Our Visit to Grant’s Headquarters and City Point

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Battlefield Visits

On a recent trip my wife and I visited Malvern Hill, Grant’s Headquarters and the Petersburg National Battlefield. Today we’ll take a look at the headquarters of General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant at City Point, (now Hopewell) Virginia.

General Grant was to spend 9 1/2 months there from mid-June 1864 until early April 1865. City Point was located eight miles behind the Union lines. Grant issued orders and coordinated the movement of all of the Union armies throughout the United States.

City Point was the main receiving port for supplies and replacements. Overnight it went from a small town to one of the busiest ports in the world. On any given day 40 steamers, 75 sailing ships and over 100 barges delivered supplies for the Union army.

Goods were unloaded at a half mile long wharf that was constructed by African-American laborers under the supervision Army engineers.Warehouses were built along the waterfront that were used to stockpile vast amounts of supplies.

On an average day, the Union Army had thirty days of food stockpiled and twenty days of forage. This translated to 900,000 meals and 12,000 tons of hay and oats for nearly 120,000 soldiers and 65,000 horses and mules.

Union Army built a rail yard, warehouses, stables and quartermaster buildings. They extended the existing short railroad so that it was 22 miles and added it to the United States Railroad system.

Initial railroad operations began along 9 miles of the Petersburg and City Point Railroad’s line. As the Union Army steadily extended its siege lines to the south and west, the construction corps followed in the Army’s wake extending rail service from City Point to positions behind the new Union left flank. Eventually the rail line added 21 additional miles of track which partially encircled Petersburg from the east to the southwest.

Click to enlarge.

NPS Map of City Point

The land that the headquarters was built on was owned by Dr. Richard Eppes. The 2,300 acre plantation and the house was over 100 years old. Dr. Eppes had a total of 130 slaves at the start of the war. This made him one of the richest men in the South. Dr. Eppes initially served in the Confederate cavalry but spent most of the war as a contract surgeon in Petersburg.

The Eppes’ eventually fled their estate when it became too dangerous to live there. Mrs. Eppes and their children moved to Philadelphia where she had come from. Dr. Eppes moved into Petersburg. After the war ended they all returned to their home and rebuilt their estate. By then all of the slaves had left.

The Eppes home, Appomattox Plantation, still is on the site. It was used by Grant’s quartermaster and other staff members while Grant lived in a cabin built by his men. That too still exists. The main house can be toured. The tour starts with a video and continues through the lower floor.




After the War: Ulysses S. Grant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The End of the Army of Northern Virginia

This entry is part of 8 in the series Appomattox Campaign

Grant and LeeThe end of the war for the Army of Northern Virginia came after a series of disastrous defeats in late March and early April of 1865. The Confederate soldiers were tired, outnumbered and hungry. They had very little hope in achieving victory.

The battle of Five Forks was immediately preceded by two battles on March 31, 1865. At the Battle of White Oak Road, infantry of the Union Army’s V Corps of the Army of the Potomac pushed back the main line of Confederate defenses on the right flank of the Army of Northern Virginia southwest of Petersburg.

The V Corps blocked two important roads as well as taking a better position for an attack on the Confederate line. At the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House, Sheridan’s cavalry tactically lost a battle to Pickett’s combined force but had fewer casualties and averted being dispersed or forced to retreat from the area. At nightfall, Sheridan’s troopers still held a defensive line 0.75 miles north of Dinwiddie Court House.

At Five Forks on April 1st the Confederates were  savaged by the forces of General Phil Sheridan who told his officers to bust up the Confederates. The Union forces sustained 830 casualties while the Confederates suffered 2,950 total casualties.

The Confederate officers were at a shad bake and were unable to hear the noise from the battle. An acoustic shadow in the thick woods and heavy, humid atmospheric conditions prevented them from hearing the opening stage of the battle. Pickett and Lee had not told any of the next ranking officers of their absence and that those subordinates, in particular Major General W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee, were temporarily in charge.

Robert E. Lee ordered his forces to leave Petersburg and head west. This began the retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia and ultimately defeat. The two armies fought a series of engagements large and small: Grant and Lee

The engagements were a mixture of infantry and cavalry actions. The Union forces continued to push the Confederates to the west. Whenever they approached supplies they were pushed back. Lee wanted to get to Lynchburg where he hoped to get some relief from the constant Union attacks.

But Grant’s armies began to enclose the Army of Northern Virginia from the rear, the front, the north and the south. Lee launched an attack to break through the Union force to his front, assuming the Union force consisted entirely of cavalry. When he realized that the cavalry was backed up by two corps of Union infantry, he had no choice but to surrender.


Kentucky: Crossroads of the Western Theater

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series The Divided States of the South

Kentucky was hugely important to both sides in the Civil War. It was a key border state whose geographical location placed it at the crossroads in the coming conflict. Kentucky abutted on six states: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee. Three were slave states, three were free states. Kentucky itself was a slave state.

Kentucky’s northern border was the key waterway, the Ohio River while to the west a stretch of the Mississippi was its western border. The Ohio River would provide the Southern Confederacy with a defensible border if Kentucky was to join it. The Commonwealth was bound to the South by the Mississippi River and its tributaries, which were the main commercial outlet for her surplus produce, although railroad connections to the North were beginning to diminish the importance of this tie.

At the start of the war, Kentucky would have preferred to remain neutral in the conflict. As hard as it may be for us to comprehend, the residents of the state wanted to remain on the sidelines. They simply had too many connections to both sides.

Their connections started from politics; prominent politicians from Kentucky were serving in both governments. In fact, both presidents, Lincoln and Davis, were native Kentuckians. John C. Breckinridge had been Vice President for James Buchanan. Politically, Kentuckians had already played a pivotal role in the life of the United States. They continued to do so throughout the war.

One has only to look at a map to see that Kentucky was geographically situated between the Southern states of Tennessee and Virginia, the Northern states of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio and its fellow border state of Missouri. In a war in which rivers would play an important role, the Ohio River was a key river/highway for both sides but most especially for the Union. In September 1861, Kentucky-born President Abraham Lincoln wrote in a private letter, “I think to Western Theater from May to October 1862lose Kentucky is nearly to lose the whole game.”

Kentuckians would fight on both sides in the Civil War. Families would be split with prominent members of some families holding important command positions in both armies. President Lincoln’s five brothers-in-law fought for the Confederacy. The ancestors of many Kentuckians hailed from Southern states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Kentucky was a slave state with a pro-Confederate Governor, Beriah Magoffin and a pro-Union legislature. Magoffin called a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly on December 27, 1860 and asked legislators for a convention of Kentuckians to decide the Commonwealth’s course regarding secession. The majority of the General Assembly had Unionist sympathies, however, and declined the governor’s request, fearing that the state’s voters would favor secession.

After Confederate Major General Leonidas Polk violated the Commonwealth’s neutrality by ordering Brigadier General Gideon Johnson Pillow to occupy Columbus, Kentucky could no longer straddle the fence.  On September 7, 1861, the General Assembly passed a resolution ordering the withdrawal of only Confederate forces. When Magoffin vetoed the resolution, the legislature overrode his veto and Kentucky, despite remaining a slave state, remained in the Union.

Both sides immediately moved to take advantage of their situations in Kentucky. Confederate forces under Albert Sidney Johnston formed a line in the southern regions of Kentucky and the northern regions of Tennessee, stretching from Columbus in the west to Cumberland Gap in the east. Johnston dispatched Simon B. Buckner to fortify the middle of the line in Bowling Green.

Johnston’s forces were spread too thinly over a wide defensive line. His left flank was held by General Leonidas Polk in Columbus with 12,000 men. His right flank was under the command of Buckner in Bowling Green, with 4,000 men.

The center consisted of two forts under the command of Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, also with 4,000. Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were the sole positions to defend the important Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, respectively. If these rivers were opened to Union military traffic, two direct invasion paths would lead into Tennessee and beyond.

On the Union side, General Ulysses S. Grant began his command career in Kentucky. Grant immediately understood the importance of rivers in the Western Theater. From his base in Paducah, Illinois he began by sending amphibious forces down the Mississippi to Belmont, Missouri where he fought an engagement that is considered a Union victory.

He then led a larger expedition of 15,000 men with 7 ships to Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. Landing his troops in two separate locations, Grant moved on the fort. Unfortunately for the Southerners the fort was partly flooded from the high waters of the river with only nine guns able to be fired. After a 75-minute bombardment from the Union fleet, Tilghman surrendered his forces to the fleet on February 5, 1862.

Grant immediately saw the opportunity to cross the 12-mile gap between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and invest Fort Donelson. Johnston had consolidated his force in this area and the fort was held by about 16,000 men. Meanwhile, Grant’s invading force now numbered about 24,500.

Grant’s probing attacks began on February 12th and by February 16th, the Confederates surrendered unconditionally to Grant on February 16th. Only about 2,500 Confederates escaped from the doomed fort.

The collapse of Forts Henry and Donelson made Polk’s position at Columbus untenable; the Confederates were forced to abandon “The Gibraltar of the West.” His line shattered, Johnston abandoned Bowling Green on February 11, 1862, retreating first to Nashville, then further south to join P. G. T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg at Corinth, Mississippi.  Cumberland Gap, the final piece of Johnston’s line, finally fell to Union forces in June 1862.

On the civilian side of the conflict, a group of Southern sympathizers began formulating a plan to create a Confederate shadow government for the Commonwealth. Following a preliminary meeting on October 29, 1861, delegates from 68 of Kentucky’s counties met at the Clark House in Russellville, Kentucky on November 18. The convention passed an ordinance of secession, adopted a new state seal, and elected Scott County native George W. Johnson as governor. Despite some reservations by Jefferson Davis, Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy on December 10, 1861.

Though it existed throughout the war, Kentucky’s provisional government had very little effect on the events in the Commonwealth or in the war. When General Johnston abandoned Bowling Green in early 1862, the government’s officers traveled with his army, and Governor Johnson was killed in active duty at the Battle of Shiloh. 

Continuing to travel with the Army of Tennessee, the government re-entered Kentucky during Braxton Bragg‘s campaign in the Commonwealth, but was driven out permanently following the Battle of Perryville. From that time forward, the government existed primarily on paper, and dissolved following the war.

As the war in the Western Theater moved south into Mississippi, Alabama and eventually Georgia, Kentucky was the scene of Confederate cavalry raids from Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan. Morgan first raided the state in May of 1862. Morgan claimed to have captured and paroled 1,200 enemy soldiers, recruited 300 men and acquired several hundred horses for his cavalry, used or destroyed supplies in seventeen towns, and incurred fewer than 100 casualties.

In December 1862 John Hunt Morgan led his force into the state once again. This raid lasted several days and on New Years Day Morgan’s troops left the state for Tennessee. On July 2, 1863 Morgan led his troops into Kentucky for the final time. They raced across the state and entered Indiana on July 7th.

Following Morgan’s capture in the summer of 1863, there were no major engagements fought in Kentucky until spring of 1864. General Nathan Bedford Forrest led a raid into Kentucky to obtain mounts for the Confederacy. He also intended to disrupt Union supply lines, obtain general provisions for Confederate forces, and discourage enlistment of blacks in Kentucky into the Union army. They succeeded in capturing 340 remounts during the brief raid.

In response to the growing problem of guerrilla campaigns throughout 1863 and 1864, in June 1864, Maj. Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge was given command over the state of Kentucky. This began an extended period of military control that would last through early 1865, beginning with martial law authorized by President Abraham Lincoln.

To pacify Kentucky, Burbridge rigorously suppressed disloyalty and used economic pressure as coercion. His policy, which included public execution of four guerrillas for the death of each unarmed Union citizen, caused the most controversy. After a falling out with Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, Burbridge was dismissed in February 1865. Confederates remembered him as the “Butcher of Kentucky”. 





Breakthrough at Spotsylvania

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

Battle-of-SpotsylvaniaThe Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864) was the second engagement of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. Over 31,000 men were killed, wounded, missing or captured during a battle that was considered inconclusive.

The Confederates had constructed an elaborate defensive position complete with earthworks fortifications, abatis, trenches and sharpened timber stakes. In al, the Confederate lines ran for more than four miles with over 50,000 defenders supported numerous artillery batteries.

The Confederate’s major weakness was the exposed salient known as the “Mule Shoe” extending more than a mile in front of the main trench line. This was to be a major area of contention with the Union Army attacking it on two occasions using a new tactical approach. The Union forces were able to attack this exposed position on three sides, subjecting the Southerners to a firestorm of artillery and small arms fire.

The Mule Shoe salient was packed with infantry and artillery which were able to repel conventional infantry attacks with extended lines of soldiers who were subjected to devastating canister fire from the artillery. Colonel Emory Upton came up with a better attack formation.

Emory Upton was a 24-year old West Point graduate who had started the war as a captain in the artillery. Realizing that the artillery was not the speediest path to promotion, Upton was appointed colonel of the 121st New York on October 23, 1862. He commanded this unit until he was promoted to brigade command before Gettysburg.

Upton was a tactical thinker and by 1864 he was pushing for the use of a new kind of tactical advance. Rather than extended lines of infantry spread out across the battlefield, he proposed a tactic wherein columns of massed infantry would swiftly assault a small part of the enemy line, without pausing to trade fire, and in doing so attempt to overwhelm the defenders and achieve a breakthrough.

He finally convinced his superiors to try this new tactic. He was given twelve regiments of about 5,000 men for an attempt to make a breakthrough at the Mule Shoe Salient. On the afternoon of May 19, 1864, Colonel Emory Upton led his brigade forward. Without stopping to fire they charged over the earthwork entrenchments and attacked with the bayonet before firing their muskets.

The attack penetrated to the middle of the salient but Upton was not supported. The Confederate counterattack forced them to retreat to their own lines having suffered at least 1,000 casualties. Two days later Upton was promoted to brigadier general. He had revolutionized infantry tactics for all time.

General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant was so impressed with the tactic that he ordered General George Meade to use an entire corps to attack the salient on May 12th. He told Meade to use Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps for the assault. Hancock had about 25,000 men in four divisions, commanded by Francis Barlow, David Birney, Gershom Mott and John Gibbon. Barlow and Birney led the attack, supported by Mott and Gibbon. Elements of the 6th Corps were also supporting the attack.

At 4:35 AM on May 12th the order to advance was given. Earlier Robert E. Lee had misinterpreted the movement of the Union forces as an attempt by them to slip away from his forces. After all, the Yankees had always withdrew from serious combat. Little did he know that Grant was prepared to fight him all summer: I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.

Lee ordered his artillery in the salient to be withdrawn to be ready for a movement to the right. He was completely unaware, of course, that this was exactly the place Grant intended to attack.

Hancock’s men had been moved from the Union right to the area of the salient during the night and therefore had little practical knowledge of the area. It was a miserable night with torrential rain that precluded any view of the area. It was so dark that the attack was postponed from 4:00 to 4:35, when the rain stopped and was replaced by a thick mist.

The initial assault destroyed Jones’s Brigade, now commanded by Col. William Witcher. Confederate Major General Allegheny Johnson and Brig. Gen. George Steuart were captured by soldiers from Barlow’s Division. The Confederates were at a disadvantage because their powder was wet and they had to fight hand-to-hand.

There was one problem with the Union plan, no one had considered how to capitalize on the breakthrough. The 15,000 infantrymen of Hancock’s II Corps had crowded into a narrow front about a half mile wide and soon lost all unit cohesion, becoming little more than an armed mob.

As the Confederates began to react to the crisis on their front, both sides fed more troops into the maelstrom of combat. The heaviest fighting to place at the “Bloody Angle.” Thousands of men on both sides battled in the mud and the rain. Meanwhile, assaults that were supposed to draw off Confederate troops from Hancock’s attack failed. At one point Grant authorized Meade to relieve Corps Commander G.K. Warren, replacing him with Meade’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys.

At 4:00 AM on May 13th exhausted Confederates were ordered to fall back 500 yards to a newly constructed line. The fighting had gone on for 24 hours with little to show for it. The devastation was overwhelming. An example of this can be found in the Smithsonian Museum of American History: a 22-inch stump of an oak tree at the Bloody Angle that was completely severed by rifle fire. There was a frenzy to the carnage on both sides. (I have personally seen this example of the fighting and can attest to the above fact.)

“Nothing can describe the confusion, the savage, blood-curdling yells, the murderous faces, the awful curses, and the grisly horror of the melee.” May 12th was the most intensive day of fighting during the battle, with Union casualties of about 9,000, Confederate 8,000; the Confederate losses included about 3,000 prisoners captured in the Mule Shoe.

In the days following the grand assault Grant ordered Meade to circle his army around the Confederate right. Eventually, both armies ended up facing each other with Grant to the East and Lee to the West. Their orientation was totally opposite their previous one.



July Fourth during the Civil War

Fourth of July at Fortress Monroe

During the American Civil War July 4th was celebrated by both sides with different meanings. Each side saw Independence Day from a different perspective.

In the North it was a reminder to the citizens about what their soldiers were fighting for and to the heritage of their young nation. Union soldiers celebrated with parades, reviews and artillery salutes.

On July 4th 1862, Sgt. Thomas D. Christie of the 1st Independent Battery Minnesota Light Artillery wrote a letter home to Minnesota. His letter was written in Corinth, Mississippi, where is unit was stationed. 

We have had a celebration here today that has convinced the citizens at least that we have not forgotten the Birthday of our Nation. The Batteries of our Division fired a National Salute of 34 guns at noon amid the cheers of the assembled Infantry.

The Confederates connected to their “founding fathers” and separated themselves from a government that they did not agree with. The Southern sentiment was made known in the Richmond Examiner in July of 1861. The Examiner wrote an article on how the South could celebrate July 4th.

We are happy to see many proofs in our Confederate exchanges, that the 4th of July is to be generally observed throughout the Southern Confederacy. We are glad of this because of the association of the day itself, and of the grand event of which it is the anniversary. Let us never forget that when our fathers were oppressed, and when expostulation and remonstrance and warning proved vain, they manfully assumed a separate existence, and boldly drew their trusty swords to make their independence good. It is well for their sons ever and anon to read the bright record anew, and drink in the spirit of those virtuous and heroic days.

The Fourth of July of 1863 would begin an association between two generals whose careers would become intertwined until the end of the war: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.

Lee who led the Army of Northern Virginia, an army that he thought was invincible, would be defeated by George Meade and the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. Lee’s army would be bled white after a catastrophic charge on the Third Day of the battle. Retreating to his native Virginia, Lee would fend of Meade’s army until the following spring.

Ulysses S. Grant was a rising star in the Western Theater who commanded the Army of the Tennessee. In May 1863 he began to maneuver around the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi seeking to cut off its supplies. After a series of maneuvers and battles he succeeded in putting the city under siege. Eventually, the Confederate commander General John C. Pemberton surrendered his 33,000-man army on July 4th, 1863.

Grant became the hero of the hour and by the following he was named overall commander of all Union armies. From May 1864 until April 1865 the two master generals bloodied the Virginia landscape until Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Four bloody years of war ended after three July Fourth celebrations.

 The city of Vicksburg did not celebrate the Fourth of July again until 1907, a 43-year hiatus.


Our Best Men: James B. McPherson

This entry is part 15 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General James McPhersonThe American Civil War is filled with tragic stories. Excellent leaders who were cut down in the prime of their lives. Wasted human potential on the bloody battlefields of the war. Young men whose death were a painful loss for the country. Here are the stories of two such men. One wore blue and one were gray and both men’s deaths were a loss. (I will relate Stephen Ramseur’s story in my next post)

James Birdseye McPherson has been memorialized in many places across America. A fort, three counties, a national cemetery, an elementary school and a highway in his hometown all serve to keep his memory alive. In our nation’s capital there is an equestrian statue in the appropriately named McPherson Square. The statue was paid for by McPherson’s former comrades in the Society of the Army of the Tennessee.

But James McPherson was more than a bronze statue. When the Confederates who mortally wounded him his grief-stricken aide said: “You’ve killed our best man.” McPherson’s brief meteoric career left an imprint on many of those that he served with and commanded.

Born on November 14, 1828 near Hamer’s Corners, Ohio, James McPherson graduated number one in his class from West Point. He was immediately assigned to the Corps of Engineers where he served in New York, Delaware and California working on coastal defenses. 

At the onset of the war he asked for a transfer to the East thinking that being in the center of the action would advance his career. He was almost immediately assigned to the staff of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck in St. Louis, Missouri. It was here that he met the man who would change his life, Ulysses S. Grant. Grant needed a chief engineer and McPherson fit the bill.

He was at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh. After the latter battle he was promoted to brigadier general. Grant could see McPherson’s leadership qualities and by October 1862 he was promoted to major general and soon after was given command of the XVII Corps in Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. He would lead the corps through the long Vicksburg Campaign.

On March 12, 1864, he was given command of the Army of the Tennessee, after its former commander, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, was promoted to command of all armies in the West. His army was the right wing of Sherman’s triad of armies which included  the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Ohio.

On May 5, 1864 Sherman in coordination with the other Union armies began the Atlanta Campaign. McPherson’s army bore the brunt of the early fighting Sherman criticized him for being “slow”. It appears that faulty planning on Sherman’s part allowed the Confederates to escape the Union trap at Dalton, Georgia.

McPherson drove his troops hard chasing the Confederates “vigorously”. They drove the enemy out of Dallas, Georgia. After the Union disaster at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, McPherson tried a flanking maneuver at the Battle of Marietta, but that failed as well.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis grew frustrated with General Joseph E. Johnston and replaced him with Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, McPherson’s classmate and friend. When Hood’s cavalry reported that the left flank of McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, east of Atlanta, was unprotected, he planned a flank attack reminiscent of Stonewall Jackson’s at Chancellorsville.

Sherman believed that the Confederates were beaten and were withdrawing but McPherson thought otherwise, feeling that Hood would attack his left and rear. Almost immediately, four divisions under Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee flanked Maj. Gen. Grenville Dodge‘s XVI Corps.

While McPherson was riding his horse toward his old XVII Corps, a line of Confederate skirmishers appeared, yelling “Halt!”. McPherson raised his hand to his head as if to remove his hat, but suddenly wheeled his horse, attempting to escape. The Confederates opened fire and mortally wounded McPherson.

His adversary, John Bell Hood, wrote,

I will record the death of my classmate and boyhood friend, General James B. McPherson, the announcement of which caused me sincere sorrow. Since we had graduated in 1853, and had each been ordered off on duty in different directions, it has not been our fortune to meet. Neither the years nor the difference of sentiment that had led us to range ourselves on opposite sides in the war had lessened my friendship; indeed the attachment formed in early youth was strengthened by my admiration and gratitude for his conduct toward our people in the vicinity of Vicksburg. His considerate and kind treatment of them stood in bright contrast to the course pursued by many Federal officers.



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.


A New Phase begins at the Wilderness

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

Battle of the Wilderness, skirmishToday marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Wilderness. It also marked a new phase in the War for the Union or the War for Southern Independence. Gone were the days when the Union Army of the Potomac would advance across the Rappahannock or the Rapidan Rivers, be repulsed and withdraw to the safety of the far bank.

The timidity of past commanders had been replaced by the determination of Ulysses S. Grant to pursue and destroy Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. It would take eleven months but Grant would accomplish his main objective and with it the virtual end of the war.

The Army of the Potomac would begin that long road in the dark, confusing Wilderness of Virginia. On the morning of May 5, the Union V Corps under Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren attacked the Confederate Second Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, on the Orange Turnpike. That afternoon the Third Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, encountered Brig. Gen. George W. Getty‘s division (VI Corps) and Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock‘s II Corps on the Orange Plank Road. Fighting until dark was fierce but inconclusive as both sides attempted to maneuver in the dense woods.

The fighting would continue for two more days and at the conclusion almost 29,000 men were killed, wounded, captured or missing. But unlike Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and other battles Grant ordered George Gordon Meade to move his army south to Spotsylvania Court House where they would continue to engage their enemy.

By the light of the burning Wilderness eyewitnesses reported that Grant was cheered by his men as they moved past their general. They and their president knew that Grant was as Lincoln said when advised to relieve him: “I can’t spare the man. He fights.”

For those who wish to read my series on the Battle of the Wilderness, here are the links:

The Overland Campaign:

The Battle of the Wilderness (Days One and Two):

The Battle of the Wilderness (Day Three):

Clark Mountain: Robert E. Lee’s Lookout Post:




The Flank Attack

This entry is part 9 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

Jackson's Flank AttackThe American Civil War saw a revolution in new weaponry and tactics during its four years of combat. New weaponry curbed the use of full frontal assaults where brigades charged in double lines. The bloody assaults at Fredericksburg, Shiloh and Pickett’s Charge caused commanders from both sides to use the flank attack more often.

A flank attack is to attack an enemy or an enemy unit from the side. There are several variations to this basic military tactic. One type is employed in an ambush, where a friendly unit performs a surprise attack from a concealed position. Other units may be hidden to the sides of the ambush site to surround the enemy. 

Another type is used in the attack, where a unit encounters an enemy defensive position. Upon receiving fire from the enemy, the unit commander may decide to order a flank attack. Part of the attacking unit “fixes” the enemy with suppressive fire, preventing them from returning fire, retreating or changing position to meet the flank attack. The flanking force then advances to the enemy flank and attacks them at close range. 

The most effective form of flanking maneuver is the double envelopment, which involves simultaneous flank attacks on both sides of the enemy. This tactic was used extensively in the Civil War as commanders tried to outflank their opponent and bring concentrated fire or enfilade the enemy by firing along the long axis of the unit. For instance, a trench is enfiladed if the enemy can fire down the length of the trench.

Perhaps the most famous flank attack was Stonewall Jackson’s attack against the Union Army of the Potomac’s right flank at the Battle Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson settled upon a highly aggressive plan to march Jackson’s forces around the Union positions and onto that exposed flank. 

After a hard and dusty march on May 2, Jackson’s column reached its jumping off point for their attack upon the unsuspecting Federal right flank. At 5:20 pm, Jackson’s line surged forward in an overwhelming attack that crushed the Union Twelfth Corps. Federal troops, however, rallied, resisted the advance, and counterattacked. Disorganization and darkness ended the fighting.

Unfortunately for the Confederacy, while making a night reconnaissance, Jackson was shot by his own troops in the darkness and fell mortally wounded. Robert E. Lee was never able able to replace the great Stonewall and many historians maintain that his loss caused the defeat of the Confederacy.

On the Union side both Ulysses S, Grant and William T. Sherman used the flank attack to their advantage both in the Western Theater and in Virginia in 1864.

At the Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, Ulysses S. Grant planned a double envelopment of Confederate forces led by General Braxton Bragg. William T. Sherman leading 20,000 men from the Army of the Tennessee were to attack the right flank of the Confederate defensive line that was situated at Tunnel Hill.  General Joseph Hooker with three divisions was ordered to assault the left end of the Confederate line.

Sherman’s assault on the right was stymied by a fierce Confederate defense but Grant ordered General George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland to advance against the base of the ridge at the center of the Confederate defense.After taking the rifle pits the Union troops continued their advance and ultimately took the crest of the ridge. The Confederate lines were broken and Bragg was forced to order a retreat.

Sherman would go on to use the tactic of the flank attack throughout his advance to Atlanta. Sherman moved his forces along lines of least resistance and greatest gain. This approach guided the March to Atlanta, a series of interwoven flank maneuvers that included one precalculated frontal assault.

It was also the motivating idea in the Marches to the Sea and the Carolinas, which Sherman envisioned as a necessary ’roundabout’ flank attacks on General Lee in Virginia. Ironically, these marches over land, totaling over 600 miles, actually shortened the war considerably, perhaps by as much as a year.

When Grant took overall command of the Union armies his first campaign was dubbed the Overland Campaign because his intent was to move overland to Richmond. He planned to fight a constant series of battles against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. His aim was the destruction of the main Confederate fighting force in the Eastern Theater.

The entire Overland Campaign was a series of flanking movements by the Army of the Potomac to force Lee to respond by moving southeast and eventually being brought to bay at Petersburg. Grant’s goal was to bleed the Confederates but in doing so he also bled the Army of the Potomac. Over the course of the campaign both armies had combined casualties of almost 89,000 killed, wounded, missing or captured.

Most of the casualties were sustained in the Wilderness (29,800), Spotsylvania Court House (30,000) and Cold Harbor (15,500). From May 5th until June 24th, the armies fought 11 battles, engagements and skirmishes. In the course of the fighting, the Union Army lost Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, commander of the VI Corps, at Spotsylvania white the Army of Northern Virginia lost Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, their cavalry commander, at Yellow Tavern.

Finally, Grant’s overall strategy was to use the Army of the Shenandoah, Union forces in West Virginia and the Army of the James to attack the Confederate forces in the East on the flanks.

The Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia were assigned to deny Lee’s army of supplies from the rich farmland of the Valley. Ben Butler’s Army of the James was assigned to attack Richmond from the east and draw off troops opposing the advance of the Army of the Potomac. Most of these attacks would initially fail due to poor generalship. Eventually, Grant found the right generals to lead these efforts and they accomplished their objectives.