Friday, September 23, 2011

Recounting the Dead

The New York Time's blog on the Civil War published an interesting article about counting the number of deaths from the Civil War.
Even as Civil War history has gone through several cycles of revision, one thing has remained fixed: the number of dead. Since about 1900, historians and the general public have assumed that 618,222 men died on both sides. That number is probably a significant undercount, however. New estimates, based on Census data, indicate that the death toll was approximately 750,000, and may have been as high as 850,000.
Read it here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seige of Lexington

Seige of Lexington
150 years ago today Stirling Price captured Lexington, Missouri after a 8 day seige. After their victory at Wilson's Creek the Missouri State Guard under General Stirling Price advanced into the northern portions of the state. John C. Fremont, commander of the Union Department of the West, decided to defend Lexington. It occupied an important position on the Missouri River, and it was in a very pro-Confederate area. The commander in the town was Col. James Mulligan. He put his 3,500 troops in motion to build entrenchments in preparation for a seige. More reinforcements were on the way, but they were ambushed by the arriving Confederates and forced to retire. The Confederates were aware of their position because they had tapped the telegraph line, allowing them to spy on the Union messages.
Cannon Ball in the Lexington Court House. Credit.
Price arrived in front of the town on September 11th and launched an attack two days later. They found the Federal works to strong to be taken with a direct assault, so they surrounded the town and began shelling the Federal positions with their artillery. On September 18th the Confederates attacked again, and drove the Union forces from their outlying works. By this time the Union forces in the town were in severe lack of water. The wells had gone dry, and Confederate sharpshooters shot anyone who tried to reach a spring between the lines. On September 19th the Missourian forces prepared for their final attack. They brought up hemp bales soaked in water to use as mobile breastworks. These were very effective, and allowed the Confederates to roll them forward, all the time sheltered from Union fire.

Hill up which the Confederate Forces advanced
The Confederate forces advanced to attack on the morning of the 20th of September. The rolled the bales forward, hidden from the rifles of the Union soldiers. The Union attempted to set the bales ablaze by using red-hot cannon balls heated in ovens, but the bales were so wet that they were immune to the tactic. At noon Mulligan, seeing that the Confederate troops had advanced to the point where they could easily take the trenches with a final charge, requested terms of surrender.

The casualties from the battle had been light. The Missouri State Guard had suffered only 25 killed and 72 wounded, while the Federal forces had 39 killed and 120 wounded, with their entire force being taken prisoners. The light casualties of the defenders resulted from the brilliant idea of using the soaked bales as movible defenses. Jefferson Davis later wrote, "The expedient of the bales of hemp was a brilliant conception, not unlike that which made Tarik, the Saracen warrior, immortal, and gave his name to the northern pillar of Hercules."

Much fighting took place over this house. Credit.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Battle of Cheat Mountain

Earthworks on Cheat Mountain
In accordance with his mission to redeem the fortunes of the Confederacy in Western Virginia, R. E. Lee made plans for an assault on the Union positions on Cheat Mountain. Five regiments were in a defensive position at the foot of the mountain, while another was posted at the summit. Lee's plan was way to complicated for the inexperienced troops and generals, and it involved several uncoordinated advances that were supposed to attack in unison. This movement, impeded by the rain and mountain roads, would have been difficult to execute even with experience troops. As the troops were moving on September 11th, the columns never made contact with each other. The commander of the attack on the fort on the summit decided not to go forward with the plan because they had captured some prisoners who told them that the Union force greatly outnumbered them. It was actually only 300 men, compared to the Confederate's 3000. After skirmishing for a few days, Lee called off the other attack as well. Both sides had only a few dozen casualties. This failure earned Lee the nickname of "Granny Lee." It was believed that although great things had been hoped from him, the opinion of the generals in the old army was mistaken. However, in a few months Lee would prove these critics wrong. In this battle Lee learned many things regarding what to expect from inexperienced troops, and how to deal with troublesome subordinates.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Battle of Carnifex Ferry

House on the Battlefield
Today the Battle of Carnifex Ferry orrcured in West Virginia. General Robert E. Lee, the military secretary of Jefferson Davis, had been sent by him to what is now West Virginia. The Confederate commanders in Virginia were very divided. Most of them were politicians, including Henry Wise, a former governor of Virginia. Lee had difficulty getting them to work together to hold back the Federal advances. General Henry Floyd determined to make a stand at Carnifex Ferry against an advancing Federal column under Rosecrans. Floyd's men were position in a fortified camp. Roscrans attacked in the afternoon, and sent some of his troops in a flanking movement. By dark they had not driven the Confederates back, so Rosecrans ordered his men to fall back. They had lost 17 killed and 141 wounded. Floyd retreated during the night, claiming a brilliant victory.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Civil War Tour

Henry House, Manassas Battlefield
This week we are on a tour of Civil War sites in Virginia. If you want to see pictures from each day, check out our other blog.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kentucky's Neutrality Violated

When the crisis over secession had occurred earlier in 1861, Kentucky could not make a choice. It was a border state, and their sympathies were divided between North and South. So they issued a Declaration of Neutrality, declaring that they would remain aloof from the Civil War which was occurring. This neutrality was preserved for several months, but it came to an end 150 years ago today. The Confederate General Polk ordered troops to occupy Columbus, on the Mississippi River. Union gun boats were gathering in the area, and he gave as reason for the movement the fact that the town needed to be defended. In response to this movement the Union commanders ordered General Grant to occupy Paducah. The Civil War in Kentucky had officially begun.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lincoln Repeals Fremont's Proclamation

John C. Fremont
On August 30th, General John C. Fremont issued a proclamation for the forces under his command which involved the freeing of the Southern slaves and killing prisoners in retaliation. Lincoln was not ready at that time to free the slaves. So he sent this message to Fremont ordering him to modify his proclamation, telling him his reasons for doing so.
WASHINGTON, D. C., September 2, 1861. 
Major-General FRÉMONT:
MY DEAR SIR: Two points in your proclamation of August 30 give me some anxiety: First. Should you shoot a man, according to the proclamation, the Confederates would very certainly shoot our best men in their hands in retaliation; and so, man for man, indefinitely. It is, therefore, my order that you allow no man to be shot under the proclamation without first having my approbation or consent.

Second. I think there is great danger that the closing paragraph, in relation to the confiscation of property and the liberating slaves of traitorous owners, will alarm our Southern Union friends and turn them against us; perhaps ruin our rather fair prospect for Kentucky. Allow me, therefore, to ask that you will, as of your own motion, modify that paragraph so as to conform to the first and fourth sections of the act of Congress entitled “An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes,” approved August 6, 1861, and a copy of which act I herewith send you.

This letter is written in a spirit of caution and not of censure. I send it by special messenger, in order that it may certainly and speedily reach you.

Yours, very truly,