Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mr. Smith Goes to War

In writing the biography of Major General C. F. Smith, I noticed that a number of Civil War generals named "Smith" came up in my research.  My curiosity prompted me to find out just how many "Smiths" served as general officers.  The un-exhaustive research found 20 names. 

There were 12 Union and 8 Confederate officers.

  • Andrew Jackson Smith - USA
  • Charles Ferguson Smith - USA
  • Edmund Kirby Smith - CSA
  • Giles Alexander Smith - USA
  • Green Clay Smith - USA
  • Gustavus Adolphus Smith - USA
  • Gustavus Woodson Smith - CSA
  • James Argyle Smith - CSA
  • John Eugene Smith - USA
  • Martin Luther Smith - CSA
  • Morgan Lewis Smith - USA
  • Preston Smith - CSA
  • Thomas Benton Smith - CSA
  • Thomas Church Haskell Smith - USA
  • Thomas Kilby Smith - USA
  • William "Extra Billy"Smith - CSA
  • William Duncan Smith - CSA
  • William Farrar "Baldy" Smith - USA
  • William Sooy Smith - USA
  • Thomas Alfred Smyth - USA
Some interesting facts about the "Smith" gang:
  • Nine were graduates of West Point.
  • Five served in the Mexican War. 
  • Four died during the Civil War. 
  • Three were born in Pennsylvania and Tennessee and two were from Kentucky, Massachusetts, and New York.
  • Three fought at Fort Donelson
  • If you are confused about the Smiths at Shiloh, it's because nine of the men were involved in the bloody battle.
  • The best nicknames are William F. "Baldy" Smith and William "Extra Billy" Smith.
  • Thomas Alfred Smyth was the last Union general to die in the war.
  • Two Smith brothers (Morgan L. and Giles A.) fought for the Union.
  • Confederate Brigader General Tomas Benton Smith lived until 1923, but spent his last years in a mental asylum in Tennessee.
  • Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith held the highest rank among the Confederates and was the last surviving full general of the Confederacy.
  • Two were named Gustavus --- Gustavus Adolphus Smith - USA and Gustavus Woodson Smith - CSA
  • Charles Ferguson Smith was cousin to Elizabeth Todd Grimsley Brown, first cousin to Mary Todd Lincoln.
  • Thomas Kilby Smith was US Consul in Panama and Morgan Lewis Smith was US Consul in Honolulu.
  • Six were lawyers/politicians, six were involved in education, and four were engineers.
  • Gustavus Adolphus Smith was a Internal Revenue collector.
Learn more at Mr. Smith Goes to War.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Cause(s) of the Civil War

I just finished teaching a class on the beginning of the Civil War.  The lecture traced the war from Lincoln's election to the attack on Fort Sumter.  As part of the class, I reviewed the causes of the conflict.
I am a member of the group that says the war was about slavery, but I have recently adjusted that perspective.  From the South's perspective, the war was about wealth or economics.  The wealthiest people in the country lived in the South and more specifically the Deep South.  They derived their income from agriculture and their wealth from the assets that produced their revenue.  The assets of the Deep South were slaves and land.  The economics was based on the difference between value of the crops produced and the costs to raise and harvest those crops.  The price of cotton fluctuated on the world market due to a variety of factors and could not be controlled by the landowners.  That left the costs of production which was primarily labor.  While the slaves earned no wages, they did incur expenses in food, shelter, and medical care.  This cost was low relative to the earning power of the slave in producing crops or leased to other employers for other tasks.
Losing this cheap labor, would destroy the wealth of landowners.  The cash flow from slaves would be gone and the land they worked would be worthless without the help to produce crops.  The dual impact from these two outcomes forced the agricultural South to leave the Union rather than become paupers.  So from the Southern point-of-view, the war was about slavery and the ability to maintain that economic institution.

In the North, the issue of slavery was the battle cry of the abolitionists.  However, the majority of Northerners wanted nothing to do with freeing the slaves.   According to John Fazio of The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable, "The evidence is strong that abolitionists were not particularly popular in the North and were positively anathema in the South. They were frequently spat upon, shouted down and otherwise abused when speaking to Northern audiences."  Slavery was a side issue in the North. The main cause of the war in Unionist minds was the destruction of the Union by the secessionists.  The Union recruits would fight to preserve the Union by not to free the slaves.  This position was clearly outlined by Lincoln before the war when he defended the Southerner's rights to own slaves.  It was clearly not in his interest to free the slaves as he demonstrated by repealing Fremont's and Hunter's emancipation proclamations.  The Unionists believed, as quoted in Adam Goodheart's 1861, "Shall all this be thrown away to please a few villains and Traitors[?]"

Therefore, we have two causes of the war: slavery and preservation of the Union.

Please see The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable article by John Fazio, Adam Goodheart, 1861, p. 155, Disunion: The Civil War, and From Springfield to Fort Sumter.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Treue der Union"

In the town of Comfort, Texas located off of route 10 between Kerrville and Boerne in the Hill Country, memories of the Civil War are kept alive by Anne Stewart, She spends her time, with the Comfort Heritage Foundation inside the old Comfort State Bank, researching events surrounding the Nueces Massacre. 

Ms. Stewart, a self-taught archivist and historian, is a descendant of Germans who arrived in Comfort in 1861determined to shed more light on the fatal decision by a group of Hill Country Germans, loyal to the Union, to reject the Confederacy and escape to Mexico.

When German communities in Texas voted against secession, they became the subject of suspicion and distrust. The communities had formed local militias to protect themselves against Indian raids. Confederate authorities were concerned that the loyalists might join Union invading armies to capture Texas. Older immigrant families were angry that the loyalists were focusing animosities on the entire German population. The entire community was viewed as traitors. According to historical accounts, dozens to hundreds of Germans in the Hill Country were lynched or shot, and their farmhouses burned, on the mere suspicion of treason.

Germans mostly opposed slavery, but it wasn’t a burning issue in the Hill Country, where farmers grew wheat and not cotton. When Texans voted on secession, the newer immigrants voted to remain in the Union. Among those opposed to the Confederacy, were the Freethinkers, who helped found the towns of Comfort and Sisterdale. The Freethinkers had immigrated to Texas after a failed democratic revolution in Germany in 1848. They disliked organized religion, believed in civil liberties, and opposed slavery.

Though the Freethinkers’ beliefs did not reflect the views of longer-established Texas Germans, they fed the growing distrust of Confederate authorities toward the Hill Country communities. In response to concerns, the Confederate authorities declared martial law on May 30, 1862, and required all white males over age 16 to take a loyalty oath.

Capt. James Duff, a ruthless Confederate officer, was sent from San Antonio to enforce the decree. Duff with the help of vigilante mobs, the Germans called hangebund or “hanging gangs,” hunted down and hanged any Germans suspected of being pro-Union.

The violence persuaded some Hill Country Germans to leave Texas. A group of about 70, led by Fritz Tegener of Comfort, refused to take the loyalty oath and set out for Mexico. Some of them planned to wait out the war there. Others hoped to join federal forces in New Orleans.

Duff learned about the escape from a spy and ordered about 100 Confederate troops to pursue the Germans. On the night of August 9, 1862, scouts spotted Tegener’s group on the Nueces River in Kinney County, about 40 miles east of present-day Del Rio on the Mexican border. The Confederates attacked the next morning killing 19 and wounding 9 others. The nine wounded were executed shortly after being taken prisoner. The 28 bodies were stacked in a pile near the river and left unburied.

The rest of the Union loyalists escaped. Two months later, eight more were killed by Confederates while trying to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico. After the war, relatives of the dead recovered the bodies and buried the remains in Comfort.

On Aug. 10, 1866, a 20-foot-tall limestone monument was dedicated at the burial site. The monument was inscribed with the names of the victims and the words "Treue der Union" or "Loyalty to the Union." The memorial holds a unique place in Texas history as the state’s first Civil War monument, and one of only two dedicated solely to the Union in a state that overwhelmingly voted to join the Confederacy. In 1906, a statue was erected in Denison honoring Union veterans who lived in Grayson County, which voted to keep Texas in the Union.

Has anyone heard of events such as this occurring in Union states?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

THE Turning Point of the Civil War

In an article in the April 2011 issue of Civil War Times, Gary W. Gallagher discusses "The War's Overlooked Turning Points.[1]" He concludes that, "Because of its striking reorientation of the strategic situation during the summer of 1862, as well as the long-term consequences of Lee's generalship regarding morale, the possibility of emancipation and the duration of the war, the Seven Days' Campaign belongs in the front rank of Civil War turning points."

Intrigued by Dr. Gallagher's article, it was  decided to conduct a review of strategic battles.  The analysis  started with the National Park Service's listing of "A" ranked battles.  These battles are considered as "having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war." The list contains 45 battles from 33 campaigns

The first issue to address is the definition of a turning point. According to the Free Online Dictionary, a turning point is the point at which a very significant change occurs; a decisive moment, a moment when the course of events is changed a point at which there is a change in direction or motion.[2] Applying this definition to the Civil War suggests that there may be many turning points in a war where the trend in battle changes from one side to the other.

The initial approach was to find the single battle or campaign that changed the result of the entire war.  For this analysis, a "turning point" was judged as an event that after which the outcome was inevitable.  In sports parlance, it would be the play which changed the course of the game and allowed one team to win.  With that definition, the turning point in the American Civil War would have to be a battle or campaign in which the outcome indicated that the Union would eventually win the war.  In respect to military actions, this event would have to be a battle won by Union forces. 
To begin the analysis, the list of Civil War battlefields compiled by the National Park Service were reviewed. The review started with the A ranked battles "having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war."[3] The 45 "A" battles were culled using several criteria.

The obvious first cut on the "A" battles were those that the South won. This eliminates Confederate victories at Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, First Winchester, Fort Sumter, First and Second Manassas, Wilson's Creek, Gaines Mill, Mansfield, The Crater, and Second Petersburg. Not surprising, Union casualties in these engagements (99,717) outnumbered Confederate losses (61,597). Inconclusive battles, such as Spotsylvania Court House and The Wilderness, were also eliminated from the candidates. These edits reduced the list to 30 battles in 24 campaigns. 

Several fascinating facts emerge from this new list.  First,  nine of the battles can be associated with General-in-Chief  Winfield Scott's Anaconda Plan that emphasized the "blockade" of the Southern ports, and called for an advance down the Mississippi River to sever the South in two.  These battles include Forts Jackson and Phillip (New Orleans & Mississippi River), New Madrid/Island No. 10 (Mississippi River), Vicksburg and Champion Hill (Mississippi River), Fort Fisher (Wilmington & Atlantic Coast), Mobile Bay and Fort Blakely (Mobile and Gulf of Mexico), and Fort Donelson and Shiloh (Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers).   Secondly, the Confederate casualties in these victories were 32,223 greater than Union losses (156,216 vs. 123,993).  In seven of these Federal triumphs, Union losses exceeded Confederate casualties.  Two thirds of the difference occurred in three battles: Fort Donelson (12,736), Gettysburg (5,000) and Franklin II (3,935).  The highest number of Confederate losses were at Gettysburg (28,000), Fort Donelson (15,067),  Shiloh (10,699), Antietam (10,320), and Stones River (10,266).   These five battles accounted for nearly half of the 156,216 Confederate casualties. Thirdly, of the thirty Union victories, seven battles list U.S. Grant as the Union commander and four list Sheridan or Sherman serving under Grant as the Union commander.
Some battles, while significant were limited in impact to securing a state for the Union.  In this category, would be Pea Ridge, Perryville and Glorieta Pass.   Battles and campaigns that took place in 1865 can also be eliminated.  The tide of battle was clearly in evidence by the beginning of the last four months of the war.  Seven battles were Union victories in 1865 with three in the Appomattox Campaign and one in the Campaign of the Carolinas. This drops the number of candidates to 20.  
This left a roll of the usual "suspects:"  Federal Penetration up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers [1862 - Fort Donelson and Shiloh],  Expedition to, and Capture of, New Orleans [April-May 1862 - Forts Jackson and Phillip], Maryland Campaign [September 1862 - Antietam], Gettysburg Campaign [June-August 1863 - Gettysburg], Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign [November 1863 - Chattanooga], Atlanta Campaign [May-September 1864 - Jonesborough], Sheridan's Valley Campaign [August-October 1864 - Opequon and Cedar Creek],  and Franklin-Nashville Campaign [September-December 1864 - Franklin and Nashville].  The only campaign not identified is the Overland Campaign in which the two major battles Spotsylvania Court House and Wilderness are classified as inconclusive and a third, Cold Harbor, is a Confederate victory. 

In order to analyze these turning points, a monthly accounting was developed of the Civil War battles using the National Park Service (NPS) classification.[4] The NPS classifies battles from D to A.[5] A battles were given a numeric value of 4, 3 for B, 2 for C, and 1 for D. The NPS determination of the outcome as either a Confederate or Union victory or inconclusive was used to define the result. The Confederate victory at Fort Sumter, an "A ranked" battle, would earn 4 points. This rating was calculated for the 382 battles identified by the NPS. The points for the Union and Confederate victories were added to produce a series of monthly totals. Then the monthly difference in the sum of points between Union and Confederate victories was determined. These monthly points were added to create a cumulative monthly total and plotted on the following graph.

The chart reveals five distinct turning points in the war.  This explains why historians have championed those presented above.   The reality is that there were many turning points in the war.  The first turning point occurs in February 1862 with Grant's victories at Forts Henry and Donelson or the Federal Penetration up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers campaign (Fort Henry through Shiloh).  The second turning point occurs in May 1862 with "Stonewall" Jackson's victories in the Shenandoah Valley and Lee's victories in the Peninsula Campaign (Seven Days).  These two campaigns stopped the trend in Union victories (from points 1 to 2) and ushered in a period of intense fighting by both sides as the war settled in to a stalemate from May 1862 until May 1863.  Both sides won significant battles and the outcome was in doubt.  The third turning point occurs in May 1863 with Grant's victory at Champion Hill and subsequent siege and eventual capture of Vicksburg.  The trend of Union victories continues with Lee's defeat at Gettysburg.  The Confederacy compiles enough victories to force a stalemate from July 1863 to November 1863. The South wins at Chickamauga, but the Federals are successful at Chattanooga. Then in September 1864, Sherman's Atlanta (Jonesborough) and Sheridan's Valley (Opequon) campaigns  turn the tide for the last time in the Union's favor.  
General U. S. Grant is the common theme associated with these turning point battles and campaigns.  He was commander at Fort Donelson and Shiloh (turning point 1) and Champion Hill and Vicksburg (turning point 2).  Lincoln placed him in overall command on March 12, 1864,  and Grant implemented the new strategy of destroying the Confederate armies composed of the Atlanta, Valley, and Overland campaigns.  Interestingly, General Lee is only directly involved in the Peninsula campaign and Gettysburg.
If the stalemate periods are removed from the graph, the turning point becomes clear.

The course of the war was defined from Grant's victory at Fort Donelson making this THE turning point of the war.  While Confederate victories and brilliant leadership by Lee and Jackson prolonged the war, the ultimate industrial might and population advantage of the North made the result inevitable.  The analysis indicates the validity of Sherman's predictions, "You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth – right at your doors. You are bound to fail" and "At first, you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane."  

Please see Civil War Turning Points for more information.

[1] "The War's Overlooked Turning Points," by Gary W. Gallagher, Civil War Times, April 2011, pp. 21-23.
[3] Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields,

[4] Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields,

[5] A Rated - 45 - [having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war] B Rated - 104 - [having a direct and decisive influence on their campaign] C Rated - 125 2 - [having observable influence on the outcome of a campaign] D Rated - 108 2  - [having a limited influence on the outcome of their campaign or operation but achieving or affecting important local objectives]