Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Did McClellan Launch Halleck's Attacks on Grant

As I was doing research for my biography of Maj. Gen. C. F. Smith, I came upon some correspondence in the Official Records (Series 1 - Volume 7) between Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck and Maj. Gen. G. B. McClellan which shed some new light, for me, on Halleck's attacks on Maj. Gen. Grant in February and March 1862.

Maj. Gen. McClellan
On February 21, Gen. McClellan telegraphed Gen. Halleck complaining about his lack of communication.  McClellan said: "You do not report either often or fully enough.  Unless you keep me fully advised, you must not expect me to abandon my own plans for yours."

Halleck had to blame someone and there were several good candidates. First, he blamed the officers of this department for being "negligent or ignorant of their duties in this respect." Then, Halleck blamed his predecessor Maj. Gen. Frémont. He charged the officers with becoming "negligent under the Frémont régime of all law, regulations, and orders." Then, he asked for more time to bring about this reformation because he was "doing everything in my [his] power to effect it."

Maj. Gen. Halleck
General Halleck then turned his attention to his unsuspecting subordinate and accused Grant of a shopping list of grievances. At the same instant, Halleck was advocating Grant for promotion, he was also trying to get Gen. Ethan Hitchcock to take Grant's place and praising Maj. Gen. David Hunter for his contributions in capturing Fort Donelson.  Halleck was also pushing to be named commander in the West. Unfortunately, Hitchcock refused to take Grant's place and President Lincoln declined to endorse Halleck's reorganization.

Bruce Catton in Grant Moves South (Chapter Ten p. 198), summed up the situation perfectly.

General Halleck probably meant nothing in particular by his sudden attack on Grant.  He himself had been chided by McClellan for failure to keep Washington informed about troop numbers and dispositions, and a major general who is reprimanded is quite likely to do two things almost automatically - to pass the reprimand along to an underling, and to show that whatever fault existed was not his own. Grant was ideally situated to take both reprimand and blame, and Halleck gave them to him - his attitude sharpened, possibly by his recent disappoints.

Halleck's desire to blame Grant for all of the problems in the West continued until his superiors in Washington brought him to the East to replace McClellan.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Death and the Civil War

I am often puzzled by my interest in the American Civil War. It is after all a war and there are few positive things that we can say about the deaths of 750,000 people.  We continue to search for meaning and validation among the ruins of our national tragedy.  This week, I watched "Death and the Civil War" which is based on This Republic of Suffering written by Drew Gilpin Faust.  The two-hour video relates the manner in which death was dealt with by the nation and serves as another reminder of the horrors of this war.

Vicksburg National Cemetery
The war, which killed 2.5% of the population, permanently changed the character of the republic, the culture of the government, and the psyche of the American people. The war devastated the cherished concept of dying at home surrounded by friends and family.  The conflict made it nearly impossible to follow the "common Christian notions of the "proper" way to die and be buried."  The armies of both sides began the war by leaving the responsibility of carrying for the dead to their families.
The Battle of First Bull Run (First Manassas) changed all that. The numbers of dead and wounded strained a system that was unprepared to deal with casualties. 

"Death and the Civil War" shows how foolish both sides were in entering what they thought would be a three-month conflict.  The Nation and the military were shocked by the numbers which grew throughout the conflict.  In 1864, the casualties were greater than the combination of other war years.

The video treats the governments of both sides rather gently on their treatment of the common soldier.  In fact, the actions of Union and Confederate officials shows a callous indifference to the well-being of these men and their families.  The crimes go far beyond the care of the dead.  They began the day the soldiers enlisted.  Poor sanitation, incompetent officers, lack of pay, bad food, and absence of weapons greeted the men.  Shocked civilians led the efforts to remedy these conditions.

With such little concern for the living, it is not surprising that both sides were "woefully unprepared for the monumental work of burying and accounting for the dead."  Before the war, "America had no national cemeteries; no provisions for identifying or burying the dead, notifying the next of kin, or providing aid to the suffering families of dead veterans; no federal relief organizations; no effective ambulance corps; no adequate federal hospitals." The enemy dead were buried in mass graves or left to rot on the battlefield.  This was in stark contrast with accepted traditions and forced grieving families to deal with their loss and the desecration of loved one's body.

Likewise, the governments failed to provide information on the dead. There were no "dog tags" to identify the bodies and nearly half of those killed were never identified.  The grieving families would never find out what happened to sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers. The war that killed their loved ones continued to haunt their families.

After the war ended in  April 1865, the "work of death had only just begun." Tens of thousands of soldiers were still unburied and their bones littered battlefields, many were buried in mass graves, some were buried near where they died with simple markers and notes describing the site, some enemy graves had been desecrated by hateful civilians, and hundreds of thousands remained unidentified.

Drew Gilpin Faust said: "After the Civil War, the United States thought constantly about the dead, this constituency that was no longer there, and yet was so powerful in the influence it has on our nation, because the nation had to live up to the sacrifice that these individuals represented."

African American Soldier's
Grave at Vicksburg 
Congress passed legislation to establish and protect national cemeteries in February 1867. The $4 million program would re-inter the bodies of only the Union Soldiers in 74 national cemeteries. As they were treated in the Union Army, the 30,000 African American soldiers were buried in separate areas designated "colored." White southerners channeled their deep feelings of grief, loss, rage and doubt into reclaiming the bodies of hundreds of thousands of their dead loved ones. The refusal of the victorious North to attend to the vanquished southern dead was another aspect of Reconstruction that left hateful feelings for future generations.

Decoration Day rituals to honor the Civil War by placing seasonal flowers on graves sites began  around the country. In the spring of 1868, General John Logan, officially designated May 30 "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country." But in the South, which had begun Decoration Day programs before the federal holiday, states celebrated on various days from Jackson's death to Jeff Davis' birthday. Many southern states continue to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day on a different date from the nationwide holiday, reflecting persistent sectional differences among both the living and the dead.

The Americans who survived the Civil War lived the rest of their lives with grief and loss. Some continued to search for information about their missing loved ones. Others were never able to resume life after the cruel deaths of sons, husbands, or dear friends and lived in perpetual mourning. They struggled, as we do today, to find meaning and validation to the deaths.

Perhaps my interest in the American Civil War is to search for such validation.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Prarie Boys Go to War

The Prairie Boys Go to War is the story of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry during the Civil War.  Author Rhonda M. Kohl has prepared a thoroughly researched study of this unit from southern Illinois.  The story follows the exploits of this unit from August 1861 to October 1865. 

Fifth Illinois Marker
at Vicksburg
The Fifth was organized at Camp Butler in November 1861 and was assigned to Gen. Curtis' Army at Helena. They were involved in campaigns at Helena, Vicksburg, Jackson, and Meridian. The book provides details of the battles aided by well-illustrated maps.  Kohl provides a detailed description of the difficulties at camps in Arkansas and Mississippi where the men faced flood waters, mosquitoes, poor sanitation, and disease.  

Over its four years of service, the Fifth Illinois constantly battled internal friction as well as the enemy.  Kohl highlights the political friction between the Republican party officers and their Northern Democratic soldiers.  She shows how the appointment of officers in these state units had little to do with ability and more with political affiliation.  These internal struggles led to poor leadership, low morale, disciplinary problems, and rampant alcoholism. 

Unlike some unit histories, Kohl is not afraid to reveal the unit's bad qualities as well good.  The unit was equally adept in battle as in scavenging for food.  The Fifth gained a reputation for drunken behavior, stealing, and vengeance warfare. 

The author has drawn on muster rolls, regimental and company correspondence, service and hospital records, family records, pension files, diaries, and letters to document the regiment's history in the Western Theater. 

My only reservation about the book was the lack of an appendix with the roster of the unit.  This information is available on the Southern Illinois University Press site.

Rhonda M. Kohl is a historian and writer in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  She earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology at Temple University and a master's in American history at Southern Illinois University.  Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Illinois State Historical Society, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Civil War History, and Illinois Historical Journal.  Ms. Kohl plans two additional books on the fifth on the post-war life of the soldiers and a study of  the wives and families at home.

We rate this book


Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Ghosts of Douglas the Camel

In the summer of 1863 the brave men of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, Company A, were part of the forces manning the earthwork fortifications surrounding the city of Vicksburg. By their side was a most peculiar sight - their faithful mascot, "Douglas the Camel," which gave this unit its nickname as the ‘Camel Regiment.’

Doug Baum and Friends
This summer,visitors to Vicksburg National Military Park were able to see two of Douglas' descendants thanks to US. Camel Corps re-enactor Doug Baum.  Mr. Baum brought his two camels, Douglas and Ibrahim to the park.

The "Camel Regiment" story begins on April 26, 1843, when Captain George H. Crosman encouraged the U.S. Department of War to use camels for transportation. His report was ignored until 1847-48 when his suggestion and comments by of Major Henry C. Wayne got the attention of Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. When Davis became Secretary of War in 1853 he proposed using camels to operate in the arid and desert regions of the West.

Davis wanted to improve Army transportation in the southwestern US.  In his annual report for 1854, Davis wrote, "I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels and dromedaries for military and other purposes..." On March 3, 1855, the US Congress appropriated $30,000 for the project.
Major Wayne was assigned to obtain the camels. On June 4, 1855, Wayne departed New York City on board the USS Supply, under the command of then-Lieutenant David Dixon Porter. After arriving in the Mediterranean Sea, Wayne and Porter began purchasing camels at places like Goletta, Malta, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. They acquired thirty-three animals and hired five camel drivers.

Allen and Douglas
During the early summer of 1856, the Army loaded the camels and they were driven to Camp Verde via Victoria and San Antonio. Reports from initial tests were largely positive. The camels proved to be exceedingly strong, and were able to move quickly across terrain which horses found difficult. Their legendary ability to go without water proved valuable on an 1857 survey mission led by Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale. He rode a camel from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River and his team used 25 camels on the trip. The survey team took the camels into California, where they were stationed at the Benicia Arsenal.

Ibrahim Relaxing - Note Pads on Feet
During a 1859 survey of the Trans-Pecos region to find a shorter route to Fort Davis, the Army used the camels again. Under the command of Lt. Edward Hartz and Lt. William Echols, the team surveyed much of the Big Bend area. In 1860, Echols headed another survey team through the Trans-Pecos that employed the Camel Corps

With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Camel Corps was mostly forgotten. Handlers had had difficulty with their camels spooking the horses and mules. Beale offered to keep the Army's camels on his property, but Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rejected the offer. Many of the camels were sold to private owners; others escaped into the desert throughout the West and British Columbia.

Although the details are unknown, Douglas somehow made his way to Mississippi. He was initially given to Colonel W. H. Moore by 1st Lt. William Hargrove. Besides being a mascot, Moore assigned Douglas to the regimental band, carrying instruments and knapsacks.

Though the men tried to treat Old Douglas like a horse, the camel was known to break free of any tether, and was eventually allowed to graze freely. Despite not being tied up, he never wandered far from the men. The Infantry’s horses feared Old Douglas, and he is recorded to have spooked one horse into starting a stampede, which reportedly injured many, and possibly killed one or two horses.

Old Douglas Marker
Old Douglas’s first active service was with Gen. Price in the Iuka campaign. He also participated in the 1862 Battle of Corinth. He remained with the regiment until the Siege of Vicksburg, where he was killed by Union sharpshooters. Enraged at his murder, the men swore to avenge him. Col. Bevier enlisted six of his best snipers, and successfully shot the culprit. Of Douglas’s murderer, Bevier reportedly said, “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded.” According to legend, after Douglas was shot, his remains were carved up and eaten, with some of his bones made into souvenirs by Federal soldiers.

Now thanks to Mr. Baum, visitors could see what it must have been like to see a camel on the battlefield.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Civil War: Sanctity or Shame?

In Sunday June 30, 2013 Points section of the Dallas Morning News, Civil War historian and author Tony Horwitz. asks "if this bloody conflict was necessary." Horwitz questions whether we should "consecrate a war that killed and maimed more than one million Americans" or should we condemn the war as unjustified by its "appalling costs." Please see Mr. Horwitz's article in the Atlantic titled 150 Years of Misunderstanding the Civil War.

Two points that are often ignored in analyses such as Horwitz's are the prevailing public attitude about the war and the real causes of the conflict.  At the onset of the war, both the Union and Confederate governments and civilians thought that it would be over in three months.  Volunteers flocked to the armies on both sides to get into the action before their friends had dispatched of the enemy.  The public on both sides were convinced that their men were the superior of the enemy and that, as in all wars, God was on their side.  It only took one battle to convince both sides that this conflict would be a brutal, deadly affair. 

The causes of the war are complex but none of them have anything to do with achieving equality of the races.  The South wanted to protect its economic institution that abolition would destroy.  The men who began the war were landowners whose wealth was tied up in agriculture revenue and the value of the slaves who monetized that land.  Perhaps no comment epitomizes this more than "It's a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." 

Freedmen Voting in New
Orleans in 1867
The war certainly achieved mixed results. The North may have won the war, but the South certainly won the peace.  Emancipation did not produce equality, but rather a new set of private and government restrictions that continued de-facto slavery.  Horwitz cites the writing of Dave Goldfield who said "that white supremacy was so entrenched, North and South, that war and Reconstruction could never deliver true racial justice to freed slaves, who soon became subject to economic peonage, Black Codes, Jim Crow, and rampant lynching."

Horwitz then detours his commentary into a discussion of how close the South came to winning the war.  These discussions may serve as wonderful subjects for Civil War Roundtables and forums, but fail to address the primary question of justifying the war.  Numerous battles could have gone the other way, if only this or that did not happen. 

Dead at Gettysburg
The enormity of the death toll, recently revised to 750,000 by J. David Hacker, could not have been imagined by either side after the surrender of Fort Sumter.  Saying that emancipation justified the bloodshed is wrong because other means soon replaced slavery.  Of course, slavery still exists today around the world and even in the United States where a  several outlets in national franchise were found to have enslaved its "employees."  The persistence of slavery as an institution indicates that it would not have faded away in the future.

The real importance and justification of the Civil War is that our country cannot be dismantled by factions that do not like the election of a president or the passage of laws they oppose.  There are policies and procedures that allow changes in elected officials and enaction of new laws. The war was also fought to allow the peaceful expression different opinions on how the country should be run.

Perhaps a bigger question is why we celebrate this national genocide of our young men.  Civil War activities are bigger than those for the Revolutionary War and the nearly forgotten War of 1812. All of which took place on American soil.  Some of the remembrances have their roots in "The Lost Cause." Do we celebrate to honor the bravery and honor of those who fought for their beliefs?  Maybe the reason is more pernicious.  Perhaps these events are a peaceful continuation of a war that really never ended, but has merely taken a new shape?