Tag Archives: CivilWar

Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine

Joshua Chamberlain Monument at Gettysburg

Joshua Chamberlain

At the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 there were many heroes. One that stands out from the list is Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry. On July 2nd, the second day of the battle, Chamberlain and the 20th found themselves on Little Round Top. The far left of the Union line.

Opposed to them were the 15th and 47th Alabama who had been tasked with finding the Union left. Early in the battle they found the end of the line and started a hard push towards it. Chamberlain ordered the far end of the line to form a right angle to meet the coming attack.

After several attempts by the rebels, the 20th found themselves running low on ammunition and about to be overrun. Seeing that they were gathering for another attack Chamberlain did the unthinkable. He ordered his men to make a bayonet charge down the hill into the advancing rebels. His men took the enemy by surprise and the Alabamians scattered.

Later in the war, Chamberlain would be promoted to General and was in command of the Union troops that presided over the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. He would go on to be Governor of Maine and serve as president of Bodowin College in Maine. He passed in 1914 at the age of 85 but remains one of the standouts of Gettysburg.

The picture above, though terrible I admit, is of the statue of him that stands on Little Round Top to this day.

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.

The Secret Origin of Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam

The Secret Origin of Uncle Sam

During the War of 1812 a New York meat packer named Samuel Wilson provided barrels of beef to the army. Stamped on the barrels were the initials U.S.  Soldiers, being soldiers, started calling the food “Uncle Sam’s”. A newspaper picked up on the phrase and eventually it became widely accepted to refer to the Federal Government as Uncle Sam.

The actual image of Uncle Sam evolved in the 1860’s to 70’s when famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast began featuring the character in his cartoons. He would eventually grant the character the long white beard and striped pants that became part of the icon. (Nast also was responsible for the modern depiction of Santa Claus and for deciding that the donkey would symbolize Democrats.)


During the WWI era artist James Montgomery Flagg updated the symbol with a top hat and blue coat. In his famous rendition the character pointed directly at the viewer. This image would become famous as the recruiting poster telling the viewer, “I Want You For The U.S. Army”.

In 1961 the US Congress officially recognized Samuel Wilson as the creator of the symbol. In 1989 President Bush even declared the September 5th would be Uncle Sam Day as already celebrated in Wilson’s hometown of Troy, New York.

Interestingly enough the original “personification” of America was the figure Columbia, a woman most often portrayed with arms held wide open.  The name most like was a play on Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America. Though eventually she would give way to Lady Liberty (before the statue) and Uncle Sam, Columbia is still around us today. Columbia University in New York, the capital of South Carolina is Columbia and even in Washington DC (District of Columbia).  Eventually Uncle Sam would surpass poor Columbia and become the personification of the country all across the globe.

Thanks to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Orlando for the picture and articles inspiration.

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.


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.


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.