Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Killed, none; wounded, none; fooled, everybody"

A New York Herald reporter issued the above summary shortly after peace was made in the Mormon War.  The "war," known as the Utah War, Mormon War, Utah Expedition, or Mormon Rebellion, lasted from May 1857 to April 1858.  The campaign reestablished Federal control over the Utah Territory and had an impact on the Civil War.

John B. Floyd
There were many causes of the conflict with blame falling equally on the Church of Latter Day Saints theocracy and the incompetence of the Federal government.  An intriguing explanation of the Mormon War  centered upon John B. Floyd and concerned the growing rift between the North and the South.

According to this interpretation, Floyd and his Southern sympathizers in Washington, traitors first and last, saw in an involvement of the United States with the Mormons an opportunity to advance their treasonable purposes. Fearing a Republican victory in the 1860 election, they were determined, it is postulated, to bankrupt the treasury by a costly expedition to Utah. This expenditure would leave the North financially incapable of opposing secession. Other investigators accused Secretary Floyd of scattering the nation's military forces, with the objective of leaving the North powerless to preserve the Union if pro-Union forces gained control of the Government.  A Mormon publication accused Floyd of using the expedition to distract attention from his various nefarious schemes.

Winfield Scott
Instead of disappearing after 1858, the charges of fraud continued to be advanced as the basic cause of the Mormon War.  This belief was advocated by historians of the Latter-day Saints. They were encouraged in this explanation by Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, the commander in chief, who later wrote: "The expedition set on foot by Mr. Secretary Floyd, in 1857, against the Mormons and the Indians about Salt Lake was, beyond a doubt, to give occasion for large contracts and expenditures, that is, to open a wide field for fraud and peculation." Further evidence of the goals of government contractors comes from noting that "army contracts, made during recent Indian difficulties in Florida, were running out and the contractors wanted to switch their profits to Utah."

The reluctance to put down the rebellion with force and the peaceful settlement of the war might have energized the secessionist forces and encouraged them to pursue their initiative.  At the least, the response of the Buchanan Administration to the Mormon Rebellion provided a preview of how the government would respond to the events in 1860 and 1861 including the seizure of Fort Sumter.

In March 1857, Floyd became Secretary of War in the cabinet of President James Buchanan, where his lack of administrative ability was soon apparent, including the poor execution of the Utah Expedition. In December 1860, on ascertaining that Floyd had honored heavy drafts made by government contractors in anticipation of their earnings, the president requested his resignation. Several days later Floyd was indicted for malversation (corruption) in office, although the indictment was overruled in 1861 on technical grounds. There is no proof that he profited by these irregular transactions; in fact, he went out of the office financially embarrassed.

Although he had openly opposed secession before the election of Abraham Lincoln, his conduct after the election, especially after his breach with Buchanan, fell under suspicion, and he was accused in the press of having sent large stores of government arms to Federal arsenals in the South in the anticipation of the Civil War.

After his resignation, a congressional commission in the summer and fall of 1861 investigated Floyd's actions as Secretary of War. All of his records of orders and shipments of arms from 1859 to 1860 were examined. It is recorded that in response to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry he bolstered the Federal arsenals in some Southern states by over 115,000 muskets and rifles in late 1859. He also ordered heavy ordnance to be shipped to the Federal forts in Galveston Harbor, Texas, and the new fort on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi.

In the last days of his term, he apparently had an intention to send these heavy guns, but his orders were revoked by the president. During the year 1860, the Southern states actually received less than their full quota of arms and the heavy guns were a normal shipment required to complete the construction of Federal forts.

James Buchanan
His resignation as Secretary of War, on December 29, 1860, was precipitated by the refusal of Buchanan to order Major Robert Anderson to abandon Fort Sumter, which eventually led to the start of the war. On January 27, 1861, he was indicted by the District of Columbia grand jury for conspiracy and fraud. Floyd appeared in criminal court in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 1861, to answer the charges against him. According to Harper's Weekly, the indictments were thrown out.

[Sources: Norman F. Furnis, The Mormon Conflict 1850-1859 and John B. Floyd, Wikipedia]

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hearts Touched by Fire edited by Harold Holzer

"We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. We have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire." --- Oliver Wendell Holmes

A friend alerted me to an estate sale in North Dallas that was offering books on the Civil War.  As I was perusing the assortment of volumes available, my wife brought me a large (2 1/2 inch thick book) entitled Hearts Touched by Fire. The price was right and so I added it to the pile of books that I had selected.   Several days later I had an opportunity to study the book and discovered a wonderful collection of first-hand accounts about the North-South conflict.

Let me give you some examples:
  • P.G.T. Beauregard on “The First Battle of Bull Run”
  • Joe Johnston discusses “Responsibilities of the First Bull Run”
  • “The Capture of Fort Donelson” by Lew Wallace
  • U.S. Grant on” The Battle of Shiloh”
  • “The Building of the Monitor” by John Ericsson
  • “The Vicksburg Campaign” by Grant
  • “Early’s March to Washington in 1864” by Jubal A. Early
  • James Longstreet’s observations on “The Battle of Fredericksburg”  
The book, which was issued as part of the sesquicentennial celebration, contains the best of the articles published in the magazine series “The Battles and Leaders of the Civil War” and later four-volume book edition printed in 1888.

The value of Hearts Touched by Fire is in the recollections and opinions of these Civil War leaders. They are not always correct, but they convey the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of the authors in justifying their actions and those of their superiors. Be sure to read Harold Holzer’s introduction to learn how the series was created.

We applaud the efforts of Holzer and fellow contributors James McPherson, James Robertson, Stephen Sears, Craig Symonds, and Joan Waugh for bringing these stories to a new generation of Civil War enthusiasts.

We give Hearts Touched by Fire four stars and the rank of General.

Please click on the following link to order a copy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Battle of the Crater by Newt Gingrich and William Fortschen

Sketch of the Explosion
from Union Lines
by Alfred Waud
U. S. Grant called it a "stupendous failure" and blamed it on the "inefficiency on the part of the corps commander and the incompency of the division commander who was sent to lead the assault."

In The Battle of the Crater, the authors, Newt Gingrich, William Fortschen, and Albert Hanser, allow us to relive the events of July 1864 outside of Petersburg, VA. The historical team has created a compelling novel examining the actions of the soldiers and officers involved in this sad chapter of the Civil War.

The story is told through the eyes of James Reilly who is an artist for Harper's Weekly and a friend of President Lincoln. After Reilly's brother is killed at Cold Harbor, the artist travels to Arlington, VA where he helps carry his brother's body to a grave site. There he meets Sergeant Major Garland White of the 28th United States Colored Troops (USCT). He visits with Garland and shows him the sketches from Cold Harbor. As the burial detail hurries to finish their night time task, their commander Colonel Russell announce that they have been assigned to the First Brigade of the Fourth Division of Ninth Division of the Army of the Potomac and are headed to the Union forces at Petersburg. Reilly and Garland begin a bond of friendship that will eventually reunite them at Arlington. 

Reilly meets with Lincoln to brief him on the disaster at Cold Harbor. He is reluctant to continue his services as a White House spy, but Lincoln convinces him that he needs his eyes and ears at the front. Reilly agrees under the condition that he can be imbedded with the 28th USCT. Thus, Reilly finds himself in one of the colossal mistakes of the Civil War, the Battle of the Crater.

At the Union line outside of Petersburg, we meet Colonel Henry Pleasants and his force of former Pennsylvania coal miners. The miners come up with a plan to blow up "Pegram's Battery" or "Elliot's Salient" by tunneling below the Rebel works and planting explosives. Pleasants likes the idea and so does his commander, Ambrose Burnside. The authors present Burnside as an innovative general who is haunted by his failures at Fredericksburg. Burnside see the plan as a means to cut Lee's defenses, march into Petersburg, and end the war. Unfortunately, his proposal is only given lukewarm support by Meade and Grant. When the 28th USCT march into camp, Burnside designates them to lead the attack on the Confederate position.  

Gingrich and Fortschen allow us to follow the training of the 28th, the construction of the tunnel, and the petty fighting between Meade and Burnside. Meade's lack of support peaks when he changes the order of attack and removes the 28th from leading the assault. Burnside's response is a complete collapse in judgment and total failure of leadership. 

We join the units at the front and march with them into battle, sensing the outcome, but hoping that success can be salvaged. The hope of triumph is dashed as Confederate forces rally and slaughter the Union troops trapped in the crater a victim of their own leaders as much as the enemy. 

The novel ends with the whitewash court of inquiry and Lincoln's indifference to its outcome. Burnside and the 28th are sacrificed on the altar of the greater public good.

What makes the story of Garland White especially compelling is that it is based on fact. He enlisted as a private on December 14, 1863 in the 28th USCT and left the service as a Chaplin with the rank of Major. At the time of his enlistment, he was 25 years old 5 feet 6 inches with black hair and eyes. To learn more about Garland White and the 28th USCT, please read the February 1994 issue of The Indiana Historian.  

I rate this novel a Lieutenant General with 3 out 4 stars. However, it should be mandatory reading for all African Americans to better understand the heroics of their ancestors who helped preserve the Union in spite of impediments placed by their own generals. This would be an excellent novel to read during Black History Month.

Readers may want to read William H. Powell's account "The Battle of the Petersburg Crater" and Henry Goddard R. Thomas' recollections of "The Colored Troops at Petersburg" published in Hearts Touched by Fire: The Best of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (Modern Library).

A copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher St. Martin's Press.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rebel Flag Plate Denied

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) rejected for the second time in 2011 a license plate design proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  Governor Perry's opposition to the plate might have swayed the vote from the 4-4 deadlock in April to the 8-0 vote. 

The design was seen as offensive by African American groups and others who said that the flag was a symbol of slavery and racism. Nelson Linder, president of the Austin NAACP told the board that the flag ".. is full of death, destruction, fear and chaos and has no place in any civilized state or nation."  Granvel Block, Texas division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said "The board took the easy way out and collapsed under the pressure of unjustified emotions " that have "nothing to do with our logo." 

As a State agency the DMV certainly should respond to its citizens.  Many of whom voiced their criticism of the proposed license plate.

Fort Pillow Massacre
Civil War historians know that the behavior of Confederate soldiers towards US Colored Troops was not always in keeping with the prevailing standards of war.  Atrocities were committed by Confederate soldiers on numerous battlefields where African American soldiers fought. Fort Pillow and the Battle of the Crater are well-known examples.  So it seems reasonable that African Americans might get a little upset by honoring the battle flag under which some of these crimes were committed.

However, as we celebrate Veterans Day, it is well to remember and honor those who fought to defend and preserve the United States of America.   Today we should honor those who fought to preserve the Union and not those who fought to dismantle it. 

Representative Al Green of Houston led the crowd in the DMV hearing room in the Pledge of Allegiance.   His words following the Pledge ring true.

"This is the flag that bonds us together.  This is the flag that makes America for all Americans." 

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Civil War Class - The Armies Clash - First Bull Run and Wilson's Creek

First Bull Run
On November 10th and 17th, I will be presenting the Civil War class The Armies Clash - First Bull Run and Wilson's Creek. Southern armies under P. G. T. Beauregard defeat Union forces commanded by Irvin McDowell in Manassas, VA on July 21,1861. In the west, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon is killed at Wilson's Creek, MO on August 10, 1861. The victory by the Southern troops gave the Confederates control of southwestern Missouri.

Wilson's Creek Film
The class will be presented in the SAIL program at Collin College in Plano, TX.  Please see The Armies Clash - First Bull Run and Wilson's Creek for more information. 

The Frogs Who Desired a King

While doing research for my biography of Major General C. F. Smith, I came across a reference to the fable of King Log and King Stork.  Smith refers to this moral tale in regard to his promotion to command the Camp Floyd post in Utah in 1859.

Seeking to understand the reference, I Googled the phrase and came up with the Wikipedia link The Frogs Who Desired a King.  With election day approaching, I found the many interpretations of this fable quite timely.
A tile design by William de Morgan, 1872
The story concerns a group of frogs who called on the great god Zeus to send them a king. He threw down a log, which fell in their pond with a loud splash and terrified them. Eventually one of the frogs peeped above the water and, seeing that it was no longer moving, soon all hopped upon it and made fun of their king. Then the frogs made a second request for a real king and were sent a water snake, later changed to a stork, that started eating them. Once more the frogs appealed to Zeus, but this time he replied that they must face the consequences of their request.

The fable is a political lesson. Initially it was that people feel the need of laws but are impatient of personal restraint. Later the lesson was that the people are uneasy without a ruler, but they are never satisfied with either situation. Another view was expressed by Martin Luther when he alludes to this fable to illustrate how humanity deserves the rulers it gets: "frogs must have their storks."

Do we get the government we desire or the government we deserve or Luther observed is the lack of good rulers a punishment for human wickedness.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hiram's Honor by Max R. Terman

Many of us fantasize about going back in time, Max Terman actually does.  In Hiram's Honor: Reliving Private Terman's Civil War we travel with Private Hiram Terman of the Ohio 82nd Volunteer Infantry back to the American Civil War.  This historical novel allows readers to see the war from the perspective of Union soldier.  Terman has crafted this story of his great uncle from various first-hand accounts.  Unfortunately, Private Terman left no written descriptions in the form of journals or letters to support Dr. Terman’s dialogue.

Therefore, Hiram’s Honor, is a well-crafted, voyage of discovery in which Professor Terman’s invented dialogue makes you believe you are with Hiram and share his experiences.
Terman’s first person narrative takes you the battlefield to “see the elephant” and experience the conflict.  The author's vivid descriptions such as the artillery bombardment at Cross Keys,  the casualties at Chancellorsville, and the walking skeletons at Andersonville bring the reader to scene.  The reader experiences both combat and confinement in all its stark and brutal reality.
As a backdrop we have campfire discussions among Isaiah, Seth, and Hiram.  While the cursing Seth complains about the poor Union leadership, Isaiah turns his heart towards the heavens and prays for God to protect them, and Hiram moderates the disagreements and uses his grandmother's folk medicine to keep the men alive.
Terman’s narrative follows the experiences of 82nd Ohio from camp at Grafton, WV to battles at McDowell, Cross Keys, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  After Hiram and his friends are captured, we join them on the journey south to Belle Island POW Camp in Richmond to Andersonville. 
Dr. Terman has crafted a poignant drama of men enduring the horrors of battle and the nightmares of captivity.  As  I  read the narrative I was drawn into the suffering the men experienced at Andersonville and their desperate efforts to survive with their honor and dignity intact.  Private Hiram succeeded. As we joined Hiram at the Columbus train station, we joined the reunited black family to thank Hiram for his sacrifice and celebrate his return.  So too do we acknowledge Dr. Terman’s skills in creating such a compelling narrative and excellent basis for a sesquicentennial movie.
A couple of additions would help immensely.  A map showing the locations of the places in the novel would be a worthwhile supplement.  I would also include a brief paragraph summarizing the political and military events.  There doesn't seem to be a connection between the Sultana and Hiram's return to Ohio via Annapolis and the B&O railroad.
Dr. MaxTerman is professor emeritus at Tabor College in Kansas.  He is the author of three books and numerous articles.
Dr. Terman supplied a pdf copy of this book for my review.
Using my general officer ranking system, I give the book a rank of Lieutenant General or 3 stars out of 4. 
Ranking System:

   *       1 star -   Brigadier General
   **     2 stars - Major General
   ***   3 stars - Lieutenant General
   **** 4 stars - General