Friday, December 19, 2014

This Jolly Little Gunboat edited by Patrick E. Purcell

USS Winona at Baton Rouge
This Jolly Little Gunboat
is based on a journal written by a crewman on the USS Winona from December 1861 to August 1863.  Although the journal's author is unknown, the most likely candidate is Montgomery P. Griffis.  Patrick E. Purcell, who has edited the journal, reaches that conclusion because Griffis is the only crewman who was assigned to the engine room of both the Powhattan and the Winona

The Winona was built in late 1861 at a private shipyard on the Northeastern Coast at a cost of $101,000. She was one of the "Unadilla Class" gunships. She was 158 feet in length and manned by a crew of about ninety-five.  The Winona was originally armed with an eleven-inch Dahlgren, a 20-pounder Parrott rifle, and two 24-pounder howitzer. She received two 32-pounders in June 1863.

The first journal entry from December 11-19, 1861 describes Griffis' joining the crew and his delight in reuniting with some of his old shipmates from the Powhatan. The narrative continues with a detailed description of the life on board the ship as she made her way into service in the "channel between the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf."  Purcell's footnotes help us through the nautical jargon of the times.  He also ties the journal entries together through his commentary on the vessel's movements and its role in overall campaign strategy.

The Winona was part of Admiral David Farragut's fleet and participated in the capture of New Orleans.  In mid-January 1862, Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron began preparations to secure the entrance to the Mississippi River at the Head of the Passes.  In order to capture New Orleans and seize control of the Mississippi River, Farragut's Squadron would have to capture or pass by Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip.  The first phase of the battle was a mortar bombardment that lasted from April 18-23. The next phase was passing the forts which took place on April 24.  The Winona was part of the six-ship third section designated to pass the forts.  Griffis described the situation:
The mortar shells were flitting like meteors in the gray twilight of early morning, the roar of the broadsides of the ships and the heavy guns of the forts, all sounded to me like the breaking up nature, for I could see nothing but mortar shell flying thick and fast as hailstones.
Unfortunately, she along with the Pinola was turned back because the dawn was breaking.

Griffis' journal is delightful to read with a mixture of battle narratives, accounts of mundane duties, and personality descriptions.
His successor, 2nd Asst. Engr. E. S. Boynton, who took charge on the same day, is a man who looks as if he was sent for and couldn't come.
Most of the Winona's time was spent patrolling the Mississippi River between Port Hudson and Donaldsonville. The gunship's tour on the river ended in August 1863 and on August 30 the ship arrived in Baltimore for repairs. Most of the crew, including Griffis, were discharged. The Winona spent the last year of the war on blockade duty off Charleston.  She was decommissioned and sold in November 1865.

Mr. Purcell includes a number of machine poems/songs that were part of the Winona's history.  He also includes an Appendix with a list of the various ships that the Winona fought with and against during her time on the Mississippi. Students of the brown water navy will certainly want to add this book to their library.
This jolly little gunboat Winona was her name. She was called after an Indian girl of sad romantic fame.
 Please see USS Winona (1861) for more information.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Three Friends: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe and Slavery

Most students of the Civil War understand that the founding fathers sowed the seeds of disunion. Among those leaders were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. I had the opportunity to learn more about these men during a Road Scholar program in Charlottesville, VA on November 16-19, 2014.

As presidents, founders, and plantation owners, these men shared a common problem --- a conflict between the moral dilemma of slavery vis-a-vis freedom and their personal dependence on the evil institution for their own welfare. In the end, all three decided to leave it to future generations to solve the issue. Practicality trumped ethical beliefs.

Jefferson statue at Monticello
Thomas Jefferson is considered the architect of the Declaration of Independence. The opening sentence of the second paragraph states the fundamental aspect of democracy: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." There is no asterisk after all men, but it seems clear that all men excludes slaves and other disenfranchised minorities. According to the website, Vindicating the Founders, Jefferson included a paragraph condemning the king's role in promoting the slave trade. The paragraph was omitted after objections by representatives from South Carolina and Georgia.

Slave life exhibit at Monticello
Thomas Jefferson owned many slaves in spite of his opposition to the institution of slavery on both moral and practical grounds. He attempted to advance legislation to abolish slavery. Jefferson advocated passage of the Northwest Ordinance, which was approved in 1787.  

Article 6 - "There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid. "

James and Dolley Madison
statue at Montpelier
James Madison is regarded as the author of the Constitution. The Constitution addresses slavery in three passages.

Article I - Section 2 - "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."

Article I - Section 9 -"The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person."

Article IV - Section 2 - "No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due."

James Monroe statue at
Ash Lawn-Highland
When James Monroe was governor of Virginia, he was involved in two slave uprisings. In the first incident in 1799, Monroe "help[ed] secure a modicum of civil protection for slaves sentenced to death for capital crimes." In 1800, hundreds of slaves in Virginia planned to kidnap Monroe, take him Richmond, and negotiate for their freedom. A storm prevented the slaves from carrying out their plans. Governor Monroe called out the militia and soon the slaves were captured. The accused conspirators were given quick trials without a jury. Monroe convinced the Virginia courts to pardon and sell some slaves instead of hanging them. However, between twenty-six and thirty-five slaves were executed. As president of Virginia's constitutional convention in the fall of 1829, Monroe blamed Britain for bringing slavery to the Colonies. Monroe proposed that Virginia accept the federal government's financial assistance to emancipate and transport freed slaves to other countries.

Membership Certificate from
American Colonization Society
Aside from being consecutive presidents, influential policy makers, and good friends; the three Virginians shared another distinction --- they were all members of the American Colonization Society (ACS). The Society was founded in 1816 to advocate and finance the return of free African Americans to Africa. The group was established by abolitionists who believed blacks would face better chances for full lives in Africa than in the United States and slaveholders who to wanted to remove free blacks as "promoters of mischief" and avoid slave rebellions. Virginia society was strongly opposed to freed slaves becoming citizens, and black colonization was viewed as an acceptable alternative. However, most blacks wanted to remain in the US, where they had been born, and opposed "repatriation." With about $100,000 in Federal grant money, the organization also bought land for the freedmen in what is today Liberia. The Society closely controlled the development of Liberia until its declaration of independence. Beginning in 1821, the ACS transported thousands of free blacks to Liberia. Over twenty years, the colony continued to grow and establish economic stability. In 1847, the legislature of Liberia declared the nation an independent state. The capital of Liberia was named Monrovia after President Monroe

President Abraham Lincoln initiated several failed attempts to resettle blacks in the Caribbean. In the five years following the Civil War, the ACS sent 2,492 blacks to Liberia. By 1867, the ACS had moved more than 13,000 blacks to Liberia. The Freedmen's Bureau provided some financial support for the relocation. The Society finally disbanded in 1964.

In 1779, Jefferson proposed a gradual emancipation plan to the Virginia legislature. The plan consisted of voluntary training, sponsorship, and resettlement for slave families outside the US. Following the slave uprising in 1800, Jefferson again proposed a colonization plan for freed slaves to prevent a violent race war. While President, Jefferson was unsuccessful in his personal attempts to settle freed Virginia slaves to Sierra Leone through British and Portugal companies.

Madison supported the ACS efforts and believed that colonization would achieve a "rapid erasure of the blot on our Republican character." The British sociologist, Harriet Martineau, visited with Madison during her tour of the United States in 1834. She characterized his faith in colonization as the solution to slavery as "bizarre and incongruous." Madison may have sold or donated his gristmill in support of the ACS. The historian Drew R. McCoy believes that "The Convention of 1829, we might say, pushed Madison steadily to the brink of self-delusion, if not despair. The dilemma of slavery undid him."

Monroe was part of the American Colonization Society formed in 1816, which members included Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson. They found common ground with some abolitionists in supporting colonization. They helped send several thousand freed slaves to the new colony of Liberia in Africa from 1820 to 1840. Slave owners like Monroe and Jackson wanted to prevent free blacks from encouraging slaves in the South to rebel.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S. C. Gwynne

As I was enjoying my morning coffee, I read an interview by Sharon Grigsby of the author of Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson.   My reading came to abrupt halt when I read the response to Ms. Grigsby's first question.

Grigsby: Stonewall Jackson's war making strategies have merited generations of study, even though he attended West Point at a time when little warfare was taught.  How did he compensate for that, and what in his strategies and leadership is significant today?
Gwynne: West Point was almost shockingly deficient when it came to teaching actual military tactics. One professor taught the course to fourth-year students. Period. Grant wrote later that he really had no use for what he learned there.
There are several problems with the statements by the author and interviewer. Both have confused tactics with strategy.  The words don't mean the same thing. Strategy is "the science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations." While tactics is "the study of the most effective ways of securing objectives set by strategy, as in deploying and directing troops, ships, and aircraft against an enemy." The words are not synonymous!

Tactics was taught at West Point from the moment a candidate enrolled at the Military Academy.  Even before they were admitted as a plebe, they were drilled in tactics using Winfield Scott's Tactics or Rules for the Exercises and Maneuvers of the Infantry of the U. S. Army and later W. G. Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics. Drill was an integral part of the daily program at the Academy.

The First Class (Fourth Year) course on Tactics was taught by the Commandant of Cadets who was a Regular Army officer. The Commandant supervised the Corps of Cadets during the academic year drills and intensive summer programs. Each class was tutored in the School of the Soldier. More than any other individual, the Commandant exercised an "important influence on the military character and opinions of the junior officers of the Army."

I doubt that Grant said that "he really had no use for what he learned there" words because he held his Commandant of Cadets, Major General Charles F. Smith, is very high regard.What Grant probably noted was the lack of training in strategy. Strategy and divisional operation were considered the province of general officers in the military. The concept was introduced in a brief, perhaps half-day lecture, at the Academy.  If you replace "tactics" with "strategy," the comments make much more sense.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Christmas Gift List

About this time each year, my family asks me to prepare a list of items that I want for Christmas.  Each year I suggest several desired gifts, and each year the gift givers blatantly ignore my requests.  Not to be dissuaded, I offer my and perhaps your Christmas wish list for 2014.

I like to receive books about the Civil War and I begin my list with new biographies on  Lincoln and Davis.  Harold Holzer's Lincoln and the Power of the Press explores Lincoln's ability to manage and manipulate the media. Initially Lincoln took a hard line with the press when he authorized the military to close New York's Journal of Commerce and World. This effort proved unsatisfactory and Lincoln decided to manipulate the press.  His chief means of responding unfavorable commentaries in the New York Times, Herald and Tribune was to release letters that were supposedly written to the editors of these papers (Henry J. Raymond of the Times, James G. Bennett of the Herald, and Horace Greeley of the Tribune).  Holzer points out that the real audience was the general public.  The author also reveals how Lincoln gave a copy of his remarks at Gettysburg to Joseph I. Gilbert who was covering the event for the Associated Press. This allowed the president's Gettysburg Address to achieve broad circulation and bypass the New York press. Kasey  S. Pipes, who reviewed the book for The Dallas Morning News, described the biography as "magisterially written and meticulously research."  Pipers praise is not surprising for works bearing Holzer literary fingerprints.

The next item on my list is a biography of Jefferson Davis by James M. McPherson. In Embattled Rebel - Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief, McPherson explores Davis' difficult presidency from his selection as president to the bitter end of the war when he was "the last Confederate left standing in 1865."  The author depicts Davis as "a frail dynamo who spent most of his waking hours buried in paperwork, much of it trivial --- a product of his inability to delegate authority --- and refereeing the clashing temperaments of his generals." Dale L. Walker's review says that "Embattled Rebel is the perfect title for this engrossing analysis of the True Believer."

The next addition to my wish list is a Civil War miniature from Sierra Toy Soldier Company. Michael and Myska Hall offer a wide variety of miniatures for collectors.  Among my favorites from their online catalogue are the 114th Pennsylvania Zouaves Color Sergeant, 114th Pennsylvania Zouaves Drumer in Turban,  and General Grant at the Table.  You might some figures that you could add to your own wish list.

Another fine gift this time of year for the Civil War enthusiast is a Mort Künstler calendar.  This year Mr. Künstler offers The Lang 2015 Kunstler Civil War Calendar and The Lang 2015 Legends in Gray Calendar.

This is also the time of year when donations are made in your name to the giver's favorite charitable organization.  If anyone is so inclined to give me such a wonderful present please make it to the Civil War Trust.

Whether I receive something from the above list or a gift of their own choosing, I know that it will be wrapped with love and caring.  And that's the best gift of all.

Early holiday greetings to all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lincoln and the War's End by John C. Waugh

Lincoln and the War's End presents a concise description of the final months of the American Civil War.  Author John C. Waugh begins his narrative on November 8, 1864 after Lincoln's victory in the presidential election.  The book is another addition to the Concise Lincoln Library collection published by Southern Illinois University Press.
Sherman's "March to the Sea"
Following the defeat of Hood's Army of Tennessee in Georgia, General Sherman begins his "March to the Sea." Leaving the "blackened ruins and lonesome chimneys" of Atlanta, Sherman's forces advance toward Savannah with plans to "make all Georgia howl."  In the meantime, Hood leads the Confederate forces to disaster in battles at Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville. 

While waiting for news from Sherman, president Lincoln sends his State of the Union address to Congress. Lincoln presents ideas for "moulding society for the durability of the Union" based on the progress of loyal state governments established in captured Confederate states. He reaffirmed his commitment and the nation's strength to put down the rebellion.

Grant and Family at City Point
Sherman reaches Savannah and presents the city as a Christmas gift to Lincoln.  In mid-January 1865, Union forces capture Fort Fisher in North Carolina and close the South's only remaining Atlantic port at Wilmington.  The New York Herald reports that Union generals were "pressing the rebellion to its last shifts."

Waugh describes how Lincoln and the Republicans deliver the "deathblow to slavery" with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment on the last day of January 1865.  Lincoln celebrates its passage and calls it "a great moral victory" and a "King's cure for all the evils." 

With the "Confederacy on the ropes," the author discusses the failed peace negotiations at Hampton Roads.

The book continues with Lincoln's speeches following his inauguration on March 4. The president concluded with, his now famous, "With Malice toward none..." quote.
Lee Surrenders
Waugh traces the final days of the Confederacy with Lee's defeat at Fort Stedman, retreat from Petersburg, and burning of Richmond.  He describes Lincoln's visit to the Rebel capital and the Grant's pursuit of Lee's gallant forces to the surrender at Appomattox. We also learn about Sherman's path across South Carolina and Johnston's eventual surrender.

Lincoln and the War's End concludes with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln preparing to leave for Ford's Theater.  That part of the saga is left to Edward Steers' Lincoln's Assassination.

The timing of this book is perfect as the nation begins remembering the events that ended the Civil War.  Waugh has included numerous notes and several maps and illustrations.  The book is well written and will be appreciated by those just learning about the Civil War as well as readers that are more knowledgeable.

John C. Waugh is a former reporter and bureau chief of the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the author of eleven other books on the Civil War era.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Unexpected Victory at Sabine Pass

About 6:00 am on the morning of September 8, 1863, a Union flotilla of four gunboats and seventeen troop transports commanded by General William B. Franklin steamed into Sabine Pass and up the Sabine River. The attack was part of a Union strategy to invade the Louisiana-Texas coast and interrupt rail connections between the two states.

Model of Fort Griffin
Franklin's plan was to stay on board the transports for as long as possible, reduce Fort Griffin, and land troops to begin the occupation of Texas. The Davis Guards, or Company F of the First Texas Heavy Artillery Regiment, commanded by Captain Frederick Oldham, defended the coast, and on the day of the attack Lieutenant Dick Dowling had the duty at Sabine Pass. As the gunboats approached Fort Griffin, they came under accurate fire from six cannons. The defenders had previously sighted their guns on the narrow channel in the pass, so when the Union vessels started through the pass they fired away when the ships entered their line of fire. They disabled the USS Sachem and the USS Clifton and the disabled ships blocked the pass and prevented the rest of the flotilla from advancing up the river. "Dowling and his forty two Irish Patriots" forced the Union flotilla to retire and captured the Clifton and about 200 prisoners.

Monument to Dowling
and his Irish Patriots
in Sabine Pass
President Davis was so pleased with the victory, especially by his namesake unit, that he called it the Confederacy's Thermopylae. Early in 1864, the Confederate Congress passed a resolution which included, among other complimentary language, the declaration that "this defense ... constitutes, in the opinion of Congress, one of the most brilliant and heroic achievements in the history of this war." At the suggestion of Jefferson Davis himself, the soldiers also received silver medals with green ribbons that had "D.G." (for Davis Guards) engraved on one side and "Sabine Pass, Sept. 8, 1863" on the other.

Lt. Dick Dowling
The battle is preserved at the Sabine Pass Battlefield where history buffs mingle with the fisherman who line the railings over the Sabine River. The park has several panels that describe the battle and a model of Fort Griffin. Dick Dowling is immortalized with a fine statue in his and the guard's honor.

Please see The Battle of Sabine Pass, TX II for more photographs.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hidden Code on Civil War Diary

Varina Howell Davis
Queens College computer science professor has deciphered the cryptic notes in Confederate officer James Malbone's civil war diary. Professor Kent Boklan found interesting entries nestled among orders and other military information.  Malbone's entries were written in a code he devised himself where symbols, punctuation marks, and dollar signs were used instead of letters of the alphabet.

The entries contain camp gossip and stories about soldier infidelities.  One of the most interesting items is about meeting Mrs. Jefferson Davis and suggesting that from her looks that "she may have been of mixed race."

There doesn't seem to be any indication of what that "mixture of races" might have been. Her image suggests a number of possibilities including Hispanic, Native American, and African American. 

According to Strode Hudson in Jefferson Davis, Volume I: American Patriot:"She tried intermittently to do what was expected of her, but she never convinced people that her heart was in it, and her tenure as First Lady was for the most part a disaster,"as they picked up on her ambivalence. White residents of Richmond freely criticized Varina Davis; and some described her appearance as "a mulatto or an Indian 'squaw'."

Frankly, I could care less about her pedigree. Mrs. Jefferson was a strong and supporting wife who had incredible influence in the Confederate government.  As the war continued and hardships spread to those who demanded secession, disgruntled Southerners attacked both President Davis and his First Lady. 

President and Mrs. Jefferson Davis
On a personal note, I have now returned to the land of the living after spending most of the last three months completing my manuscript on the life of Major General Charles Ferguson Smith. The process of obtaining permissions and drawing maps resulted in long days with virtually no time for other activities. Please excuse my prolonged absence. --- A. Mesch

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Role of Engineers in the Civil War: Dennis H. Mahan Creates a Curriculum

Dennis H. Mahan
Professor David Douglass resigned March 1, 1831, and was succeeded by Professor Dennis. H. Mahan on January 1, 1832. Following his graduation in July 1824, Lieutenant Mahan joined the Corps of Engineers. He was assistant professor of mathematics at the Academy from August 29, 1824 to August 31, 1825. Between 1825 and 1830, Mahan spent four years in Europe studying public works and military institutions. He was a student in the military school of application for engineers and artillerists at Metz, France. When he returned home, he served as acting professor of engineering from September 1, 1830 to January 1, 1832.

After his appointment to professor, Mahan devoted his energies to preparing a suitable set of textbooks for the department. As he developed the textbooks, he delivered lectures from his studies in Europe.

By 1841, the class register included a complete set of books and lithographs on engineering and military science. The list includes instruction on an impressive number of topics:
  • Mahan's Treatise on Field Fortification
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Permanent Fortification
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Attack and Defense
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Mines and other Accessories
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Composition of Armies and Strategy
  • Mahan's Course in Civil Engineering
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Architecture and Stone Cutting
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Machines (for first section only)
These frequently revised books were the basis of the course of engineering during Mahan's time at the Academy. In 1848, he introduced Mahan's Advanced Guard and Outposts; in 1858, Moseley's Mechanics of Engineering, and in 1870 Mahan's Industrial Drawing.

The instruction was presented to the First Class (fourth year) cadets. Around the end of the Civil War, the classes were divided into sections of ten to twelve men each with each section receiving instruction for one and a half hours daily between 8 and 10:30 a.m. Cadets taking the drawing class attended daily from 8 to 11 o'clock. Each section was under the immediate charge of an officer, usually of the Corps of Engineers, as instructor. Professor Mahan visited the sections daily, listened to the recitations, asked questions, and presented additional instruction and remarks as he thought necessary and desirable. This interaction allowed Mahan to judge the instructors abilities, methods of teaching, and grading. He was also able to evaluate the individual Cadets.

Professor Mahan gave very few lectures and most of these were short descriptions of campaigns and battles with criticisms of the tactical positions of the opposing forces. Most of his oral and personal instruction was given to the Cadets during his visits to the section room.

The engineering drawing course included the accurate construction of a number of problems contained in fortification drawing and stereotomy, drawings of a canal lock in plan, section, and elevation, and the plan, section, and elevation of a half front of fortification, Noizet's Method. The canal lock and Noizet's Method were finished as completely as time allowed, and the sections, slopes, etc., were usually tinted in watercolors.

Mahan promoted the development of professionalism in military science. His textbooks were used worldwide from the time they were written until after World War I. Mahan also founded the Napoleon Seminar at West Point, where advanced under-graduates and senior officers studied and discussed the great European wars.

Professor Mahan's lectures and writings about military fortifications and strategy were instrumental in the conduct of the Civil War by the officers on both sides. Most of the Civil War commanders learned about entrenchment, fortifications, and warfare from his classes and books.

On September 16, 1871, the West Point Board of Visitors recommended Mahon be forced to retire from teaching. The distraught Mahan committed suicide by leaping into the paddlewheel of a steamboat on the Hudson River.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Role of Engineers in the Civil War: The Beginning of Engineering and Military Science Instruction

Instruction in civil engineering and military science in the US Army began sometime between 1795-1798, while the regiment of Artillerists and Engineers was stationed at West Point. Colonel Rochefontaine and Captain Rivardi, formerly of the French army, constructed a small model of the front of a fortification. Training in military engineering began when Congress established the Military Academy on March 16, 1802. The elements of fortification were taught using Rochefontaine and Rivardi's model. Until 1818, the instruction in military engineering was done by lectures illustrated by the model and through field exercises in practical engineering. The lectures were delivered by the Superintendent until 1808, by the teacher of French, Francis O. Masson, from I808 to 1813, and after that by the professor of engineering. The only textbook used was a small fifty-page pamphlet, translated from the French by Colonel Jonathan Williams, Corps of Engineers, the Academy's first Superintendent.

Alden Partridge
Congress established the department of engineering on April 29, 1812. "That the Military Academy shall consist of the Corps of Engineers and the following professors ... one professor of the art of engineering in all its branches ... and each of the foregoing professors shall have an assistant professor, taken from the most prominent characters of the officers or Cadets." Captain Alden Partridge, Corps of Engineers, was appointed professor of engineering on September 1, 1813. Partridge graduated from the Military Academy on October 30, 1806, and was assigned to the Corps of Engineers. He served at the Academy as assistant professor of mathematics from November 4, 1806, to June 5, 1811; as principal assistant professor of mathematics from April 29, 1812, to September 1, 1813; and as professor of engineering from September 1, 1813, to December 31, 1816. Much of the time, while he was professor of engineering he was also Superintendent of the Academy, and therefore gave little attention to the work of his department.
During the early 1800s engineering instruction was given less emphasis than either French or drawing. Most of the graduating cadets were only taught the definitions in William's primer. Many Cadets did not know the difference between the ditch and the glacis of a fort except by the conventional colors used in drawings. Two Cadets, who graduated in 1815 into the Engineer Corps, had only studied basic trigonometry.
Claudius Crozet
On March 16, 1817, Professor Claude Crozet succeeded Superintendent Partridge. Professor Crozet was born in France and was educated at the Polytechnic School. He had served as assistant professor of engineering since October 1, 1816. Crozet introduced descriptive geometry as a prerequisite for studying engineering, employed the blackboard in demonstrations, and applied some of the methods used by the Polytechnic School in developing and teaching engineering. The work of all the departments in the Academy was greatly aided by the reforms instituted by the new Superintendent, Major Sylvanus Thayer.
A Treatise on the Science
of War and Fortification
A Treatise on the Science of War and Fortification by Colonel de Vernon, professor of fortification at the Polytechnic School, France was translated by Captain John M. O'Connor, US Artillery, and introduced in 1818. The first volume of the two-volume text presented a general review of the science of war and a discussion of field fortifications and the second volume presented the fundamentals of permanent fortifications. The appendix contained a summary of the principles and guidelines of grand tactics and operations. Other French military fortification books were used in the course as supplemental texts for lectures or as references.
The Cadets studied the textbook according to the following procedures:  
  1. The Fourth Class Cadets were divided into two sections for the military course instruction.   
  2. The first section was instructed in the entire course of engineering, military science, and grand tactics using A Treatise on the Science of War and Fortification. Cadets were required to execute a series of drawings and plans connected with these subjects. The course began on September 1 of each year and ended on March 20.
  3. The second section was only taught field engineering using volume I and the appendix of A Treatise on the Science of War and Fortification. 
 The 1821 regulations indicate that the professor of engineering taught some of the sections himself. Instruction was divided among the professor of engineering and his assistants. The professor of engineering would occasionally instruct the sections entrusted to his assistants. This was done "to ascertain the proficiency of the sections entrusted immediately to the assistants and the manner in which they have performed their duty." 
In 1823, Professor David B. Douglass succeeded Professor Crozet, who resigned on April 28, 1823. Professor Douglass was appointed 2nd lieutenant, Corps of Engineers on August 1, 1813. He was assistant professor of natural and experimental philosophy from June 1, 1815, to August 29, 1820; as professor of mathematics from August 29, 1820 to May 1, 1823, and as professor of engineering from May 1, 1823, to March 1, 1831. During his tenure "the instruction in civil engineering was much improved."
Next: Professor Dennis H. Mahan's Tenure

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Civil War: From the Origins to Reconstruction

On August 23 The Dallas Morning News presented Professor Louis Masur's three-hour class on the origins of the Civil War.  The class covered the roots of the the discontent that led to the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861.  Masur explained how the questions of states rights and federal power, slavery and freedom collided for decades before culminating in secession and war. The event was held at the historic Scottish Rite Library and Museum in downtown Dallas.

Professor Masur traced the changes that occurred in the Nation from the American Revolution to the War of Rebellion.  He cited the Nullification crisis and other threats of secession as examples of the national fight over federal and state rights.  Following the invention of the cotton gin, southerners changed their arguments to justify slavery. It became a necessary evil that produced a positive good. Political cartoons contrast the "benign" American slavery with England's wage system's "industrial slavery."  He spoke of the role of the media, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, in changing public opinion.

He mentioned the industrial advantage the north had during the war and the southern belief that their soldiers were far superior to their northern counterparts. Masur described how the war changed from a limited war to restore the southern states to the Union to a total war involving citizens with the goal to end slavery.  In spite of the goals of their leaders, the opposing soldiers had difficulty hating each other and enjoyed fraternizing with each other in the intermissions between killing each other.

Dr. Masur said that the south believed the north's mobilization and supplies caused them to lose the war. Northerners attributed the victory to the Union's industrialized strength.  Similar answers to the same question.  Ultimately, the south may have lost because its soldiers refused to defend and die for an economic system that only benefited the wealthy. The pleas to return home from their families resulted in widespread desertion as the men put their families first.

The Reconstruction era began with hope in the black community and ended with despair as, in my opinion, physical slavery became industrial slavery. The Republican north lost the will to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments on a south that pursued a course of de-facto slavery through economic and political means. Ultimately, America emerged as an industrialized, capitalist, democratic nation. However, the issues faced by our ancestors in this bloody conflict remain with us today: federal vs. state control of government and individual rights vs. government restrictions and regulations.

Much of Professor Masur's commentary is contained in his book: The Civil War: A Concise History.  

Please see Books by Louis Masur for other titles.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Louis Mazur's Thoughts on Lincoln and "Modern-Day" Government

In the Sunday August 10, 2104 edition of the Dallas Morning News, Professor Louis Mazur presented a new cause for the American Civil War in his editorial "With our faith in modern-day government depleted, some lessons from Lincoln."  Mazur cites Lincoln's July 1, 1861 address to Congress in which the president  declared that the rebellion "presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy — a government of the people, by the same people — can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes."

Mazur wrote, "The goal of saving the Union and the emerging objective of abolishing slavery were both subsidiary to the primary question of whether a minority of 'discontented individuals' could combine to overturn the results of a national election and thereby 'put an end to free government upon the earth.' The Civil War demonstrated that there are many legitimate ways for minorities in a democracy to express themselves, but armed rebellion is not one of them."

Lincoln believed that there were democratic processes in-place to allow political minorities to express themselves and work for change. This may seem to be cynical in light of Lincoln's restrictions on the very process he went to war to defend. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, closed opposition newspapers, and arrested dissenters. Hardly reasonable actions for someone who proclaimed that there were legitimate ways for minorities to express themselves.

Mazur says the most significant lesson of the Civil War was to demonstrate that democracy was "tough and resilient." Mazur states that the people would endure almost unimaginable death and destruction to preserve a government whose ultimate object was “to elevate the condition of men.” Professor Mazur wrote, "The Civil War reminded a reunited nation that everyone should have an opportunity to rise, that everyone should be given a 'fair chance in the race of life.' This, after all, is what democracy was for."

While these are lofty goals, I would be shocked if a poll of citizens and Republicans would select that idea in explaining why they fought.  Preserving the Union was the typical response. The aspect of what this entails was a lot harder to grasp. Prior to Lincoln's election, the US Army had been called upon to put down a revolution in Utah. The territory refused to obey federal laws. The military presence in Utah had more to do with chastising an unruly group than giving the citizens a "fair chance in the race of life." The Civil War was pursued with the same intent. 

Southerners felt that they had no voice in the Congress and that they were out of "legitimate ways... to express themselves." This left rebellion as the only option.  The behavior of the Lincoln Administration concerning dissenters provided evidence of Southern fears.

I doubt if anyone in the Lincoln Administration in 1861 was interested in giving everyone a "fair chance in the race of life." Lincoln's actions in regard to Fremont's emancipation order and status of Black Americans indicate that this was the case.  Lincoln ideas should not be confused with Andrew Jackson's views on democracy and social equality. Lincoln did change his views as the war progressed and found abolishing slavery was a stronger basis on which to justify the war. 

What lessons did we learn? Amendments were passed granting freedom, equality, and a place at the voting box. Then they were forgotten and replaced by a series of local regulations that endeavored to return Black Americans to a pseudo-slavery existence. 

Mazur quotes Lincoln who said that the "The legitimate object of government" is to do those things that "they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves — in their separate, and individual capacities." This remains the true purpose of government and is the legitimate justification and reason for government.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Court of Appeals Overules Texas on Sons of Confederate Veterans License Plates

On July 14, a Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans ruled that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles had violated the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ free speech rights and engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” when it rejected the group's proposal for a specialty license plate in 2011. The panel opinion stated "that the only reason the board rejected the plate is the viewpoint it represents" and "this is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to protect against."

The panel decision is expected to force Texas to issue license plates with the Confederate battle flag. Texas would become the largest state to sell the plates, which feature the words “Sons of Confederate Veterans 1896” and the red Confederate “battle flag” with blue bars and white stars. The judgment renewed the debate between those who say the symbol honors Confederate heritage and others who see it as racially offensive and hurtful. The approval means that Texas could join nine other states that issue plates honoring the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

An attorney for the Texas chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said the ruling reaffirms that “the government cannot step into an issue and silence one side while endorsing the viewpoint of the other side.” In response to the ruling, the president of the Texas NAACP called it is "a sad day for African-Americans and others victimized by hate groups in this state." He said the plate “marginalizes American citizens” and is akin to memorializing slavery.

The Texas Attorney General’s office, which represented the Department of Motor Vehicles, said it is considering options, such as requesting a hearing before the full appeals court or taking it to the US Supreme Court.

The Attorney General’s office said the Department of Motor Vehicles has “complete editorial control” over plate designs. The office said, does “not give anyone a right to commandeer the machinery of government to support their desired message.” The appeals court countered with, “The tortured procedural history that eventually led to the denial of Texas SCV’s plate demonstrates that the subjective standard of offensiveness led to viewpoint discrimination.”

The decision may have wide implications. The court said the tags should be considered as private speech and be protected by the First Amendment. The court also said the Department of Motor Vehicles' standard for what qualifies as offensive was too vague. The ruling may force states to tighten their standards or start issuing plates to groups whose positions may be offensive to other citizens. The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 1,007 groups as active hate groups in the United States in 2012.The Sons of Confederate Veterans is not considered a hate group by the organization. The issue comes down to whether a state government has authority to prohibit objectionable words and symbols vs. free speech advocates.

What do think? Should states enact tighter standards? Does a state-issued plate imply that the state endorses the group and its beliefs? Should a state consider the impact on its other citizens even if it means violating free speech? How is a license plate representing a group different from a bumper sticker with the same message?

I wonder if the parties involved would object to another "sanitized" version.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ashton Villa and General Order No. 3

Ashton Villa, Galveston, TX
Ashton Villa was the site of one of the most celebrated events of emancipation. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. I learned about Ashton Villa's part in the proclamation when I read Ken Byler's story "General Order Number 3" in the June 29, 2014 issue of the Plano Star Courier.

Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger
While standing on the balcony of Ashton Villa, Granger read "General Order No. 3:"
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
On January 7, 1859, Colonel James Moreau Brown, a prominent hardware merchant and banker, purchased four lots at the corner of 24th and Broadway in Galveston to build his new home.  Brown modified several plans to design the three-story brick home. He used slave labor and skilled European craftsmen to construct one of the first brick structures in Texas

The three-story house was built in Victorian Italianate style, with deep eaves, long windows and ornate verandas that were topped by cast iron lintels. The brick walls were thirteen inches thick to reduce against humidity inside the home and add strength to the structure. Brown's wife, Rebecca Ashton, named the home in honor of her ancestor, Lt. Isaac Ashton, a Revolutionary War hero.

The house was completed in 1861. When the Civil War began, the home was used as the headquarters for the Confederate Army. The Confederates used Ashton Villa for their headquarters throughout the war except for a brief time in the fall of 1862 when Galveston was captured by Union forces. The Union used the house as their command center until Galveston was re-taken by the Confederates during the Battle of Galveston in January 1863. The home remained in Confederate hands for the rest of the war.

In the spring of 1865, Texas contained over 60,000 soldiers of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi under General Edmund Kirby Smith. Morale was very low and desertion and crime were rampant.  When news of the surrender of Lee and other Confederate generals reached Texas around April 20, the senior military leaders pledged to continue the war. However, the enlisted men were not enthusiastic and desertion continued to increase.

On May 14, Confederate troops in Galveston briefly mutinied, but were persuaded to remain in the army. Morale continued to sink and Generals John B. Magruder and Kirby Smith stopped trying  to rally the troops. Instead the Rebel officers discussed how Confederate government property would be distributed. Magruder said that disbanding of the army would prevent crimes by disgruntled soldiers against civilians.

The hurry to disband the army created riots and pillaging of Confederate property. Soldiers and civilians rioted and ransacked warehouse, ships, and trains throughout the state. By May 27, half of the original confederate forces in Texas had deserted or been disbanded, and law and order disappeared in many parts of Texas.

Federal troops did not arrive in Texas to restore order until June 19, 1865, when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union soldiers arrived on Galveston Island to take possession of the state and enforce the new freedoms of former slaves. The Stars and Stripes were not raised over Austin until June 25. On June 19 Granger took possession of Ashton Villa and delivered his proclamation freeing the slaves. It is somewhat ironic that Confederate headquarters was used as the site for announcing the end of the institution that caused the war.

Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The History Detectives Tackle the Sultana Mystery

The SS Sultana was a Mississippi River side-wheel steamboat that exploded on April 27, 1865 in the greatest maritime disaster in United States history. An estimated 1,800 of her 2,427 passengers died when three of the boat's four boilers exploded and she sank near Memphis.

The wooden steamboat was constructed in 1863 by the John Litherbury Boatyard in Cincinnati for transporting cotton in the lower Mississippi. The 1,719 ton vessel was manned by an 85-man crew. During her lifetime, she operated between St. Louis and New Orleans carrying cotton and Union troops.

On April 21, 1865 the Sultana left New Orleans for St. Louis with 75 to 100 passengers and a cargo of livestock. She stopped at Vicksburg for repairs to her boilers and to take on more passengers. A break was discovered in one of her boliers, and instead of replacing it, a patch was placed over the leak. This repair took about one day compared to three days to replace the boiler. 

With the war over, soldiers tried get on board to return home. More than 2,000 men forced, bribed, and threaten to gain passage on the crowded steamer. With a legal capacity of only 376, she was severely overcrowded. 
Most of the new passengers were Union prisoners of war from Ohio who had just been released from Confederate prison camps such as Cahawba and Andersonville and were anxious to return home to be cared for by family and friends. The Federal government had contracted with the Sultana to transport these soldiers to their homes. Many of the POWs were very weak due to their poor treatment, battle wounds, and illness.

At 2:00 a.m. on April 27, 1865, the "repaired" boiler exploded and the steamer sank 7 to 9 miles  north of Memphis. The explosion threw some of the passengers on deck into the water and destroyed a large section of the boat. The forward part of the upper decks collapsed into the exposed furnace boxes which caught fire and consumed the remaining superstructure.
The first boat on the scene was the southbound steamer Bostonia II, which arrived at about 3:00 am, an hour after the explosion, and overtook the burning wreck to rescue scores of survivors. The hull of the Sultana drifted about six miles to the west bank of the river, and sank at around dawn near Mound City. Other vessels joined the rescue, including the steamers Silver Spray, Jenny Lind, and Pocohontas, and the Navy tinclad Essex and the sidewheel gunboat USS Tyler.

Passengers who survived the initial explosion had to risk their lives in the icy spring runoff of the Mississippi or burn with the boat. Many died of drowning or hypothermia. Some survivors were rescued from the tops of semi-submerged trees along the Arkansas shore. Bodies of victims were found downriver for months. and many bodies were never recovered. About 700 survivors, many with horrible burns, were transported to hospitals in Memphis. Up to 200 of them died later from burns or exposure.

The official death toll calculated by the US Customs Service was 1,800 and other estimates are from 1,300 to 1,900. Of the total casualties, Ohio lost 791 dead. Indiana 491, and Kentucky 194 dead.  Many of the dead were buried at the Memphis National Cemetery. An estimated 700 to 800 survived the disaster.

Controversy has surrounded the disaster with accusations of shoddy repairs to the boiler and sabotage by Confederate pies.  Enter the History Detectives.

The History Detectives tackled the mysterious explosion of the SS Sultana. They tried to answer the question: Was it an act of Confederate sabotage? Faulty machinery? Dangerous conditions? The detectives met with descendants of Rebel boat burners and Sultana survivors, discovered government records, and hunted for the wreck site. The team uncovered a tale of incompetence, bribery, politics and patronage that led all the way to President Lincoln and the White House.

The research conducted by the History Detectives is brilliant.  They approached the problem in using a multi-disciplinary approach.  I recommend that readers view the program and retrace the steps that were used to solve the mystery. The cause of the explosion seems to be due to overloading the Sultana. The crowded conditions on the ship resulted in passengers being packed on deck and hurricane deck which made the ship top heavy and caused it and its boilers to roll as the steamship made her way upstream in the flood-stage waters of the Mississippi. The question now becomes what caused the overloading especially when two other steamships, which could have carried the POWs, passed Vicksburg. 

The obvious reason seems to be greed.  The steamship owners probably bribed Col. Reuben Hatch, the quartermaster at Vicksburg, to pack the ship and thus receive the government's compensation of $5/enlisted man and $10/officer.  The culprit in allowing this was Col. Hatch.  The History Detectives discovered that this incompetent and corrupt officer remained in office by virtue of influence on President Lincoln by his Illinois supporters. Interestingly, the official inquiry found "there is no evidence that it was caused by overcrowding of her decks."   

  • Mention of Assistant Quartermaster R. B. Hatch in Grant's report on Battle of Belmont (Series 1 - Volume 3, Official Records, 271,281).
  • Arrest of Captain Hatch by Grant. "Every day develops further evidences of corruption in the quartermaster's department ..." (Series 1 - Volume 7, Official Records, 546).
  • Advising Brig. Gen. Quinby against taking large transports into lake (Series 1 - Volume 24 (Part I), Official Records, 404).
  • Reports on Sultana disaster from Maj. Gen. Dana, Maj. Gen. Cadwallader, Bvt. Brig. Gen. Hoffman, Brig. Gen. Holt, Acting Ensign James E. Berry, Maj. Gen. Wasburn, and others. See especially charges against Captain Speed.  (Series 1 - Volume 48 (Part I), Official Records, 210-226)

See History Detectives episode on the Sultana - Civil War Sabotage

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Civil War at Jamestown Settlement

As part of our granddaughter's trip to Williamsburg and Washington, we spent half a day at Historic Jamestown. Visitors may not realize that the site also has connections with the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the military of both sides became interested in Jamestown's strategic location.  In 1861 Confederates thought it was the best point along the James River for defending Richmond.
Confederate Earthworks
William Allen, a wealthy Virginian who owned Jamestown,  occupied the island in April 1861with troops that he raised at his own expense. Allen was joined by Lieutenant Roger Jones who constructed and commanded artillery batteries on the island. By the end of the year, Jamestown had five earthworks that controlled river traffic and protected the island.

Confederate Earthworks
Of the five Confederate earthworks on Jamestown Island, only two are substantially intact and accessible to visitors. Fort Pocahontas, which stands adjacent to the seventeenth-century church tower, was the first and most significant one for defending Richmond during the early months of the war. The Square Redoubt is located toward the center of the island. Earthworks near Goose Hill and Black Point were constructed to strengthen the river defenses, while a fifth one guarded the bridge and was supported by an infantry lunette.

That summer,two infantry regiments increased the strength of the garrison to more that 1,200 men. Additional fortifications were built below Jamestown and many of Jamestown's troops were transferred to the new forts. As the island's military significance declined, Jones conducted important ordnance and armor tests for the CSS Virginia.

Jones  was succeeded by Major John R. C. Coxe and the force was increased by the addition of local militia. Mr. Allen recruited an  artillery battalion during spring 1862.

When Major General George B. McClellan launched his Peninsula campaign and attacked Yorktown in April 1862, the Confederates  evacuated  Jamestown and the rest of the Peninsula  on the night of May 3. Jamestown was now behind Union lines and the large Federal transport fleet used the port during the campaign. Telegraph wires were run from Jamestown to Fort Monroe which was already connected to Washington, which improved communications between McClellan and the War Department. After Lincoln withdrew the Army, the navy continued to patrol the river.

During Federal occupation, Jamestown became a rendezvous point for escaped slaves, many of whom were evacuated by the navy. When the Union Army left Jamestown, William Allen's slaves burned his eighteenth century mansion.

Jamestown was virtually ignored until 1863 when it became part of a Confederate diversionary movement during the Suffolk campaign. It played a comparable role for Federals in their feint against Richmond during the Gettysburg campaign.

In August 1863 Jamestown assumed a new role as an Federal outpost for Williamsburg, which was the most advanced Union position along the Peninsula. Union forces, including US Colored Troops,  patrolled the river and engaged Confederate guerrillas. The telegraph line was reinstalled during the Bermuda Hundred campaign. The telegraph line was improved in June 1864 during the Petersburg campaign.  General U. S. Grant extended telegraph communications with a mile-long underwater cable from Jamestown to Swann's Point and then ran wires to Fort Powhatan which was linked to his headquarters at City Point. When guerrillas cut wires, Grant ran an underwater cable twenty-two miles from Jamestown to Fort Powhatan. As the Petersburg campaign continued into autumn and winter, Union troops whose terms of enlistment had expired were sent to Jamestown to guard the island until transportation arrived to take them north.

After General Robert E. Lee's army surrendered at Appomattox, Jamestown was used as a location for administering the Oath of Allegiance to former Confederates.

During my visit, I was shown a spent cap believed to be from an artillery piece.  The cap
resembled those used by rifles. It was about the diameter of my finger  and was missing the top of the hat. I have not learned what weapon it was used with. Any information would be very useful.   

Visit Historic Jamestowne

Check out the Archaeological Research - The Dig

Fort Pocahontas