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.
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.
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.”
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?
Ron Chernow has a knack for biography. In his writing, he takes what you know about a person and introduces you to them in a different way. When we think of Grant we think of a few main things. Won the Civil War. Check (he had help.) Drunk. Check(but not really?) Terrible President. Check( but again not really,) and that is what you will take with you into this book.
Coming out of it though you will learn about the man that was Hiram Ulysses Grant. The man who trusted people, even when he shouldn’t which lead him to trouble his entire life. Especially when he became president. You learn about the down on his luck failed businessman and farmer that found a second life in the time of his country’s greatest need. You see a man go from the depths of despair and failure to a revered world figure. And you see a man that struggled with alcohol, sometimes winning the battle and sometimes losing. But most importantly you see Grant the man, not the myth.
That is the gift that Chernow has. He takes men of myth and shows you the person. He is able to get into their heads and almost show you the world as they see it. Like his Washington biography, you come out of it with the feeling that while a bit of the shine may be off the legend, it does not take away from the man. And Grant, for better or worse, was an amazing man and this book captures that well.
As always you can purchase a copy of the book by clicking on the cover image above.
There was a lot riding on the American Civil War. When the nation was formed in the American Revolution a new country was created, a democracy unlike any that had been seen before. Much of the world didn’t think it would last. Much of the world did not want it to last. So when the Southern states seceded and the United States became divided, the world held its breath.
The Cause of All Nations tells the story of the American Civil War from the perspective of the rest of the world. How did countries like Britain and France view the war? The fledgling democracy movements in each saw things quite different from the aristocratic and royalist leaders. How did the creation of Italy play into the American war? Was this going to be a war to set people free or a fight between two different ideas of government?
These questions and many others are answered in this fascinating and well-written book. The biggest takeaway for me and something that I had never really realized before was how close Europe came to intervention. I mean the fleets were in the harbors close to turning this into a world war. I knew it was close, but not that close. The other fascinating bit is the role the Vatican played in the American Civil War. Tiny, but interesting. I would love to see if some of those letters survived.
Doyle has told and informative and compelling narrative. If you are picking this up you most likely already know the basics of the story. What the author does is allow you to see the conflict from the perspective of the rest of the world. It also provides insight into exactly what the United States meant to the world in the 1860’s and provides insight into what we mean to the world today.
It is well worth the read and as always you can click the cover above to find it at Amazon.
By the Summer of 1863, the tide had turned in the Civil War. Early on the Confederate States of America proved themselves able on the battlefields of the east. Out west though was another story. Slowly but surely Union forces moved up and down the Mississippi trying to gain control of the Father of Waters. The final battle in that fight would be fought in Vicksburg.
Gibraltar of the Confederacy
The city was vital to the Confederacy. Holding it literally kept the eastern and western parts of the Confederacy united. Supplies and men could move back and forth from Texas and Northern merchants could not get their goods to the Gulf of Mexico. It had to stand, but that summer it stood alone.
Union General Ulysses S. Grant was the man tasked with bringing the city down. He knew that if taken, the war would be that much closer to being finished. During the campaign Grant and his men had to deal not only with the Confederate army but mother nature herself. Swamps and bayous stood in his way. A maze that made the city one of the best-defended sites on the continent. All that was even before the ring of forts and the 170 cannons that defended what was called the Gibraltar of the Confederacy.
Grant would eventually maneuver his way past the obstructions and within sight of the city. For 47 days the city was under siege. Artillery pounded it every day and no supplies could get through. Civilians burrowed into hillsides to escape the shelling. Rats and other vermin became a source of sustenance. Confederate General John Pemberton held out as long as he could. The reinforcements he was expecting never came and his army and the people starved. On July 3rd, 1863 he asked Grant for terms.
In all the Union casualties were fairly light, almost 5,000 out of the almost 77,000 involved. For the Confederacy, the loss was about 3,000 dead wounded or missing. But it was the 30,000 men that surrender that was the major blow. The war would drag on for almost two more years, but the final act had begun.
Above in the photo, on display at the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum in Galena, Illinois, is the first Union flag to fly over the city after the surrender. When terms were finalized on July 4th, General Grant sent the 45th Illinois regiment to raise that very flag over the devastated city. The war would drag on for almost two more years, but the final act had begun. That flag was one of many that would fly over the smoldering remains of a failed rebellion.
In studying the Union war effort during the Civil War you read a lot about the main players. Lincoln, Sherman, Grant, McClellan, are all names that pop out usually on the first page of any summary of the war. As you dig deeper another name comes up, almost as a background player to each of them, Montgomery Meigs. When I started reading this book that was the thought I had in my mind, here is the background player to the war, as the Quartermaster General I knew he played a role and looked forward to some behind the scenes look at the war effort.
What I found was the story of an amazing man who truly deserves a spotlight all his own. Even before the war, he was responsible for some of the most incredible engineering projects not just in the country but in the world. He navigated the choppy waters of Washington politics as an honest man and stayed that way during his entire tenure. He not only drew his architect inspiration from Roman and Renaissance models, bringing them to the New World, but he innovated and created styles and methods used today.
Then came the Civil War.
An army had to be built and provisioned on a scale that the United States, and most anywhere else, had never known. The man put in charge was Meigs, and no one ever doubted that decision. He became an adviser and ally to Lincoln and Stanton. He built a military machine unrivaled for the age and brought it to bear against the enemies of his country. Very few biographies actually leave me in awe, but this was one.
Knowles brings Meigs’s story to the page in a bright and loving way. It would be easy to get bogged down in the minutia that was so important to everything Meigs had a hand in. Whether it was negotiating contracts for bricks for the Capitol, or gathering horses to pull the machinery of war. Every detail was necessary and well described. What helps was short chapters and breaking it up into nice bite-sized chunks. Many authors would have tried piling on and that would have ill-served this story.
Those heavy iron beauties in the picture above are examples of a Rodman Gun. They were designed during the Civil War by Union artilleryman Thomas Rodman. The ones above are located at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore.
The main innovation with these pieces was in the way they were cast. Traditionally artillery pieces were cast as one solid piece with the bore drilled out after cooling. This solid piece method meant that as the piece cooled, it did so from the outside in. This allowed small cracks and imperfections to form. While many of these imperfections would be taken care of during the drilling of the bore, there was always the possibility that others existed.
The Rodman method consisted of casting the piece as a hollow tube with a cooling tube in the center. This allowed the metal to cool from the inside out, which allowed for it to be stronger with fewer imperfections. Here is an article that gets into some of the small details. Basically, it made the gun stronger and allowed for heavier projectiles to be fired.
This casting method became the standard during and after the war and Rodman Guns were produced in many different sizes. Attempts were made to cast the unit as rifled pieces, with the spiral grooves in place, but it was not very successful. Later on, most of the guns were rifled.
The cannons above could fire a projectile weighing up to 444 pounds close to a mile. With that kind of power and distance, they became the go-to for coastal defense. Though several thousand of this style of artillery were made during the Civil War, very few if any actually were fired in combat. The two in the picture above in Baltimore harbor have only been fired for holidays and special occasions.
On Wednesdays we are going to branch out a bit from word origins and talk about some of the unique words that have entered our language. Still with a history and military bent mind you.
Copperhead (American Civil War)
Politics in America has always been divisive, it is the nature of our beast. Never though was it more divisive then leading up to the Civil War. in 1860 Abraham Lincoln won the presidency as a Republican. The Republican Party was fairly young at this point ans was made up of the remnants of several other parties that had come and gone. Free Soilers, Whigs, Know Nothings, etc. The Democratic Party was older and more established at the time of the Civil War, but it was going through some issues. Slavery being one of them.
Southern Democrats, of course believed that slavery was a right and it fought for it. Northern Democrats were a little shaky on the subject and in the lead up to the 1860 election a rift formed in the party. This lead to two conventions and two Democrat nominees for the presidency. (And then some.) The Democrats lost the election and had the party stayed together, that may not have happened.
As the Southern States seceded the great majority of the Democrat Party went with them, but not all of them. Many Northern Democrats supported the cause of the South and became very vocal against the war. These anti-war democrats became known as Copperheads which are known as sneaks and having the ability to strike without warning.
For most of the war they proved a thorn in the side of President Lincoln. One of the leaders of the movement Clement Vallandigham, a member of the House from Ohio, became so outspoken that Lincoln deported him to the Confederacy.
The Copperhead movement lost steam after the 1864 fall of Atlanta. This event pretty much signaled that the war was moving into its final stages. Though their overall effectiveness was marginal. However they did take a stand against the regimes crack down on civil liberties. Other than that their main focus was the same as all political parties, winning elections and beating their rivals.
People, Places and Things from US Military History