Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pemberton's Message in a Bottle

The Museum of the Confederacy has recently uncovered a coded message sent from General Joe Johnston to General John C. Pemberton. The message informs Pemberton that he will not receive any support from Confederate troops on the other side of the Mississippi River. Pemberton had been under siege in Vicksburg, MS for six weeks by Union forces under General U.S. Grant.

The message, in a vial with a bullet, was written in the Vigenere cipher" in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a number of places so that an "a" in the uncoded text becomes a "d" in the coded document. The date on the coded document is July 4th.

"Gen'l Pemberton
You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy's lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps. I subjoin a dispatch from General Johnston."

Pemberton surrendered the city to Union forces on the same day that the cipher was sent.

Vicksburg was so scarred from the experience that the residents refused to celebrate the Fourth of July for the next eighty years.

Please see Battle of Vicksburg to learn more.

[Source: "Civil War Letter Decoded: No Help on the Way," Steve Szkotak, Associated Press]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas During the Civil War

Christmas was celebrated in both the north and south during the Civil War.

The Thomas Nast cartoon for Christmas 1862 shows a a wife praying at home and looking out a window and her husband praying on the battlefield.

Both soldiers and civilians sung Christmas carols such as "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" (1850), "Jingle Bells" (1857), "We Three Kings of Orient Are" (1857), and "Up on the Rooftop" (1860).

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his poem "Christmas Bells" on Christmas Day 1864 after visiting his son, Charles, who was recovering from wounds suffered the year before.

See Walter Gable's Christmas During the Civil War for a good discussion of how soldiers and civilians spent Christmas.

Please take a moment during this holiday to pray for our soldiers and their families. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

General Order No. 11

On December 17, 1862, Major General Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous General Order No. 11.

General Order No. 11 demanded the expulsion of Jews from Grant's military district comprising areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. The order stated that:

1. The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department [of the Tennessee] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.

2. Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters.

3. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.

During the war, an extensive trade in cotton existed between the North and South. Northern textile mills were dependent on Southern cotton, while the trade with the North was needed for the economic survival of Southern plantation owners. A limited trade was permitted by the US Government, under license by the Treasury and US Army. However, this system led to many opportunities for corruption, with unlicensed traders bribing army officers to allow them to buy Southern cotton without a permit.

The order was issued as part of a campaign against the black market in Southern cotton, which Grant believed was being run "mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders."

President Lincoln revoked the order a few weeks later after protests from Jewish community leaders, outrage by members of Congress, and editorial comments in the press. Grant later claimed it had been drafted by a subordinate and that he had signed it without reading.

Grant's claim is highly suspicious considering other communication he had on the subject. On November 9, 1862, he ordered General Hurlbut to: "Refuse all permits to come south of Jackson for the present. The Israelites especially should be kept out." The following day he instructed General Webster to: "Give orders to all the conductors on the road that no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward from any point. They may go north and be encouraged in it; but they are such an intolerable nuisance that the department must be purged of them." In a letter to General Sherman, he explained that his policy was occasioned "in consequence of the total disregard and evasion of orders by Jews."

The order is not directed at those engaged in trading cotton without a permit. The order also prohibits all Jews from making an application for trade permits. The Jews were singled out for punishment, not just those who were in violation of the law. This clearly displays Grant's prejudice against all Jews.

Possibly the order was intended to reduce competition for the trade permits, to allow Grant to exercise more control over the cotton trade, and to reward friends and business associates. Grant had engaged in questionable business behavior in California prior to his resignation. General Wilson suggested that the order was intended as a warning to Jesse Grant and other relatives who, with their Jewish associates, were seeking favors.

Grant justified the order in a letter sent to the Secretary of War's office in which he stated that: "regulations of the Treasury Dept. have been violated, and that most likely by Jews and other unprincipled traders." However, as pointed out earlier, the order makes the Jews the exclusive violators and punishes all Jews for the crimes of the few.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Civil War Tintypes

The Library of Congress has recently received a donation of almost 700 tintypes from Mr. Tom Liljenquist. Mr. Liljenquist acquired his collection over the past 15 years. An exhibition is scheduled for April 2011, but you can view the images online at the following site: Liljenquist Tintypes.
Please see Civil War Photography for a two-minute video with selected iumages from the collection.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Stonewall's" Valley Campaign

On June 8th and 9th, 1862, "Stonewall" Jackson won the last two battles in his Shenandoah Valley Campaign. I had the opportunity to visit the sites of these engagements in October 2010. After these defeats, the Union armies retreated and gave Jackson control of the Shenandoah Valley. With the Confederates in charge of the valley, Jackson was free to move troops to help General Lee defend Richmond. Please visit the Cross Keys and Port Royal pages to view photographs. Please see Jackson's Valley Campaign for a good overview of the campaign.