Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Battle of Mobile Bay

The winter 2008 edition of Hallowed Ground features an in-depth article of the battle of Mobile Bay. The battle is where Admiral David Farragut issued the "Damn the torpedoes" quote.

You can read the entire article on-line at "Damn the Torpedoes! The Battle of Mobile Bay." The article features a down loadable map of the battle.

After you read the article, check out our pictures of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines at The Battle of Mobile Bay.

The Abraham Lincoln Blog

Check out the new Abraham Lincoln Blog that offers commentary, links to other Lincoln and history sites, and other blogs. With over 200 blog entries, the site represents an great source of information.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lincoln and Thanksgiving

On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the following Thanksgiving Proclamation:

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth. --- Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Team of Rivals

Matthew Pinsker says that Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals should serve as a cautionary story about how to form a cabinet.

Pinsker says that there "were painful trade-offs with the "team of rivals" approach that are never fully addressed in the book." As evidence, Pinsker cites the resentment of those that helped elect him, the infighting and sabbotage by some cabinet members, and the resignations of three cabinet members during Lincoln's first term.

Pinsker, who teaches Civil War history at Dickinson College, says that "... it has become easy to forget that hard edge and once bad times that nearly destroyed a President. Lincoln's cabinet was no team."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lone Star Generals

On a recent trip to the library I discovered Ralph Wooster's book Lone Star Generals. Professor Wooster has a distinguished resume and has authored more than 70 articles and six books. His book contains descriptions on the thirty seven general officers from Texas who served in the Civil War.

Inspired by his book, I have added a new web page, Lone Star Generals, that summarizes his findings.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama's Election

Thr election of Senator Barrack Obama added an important victory in the Civil Rights battle. As Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist for the NY Times commented on November 4th,

"A civil war that, in many ways, began at Bull Run, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, ended 147 years later via a ballot box in the very same state. For nothing more symbolically illustrated the final chapter of America’s Civil War than the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia — the state that once exalted slavery and whose secession from the Union in 1861 gave the Confederacy both strategic weight and its commanding general — voted Democratic, thus assuring that Barack Obama would become the 44th president of the United States."

While Mr. Friedman's history may not be rigorously accurate, his parallel is thought provoking.

Here is our chronological list of the top ten events in the Civil Rights Movement.

Emancipation Proclamation - January 1, 1863 - Slaves are declared free in those states still in rebellion against the United States
Freeman's Bureau - March 3, 1865 - Bureau was designed to protect the interests of former slaves
Civil Rights Act - April 9, 1865 - All persons born in US are citizens
13th Amendment - December 1865 - Abolished slavery
14th Amendment - June 13, 1866 - Granted citizenship and protected the civil liberties of recently freed slaves
Founding of the NAACP - February 12, 1909 -
Montgomery Bus Boycott - December 1, 1955 - Rosa Parks refuses to give up seat
Little Rock High School - September 4, 1957 - Black students attempt to to enter Little Rock High School
1964 Civil Rights Act - June 15, 1964 - Made racial discrimination in public places, such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, illegal. It also required employers to provide equal employment opportunities.
Election of Senator Barrack Obama - November 4, 2008 - Americans elect first black President

Please see USA History: Civil Rights 1860-1980 for more information.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Celebrate Lincoln's Birthday Bicentennial

The Smithsonian Institution is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth with events throughout 2009. Please see Lincoln at the Smithsonian to learn more about the events planned.

Don't wait until next year to begin the celebration because on November 11, 2008 James McPherson will present Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dennis Hart Mahan

Dennis Hart Mahan was an engineering professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who taught fortifications and military tactics. In his classes during the fourth year at West Point he taught the science of war.

His classroom was filled with models of fortifications, bridges, canals, steam engines, water wheels and locks.

Mahan was aloof and demanding and hated sloppy thinking, posture and attitude towards duty. Mahan clearly defined who was in charge. He enforced all of the rigid requirements of military subordination. He insisted that all points of etiquette and every demand of the regulations were strictly followed. Mahan demanded that his students learn every manner and habit that defines an officer.

He was a merciless cross-examiner with the ability of finding and exposing unprepared cadets. Although he had never witnessed a battle, he was considered America’s most brilliant military mind. In fact, he wrote nearly all of the textbooks used in his engineering and science of war classes.

He believed that there was nothing new to be discovered beyond Napoleon’s strategy and tactics. His students were well-grounded in this approach. Unfortunately, adherence to Napoleonic tactics did not always mesh with developments in rifling technology.

Mahan wanted his officers to think for themselves on the battlefield. The two most important aspects of his military philosophy were speed of movement and the use of reason.

Although Professor Mahan never led troops in battle, his impact on the conduct of the Civil War is demonstrated in the officers he produced for both sides.

Source: The Class of 1846, John C. Waugh, Warner Books, pp. 64-66.

Please see Dennis Hart Mahan - Wikipedia, Civil War Defenses of Washington - NPS

Check out books written by Professor Mahan.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New Information on CSS Hunley

New information reveals that the eight-man crew of the hand-cranked Confederate submarine had not set the pump to remove water from the crew compartment. This might indicate that the H. L. Hunley was not being flooded.

These findings suggest that the crew died because of a lack of oxygen. The remains of the crew were found at their stations which scientists say means that they were not trying to escape the sinking sub.

The H.L. Hunley was a Confederate submarine that demonstrated both the advantages and the dangers of undersea warfare. The Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, although the submarine was also lost following the successful attack.

Please see Friends of the Hunley for more information.

Friday, October 17, 2008

80 Acres of Hell

I had the opportunity to view the A&E and History Channel documentary “80 Acres of Hell.”

The two-hour documentary reveals the strange and horrible conditions at a Union prison camp in Chicago and its impact on the community.

During its war-time service approximately 6,000 - 8,500 prisoners died in the camp. The numbers are uncertain because the camp administrators stopped keeping records.

The story also reveals a new Civil War villain. Colonel B. J. Sweet reduced rations, rewarded guards for shooting prisoners, and tortured prisoners. In an even more amazing act, Sweet believing a rumor that Chicago citizens were planning to aid an escape, declared martial law in Chicago and arrested 100 citizens.

The video can be ordered from the History Channel - "80 Acres of Hell."

You might also want to check out the following books:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Obama's Debt to Douglass

This November the United States will witness a historic event --- the election of our first African American President.

Almost 146 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, America will choose Senator Barrack Obama as Commander and Chief. As historic as this event is, it is not the first time an African American has run for executive office. In 1872, Frederick Douglass was nominated as the vice presidential candidate on the Equal Rights Party ticket with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President.

Woodhull was nominated on May 10, 1872, at Apollo Hall in New York City. Her selection was ratified at convention on June 6, 1872. Douglass was chosen for Vice President, but he never acknowledged this nomination.

This nomination is almost insignificant relative to Douglass' other achievements. Douglass is one of the most prominent figures in American history. Douglass believed that education was the key for African Americans to improve their lives and was an early advocate for desegregation of schools. Douglass conferred with Lincoln in 1863 on the treatment of black soldiers, and with President Johnson on black suffrage. Douglass believed that since the goal of the Civil War was to end slavery, African Americans should be allowed to enlist in the Union forces to help fight for their freedom.

The labors of Frederick Douglass provided the foothold on which Barrack Obama will ascend to the Presidency. I hope that the Senator will acknowledge his debt to this American legend.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"Fighting Joe" Wheeler

"Fighting Joe" lived up to his nickname throughout his military career.

He acquired the name while defending a wagon train from Indians shortly after he graduated from West Point in 1859.

When the Civil War began he entered the Confederate Army and served as commander of cavalry in the Army of the Mississippi. After the surrender, he returned to his home in Georgia, where he was elected to Congress and served for seventeen years.

"Fighting Joe" loved the Army and eventually he re-enlisted. During the Spanish-American War, he served as a Major General. He and Fitz-Hugh Lee have the unique distinction of commanding corps in both the Confederate and Union Armies.

Shortly after his arrival in Cuba, he attacked a Spanish position in the village of Las Guasimas. As the Spanish fled, he allegedly shouted, "Give it them, lads. We got the damn Yankees on the run!"

During the advance on Santiago, he contracted a bad case of malaria, but true to his spirit he remained in his saddle and led his men across the San Juan under heavy fire.

Wheeler also served in the Philippines.

When in died in 1906, he was buried in his U.S. Army uniform. An old Confederate soldier who came to pay his respects was surprised by his clothing.

"Jeesus, General, I hate to think of what old Stonewall's going to say when he sees you in that uniform."

From West Point - Two Centuries of Honor and Tradition, Warner Books, p. 132.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ambrose Bierce

As I contemplated the current mess in Washington, my thoughts turned to newspaperman, short-story writer, poet and satirist Ambrose Bierce. What would he have to say about the Congress? Fortunately, we have some insights from him courtesy of his The Devil's Dictionary.

Here is a sampling from The Devil's Dictionary web site:

POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.

CONGRESS, n. A body of men who meet to repeal laws.

WALL STREET, n. A symbol for sin for every devil to rebuke. That Wall Street is a den of thieves is a belief that serves every unsuccessful thief in place of a hope in Heaven. Even the great and good Andrew Carnegie has made his profession of faith in the matter.

ECONOMY, n. Purchasing the barrel of whiskey that you do not need for the price of the cow that you cannot afford.

LAWYER, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.

REPRESENTATIVE, n. In national politics, a member of the Lower House in this world, and without discernible hope of promotion in the next.

Please see The Ambrose Bierce Site for additional information on Bierce

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Instructor and Commandant of Cadets

During his tenure as an instructor and Commandant of Cadets from 1838 to 1843, first lieutenant Charles Ferguson Smith taught many cadets who were to become important Civil War generals. The following is only a partial list of those he guided:

Beauregard, Pierre Gustave Toutant (1838) Confederate
Buckner, Simon Bolivar (1844) Confederate
Buell, Don Carlos (1841) Union
Burnside, Ambrose Everett (1847) Union
Doubleday, Abner (1842) Union
Ewell, Richard Stoddert (1840) Confederate
Gibbon, John (1847) Union
Grant, Ulysses Simpson (1843) Union
Hancock, Winfield Scott (1844) Union
Hardee, William Joseph (1838) Confederate
H├ębert, Paul Octave (1840) Confederate
Heth, Henry (1847) Confederate
Hill, Ambrose (1847) Confederate
Jackson, Thomas Jonathan (1846) Confederate
Johnson, Bushrod Rust (1840) Confederate
Longstreet, James (1842) Confederate
Lyon, Nathaniel (1841) Union
Maxey, Samuel Bell (1846) Confederate
McClellan, George Brinton (1846) Union
McDowell, Irvin (1838) Union
McLaws, Lafayette (1842) Confederate
Pickett, George Edward (1846) Confederate
Pope, John (1842) Union
Porter, Fitz John (1845) Union
Reynolds, John Fulton (1841) Union
Rosecrans, William Starke (1842) Union
Sherman, William Tecumseh (1840) Union
Smith, Edmund Kirby (1845) Confederate
Smith, Gustavus Woodson (1842) Confederate
Stoneman, George (1846) Union
Thomas, George Henry (1840) Union
Van Dorn, Earl (1842) Confederate
Wilcox, Cadmus Marcellus (1846) Confederate

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Union Hero --- But Was He Heroic?

In Little Phil – A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, Eric J. Wittenberg reaches the following conclusions about Sheridan:

- Sheridan was not a great commander of cavalry.
- Sheridan’s performance in the Shenandoah Valley was also lackluster.
- Sheridan had a wide streak of insubordination and was not dependable in a subordinate role.
- Sheridan’s inability to recognize his own character flaws meant that others who drew his ire had their lives and careers cavalierly ruined.
- Sheridan tended to prevaricate in an effort to improve his standing in the eyes of those reviewing his actions.
- Little Phil did have some good qualities – the killer instinct, ability to lead a combined force in combat, confidence and an “electric personality”

Wittenberg does not feel that Sheridan is deserving of the “lofty reputation bestowed upon him by history.”

Does he enjoy an unwarranted reputation? Perhaps, but is he heroic?

According best-selling author, Dean Koontz in How to Write Best Selling Fiction, there are five heroic traits virtue, competence, courage, likeability and imperfections.

On the count of virtue, he seems to fall short (no pun intended). His treatment of friends and fellow officers was a testimony to his own self-promotion. He won many a promotion because of his numerous benefactors.

His competence can certainly be questioned if his actions in the Shenandoah Valley and as a cavalry commander are judged. I would even question the high marks he received in his pursuit of Lee to Appomattox. The condition of Lee’s army may have more to do with Sheridan’s victory than did his tenacity. Was he out to capture Lee or be the commander who caused Lee to surrender?

Sheridan seems to be courageous and his actions inspired his soldiers to make the sacrifices necessary.

Sheridan was very respected and liked by Grant and his troops.

He certainly had imperfections which seemed to be ignored by his supporters. He did not succeed by overcoming his faults, but rather by superior officers who overlooked them because of his “electric personality.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bitterly Divided

Bitterly Divided by David Williams provides a perspective on conflicts within the South during the Civil War. He believes that, far from presenting a uniform front, there was disagreement and disenchantment about war. He suggests that a 25% minority composed of powerful plantation owners fostered the war. Williams says that the war quickly became a "rich man's war, poor man's fight." The book is available from The New Press for $27.95.

Battle of Mill Springs DVD

The Mill Springs Battlefield Association has produced a new DVD on the battle that can be obtained for $25 (plus $2 for Shipping and handling). KET-TV is showing the film at several times in early October. I strongly recommend a visit to this battlefield in Kentucky.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Civil War Events in September

While Civil War enthusiasts flock to Chickamauga, GA for this weekend's 145th anniversary re-enactment, there are other battles that are also celebrating the same anniversary.

Opequon, VA - September 19, 1864 - Is an A rated battle that is part of Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Fisher's Hill, VA - September 21-22, 1864 - This B rated battle is also part Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Fort Davidson, MO -September 27, 1864 - This might be an opportunity to visit the fort which was part of Price’s Missouri Expedition

Chaffin's Farm/New Market Heights, VA - September 29-30, 1864 - Was an early battle featuring U.S. Colored Troops. The troops showed great valor and several were awarded Medals of Honor.

I hope you will have the opportunity to visit one of the sites this month.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Early Life of Charles Ferguson Smith

Charles F. Smith was born in Philadelphia, PA on April 24, 1807. He was the son of Assistant Surgeon Samuel B. Smith of the U.S. Army. He attended the U.S. Military Academy from July 1, 1820 to July 1, 1825. Upon graduation he was made a brevet Second Lieutenant of Artillery. [Brevet refers to an authorization to promote a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank.] His status was made permanent on the same day. [Why was the brevet authorization even made?]

The superintendent from 1817 to 1833 was Colonel Sylvanus Thayer who is known as the "father of the Military Academy." Thayer improved academic standards, instilled military discipline and emphasized honorable conduct. He also created a teaching method which emphasizes self study and daily homework. Thayer made civil engineering the foundation of the curriculum and as a result West Point graduates were responsible for the construction of the bulk of the nation's initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads.

Please see United States Military Academy to learn more about this institution.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Washington's Civil War Defenses

The Fall 2008 issue of Hallowed Ground published by the Civil War Preservation Trust, contains an excellent article on Washington's Civil War defenses. According to the article, the city had 68 enclosed forts with 807 mounted cannons and 93 mortars, 93 unarmed batteries with 401 emplacements for field guns and 20 miles of rifle trenches. The article also contains a summary of the battle of Fort Stevens.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

History Channel Magazine Articles

The September/October issue of History has several articles of interest to Civil War enthusiasts. The Great Debate discusses the debates between Lincoln and Douglas in 1858. Conductor on the Underground Railroad presents the roles played by Levi Coffin and New Garden, Indiana in helping slaves escape from the South. To Catch a Thief reveals how a letter written by Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead that had been stolen from the National Archives was recovered.

To learn more, please see The History Channel.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Battle of Chickamauga

The 145 Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga will take place from September 19th to 21st, 2008. If we survive hurricane Ike, I may see you there.

To learn more about the re-enactment, please see Battle of Chickamauga to learn more.

I would appreciate any suggestions for lodgings and dinning.


Welcome to Salient Points, a new Blog dedicated to research and discussion on the American Civil War. We welcome you to participate. Please keep your comments, suggestions and attitudes appropriate to a general audience.

I am doing research on Union General Charles Ferguson Smith and would appreciate any help in locating articles about him. I would also be interested in your thoughts on books on the history of West Point.