Tag Archives: CivilWar

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.

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

 

“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.