Tag Archives: CivilWar

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.


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.


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.


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.

The Strange Case of East Tennessee

The Strange Case of East Tennessee

The Strange Case of EastTennessee

Tennessee was not one of the first states to secede from the Union. This usually catches a lot of people by surprise. In fact, it was actually in question as to whether or not they would secede at all. As late as February 1861 54% of the people of Tennessee were not in favor of holding a secession convention at all. That percentage would change after April 12th, 1861 the day that the Confederates fired on the Union outpost of Ft. Sumter.

In response to the attack on April 15th, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion. This move pushed the rest of the southern states out of the Union.  On June 8th, 1861 Tennessee held their secession referendum. West Tennessee was overwhelmingly in favor of secession, East Tennessee was steadfastly opposed. It would be up to Middle Tennessee to break the deadlock and break it they did. Middle Tennessee in February of that year was 51% opposed to secession, by June and the vote that number had swung to 88% in favor. Tennessee would leave the Union.

East Tennessee

Now for the part that you may not know.

East Tennessee was not real happy with being forced to leave the Union and in a series of conventions, the twenty-six counties that made up that part of the state decided to secede from Tennessee. (Much like what happened with Virginia and West Virginia.) They made their petition to the state legislature in Nashville, who promptly refused it and for good measure sent troops in to occupy East Tennessee and keep it part of the state.

Am I the only one that sees the irony here? The State of Tennessee leaves the Union because Lincoln called for troops to keep states in the Union. But when a large portion of their population asked to breakaway from the state, they responded with force. Hmmmm.

East Tennessee would stay under Confederate occupation until 1863. All the while they provided troops to the Federal Army and maintaining a guerrilla war against the rebels. This base of support would end up leading to Tennessee being the first state allowed back in the Union during Reconstruction.







What must it have been like in that room on September 22, 1862? After having stated with no uncertain terms that the war being fought was one of preserving the Union, President Lincoln announces his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Though not freeing a single slave, this document changed the shape and scope of the Civil War.

Lincoln had been of two minds. Personally, he had no use for slavery.  He knew that just as the Southerners were fighting to preserve their “peculiar institution“, Northerners would not really be too keen to fight a war to end it. At the same time a number of border states, who were still clinging to slavery, teetered on the edge between Union and Confederacy. For Lincoln, his proclamation was a calculated risk. And it paid off.

Through careful wording of his document Lincoln skillfully re-framed the war as one to not only save the Union but to secure the basic tenets of human freedom. At least that is what it seemed. The document stated that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states “shall be then, thenceword, and forever free.” Think about for a second. He only freed the slaves in states that the government had no control over. Slaves still in the North, and those in the border states (Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware) were not subject to the proclamation.

Lincoln heard from all sides. To some, it did not go far enough. To others, it seemed to go too far. What it did do for certain was stem the growing tide o support for the Confederacy in the courts of  Europe. Most importantly though it allowed the United States to claim a moral high ground in a war that was tearing families apart.


The Polls are Closed

Polls Book For 1864 Election

The Polls are Closed

The American Republic has always been a tenuous thing. In the Fall of 1864 is was undergoing one of its most dire tests as the Civil War raged on.  The war had been going on for over three years and the outcome was far from decided.

President Lincoln had led the United States through the early defeats at the hands of the Confederacy and was only now begging to see the end of the conflict in sight. There was one more obstacle ahead of him that even he was not sure what the outcome would be. 1864 brought the next presidential election.  An election that was going to happen in spite of the war.

Opposing President Lincoln would be General George B. McClellan, a man who Lincoln had put in charge of the army twice. McClellan ran as a Democrat on the platform that they would negotiate a peace and end the war.  It was felt that the support he had with the army would give him enough votes to defeat Lincoln and end the war.

Besides the fact that the election was being held during wartime, this election would be the first time that soldiers in the field would be able to vote. The poll book in the picture is the method that this was carried out.  Even in the throes of a civil war, the people would be heard from.

Against expectations, almost 70% of the army voted for Lincoln and in effect a continuation of the war. Lincoln won the election handily by over 400,000 popular votes, winning all but three states that participated.

Without that victory, the outcome of the war may have been completely different, and with it the fate of our country.

For more details on the 1864 election visit this site US History.Org




Uncle Billy Sherman

Uncle Billy Sherman

Uncle Billy Sherman

The picture above is of a photo of General William Tecumseh Sherman that was taken later in life and is on display the Museum of the Grand Army of the Republic. Few Civil War figures on either side bring out the sheer emotion of General Sherman.  Emotions that for the most part vary depending on what part of the country you are from.

In the South, too many he is a villain who wrecked the South and will never be forgotten. In the North, he did what he had to do to bring the war to an end.

To the soldiers that served under him, he was quite affectionately known as Uncle Billy.  He was a General that honestly cared for his soldiers, but never let that stand in the way of doing his job. Often after the war men that served under him would show up at his door hungry, broke and abandoned. He never turned them away. He always provided what food or money he could to help them make it one more day. That was Uncle Billy.

Quotes From the Man


  • “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it is over.”
  • “Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”
  • “In our country…one class of men makes war and leaves another to fight it out.”
  • “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
  • “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.”
  • “I would make this war as severe as possible, and show no symptoms of tiring till the South begs for Mercy.”

132nd Pennsylvania Volunteers At Antietam



On September 4, 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was riding high. After a successful campaign against the Federals in Northern Virginia Lee decided that it was time to take the fight to the enemy resupply his army on their lands and demoralize their civilians. With those goals in mind, he would lead his men across the Potomac River and into Maryland.

On the Federal side General McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, searched for Lee’s army and a chance to end the war once and for all. With a stroke of luck, one of his men had come across a copy of Lee’s orders at a former campsite. These orders gave McClellan what he needed. The invasion culminated with the battle of Antietam just outside the town of Sharpsburg Maryland on September 17th in what would be to this point the bloodiest day of the war.

132nd Pennsylvania Volunteers


In August 1862 in Harrisburg, PA the 132nd PA Volunteer Regiment was formed under the command of Colonel Richard A. Oakford. A few weeks later they found themselves in Maryland taking part in their first battle. They would attack a Confederate position that would become known as Bloody Lane. By the time the battle was over the 132nd had lost 152 men killed, wounded and missing, including their commander.

The following is a brief excerpt from the regimental history written by Richard Hitchcock and available through Project Gutenberg:

A remarkable fact about our experience during this fight was that we took no note of time. When we were out of ammunition and about to move back I looked at my watch and found it was 12.30 P.M. We had been under fire since eight o’clock. I couldn’t believe my eyes; was sure my watch had gone wrong. I would have sworn that we had not been there more than twenty minutes, when we had actually been in that very hell of fire for four and a half hours.

Just as we were moving back, the Irish brigade came up, under command of General Thomas Francis Meagher. They had been ordered to complete our work by a charge, and right gallantly they did it. Many of our men, not understanding the order, joined in that charge. General Meagher rode a beautiful white horse, but made a show of himself by tumbling off just as he reached our line. The boys said he was drunk, and he certainly looked and acted like a drunken man. He regained his feet and floundered about, swearing like a crazy man. The brigade, however, made a magnificent charge and swept everything before it.

To read more click here.


The monument in the photo was dedicated to the regiment on September 17, 1904 and was erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for their brave men. Besides the units name the single inscription reads simply, Virtue, Liberty, and Independence.


Lincoln and the Spencer Rifle


Lincoln and the Spencer Rifle

Gather round for a story about the indomitable President Lincoln and the famous Spencer rifle.

The popular version of the story tells how on late a Summer day in 1863 Christopher Spencer, the inventor of the Spencer repeating rifle, took his invention to the White House to demonstrate it for the President. On that day out in the backyard of the White House Lincoln took the rifle in his hand and fired seven rounds at a painted target board, hitting it in rapid succession. Duly impressed the story goes that he ordered a large quantity of the rifles on the spot.

That board that he shot at that day is in the picture above having been given to Christopher Spencer as a souvenir.

The Real Story


Now for the real story. It turns out that the Spencer rifle was already in service in the Federal Army in small numbers. The Navy Department had heard about it and wanted to order some for their own use. Eventually, the Navy’s request reached the desk of Lincoln who was intrigued and asked for a rifle to evaluate for himself. He received one, and it didn’t work. He took the second one, and it didn’t work. After that, he denied the request for the Navy and went about his business (you know, running a war).

A higher up at the Spencer Company heard about the President’s experience and sent Christopher Spencer to change his mind. Once in front of Lincoln, he had Spencer strip the rifle down. Once reassembled they went out and shot at the board. The same one in the picture above. The rifle worked perfectly this time. Lincoln thanked Spencer and sent him on his way.

The next morning Lincoln went out with his secretary and shot the rifle again and became duly impressed. Eventually, an order was placed and the Spencer became a part of history. So not quite as exciting as the campfire tale that is told, but even the biggest legends have to start somewhere.