Category Archives: Civil War

Ketchum If You Can

Ketchum If You Can

Ketchum If You Can

 

It may not be the classic “pineapple” that you are used to seeing when you hear the term “hand grenade“. Think of these as the first revision.

This design was patented in 1861 by William Ketchum, the mayor of Buffalo, New York. The grenades were used, sometimes, by the Union army during the Civil War. Unlike the ones that you see today these didn’t have the classic, pull the pin and throw.

Instead, they contained a percussion cap in the nose. All you had to do was throw them and hope they landed nose-first. The fins were there to spin it and to make sure that happened. Of course, that did not always happen. As such, they did not always go off, which made them sort of useless. Needless to say, they were not popular.

During the war, they had documented use in the siege of Petersburg and Vicksburg and a number of specimens have survived. One of the most fascinating stories concerning these comes from the 1863 siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana where the Confederates rigged up a system using blankets to catch the devices, preventing them from going off. Then, of course, they would send them back leading to a high stakes game of hot potato.

With their dubious success, these weapons were relegated to the scrap heap of history and remain a footnote in the Civil War. In case you’re curious. The “pineapple” grenade that is seen in all the WWII movies came into service in Late 1917-18 and underwent a number of revisions before finally ending its service in the 1970s.

Bull Run vs Manassas

Bull Run vs Manassas

Bull Run vs Manassas

This hand-drawn map of the Battle of Bull Run is on display at the Manassas National Battlefield Park. As far as artifacts go it is fairly standard. A participant of the battle recreated the battlefield on paper. Possibly as part of an after-action report, or maybe just so they would not forget. We don’t know about the author, but we know one thing for sure.  The person who made the map was from the Union.

How do we know? The title on the map is Battle fo Bull Run. Had it been a Confederate that drew the map most likely it would have been labeled Battle of Manassas. During the war, the Union Army tended to name battles after the closest body of water. The Confederates used the nearest town.

Examples

Some other examples are:

The battle fought between April 6 and 7, 1862 is known in the North as Pittsburg Landing, but in the South, it was called Shiloh.

September 17, 1862, found the north fighting the Battle of Antietam, but the South fought the Battle of Sharpsburg.

April 8th, 1864 was the Battle fo Mansfield to the Confederates, but to the Union, it named Sabine Cross Roads.

Of course, in the end, the name of a particular battle was usually determined by the winner. Today, especially if you visit the national parks that have sprung up around the former battlefields you may recognize most of the ones in the South will use the Southern names.

As for why they were named as such, one historian theorizes that since many Northerners were from cities they considered bodies of water as the more noteworthy geographic feature. Southerners, however, tended to be more rural so they regarded towns as most noteworthy.

So if you are discussing the Civil War with someone pay attention to how they refer to battles, it may give you some insight as to where they are from!

Play Dixie For Me

Play Dixie For Me

Play Dixie

This painting, Play Dixie,  that hangs in a gallery at the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library captures one of the moments that made Lincoln who he was. There are a couple of different versions of this story, the one below comes from the Daily National Intelligencer a Washington paper at the time.

On April 9th, 1865 General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant. This effectively ended the Civil War. The next day thousands of people flooded into the streets of Washington DC. They celebrated the victory by marching and singing through the streets. Eventually, the crowd was able to catch the attention of the President who after some cajoling came forward to address the crowd.

A Fair Won Prize

Below is the brief address that Lincoln gave to the crowd.

‘FELLOW CITIZENS: I am very greatly rejoiced to find that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people cannot restrain themselves. [Cheers.] I suppose that arrangements are being made for some sort of formal demonstration, this, or perhaps, to-morrow night. [Cries of `We can’t wait,’ `We want it now,’ &c.] If there should be such a demonstration, I, of course, will be called upon to respond, and I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before. [Laughter and applause.]

I see you have a band of music with you. [Voices, `We have two or three.’] I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought `Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.’”

The band played the song and then rounded it out with a flourish of Yankee Doodle. When the music ended, Lincoln led the crowd in a round of cheers for General Grant and his soldiers. Then the valiant Navy.

A week later Lincoln was assassinated. Was it his favorite song or was it just a great piece of propaganda? Which one of the dozen versions of the story is true? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. All that does matter is that Lincoln and the Union Army brought Dixie home in the end.

The Dunker Church At Antietam

Dunker Church At Antietam

The Dunker Church

 

On the morning of September 14, 1862, the congregation of the small Dunker Church just outside Antietam Maryland heard the cannons in the distance. Seven miles away a battle was underway at South Mountain as Union and Confederate forces vied for supremacy.

A couple of days later on the morning of the 16th, the Confederate forces were at the church digging in and preparing for the battle that was coming the next day. The church would be one of the main focal points of the Battle of Antietam. The Union forces pushed hard against the Confederate position that made up their left flank.

After the battle was over the church stood standing with hundreds of bullets stuck in its walls. It served as an aid station for Confederate wounded and served as a meeting place for the two sides to exchange wounded. In 1864 the church was repaired and services were resumed.

Eventually, the congregation built a new church in Sharpsburg. Now abandoned, the structure became a target for souvenir hunters. A strong storm in 1928 finished what they started. The church collapsed altogether.

In the 1930’s the owner built a house and gas station / souvenir shop on the foundation. In 1951 the Washington County Historical Society purchased the building. They cleared the newer structures and turned the foundation over to the National Park Service. In 1962 on the 100th anniversary of the battle the church was rebuilt using as much as the original material as possible. There it stands today. A place of peace and serenity serving as a counterweight to the tragedy that surrounds it.

 

 

The Groove is the Thing

Groove

Feeling the Groove…

Firearms for a very long time were fairly simple things. A barrel of some sort with two holes. One at the front for the projectile to come out. One in the back to light the powder that sent the projectile out.

Starting from there, people would go on to add different kinds of trigger mechanisms. Matchlocks which actually used a piece of burning cord to light the fuse. Flintlocks which used sparks to light the fuse.  Percussion caps and the modern trigger mechanisms of today. All showed an evolution but didn’t do much to help the main issue that a smoothbore firearm had. Range and accuracy. You could aim at a target but hitting anything more than a couple of dozen yards away was a matter of luck more than skill. This was why armies stood in long lines real close together and firing all at once became the way wars were fought. The more muskets pointed in a direction, the better the odds were one would hit a target.

That all changed with the invention of rifling. Rifling, which is adding a series of groove to the barrel of a firearm, was first done in what would be Germany in the late 15th, early 16th century tough it would not become standard until the nineteenth century. The grooves in the barrel cause the projectile to spin which greatly stabilizes the flight due to centrifugal force. With its flight more steady the projectile more often than not would go to where it was aimed greatly increasing accuracy. Suddenly a bunch of men standing in line a few yards from each other became less of a good idea. Unfortunately, it would take a bit for tactics to catch up with technology and a lot of people dies needlessly. That is a story for another time though.

The pic above shows the rifling grooves on a Civil War-era cannon, looking down the barrel you could see the spiral pattern that imparted the spin which gave the guns the greater range and accuracy.

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (P.G.T)

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (P.G.T)

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (P.G.T)

The Little Creole, The Little Napoleon, Bory, Felix, The Hero of Fort Sumter, P.G.T., and too himself just G.T. The man had many names and many different roles during his lifetime. He graduated from the US Military Academy as an Engineer and served in the Mexican War.

In 1861 he was the Superintendent of the Academy when South Carolina seceded. He resigned his post and the US Army and became the first brigadier general in the Confederate Army. There he led the defense of Charleston and was victorious against the Union forces at Ft. Sumter. A couple of months later he led the CSA in battle at Bull Run in Virginia. Defeating the Union Army again.

Soon after he was sent to the Western theater and led armies at Shiloh and the Siege of Corinth in Tennessee. In 1863 he went back Charleston and defended the city from a number of attacks by Union forces. In perhaps his greatest achievement he managed to keep Petersburg from falling into Union hands. This prevented the Union Army from attacking Richmond directly.

So one of the most successful Confederate generals, maybe one of the best on either side. Why do we not know his name like we do Jackson, Lee, Longstreet and the others? Most likely it was because he was not that great at the political aspects of generalship. He did not play well with others. Including the president and the rest of the high command.

Life After War

After the war, he was offered positions in the armies of Brazil, Romania, and Egypt. All of which he declined instead focusing his energy on freeing the South from the Union occupation forces. He spoke out for civil rights and the ability to vote for recently freed slaves. Later he ran a railroad and even invented cable cars. He was also a proliferate author relying on his experiences in the war.

In 1889 when Jefferson Davis passed, Beauregard was asked to head the funeral procession for his former president. He turned it down saying, “We have always been enemies. I cannot pretend I am sorry he is gone. I am no hypocrite.”

 

A Sign Of The Times (Preservation)

Signpost

A Sign Of The Times

In the middle of the picture, you will see a sign of the times.  You can just make it out in the middle of this intersection in what is now a suburb of Atlanta. Right next to the mailbox. See it? Good. That sign marks the spot where the Battle of Atlanta started on July 22, 1864.

Federal forces were lined up along what is now that road waiting for the Confederates to come at them. This portion of the battlefield now consists of roads that were not there, houses that were not there, a school, parks, etc. The point is time has marched on leaving the battlefield behind. Do you think the people who have that sign in their front yard know what happened there? Do you think they care?

One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War we are seeing a large number of the battlefields being encroached upon by the march of time and progress. Popular battlefields like Gettysburg, Antietam,  Shiloh and such are winning the fight or at least slowing the march of time. Gettysburg better than any of the others. Other sites, such as Atlanta and Fredericksburg have all but surrendered their past glory.

The issues of preservation versus progress have been fought in a number of battlefields itself, at the parks, in the local, state and Federal governments, between private donors and corporate interests. At some point we need to ask how much of our history do we keep and how much do we allow to be paved over?

A Sign Of The Times (Preservation)

The Telegram No One Wants

The Telegram No One Wants

 

The iconic image of Western Telegraph telegraph showing up at the door of a loved one in the military is one that is both poignant and unforgettable. Telegrams were used by the War Department and the branches to break the news to the distraught family member. If you don’t know the feeling there are no words. This clip from We Were Soldiers actually captures it well. In time the telegram gave way to the phone call and the visit from a representative.

In the Civil War, there was no such mechanism in place to let family members know their loved one had been killed in battle. If you knew the unit of the army they served in you could watch your local paper. They would publish casualty lists after battles. Some newspapers discontinued this towards the end of the war.

The best you could hope for was that soon after a letter from your loved one would arrive telling you they survived. Sometimes when they did not survive a friend or fellow soldier would write the family to break the news. Eventually the unit commander may follow-up with a note and their condolences, but most often there was nothing.

The absolute worse part was that at the time of the Civil War dog tags were not a standard. Most men carried no form of identification. Some before a battle may have written their name and next of kin on a piece of paper and pinned it to themselves. Just in case, but many more died fighting and were never identified. In 1865 Clara Barton started the Office of Missing Soldiers that searched to put names to the unknown. Over the next four years, she was responsible for identifying almost 20,000 unknowns.

 

One Crazy Election

The Election fo 1860

One Crazy Election

The election of 1860 was as tense and encompassed almost as many different and disparaging views as 2016. There were four candidates to choose from that year that represented four different political parties. (Look, I know that picture is not the best not all will be grand! Just roll with it.) Here were the contenders.

The Constitution Party

John Bell from the Constitutional Union party was from Tennessee. He managed to carry 3 states (Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia) with 39 electoral votes.  The party was made of former Whigs, former Know Nothings and some Southern Democrats. It was named for their single party platform, “to recognize no political principle other than the Constitution of the country, the Union of the states, and the Enforcement of the Laws”. Since the 1860 election revolved around the issue of slavery (it did whether you agree or not) they decided to take no stand on the issue. They hoped to avoid Southern secession by kicking the proverbial can down the road.

Democratic Party (North &South)

At the 1860 Democratic National Convention held in Charleston that year, the proceedings became fractious over the question on the extension of slavery into the new territories. Many delegates walked out splitting the party in two. A second convention was held later that year in Baltimore Maryland.

The Northern Democratic candidate was Stephen Douglas from Illinois. He managed to win 1 state and 12 electoral votes.  Missouri if you must know. This defeat pretty much ended a long political career. Douglas and his branch favored Popular Sovereignty. This would allow the new territories to decide for themselves if they would join the Union as free or slave states.

The Southern Democrats, who favored not only expanding slavery in the territories but also reopening the international slave trade were represented by John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky. He managed to win 11 states (guess which ones) and 72 electoral votes.

The Republican Party

The big winner was the brand spanking new Republican Party that ran on a platform that was firmly anti-slavery. Their candidate was Abraham Lincoln of Illinois who managed to win 18 states (all northern) and 180 electoral votes. His election was seen by the southern states as a sign that the days of slavery were to be numbered. Pushing them to take action. We know how that turned out.

Inevitable?

It is interesting when you look at the stats from that election that even if you add the votes of all three opponents together, Lincoln still won handily:

Electoral vote: Lincoln 180 All Others Combined 123

States Won: Lincoln 18 All Others Combined 15

Though he would have lost the popular vote:

Popular vote: Lincoln 1,865,908 All Others Combined 2,819,122

When you watch the news tonight just be glad that we have winnowed it down to a two-party system. Elections should be much less crazy now, right? (I apologize to all the Libertarians, but seriously unless you get serious the best you can be is a spoiler.)

The First Presidential Assassin

The First Presidential Assassin

The First Presidential Assassin

When he was a boy he found himself in front of a fortune-teller that read his palm. The Gypsy proclaimed that the boy would have a short but grand life. Doomed to die young while meeting a bad end. The boy wrote down the proclamation and would spend many, many years dwelling on it. Trying to suss out the meaning from the cryptic words. (OK, so it was pretty much straight forward, but perhaps denial added mystery?)

In 1857 he made his stage debut in a production of Richard III in Baltimore. He asked to be billed as J.B. Wilkes in order to not draw comparisons to his father and brother. Both already well-known actors. In 1858 he suffered such stage fright that he stumbled over his lines causing the audience to respond in gales of laughter. He shook it off and his acting career took off. Audiences loved his energy and fearlessness on the stage. He soon became famous in his own right. Called by some “the most handsome man America.”  He threw himself into role after role. One in particular always drew him in. Brutus the tyrant slayer who ended the life of Julius Caesar.

On April 12th 1861 on the eve of war this son of Virginia found himself on the stage in Albany New York singing the virtues of the valiant and heroic south. The audience drove him from the stage but he was not to be daunted. He crisscrossed the war-torn country playing to audiences North and South.

As the war progressed he felt more and more like he was missing out. As the 1864 election drew nearer he found a focus for his anger. President Abraham Lincoln. His first act of treason came with planning to kidnap the president. Booth and his “gang” nearly carried off the plot. If not for a sudden change of plans by Lincoln history could be very different.

Destiny

On April 12th, 1865 the war all but ended as Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army. Now lost in a well of anger and feeling betrayed Booth set out to end the president’s life. Hoping perhaps to stir the South into continuing the fight.

The night of April 14th, at Fords Theater in Washington DC, the most famous actor in the country became the first presidential assassin. He thought he would become a hero but instead became the most wanted man in the country. On April 26th Federal forces caught up with him and after a brief struggle killed him at the very young age of 26. I wonder if in his final moments John Wilkes Booth thought back to the Gypsy prophecy and smiled as it certainly came true.