Thursday, November 24, 2011

1861 Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving celebration, 1861

On Thanksgiving 1861, the New York Independent published this, putting aside for the moment the war that was raging throughout the continent:
We did not need a proclamation by the Governors to call us to Thanksgiving for the bounties of the year. Thanksgiving is already proclaimed by Him “who openeth his hand and satisfieth the desire of every living thing.” The earth is keeping her harvest festival. From hillsides clothed with grain, from meadows covered with fattening flocks and herds; from valleys and prairies waying with corn; from orchards teeming with golden and crimson fruits; from barns bursting with plenty, and dairies dripping with fatness; there goes up the universal chorus, Praise ye the Lord. The trees clap their hands, the little hills rejoice on every side; the valleys shout for joy, they also sing.

What generous crops of hay for the cattle of the field! What a large yield of wheat and corn – estimated at a thousand million bushels already in the graneries! Our garners are full, affording all manner of store; the land floweth with milk and honey. We seem to hear the myriad voices of Nature crying, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, for this wonderful works to the children of men. Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing. For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bombardment at Pensacola, Florida - Day 2

Map of Fort Pickens
The next day the bombardment at Pensacola was renewed, and continued until past midnight. This was the last day of fighting. The Confederate fortifications were not severely damaged, except for Fort McRee, which was severely crippled. Fort Pickens was not badly damaged, but the two warships were damaged, though not sunk. The casualties from these two days, as with many bombardments, were surprisingly low. The Federals suffered one killed and seven wounded, the Confederates 21 wounded. One Northern officer wrote this in his report regarding the surprising escapes which occurred:
The fire from the enemy’s batteries was heavy and well directed. There were many marvelous escapes from wounds. Among the most notable was that of Lieutenant Shipley, Third Infantry, and the detachment serving the 10-inch columbiad en barbette of his battery. A 10-inch shell struck the shell-proof and burst among his men and himself without wounding any one, although the sand and sand bags were knocked down over and around them.
USS Richmond
Strategically, this battle had little effect. After thousands of shots were fired, dirt was thrown around and a few men were wounded, the two forces were basically in the same situation as they started in. Bragg, the Confederate commander, concluded his report saying this:
But in giving this praise to human virtue let us not be unmindful of an invisible Power, which has ruled all things for our good. The hand of disease and death has been lightly laid upon us at a place and in a season when we had reason to expect much suffering and great mortality. And in the hour of our trial the missiles of death, showered upon us by an infuriated enemy, respecting neither women, children, nor the sick, have been so directed as to cause us to laugh at their impotent rage. Verily, “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”
Fort Pickens

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bombardment at Pensacola, Florida

The Forts in Pensacola Bay
At the time of the Civil War there were three forts to defend the Pensacola harbor: Fort Pickens, on an island sheltering the harbor, and Fort McRee and Fort Barrancas on the mainland. Just before Florida's secession, a garrison was sent to Fort Pickens, and they the fort for the rest of the war. The Confederates were not content with this. They garrisoned the forts and batteries in the area in an attempt to capture the fort. On October 9th the Confederates made a strong attack on the fort, and Col. Harvey Brown, Union commander in Florida, decided to attack the Confederate fortifications to prevent the attack from being renewed.
Fort Pickens
The Union batteries opened in the morning of December 22nd, assisted by the warships Niagara and Richmond. A half an hour later the Confederate's two forts and fourteen batteries along four miles of coastline responded. Confederate commander Bragg wrote this in his report:
Darkness closed the contest, which had lasted for more than eight hours without an intermission. For the number and caliber of guns and weight of metal brought into action it will rank with the heaviest bombardment in the world. It was grand and sublime. The houses in Pensacola, 10 miles off, trembled from the effect, and immense quantities of dead fish floated to the surface in the bay and lagoon, stunned by the concussion. Our troops behaved with the greatest coolness and gallantry, and surprised me by the regularity and accuracy of their firing, a result which would have been creditable to veterans.
Fort Barrancas
The barrage continued all day, with the Union forces getting the best of the fight. Fort McRee's guns were silenced, and there was a little damage to the other fortifications. The fight would continue the next day.

Fort Barrancas today

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jefferson Davis on the Trent Affair

Jefferson Davis
150 years ago Jefferson Davis gave a message to Congress. You can read the full message here. He made these comments on the Trent Affair.
"[N]ot content with violating on the rights under the law of nations at home, they have extended these injuries to us within other jurisdictions. The distinguished gentlemen whom, with your approval, at the last session, I commissioned to represent the Confederacy at certain foreign Courts, have been recently seized by the captain of a United States ship-of-war, on board a British steamer.... These gentlemen were as much under the jurisdiction of the British Government upon that ship, and beneath its flag, as if they had been upon its soil; and a claim on the part of the United States to seize them in the streets of London would have been as well founded as that to apprehend them where they were taken."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Trent Affair Begins

Wesaw a few months ago how Mason and Slidell were appointed as Confederate ambassadors to European nations. Their job was to convince France and England to recognize the Confederacy as a nation and assist them in securing their independence.

But getting over to Europe was not easy for Mason and Slidell, since most of the Confederacy's ports were blockaded by the large Union fleet. Early on the morning of October 12th, they were able to avoid the Union fleet off Charleston. They stopped in Cuba, and left on the British mail ship the Trent on November 7th.
Pursing Mason and Slidell was Captain Charles Wilkes. He knew that it was important to the war that the Confederates not convince England to ally with them, and he decided the best way to do that was to capture the ambassadors before they arrived. He had an reputation as a reckeless officer, and Seward in Washington had been warned, “He will give us trouble. He has a superabundance of self-esteem and a deficiency of judgment. When he commanded his great exploring mission he court-martialed nearly all his officers; he alone was right, everybody else was wrong.”

On November 8th, Wilkes caught the Trent as it was leaving Cuba. The Trent was neutral and would make no resistance even though they viewed the search by the Americans as illegal. Mason and Slidell were taken off the Trent, after formally refusing to come and being brought by an armed guard. This moment would seem very low for the Confederacy. But although their ambassadors were captured, it was a blessing in disguise. The Trent Affair would bring England to the very edge of war with the United States.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Massacre" of Guyandotte

Throughout the Civil War there were many reports of massacres perpetrated by either side on the other. While some did happen in some circumstances, many times they were simply small occurrences blown way out of proportion by newspapers to use as propaganda. One of these events occurred 150 years ago today.

A regiments of about 150 Unionists was training in the town of Guyandotte, now West Virginia. The townspeople, not liking to have the Federals among them, called in a group of 700 Confederate cavalry. At 7 pm they surrounded the town and attacked. The Confederates were successful in capturing 70 of the Federals. A few dozen were killed on either side. Reports of cruelty began circulating immediately. By the time the New York times printed the “details” of the event, facts were mostly absent from the account.
There were, it seems, stationed as a guard in the town something less than three hundred Union troops, all Virginians. The most of these the rebel inhabitants, by dint of delusive demonstrations of kindly feeling and anxious hospitality, beguiled to their houses on the evening in question, and then by a display of signals, announced to the guerilla cavalry of Ex-Congressman Jenins, lurking in the neighborhood, that the unconscious victims were garlanded for the slaughter. The butchers, five hundred in number, dashed into the town, fell upon the unarmed National soldiers, and after killing a number, as yet unascertained, made captives of the remainder, those only who had declined the hospitality of the conspirators escaping. While the fight was proceeding, the rebel population, male and female, assisted the destruction by firing from the windows upon their betrayed guests.

Had the possibility of reviving on any theatre of war in the nineteenth century the dramas of the Sicillian Vespers, St. Bartholomew's Night, and Glencoe, been preasserted, an outraged civilization must have pronounced the assertion a slander upon the age. Yet the spirit which suggested this Guyandotte massacre is even worse than that which prompted either of the three great tragedies referred to. The slain at Palermo were merciless foreign oppressors; at Paris, professors of a heresy which the murderers deemed it a sacred obligation to extirpate; in Scotland, outlaws whom the soldiery were under strict military orders to slay. But the victims at Guyandotte were the immediate brethren of the butchers; natives not only of the same country, but of the same State; differing neither in race or faith, differing only in opinion upon a question wholly political and social. That so devilish a plot should have been devised against such, and so pitilessly executed, is a fact only possible of a people whose institutions are essentially barbarous, the negative of right and clemency, the incarnation of all there is treacherous and cruel in unregenerated human nature.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Battle of Belmont

Map of the Battle of Belmont
Along with the capture of Port Royal, another battle occurred 150 years ago today. In Southern Missouri, Ulysses S. Grant was ordered to make a demonstration against the Confederate forces in Columbus, KY. He decided to attack Belmont, just across the river. Grant had 3,000 men to attack around 5,000 men under General Pillow which had been placed to defend Belmont.

Grant landed his forces three miles north of Belmont, after being brought down by a small fleet from Cairo, Missouri. They were delayed in their march south because of obstructions that the Confederates had placed in the road. By the time they were in line of battle to attack, Pillow's entire division was in place from across the river. Both sides were green, and the fighting raged back and forth throughout the rest of the morning. By 2 pm the Confederates began to get the worst of the fight, and running low on ammunition, Pillow ordered a charge. It was poorly executed, and Grant drove them into a rout. The Federal cannon opened on the Confederates, and they abandoned their camp, colors and cannon to Grant's victorious troops. But the green Union army soon became just as disorganized by the Confederates in the rejoicing over their victory.

General Polk landed Confederate reinforcements from across the river North of Belmont, cutting of Grant's line of retreat. Grant later wrote:
The guns of the enemy and the report of being surrounded, brought officers and men completely under control. At first some of the officers seemed to think that to be surrounded was to be placed in a hopeless position, where there was nothing to do but surrender. But when I announced that we had cut our way in and could cut our way out just as well, it seemed a new revelation to officers and soldiers. They formed line rapidly and we started back to our boats, with the men deployed as skirmishers as they had been on entering camp. The enemy was soon encountered, but his resistance this time was feeble.1
There were not enough Confederates on hand to put up a line strong enough to resist the Union attacks, and Grant was successful in bringing his men back to the transports.

Both sides claimed victory, but the battle was actually inconclusive and proved nothing other than Grant was willing to fight. Both sides suffered similar casualties, around 100 killed, 400 wounded and 100 captured.

1. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885) p. 276

Battle of Port Royal

Flag Officer Du Pont, Union Naval Commander
As we have discussed before, a part of the Union's plan to win the war was through a blockade of the South. But one problem that they faced was the need to resupply their coal burning ships. They decided to attack Port Royal, near Hilton Head, South Carolina since it was close to both Charleston and Savannah.
Map of Port Royal
To defend the port, the Confederates had constructed two forts on opposite sides of the bay. Beauregard, who drew up the plans, recommended against building them because they were too far from each other to provide support. Fort Wagner and Fort Beauregard each contained 13 guns, mostly of a small caliber in a water battery, and ten and six respectively to guard against land attack. They had over 3,000 troops to defend these positions. There were also four small gun boats available, but they were too weak to stand up to the Federal warships.

For the attack on Port Royal the North assembled what was, up to that point, the largest fleet to sail under the American flag, with 19 warships and 68 other ships. On the way to Port Royal, on November 1, the fleet was struck with a storm. The fleet was scattered and four ships were sunk. By November 4 the fleet was reassembled, except for a few ships which had to return home for repairs. Some naval skirmishing occurred on November 4 and 5, which showed that the Confederate gunboats would do little in the face of the powerful Federal vessels. The Union army commander also informed the fleet commander that the army could not participate in the attack because the lost ships contained necessary ammunition. Flag Officer Du Pont, the fleet commander, decided to go on with the naval attack. The battle was delayed until November 7th because of bad weather. Du Pont decided to go with a strategy similar to that used at the Battle of Hatteras Inlets. He would have his ships bombard while moving, hoping to thus avoid the forts' fire.
Bombarding Port Royal
As the Union fleet opened fire on the forts at around 9:30 AM, the plan quickly fell apart as the ships fell out of line to get better shots. They had found a position to be able to fire on Fort Walker without the defenders being able to put up an effective return fire. All but three of its water facing guns were disabled, and the Confederates began to abandon the fort. The Union fleet seeing this, ceased fire and occupied the fort. The garrison was allowed to escape unpursued. The commander of Fort Beauregard, although his command had suffered much less damage, feared that his retreat would be cut off and ordered his men to retreat. They were undetected, and were able to escape although their stores fell into Union hands.
Confederate Fort Receiving the Union Fire

The casualties were relatively light in this battle, with 11 Confederates dead and 47 wounded, and with the Union fleet having 8 killed and 23 wounded. Although this battle has largely been forgotten, it had an important effect on the flow of the war. A Union author wrote:
The Battle of Port Royal Bay has been somewhat overshadowed by the later naval victories of the war, but at the same time it was admirably planned and brilliantly executed. It was a battle in which ships engaged and captured forts on shore which were supposed to be impregnable to attack from the sea, for the army remained on board its transports and took no hand in the fighting, not landing until the forts had been abandoned under the fire of the naval guns. It had a good moral effect, for it came at a time when the Confederate arms had been generally successful and the feeling of despondency at the North was widespread, and this effect was felt abroad as well as at home. The object for which the expedition set out had been perfectly successful, and the plan carried out in its entirety, without hitch or mistake.1
1. Biographical Memoirs (Washington City: National Academy of Sciences, 1895), vol. III, p. 36

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jackson Bids His Troops Farewell

150 years ago today Stonewall Jackson bid farewell to his command, the Stonewall Brigade with whom he had gained fame at the Battle of Manassas. He was being moved to the Shenandoah Valley, where he would gain undying laurels in 1862. Before leaving his brigade, he issued this order:

You were the First Brigade in the Army of the Shenandoah, the First Brigade in the Army of the Potomac, the first Brigade in the Second Corps, and are the First Brigade in the hearts of your generals. I hope that you will be the First Brigade in this, our second struggle for independence, and in the future, on the fields on which the Stonewall Brigade are engaged, I expect to hear of crowning deeds of valor and of victories gloriously achieved! May God bless you all! Farewell!