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.