characterized as ‘armed mobs’.

Grant and Sherman were the products of the Union armies in the Western Theater. At the start of the war Grant began the war as the sole military professional in Galena, Illinois. He recruited a company of volunteers and accompanied them to the state capital of Springfield where he was offered a position training new recruits.

But Grant was not satisfied with that role and lobbied hard for a field command. With the help of family friend, Illinois congressman Elihu B. Washburne, Grant rose from colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment to commander of the District of Cairo.

From his base at Cairo, Grant led increasingly large forces against the Confederates at Belmont, Missouri, Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. At Fort Donelson Grant demanded the unconditional surrender of the Confederates from his one-time friend Simon Bolivar Buckner.

At Shiloh proved his ability to respond to the reverse of the first day of combat and whipped his foes on the second day. Shiloh was the costliest of the war to date, with total Union and Confederate casualties of 23,746. Grant received high praise from many corners. He later remarked that the carnage had made it clear to him that the Confederacy would only be defeated by complete annihilation of its armies.

After Shiloh the commander of the Western Theater, General Henry W. Halleck, promoted Grant to the meaningless position as his second-in-command. After it took Halleck 19 days to move 30 miles to Corinth, Mississippi which allowed the entire Confederate to retreat unchallenged, Lincoln ordered Grant’s reinstatement as the commander of the Army of the Tennessee.

Grant’s next challenge was the capture of the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Jefferson Davis said the Vicksburg was the nail that held the two haves of the Confederacy together. Vicksburg was surrounded by swamps and bayous that called for an imaginative circuitous approach.

Grant who was a master of combined arms used river boats to ferry his troops across the Mississippi River south of the city. He then circled to the east of the city where he engaged the Confederate defenders in a series of battles that forced them back into the city. After a campaign that last over two months, General John C. Pemberton surrendered the city and its garrison of some 33,000 men on July 4, 1863.

Lincoln put Grant in command of the newly formed Division of the Mississippi in October 1863, giving Grant charge of the entire western theater of war except for Louisiana. After General William Rosecrans was defeated at Chickamauga, he was forced to retreat to Chattanooga, Tennessee where his army was besieged by Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

Grant was able to organize a relef force with his use of the famous “Cracker Line”. Once the siege was broken Grant organized three armies to attack Bragg’s troops on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. On November 25, 1863 they drove the Confederates into headlong retreat and opened Georgia and the heartland of the Confederacy to Union invasion. Grant was promoted to Lieutenant General, a position that had previously been given only to George Washington and Winfield Scott.

Grant was recalled to Washington in March and was given overall command of the Union armies throughout the country. His first action was to articulate a new strategy. It would be a comprehensive effort of coordinated Union offensives, attacking the rebel armies at the same time to keep the Confederates from shifting reinforcements within southern interior lines. Grant ordered the offensives to commence in May 1864.