Saturday, December 19, 2015

Civil War Christmas Traditions

Seasons Greetings!

I hope you enjoy the holidays with your friends and family. 

It is only appropriate that we consider the Christmas traditions that began in the Civil War. The Museum of the Confederacy hosted a program presented by the Catherine Wright, the Collections Manager of the museum, on Civil War Christmas Traditions.

HistoryNet posted an article on Christmas in the Civil War that appeared in a 1998 Civil War Times feature. 

The Christmas carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is based on the 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The song tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among men.

With 2016 only days away, it's a good time to purchase your Civil War calendar. Amazon offers a number of versions. 

By now you are hungry and might want to put on your Civil War apron and start mixing up a batch of Confederate Shortbread, Johnny Cakes, Washington Pie, or Gingerbread. TotalGettysburg has the recipes on their web page.

After your snack, you turn on the computer to play Sid Meir's Gettysburg rated the top Civil War game by GamersDecide. This is one of my favorites. 

To keep you awake during your marathon gaming, you could try an authentic Civil War beverage such as coffee (North), coffee (South - chicory), or tea. 

Regardless of how you enjoy this time of year, we wish you a very wonderful season with your family and friends and a healthy and happy New Year.

Allen H. Mesch

Monday, December 7, 2015

Family Life in 19th-Century America

Last week I discovered a fascinating book by James M.Volo and Dorothy Denneen Volo called Family Life in 19th-Century America.

Union Troops
The authors have compiled an amazing amount of information about life in the 1800s that will be of interest to students of the American Civil War. The work was first published in 2007 so it taps into a great deal of recent research. Family Life in 19th-Century America presents some interesting statistics on the "Common Soldiers" of the Civil War.

  • The Federal Army contained about 2.2 million men and the Confederate forces were between 1.0 and 1.5 million.
  • About 75% of each army was composed of infantry, 15% cavalry, and 7% artillery. The remaining 3% were engineers, medical personnel, teamsters, and other ancillary personnel. Officers represented 10% of each army.
  • The average age at enlistment was just under 26 years in the Union Army and just over 26 years in the Confederate Army.
  • The average size and weight of Federal recruits was 5'8" and 145 pounds. This is a little taller than the 5'4" I have seen in other books.
  • Married men composed 29% of the Northern Army and 36% of the Southern Forces.
  • Northern soldiers were better educated than their Southern counterparts.
  • Most of the soldiers were farmers and the second largest group were skilled laborers. 
  • Officers came from the ranks of professional and white-collar occupations.
  • Foreign-born men composed between 20 and 25% of the Union Army but only 4 to 5% of the Confederate troops.
  • Germans were the largest group of foreigners (200,000) to serve in the Union Army, followed by Irish (150,000), and British and Canadian (50,000).
  • Boys under 16 were allowed to serve as soldiers in both armies. More than 40,000 may have served. The Federal Army contained 300 boys aged 13 or younger and 24 who were 10 or younger.
Confederate Artillery at
Charleston, SC in 1863

The data reveal some unexpected results. Unfortunately, information for the Confederate forces is not as complete as for the Union troops.

(Source: Volo, James M. and Volo, Dorothy Denneen, Family Life in 19th-Century America, 180-186.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

World War II Veteran and Civil War Student

I had the privilege to enjoy a lively discussion over dinner at Remington's Restaurant with World War II veteran Chester (Chet) F. Rohn. We were seated together so we might talk about our mutual interests in the Civil War.

Mr. Chester F. Rohn
World War II Veteran
and Civil War Enthusiast
Mr. Rohn is a proud member of the Color Guard of The Iron Brigade Association of the Civil War Round Table of Milwaukee. He recalled the many meetings he attended especially those presented by Ed Bearss. During a visit to Vicksburg, Chet heard Ed's distinct voice through a fog-shrouded battlefield. After Ed was finished speaking, Chet shouted "Is that Ed Bearss?" I mentioned that Mr. Bearrs was going to speak at the Dallas round table in December and urged him to attend.[1]

Chet's favorite battlefields are Vicksburg, Shiloh, and Antietam. He is understandably proud of the Iron Brigade, which fought in the Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Mine Run, Overland, Richmond-Petersburg, and Appomattox campaigns.  He talked about the intense battle in the Miller Cornfield at Antietam that Captain Benjamin Cook described as "...the most deadly fire of the war. Rifles are shot to pieces in the hands of the soldiers, canteens and haversacks are riddled with bullets, the dead and wounded go down in scores."

Our conversation turned to Chet's participation in World War II where he was in the 11th Armor Division of General George Patton's Third Army. He was part of the division that came to the relief of the 101st Airborne Division and other units in the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Rohn, then a twenty-year old soldier, said that it was the coldest weather he had experienced. Considering Chet's Wisconsin roots, it must have been bitter. He was in a foxhole by himself and was ordered not to shoot unless attacked so he would not reveal his position.

Perhaps Rohn's most difficult wartime experience occurred during the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp. As he traveled to the camp, he noted the bodies of men dressed in striped pajamas and that they were not soldiers. He soon learned that these corpses were victims of the Holocaust. He recalled meeting the walking skeletons of the camp and his shock at the horrors that Germany inflicted on these people. He said that the military made the local residents visit the camp to see the monstrous behavior that existed near their homes.

Mr. Rohn shares his experiences with students to inform them about the sacrifices made by their great grand parents to defeat the Germans and preserve democracy. Chet brought the war to life for these students and put a face on pages in a history book. I hope these young people will treasure Chet's stories. Thank you Chester Rohn for your service to this country; and for a delightful evening. 

[1] Mr. Bearss, Chm. Emeritus National Park Service, Author will be speaking at Civil War Round Table of Dallas on December 9, 2015. He will talk about The Petersburg Campaign: The Eastern Battles. The Round Table meets at JJ’s Restaurant, Northlake Shopping Center, 10233 E. NW HWY at Ferndale: Ste 434 (NE Quadrant), 214.221.4659, Dinner: 6PM, Program: 7PM

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Paying My Respects

Kurt Wille (left) and Allen (right)
pay their respects to General Smith

On October 30, 2015, my wife and I paid our respects to Major General Charles F. Smith at his grave in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA.   We were joined by Smith's distant cousin, Kurt Wille, and his friend Jeff Albright. Kurt has been assisting my research on General Smith for over five years and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the general’s biography.

Allen at grave site
The General, his wife, Fanny M. Smith, and Smith's mother, Margaret F. Smith, are buried at the Laurel Hill site. The 55-year old general was interred on May 5, 1862. Fanny was 47 when she died and was buried on May 28, 1866. The last grave belongs to Smith's mother, Margaret, who died at 75. It appears that her remains were moved from another site and re interred on December 6, 1901.

Laurel Hill was founded in 1836 by John Jay Smith "Laurel Hill was not only established as a permanent, non-sectarian burial place for the dead, but also as a scenic, riverside sanctuary for the living." Laurel Hill is comprised of about 78 acres that is divided into three sections—the North, Central and South. . Laurel Hill is one of the few cemeteries in the nation to be honored with the designation of National Historic Landmark. Many prominent people are buried at the cemetery, including many of Philadelphia’s leading industrial magnates. General George Meade and over thirty other Civil War-era generals and six Titanic passengers are buried here. The Civil War generals include about twenty who received brevet promotions as part of the omnibus promotions issued after the Civil War. Many of these promotions were post dated to March 13, 1865. The cemetery also includes the grave of John C. Pemberton who was a Pennsylvania native who joined the Confederate Army. 

About 125 Union officers and soldiers who died during the war are buried at Laurel Hill. Of this total 53 died from disease, 39 were killed in action, and 25 died from wounds.  Seventy-four of those men were officers and fifty-one were soldiers.

Old Pine Street Church
Reverend John Blair Smith's Grave
at Old Pine Street Church

Smith's father, Dr. Samuel B. Smith, is buried in the Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Philadelphia near the grave of his father Reverend John Blair Smith. The Pine Street Church was founded in 1768 as the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.One of Old Pine's first pastors, George Duffield served as chaplain to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and, with many of his parishioners, joined Washington at Valley Forge in the winter of 1776-77. Old Pine became known as the "Church of the Patriots" because of George Duffield's activities and those of parishioners such as John Adams and other members who supported the Revolution. It is the only Presbyterian structure in Philadelphia dating back to colonial and revolutionary times. Over the years, two congregations merged into Old Pine and today, the official name of the church is The Third, Scots and Mariners Presbyterian Church.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Embattled Rebel by James M. McPherson

President Jefferson Davis
Embattled Rebel - Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson is an examination of President Jefferson Davis' performance as leader of the Confederate military forces. McPherson explains that he attempts "to describe and analyze Davis's conception and execution of his duty as commander in chief on its own terms and merits, without reference to Lincoln." After his research, McPherson became "less inimical [hostile or unfriendly] toward Davis than I [he] expected when he began this project."

Davis was vilified by his own generals and political rivals. McPherson
believes that Davis' fragile heath might account for the "Jekyll and Hyde descriptions of his personality." McPherson said that Davis "articulated the principal policy of the Confederacy with clarity and force: the quest for independent nationhood." Davis also supported slavery as "the core institution of the Confederate policy." Mr. McPherson concludes that "no other chief executive in American history exercised such hands-on influence in the shaping of military strategy."  As chief architect of Confederate strategy, Davis must absorb the blame for the failure strategy to achieve its goal.

Joseph Johnston
McPherson presents a statement by Davis that should quiet the arguments about the reason the South wanted its freedom. Davis argued that Republicans advocated "a persistent and organized system of hostile measures against the rights of the owners of slaves in the Southern States" and this policy would result in "annihilating in effect property worth thousands of millions of dollars" and "rendering the property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless."

Davis' plan to protect slave-owner assets produced a military strategy of perimeter defense. Key to this approach was the rapid movement of troops via interior lines. However, it is one thing to articulate a strategy and quite another to execute it. This failure ultimately lies with the senior officer corps. Davis, like Lincoln, was plagued by generals who would not fight (Johnston and McClellan), arrogant officers (Beauregard and McClellan), petty rivalries between officers, incompetent officers, and disobedient military leaders. Davis was further burden by having 30% of his generals his own political appointees.

P. G. T. Beauregard
Davis never seemed to be able or willing to address these issues which festered throughout the war. McPherson's biography clearly illustrates these points.  Ultimately, Davis proclaimed that in trying to protect the whole country, the Confederacy had "attempted more than it had power successfully to achieve." As McPherson chronicles the events and produces the evidence, this reader found little in the way of restoring Davis' reputation. However, I will allow readers to form their own decisions about Davis as Commander in Chief.

McPherson defends Davis by saying he was "the best man for the job" and "no clear evidence exists" that his fellow Confederates were wrong. The author also points out that the Confederates appeared to "on the cusp of success on at least three occasions." However, Davis' major fault was his choices of generals and his relationship with them rather than strategy. This was a fatal flaw because the generals were the instrument of his strategy and Davis' failures here meant that his strategy and perhaps any strategy was doomed to failure.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Civil War in Texas and the Southwest by Roy Sullivan

Civil War in Texas and the Southwest by Roy Sullivan is a fine narrative of the Civil War battles in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. I discovered Sullivan's work while preparing for my class on "Texas in the Civil War."

Battle of Sabine Pass
The book contains descriptions of the well-known Texas engagements at Galveston (Galveston, TX I and Galveston, TX II), Sabine Pass (Sabine Pass, TX I and Sabine Pass, TX II), and Palmito Ranch (Palmito Ranch, TX). Sullivan also includes the out-of-state battles at Val Verde (Valverde, NM) and Glorieta Pass (Glorieta Pass, NM).

Battle of Galveston
What I liked best about Sullivan's book were his descriptions of actions in the Rio Grande Valley and on theGrande Valley were fought by two Tejanos: Santos Benavides, a staunch supporter of secession and Confederacy, and Juan Cortina, the “fearless, self-possessed, and cunning” fighter who was aligned with the Union. One of my students discovered a link supported by the University of Texas Pan American called Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail, which is worth visiting.
Texas Gulf Coast. The battles in the Rio

Union Lieutenant J. W. Kittredge led the assaults along the Texas coast. He captured Aransas Pass, burned homes on Mustang Island and Matagorda Island, and raided undefended coastal villages and stole food and supplies. Kittredge failed to take Corpus Christi and was eventually captured by Confederate forces.
The book focuses 

Sullivan's book focuses on the military engagements in Texas and the Southwest. It does not discuss the activities of Texas units, such as the Texas brigade, in other theaters of war. The author does not describe the role that civilians played in war effort or the Gainesville Hangings, Nueces Massacre, and Juneteenth. The author uses invented dialogue or what appears to be invented dialogue in describing some of the battles, which straddles the fence between historical fact and historical. The absence of footnotes detracts from its use by historians. In spite of these issues, I found that the book was most enjoyable to read.

Sullivan is a retired US Army colonel and author of Scattered Graves: The Civil War Campaigns of Confederate General and Cherokee Chief Stand Watie

For those readers interested in the topic, the Texas State Historical Association has just issued a free e-book called Civil War In The Lone Star State

Friday, September 18, 2015

"Bitumen: Its Varieties, Properties, and Uses" by Lieut. H. Wager Halleck

Henry W. Halleck
I am always delighted when my vocation and avocation cross paths. When I was researching some background information on General Henry Halleck, I discovered he had compiled information on bitumen. Halleck performed his research in 1841 under the direction of Colonel Joseph G. Totten, Chief Engineer of the Corps of Engineers.  Halleck described his report "Bitumen: Its Varieties, Properties, and Uses" as "an abstract of all the important publications, within the compiler's reach, on the properties and uses of bitumen."

Halleck began his paper by mentioning the ancient uses of bitumen and petroleum.  He divided bitumen into solids and liquids.  "When liquid, they are sometimes yellowish or brownish, and sometimes limpid and transparent: the more solid varieties are black or brown." Bitumens  "burn easily and with a bright flame, yielding a thick smoke."
Halleck listed the different "varieties" of bitumen including naphtha, which is used for illumination, curing rheumatism, preserving potassium, and in combination with caoutchouc (natural or India rubber) water proofing textiles. The next variety is petroleum, which Halleck said, is "much more abundant than naphtha." He said that it was found in "secondary rocks, particularly in coal strata, and in the vicinity of beds of coal." It was mined by digging deep pits and retrieving the liquids in buckets from the bottom. This may remind readers of a scene from "There Will Be Blood" in which the oil was recovered in the same fashion. Interestingly, Halleck notes that the surrounding soil contains clay, limestone, and sand. These are the types of rocks where geoscientists find crude oil today. Oil mined in very deep pits was found to contain gas, which we identify today as associated gas. Halleck cites a number of different uses including illumination, fuel, and lubrication.   The next variety identified by Halleck is mineral tar, which the author says, is really only a mixture of asphaltum and petroleum. Asphaltum is dry and solid and in biblical times it was referred to as Jews' pitch.  It was used to seal the bottom of ships, as a coal substitute, and to pave roads. Halleck then mentions pitch, which he describes as "intermediate between" mineral tar and asphaltum.
Joseph G. Totten
The report also describes  retinaphaltum, which is "a brownish yellow" color "of different shades, sometimes with a shade of red" that is  found "adhering to brown coal or lignite."  Other varieties identified by Halleck include fossil copal that was found in a "bed of blue clay" and hatchetine that has the "hardness of soft tallow."
The second chapter contains definitions of mastics (adhesives, cements, and pastes) and indicates how mineral tar and asphaltic stone were used to form bituminous or petroleum-based mastics. The next chapter contains "remarks on the geological character of the asphaltic rock and mineral tar of the Val-de Travers." The rest of the report is essentially a manual on the preparation and use of bituminous mastics in construction of roads, sidewalks, roofs, and other projects.

Please click on the link to read the complete report, "Bitumen: Its Varieties, Properties, and Uses." 
This paper was written in 1841, eighteen years before Edwin Drake drilled for and discovered oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Was Jefferson Davis a "good" president?

President Jefferson Davis
While Jefferson Davis is hailed as hero of the Confederacy in the South and vilified as a traitor in the North, his performance as president is criticized by historians.

Author William C. Davis in Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour, points out Davis’s failures and notes several key decisions made by Davis that aided and prolonged the life of the Confederacy. Davis cites the president's "appointment and continued support of Robert E. Lee as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and his critical role in organizing the civil and military institutions of the new nation." On the negative side, the author lists Davis’s "inability to effectively work with either the prideful politicians or disgruntled commanders of the South, his tendency to overwork himself with details better left delegated, his refusal to admit error and replace highly appointed but incompetent friends, and his numerous health problems all proved to limit his effectiveness as a wartime president." William C. Davis concludes that “for all Davis’s flaws as an executive, without his performance of his civil functions as president, the Confederacy would not have lasted until 1865." [From review of book  by Than Dossman]

In another review of Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour, Ashley Lauman states: 

As chief executive, Davis found himself troubled by the shortcomings that had plagued him since his early years—an inability to deal with equals unless they fawned upon him, excruciating difficulty in making decisions, and a stubborn refusal to admit wrongdoing. Much of author Davis’s coverage discusses his subject’s difficulty in cooperating with his several generals; and he praises Robert E. Lee for discovering early on how to maintain a harmonious relationship with his president. As president, Davis lacked the instincts of a true administrator; rather, his abilities and personality were more suited to a bureaucratic position. Nonetheless, despite taking the brunt of public outrage for the declining success or individual failures during the war, Davis performed as well as any human could be expected to as the underdog Confederate leader facing the much stronger Union foe.
In William J. Cooper's A Reassessment of Jefferson Davis as War Leader: The Case from Atlanta to Nashville, the author quotes a comparison made by Eric L. McKitrick:

It seems apparent that the leadership of Abraham Lincoln was superior to that of Jefferson Davis.“ Lincoln was flexible; Davis was rigid. Lincoln wanted to win;  Davis wanted to be right. Lincoln had a broad strategic vision of Union goals; Davis could never enlarge his narrow view. Lincoln searched for the right general, then let him fight the war; Davis continuously played favorites and interfered unduly with his generals, even with Robert E. Lee. Lincoln led his nation; Davis failed to rally the South. Simply, Lincoln contributed mightily to the Union victory; Davis contributed mightily to the Confederate defeat.
The biography on the Mississippi History Now web site notes that Davis had the same difficulties as Lincoln in dealing with generals, states, and Congress.

As the only president of the Confederacy, Davis was in a unique situation as he struggled to run a war and, simultaneously, to mold a new country. Like his northern counterpart, Abraham Lincoln, Davis had epic struggles with his army commanders, the state governors, and Congress. Unlike Lincoln, he lacked the essential resources to ensure success. 
Davis' biography on the Civil War Trust web site also mentions his failures as a president.

Initially, Davis was a popular President with the Southern people. He had a dignified bearing, a distinguished military record, extensive experience in political affairs, and — most importantly — a dedication to the Confederate cause. Unfortunately for Davis, these attributes were not enough to triumph over the harsh challenges posed by his new position. His early popularity was a result of war fervor and he did not have the personality necessary to sustain it. He was impatient with people who disagreed with him, and he had the unfortunate habit of awarding prominent posts to leaders who appeared unsuccessful. Davis’ loyalty to these people led to bickering and quarrels throughout his administration. In addition, he was plagued by chronic illness. 
Was Davis a victim of an unwinnable situation? Did his illnesses affect his ability to be an effective leader? Was his personality, formed by past successes, at the root of his problems? What do you think?  

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Civil War on PBS

The Civil War, the award-winning film produced and directed by Ken Burns, will be rebroadcast over five consecutive nights starting September 7, 2015. The broadcast, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the series’ initial broadcast in September 1990, will present for the first time a newly restored, high-definition version. This is also the first time the film will be seen with the same fidelity and framing as the negative that Burns and his co-cinematographers Allen Moore and Buddy Squires shot more than twenty-five years ago.

Check out the PBS web site for the series.

Other Ways to Celebrate the End of Summer Encampment

The Plain in 1828
United States Military Academy plebes have marked the end of the summer encampment with a huge nighttime pillow fight. The fight is considered a "harmless way to blow off steam and build class spirit." A West Point spokesman said the annual fight is organized by first-year students as "a way to build camaraderie after the summer program that prepares them for the rigors of plebe year."

However, this year's fight was anything but "harmless" fun when some plebes took things a step too far. Instead of pillowcases filled with foam padding, some took off their "protective" helmets and placed them in their pillowcases. The hardened pillowcases resulted in split lips, broken bones, dislocated shoulders, and unconscious students. The pillow fight turned into a brawl that injured thirty cadets of which twenty-four suffered concussions.

The fight was monitored by upperclassmen who "allowed the spirit activity to occur out of the desire to enhance the spirit of the class." The upperclassmen took “mitigating measures” to prevent injury, including requiring cadets to wear helmets.

Summer camp on the Plain, 1907
West Point cadets had mixed reactions to the injuries. While some saw the injuries as part of a military rite of passage, others considered the injuries as a lack of judgment and restraint. 

What is regrettable here is that a West Point tradition may be ending because the plebes did not know when to stop. Having been involved in a few pillow fights, I can understand what happened. The "mock physical contact" can easily get out of hand and transition to more competitive, violent battles.   
I believe the saddest part of the incident was a failure on the part of students and future officers "to make good decisions and follow the rules."[1]
Cadet tent during
summer camp, 1905
My suggestion is to consider the ways that summer camp ended in 1840. The encampment ended with two rituals. The first was the grand ball where cadets and plebes had the opportunity to demonstrate the skills they learned dancing with each other. The second event was the striking of tents the following morning. The cadets gathered around the floors of their tents with clubs and brooms. Two cadets grabbed each corner of the floor. On a signal, they picked up the floor to release thousands of rats. Then, to the screams and cheers of delight, the cadets attacked the scurrying rodents and slaughtered as many of them as possible.[2]

[1] Philipps, Dave, "At West Point, Annual Pillow Fight Becomes Weaponized," The New York Times, September 4, 2015.
[2] Register of the Officers and Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, June, 1840, 5. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Union General John C. Fremont Declares Martial Law and Emancipates Slaves in Missouri

John C. Frémont
On August 30, 1861, Union Major General Frémont imposed martial law and emancipated slaves in Missouri.
All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court-martial, and, if found guilty, will be shot. The property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri who shall take up arms against the United States, and who shall be directly proven to have taken active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use; and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free.

After Brigadier General U. S. Grant captured Paducah, Kentucky, Frémont applied the terms of his Missouri decree to that city and all of Kentucky. The emancipation order set off a hailstorm that disrupted the Department of the West and threatened Kentucky's allegiance to the Union. 
Abraham Lincoln
President Lincoln had strong reservations about two aspects of Frémont's Missouri proclamation, and he sent a special messenger to St. Louis on September 2 outlining his concerns. Lincoln objected to the order to shoot those taken with arms. The president feared that such action would lead to Confederate retaliation and ordered that no such action be taken without his consent. Lincoln also asked Frémont to limit "emancipation to those slaves forced to take up arms or otherwise actively participate in the war on the Confederate side." Lincoln believed that confiscation and freeing of slaves "will alarm our Southern Union friends, and turn them against us — perhaps ruin our rather fair prospect for Kentucky." Lincoln asked Frémont to modify the proclamation to conform to the terms of the Confiscation Act, which allowed the Union, through legal actions, to confiscate and free those slaves helping Confederate forces.
Robert Anderson
The president's fears were confirmed when he learned from General Robert Anderson that a company of Union volunteers from Kentucky "had thrown down their arms and disbanded" in response to Frémont's edict. The president was also warned that Kentucky would go "over the mill dam" if the proclamation was not retracted. Lincoln's friend Joshua Speed said Frémont's edict would "crush out every vestage [sic] of a union party in the state if not annulled."
Frémont responded to Lincoln's concerns on September 8, and sent his wife Jessie to Washington to talk to the president. Frémont said he issued the proclamation with his "best judgement [sic] to serve the country and yourself" and was "perfectly willing to receive the amount of censure which should be thought due if I had made a false step." He described his decision "as much a movement in the war as a battle is" and asked Lincoln to order him "to make the correction."
Jessie Frémont did not help her husband's case. President Lincoln recalled, "She sought an audience with me at midnight and taxed me so violently with many things that I had to exercise all the awkward tact I have to avoid quarreling with her." Mrs. Frémont failed to convince Lincoln to alter his position. By September 10 Lincoln had had enough of the Frémonts, and the president "cheerfully" ordered the general to modify the order so it conformed to the Confiscation Act. Lincoln recognized that removing the most objectionable parts of Frémont's proclamation was essential to keeping Kentucky in the Union. Unfortunately, for Lincoln, the northern press, abolitionists, and even some members of his cabinet supported Frémont's proclamation.
Lincoln's response to Frémont's edict had two significant effects. It clearly defined the boundaries for officers concerning slaves. They could be confiscated as property but not given their freedom as human beings. In answer to his critics, Lincoln described the status of slaves: "If the General needs them he can seize them, and use them; but when the need is past, it is not for him to fix their permanent future condition. That must be settled according to laws made by lawmakers, and not by military proclamations." The public and private responses provided Lincoln with extensive information that he would incorporate in his own Emancipation Proclamation.
The president's position also put commanding officers in a difficult position. Should Union officers strictly adhere to the government's guidelines and risk public censure as Southern sympathizers or defy the parameters by freeing, keeping, and protecting escaped slaves and face military censure and dismissal? While politically appointed officers would cater to public opinion, professional soldiers would obey their commander-in-chief’s orders.

Source: Mesch, Allen H., Teacher of Civil War Generals - Major General Charles Ferguson Smith, Soldier and West Point Commandant, 149-151.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Battle of Waynesboro

The Battle of Waynesboro by Richard G. Williams is much more than a description of troop movements and soldiers' recollections. It is a history of the Civil War in the Waynesboro, Virginia community on the eve of the battle and the changes that occurred in the antebellum period. The author makes extensive use of quotes from soldiers and civilians in describing the events during this period.

Williams begins with a brief history of Waynesboro which was established "where the trail from Rockfish Gap to Staunton crossed the South River [the Southern Fork of the Shenandoah River] at a shallow gravelly ford." The town was named after Revolutionary War hero General "Mad Anthony" Wayne. Men from the area joined the Confederacy in the Spring of 1861. Letters home describe the battles that these men fought in and the promotions they won.

General Jubal Early
The author provides background on the opposing generals. General Early is described as someone who announced "his likes and dislikes ... without hesitation." General Early's "early record in the war was mostly successful, and his reputation as a tough commander was a solid one." However, by February 1865, the war had taken its toll on the Confederates and Sheridan's destruction of the Shenandoah Valley reduced the Confederates to "a starving and demoralized skeleton of what it had been in the fall of 1864." Williams presents Sheridan's background including his victories in the fall of 1864 and the destruction of farms and mills and taking of livestock and grain.

The description of the Battle of Waynesboro comprises about a quarter of the book. The length may be expected because the battle was a minor affair compared with others during the last month of the war. The events of March 2, 1865 are overshadowed by Lee's desperate battles to save the Confederacy.

General Phillip Sheridan
Although Major General Philip H. Sheridan was the overall Federal commander in the Valley, Brigadier General George A. Custer was in charge of the Union troops. Custer's Third Cavalry Division was composed of three brigades with a total strength of 2,500 men. Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early   commanded the remnants of the Confederate Army of the Valley that opposed Custer's division. Custer's force was twice as large as Early's command of one infantry division, three artillery batteries, and a company of cavalry.

Early placed his men behind earthworks on a low ridge just west of Waynesboro. The general put a three-gun artillery battery on his extreme right. He placed his infantry along the earthworks. He placed two artillery batteries to the left of his line of infantry. Early's left flank was exposed because he believed that the woods would serve as an effective barrier to attack. In addition, the only lines of retreat over the rain-swollen South River were a railroad bridge and a small footbridge. Early said that he thought his men could hold until night and then escape unmolested in the dark. 

General George A. Custer
An artillery duel began shortly after Custer's men arrived on the town's outskirts at about 2:00 p.m. Custer learned about the gap between the Confederate left flank and the South River. The general sent three cavalry regiments to attack the flank and ordered a feint on the center of the Confederate defenses. The Union flanking attack was launched at 3:30 p.m. and rolled up the Confederates' left flank. Custer followed up on this attack with another on the center of the Confederate line.

At a given signal, the three dismounted regiments charged on our right. Woodruff [artillery] opened his guns upon the enemy, compelling them to lie down behind their works, while the brigades of Wells [Second Brigade] and Capehart [Third Brigade] moved to the attack in front, at the charge. So sudden was our attack and so great was the enemy's surprise that but little time was offered for resistance. 

The Union cavalry were equipped with Spencer rifles that were "equivalent to three of any other arm." The Confederates were "really afraid of the seven shooters, they dread them, a panic seems to posses them as soon as they see them coming."

Jedediah Hotchkiss said it was "one of the most terrible panics and stampedes I have ever seen." The escape routes over the South River were clogged with fleeing men and hundreds of Confederates were captured. Confederate Colonel William Harman was killed after he refused to surrender. Dr. Hunger Maguire was saved by a Union officer when gave the Masonic sign of distress. Early and some of his staff, escaped through Rockfish Gap.

The author adds two interesting footnotes to the battle. In the first, he describes the development of the black community on Port Royal Road. He adds a story by Dr. Anita L. Henderson about "Maria Lewis: A Woman of Color in the 8th New York Cavalry?"

The Battle of Waynesboro is a fine addition for students of the Civil War in the Shenandoah. Williams' use of quotes to tell the story adds life to the account and provides a first person perspective to the events.  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Virginia Revokes License Plates with Confederate Flag

In perhaps the boldest move in response to government supported Confederate symbols, Virginia has revoked specialty license plates featuring a Confederate battle  flag. The Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring's office said that the Department of Motor Vehicles will begin replacing about 1,600 existing plates.

Virginia's decision follows on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case involving Texas. The high court said that specialty license plates represent the state's speech, not the driver's speech. This is an akin to a position I have taken in this blog that state-issued plates may imply support or approval of the organization represented on the plate.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has asked for a change in state law that would allow the Division of Motor Vehicles to stop issuing North Carolina specialty license plates bearing the Confederate flag. The specialty license plate can still be purchased in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee as shown in this June 18 article from the Washington Post. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Most Influential General in the Civil War

Allow me to pose a question that is rarely discussed at Civil War Round Tables: "Who was the most influential general in the Civil War?"

Brevet Lt. General
Winfield Scott in 1862
You might suggest the following candidates: Lee, Jackson, Grant, Sherman. My nomination is General Winfield Scott.

Scott had the greatest influence on Civil War strategy compared to other leading Union and Confederate general officers. Much of their thinking about the conduct of the war was shaped by their experience serving under Scott in the Mexican War. After learning of the success of Scott's campaign to capture Mexico City, the Duke of Wellington proclaimed Scott, "the greatest living general." A high complement from the general who defeated Napoleon. Scott served under fourteen administration from Jefferson to Lincoln. He served a total of fifty-three years of active service as an officer  including forty-seven years as a general.

General Grant  enacted a
strategy of total war
Scott's campaign to use his smaller force to capture Mexico City was the primary strategy used by both sides in the early stages of the Civil War. General McClellan failed in his attempt to seize Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. Lee threatened Washington on several occasions in an attempt to apply Scott's strategy to force the Union to sue for peace and recognize the Confederate States of America. General Lee invaded the North in the Antietam (September 3-17, 1862), Gettysburg (June 29-July 3, 1863), and Shenandoah Valley - Early's Washington Raid (July 9-12, 1864) Campaigns.  Each of the campaigns failed. The attacks on the respective capitals ended on March 3, 1864 when  Lincoln promoted Grant to Lieutenant General in command of all Union Armies. Grant decided on a strategy of total war to destroy the Confederate armies. He devised a strategy of coordinated Union offensives, attacking the Rebel armies at the same time to keep the Confederates from shifting reinforcements within their interior lines.

The Anaconda Plan
Scott's Anaconda Plan is the second impact on the conduct of the war. At the onset of the war, the northern public wanted a swiftly executed campaign to crush the rebellion. Scott believed that this approach was wrong and impractical. Instead he devised up a plan to defeat the Confederacy by blockading Southern ports and sending an army down the Mississippi Valley to cut the Confederacy in half. Scott's scheme was derided as the "Anaconda Plan" designed to slowly crush the Confederacy as an anaconda kills his prey. Eventually the actual Union victory followed the broad outlines of the plan.

Historians argue about the merits of the Anaconda Plan. Scott hoped that the plan would end the rebellion quickly and reduce bloodshed. Unfortunately, the military did not have the ironclad gunships to seize the Mississippi and other southern rivers. Critics argue that the blockade was ineffective, but others say that the blockade damaged the Confederate ability to export cotton and obtain the necessary goods and money to sustain their economy and the war effort. Another factor with the plan was Scott's removal from office on November 1, 1861. He was replaced by McClellan who favored a different strategy. Without its champion to oversee its implementation, the war in the East (capturing Richmond)  was favored over campaigns in the West to cut the Confederacy in half. Ironically, Grant's successes in capturing Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Vicksburg helped implement the Anaconda Plan and eventually led to his promotion to command of the Union Army.

General Scott lived to see the Union victory in the Civil War in April 1865.He died  at West Point, New York on May 29, 1866 and is buried in West Point Cemetery.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Civil War in Illinois by Tom Emery

The Civil War in Illinois by Tom Emery is a collection of newspaper columns that the author wrote from 2011 to 2014.  The seventy-one articles are about 650 words each and were written for a general audience. The stories are brief (about two printed pages), which makes the book good bedtime or doctor's office reading. However, this brevity and target reader may leave the more knowledgeable Civil War reader wanting more detail. Fortunately, Emery has included notes for his articles that will guide the reader wanting more.

The following selections were those that I found most interesting:

  • 9th Illinois Suffered Most Losses - The regiment suffered 366 casualties out of 578 at Fort Donelson and Shiloh.
  •  The Drummer Boy of Shiloh - Fact and fiction concerning John Clem.
  • Nine Generals from Galena - Galena produced the second greatest number of generals from Illinois including Ely Samuel Parker, a Native American.
  • "Uncle Dick" Oglesby - Nice summary of highlights General Oglesby
  • Emancipation Reaction - The Emancipation Proclamation gets mixed reactions from Illinois soldiers.
  • McClernand and Controversy - McClernand thought a great deal of himself and he let everyone know about his achievements.
  • John M. Palmer - A political general who performed admirably on the battlefield and had no use for the "West Point clique."
  • The Eccentric Turchin - Overview of career of Russian born general.
  • The Charleston Riot - Armed conflict between pro-war Republicans and anti-war Democrats in Charleston, Illinois. 
  • Illinois P.O.W. Camps - Summaries of conditions at four major camps in Illinois
  • "Ransom Blazes!" - Highlights of military career of Norwich officer, Thomas Ransom.  
Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville, IL. He has created twenty-four book and booklet titles and is a frequent contributor to multiple newspapers.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Teacher of Civil War Generals - Major General Charles Ferguson Smith, Soldier and West Point Commandant

It has been five years since I started my efforts to write a biography of Major General Charles Ferguson Smith. Today I am pleased to announce that Teacher of Civil War Generals  is available from McFarland & Company. I want to thank McFarland for turning my dreams into reality. Their commitment has allowed historians to learn more about Smith and provide them with material that may assist in their research and writing. I believe that Smith displayed the best parts of being a soldier and this biography will illustrate his commitment to discipline, loyalty, commitment, and honor.

From the training field at West Point to the entrenchments at Fort Donelson, Charles Ferguson Smith was the soldier's soldier. During his nearly forty-two year career, General Smith was a teacher, mentor, and role model for many young officers who became prominent Civil War generals. He was respected and admired by his former students and future officers including Grant, Halleck, Longstreet, and Sherman. This long overdue reveals a man who was a faithful officer, an excellent disciplinarian, an able commander, and a modest gentleman.

Smith served at the US Military Academy from 1829 to 1842 as Instructor of Tactics, Adjutant to the Superintendent, and Commandant of Cadets. However, he was more than a instructor training cadets in the art of war. He set an example to junior officers in the Mexican War leading his light battalion to victories and earning three field promotions. Smith served with Albert Johnston and other future Confederate officers in the Mormon War. He mentored Grant while serving under him in the Civil War. Smith rose to the rank of major general while refusing to solicit political favors and court journalists. He "turned the tide" at Fort Donelson which led to Grant's rise to fame.

In April 1885, Fanny Oliver, who was trying to gather information for a biography of her father to be written by General William F. Smith, received a letter from his friend, Henry Robert Crosby. Crosby shared his memories of Smith, suggested others Mrs. Oliver might contact, and left her with the following advice:
And now please let me say one word in this respect. Do not let it be done in a hurry. There is a good deal of ground to cover. Florida and Mexican War, service at the Military Academy and different posts in the West, special duty in the Utah Expedition as well as the Civil War. This information will take some time to collect.
I hope that I have been true to both Mrs. Oliver's intent and Mr. Crosby's advice.

For more information on Teacher of Civil War Generals, please consult my author site.

Please see McFarland & Company or Amazon to order the book.

Allen with copies of photograph and painting
of Major General Charles F. Smith

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's Simply the Right Time

One hundred and fifty years after South Carolina led the nation into disunity and war, it takes a stand to remove a symbol of the national tragedy.  South Carolina's Governor Nikki Haley is calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol.  "One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come," Haley said, adding the flag "causes pain for so many." The measure to consider removing the flag passed by a wide margin.

The flag, which is seen by many white Southerners as a way to honor their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, has been perverted by hate groups.  These groups have made the flag a symbol of racial and religious bigotry.  They turned the flag into a banner for the lynchings and perversions of the Jim Crow South.

The time is right for the new South to remove the flag from public buildings and place it in historical museums. The murders in Charleston have tied the flag to hate, lawlessness, and crime. It is, as we have pointed out several times, an insult to all minorities.  I doubt that the great Confederate generals would find any honor in the way that the flag has become misused today.

We applaud Walmart's decision to remove all merchandise bearing the Confederate flag from its stores, saying such items had "improperly" found their way onto shelves. Other retailers including Sears/Kmart, eBay, Amazon, Etsy and Google Shopping have ended their sale of merchandise with Confederate logos.

Mitt Romney said "It's a symbol of racial hatred  - remove it now to honor Charleston's victims." Other politicians should issue similar statements in support or opposition of displaying the flag in public venues. There is no place for "wiggle room" statements in this debate.

Rush Limbaugh entered the fray when he told his listeners that the effort to rid of the flag is aimed at "destroying the South as a political force," and he predicted: "The next flag that will come under assault, and it will not be long, is the American flag."  Wow! Clearly Mr. Limbaugh was not very good at completing the follow the numbered dots puzzles. How does removing the flag of rebellious southerners who wanted to destroy the Union lead to "assaults" on the the flag of the United States?  How does removing the flag which is objectionable to many, perhaps most southerners impact the political power of the south?  It seems to me that actions would tend to build a stronger more cohesive south.

Still, as we have written before, the issue is a state decision.  The federal government is not going to come sweeping down and order the removal the flag.  The question for state legislators is whether they want to offend part of their residents and align with those who use the flag as the banner for hate and racism.  South Carolina legislators who were first to secede are now first to remove the flag.

Friday, June 19, 2015

2015 Juneteenth Celebrated with Joy, Sorrow, and Courage

One hundred and fifty years ago today, General  Gordon Granger arrived in Texas with the news that the war was over and slavery was abolished.

Ashton Villa, Galveston
(Author's photograph)
On June 18, 1865, Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government. On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of "General Order No. 3", announcing the total emancipation of slaves:

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.
Juneteeth has become
an international celebration
 (Author's photograph)
This event has resulted in the worldwide celebration of Juneteeth.

In 1979 Juneteenth became a state holiday thanks to the efforts of State Representative Albert (Al) Edwards of Houston.  By 2008, nearly half of US states observed the holiday as a ceremonial observance. As of May 2014, when the Maryland legislature approved official recognition of the holiday, 43 of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or ceremonial holiday, a day of observance. States that do not yet recognize it are Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

In 1996 the first legislation to recognize "Juneteenth Independence Day" was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.J. Res. 195, sponsored by Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI). In 1997 Congress recognized the day through Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56. In 2013 the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 175, acknowledging Lula Briggs Galloway (late president of the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage) who "successfully worked to bring national recognition to Juneteenth Independence Day", and the continued leadership of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.

Emanuel African Methodist
Episcopal Church
(Author's photograph)

Today's celebration is muted in the aftermath of the murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This vicious act by a deranged gunman illustrates the impact of hate on the community, city, state, country, and world. The church has a long history and has survived many man-made and natural threats and we know that it will not let this terrible act silence its voice.   Hate is a flaw in our nature that refuses to be conquered by knowledge and compassion. Yet we strive to eradicate this cancer in our DNA.  Our prayers and thoughts are with the victims of this atrocity. Yet, "deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome some day."