What came before Fort Sumter

This entry is part 1 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

What came before Fort SumterFor many the firing on Fort Sumter was the cause of the American Civil War. But before Confederate artillery fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 there were over 70 years of historical events that formed the narrative that created the American Civil War. Over the course of the next several posts we’ll examine those events, starting with the founding of the country and the Constitution of the United States.

Let’s get this point out of the way at the start. The primary cause of the American Civil War is slavery, pure and simple. Every secession document attests to that fact. The Cornerstone Speech of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens is very clear about their beliefs:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

Yes, the South complained about the tariff system in the United States but the impact of tariffs on the Southern states was exacerbated by the institution of slavery. The Southern planter economy was based on slavery and never really diversified in the antebellum period. Every part of the Southern economy was subordinated to the institution of slavery and its products: cotton, tobacco, rice and peanuts.

The Southern states claimed that states’ rights was a primary cause of the war but the root cause of this was slavery. Without slavery the Southern states would not have complained so loudly about state’s rights. Without slavery there would have been no need for nullification.

Let’s start at the beginning then. In 1619, a Dutch ship brought about twenty black Africans to the Colony of Virginia as indentured servants. From this beginning, slavery will be introduced to the future United States. From 1619 until 1865 and even to today, all of American history has been impacted by that one event.

By 1671 about 2,000 of the 40,000 inhabitants of colonial Virginia are imported slaves. White indentured servants working for five years before their release are three times as numerous and provide much of the hard labor. But that would change as more and more black slaves replaced white indentured servants.

By 1719, non-slaveholding farmers in Virginia think slave labor threatens their livelihoods. They persuade the General Assembly to discuss a prohibition of slavery or a ban on importing slaves. In response, the assembly raises the tariff on slaves to five pounds, which about equals the full price of an indenture, so as not to make importation of slaves as initially attractive or preferable to a mere indenture for a term of years.

In 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, Quakers, under the leadership of James Pemberton, and those of other faiths including Dr. Benjamin Rush, organize the first anti-slavery society in the colonies soon to become the United States, The Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, in Philadelphia.

In 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence declares “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Written by a slave-owning Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, it allows slavery to remain legal in the colonies.

In 1778, the Virginia legislature passes a law, with Thomas Jefferson’s support and probably authorship, that bans importing slaves into Virginia. It is the first state to ban the slave trade, and all other states eventually followed.

On July 13, 1787 the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation passes the Northwest Ordinance to govern territory north of the Ohio River and west of Pennsylvania. The territory will become the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

In the ordinance, Congress prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in the territory and requires the return of fugitive slaves found in the territory to their owners. The law no longer applies as soon as the territories become states.

Anti-slavery Northerners cite the ordinance many times over the years as precedent for the limitation, if not the abolition, of slavery in the United States. Despite the terms of the ordinance, Southern-born settlers will try and fail to pass laws to allow slavery in Indiana and Illinois.

Following the collapse of the Articles of Confederation the Continental Congress convenes to rewrite the Articles. But in attempting to do so they realize that a new document must be framed in order to govern the 13 colonies that are now the United States.

In the next post, we’ll look at the Constitution of the United and the debate over slavery and federalism.


Christmas During the American Civil War

Christmas 1862 husband and wife separated by warChristmas celebrations were by their very nature subdued in many parts of the North and the South. The year of 1862 had seen a series of grim and bloody battles, with Shiloh, the Peninsula Campaign, the Seven Days battles, Second Manassas and the bloodiest day of all at Antietam.

The New York Times reported that Christmas 1862 was “the dampest, warmest, muggiest and most burdened with mingled feelings of joy and grief.” The unseasonably warm weather had made the Central Park Pond unsafe for skating, but had brought out crowds of Christmas shoppers.

“The money expended this year in Christmas gifts exceeds by far, by very far, that which has gone that way in many years,” the Times noted. Furs were a popular gift that year, and the streets echoed with the blare of tin horns, the latest craze among young boys.

In Washington, the Lincolns visited wounded soldiers in the area’s military hospitals. The recently concluded Battle of Fredericksburg had produced thousands of casualties, many of whom were transported to the 46 hospitals in the Washington area.

President Lincoln was visibly shaken by the outcome of the battle, and looked more sad First images of Santa Clausand careworn than usual. He remarked to his friend Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania, “If there is a worse place than Hell, I am in it.”

It was reported that 6,000 pounds of poultry and “large quantities of other delicacies” were distributed to the hospitals for the Christmas dinners of the wounded. “Fish, flesh and fowl, puddings and pies, and these of all sorts,” one report said, “with plenty of cider.”

Meanwhile, Confederate President celebrated Christmas in his home in Mississippi. “After an absence of nearly two years,” he said, “I again find myself among those who…have ever been the trusted object of my affection.” But Confederate Christmas celebrations in the area were cut short by reports of Union troop movements on the Mississippi threatening Vicksburg.

In the fall of 1862, Confederate refugees from the fighting in the areas surrounding the capital began to flood into the city. They included those who fled farms and towns now in Union-held territory, wives of Confederate soldiers looking for employment, and the destitute.

This influx of refugees drove rent prices much higher than they’d been previously, and wartime inflation sent prices on everyday goods skyrocketing. In the city, ten pounds of bacon, which cost $1.25 in 1860, now cost $10. Four pounds of coffee jumped from $0.50 to $20.

Richmond diarist and author Sallie Brock Putnam wrote about the sadness of Christmas for families who had lost soldiers in the war:

The Christmas dinner passed off gloomily. The vacant chairs were multiplied in Southern homes, and even the children who had curiously questioned the cause of the absence of the young soldier brother from the festive board, had heard too much, had seen too much, and knew too well why sad-colored garments were worn by the mother, and why the fold of rusty crape placed around the worn hat of the father, and why the joyous mirth of the sister was restrained, and her beautiful figure draped in mourning. Congratulations were forced, and tears had taken the place of smiles on countenances where cheerfulness was wont to reign.

Christmas of 1862 saw an important cultural development with the emergence of the modern image of Santa Claus. Famed illustrator FOC Darley published an edition of Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) featuring drawings of Santa as a plump man with a pipe, furry coat and pointed hat.

Thomas Nast, who in the late 19th century produced what came to be regarded as the definitive representations of St. Nick, published his first Santa drawing in Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863. “Santa Claus in Camp“ showed a star-spangled Santa in his reindeer-drawn sleigh handing out presents to jubilant soldiers.

General Robert E. Lee in GordonsvilleA reported 40,000 soldiers watched a baseball game at Hilton Head, S.C., between the 165th New York Zouave regiment and a picked team from other units. One of the players was Abraham Gilbert Mills, later president of the National League.

Across the South there were movements of troops. Confederate General John Hunt Morgan engaged in his famous Christmas Raid in Kentucky; on that single day, Morgan’s men destroyed everything they possibly could of the improvements that the Louisville & Nashville Railroad had made along 35 miles of track from Bacon Creek to Lebanon Junction.

Robert E. Lee wrote his wife, “What a cruel thing is war. To separate & destroy families & friends & mar the purest joy and happiness God has granted us in this world…. I pray that on this day when ‘peace & good will’ are preached to all mankind that better thoughts will fill the hearts of our enemies & turn them to peace.”

Meanwhile, along the Rappahannock River, the two armies faced each other, probing their opponent’s lines looking for weak spots and capturing prisoners and supplies. Soldiers in both armies did what soldiers normally do during the winter. They rested and refitted. They entertained themselves with games and tournaments. They exchanged supplies with their fellow Americans across the river.

“And so the day passed,” 18-year old Private John R. Paxton, 140th Pennsylvania wrote. “And we forgot the biting wind, the chilling cold; we forgot those men over there were our enemies, whom it might be our duty to shoot before evening. We had bridged the river, spanned the bloody chasm. We were brothers, not foes, waving salutations of good-will in the name of the Babe of Bethlehem, on Christmas Day in ‘62.” By the end of the war Paxton had risen through the ranks to the rank of Captain.




The Original Secret Services

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Spies and scouts of the Army of the PotomacToday, the United States Secret Service is known primarily for protecting the President and other government officials but it wasn’t always the case. The original mission of the Secret Service was to apprehend counterfeiters. It still does that but in the avalanche of bad press about the Protective Division that mission has been obscured to the public.

But the Secret Service had it roots on both sides of the Civil War. On the Union side, General George C. McClellan employed Allan Pinkerton as the head of his intelligence operation in the Department of the Ohio. Pinkerton who styled himself as Major Allen naturally moved with McClellan to Washington when the latter was promoted to commander of the Army of the Potomac.

Employing a number of fellow spies Pinkerton’s main assignment was to seek out the Confederate Army’s location and estimate its strength. Unfortunately for the Union Army his estimates were always on the high side. Before the Battle of Antietam he reported that the Army of Northern Virginia was twice the size than it actually was in reality. This intelligence made McClellan extremely tentative in his movements before and during the battle.

After McClellan was removed from command by Lincoln, Pinkerton refused to continue in the military end of the service after the general’s removal in November, 1862. He remained, however, in Government service, investigating cotton claims in New Orleans, with other detective work, until the close of the war, when he returned to his agency in Chicago.

Following Pinkerton’s departure the Union intelligence effort fell into neglect. By the time General Joe Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac his knowledge of his Confederate adversary across the Rappahannock was almost non-existent. Hooker rectified the situation by appointing Colonel George H. Sharpe, of the 120th New York Infantry to command a special and separate bureau, known as Military Information. Sharpe was also appointed deputy provost-marshal-general.

From March 30, 1863, until the close of the war, the Bureau of Military Information, Army of the Potomac, had no other head. Gathering a staff of keen-witted men, chiefly from the ranks, Sharpe never let his commanding general suffer for lack of proper information as to the strength and movements of Lee’s army.

Meanwhile in the city of Washington a different type of bureau was taking shape. Spying had become endemic in Washington and the Union government found it necessary to create an organization to hunt down and apprehend Confederate spies while also spying in the Confederate capital of Richmond. For this job General Winfield Scott tapped Lafayette C. Baker.

Baker’s exploits are mainly known through his book A History of the Secret Service which he published in 1867 after his fall from grace. During the early months of the Civil War, he spied for Scott on Confederate forces in Virginia. Despite numerous scrapes, he returned to Washington, D.C., with information that Scott evidently thought valuable enough to raise him to the rank of captain.

As Provost Marshal of Washington, D.C. from September 12, 1862 to November 7, 1863, Baker took charge of the Union Intelligence Service from the Scottish-American detective Allan Pinkerton. He was appointed colonel of D.C. Cavalry, May 5, 1863. Baker’s concerns were chiefly with matters that had little to do with active conduct of the war. He took charge of all abandoned Confederate property; he investigated the fraudulent practices of contractors; he Lafayette Curry Bakerassisted the Treasury Department in unearthing counterfeiters; he was the terror of bounty-jumpers.

After Scott’s retirement, Baker owed his continued appointment largely to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton However,he suspected the secretary of corruption and was eventually demoted for tapping his telegraph lines and packed off to New York.

Baker was recalled to Washington after the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865. Within two days of his arrival in Washington, Baker’s agents in Maryland had made four arrests and had the names of two more conspirators, including the actual presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. Before the month was out, Booth along with David Herold were found holed up in a barn and Booth was himself shot and killed by Sgt. Boston Corbett.

Baker received a generous share of the $100,000 reward offered to the person who apprehended the president’s killer.President Andrew Johnson nominated Baker for appointment to the grade of brigadier general of volunteers, April 26, 1865, but the United States Senate never confirmed the appointment.Baker was mustered out of the volunteers on January 15, 1866

During the Civil War, a number of secret Confederacy organizations emerged. Some of these organizations were under the direction of the Confederate government, others operated independently with government approval, while still others were either completely independent of the government or operated with only its tacit acknowledgment.

By 1864, the Confederate government was attempting to gain control over the various operations that had sprung up since the beginning of the war, but often with little success. Secret legislation was put before the Confederate Congress to create an official Special and Secret Bureau of the War Department. The legislation was not enacted until March 1865 and was never implemented; however, a number of groups and operations have historically been referred to as having been part of the Confederate Secret Service.

In April 1865, most of the official papers of the Secret Service were burned by Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin just before the Confederate government evacuated Richmond, although a few pages of a financial ledger remain. Thus, the full story of Confederate secret operations may never be known.

The Confederate armies used a number of spies and scouts who were most often paid by the army’s high command. Perhaps, the best known was General James Longstreet’s scout Henry Thomas Harrison who worked for Longstreet from November 1861 until after the Battle of Gettysburg. It was Harrison who fixed the position and strength of the Army of the Potomac and thereby triggered the events that led to the battle.

The Confederate government had spies and couriers up and down the Eastern Seaboard who relayed information from throughout the North back to their Department of State. There were even Confederate sympathizers within the Federal government who relayed key information to their masters in Richmond.

As the war went on information-gathering became more decentralized. Army commanders on both sides employed their own scouts, spies and counter-spies who kept the information flowing to them.

The St. Albans RaidPerhaps, the most spectacular operations that was carried out by the Confederates were those that were planned by Confederate agent Jacob Thompson who was located in Canada. Among other operations, Thompson planned operations with Ohioan Clement Vallandigham who wanted to detach Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio from the Union. Their goal was that Confederate authorities would, at the same time, move sufficient forces into Kentucky and Missouri to hold those lukewarm Federal States. The five commonwealths would thereupon organize the Northwestern Confederacy upon the basis of State sovereignty.

The plot was aborted by Union spies that had infiltrated Vallandigham’s Sons of Liberty and the Confederates returned to Canada. Later in the year there was the attempted capture of the United States gunboat Michigan, which was guarding Johnson’s Island Prison Camp on Sandusky Bay of Lake Erie. This plot was also thwarted and a number of Confederates were captured.

Finally, there was the ill-fated St. Albans, Vermont raid on October 19, 1864. Shortly before 3 p.m. 21 Confederate soldiers staged simultaneous robberies of the city’s three banks. They identified themselves as Confederate soldiers and took a total of $208,000 (US$ 3,140,000 in 2014). During the robberies, eight or nine Confederates held the villagers at gun point on the village green, taking their horses to prevent pursuit. Several armed villagers tried to resist, and one was killed and another wounded.

Their leader, Bennett H. Young, ordered his men to burn the city, but the 4-US-fluid-ounce (120 ml) bottles of Greek fire they used failed to ignite, and only one shed was destroyed by fire. The raiders escaped to Canada, despite a delayed pursuit. In response to U.S. demands, the Canadian authorities arrested the raiders, recovering $88,000. However, a Canadian court ruled that because they were soldiers under military orders, officially neutral Canada could not extradite them. Canada freed the raiders, but returned to St. Albans the money they had found.





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.


Texas and Unionism

This entry is part 13 of 14 in the series The Divided States of the South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Georgia Unionists

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series The Divided States of the South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Florida: The Forgotten State of the Confederacy

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series The Divided States of the South

Florida in the Civil WarFlorida is sometimes forgotten by Civil War historians because its role in the war was more as a supplier of goods rather than soldiers to the Confederacy. With its small total population of 154,494 Florida only sent 15,000 into the fight.

Instead Governor John Milton stressed the importance of Florida as a supplier of goods, rather than personnel. Florida was a large provider of food (particularly beef cattle) and salt for the Confederate Army.

Florida’s cattle ranges provided much-needed beef to the south’s main armies, particularly during the latter stages of the war. The peninsula’s 13000 mile coastline also proved invaluable for the production of salt, made by boiling sea water in large kettles or evaporating it in man-made tidal pools.

Florida’s long 8,436-mile coastline and 11,000 miles of rivers, streams, and waterways proved a haven for blockade runners and a daunting task for patrols by Federal warships. But its location, scant industry and small population made the state strategically unimportant.

Overall, the state raised some 15,000 troops for the Confederacy, which were organized into twelve regiments of infantry and two of cavalry, as well as several artillery batteries and supporting units. Since neither army aggressively sought control of Florida, many of Florida’s troops were sent to serve in Virginia in the Army of Northern Virginia under Brig. Gen. Edward A. Perry and Col. David Lang. The “Florida Brigade” fought in many of Robert E. Lee‘s campaigns, and twice charged Cemetery Ridge during the Battle of Gettysburg, including supporting Pickett’s Charge.

By the summer of 1862 Florida had raised, equipped, and sent out of state the 1st through 8th regiments of infantry, the 1st Florida Calvary Regiment, and various smaller commands. The only forces remaining in the state were a variety of independent companies, several infantry battalions, and the newly-organized 2nd Florida Cavalry Regiment.

Over the next year and a half, these units fended off a series of minor raids along the coast, as well as the temporary Union reoccupations of Jacksonville in the fall of 1862 and the spring of 1863. At St. Johns bluff in September of 1862 Confederate forces experienced a humiliating reverse when a strong position of the St. Johns River near Jacksonville was abandoned to a Union naval and land force without a fight.

Early in the war the Union Navy set up a blockade around the entire state. Union forces eventually seized and occupied major ports such as Cedar KeyJacksonvilleKey West, and Pensacola. In March 1862 Commodore Samuel DuPont led a force of 28 ships that captured Fort Clinch on Amelia Island. They used the fort as the base of Union operations in the area throughout the Civil War and allowed them to control the adjacent Florida and Georgia coasts.

In early 1862, the Confederate government withdrew General Braxton Bragg‘s small army from Pensacola following successive Confederate defeats in Tennessee at Fort Donelson and Fort Henry and the fall of New Orleans. They were  sent them to the Western Theater for the remainder of the war. The only Confederate forces remaining in Florida at that time were a variety of independent companies, several infantry battalions, and the 2nd Florida Cavalry

The largest battle of the war in Florida took place on February 20, 1864 at Olustee in Baker County on the Florida-Georgia border. Brigadier General Truman Seymour, in command of the expedition, landed troops at Jacksonville, in an area already seized by the Union in March 1862.

Seymour’s forces then made several raids into northeast and north-central Florida. During these raids he met little resistance, seized several Confederate camps, captured small bands of troops and artillery pieces and liberated slaves. However, Seymour was under orders from Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore not to advance deep into the state.

Despite his orders Seymour moved across northern Florida with the intention of capturing Tallahassee, the capital. Brigadier General Joseph Finnegan who was reinforced by Georgian troops met the Union force at Olustee. Seymour assumed that he was facing Florida militia and committed his troops piecemeal. The Union forces attacked but were savagely repulsed by withering barrages of rifle and cannon fire.

Seymour was forced to order a retreat after suffering about 34% casualties to his 5,500-man force: 203 killed, 1,152 wounded, and 506 missing. Confederate losses to their 5,000-man force were lower: 93 killed, 847 wounded, and 6 missing. The Union defeat caused Northern authorities to question the necessity of further Union involvement in the militarily insignificant state of Florida.

As the war in Florida went on, Unionists began to come forward to fight against their neighbors. Floridians who supported the Union sometimes were forced to leave their homes and flee as refugees to coastal towns in Florida that were occupied by federal troops. 

Virtually all Unionists that left their home lost much of the belongings. Many had their home destroyed, usually robbed and set on fire by their Secessionist and Rebel enemy. When the Unionists left their home, many packed what they could into wagons while others basically escaped with their lives.

In December 1863, the 2nd Florida Calvary (Union) was formed at Cedar Key and Key West. They served in southern Florida and the Keys until the end of the war. Initially, the Florida Unionists formed a company-size unit named the Florida Rangers who mounted raids against Confederate positions along the Gulf Coast and against Confederate cattle operations. This unit later became the 1st Florida Cavalry which was formally was organized at Fort Barrancas near Pensacola in December of 1863 and served in northern Florida for the balance of the war.

The Confederates responded by organizing local citizens, herdsmen and cowmen into the “1st Battalion Florida Special Cavalry” known as the “Cow Cavalry.” The 1st and 2nd Cavalry (Union) regiments were the only units formally recognized by the Union government.





Seasoning the Civil War Soldier

This entry is part 15 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Seasoned soldiersThe American Civil War marked the first use of mass armies on the North American continent. At the start of the war the United States Army had about 16,000 officers and men who were positioned in forts and bases throughout the country. The new Confederate States had no army other than militia forces from their component states.

In the first full year of the war both sides had an enormous task on their hands. They had to recruit hundreds of thousands of men. These recruits needed to clothed, armed and trained. Officers needed to be selected and trained along with their men.

The new Union Army needed to expand their quartermaster corps in order to provision their new army. The ordinance corps also required expansion in order to arm and supply their expanded army. The procurement of such mundane items as tents, wagons, horses and mules was required. Artillery needed to be ordered and routed to the new formations.

Meanwhile, on the Confederate side the military establishment needed to be established. All of the departments that were needed to create and supply an army needed to be created and staffed. Fortunately, the Confederacy had a number of officers who had been trained at West Point and had served in the United States Army. Still, it was a daunting task for both military establishments.

Both sides used their component states to raise, equip and train troops. Officers were very often local notables with little or no military experience. Regiments were raised by them who then appointed themselves colonels, lieutenant colonels or majors. In addition, governors appointed colonels and lieutenant colonels to state-raised regiments.

Needless to say, it was a very confusing system. States and regiments created their own uniforms. Many Union regiments wore gray while a number of Southern regiments wore blue. At the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run) friendly fire was caused by confusion caused by this. The idea that uniforms were actually uniform was laughable. Then, of course, both sides had regiments who were dressed as Zouaves, emulating French North African regiments.

In the early fighting both sides were no more than armed mobs. Expecting poorly trained recruits to maneuver and fight as a fluid unit was too much to ask. During the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles, officers on both sides were confused by the complex battle plans that may have looked good on a paper map but were too complex for the early armies to execute. The early Civil War battles were confusing and in many cases inconclusive due to complex battle plans.

The battlefield is two parts boredom and one part sheer terror. The boredom is from the marching and countermarching. The expression ‘hurry10th New York Zouaves up and wait’ is most fitting for military service. Troops marched for days before a battle. They they waited for the order to advance, Finally, they were ordered to attack a position, very often by frontal assault. Untrained or unseasoned troops very often broke and ran at the first shots of combat.

Soldiers required a period of seasoning before they became veterans capable of withstanding the rigors of combat. Most Civil War soldiers came from rural America. They came from the farms, villages and towns of America. The idea, for instance, that most Northern soldiers came from the cities is false. Antebellum America was mostly rural.

Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had a greater population than every Southern city than New Orleans (168,000). On the other hand, New York was the largest city in the North with 813,000 in 1860 followed by Philadelphia with 565,000. The city of Brooklyn was third with 266,000. It should be noted that the majority of immigrants arrived at Norther cites and generally settled there. There was more work available for them in Northern factories.

Soldiers needed to learn how to live in their camps, cook for themselves and most importantly take care of their physical well-being. military medicine on both sides remained rudimentary and principally concerned with rooting out malingerers. Principal responsibility for maintaining physical and mental health, as well as combat effectiveness, devolved to the soldiers themselves.

Over time, they acquired the skills required to look after their bodies and stave off melancholy, rendering themselves “seasoned soldiers.” Their respective armies depended on such men, even if they did not always understand or approve of their methods. What officers interpreted as desertion or straggling, the men often considered essential sojourns—necessary to mend bodies, augment diets, or restore nerves.

Soldiers were either in camp, marching to and from battle or fighting, two parts boredom and one part sheer terror. They were subjected to the harsh elements of the weather. Roads were dusty and quite often primitive. Sanitation facilities were almost non-existent.

In the summer they had to withstand the heat and high humidity of the South. In the winter, even though they were encamped, they were subjected to cold temperatures and snow, sleet or cold rain. It was very easy for the civil war soldier to contract diseases. In fact, more men died of disease than bullets or shrapnel. Many of the rural soldiers had never strayed far from home. They had never built up the immunities that we have today.

Gradually, soldiers became seasoned. They learned what was most necessary in terms of equipment and the best way to carry it. They became experienced at cooking and cleaning their utensils. The Civil War soldier learned to forage for food that was outside the normal supply lines. They gradually learned how to set up their camps quickly while on the march and break camp in the shortest amount of time.

The majority of private soldiers had never been under a doctor’s care at any time during their pre-military lives. Therefore, they already possessed a foundation of self -care when it came to treating sickness and maintaining general health. 

By 1863, soldiers on both sides of the conflict could be described as veterans. They had survived sicknesses in camp, learned how to take care of themselves and survived the terror of combat.

In the second half of the war, the seasoned soldier learned to entrench when they stopped for the night. They learned to fight behind their entrenchments. Their officers learned the value of the flank attack and advancing using all available cover. By 1864, both armies were composed for the most part with seasoned soldiers who fought with tenacity and courage.


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.


1864: The Year of Decision

This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

General Ulysses S. Grant1864 was the year of decision for both the Union and the Confederacy, Decisions were made by both sides that would affect the outcome of war. And not all of the decisions were made on the battlefields of the war. Many were made in the halls of power and these would have a tremendous impact on both sides.

This post and subsequent posts will give the reader an overview of 1864 with links to existing series content for the major campaigns.

1863 had been a year that had started out with great promise for the Army of Northern Virginia in the Eastern Theater. After the bloody repulse at Fredericksburg and the infamous Mud March, Ambrose Burnside was relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac by Abraham Lincoln and replaced with ‘Fighting Joe’ Hooker. At almost the same time, Gen. Grant was placed in command of the Army of the West, with orders to capture Vicksburg.

Hooker suffered a humiliating reverse at Chancellorsville when Robert E. Lee and his chief subordinate, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, routed the Union forces with Jackson’s famous ‘Flank Attack’. Despite a 2-to-1 advantage in numerical strength, Hooker lost his nerve and retreated across the Rappahannock River to the safety of Union lines. However, Confederate fortunes suffered a tremendous blow when the irreplaceable Jackson was mortally wounded by his own troops in the dark.

Lee, sensing an opportunity and seeing a need to invade the North, sets his army on a course to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Lincoln had relieved Hooker and replaced him with George Meade. In a cataclysmic three-day battle at Gettysburg, the Confederates are repulsed with significant losses. Gettysburg begins the inexorable ‘bleeding’ of the Confederate States Army. Lee’s loses a third of his army, men that he will have a difficult time replacing.

Meanwhile in the Western Theater, Grant has maneuvered his army into a position around the fortress city of Vicksburg that would lead to the inevitable surrender of an entire Confederate Army on July 4th. Jefferson Davis had said: “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” The subsequent surrender of Port Hudson, Louisiana five days later will split the Confederacy in half and in the words of Abraham Lincoln: “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

Despite a stunning Confederate victory at Chickamauga over William S. Rosecran’s Army of the Cumberland within a month Grant relieves the besieged Union Army and defeats Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

During the battle, one of the most dramatic moments of the war occurs. Yelling “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” Union troops avenge their previous defeat at Chickamauga by storming up the face of Missionary Ridge without orders and sweep the Rebels from what had been though to be an impregnable position. “My God, come and see ’em run!” a Union soldier cries.

Thus ended 1863 and the year of decisions began. In March, Abraham Lincoln made two personnel decisions that would affect the Union military effort until Appomattox. On March 9th, he appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief and William T. Sherman as commander in the west.

Grant would move east and travel with the Army of the Potomac. Grant will put in place a new strategy that will eventually crush the Confederacy in its grips. The Union armies will carry out a coordinated series of offensives against the Confederate armies throughout the South. Unable to reinforce their armies at the points of Union attacks, the Confederate armies will be outnumbered in almost every area.

Grant will be able to remove poor ‘political’ generals, especially after the 1864 election and replace them with superior commanders. 1864 will prove to the country that Ulysses S. Grant was now the most superior commander of the war.