Category Archives: Civil War

Henry Hill Monument At Manassas

Henry Hill Monument At Manassas

Henry Hill Monument At Manassas

The Civil War began with a slow burn years before any shots were fired. Slavery, states rights, honor, and profit all pulled the men of the country into colliding orbits that collapsed like a supernova on July 21, 1861 at Manassas Virginia on the banks of Bull Run Creek.

The fresh and eager volunteers from North and South were about to start a dance that would last for many. A dance that would cost hundreds of thousands of lives. None of them thought that this would only be the first battle of many. For some, it would be there last.

The monument above was dedicated on June 13, 1865, not long after the war finally ended. It is located on Henry Hill a site on the battlefield that saw some of the hottest action. The monument stood twenty feet tall and was made of from locally quarried red sandstone. It was built by Union soldiers who were garrisoned in nearby Fairfield County. Gaining permission from their officers and the government they spent the last several weeks of their enlistments building the monument to their fallen comrades. A little way down the road the constructed a second monument to the men that fell during the second Battle of Bull Run in 1862.

This stands as one of the first monuments to commemorate the brave soldiers that fought in the war. The simple inscription says everything more that needs to be said.

“Memory of the Patriots Who Fell At Bull Run July 21, 1861.”

 

Civil War Army Organization “In Brief”

Civil War Army Organization

Yes, the photo is a bit unwieldy but we are sticking with our theme on the blog and using our own pictures when possible. While reading or studying about the Civil War you have most likely run across the terms Regiment, Brigade, Division, Corps and Army. Each of those units represents a number of men, but even I sometimes get lost in exactly what each represents. So let’s break it down a little.

A REGIMENT usually contains 800 soldiers and is commanded by a Colonel.

A BRIGADE is usually made up of 2 to 5 Regiments and about 2,600 men. They are commanded by a Brigade General.

A DIVISION usually contains 2 to 4 Brigades or about 8,000 men. A Major General is in command.

Next is a CORPS made up of 2 to 3 Divisions, commanded by a Major General and containing around 26,000 men.

Then comes ARMY. Generally 3 Corps to an Army and about 80,000 men commanded by a Major General.

Now there are actually levels below Regiment. The COMPANY is usually 100 men led by a Captain. Then platoon, section, and the squad as the smallest unit.

The numbers above generally would be considered as best case scenarios and especially as the war went on, no unit stayed at full strength for very long. And of course, the estimated strengths above varied between armies and sides. The actual numbers are less important than knowing the relative size of the units.

So if in doubt just remember the mnemonic RBDCA which stands for Regiment, Brigade, Division, Corps, Army. OK, maybe that isn’t much help.

Sherman’s Neckties

Sherman's Neckties

Sherman’s Neckties

 

Late 1864 found the Union Army under General Sherman having just taken Atlanta and well in control of the Deep South. The Confederate army was scattered and trying to fight a war on multiple fronts. Sherman knew that he was in a position to provide a death-blow to the enemy. Perhaps even bring an end to the war.

With Atlanta secured he set his sights on Savannah about 250 miles to the east. It was not the target that made his next actions so controversial, but how they would be accomplished that put Sherman into the annals of military history. He would seek out and destroy not just the enemy military, but anything that could be used in support of them. Industry, farms, food, livestock. Anything that the South could use to prolong the war would be a valid target. Tied in with the fact that the army would have to supply itself on the way, the utter devastation of the South would be accomplished.

War is Hell

One target that the army went after with particular glee was the railroads. Destroying the railroads would have even more of an effect that destroying buildings and crops. In order to make sure that the destroyed rails could not be repaired extra steps would need taken. So the Union Army got creative.

Rails were dismantled and placed on bonfires until they were red-hot. They would then be taken off the fire and twisted around a nearby tree. Tied up much like a necktie. The rails could never be salved without being reforged, and in a time of war, with resources already stretched, this just was not going to happen. The name Sherman’s Necktie became how these fancy decorations were known. The one you see in the picture above is authentic. Rumor has it that if you look on the path that the army took in 1864 you can still find some. A monument to the harsh reality of war.

 

 

 

The Quotable US Grant

The Quotable US Grant

The Quotable US Grant

Rather than do another post rehashing the biography of General Grant (later President Grant) I thought it would be fun to look at some of the most famous quotes attributed to the man. So here are some of my favorites:

Labor disgraces no man; unfortunately, you occasionally find men who disgrace labor.

I know only two tunes: one of them is ‘Yankee Doodle’, and the other isn’t.

Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions.

Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.

Although a soldier by profession, I have never felt any sort of fondness for war, and I have never advocated it, except as a means of peace.

If men make war in slavish obedience to rules, they will fail.

I would suggest the taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation, exempting only the last resting place of the dead and possibly, with proper restrictions, church edifices.

I have never advocated war except as a means of peace.

It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training.

The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.

Grant was a good man and a good general. Some say he lacked as President because he was a good man who felt like he needed to take care of his friends. There is no doubt that his two terms were by far, to this point, the most corrupt administration on record. That should never take away from the man himself.

Thanks to Brainy Quote for these gems.

Ulysses S. Grant. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2016. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/u/ulysses_s_grant.html, accessed August 23, 2016.

Alabama Rising

Alabama Rising

Alabama Rising

At the start of the Civil War, the Confederacy faced many challenges reminiscent of what the American Colonies did at the start of the American Revolution. Foremost among those challenges was the lack of a navy. From the start of the war, the Federal navy put a blockade on the South that was meant to keep supplies coming in. Also to stop cotton going out. Without that income, it was felt the South would be in for a short fight. While never able to match the Federal navy ship for ship, the Confederacy was able to do quite well in the use of blockade runners, ironclads, and riverboats. There was one particular sector that the CSA navy shined, merchant raiding.

The ship in the picture above is the CSS Alabama, the Queen of the Raiders. Built in England in 1862, this modified sloop became the most daring and successful commerce raider under the CSA flag. Sure, you could call them pirates, but they were also something else. Effective. Built by the British, powered by twin steam engines and sails, max speed of 13 knots, and a total of 8 cannon, few merchantmen could stand up to her.

How effective?

In her brief two-year career under Captain Raphael Semmes, she stayed at sea over 534 days never once visiting a Confederate port. During that time she captured or burned 65 Federal merchantmen while taking almost 2,000 and boarding over 400 vessels. Most amazing during that span? The Alabama did not lose a single man. In June 1864 she finally met her end at the hands of the USS Kearsarge in a battle off the coast of Cherbourg France.

Here is a little bit of trivia and one last piece of history on the Alabama. After the war, the US went after Great Britain for the damages caused by the CSS Alabama to its merchant fleet in the International court. They won back much of the damages. The wreck of the Alabama was found in 1984. With the cooperation of the French government is considered an archaeological site that is under study by several organizations. Most privately funded.

“Roll Alabama, roll!”

Her story is captured forever in an enduring sea chantey, that may resemble something else about Alabama, we’ll have to think about that:

“Roll Alabama, roll!”
When the Alabama’s Keel was Laid, (Roll Alabama, roll!),

‘Twas laid in the yard of Jonathan Laird (Roll, roll Alabama, roll!)

‘Twas Laid in the yard of Jonathan Laird, ’twas laid in the town of Birkenhead.

Down the Mersey way she rolled then, and Liverpool fitted her with guns and men.

From the western isle, she sailed forth, to destroy the commerce of the north.

To Cherbourg port, she sailed one day, for to take her count of prize money.

Many a sailor laddie saw his doom, when the Kearsarge it hove in view.

When a ball from the forward pivot that day, shot the Alabama’s stern away.

Off the three-mile limit in ’64, the Alabama was seen no more.

 

The Titans of Appomattox

The Titans of Appomattox

The Titans of Appomattox

They had met before, back in the Mexican War where both men distinguished themselves. Robert E. Lee had been the engineer that seemed to be everywhere at once. Ulysses S. Grant led men into the fray numerous times during the conflict. At the meeting above Grant actually mentioned the shared service. Lee remembered and for a moment they were just two old soldiers. Not commanders of opposing armies. With the events of the Civil War, these two men would be exorbitantly linked through history. Their meeting at Appomattox would start the process of healing the country.

Lee wore his last dress uniform a son of the Southern aristocracy he believed in always looking his best, especially for important occasions and on April 9th, 1861 the occasion was the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. he had led them through victory after victory, but in the end, the army had been ground into the dust. He had no choice.

Gran arrived at Appomattox Courthouse in a mud-splattered field uniform. He was not one for pomp and in their field preferred to be comfortable rather than pretty. Grant was a man with a past but he had the ability to lead which was something that President Lincoln desperately needed out of him. In the final campaigns of the war, Grant used the Unions advantage in manpower and resources to pound Lee and his army at every chance, eventually overwhelming them. the cost was great and each life weighed on Grant. As he prepared to accept Lee’s surrender though he had to have felt vindicated.

Peace

There was no outward hostility between the two warriors. Grant set the terms for the surrender, which were generous. Lee agreed to ask only for one change, that his men be allowed to keep their horses. Grant did not amend the terms but insured Lee that his men would not stop any of the Confederates from keeping what was theirs. He also provided the defeated army with 25,000 rations once Lee mentioned that his men had not eaten for days.

It was a quiet day when contrasted to how the war had started. Had either of these armies been commanded by other men, by lesser men, who knows what the cost would have been? Then and there between these two titans, the path to peace and reconciliation had begun

 

Book Review: 1861: The Civil War Awakening

1861: The Civil War Awakening 

1861: The Civil War Awakening

There are a lot of books about the Civil War out there. Most focus on the military side. Strategy and tactics, battles and losses. Or they go the other way and deal with the politics of era in such detail that even the most hardcore policy wonks get tears in their eyes. This book is different. I would consider it almost a social history of this one particular year before and after the war broke out. It tries and tells the story of the start of the Civil War from how the people saw it.
We live in a time when our country is divided. (When has it not been?) We see events happen in our country through the prism of the news and entertainment that we consume. We talk with others to figure out what we think. People are either right or wrong, with us or against us. It was the same then and that is why this book was so fascinating. Our last presidential election was controversial and left half the country unhappy. In 1860 the election was so controversial that the States actually rebelled and left the Union. Imagine that happening today.
The author, Goodheart, does a fantastic job of capturing the uncertainty of the time. Would war actually come? Should we just let the South go? Are we willing to fight and die over slavery? Would Lincoln be able to step up? Many questions that left the country reeling are looked at through the eyes of the people.

Secession and Contraband

On top of that, the author looks at other, less covered aspects of the time. California could have seceded if not for literally a handful of people. Missouri was kept in the Union when it could have easily changed hands. Maryland also was kept in when it could have easily slipped away. Then the issue of what to do with slaves that made their way to Union lines.  The “contraband” issue was one of the thorniest issues in 1861 and drives a large portion of this narrative.
It is all covered well and naturally by the author. I recommend it for people that want to step away from the blood and battlefields fo the war and dig into other issues.
As always you can find the book on Amazon by clicking on the cover above.

 

The Shell Game

.The Shell Game

The Shell Game

Picture someone firing a cannon. What do you picture coming out of the barrel? Probably a round ball, which would make sense because that is often how it’s portrayed. During the Civil War, the art of artillery, and of designing munitions entered a new age. The picture above is a collection of many of the different types of projectiles that were used during the war.

You had the solid round shot, which is what you were picturing. It was effective in knocking things down and were often heated in ovens until red-hot so that when the hit something, like a house, ship or fortification, it could set it on fire.

There was “canister” which turned your canon into a giant shotgun peppering the enemy with small round projectiles.

You had timed fuses for shells that could cause them to either burst in the air and rain shrapnel down on the enemy, or they could be set to detonate some time after hitting the ground effectively acting a type of land mine.

Then came the rifled projectiles (the ones that look like giant bullets). They could travel further and could be outfitted with fuses or set to explode on contact.

Every situation had a special shell that could be used.  If you would like more information on each individual type of ammunition produced I would recommend this website, Civil War Artillery Projectiles. They break down the many different types well.

So the next time someone asks what a cannon fires, ask for more detail because there are many, many different options…

 

“The Stainless Banner”

"The Stainless Banner"

“The Stainless Banner”

 

On May 1, 1863, the flag you see above became the official national flag of the Confederate States of America. The version seen in the picture above has a slightly different design for use as a naval ensign. The flag above flew over one of the ships of the Confederate Navy.

The name “The Stainless Banner” came from the large white field that takes up most of the flag. White, seen as a symbol of purity, was chosen by the designer to symbolize the “supremacy of the white man” and he referred to it as “The White Man’s Flag”. (Even typing his words makes my skin crawl.) That man, William T. Thompson, was a newspaper editor in Savannah, GA who also doubled as a blockade runner.

His design for the new flag was submitted to Congress and his newspaper was sued to rally support for the new standard. Eventually, thanks to the Richmond papers carrying his editorials, approval for the design gained momentum. Some have implied that he was the creator of the more familiar “battle flag” of the Confederacy but that preexisted the second national flag and was only used by Thompson.

Reception

When the Confederate Congress passed the official act naming that design as the national flag, it seemed well received by the public. Before long though it was thought to be, ironically, “too white”. Having the battle flag sitting on top of a white flag was sending a bit of a mixed message. A white flag generally indicated surrender. not a good thing to be flying over the battlefield.

In 1865, near the end of the war, the design was changed to include a red vertical stripe at the far edge. This “bloodline” symbolized those lost in the war.

The flag was last flown in an official capacity on the CSS Shenandoah that was based out of Liverpool, England. On November 7, 1865, it was lowered but lives on as a symbol. One thing is for sure, 150 years later the flag still has an impact.

 

 

 

A War On Your Doorstep…Twice for McLean

A War On Your Doorstep...Twice for McLean

A War On Your Doorstep…Twice for McLean

Wilmer McLean was a businessman, in fact, a wholesale grocer in Virginia that probably would have never been a blip on the historical radar if not for where he chose to live. When the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run to our Yankee friends) broke out in Virginia on July 21, 1861, McLean’s house was literally on the front line.

Confederate General Beauregard used it for his headquarters and the house itself suffered damage from Union artillery during the fight.  In the picture above is the foundation stone from that very house. The inscription reads simply “Wilmer McLean, 1856…Rector. Builder.” The battle ended in a Confederate victory and four long and bloody years of war were underway.

At 47 Wilmer felt he was too old to join in the fighting though he was a retired major in the Virginia militia. Instead, he worked in his capacity as a grocer, supplying what he could to the Confederate army. With Northern Virginia now pretty much under Federal control though he found it tough to provide for his family and feared for their safety. So in the spring of 1863, he packed them up and bought a house about 120 miles south. To Appomattox, Virginia.

Again?

On April 9th, 1865 a knock on his front door let Wilmer know that his home had been chosen as the sight of the surrender negotiations between Generals Robert E. Lee and US Grant. There in his parlor, the two titans met and all but ended the major fighting of the Civil War. His home had seen the start of the war and the end of the war.

Falling on hard times in 1867 he sold the house in Appomattox and moved the family back to Manassas then later to Alexandria. It would be easy to feel a little sorry for this man who the war seemed to follow like a specter, but then again for a number of years in the 1870’s he worked for the Internal Revenue Service, so maybe not.