Monday, February 17, 2020

Unconditional Smith

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant is generally given credit for the phrase of “unconditional surrender” at the Battle of Fort Donelson. However, Grant was not the first to use the phrase or the man who applied the term to the Confederate surrender.

Previous Unconditional Surrenders

An early use of “unconditional surrender” occurred after the Battle of the Trench in 627. The Muslims lead by Muhammad defeated an enemy faction, the Banu Qurayza. The Qurayza surrendered to Muhammad, which historians interpret as “unconditional.” All the men, except  a few who converted to Islam, were beheaded, and the women and children were enslaved.
When Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from his exile on Elba, the delegates of the European powers at the Congress of Vienna issued a statement on March 13, 815 declaring Napoleon Bonaparte to be an outlaw.
Consequently when the “outlaw” Napoleon surrendered he was not protected by military law or international law as a head of state. Under these “unconditional” terms, the British had no legal obligation to either accept his surrender or to spare his life. The British choose a lenient sentence and exiled him to the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena.

Civil War

General U. S. Grant
The most famous early use of the phrase occurred during the 1862 Battle of Fort Donelson in the Civil War. The widely accepted version is Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union Army received a request for terms from the fort's commanding officer, Confederate Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner Sr. Grant's reply was that "no terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." When news of Grant's victory, one of the Union's first in the war, was received in Washington, DC, newspapers remarked (and President Abraham Lincoln endorsed) that Grant's first two initials, "U.S.," stood for "Unconditional Surrender," which would later become his nickname.
Future surrender of Confederate forces to Grant were not unconditional. When Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House in 1865, Grant allowed the Confederates to go home under parole and to keep sidearms and private horses. Generous terms were also offered to John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg and William Tecumseh Sherman to Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina.

Admiral Andrew H. Foote

Grant was not the first officer in the Civil War to use the term. When Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman asked for terms of surrender during the Battle of Fort Henry. Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote replied, "no sir, your surrender will be unconditional."
In 1863, Ambrose Burnside forced an unconditional surrender of the Cumberland Gap and 2,300 Confederate soldiers and in 1864, Union General Gordon Granger forced an unconditional surrender of Fort Morgan.

Charles F. Smith’s Role

When the Confederate commanders at Fort Donelson decided to surrender, the command devolved to General Simon Buckner. Buckner asked for “a pen, ink, and paper “and requested a bugler." Buckner regarded capitulation "as a necessity of our position" and was determined to remain with his men.
General Simon Bolivar Buckner

Buckner composed a note to Grant asking for terms. "In consideration of all the circumstances governing the present situation of affairs at this station I propose to the commanding officers of the Federal forces the appointment of commissioners to agree upon terms of capitulation of the forces and post under my command, and in that view suggest an armistice until 1 o’clock today." Buckner ordered Colonel John C. Brown, whose brigade was opposite General Smith's division, to deliver the message to Grant. Colonel Brown was wounded, and he delegated the mission to Major Nathaniel F. Cheairs, commander of the Third Tennessee. "Cheairs and a bugler went to the line and after a considerable time, in which the bugler blew every tune he knew, they finally managed to get the attention of the Union forces." 

General C. F. Smith

On the Union side of the sector, Colonel Lauman heard a bugle and saw the Rebels waving a white flag. Lauman immediately sent Colonel Parrott from the Seventh Iowa to "ascertain the intent of it." Parrott reported that a Confederate officer wished to see the officer in charge. Lauman hurried to meet Major Cheairs, who presented the offer of capitulation. Lauman brought Cheairs to Smith who read Buckner's proposal. Smith bluntly told Cheairs: "I make no terms with Rebels with arms in their hands  ̶ my terms are unconditional and immediate surrender!" Then Smith took Cheairs to Grant’s headquarters at the Crisp House.
General Grant was asleep in bed in the kitchen, and Surgeon John H. Brinton was curled up on the floor near the fire. An orderly entered with General Smith, who, according to Brinton, "seemed very cold, indeed half frozen." Smith immediately walked to the open fire on the hearth and briefly warmed his feet. Then he turned his back to the fire and faced General Grant who had gotten out of bed and was quickly putting on his outer clothes.
"There's something for you to read, General Grant," said Smith, handing him the letter. After  Grant read the note he looked up at Smith and asked, "What answer shall I send to this, General Smith?" Smith did not hesitate and spoke plainly.
"No terms to the damned rebels," replied Smith.
Grant laughed and asked for some writing paper. Grant considered for about three minutes and wrote. Finally, he announced, "This is what I am writing, General Smith." Then he read his response, "Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of Commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." Smith gave a short emphatic "Hm [sic]" and remarked, "It's the same thing in smoother words." Then Smith left the farmhouse and gave the letter to Major Cheairs. 
  • Wikipedia contributors, "Unconditional surrender," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 17, 2020). 
  • Allen H. Mesch, Teacher of Civil War Generals -  Major General Charles Ferguson  Smith, Soldier and West Point Commandant (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2015), 224-225. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Edgar Allan Poe at West Point

Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809. His father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died the following year. The orphaned child was taken in by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia. Tension developed in their relationship as John Allan and Edgar Poe argued over gambling and educational debts. Poe attended the University of Virginia but left after a year because he lacked money to continue his studies.

To support himself, Poe enlisted in the United States Army on May 27, 1827 under the assumed name "Edgar A. Perry." Poe claimed that he was 22 years old although he was only 18. Private Poe first served at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor for five dollars a month.

Tamerlane and Other Poems
During this time, he published a 40-page collection of poetry. He attributed Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827) to an anonymous author "a Bostonian." Only 50 copies were printed, and the book was completely ignored.

Poe's regiment was posted to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina in November 1827. Poe was promoted to "artificer", an enlisted tradesman who prepared shells for artillery, and the army doubled his monthly pay. He served for two years and attained the rank of sergeant major for artillery. He decided to try to terminate his five-year enlistment ahead of schedule. He disclosed his real name and circumstances to his commanding officer, Lieutenant Howard. Howard would only allow Poe to be discharged if he reconciled with John Allan.

Poe and Allan reached a temporary agreement in 1829 after the death of Frances Allan on February 28, 1829. Allan agreed to help Poe's efforts to be discharged in order to receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Poe was finally discharged on April 15, 1829, after obtaining a replacement to finish the rest of his enlistment. Before entering West Point, Poe moved back to Baltimore where he published his second book Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems (1829).

Charles F. Smith
Poe was admitted as a West Point plebe on July 1, 1830. During Poe’s time at the Academy, he was instructed and supervised by assistant tactical instructors Charles F. Smith (6/25/1829- 9/1/1831), Joseph L. Locke (9/8/1829-9/1/1831), Simon H. Drum (8/30/1830-6/18/32), and John F. Kennedy (11/1/1829-1/16/1830). There are many stories, anecdotes, and fantasies about Cadet Poe's exploits at West Point. He was notorious for cutting mandatory drills, skipping classes, and making "nocturnal visits to Benny Havens." One night Poe stumbled back to his barracks and sprawled on his back on the steps of his tactical officer's quarters. "When the tactical officer awoke and inquired as to who might be outside his door, Poe allegedly responded in verse: On Linden when the sun was low/All bloodless lay the untrodden snow/And dark as winter was the flow/Of I SIR, rolling rapidly!" Assistant Tactical Instructor Lieutenant Locke was one of the victims of Poe's humor: "John Locke was a very great name; Joe Locke was greater in short; The former was known to Fame, The latter well known to Report."

U.S. Military Academy at West Point
Poe decided to leave West Point by purposely getting court-martialed. Some attribute his discharge to his frequent trips to Benny Havens or his "uncontrollable urge to hurl baked potatoes across the Academy mess hall." Another story blamed his dismal on reporting to a parade naked except for his crossed white ammunition belts and hat. One account said that Poe, in a fit of rage, threw his tactical officer off a cliff into the Hudson River and was subsequently charged with murder. On February 8, 1831, he was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church. Poe tactically pleaded not guilty to induce dismissal, knowing that he would be found guilty.

Poe's time at West Point was certainly trying for C. F. Smith and his fellow "tacs." As serious military men, they were happy to see him leave. As former cadets, they probably enjoyed his outrageous behavior and the legends that grew out of his time at the Academy.


1. George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. from Its Establishment, in 1802 to 1890 with the Early History of the United States Military Academy (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1891), Third Edition, Vol. I., Nos. 1 to 1000
2. James S. Robbins, Last in their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point ( New York: Encounter Books, 1962), 20.
3. William F. Hecker, editor, Private Perry and Mister Poe, The West Point Poems, 1831, Facsimile Edition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005), Introduction xvii-xviii.
4. Allen H. Mesch, Teacher of Civil War Generals -  Major General Charles Ferguson  Smith, Soldier and West Point Commandant (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2015), 17-18.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Lincoln vs. Trump

A recent Economist/YouGov poll finds most Republicans (53%) think Donald Trump is a better president than Abraham Lincoln. However, there is a clear regional difference: 62% of Republicans in the South say Trump is the better President; 38% pick Lincoln. Those in all other regions are more likely to give credit to Lincoln. 54% of Republicans outside the South say Lincoln was better. 

It doesn’t surprise me that Southern Republicans favor Trump over Lincoln. In fact, I am astonished that the numbers are not higher. Most citizens of former Confederate states still dislike/hate Lincoln. The percentage outside the South indicates Republicans in these states say Lincoln was a better president. Trump is only favored with 46% of these Republicans. 

This may seem very strange because most polls place Lincoln at the top of the list of greatest presidents. A C-span poll presented in April 2019 of one hundred historians rank the top five as 1. Lincoln, 2. George Washington, 3. Franklin Roosevelt, 4. Theodore Roosevelt, and 5. Dwight Eisenhower. The bottom five presidents not including Trump are 43, James Buchanan, 42. Andrew Johnson, 41. Franklin Pierce, 40. Warren G. Harding, and 39. John Tyler. Three of the presidents were in office immediately before after the Civil War. 

  • April 4, 1841- March 4, 1845 - John Tyler - Whig and Unaffiliated
  • March 4, 1853-March 4, 1857 - Franklin Pierce - Democrat
  • March 4, 1857-March 4, 1861 - James Buchanan - Democrat
  • April 15, 1865-March 4, 1869 - Andrew Johnson - National Union and Democrat
  • March 4, 1921-August 23, 1923 - Warren G. Harding - Republican
I performed my own “rough” calculation based on estimates of Republican voters.


    Wednesday, January 15, 2020

    Fort Stanton

    Fort Stanton was built in 1855 by the 1st Dragoon and the 3rd and 8th Infantry Regiments of the United States Army to serve as a base of military operations against the Mescalero Apaches. Numerous campaigns were fought from 1855 until the 1880’s. It was established to protect Hispano and White settlements along the Rio Bonito in the Apache Wars. General John Garland issued an order on May 4, 1855 establishing Fort Stanton. The fort was named after Captain Henry Stanton who was killed on January 19, 1855 in an ambush by the Mescalero Apaches.
    On August  2, 1861 Union soldiers abandoned Fort Stanton at the beginning of the Civil War.  They set fire to the fort when they left. However, a rainstorm that night extinguished the flames. On August 10 a company of Confederate soldiers, taking as many supplies as possible that had been left by the departing Union soldiers. By September 10, 1861, the fort was again left vacant.
    On September 1862, General Carleton ordered Colonel Christopher (Kit) Carson to take troops and reopen Fort Stanton. The first troops arrived on October 17, 1862 only to find the fort in shambles.  
    This U.S. military fortification was abandoned when the U.S. forces were withdrawn in 1896.
    The fort was originally established in part as the Mescalero Apache reservation. In 1873 the reservation was moved thirty miles southwest to its present location. In 1899, President William McKinley transferred Fort Stanton property from the War Department to the Marine Hospital Service, converting the military reservation to America's first federal tuberculosis sanatorium.
    During World War II, Fort Stanton was used as a detention center for German and Japanese Americans arrested as "enemy aliens," and 411 German nationals taken from the luxury liner Columbus in 1939 (officially recorded as "distressed seamen paroled from the German Embassy" since the U.S. was still technically neutral at the time of their capture). The "enemy aliens" were mostly immigrant residents of the U.S. who had been taken into custody as suspected saboteurs shortly after the U.S. entered the war, despite a lack of supporting evidence or access to due process for most internees. The thirty-one German American internees, labeled "troublemakers" by the Department of Justice, were kept separate from the seventeen Japanese American "troublemakers"
    We visited the fort in 2019 and took the following photographs.

    U.S. Health Service Cemetery
    U.S. Health Service Cemetery

    Hospital Administration/Museum

    Guard House

    Fort's Administration

    Laundress Quarters

    Protestant Chapel

    Officer's Quarters #13

    Commanding Officer's Quarters

    TB Tent Cottages

    TB Tent Cottages

    TB Tent Cottages

    TB Tent Cottages

    Fort Stanton is north of Ruidoso, New Mexico.  Please visit this interesting multi-use facility.