Lincoln and Secession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New Market Today

New Market, Virginia is still a small Valley town. It has a population of 1,859 as of July 2009. The town bills itself as the historic heart of the Shenandoah Valley with a preserved downtown on VSH 11. New Market is located at exit 264 on I-81, the main north-south highway in the Valley. I-81 bisects the town with the business district to the east and the battlefield to the west. The entrance to the battlefield is on the right side as your heading west on 211.

The battlefield part is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and operated by the Virginia Military Institute. The main buildings are about a mile off the road. You will pass a museum that is not part of the battlefield site before you reach the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. Park and enter to pay your admission fee of $10 before your self-guided tour of the museum and battlefield site itself. The museum supplies an annotated map of the entire battlefield with drawings and explanations of significant parts of the battle. The Hall of Valor Civil War Museum is well-done, informative and chock-full of Civil War memorabilia, particularly from Virginia. There is an excellent movie about the VMI cadets’ part in the battle called Field of Lost Shoes.

The Jacob Bushong Farm about a half mile northeast of the museum  is accessible by either a walking trail or driving. In fact, there is an extensive walking trail that will take you to all of the main sites of the park. The farm with a number of outbuildings is well-preserved and informative with both audio and written descriptions of farm life in the mid-19th century. The cellar of the farmhouse where the Bushong family took refuge during the battle is accessible to the public as are rooms on the first and second floors. You are also able to visit a number of outbuildings surrounding the main house. The wheelwright building and the blacksmith building have audio explanations of each craft. The Bushongs used both of these buildings to fashion wagon wheels and metal tools and equipment. The open fields to the west and north are probably like they were in 1864.

They are a number of cannons located around the field indicating the locations of different batteries during the battle. The battlefield is bisected north and south by I-81. If you wish to visit the east side of the battlefield you can either drive over or if you’re walking go through the tunnel on the highway. The only significant site on this side of the battlefield is a large monument dedicated to the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry. This regiment had a 45% casualty rate in the battle with 32 men killed, 180 wounded and 42 captured.

You should allow two to three hours for you visit to the New Market Battlefield in order to explore the museum and the grounds. The museum shop offers many items for all ages of visitors including hats, books and a variety of memorabilia.

In honor of the VMI cadets who were killed at New Market, the Cadet Corps holds a special ceremony every May 15th at VMI. As the name of each fallen cadet is called, a cadet in the formation will answer: “Died on the Field of Honor, Sir”. The ceremony is held at VMI in Lexington, Virginia in front of the monument entitled Virginia Mourning her Dead.

The Battle of New Market took place on May 15, 1864. New Market, Virginia was a small market crossroads in the central Shenandoah Valley. By this time in the war the South was reeling from a number of shattering defeats. On the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains Ulysses S. Grant’s armies were relentlessly pursuing Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

New Market was distinguished by the charge of the cadets from Virginia Military Institute. The Confederate forces, led by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge, were small in numbers with between 4,000 and 4,500 men. Breckenridge needed as many men (or boys) that he could collect so he asked the Commandant at VMI to dispatch the Cadet Corps to join his army. The cadets marched some 81 miles in four days to join the Confederate forces on the eve of the battle. The Corps was led by 24-year old Col. Scott Shipp and consisted of 257 cadets, some as young as 15 years of age. Breckenridge intended to use the cadets as a reserve force behind his main line.

The Federal force was led by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel who commanded a total force of 6,500 at New Market. Grant’s original intent was to have Sigel draw off Confederate forces from Lee’s army in central Virginia by threatening the Confederate breadbasket of the Valley. Sigel was a politician who even though he was only in this country for ten years was a favorite of Lincoln’s because he could deliver votes from the German immigrant community for President Lincoln in the upcoming election.

Opposing him was Breckenridge, a Kentuckian, who had been the youngest Vice President of the United States under James Buchanan and came in second (of four) against Lincoln in the 1860 Presidential election. He also served in the House and the Senate. Breckenridge led Kentucky’s “Orphan Brigade”, a unit that could never go home since their state had remained in the Union. Breckenridge had been a commander in the Western Theater who had distinguished himself on the field of battle. He turned out that the politician was a fair commander, too. An antipathy between Braxton Bragg, the Army of Tennessee commander, and Breckenridge led to his transfer to the Eastern Theater where he was put in charge of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley.

Sigel’s forces began their march down the Valley in early May 1864. Breckenridge began to collect his forces at Staunton, some 35 miles south of New Market. Breckenridge moved his forces north with the intention of bringing the Federal forces to battle. They met at New Market on May 15th in a drenching rain. The Confederate infantry brushed aside Federal skirmishers about a mile south of the Jacob Bushong Farm. They engaged the main Federal force with rifle and cannon fire about a mile north of the farm. The Federals using double grape and canister (essentially the cannons acted like giant shotguns) tore huge holes in the Confederate lines. At this point Breckenridge was forced to use the Cadets to plug a huge gap in his line. “Put the boys in,” Breckinridge ordered, “and may God forgive me for the order …” Col. Shipp ordered his Cadet Corps to advance. They split their force as they went to either side of the Bushong Farm, two companies to the east and two to the west. The fire was intense and cadets began to fall. They took cover to protect themselves, behind anything that would shield them from the enemy’s fire, tree stumps, rail fences, trees.

Sigel, realizing that the Confederates were disorganized, ordered a counterattack. It lurched forward and was ineffective. The counterattack failed and Sigel ordered his artillery to withdraw. The reduction of the Federal artillery fire encouraged Breckenridge. He ordered his infantry to advance against the Federal line. They moved across a rain-soaked wheat field that was later renamed the Field of Lost Shoes by one of the cadets. Many of the soldiers and cadets had the shoes literally sucked off their feet by the thick mud. The Federal line broke under the pressure and the Confederates swept over the position. General Sigel ordered his forces to retreat to Strasburg. An artillery battery commanded by Captain Henry A. DuPont covered the Federal retreat. Captain DuPont was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864.  On May 15th he simply saved his comrades from utter defeat.

The Battle of New Market was a small battle based on the slightly under 11,000 total soldiers engaged. Casualties totaled 1,380 total (840 Federals, 540 Confederates) killed, wounded, captured. The VMI Cadet Corps lost 10 killed, 45 wounded; a 23% casualty rate. The next month the Federals got their revenge on VMI by burning the school to the ground. It would not reopen until 1866 and it would take five years to recover.

Franz Sigel was relieved of command and replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter as commander of the Army of the Shenandoah and the Department of West Virginia on May 21, 1864. Grant ordered Hunter to employ scorched earth tactics similar to those that would be used later in that year during Sherman’s March to the Sea; he was to move through Staunton to Charlottesville and Lynchburg, “living off the country” and destroying the Virginia Central Railroad “beyond possibility of repair for weeks.”





Our Visit to the Petersburg Driving Tour

This entry is part of 5 in the series Battlefield Visits

After we visited Malvern Hill and Grant’s Headquarters we finished off our day by taking the Petersburg Driving Tour. This was the second time for me but the first time for my wife who gives new meaning to the word trooper.

Petersburg, a prosperous city of 18,000, was a supply center for Richmond, given its strategic location just south of Richmond, its site on the Appomattox River that provided navigable access to the James River, and its role as a major crossroads and junction for five railroads. Since Petersburg was the main supply base and rail depot for the entire region, including Richmond, the taking of Petersburg by Union forces would make it impossible for Lee to continue defending Richmond.

The Siege of Petersburg was 9 1/2 months long with a total of some 70,000 casualties. The siege lines eventually stretched over 30 miles and were the most elaborate ever seen on the North American continent. Today, over 150 years later the fortifications can still be seen in parts of the battlefield. The Union Army started at 67,000 men but eventually rose to a staggering 125,000 soldiers. The Confederates averaged about 52,000 soldiers.

The Union Army of the James led by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler attempted to storm the poorly-manned Confederate fortifications on June 8, 1864. Petersburg was protected by multiple lines of fortifications, the outermost of which was known as the Dimmock Line, a line of earthworks and trenches 10 miles (16 km) long, with 55 redoubts, east of the city. The 2,500 Confederates stretched thin along this defensive line were commanded by a former Virginia governor, Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise. Despite the number of fortifications, because of a series of hills and valleys around the outskirts of Petersburg there were several places along the outer defenses where cavalry could easily ride through undetected until they reached the inner defenses of the city.

Butler planned to overwhelm the defenders with a force of 4,500 troops but a number of problems prevented them from making a concerted effort. The Confederate Home Guards fought tenaciously and suffered heavy casualties but they managed to hold off the Union attackers until General P.G.T. Beauregard could rein force them. The two sides settled down for a long and costly siege.

The Union Army continued to advance South and then West forcing General Robert E. Lee to follow suit. Grant had his cavalry continually cut the railroads into the city creating a serious shortage of supplies. Eventually Lee’s lines were so poorly manned that the Union Army was able to pierce them in a number of locations on April 2, 1865. One of those locations, the Breakthrough of the Vermont Brigade is at the modern-day Pamplin Historical Park.

The 16-stop tour itself covers some 33 miles of driving. It begins at the Visitors Center near Fort Lee. It’s a very nice drive with reconstructions and actual fortifications sprinkled throughout. The first reconstruction is an example of a fortification. Then, you can visit Fort Stedman, the Confederate Army’s last attempt to break the siege (March 25, 1865). The next major attraction is the site of the Battle of the Crater where the Union Army attempted to blow a hole in the Confederate lines. They failed at the cost of several thousand troops.



Our Visit to Pamplin Historical Park

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Battlefield Visits

Last Friday, my wife and I visited Pamplin Historical Park in Petersburg, Virginia. The part was established by the Pamplin family on the site of the Boisseau family, direct ancestors of the Pamplins.

The park originally opened in 1994. At the time the site encompassed 103 acres. Today, Pamplin Historical Park has grown to 424 acres. Within the site there are two museums, a number of reconstructed period buildings and the site of the Breakthrough by the Vermont Brigade on April 2, 1865. The Breakthrough led to the withdrawal of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia from their fortifications around Petersburg and Richmond west where Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865.

The Museum of the Civil War Soldier is located in the beautiful main building. Perhaps 750,000 soldiers died from wounds or disease in the four years of war. More than one million were wounded. If the United states were to sustain the same proportion of casualties today the numbers would be around 17,500,00. Almost all soldiers were volunteers. I am the proud great great grandson of two such men: Michael Patrick Murphy of the 61st New York Volunteer Infantry and Asa H. Dykeman of the 46th New York State Militia.

The museum uses a unique way of educating its visitors. You pick a soldier and are given a compact CD player that has the descriptions of what you are viewing. I certain points personal stories of your soldier are given in the first-person. The museum gives the visitor a thorough view of how the Civil War soldier experienced their military life.

I don’t think that modern Americans can understand what these men went through while serving their country whether it was the North or the South.This museum gives you a flavor.

The park has a recreation of the Boisseaus’ Tudor Hall Plantation. It includes their home which during the siege was the headquarters of Brigadier General Samuel McGowan‘s 1,400-man brigade. He commanded a brigade in A.P. Hill‘s famous “Light Division” and was wounded several times. Ezra Warner‘s book, Generals in Gray, claims that “McGowan’s career and reputation were not excelled by any other brigade commander in the Army of Northern Virginia.” Prior to the Civil War, McGowan practiced law and served in state politics. He also served in the Mexican-American War with the Palmetto Rifles. He was commended for his gallantry near Mexico City and rose to the rank of staff captain.

The various rooms of the house reflect the occupancy of General McGowan and his staff. The Boisseaus moved into Petersburg during the siege. When they returned their land had been devastated. Fences and outbuildings had been torn down. The wood was used for fires and winter quarters. Fortifications had been constructed by both sides complete with moats, pointed wood stakes and cheval de frise. During the Civil War, the Confederates used this type barrier more often than the Union forces. A reconstruction of the fortifications is on the grounds.

The present-day plantation consists of the main house, detached kitchen building and a variety of barns and other outbuildings. Live goats and chickens are raised on the plantation. There are well-maintained walking trails with audio stops along the way. The second museum is the Battlefield Center that primarily focuses on the events that led to the April 2, 1865 Breakthrough. There is a military encampment with several reenactors. Finally, there are extensive walking trails for the athletic. They wend their way through the original Confederate earthworks.

Pamplin Historical Park represents the very finest Civil War experience for the visitor. It is well worth a visit if you’re in the Richmond-Petersburg area.

Here are some images of various sites within the park.



The Last Journey of Jefferson Davis

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Appomattox Campaign

Jefferson DavisJefferson Davis, the Confederate President arrived in the new Confederate capital of Danville, Virginia on April 3rd. He immediately went about organizing his government. They stayed at the house of Major William T. Sutherlin.

Davis sent a courier to Robert E. Lee because the telegraph lines were down. The courier, Lt. John S. Wise, was the son of former Virginia Governor of Henry Alexander Wise and Sarah Sergeant. Never having met Lee, he returned to Danville on April 8th where he told Davis that from what he had seen and heard he was sure Lee had surrendered.

On April 9th Davis received a dispatch from Lee before his army’s defeat at Sayler’s Creek on April 6th. Davis responded by informing Lee that ample supplies were available for his army in Danville. However, Lee had sent a message to Davis asking that supplies be sent to Amelia Court House. The chaotic situation in Richmond prevented Davis from receiving the message.

Meanwhile, out of Lee’s reach in Danville 1.5 million rations of meat and 500,000 rations of bread awaited the near-starving Confederate army. Union soldiers intercepted the orders and sent a false order to the trainmaster in Danville to hold the train.

On Palm Sunday while Davis and his cabinet members were worshiping at the Episcopal Church Lee was surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant.It was only a day later that the government received word of the surrender.

That night the Confederate government boarded an underpowered train and departed Danville. As Davis prepared to leave the Sutherlin house Janie Sutherlin offered Davis a small bag of gold. he declined her offer. As his composure broke he told her: “No, I cannot take your money. You and your husband are young and will need your money, while I am old and don’t reckon I shall need anything very long.”

On April 15th, President Lincoln was assassinated. Now-President Andrew Johnson was under the (false) assumption that Davis and his cohorts had been directly involved in the murder of the President. Union troops, with the US War Department’s $100,000 bounty (about $1.6 million today) on Davis motivating them, moved towards Danville.

Davis and company retreated even further South. They ended up in the town of Washington in Wilkes County, Georgia. On May 4th, Davis held what would be the Confederacy’s final cabinet meeting in Washington’s State of Georgia Bank building. Davis authorized payments from the treasury to his officials and left the rest in care of Captain Micajah Clark in Washington, where “it disappeared under mysterious circumstances.”

Davis, with his family, had been traveling throughout Georgia when they finally made camp in Irwinville in central Georgia on May 9th. The next morning, they were awaken by gunshots. The First Wisconsin and Fourth Michigan cavalries had caught up to them. There are several different interpretations of what happened in those final moments of freedom for Jefferson Davis.

While attempting to flee, the Northern press wrote that he was wearing his wife’s shawl and/or petticoat in an attempt to trick his captors. He was called a coward and, later, a popular song of the era was entitled “Jeff in Petticoats.” Davis’s wife insisted, backed up by other historical accounts, that he was simply wearing a shawl because he had become quite ill over the last few days and she had given it to him to keep him warm. Either way, there was no escape. Jefferson Davis officially became a prisoner of the United States government.

He was transported to Fort Monroe in Virginia where he was held for two years as a military prisoner. Soldiers watched him 24/7 to ensure he didn’t try to escape, that he ate, and didn’t try to commit suicide. The country debated how to handle the most famous war criminal from the Civil War.  At first, President Johnson wanted to prosecute Davis as a co-conspirator in the assassination of President Lincoln. However, as the trial for the true assassination conspirators wound down in late June 1865, it became clear that Jefferson Davis had no direct connection to the parties.

Within a year, Davis was transported to much better quarters and his wife was even allowed to move to Fort Monroe to be near him. According to the Virginia Foundation of Humanities, Davis respected the way he was being treated by the government. He was afforded certain privileges, like visitors, exercise, and time with his wife, that they didn’t necessarily have to give him.

On May 13, 1867, he was released into civilian custody on $100,000 bail.  The editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, abolitionist Gerrit Smith, and several other prominent Northerners paid that bail.

President Andrew Johnson’s own impeachment trial delayed any motions even further. Additionally, there were several issues that the prosecution (the US government) ran into charging Davis with treason. For one, the defendant (Davis) demanded a trial which forced the government to figure out the correct way to prove the unconstitutionality of secession. Needless to say, this was a tough task and the government asked for more time to gather their argument.

Finally in December 1868, a year and half after he was released on bail, preliminary motions were held for Davis on the charges of treason against the United States for organizing and arming the 1864 military invasions of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The defense immediately called for a dismissal of the charges. They said that since Davis would already be punished by the Fourteenth Amendment, he could not be further prosecuted under the double jeopardy provision.  The Fourteenth Amendment had only been passed in July of that year and dealt with a lot of issues in regards to Reconstruction.

The case went to the Supreme Court, but it was never tried. For fear that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of the defense and make the US government look incompetent, President Johnson issued a pardon on Christmas Day, 1868 to all persons who participated in the “rebellion.” Jefferson Davis was no longer a wanted man.

Davis and his family traveled to Europe for a time after his release, no doubt disillusioned with the whole process of prosecution. Upon returning, he took up residence in Tennessee. He kept to himself and didn’t comment publicly about Reconstruction. Privately, according William Cooper’s biography on Davis, he thought of African-Americans as inferior to white men and resented that the South was ruled by “Yankees and Negroe.”

He moved to an estate called Beauvoir near Biloxi, Mississippi. As his quiet retirement continued, he completed a two-volume book in 1881 about his wartime experiences called The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.  In 1888, his reputation as a Confederate hero restored, he said this to an audience of supporters in Mississippi,

“… lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and make your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished—a reunited country.”

On December 6, 1889, Jefferson Davis passed away in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was buried there for four years until 1893, when he was relocated to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. His remains are still there, in the same city where his fall began.




The Fall of Richmond

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Appomattox Campaign

The Burning of RichmondThe American Civil War ended in stages as various Confederate armies and the members of the government surrendered across the South.

By early spring 1865 the citizens of Richmond had become used to the threat of capture by the Federal army whose soldiers the Richmond newspapers described with great imagination as the vilest of humanity. Its inhabitants had grown accustomed to the sound of artillery fire from just ten miles outside the city. Their faith in Robert E. Lee was so complete that they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he would never allow Richmond to be taken.


But General Lee knew that there would come a time that his army would have to leave the Confederate capital or be crushed by the superior Union armies. His army had put on a heroic defense but in the process they had been worn to the nub.

The catastrophic Confederate defeat at Five Forks on April 1st convinced Lee that it was time for his troops to leave Petersburg and Richmond, moving west. He hoped to join up with the army of General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina to continue the fight. At this point Lee had between 43,000 and 46,000 men.

As soon as the civilian populations of the cities discovered the imminent departure of their protectors panic ensued. Frank Lawley, the correspondent for London newspaper, The Times, observed:

“The scene that followed baffles description. During the long afternoon and throughout the feverish night, on horseback, in every description of cart, carriage, and vehicle, in every hurried train that left the city, on canal barges, skiffs, and boats, the exodus of officials and prominent citizens was unintermitted.”

President Davis’ train was set to depart on April 2 at 8:30 Sunday night. He kept hoping that somehow Lee would send news of a reversal of fortunes and that the government would not have to abandon the city. Finally, at 11 o’clock, he boarded the train and began the sad trip to Danville.

Richmond’s officials ordered all of the liquor to be destroyed. In the need for haste, however, those men charged with going through the stocks of every saloon and warehouse found the most expedient way was to smash the bottles and pour the kegs into the gutters and down the street drains. The stench attracted crowds. They gulped the whisky from the curbstones, picked it up in their hats and boots, and guzzled it before stooping for more. So the action taken to prevent a Union army rampage started a rampage by the city’s own people.

Meanwhile back in the city Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell, Richmond’s military commander, was under orders to destroy the city’s tobacco, cotton, and foodstuffs before the Yankees got to them. To destroy the tobacco, Ewell had it moved to buildings that he believed could burn without setting the rest of the city on fire and asked the fire department to stand by to keep the fire from spreading.

In a city that had been suffering from scarcity, where high officials held “Starvation Balls,” no one believed there could be much food left to destroy. But they were wrong. The crowd, seeing the commissaries filled with smoked meats, flour, sugar, and coffee, became ugly. LaSalle Pickett wrote

“The most revolting revelation was the amount of provisions, shoes and clothing which had been accumulated by the speculators who hovered like vultures over the scene of death and desolation. Taking advantage of their possession of money and lack of both patriotism and humanity, they had, by an early corner in the market and by successful blockade running, brought up all the available supplies with an eye to future gain, while our soldiers and women and children were absolutely in rags, barefoot and starving.”

Enraged, they snatched the food and clothing and turned to the nearby shops to loot whatever else they found. They were impossible to stop. Ewell tried, but he had only convalescent soldiers and a few army staff officers under his command at this point. Not nearly enough men to bring order back to the streets. The fires, though, grew out of control, burning the center of the city and driving the looters away.

Embers from the street fires of official papers and from the paper torches used by vandals drifted. The wind picked up. Another building caught fire. The business district caught fire. Worse, as Admiral Raphael Semmes wrote,

“The Tredegar Iron Works were on fire, and continual explosions of loaded shell stored there were taking place….The population was in a great state of alarm.”

Frank Lawley reported that as he walked toward the railroad station he saw a column of dense black smoke. Semmes had set his ironclads on fire to keep them out of Union hands. Moments later, the warships’ arsenals exploded blowing the windows out for two miles around, overturning tombstones, and tearing doors from their hinges.

The Union cavalry entered town. By 7:15 Monday morning, April 3, two guidons of the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry flew over the capitol building. Not long after, two officers of the 13th New York Artillery took down the little triangular flags and ran up the great United States flag. Union General Godfrey Weitzel sent a telegram to General Grant: “We took Richmond at 8:15 this morning. I captured many guns. The enemy left in great haste. The city is on fire in two places. Am making every effort to put it out. The people received us with enthusiastic expressions of joy.”

Weitzel ordered his troops to put out the fire. The city’s two fire engines worked, bucket brigades were formed. Threatened buildings were pulled down to create firebreaks. Five hours later the wind finally shifted, and they began to bring it under control. All or part of at least 54 blocks were destroyed, according to Furgurson. Weitzel wrote “The rebel capitol, fired by men placed in it to defend it, was saved from total destruction by soldiers of the United States, who had taken possession.” And the city rested.





Sheridan’s Raid on Scottsville, Virginia and Commemoration

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series The James River Campaign

If you live in central Virginia and are available this coming weekend visiting Scottsville and the commemoration of Sheridan’s War in ScottsvilleRaid. Scottsville is a small town at the big bend of  the James River. Sheridan’s force of cavalry and infantry raided the town in early March of 1865. Among his commanders were George Armstrong Custer, Wesley Merritt and Thomas Devin.

Sheridan led a force of 10,000 soldiers which marched down the Scottsville Road from Charlottesville, about a 20 mile march. His goal was Scottsville’s tobacco warehouses and other military supplies. He also wanted to destroy the James River and Kanawha Canal, a key transportation link with Richmond.

After four long years of war, the enemy and devastation came to Scottsville.  On March 6, 1865, Major General Philip H. Sheridan’s expedition of nearly 10,000 Union soldiers departed Charlottesville.  Their mission was to destroy the James River Canal and the Virginia Central Railroad.

The expedition separated into two columns with Sheridan and Brevet Major General George A. Custer leading the 3rd Cavalry southwest through North and South Gardens to destroy the railroad.  Brevet Major General Wesley Merritt and Brigadier General Thomas C. Devin headed south to Scottsville with the 1st Cavalry and orders to destroy the canal, bridges, mills, manufactories, and rebel food stores.

The destruction of Scottsville began at 3 p.m. on that March day, as noted in General Devin’s official report:

At this point, three canal boats were captured, one loaded with shell (9600) and two with the Government commissary stores and tobacco. These were totally destroyed and burned, together with a large cloth mill, a five-story flouring mill, candle factory, machine shop, and tobacco warehouse. Each of these buildings was crammed with products of its manufacture to a surprising extent, and all were totally destroyed.

The intense heat of the flour mill fire charred nearby homes, although no loss of life occurred. Canal locks and bridges above and below town also were destroyed or severely damaged. The last of Devin’s men departed Scottsville on March 7th and headed west up the towpath to continue their canal destruction duties and join Sheridan’s column at New Market (Norwood).

On March 8th, Sheridan’s united command moved back down the James River towards Columbia, arriving in Scottsville on Thursday night, March 9th.  The roads were horrible due to the spring thaw and heavy rains, and the soldiers were tired and hungry.  Legend has it that Sheridan and Custer rested the night at Cliffside while Merritt commandeered Old Hall. (These homes still exist.)

By this stage of the expedition, Sheridan’s men were down to their last ‘coffee and sugar’ rations, and their horses suffered from fatigue and hoof rot.  They relied on the Scottsville countryside for ‘subsistence and forage’ and ransacked and looted homes, barns, and any potential hiding place for food, horses, and valuables.  Cliffside’s carriage house and barn were torched, although the jewelry, which Mrs. John O. Lewis buried earlier near their chicken house, went undiscovered.

Yankees stuffed hams in their knapsacks and strapped dead chickens to their saddles.  At age 5, Fannie Patteson stood at a second floor window and watched her backyard fill with strange men, who upset their beehives and crammed honey into their mouths.

As the Yankees snatched up every horse they spotted, twelve year-old Luther Pitts hid two local horses in the basement of the Barclay House on Main Street.  Miletus Harris and his son, Charles, beat back the flames on their Main Street store as the nearby Columbian Hotel went up in smoke.

Finally on March 10th, Sheridan’s army departed Scottsville and continued along the James River to Columbia, leaving Scottsville charred and hungry.  It would take forty years for the town’s economy to recover.

You can read about the entire James River Campaign here.

Sheridan’s Raid on Scottsville, 6-8 March 2015
View this email in your browser

You are invited to attend:


Friday-Sunday, March 6-8, 2015

The weather was cold and rainy, and the James River was high when Union troops under General Phillip Sheridan came to Scottsville in 1865.  The town was undefended, and the Union troops stayed for a few days, appropriating supplies (food and horses), setting fire to several buildings and canal boats, and destroying the James River and Kanawha Canal.

On this 150th anniversary of Sheridan’s Raid, please join us in Scottsville onMarch 6-8, and learn more about the long-lasting impact of this raid on our town and its citizens.  We’ll see a procession of mounted Union soldiers riding through town to Canal Basin Square, a new Civil War exhibit in the Scottsville Museum, and presentations about Sheridan’s raid, the James River and Kanawha canal, and the African-American community in Scottsville

All events are free and open to the public.

Schedule of Events:

History Mobile:  A traveling museum of the Civil War in Virginia. Friday and Saturday (March 6-7), 9am-5pm.  Location: Village Square Shopping Center in Scottsville.
Museum Exhibits: Featuring artifacts of Sheridan’s raid, the lives of African-American families, and women in mourning after the war. Friday (March 6),10am-5pm; Saturday (March 7), 10am-4pm.  Sunday (March 8), 1-5pm.  Location:  Scottsville Museum, 290 Main Street.
Union Cavalry Reenactors Parade: 2nd U.S. Cavalry, Saturday (March 7),11am.  Location: From old Uniroyal Tire Plant on Bird Street, south on Valley Street to Main Street, east on Main Street to Canal Basin Square.
Living History Encampment – Union Army: Saturday (March 7), 11:30am-3pm. Location: Across from Scottsville Museum on Main Street.
Sheridan’s Raid & Scottsville: Saturday (March 7), 4pm.  Presentation by Richard Nicholas, author of Sheridan’s James River Campaign. Location: Victory Hall, 401 Valley Street.
African-American Families in War and Reconstruction:  Sunday (March 8),3pm.  Presentation by historians, Sam Towler (“The Families of Liberty Corner”) and Regina Rush (“The Rush Family of Chestnut Grove”).  Location:  Victory Hall, 401 Valley Street.
James River and Kanawha Canal:  Sunday (March 8), 4pm. Presentation by Roger Nelson and Brian Coffield of the Virginia Canals and Navigations Society.  Location: Victory Hall, 401 Valley Street.
Walking Tour: Pick up a free map and guide to Civil War sites in Scottsville.  Maps and information available at Victory Hall and the Visitor’s Center on Main Street, Scottsville.

For more information, see: and

See you in Scottsville!
Copyright ©2015  Scottsville Museum, All rights reserved.

The Battles for the Weldon Railroad

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Railroads of the Civil War

Ulysses S. Grant understood the importance of railroad for both sides war efforts. By June of 1864 his forces were systematically cutting the rail lines that supplied Petersburg and Richmond of much-needed daily supplies. As the noose around the twin Confederate strongholds tightened the battles for the Weldon Railroad increased in importance.

The Weldon Railroad had originally been chartered in 1835 as the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad. By 1855 it had been renamed the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. At its completion in 1840 it was considered the longest railroad in the world at 161.5 miles of 4 ft. 8 inch gauge track.

At its terminus in Weldon, North Carolina, it connected with the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad (to Portsmouth, Virginia) and the Petersburg Railroad (to Petersburg, Virginia). It also connected with the North Carolina Railroad at its midpoint where the future city of Goldsboro soon sprang up.

Petersburg, railroad attacks, June 21-22

The first serious action to cut off the railroad is called the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road. This initial attack against the Weldon Railroad began on June 21st when units from the II Corps skirmished with Confederate cavalry as they moved toward the rail line. The two Federal corps assigned to the attack began to diverge from each other creating a gap.

Confederate Brig. Gen. William Mahone who was very familiar with the area (he had been a civil engineer before the war) realized that he could surprise the II Corps by hiding his men in a deep ravine. At 3:00 PM his force emerged in the rear of Francis Barlow’s Division and surprised them. Barlow’s unit was routed. So, too, was John Gibbon’s Division. However, both units able to rally around some earthworks that had been built the night before. The fighting ended with the coming of darkness.

In the morning the II Corps resumed their advance and retook the earthworks that they had lost the day before. One brigade of Vermont men reached the rail line and started tearing up the tracks. They were caught in a Confederate counterattack and many of them were captured. The general attack collapsed and Meade called off further operations.

The Federals lost almost 3,000 men to the Confederates 572. It wasn’t a total loss for the Federal side. Although the Confederates retained control of the Weldon Railroad, at least a half mile of track was destroyed and the siege lines continued to be pushed to the west straining the Confederate manpower resources.

The second attempt to cut the line was an all-cavalry raid, called the Wilson-Kautz Raid, whose main goal was to destroy as much of the track to the south and southwest of Petersburg. The overall commander wasWilson-Kautz Raid, June 22-July 1 Maj. Gen. James Wilson who was accompanied by Br. Gen. August Kautz. Interestingly, Wilson’s contribution was only 1,300 men while Kautz’s entire division numbered 2,000. The force also included two batteries of six guns each.

Their first objective was Reams Station, about 7 miles south of the city where they destroyed rail cars and track of the Weldon Railroad. Kautz’s force moved west to Ford’s Station where they destroyed rail cars and track of the South Side Railroad.

Wilson’s force moved toward Burkeville where the South Side Railroad intersected with the Richmond & Danville Railroad. At this point they encountered units of Rooney Lee’s Cavalry.  While his rear guard fended off the Confederates, Wilson’s main force destroyed about 30 miles of track. One June 24th he moved his force south to Meherrin Station on the Richmond & Danville RR where his force continued to tear up the track.

Staunton River BridgeThe combined force continued to move southwest on the Richmond & Danville RR tearing up track all of the way until they reached the Staunton River Bridge. The bridge was defended by about 1,000 men and boys of the Home Guard commanded by Captain Benjamin L. Farinholt. The Federal force was unable to dislodge the Home Guards and being pressed from the rear by Confederate cavalry, retreated east to Reams Station.

Wilson had been assured that this station would be under Federal control. With Confederate units closing in on all sides, they continued to move to the east. The Federal force fought a minor engagement at Sappony Station and was able to continue moving toward Reams Station. They continued to fight a running battle with enemy cavalry units from June 28th until the following day.

On the 29th they arrived back at Ream’s Station only to find it occupied by Confederate infantry. They managed to get a messenger through to Meade who dispatched infantry reinforcements south. Wilson couldn’t wait for them to arrive. He burned his wagons, destroyed his artillery and fled north to the safety of the Federal lines where they arrived on July 1, 1864.

The Wilson Kautz Raid was seen by some as successful but Grant described it as a “disaster”. The combined force had 1,445 casualties (killed, wounded, missing/captured). About 60 miles of track were destroyed, which took the Confederates several weeks to repair.

The Union Army made another effort against the all-important supply line on August 18, 1864 when a force of 20,000 Federals under Maj. Gen Gouverneur Warren headed south in an attempt to cut off the Confederate’s lifeline. Warren’s V Corps was supplemented by units from the IX Corps, the II Corps and August Kautz’s small cavalry division.

General A.P. Hill commanded a force of 14-15,000 Confederates under General P.G.T/ Beauregard who was the commander in Petersburg. Lee was off observing the Deep Bottom battle.

Warren’s force advanced south through the rain and over muddy roads. He pushed aside the Confederate pickets and a cavalry brigade. The reached Globe Tavern on the railroad line by about 9:00 AM and started to destroy the track. Warren detailed a brigade from Romeyn B. Ayres’ Division to protect his force from any attack from the north.

Ayers met the Confederates about 1:00 PM and Warren sent Samuel Crawford’s Division to strengthen his right. They tried to outflank the Confederate attackers. About 2:00 PM three Confederate brigades attacked the combined Federal force and began to push it back to within a mile of the Weldon Railroad and Globe Tavern. Warren counterattacked, regained the lost ground and entrenched for the night.

During the night both armies were reinforced. The Federal IX Corps arrived on the field and Rooney Lee’s cavalry division and three infantry brigades from William Mahone’s Division reinforced the Confederates.

Globe Tavern and the Weldon RailroadThe next day saw limited action due to the heavy rain. However in the late afternoon, Mahone found a hole in the Federal line and his men poured through it to the enemy’s rear area. General Crawford attempted to rally his panicked men and was nearly captured. However, almost two full brigades of his men were captured.

At the same Henry Heth launched a frontal assault against the Federal left and center that was easily repulsed by Ayers. The IX Corps counterattacked and the fighting was hand-to-hand until darkness ended it.

On August 20th heavy rains curtailed any activity. On the night of August 20-21 Warren pulled his units back about 2 miles to a new line of fortifications that were tied in to the main Federal line along Jerusalem Plank Road.

On the 21st the fair weather returned and the Confederates attacked at about 9:00 AM. Mahone struck the Federal left and Heth the Federal right. Both assaults were unsuccessful with heavy Confederate casualties. By 10:30 AM the Confederates withdraw leaving several miles of the Weldon Railroad in Federal hands.

Federal casualties were heavy with 251 killed, 1148 wounded and 2,897 missing/captured. The Confederates suffered 211 killed, 990 wounded and 419 missing/captured, including Brig. Gen. John C.C. Sanders of Mahone’s Division.

More importantly, the Confederates were forced to move their supplies 30 miles by wagon because of the break in the Weldon Railroad. The Federals extended their siege lines to Globe Tavern and achieved their first clear victory of the siege.

Grant wasn’t completely satisfied with Warren’s victory and he delegated Winfield Hancock and the II Corps to extend his control further south. Hancock’s objective was to destroy an additional 14 miles of track from Globe Tavern as far south as Rowanty Creek. This engagement is called the Second Battle of Ream’s Station.

Hancock had a force of 9,000 men which included David Gregg’s cavalry division. He faced A.P. Hill and Henry Heth with their force of between 8-10,000 men.

On August 22nd Gregg’s Cavalry and Barlow’s Division, under the command of Brig. General Nelson A. Miles while Barlow was on leave, drove off the Confederate pickets and destroyed the tracks to within 3 miles of Ream’s Station.

Hancock’s other infantry division under the command of John Gibbon moved forward the next day and occupied fortifications left from the Wilson-Kautz Raid in June. The positions were somewhat degraded but Gibbon’s men didn’t bother to improve them.

Meanwhile, Lee realized that if the Federal captured Dinwiddie Court House his possible retreat route out of the Richmond and Petersburg would be cut. He ordered A.P. Hill to drive the Federals from their positions. Hill, who was ill, delegated tactical command to Henry Heth with an order to carry the position. The Confederate force included Heth’s own division, Cadmus Wilcox’s Division, Wade Hampton’s Cavalry and part of Mahone’s Division.

By the 24th Hancock had arrived at Ream’s Station. The Federals had destroyed 3 miles of track south of Ream’s Station (images) but the following day Hancock recalled them when he received word that the Confederate cavalry was approaching.

Gregg’s cavalry was pushed back by Hampton’s cavalry with the Confederate column advancing down the Dinwiddie Stage Road. On the north side of the battle Wilcox’s three brigades assaulted Miles’ fortified position about 2:00 PM but were repulsed. Gibbon’s Division blocked Hampton’s cavalry in the south.

Confederate reinforcements arrived in the afternoon and Heth ordered an all-out assault against Miles’ position at about 5:30 PM. The six Confederate brigades were personally led by Heth. His men broke through the Federal fortifications and Miles’ men disintegrated under the assault. Neither Miles nor Hancock was able to rally the men.

In the south Gibbon’s Division began to give way under the pressure of a surprise dismounted attack from Hampton’s Cavalry. Many of Gibbon’s men either fled or surrendered. This allowed Hampton to flank Miles and complete the rout. However, Hancock ordered a counterattack which allowed the Federal force to beat an orderly retreat to the Petersburg lines.

Hancock lost 117 killed, 439 wounded and 2,046 missing/captured with the cavalry suffering an additional 145 casualties. Confederate casualties were 814 (Hampton’s cavalry lost 16 killed, 75 wounded, 3 missing; Hill’s infantry 720 total).

However, it was only a partial Confederate victory. They may have saved Dinwiddie Court House but they lost the use of the Weldon Railroad and continued to bring in their supplies by wagon. The noose around Petersburg was tightening.


Marsena R. Patrick, Provost Marshal General

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series The Provost Marshal System

General Marsena R. PatrickMarsena Rudolph Patrick was the provost marshal for the Army of the Potomac and later held the same position for the armies of the Eastern Theater under General Ulysses S. Grant.

Patrick was born in Jefferson County, New York on March 15, 1811. He worked on the Erie Canal and briefly taught school before his appointment to West Point. He graduated in 1835 and was commissioned in the infantry. In 1839 he served in the Seminole Wars. He served in the Mexican War where he was promoted to captain in 1847. Promoted to major in 1849, nevertheless he resigned his commission a year later.

Initially, he was president of the Sackett’s Harbor and Ellisburg Railroad. He later became an expert farmer, studying and using the latest farming practices. In 1859, he was appointed president of the the New York State Agricultural College, serving in that role for two years before the outbreak of the Civil War.

At the onset of the war Patrick enlisted in the New York State Militia as its inspector general. By March 1862 he was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers and given command of a brigade. His unit was part of  a division commanded Brig. Gen. Rufus King. They were part of Irvin McDowell’s Army in the Shenandoah Valley. It was here that they battled the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah led by Gen. Thomas J. Jackson who had become the famous ‘Stonewall’ at the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas).

Patrick was almost immediately appointed military governor of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in April 1862. Transferred later in the year to the Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, he commanded the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, I Corps in the defenses of Washington, D.C..

Patrick’s brigade (renumbered as the 3rd Brigade) suffered hundreds of casualties in the Maryland Campaign, seeing action at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. At Antietam Patrick’s Brigade was part of the assaults on the West Woods on the morning of the battle.

Following the Battle of Antietam, the Army of the Potomac’s command structure was reorganized with the removal of McClellan and his replacement by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Patrick was named provost marshal of the Army of the Potomac on October 6, 1862 and given the equivalent of a brigade of troops to carry out his duties. At times this formation included the following units:

His unit was responsible for a variety of tasks including maintaining military discipline behind the lines. In November of 1862 the were unable to stop the sacking and looting of Fredericksburg, Virginia from vengeful Union troops. This incident was to dog Patrick for some time as political leaders blamed him for the actions of the out-of-control soldiers.

“The Soldiery were sacking the town!” Patrick wrote, uncharacteristically using an exclamation mark in his diary. “Men with all sorts of utensils & furniture, all sorts of eatables & drinkables & wearables, were carried off. I found the town in a most deplorable state of things. Libraries, pictures, furniture, every thing destroyed & the brutal Soldiery still carrying on the work.”

Patrick described his efforts to restore order with near-melancholy: “Couch sent over for me to clear the town. This was impossible although I put in my Cavalry & 4 companies of Infy.”

In 1863, new army commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker had Patrick create the Bureau of Military Information, a network of intelligence agents. Patrick assigned his deputy provost marshal, Colonel George H. Sharpe, to the task. Sharpe was assisted by John C. Babcock, a civilian and former employee of Allan Pinkerton.

His unit was also responsible for processing captured Confederate troops from the battlefield and into captivity. They policed the area behind the battlefields and behind the marching army for deserters and stragglers. In general, it was their job to main order and discipline for the Army of the Potomac.

Patrick’s job as provost marshal began with a marching army. Whether in advance or retreat, a force the size of the Army of the Potomac had to contend with clogged roads, narrow bridges, mud, swift rivers and a host of other situations bound to slow progress. Patrick had to keep the army moving while rounding up stragglers, looters or worse.

Artillery, Packs, Ambulances, Servants, Orderlies & detached commands, with Stragglers of all kinds, began to pour in” as the army approached a narrow bridge, Patrick wrote in his diary. “I was at the Bridge & thereabouts, whip in hand, using it freely & directing the movement successfully, until every wheel & hoof had crossed the bridges.”

As battle neared, Patrick’s job evolved into helping concentrate the army. He had to round up drunks, skedaddlers, looters, stragglers and other unsavory men who were supposed to be in line against the enemy. On June 30, 1863, as the army approached Gettysburg, Patrick wrote, “I was called into town and sent for two Squadrons of Cavalry to go back to Frederick & clean out that town, which was reported full of drunken men & Stragglers.”

During battle, Patrick performed the thankless job of turning around or corralling the men who ran from the battle. He also had to deal with prisoners. During Pickett’s Charge, Patrick and his men were behind the main Federal line. “I had my hands full with those that broke to the rear, but we succeeded in checking the disorder & organized a guard of Stragglers to keep nearly 2000 Prisoners all safe.”

After the battle, Patrick saw to the dead and the mountains of government equipment left on the field. On July 6, 1863, Patrick wrote, “I was soon ordered by Gen. Meade to go into the town & make arrangements with responsible parties for the burial of the dead & Securing of the property on the battle field.”

When Ulysses S, Grant became General-in-Chief in March of 1864, He appointed Patrick as provost marshal for the combined forces operating against Richmond, Virginia. He carried out the same duties as he had previously but on a larger scale. After the surrender of Robert E. Lee, he was appointed as provost of the District of Henrico in the Department of Virginia.

Although appointed a brevet major general in the volunteer army, Patrick resigned from the Army a second time on June 12, 1865, preferring to return to civilian life rather than accept a role in the smaller postbellum regular army. In 1865, he ran on the Democratic ticket for New York State Treasurer but was defeated by Republican Joseph Howland.

Patrick moved to Manlius, NY, and from 1867 through 1868, Patrick served as president of the New York State Agricultural Society, then spent the next two years as a state commissioner, a role he again held from 1879 through 1880. He became a widely known public speaker, particularly on topics related to technological advances in agriculture.

Interested in the care of former soldiers, Patrick moved to Ohio and became the governor of the central branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Marsena Patrick died in Dayton, Ohio, and was buried in the Dayton National Cemetery. His diary, frequently critical of the Army’s commanders, wasn’t published until 1964.




Virginia Divided and Occupied

This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series The Divided States of the South

Virginia in 1860The Commonwealth of Virginia was the Southern state that saw the majority of the fighting in the Eastern Theater. Many of its citizens and their property were subjected to the constant ebbs and flows of various armies. As an example the Shenandoah Valley was burned from end to end over the four years of the war.

What we’ll be looking at in this post is how Virginia came to be divided and then partially occupied by Union forces. It is not the purview of this post to discuss the numerous major battles on the soil of the Old Dominion. Those can be found at other places on this blog and would require a book-length presentation to do them justice. Rather we’ll first look at the creation of West Virginia and then the Union occupation of northern and eastern Virginia.

Virginia in 1860 was the most populous of the Southern states. With almost half a million enslaved people, it had the highest number of residents living in slavery. Virginia also had probably the most varied geography, the most diversified economy, and the third-largest land area of any slave state.

Not only was Virginia a Mid-Atlantic state but because of its long Ohio River border it was also a Mid-Western state. Virginia bordered on five slave states: Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, and two free states: Pennsylvania and Ohio. Thus, it would be a key state in any conflict between North and South.

By 1860 Virginia’s economy was different than the other Southern states. Industrialization was growing across the state. The once-vibrant plantation economy was no longer as widespread. Many slaves were either being sold south for use on cotton, rice or tobacco plantations or rented to industrial enterprises.

As the calls for secession increased there was no way to gauge the sentiment of Virginia citizens if a Republican presidential candidate who was opposed to slavery won the election in November that year. The mood in the mountains of western Virginia was primarily anti-secession while other parts of the state were ambivalent.

John Brown’s Raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in October 1859 inflamed public opinion in the state. Many Southern slave owners feared that other abolitionists would also incite an insurrection of enslaved people and spread violence and bloodshed throughout the South. Those in Virginia were no exception. 

The Presidential election of 1860 would set the stage for the secession and division of Virginia. Four candidates took part. Two were Democrats: Stephen Douglas of Illinois and John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. John Bell who ran under the banner of the Constitutional Union Party was from Tennessee. Finally, Abraham Lincoln was the nominee of the new Republican Party.

In Virginia, the presidential election of 1860 was the closest in history. Constitutional Union candidate John Bell very narrowly won the state’s fifteen electoral votes, in addition to those of Kentucky and Tennessee. He received 74,701 votes, as reported in the Richmond Daily Enquirer of December 24, 1860; John C. Breckinridge received 74,379; Stephen A. Douglas received 16,292; and Abraham Lincoln received 1,929. 

As a measure of the division throughout the country Lincoln was not even on the ballot in nine southern states. South Carolina had no popular vote nor did they cast any electoral votes.

On December 18, 1860, Senator John Jordan Crittenden, of Kentucky, introduced compromise proposals that he hoped would be agreeable to enough Northern and Southern leaders that the crisis could be ended peacefully and the Union preserved. The Senate tabled Crittenden’s proposals late in December 1860, and the House of Representatives never took a final vote on any of the elements of Crittenden’s plan.

Two days after Crittenden introduced his compromise South Carolina seceded from the Union. Within weeks six other states followed them out of the Union On January 19, 1861, the General Assembly of Virginia issued a call for a national peace conference to meet in Washington to seek a compromise to end the crisis. Their efforts were for naught for like the Crittenden proposals, the Peace Conference’s proposals were unacceptable to many leaders in both sections.

In mid-January 1861, the General Assembly of Virginia ordered an election of delegates to a convention to consider the question of secession. The Assembly asked voters to decide whether the convention, if it chose to secede, had to submit its decision to the voters for ratification or rejection in a popular referendum.

The convention that met in Richmond from February 13 through May 1, 1861, is known in Virginia’s history as the Secession Convention, but for its first two months it was a Union convention. Unlike state conventions in the lower South that met and speedily voted to secede, the Virginia convention remained in session for two and a half months and kept Virginia in the Union until mid-April 1861.

At the same time, the delegates attempted to enlist the other upper South slave states that also remained in the Union in finding a compromise that would allow the states that had seceded to return and restore the Union. The electorate voted to hold a popular referendum on the issue if the convention decided that Virginia should secede from the Union. Overall, about two-thirds of Virginia’s voters favored requiring the referendum, suggesting the relative weakness of secession sentiment in the state at that time.

The pro-secession editor of an Abingdon Democratic newspaper wrote, “the immediate secession candidates have been badly whipped—in fact, have been almost annihilated,—and the gentlemen representing the ‘wait-a-bit‘ ticket triumphantly elected.”

On April 4, 1861, when the question faced by the delegates was whether secession was wise or desirable, 63 delegates from west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where there were very few slaves, voted to remain a part of the United States while only 15 delegates voted for secession.

In the counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the vote was almost equally divided, with 30 delegates voting for secession and 27 voting against it. Most of the opponents of secession in this region resided in north-central Virginia and in and around the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, and Portsmouth, where slavery was relatively less important than elsewhere.

The stage was set for the division of the state. Following the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops the convention met again and voted 88 to 55 to submit an ordinance of secession to the voters for ratification or rejection in a May referendum.

The Ordinance of Secession that the convention adopted on April 17, 1861, and that voters in the state ratified in a referendum conducted on May 23, 1861, repealed Virginia’s 1788 ratification of the Constitution of the United States and also repealed all of the General Assembly’s votes to ratify amendments to the Constitution.

The western Unionists returned home and called for a convention to meet in Wheeling in order to consider their next moves. They met during the summer of 1861 and voted to separate from Virginia. In August 1861, a third convention in Wheeling issued the call for election of a constitutional convention to create a new state consisting of western and northwestern counties of old Virginia. Initially called Kanawha and later called West Virginia, it was admitted to the Union as a free state in June 1863.

Over the next two years pieces of Virginia were captured and occupied by various Union armies. Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula always remained under the authority of the Federal government. Across from Fortress Monroe was the city of Norfolk and the Gosport Shipyard.

Almost immediately after Virginia seceded it was captured by Confederate forces. But President Lincoln realizing the importance of the naval base directed its recapture by Union troops. For the rest of the war Norfolk and the surrounding area was occupied and under martial law.

The war in the Shenandoah Valley was a constant ebb and flow of battle from north to south. As an example, the town of Winchester in the northern Valley was a strategic prize for both sides. Sitting just south of the Potomac River, Winchester lay on the only route between the east and western United States with direct connections to Washington, D.C. Passing through or nearby Winchester are major transportation and communications routes.

There were three major battles at Winchester in addition to its use as a Confederate base of operations for five major campaigns. It is claimed that Winchester changed hands as many as 72 times during the course of the war, and 13 times in one day. Battles raged all along Main Street at different points in the war. 

With barely 100 miles separating the two capital cities, Northern Virginia found itself in the center of much of the conflict. The Union army occupied large swathes of northern Virginia continually throughout the war. The city of Alexandria across the Potomac from Washington was occupied throughout the war. The Union Army used it as a base of operations to occupy a number of counties in the area.

Many of the early battles that were fought in the state were fought across the northern tier of counties stretching from Prince William County to Fairfax. In addition, much of the partisan activities carried out by both sides took place in this area.

Eventually, Union troops subdued the are and a hard border was established along the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers with the Union Army holding everything to the north. A number of significant battles were fought to the south of this line, including Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. In fact, it could be said that the inevitable defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia began in this area.