Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Civil War: From the Origins through Reconstruction

On Saturday June 14, 2014, The Dallas Morning News will present a three-hour lecture "The Civil War: From the Origins through Reconstruction" by Professor Louis Masur from Rutgers University.
The program will take place at the Scottish Rite Library and Museum in downtown Dallas from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

One Hundred and Fifty Years after the first shots were fired, the Civil War still captures the American imagination, and its reverberations can still be felt throughout our social and civil landscape. This subject, taught by renowned expert, Louis Masur, is the most profound event in American history. Professor Masur's lectures on Lincoln this year were among the most popular taught at One Day U. This class will begin with the Revolutionary Era and consider how the questions of states rights and federal power, slavery and freedom, collided for decades before culminating in secession and war. We'll then move to an overview of the war and analyze how it changed over time, from a war to preserve the union to a war to abolish slavery, and from a limited war meant to compel the Confederate states back into the nation to a violent, deadly contest that took more than 650,000 lives. Finally, the class will discuss the problems of reconstruction, an issue that Lincoln first considered during the war. Putting the nation back together would not be easy, and we continue to live with the results of those efforts more than a century later. Professor Louis Masur is Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. He received outstanding teaching awards from Trinity College and the City College of New York, and won the Clive Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Harvard University. His books include Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union (2012) and The Civil War: A Concise History (2011).
Professor Masur is a Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. He received outstanding teaching awards from Trinity College and the City College of New York, and won the Clive Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Harvard University. See Professor Masur's information on Rutgers University website.

To register please click Register Now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Fight Over Santa Anna's Leg

Santa Anna's Leg
The San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum failed in its efforts to have the wooden and cork leg used by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna moved from the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield to Texas.

Santa Anna is an important figure in Texas' fight for independence. The general is the villain of the Texians' defeats at the Alamo and Goliad.  Texas officials believe that artificial leg rightfully belongs in a Texas museum. However, Illinois officials want the artifact to remain in Springfield. 

In an attempt to move the leg to Texas, San Jacinto museum officials launched a petition to get the White House involved as a mediator. The effort was ill-conceived from the beginning. The museum created the petition in hopes it would draw people to its new website, not realizing it had only thirty days to collect the signatures needed to earn a White House response. The website began just before the time ran out, and the unpublicized petition fell well short of the White House threshold.

While Texas has long wanted the piece, the state has no real claim to it. Santa Anna had both his original legs when he led Mexican forces against the rebellious Texians. He eventually lost the war and territory in the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto. Two years later, in Veracruz, Mexico, Santa Anna was fighting invading French forces when cannon fire shattered his ankle, forcing the amputation of his leg. He had the leg buried with full military honors.

The general lost the leg during the Mexican War when he he was forced to beat a hasty retreat on a donkey during the Battle of Cerro Gordo in 1847.  A group of Illinois infantrymen captured Santa Anna’s carriage with a sack of gold and the prosthesis. They kept the leg. The veteran who owned it even sold peeks at the leg during the 1850s and 1860s for ten cents a pop, before his family donated it to the state.

Now here is the Civil War connection.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
After the fall of Veracruz, Santa Anna assumed personal command of the Mexican Army. He decided to stop the American invasion near the village of Cerro Gordo. The Mexican commander selected a position about ten miles east of Jalapa where the National Highway went through a pass and where his right flank was protected by the Rio del Plan. The area's key terrain feature was Cerro Gordo or Fat Mountain which rose to about a thousand feet on the north side of the National Highway. Santa Anna believed the river and mountains would force General Winfield Scott to advance on the highway where Santa Anna's twelve thousand troops and forty three cannons could ambush the Americans.

Battle of Cerro Gordo
Scott's advance, lead by General David E. Twiggs, stopped his march at Rio del Plan when he learned that Santa  Anna was assembling a strong force at a pass about four miles up the National Highway. Twiggs, who is best known for surrendering Union forces in Texas to the Confederacy, ordered a reconnaissance of the Mexican positions. General Robert Patterson's Third Division arrived the next day and the generals planned to attack on April 14. Patterson had a brief career as a Union general in the Civil War before he was defeated at the Battle of Hoke's Run and mustered out of the service. However, Patterson and Twiggs could not agree on a plan and Patterson decided to postpone the attack until Scott joined the two divisions.

Battle of Cerro Gordo
After Scott reached Plan del Rio, he assigned Captain Robert E. Lee to examine a northern route around the Mexican position defending the National Road that 1st Lieutenant P. G. T. Beauregard had discovered. Lee probed deeper to the rear of the enemy position, and Scott ordered a road constructed on this trail. The road through the thick woods was completed by the time Worth's division arrived on April 17. The Army of Invasion of 8,500 men faced a Mexican army under the command of Santa Anna estimated to be 12,000 to 18,000. On the following day Scott launched a multi-pronged attack on the flanks and rear of the Santa Anna's position. Scott was confident of success and said his forces could continue to pursue the Mexicans "until stopped by darkness or enemy fortifications."

The American troops chased the fleeing Mexicans and "added much to the enemy's loss in prisoners, killed, and wounded." General Scott supposed the "retreating army to be nearly disorganized; and hence my [his] haste to follow, in an hour or so to profit by events." He intended to reach Jalapa early the next day. "We shall not probably again meet with serious opposition this side of Perote — certainly not, unless delayed by the want of means of transportation." American casualties were sixty four killed and 353 wounded.
Perhaps the most curious acquisition was one of Santa Anna's cork legs that he used in place of the amputated leg he lost in the Pastry War with the French. Soldiers from the Fourth Illinois found the prosthesis in the general’s abandoned baggage. The men quickly invented an appropriate parody of one of their favorite marching songs, adapting "The Girl I Left Behind Me" into "The Leg I Left Behind Me."

"Illinois museum has Santa Anna’s leg, and Texas site wants it," Dallas Morning News, May 9, 2014. 
Eisenhower, So Far from God, 278-279.
Scott, Winfield Report on the events following the capture of Vera Cruz and the battle at Cero Gordo.
Steven E. Woodworth, Manifest Destinies: America's Westward Expansion and the Road to the Civil War

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Battle of Peach Tree Creek by Robert D. Jenkins, Sr.

As the title, The Battle of Peach Tree Creek - Hood's First Sortie - 20 July 1864,  implies Robert Jenkins' book is about the first engagement that General John Bell Hood fought after he replaced General Joseph Johnston in command of the Army of Tennessee.

General Joseph Johnston
The forces in the conflict were the Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Major General George Henry Thomas, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Lieutenant General John B. Hood. Hood's army had 44,400 in three corps under Generals William J. Hardee, Cheatham, and Alexander P. Stewart. Jenkins' narrative provides historical backgrounds on the commanders and the units involved in the battle. The battle actions are described on a unit-by-unit basis.
General John B. Hood
The  detailed account of the engagement includes observations from generals and privates. A soldier in Kentucky's Orphan Brigade remembered, "a slight engagement took place on Peach Tree Creek, on the afternoon of July 20, in which the Kentucky Brigade participated, and suffered some loss, mainly in skirmishe[r]s under Lieutenant [George W.] Conner, who charged those of the enemy and drove them across the creek."  Colonel Nisbet of the 66th Georgia described the action along the Buckhead Road atop Cardiac Hill, "I thought I would certainly see my 'Valhalla' that day. I lost one-fourth of all of my officers and men engaged." Corporal John Raper of the 57th Indiana described the artillery barrage that greeted a Rebel brigade. "Load after load as fast as the artillerymen could handle their pieces followed - a continuous shower of murderous iron. No troops on earth could stand that long, for they were in an open field at point-blank range."  

General George Thomas
During the morning of July 20, the Army of the Cumberland crossed Peach Tree Creek and began taking up defensive positions. The XIV Corps, commanded by Major General John M. Palmer, was on the right. The XX Corps, commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker, was in the center. The left was held by only John Newton's division of the IV Corps. The Union forces began preparing defensive positions, but had only partially completed them by the time the Confederate attack began.

The few hours between the Union crossing and their completion of defensive earthworks were a moment of opportunity for the Confederates. Hood committed two of his three corps to the attack: Hardee’s corps attacked on the right and Stewart's corps assaulted attack on the left. General Benjamin Cheatham corps watched Union forces to the east of Atlanta.

Battle of Peach Tree Creek
Hood wanted to begin the attack at one o'clock. Confusion and miscommunication between Hardee and Hood delayed the advance for three critical hours. Much of this time was spent in moving to the east to maintain contact with Cheatham's corps that was moving eastward. This forced Stewart to also slide to the east to keep in contact with Hardee. The movement finally stopped at three o'clock and the attack finally started around four o’clock, Hardee’s men ran into tough opposition, suffered heavy losses, and were unable to gain ground.

Jenkins analyzes the failure of Hardee's attack on the Union right. He writes that the evidence supports the conclusion that while Hardee "did give orders to advance, he failed to deliver a decisive attack against the enemy, and he apparently failed to relay the intent of Hood's order to make a determined advance."   

On the Confederate left, Stewart’s attack was more successful. Two Union brigades were forced to retreat, and most of the 33rd New Jersey Infantry Regiment (along with its battle flag) were captured by the Rebels, as was a four-gun Union artillery battery. Union forces counter attacked, however, and after a bloody struggle, successfully blunted the Confederate offensive. Artillery helped stop the Confederate attack on Thomas' left flank.

A few hours into the battle, Hardee was preparing the send in his reserve, the division of General Patrick Cleburne, which he hoped would get the attack moving again and allow him to break through the Union lines. An urgent message from Hood, however, forced him to cancel the attack and dispatch Cleburne to reinforce Cheatham, who was being threatened by a Union attack and in need of reinforcements.
The Union lines had bent but not broken under the weight of the Confederate attack, and by the end of the day the Rebels had failed to break through anywhere along the line. Jenkins reports 2,498 casualties over the three days of fighting of which 2,316 were lost during the charge.

An unexpected result of the Battle of Peach Tree Creek was General Joe Hooker's resignation after he was not selected to replace General McPherson after the later was killed at the Battle of Atlanta.

An important aspect and perhaps contributing factor in the Confederate defeat was the removal of General Johnston on the eve of a battle that might have resulted in the defeat of Sherman's army.

The book contains an extensive list of the Confederate and Federal casualties at Peach Tree Creek. Jenkins includes battle maps that illustrate the developments on July 20. There are also pictures of many of the combatants who participated in and wrote stories about the battle.

Robert D. Jenkins is a native of of Mississippi who grew up in Chamblee, Georgia. He has been a student of the Civil War since fourth grade when he did a project on "War in Georgia." He continued his research on the subject with The Battle of Peach Tree Creek.  He is a graduate of Georgia Southern (BBA) and Mercer University (JD).  Mr. Jenkins is an attorney in Dalton, Georgia.

We rate The Battle of Peach Tree Creek

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Cinco de Mayo and the Civil War

Perhaps it is hard to imagine a relationship between Cinco de Mayo and the American Civil War, but the two events have a great deal in common. If you will put down your cerveza or margarita for a moment, I will explain the connection.

The Battle of Puebla
Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle that took place on May 5, 1862 during the American Civil War. The battle was part of the war between France and Mexico. Mexico had experienced several wars over the period 1846-1861 (Mexican-American War of 1846-48, the Mexican Civil War of 1858, and the 1860 Reform Wars) which left the Mexican Treasury nearly bankrupt. On July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for two years. In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand repayment. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew their forces. France,which was ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to establish a Latin empire in Mexico that would favor French interests, the Second Mexican Empire.

Late in 1861, the French invaded Mexico and captured Veracruz. Like the Americans in 1847, the French advanced towards Mexico City. Near Puebla, the French army encountered heavy resistance from the smaller Mexican army at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. The 8,000-man French army attacked the smaller and poorly equipped Mexican army of 4,500. In a shocking result the Mexicans crushed the French army, which was considered the world's best military.

After their loss at Puebla, the French forces retreated and regrouped. However, the invasion continued when Napoleon III sent additional troops to Mexico. The French were eventually victorious, winning the Second Battle of Puebla on  May17, 1863 and capturing the capital at Mexico City. With the backing of France, the Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian became Emperor of Mexico in the short-lived Second Mexican Empire.  

Benito Juarez
Some historians suggest that the French occupation was a response to growing US power and to the Monroe Doctrine (America for the Americans). Napoleon III believed that "if the United States was allowed to prosper indiscriminately, it would eventually become a power in and of itself." There are even reports that suggest the French wanted to follow-up their victory in Mexico by forming an alliance with the Confederate States of America to defeat the Union.

Abraham Lincoln  met with Juarez's charge' d affaires, Mat├Čas Romero, in Springfield, IL, at his home in the days as the president-elect was preparing to move to Washington. After the meeting, Lincoln wrote a brief thank you note on January 12, 1861 to Romero. Lincoln offered, "sincere wishes for the happiness, prosperity and liberty of yourself, your government and its people."

The letter fell short of the support Romero was asking for from the United States, but the Mexicans were talking to a sympathetic leader. As a Congressman, Lincoln was one of the few members of Congress who had opposed going to war with Mexico in the 1840s.

Once the Civil War was underway, Lincoln realized that Juarez's ability to maintain the support of the Mexican people is what caused them to revolt so strongly to Maximilian. Because of this instability,  the French were never able to seriously follow through on their rhetoric of offering military and economic support to the concept of the Confederacy.

Because Juarez had helped the United States, Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, approved military aid to Juarez' supporters, which ultimately led to the abdication and eventual capture and execution of Maximilian in 1867.

The resistance to French rule began that May 5 over 150 years ago gave birth to the celebration of Mexican pride we all enjoy today.