Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day and the Civil War

Graves at Arlington Decorated for Memorial Day
Today is Memorial Day, and since most people do not know what it means or its connection to the Civil War, today's post will be about that.

Memorial Day is the day to commemorate the American soldiers who have died. It began as a commemoration of the soldiers of the Civil War. It started as a Union holiday and was called Decoration Day. To commemorate the day flowers were placed on the graves of soldiers buried in cemeteries across the nation, and patriotic speeches were given. By 1890 all of the Northern States officially recognized the holiday. The South did not celebrate on the holiday. Nine of the Southern States officially have a Confederate Memorial Day, with the date normally being April 26th, Jefferson Davis' birthday, or May 10th, the day Stonewall Jackson died. After World War I the holiday shifted to honoring all American dead soldiers instead of just those from the Civil War, and the South began to participate.

Oliver Wendell Homes
Here are a few quotes from a Memorial Day speech given in 1884 by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

Accidents may call up the events of the war. You see a battery of guns go by at a trot, and for a moment you are back at White Oak Swamp, or Antietam, or on the Jerusalem Road. You hear a few shots fired in the distance, and for an instant your heart stops as you say to yourself, The skirmishers are at it, and listen for the long roll of fire from the main line. You meet an old comrade after many years of absence; he recalls the moment that you were nearly surrounded by the enemy, and again there comes up to you that swift and cunning thinking on which once hung life and freedom--Shall I stand the best chance if I try the pistol or the sabre on that man who means to stop me? Will he get his carbine free before I reach him, or can I kill him first? These and the thousand other events we have known are called up, I say, by accident, and, apart from accident, they lie forgotten.
But as surely as this day comes round we are in the presence of the dead. For one hour, twice a year at least--at the regimental dinner, where the ghosts sit at table more numerous than the living, and on this day when we decorate their graves--the dead come back and live with us.
On this day, at least, we still meet and rejoice in the closest tie which is possible between men-- a tie which suffering has made indissoluble for better, for worse.
When we meet thus, when we do honor to the dead in terms that must sometimes embrace the living, we do not deceive ourselves. We attribute no special merit to a man for having served when all were serving. We know that, if the armies of our war did anything worth remembering, the credit belongs not mainly to the individuals who did it, but to average human nature. We also know very well that we cannot live in associations with the past alone, and we admit that, if we would be worthy of the past, we must find new fields for action or thought, and make for ourselves new careers.
But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. ... But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.
Such hearts--ah me, how many!--were stilled twenty years ago; and to us who remain behind is left this day of memories. Every year--in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life--there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death. Year after year lovers wandering under the apple trees and through the clover and deep grass are surprised with sudden tears as they see black veiled figures stealing through the morning to a soldier's grave. Year after year the comrades of the dead follow, with public honor, procession and commemorative flags and funeral march--honor and grief from us who stand almost alone, and have seen the best and noblest of our generation pass away.1

Holmes while in the Civil War
1. Source

Thursday, May 26, 2011

McClellan orders Advance into Virginia

Map of Virginia in 1860, showing slave population
150 years ago today McClellan ordered his army to invade Virginia. Gen.McClellan commanded the army in Ohio, and Winfield Scott, his commander, had approved plans for him to invade what is now West Virginia. The Northwest part of Virginia had opposed secession, and McClellan hoped that they would welcome him. Therefore he published a proclamation to them:
Virginians! The General Government has long enough endured the machinations of a few factious rebels in your midst. ... The General Government has heretofore carefully abstained from sending troops across the Ohio, or even from posting them along its banks, although frequently urged to do so by many of your prominent citizens.  ... You have now shown under the most adverse circumstances that the great mass of the people of Western Virginia are true and loyal to that benificent [sic] government under which we and our fathers have lived so long.  ... The General Government cannot close its ears to the demand you have made for assistance. I have ordered troops to cross the Ohio river. They come as your friends and brothers, as enemies only to the armed rebels who are preying upon you. Your homes, your families, and your property are safe under our protection. All your rights shall be religiously respected, notwithstanding all that has been said by the traitors to induce you to believe that our advent among you will be signalized by interference with your slaves. ... I call upon you to fly to arms and support the general government, sever the connection that binds you to traitors, proclaim to the world that the faith and loyalty so long boasted by the Old Dominion are still preserved in Western Virginia, and that you remain true to the stars and stripes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

North Carolina Secedes

Capital Building in 1861
Today 150 years ago North Carolina seceded from the Union. North Carolina was the last to go. In February they had voted against secession, but after Lincoln's call for troops they reconsidered:
Whereas, ... Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, did, on the 16th day of April, by his proclamation call upon the States of the Union to furnish large bodies of troops to enable him, under the false pretense of executing the laws, to march an army into the seceded States with a few to their subjection under an arbitrary military authority, there being no law of Congress authorizing such calling out of troops, and no constitutional right to use them, if called out, for the purpose intended by him; ...1
Therefore they declared their independence and severed their bond with the United States:
We do further declare and ordain, that the union now subsisting between the State of North Carolina, and the other States, under the title of 'The United States of America," is hereby dissolved, and that the State of North Carolina is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.2
A large percentage of North Carolina's people were still for the Union, but they did more than their share for the Confederacy. One-seventh of all Confederate troops came from North Carolina.

1.  The North Carolina Booklet volume XI, no. 1, July 1911 p. 15 This text was not actually adopted, it is from an earlier draft. The final resolution was much shorter and did not go into the details of why they chose to leave the Union.
2. Ibid, p. 16

Friday, May 13, 2011

England Recognizes the Confederacy as a Belligerent

Queen Victoria
Today, 150 years ago, Queen Victoria of England issued a neutrality proclamation. It declared that they were neutral in the unfolding American Civil War, but it also recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent in the conflict. This did not mean that England thought they were a nation, but it did mean that they rejected the North’s claim that it was only an insurrection.

One of the things Jefferson Davis was counting on was European intervention, and this was a step in that direction. He knew that the North had superior man power and resources, but he also knew that the South produced cotton that Europe needed to continue their manufacturing. So he hoped that “King Cotton” would bring England, France and others over to his side. But the main obstacle that stood in the way of this was slavery. William Wilberforce was instrumental in abolishing slavery in England in the 1830s, and the English did not want to help the South because it owned slaves. Another obstacle was the fact that there had been a large cotton harvest the year before, and the warehouses were bulging with excess cotton. We will see how this played out over the next few years.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Camp Jackson Riots

A few months back, before the attack on Fort Sumter, a convention in Missouri voted to remain in the Union 98-1, but there was much pro-Confederate feeling in the state. During this time both factions began raising military forces. The governor was pro-secession and the Missouri Volunteer Militia, organized with the state's approval, was Southern in sentiment. Federal Captain Nathaniel Lyon was sent by the U.S. War Department to raise Federal troops in the area. Many of the state militia were natives, but Lyon's forces were primarily German immigrants from St. Louis.

On April 23rd Governor Jackson received a secret shipment of artillery that he had requested from Jefferson Davis. He called out the state troops in early May for their annual drill. Lyon believed that this force had been called out to attempt to capture the Federal arsenal, and made plans to capture the force. This may or may not have been their intention. Many Missourians wished to have armed neutrality in the conflict, and some believe this group was a majority of the militia.

Troops Drilling at Camp Jackson
Lyon moved out to attack the camp on May 10th, 150 years ago today. After surrounding the camp, he sent a message to the commander saying,
General D. M. Frost, Commanding Camp Jackson.
Sir: Your command is regarded as evidently hostile toward the Government of the United States.  It is for the most part made up of those Secessionists who have openly avowed their hostility to the General Government, and have been plotting the seizure of its property and the overthrow of its authority. ... These extraordinary preparations plainly indicate none other than the well-known purpose of the Governor of the State, under whose order your are acting, and whose purpose recently communicated to the Legislature, has just been responded to by that body, in the most unparalleled legislation, having in direct view hostilities to the General Government and co-operation with its enemies.
     ...I do hereby demand of you, an immediate surrender of your command, with no other conditions than that all persons surrendering under this demand shall be humanely and kindly treated.
Believing myself prepared to enforce this demand, one-half hour's time before doing so, will be allowed for your compliance therewith.
                                              Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain Second Infantry, Commanding Troops.1
Frost, the militia commander, responded saying, "I never for a moment conceived the idea that so illegal and unconstitutional demand, as I have just received from you, would be made by an officer of the United States Army. I am wholly unprepared to defend my command from this unwarranted attack, and shall, therefore, be forced to comply with your demand."2

Gen. Lyon
Even though the militia all surrendered, as the troops marched back through the city with their prisoners large crowds began to form. Scattered shots broke out, and after one soldier was killed and another wounded, the soldiers began to fire volleys by company. About 30 civilians were killed and 100 were wounded. Riots continued through out the next few days.

In the aftermath of this conflict while there was no immediate attack on the Federal arsenal, but many of the militia were hardened in their resistance to the Federal invasion of Missouri.

1. The Union Cause in St. Louis in 1861 by Robert J. Rombauer (St. Louis: St. Louis Municipal Centennial Year, 1909) p. 231-232
2. Ibid, p. 232

Friday, May 6, 2011

Arkansas Secedes, War Declared on the United States

Arkansas Militia
150 years ago today, both Tennessee and Arkansas voted to secede. Both were border states, and did not secede because of Lincoln's threat to slavery. They remained in the Union until Lincoln said that they must raise troops to attack their neighbors in the South. At that point they seceded, along with Virginia and more to come.

Arkansas said in their Ordinance of Secession:
[Abraham Lincoln] has, in the face of resolutions passed by this convention pledging the State of Arkansas to resist to the last extremity any attempt on the part of such power to coerce any State that had seceded from the old Union, proclaimed to the world that war should be waged against such States until they should be compelled to submit to their rule, and large forces to accomplish this have by this same power been called out, and are now being marshaled to carry out this inhuman design; and to longer submit to such rule, or remain in the old Union of the United States, would be disgraceful and ruinous to the State of Arkansas:1
While the legislature of Tennessee was favorable to secession, they did not actually secede on this day. They called for a public vote on the issue instead.

On the same day Jefferson Davis signed a bill declaring a state of war with the United States, since they were being attacked by them. It said:
Whereas, the earnest efforts made by this government to establish friendly relations between the government of the United States and the Confederate States and to settle all questions of disagreement between the two governments upon principles of right, justice, equity and good faith, have proved unavailing, by reason of the refusal of the government of the United States to hold any intercourse with the Commissioners appointed by the government for the purposes aforesaid or to listen to any proposal they had to make for the peaceful solution of all causes of difficulties between the two governments; and

Whereas, the President of the United States of America has issued his Proclamation, making the requisition upon the states of the American Union for seventy-five thousand men, for the purpose as therein indicated of capturing forts,  and other strongholds of the jurisdiction of, and belonging to the Confederate States of America, and has detailed Naval armaments upon the coast of the Confederate States of America, and raised, organized and equipped a large military force to execute the purpose aforesaid, and has issued his other Proclamations announcing his purpose to set foot a blockage of the ports of the Confederate States;
The Congress of the Confederate States do enact, that the President of the Confederate States be, and he is hereby, authorized to use the land and naval forces for the purpose of ... resisting and repelling in such manner as he may deem advisable any and all acts of hostility or aggression that may be committed by said government.2
1. The American Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the year 1861 (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1867), vol. 1 p. 23.
2. Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1904) vol. 1, p. 177-181.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Alexandria Abandoned

Alexandria and Washington
By now the panic of a few weeks ago for the defense of Washington had subsided somewhat as the new volunteer regiments began to arrive at the capital. But the Confederates were still occupying Alexandria just across the river, and the Confederate flags flying over the houses were visible from the capitol. General Winfield Scott began to plan to cross into Virginia and capture Alexandria to give more breathing room in his defense of the capitol. However, on May 5th the Confederates left Alexandria of their own accord without him even advancing.

The Confederate commander in Alexandria was Lt. Col. A. S. Taylor. He was commanded by his superior, General Cooke, to make a "gallant and fighting retreat" if he was attacked by superior forces.1 He had about 650 troops, but they were inexperienced and badly armed. His men were also spread throughout the town, as most of them were from the area. He received a message which said that Federals would cross the river on the 6th or 7th, and therefore he abandoned the city without informing his superiors.

Cooke attempted to put Taylor under arrest for disobeying orders. While he may not have had enough forces to hold Alexandria, he should not have retreated without asking his commander. It appears that Taylor left the infantry and became a Captain in the Confederate Marine Corps.

1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p. 24

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Anaconda Plan

Yesterday, George B. McClellan, commander of the Ohio troops, wrote to Winfield Scott, head of all the Union armies, about a plan he had devised for subduing the Southern rebellion. Scott objected to his plan on several points, and proposed his own, which would later be called the Anaconda Plan. He said:
We rely greatly on the sure operation of a complete blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports soon to commence. In connection with such blockade we propose a powerful movement down the Mississippi to the ocean... the object being to clear out and keep open this great line of communication in connection with the strict blockade of the sea-board, so as to envelop the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than be any other plan. ... In the progress down the river all the enemy's batteries on its banks we of course would turn and capture, leaving a sufficient number of posts with complete garrisons to keep the river open behind the expedition. Finally, it will be necessary that New Orleans should be strongly occupied and securely held until the present difficulties are composed.

A word now as to the greatest obstacle in the way of this plan - the great danger now pressing upon us - the impatience of our patriotic and loyal Union friends. They will urge instant vigorous action, regardless, I fear, of consequences ....
Scott's plan relied on the naval blockade of the Southern ports which was already coming into action. He would then move down the Mississippi river and secure New Orleans, and then wait for the South to surrender. This plan was derided at the time, and armies began to move for Richmond. As Scott predicted, they were time after time defeated in battle with heavy casualties. Many of Scott’s strategies were used, such as a strict blockade and an attack down the Mississippi river in conjunction with other attacks. While it is still debated today how effective Scott’s plan would have been if used as he intended it, elements of it did contribute greatly to the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy.