Monday, February 27, 2012

Legal Tender Acts

In February of 1862 Lincoln and the Republican Congress passed the Legal Tender Acts, authorizing paper money. This was one of the first steps in Lincoln's government expansion, which was one of the main reasons the South seceded. For more information on this act, read the blog post The Greenback is Born from the New York Times, or buy the book The Real Lincoln by Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Battle of Valverde, New Mexico


When the Southern states seceded the area which now makes up New Mexico and Arizona was organized into a territory called New Mexico territory. The settlers of Southern New Mexico wanted to join the Confederacy, and they assembled in several secession conventions, and began forming into militia companies. On August 1st, 1861 the Confederate government had established what was called the Territory of Arizona, which contained the southern halves of what is now Arizona and New Mexico.


Brigader General Henry H. Sibley, a West Pointer who had followed his state Louisiana and left the army, prepared an idea for a New Mexico Campaign. He planned to begin by capturing Nevada and Sante Fe, seize Colorado Territory and the forts in the area, and then turn to capture Nevada and California. This would give the Confederacy access to the large amounts of gold in the area, which would help finance the war effort. Sibley gathered an army of 2,510 men, and marched towards Fort Craig. There were 3,800 Union troops under Edward Canby at Fort Craig. 1,200 of these were seasoned troops, the rest were volunteers. Sibley did not think a direct assault would be successful, so he formed his brigade south of the fort in an attempt to lure Canby to attack him.


After waiting for three days Sibley decided to move out, since they were low on supplies, and cut the fort's line of communications with Santa Fe. However, Canby beat him to the Valverde ford of the Rio Grande. Sibley turned over his command to Colonel Tom Green because of illness. Some skirmishing occurred throughout the day as each force waited for all their troops to come up. One Confederate lancer company charged what was thought to be a weak volunteer company. However, it was a company from Colorado, which was able to break the charge, killing twenty lancers and almost all their horses. This was the only lancer charge of the Civil War.
Battle Map
At 4 pm Canby decided to attack the Confederate left. In moving troops to prepare for this, he weakened his center. Green launched a failed attack on the Union right. Then he had 7,050 strike their center. The Southerners fought desperately, as they were very thirsty and the Unions stood between them and water. They were successful, and broke the line and resisted a cavalry counterattack. They continued to advance, capturing six cannons, and breaking Canby's line. After a truce to remove the dead and wounded, Canby was able to reorganize his men enough to retreat back to Fort Craig, having been badly defeated.
Fort Craig Today
The casualties of the battle are not certain, being at least 140 for the Confederates and 260 for the Federals. Sibley decided not to attack the strong fort and instead marched on Santa Fe. Canby did not pursue, instead remaining at the fort to prevent the Confederates from receiving supplies. They moved north, capturing Albuquerque and Santa Fe. However, as we will see, this would turn out to be the high point of the New Mexico campaign.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Battle of Fort Donelson - Surrender

Today Confederates were in a bad position in Fort Donelson. The day before they had launched an attack that was temporarily successful, giving them an opportunity to escape, but at the critical moment they fell back to their former positions. General Buckner summarized their position in this way:
I regarded the position of the army as desperate, and that an attempt to extricate it by another battle, in the suffering and exhausted condition of the troops, was almost hopeless. The troops had been worn down with watching, with labor, with fighting. Many of them were frosted by the intensity of the cold; all of them were suffering and exhausted by their incessant labors. There had been no regular issue of rations for a number of days and scarcely any means of cooking. Their ammunition was nearly expended. We were completely invested by a force fully four times the strength of our own. In their exhausted condition they could not have made a march. An attempt to make a sortie would have been resisted by a superior force of fresh troops, and that attempt would have been the signal for the fall of the water batteries and the presence of the enemy’s gunboats sweeping with the fire at close range the positions of our troops, who would thus have been assailed on their front, rear, and right flank at the same instant. The result would have been a virtual massacre of the troops, more disheartening in its effects than a surrender.
In a council of war it was agreed to surrender the next morning. Floyd turned over the command to Pillow. He believed he would be punished by the North for his conduct while Secretary of War, and wanted to try to make his escape. Pillow feared being captured as well, so he turned over the command to Buckner. Buckner saw it as his duty to share the fate of his troops, so he accepted the command, and next morning opened negotiations to surrender.
The Hotel where the negotiations took place
Pillow escaped in a small boat during the night, and Floyd departed with two regiments the next morning on the only available boat. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, the cavalry commander, was very angry. He said he could not and would not surrender, and said, “I did not come here to surrender my command.” He was given permission to attempt to cut his way out. He was successful, Grant having not entirely occupied his former position. He wrote in his report,
I moved out by the road we had gone out the morning before. When about a mile out crossed a deep slough from the river, saddle-skirt deep, and filed into the road to Cumberland Iron Works. ... Over 500 cavalry ... passed, a company of artillery horses ... followed, and a number of men from different regiments, passing over hard-frozen ground. More than two hours had been occupied in passing. Not a gun had been fired at us. Not an enemy had been seen or heard. The enemy could not have reinvested their former position without traveling a considerable distance and camped upon the dead and dying, as there had been great slaughter upon that portion of the field, and I am clearly of the opinion that two-thirds of our army could have marched out without loss, and that, had we continued the fight the next day, we should have gained a glorious victory, as our troops were in fine spirits, believing we had whipped them, and the roads through which we came were open as late as 8 o’clock Sunday morning, as many of my men, who came out afterwards, report.
Forrest escaping Donelson
When Grant received Buckner's request for terms of surrender, Smith said, "I'll make no terms with Rebels with arms in their hands—my terms are unconditional and immediate surrender." Grant agreed, calling for "unconditional and immediate surrender." Buckner protested, but accepted none the less. Between 12,000 and 15,000 troops were captured with their supplies, along with almost 50 cannon.

Surrendered troops in Donelson
This had been a bloody battle for both sides. The North suffered 507 killed, 1,976 wounded and 208 missing, the South 327 killed and 1,127 wounded. This, along with the Battle of Fort Henry, was the first real victory the North had gained. Church bells were rung throughout the North, and Grant became a hero. He had captured more enemy troops than all previous American generals combined, and he was nicknamed "Unconditional Surrender" Grant because of his initials, U.S. The battle also opened the way for the invasion of the South, and took away thousands of troops that the Confederacy desperately needed to fight this invasion. This battle was lost primarily because of the incompetence and cowardice of the commanding generals, two of which fled to avoid sharing the fate of their men, life as a prisoner of war.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Battle of Fort Donelson – Breakout

Confederate attack of Grant's line
Even after their astonishing naval victory the previous day, the commanders at Fort Donelson were still pessimistic about their chances for success against Grant's army. They decided to retry the breakout attempt of the day before. General Pillow launched an early morning attack upon the right flank of the Union line. This flank was “in the air.” For a good defensive position, an army's flank must be anchored on a fixed position so that they can not be flanked. Their left was anchored on Hickman's Creek, but the right did not reach all the way to the Cumberland River. This gave the Confederates the opportunity to strike them on the side, where they would be much more vulnerable. The plan was for Pillow to strike the Union right and open sn escape hatch, and throw the Northerns back on their left. Buckner, who commanded the left half of the Confederate line, would strike them in the flank, and then abandon his position and fall back, while guarded by Pillow.

When the Confederates struck at 5:00 am, Grant was away from his camp. Not expecting to be attacked, he had left to meet on Foote's flagship. He had ordered that no attack be launched, and did not appoint anyone second in command during his absence. The Union troops were not completely surprised by the Confederate attack, as many of the soldiers were awake because of the harsh weather. They were shaken by the high-pitched, rebel yell, but were able to gather and put up a good defense. They “contested the field most stubbornly” in Pillow's words, and it took the Southern troops two hours before they began to make progress against the Union forces. Forrest's dismounted cavalry was instrumental in their flanking attacks. McClernand, the Union commander on the right, requested reinforcements, but the other officers were reluctant to give them because of Grant's orders against an attack. The Federals were beginning to run out of ammunition, but they had not yet broken into a rout.

The fight continued to be hotly contested, and finally by 12:00 the enemy were in the position at which Buckner was to attack them, but Buckner did not. Pillow got Buckner moving, but in the wasted time the Federals had been reinforced from their left. They formed a defensive line on a ridge, and successfully beat back three Confederate attacks. The Federal troops had been driven back two miles, and an escape hatch was opened. But for some reason Pillow and Floyd believed the enemy were being reinforced and decided to fall back to their trenches to reorganize instead of moving forward while they had the opportunity.

By this time Grant had arrived, having galloped seven miles from the gunboats when he received news of the attack. Realizing that an escape was being attempted, he said, “The one who attacks first now will be victorious. The enemy will have to be in a hurry if he gets ahead of me.” Grant moved his troops into the gap left when Floyd fell back, and ordered General C. F. Smith, the commander on the far left, “All has failed on our right – you must take Fort Donelson.”
Smith's two brigades moved out quickly, and reached the outlying Confederate positions before Buckner had reoccupied them. Buckner formed a new defensive line, and repelled two hours of Union attacks. However, the position had been compromised. Floyd had thrown away his opportunity to escape from Donelson, and in the meantime he had his right seized by the Northern troops. The escape hatch had been closed, and it was clear that unless something was done to stop them, in the morning the Federals would use their superior forces to capture Fort Donelson.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Battle of Fort Donelson – Bombardment

Early on the morning of February 14th, a council of war was held by the Confederate command. It was agreed that Fort Donelson was untenable, and that they must attempt to escape the fort. General Pillow was assigned to lead the breakout. As he was preparing to advance, one of his aides was killed by a sharpshooter. Pillow was very unnerved by this. Even though all the troops were gathered and ready to attack, he canceled the breakout because he believed that the Federals knew of the attempt.
Fort Donelson River Battery today
Later in the day the rest of the Union army and navy arrived. Grant convinced Foote to attack at once, even though he had not reconnoitered. Foote agreed, and putting his gunboats in line began to fire on the Confederate position. The Southerns held their fire until the gunboats arrived within 400 yards, and then opened on them. Unlike at Fort Henry where the defensive artillery had little effect, the plunging fire from Fort Donelson was very effective. Foote wounded was in the foot, and the St. Louis, his flagship floated helplessly downstream. The Louisville was disabled and the Pittsburg began to sink. Out of 500 rounds fired by the Confederates, 169 scored hits, a very high number. Eight sailors were killed and 44 wounded. The Confederates had no casualties.
Ironclads firing on Donelson
Foote and Grant had been deceived by the ease of their victory at Fort Henry. The fleet had been severally damaged, and it seemed impossible that they would be able to subdue the fort. But the Confederates were still surrounded by a strong army. If the fort would fall, it would through a siege from Grant's army.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fort Donelson Invested

After capturing Fort Henry on February 9, Grant and his superiors moved the army and fleet to attempt to capture Fort Donelson, a few miles away on the Cumberland River. Johnson, Confederate commander in the west, decided to reinforce Fort Donelson with 12,000 more men. He appointed Brigadier General Floyd to the command of the place. Floyd was the senior Confederate brigadier General. He was Secretary of War during secession, and it was believed in the North that he had attempted to help the South in the position, although that was probably not the case. Fort Donelson controled was a very important position, and if captured it would open up the Cumberland river to be used to ferry Union troops to invade deeper into the South.
Fort Donelson was located in a much better position than Fort Henry. It was 100 feet above the river, allowing for the guns to fire down on passing ships. On the land side there were three miles of trenches on a ridge, supported by artillery. The fort's garrison was 17,000 men to resist the Union force of 25,000. The Confederates had a force of cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest. He would show himself to be one of the greatest cavalry generals in the Civil War.
On February 12 Grant marched his troops the five miles from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson. The gunboats came up as well, and fired a few shells to test the defenses of the fort. Although Grant ordered there to be no attacks on the Southern trenches, his orders were disobeyed. Several attacks were ordered by subordinates, and were repulsed by the Confederates. On the night of February 13th it turned cold, and three inches of snow fell. The soldiers on both sides were miserable, being under enemy fire and not being able to light fires to warm themselves.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Battle of Roanoke Island – Day 2

After having landed the night before, Burnside's 10,000 Federal troops moved toward the Confederates forts on the morning of February 8th. They encountered the Confederate forces in position along a swampy part of the island. 400 troops held a redoubt with three cannons, with supposedly impenetrable swamps on either side. 1,000 more Confederates were behind them in reserve. For two hours the first Union brigade attempted to break the Confederate position, but all their efforts were useless. The larger Union force could not all be put into position in the restricted area.

When the second brigade arrived its commander suggested an attempt to be made to flank through the impenetrable swamps. This was done with two forces attempting to flank on both sides of the Confederate position. Although uncoordinated, they were both able to march through the swamp to strike the Confederates at the same time. As they appeared, the Union center attacked as well. Under this unexpected attack from three directions, the Confederates broke and ran.

With no further defensive positions and being greatly outnumbered by the Union troops, Colonel Shaw, the Confederate commander decided to surrender. The North had lost 37 killed, 214 wounded and 13 missing, the South 23 killed, 58 wounded and 62 missing. 2,500 men surrendered, along with 40 cannons from the fort. Several regiments of reinforcements had arrived after the battle, but soon enough to be surrendered. The capture of Roanoke Island gave the Federals a location from which to launch attacks on other locations in North Carolina. Colonel Shaw wrote this in his official report:
I cannot close this report without giving expression to the deep grief which I feel on account of the disaster which has befallen us, and at the same time expressing the earnest hope that the Great Being who holds the destinies of nations in the hollow of His hand will soon enable us to retrieve the losses we have sustained.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Battle of Roanoke Island

Burnside's expedition to attack Roanoke Island, North Carolina encountered rough weather on the way. To encourage his men, Burnside took up quarters in the worst ship in the fleet. Three vessels were wrecked and their crews rescued, but Burnside's boat arrived safely. Pamlico Sound was shallower than had been thought, and so significant time was spent either lightening the ship or offloading men and supplies to be transported by a smaller ship. The Confederates received no reinforcements to their 1,400 men as this large invasion force approached. The Confederate commander fell sick, and was unable to supervise the battle directly.

On February 7th, 150 years ago today, the Union fleet began a bombardment to feel out the Confederate positions, which were found to be very weak. The Confederates had a “Mosquito Fleet” of small gunboats, but they were no match for the Union vessels. Of the four Confederate forts, two were not in a position to fire only the Union fleet, and one other was rendered useless when a small Confederate gunboat was hit and ran aground, directly covering the guns of the fort. There were few casualties and little damage done, other than the one Confederate gunboat. Burnside landed 10,000 of his men through the afternoon and night. The 200 Southerners that had been posted at the landing area were driven off by fire from the ships. The Union troops were then in position to move against the Confederate forts by land the next day.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Battle of Fort Henry

Ironclads Attacking the Fort
One Hundred and Fifty years ago today Grant attacked the Confederate held Fort Henry. His 15,000 men and seven ships were much more powerful than the weak Confederate garrison in its badly positioned fort. Fort Henry was mostly flooded, with only nine guns remaining above water. Tilghman, the Confederate commander, realized there was no hope of holding the fort, so he pulled out all but a skeleton garrison.
USS Essex
The assault began on February 6th with Flag Officer Foote's seven gun boats sailing into position to attack the fort. The four new ironclads were positioned in front, followed by three wooden ships. This was the first engagement for the ironclads. Fort Henry's guns were at such low elevation that they were not able to effect any serious damage on the gunboats. Their balls hit the strongest parts of the iron plating. However one 32 pound shell did penetrate the Essex. It hit a boiler, which in steam-powered vessels contained hot steam to propel the ship. The boiler was the most vulnerable part of the ironclads because if it was hit it would not only limit its movement, but also would send scalding steam through the ship. That is exactly what happened on the Essex. It suffered thirty-two casualties, including its commander. Although this was a success for the Confederates, they were discouraged by the explosion of one of their cannons, which killed tree men. Another gun was hit by fire from the gunboats and its crew disabled. A third was rendered useless by its crew because while attempting to load it quickly, the priming wire was broken off.

After 75 minutes realizing the defence was hopeless, Tilghman surrendered the fort. Only two of the fort's cannon were in use, and General Tilghman had been manning one himself to attempt to encourage his men. The water was so high inside the fort that a small boat from the fleet sailed directly in through the salley port to accept the surrender. The Confederates suffered around 15 killed and 20 wounded, with almost 100 surrendering.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Battle Hymn of the Republic Published

150 years ago today the Battle Hymn of the Republic was published in The Atlantic Monthly. It was written by Julia Ward Howe, whose husband was Samuel Gridley Howe. He was a Boston doctor, Unitarian and an abolitionist. Samuel Howe was one of the Secret Six, who funded John Brown to go to Virginia to incite a slave rebellion at Harper's Ferry.
Julia Ward Howe
In November, 1861, Julia Howe met Abraham Lincoln at the White House. A popular song at the time was John Brown's Body, a marching song which glorified Brown and portrayed him as the forerunner of the Civil War. While the Howes were in Washington a friend suggested, "Why do you not write some good words for that stirring tune?" Howe did so, and wrote this of writing the song:
I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, 'I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.' So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.
The song was printed in The Atlantic Monthly 150 years ago today, and went on to become one of the most famous American songs, even to this day. In the words, the author's Unitarian and abolitionist beliefs shine forth clearly. Today it is viewed by many as a hymn, but although biblical words are used they are not used in a Biblical sense. The "coming of the Lord" is used to refer to the Northern armies attacking the South. She even likens Christ's death to the death of the Union soldiers. The lyrics printed where these:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fort Henry Invested

Plant of the fort
Grant, having embarked on February 2nd, arrived near Fort Henry and began disembarking his troops on February 4th and 5th. Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were constructed by the Tennessee state government in 1861.They did not occupy the best sites, because Kentucky had declared itself neutral and so the forts had to be built in Tennessee. They were also primarily designed to stop river traffic, not repell a land attack. Fort Henry was the weaker of the two. Although it had a good view of the river, it was built on swampy ground and was overlooked by nearby hills. Tilghman, the Confederate commander in the area, recorded this in the Official Records:
To understand properly the difficulties of my position it is right that I should explain fully the unfortunate location of Fort Henry.... The entire fort, together with the intrenched camp spoken of, is enfiladed from three or four points on the opposite shore, while three points on the eastern bank completely command them both, all at easy cannon range. ... The history of military engineering records no parallel to this case. Points within a few miles of it, possessing great advantages and few disadvantages, were totally neglected, and a location fixed upon without one redeeming feature.
By the time of Grant's arrival the Confederates had 17 cannosn and over 3,000 men to defend the Fort against Grant's 15,000 men and powerful ironclads. At the time of the Federal attack the water was very high, and because of the swampy ground of the fort, eight of the guns were already under water. Tilghman realized the fort would fall, and pulled out any unnecessary troops and sent them to Fort Donelson.

On February 4th the Union gunboats approached and opened a preliminary bombardment prior to their main attack.
Gunboats approaching the fort

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Grant Leaves for Fort Henry

In early 1862, the Confederate position through Kentucky and beyond centered on two forts, Forts Henry and Donelson. They were a few miles apart just over the border in Tennesse and were to defend the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. If the Northern forces held these positions, they could use the rivers to invade deep into Confederate territory. The Southern commander of these important positions was Brigader General Tilghman, who had 4,000 men.

The Union command was disorganized, with Buell over the Department of the Ohio and Halleck over the Department of Missouri vying for the attention of their superiors. General Ulysses S. Grant, Halleck's subordinate, proposed a plan to capture Fort Henry. Halleck approved it, since it would be in accordance with Lincoln's order a few days before, and he hoped it would gain him the aprobation of Lincoln.

Just three days after having his plan approved, Grant departed from Cairo, Illinois. His 15,000 – 17,000 men embarked on ships, which would take them within a few miles of the Fort. He was accompained by Flag Officer Andrew Foote with four new ironclads and three wooden gunboats.