Thursday, May 30, 2013

Army of Northern Virginia Reorganized

With the death of Stonewall Jackson earlier this month, his place as commander of the Second Corps remained vacant. It was occupied temporarily by J.E.B. Stuart, and although he had done a fine job in the Battle of Chancellorsville, Lee needed him as a cavalry officer. He had two leading contenders to take Jackson's place.

The first was Richard S. Ewell. In many ways he was a natural choice, as he had served as Jackson's right hand in his famous Shenandoah Valley campaign. He had been absent from the army for months from a wound incurred in the Second Battle of Manassas.

The other was A. P. Hill, commander of what he called the Light Division. He was a very competent division commander, and was instrumental in some of Lee's great victories. His fault was that he was very quarrelsome. He had been in Longstreet's first corps until he quarreled with his commander. He was transferred to Jackson's second, but argued with him as well.

In the end, Lee decided to chose both of these men. He would reorganize the army into three corps. This would allow him to promote both men, and give the army more flexibility. Ewell would have the second corps, and one of his four divisions was given to Hill's new third corps. Hill also received one of Longstreet's divisions, and a new division of reinforcements. The army was composed of three corps of three divisions each, along with another division of cavalry.

This reorganization was a dangerous thing to do just before a major campaign – the invasion of the North. Ewell and Hill had fought well as division commanders, but no one knew how they would perform when advanced to the next level of command. But Jackson was no longer available, so it was a risk that had to be taken.

Monday, May 27, 2013

USS Cincinnati Sunk

USS Cincinnati
In the siege of Vicksburg, the Union ironclads were used for their artillery – to bombard the Confederate positions. But that use would not come without a cost. The batteries on the bluff at Vicksburg were still very powerful, and they fired back at the Federal gunboats. 150 years ago their shots found a mark. The USS Cincinnati was sent down to destroy a two gun battery that had been annoying the Union infantry. She had been sunk and raise once before, a casualty of the bombardment of Fort Pillow on May 10, 1862. Now, just over a year later, she would be sunk again. As the Cincinnati moved toward the two guns, they were falling into a trap. There was another Confederate battery on the brush. The Federals could no longer see it, so they assumed that it had been moved. But the rebels had just hidden the guns in the brush. They had also cracked the Union signal code, so they were waiting for the Cincinnati. The Harper's Weekly printed this description of the battle:
She went gallantly into action, rounded the point, and blazed away at the rebel batteries, but the latter were not idle, and all the guns that could be brought to bear—rifled and smooth bore — opened on her. Her tiller ropes were shot away, and she got some heavy shot into her sides. The pilot was killed at the wheel, and her commander took his place. All the men at the wheel were wounded, but Lieut. Bache escaped unharmed.

She started up the river, as she made a great deal of water, rounded again the point of the peninsula opposite Vicksburg, and was struck by a plunging 10-inch smooth-bore or 7-inch rifled shot; she then commenced to sink, and her captain ran her inshore, where she sank to her hammock netting. The officers and crew saved nothing.
When the Cincinnati took a direct hit and her steering was knocked out, her captain knew she was doomed. He was able to drive the ship onto the bank, where she was tied to allow for an easy evacuation. But before the men could be got on shore the ropes came loose and the Cincinnati was pushed out into the river again. She sank in 13 feet of water. Those who could swim jumped over and headed for shore, but many were trapped on board the ship. Four of the crew, Landsman Thomas E. Corcoran, Boatswain's Mate Henry Dow, Seaman Thomas Jenkins, and Seaman Martin McHugh, began helping their fellow crew members escape. They helped them swim to shore. For those badly wounded from the Confederate fire, they returned to the sinking ironclad and repaired a small boat, and loaded the casualties on board. These four swimmers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their conduct. The ship suffered 40 casualties in this disaster. She would later be raised in August, 1863 and return to service

Attack on Port Hudson

After surrounding the town five days before, the Union troops would assault Port Hudson on May 27, 150 years ago today. Heavy siege guns had been planed in position opposite the Confederate lines, and they opened at dawn on the day of the attack. The Confederate gunners responded, trying to disable the Union cannon. Sharpshooters joined in the fray on both sides.

As the day progressed, the infantry attack on the rebel left went forward, but the troops destined for the center and right failed to move. This assault was a disaster. The troops had to move through deep ravines and swamped, filled with thick underbrush. As the Union troops started to move up the bluff on which the Confederate rifle pits were dug, they were driven back by a heavy fire from the defenders. Some Federals ran to the rear, others found any shelter they could and clung to the ground they had won, thinking it was safer to stay than to try to make their way back to the Confederate lines.

Elsewhere on the line, Thomas Sherman finally began his assault began at 2 pm, hours late. He personally led his men forward across the open field that led to the Confederate positions. The well placed Confederate entrenchments and hidden guns opened on the Federals with a heavy fire. Sherman himself had his horse shot from under him, and then his leg was hit by a Confederate ball. The attacking regiments broke and ran, harried by canister from the concentrated southern artillery.

Well placed Confederate defenses, good use of reinforcements, and disorganization in the Union attacks had given them a clear victory. After this failed assault of Port Hudson the siege fell into trench warfare.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mine Exploded at Vicksburg

Siege lines at Vicksburg
The Federals were not content with simply bombarding and waiting for the Confederates to surrender Vicksburg. They had been digging nine zig zag approaches to get close enough so that, with a final charge, they could get over the Confederate lines with little loss of life. They also began digging mines to try to blow up the fortifications. One was detonated 150 years ago today under the redan occupied by the 3rd Louisiana.
To dig the mine, six men would work for an hour, digging out the dirt and handing it back in bags to be taken out of the tunnel, and after working for an hour they were replaced with others to continue the work. The defenders heard the work of the diggers underground and began digging a counter mine to intercept them. They got so close that inside the mines each could hear the commands given to the other. However, they did not reach the mine in time. The mine was exploded at 2 pm on May 25th. 2,200 pounds of gunpowder blew apart the Confederate fortifications, creating a crater 40 foot wide and 12 foot deep. One Confederate soldier wrote:
A huge mass of earth suddenly, and with tremendous force and a terrific explosion, flew upwards, descending with might power upon the gallant defenders, burying numbers beneath its falling fragments, bruising and mangling them most horribly. It seemed as if all hell had suddenly yawned upon the devoted band, and vomited forth its sulphurous fire and smoke upon them.

The mine exploding
About a hundred men were killed or injured from the explosion alone. The Federals immediately opened fire on the crater and sent in infantry to attack. A Union officer wrote:
But little difficulty was experienced in entering the crater, but the moment the assaulting forces attempted to mount the artificial parapet, which had been formed by the falling debris about midway across the fort, completely commanded by the Confederate artillery and infantry in the rear, they were met by a withering fire so severe that to show a head above the crest was certain death. Two lines were formed on the slope of this parapet, the front line raising their muskets over their heads and firing at random over the crest while the rear rank was engaged in reloading. But soon the Confederates began throwing short-fused shells over the parapet, which, rolling down into the crater crowded with the soldiers of the assaulting column, caused the most fearful destruction of life ever witnessed under like circumstances. The groans of the dying and shrieks of the wounded became fearful, but bravely they stood to their work until the engineers constructed a casemate out of the heavy timbers found in the crater, and upon which the earth was thrown until it was of sufficient depth to resist the destructive effects of the exploding shells.
The Federals did not give up after this failed assault. They dug another mine and exploded it a few days later, destroying the fort even more. However, by the time preparations were completed for the assault, the siege of Vicksburg was over.

Fighting in the crater

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another Attack on Vicksburg

Although the May 19th Union assault on the Vicksburg defenses had been a complete failure, that didn't stop them from trying it again. Another attack was launched on May 22nd, 150 years ago today. It was preceded by an artillery bombardment from the entire Union line, and the gunboats in the river. At 10:00 am Federal troops advanced everywhere at once. Sherman wrote:
A small party, that might be called a forlorn hope, provided with a plank to cross the ditch, advanced at a run, up to the very ditch the lines of infantry sprang from cover, and advanced rapidly in line of battle. ... The rebel line, concealed by the parapet, showed no sign of unusual activity, but as our troops came into fair view, the enemy rose behind their parapet and poured a furious fire upon our lines; and, for about two hours, we had a severe and bloody battle, but at every point we were repulsed.
As the bloody fighting continued, McClernand reported to Grant that he had secured a foothold on the Confederate line. To help him, Grant ordered the attacks to be renewed, loosing many men and gaining no more ground. McClernand's message had been misleading. He had only gained a new outlying works, not a portion of the main line. The attack was finally called off. The Union had lost 500 men killed, 2,550 wounded and 150 missing, and had gained nothing for these heavy casualties. It was evident that Vicksburg would not be captured with frontal attacks on the strong entrenchments. Other tactics would be necessary. Grant was not discouraged by the reverses. He wrote to Halleck:
Vicksburg is now completely invested. I have possession of Haynes' Bluff and the Yazoo; consequently have supplies. To-day an attempt was made to carry the city by assault, but was not entirely successful. We hold possession, however, of two of the enemy's forts, and have skirmishers close under all of them. Our loss was not severe. The nature of the ground about Vicksburg is such that it can only be taken by a siege. It is entirely safe to us in time, I would say one week, if the enemy do not send a large army upon my rear. With the railroad destroyed to beyond Pearl River, I do not see the hope that the enemy can entertain of such relief.

Confederate siege gun

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Port Hudson Surrounded

The advance on Port Hudson
The only point that the Confederates held on the Mississippi River other than Vicksburg, on which Grant was closing, was Port Hudson to the south. But 150 years ago this other bastion was surrounded. The Union army under Nathaniel Banks had moved inland from the river, and now cut off Port Hudson from the rear. He thought he could quickly subdue the garrison under Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner, and then more north to help Grant capture Vicksburg. As the Yankees advanced they met opposition from a small Confederate detachment under Colonel W. R. Miles. In what was called the Battle of Plains Store, the outnumbered reels gave a good account of themselves. They brought the Federals to a halt, and engaged them for six hours. Finally outnumbered and running out of ammunition, Miles fell back to the Confederate lines. Many of their artillery horses had been killed, so they pulled the guns off by hand, refusing to let them be captured. Port Hudson would put up a better resistance than Banks expected.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sherman Attacks Vicksburg

When Grant arrived at Vicksburg, he did not delay in making preparations for an attack. He hoped to crush through the strong defenses while the Confederates were discouraged from their defeats of the past few days. He positioned Sherman on the right, McPherson in the middle and McClernand on the left. Grant decided to assault the Stockade Redan on May 19th, 150 years ago today.

Map of the May 19 attacks
At 2:00 pm the Union troops formed up in three lines with flags flying, and advanced against the Confederate fortifications. At first it appeared that the Confederate fortifications were deserted. But then as they pushed on the defenders stood up opened a terrific fire upon them. As Sherman said, "The heads of the columns have been swept away as chaff thrown from the hand on a windy day." One Union captain said that "the very sticks and chips, scattered over the ground jumping under the hot shower of Rebel bullets."

The assault on Vicksburg
The bluecoats pressed through the incredibly heavy fire. Two flagbearers made it to the wall, and planted the ensigns on the top, but their regiments were unable to follow. They were driven back, but came on again and again. In the three attacks, they were never able to make it over the walls. Some Federals were not even able to retreat. They lay hidden at the bottom of the parapet until night, when they were able to return to their lines. Sherman lost almost 1000 men, while the Confederates suffered less than 200. Pemberton was encouraged by the showing his men had made in driving back the Federals. They had redeemed themselves from their disgraces in the rest of the campaign, and the Confederate prospects for the siege seemed much improved.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Vicksburg Surrounded

Siege of Vicksburg
After defeating the Confederate army yet again in the Battle of Big Black River Bridge, the Federal forces continued their pursuit. Pemberton had received orders from Johnston to abandon Vicksburg and save his army. He had written:
If Haines Bluff is untenable, Vicksburg is of no value and cannot be held. If, therefore, you are invested at Vicksburg, you must ultimately surrender. Under such circumstances, instead of losing both troops and place, we must, if possible, save the troops. If it is not too late, evacuate Vicksburg and its dependencies, and march them to the northeast.
That was something Pemberton would not agree to do. President Jefferson Davis had said the city would be held to the last ditch, and that's what Pemberton would do. He fell back to the city, and the Union forces moved in to surround him, 150 years ago today. The siege of Vicksburg had begun. The Confederates had 18,500 troops in the town's nearly impregnable 6 ½ miles of defenses, Grant had 35,000 with more coming, and the support of the navy. Grant had finally succeeded in crossing the river, and maneuvering to position himself in front of the city. Now he just had to capture it, but that would prove to take many more weeks.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Battle of Big Black River Bridge

Big black river. Photo from NPS.
Having been beaten by Grant at Champion's Hill, Pemberton fell back to the bridge over the Big Black River. Grant came up on May 17th, 150 years ago today, and found the position even stronger than Champion's Hill. Three brigades held fortifications in front of the river to impede the Union advance. McClernand's corps advanced toward the Confederate position, and took shelter from their artillery fire. The position appeared to strong to be captured, but that didn't stop one Union brigadier from trying. An eyewitness wrote:
Col. Mike Lawler commanding the brigade on our right, with its right flank resting on the river, made one of his characteristic dashes across a small cotton field, plunged into the bayou in the line of battle where the mud ranged in depth from the men's knees to their armpits, scrambled through and out of it, stormed the rebel rifle pits and swarmed over their cotton-bale breastworks with irresistible impetuosity. Lawler's men suffered severely from the musketry fire on their advance, and from the rebel batteries on the opposite shore of the river covering the position, but nothing could check them for an instant. It was at the same time the most perilous and ludicrous charge that I witnessed during the war.
 The Confederates were defeated, and hurried to try to cross the river before the Federals were upon them. An entire brigade captured, but the rest of the army was able to cross, and burn the bridges behind them, preventing a fast Union pursuit. The Southerners had lost 1,751, to the Union's 276.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Battle of Champion Hill

Map of the Vicksburg campaign
After abandoning Jackson, Mississippi to the advancing Federals, Joseph E. Johnston's plan was to unite with Pemberton, and force Grant to attack them. But Grant did not stick around Jackson long enough for Johnston to march to Vicksburg. Johnston ordered Pemberton to march to join him. But Pemberton choose to march east to attempt to capture Grant's supplies. When Johnston repeated his order, Pemberton turned around and began marching the other way. But before he could get out, Grant was upon him.

Pemberton was caught at Champion's Hill on May 16th, 150 years ago today. Fighting broke out at 7 am. The Confederates held a strong position, and Pemberton arrayed his men and artillery along the top of a hill. On the Union left and center, McClernand engaged in skirmishing, waiting for the situation to develop. Grant sent Hovey's division from McPherson in on the right to attack the rebels. One soldier remembered:
The fire grew heavier, and the air seemed too hot to be borne. "Forward!" came a second order, all along the line—" Forward! double quick!" Everybody shouted "double quick," as the noise was becoming terrific. ... A moment more and we were at the top of the ascent, and among thinner wood and larger trees. The enemy had fallen back a few rods, forming a solid line parallel with our own; and now commenced, in good earnest, the fighting of the day. For half an hour we poured the hot lead into each others' faces. We had forty rounds each in our cartridge-boxes, and, probably, nine tenths of them were fired in that half hour. For me it was the first real "stand up and fight," as the boys called it, of my life. Of skirmishes, I had seen many, and had been under fire; but this was a real battle, and what Grant himself might have called "business." I tried to keep cool, and determined to fire no shot without taking aim; but a slight wound in the hand ended my coolness, and the smoke of the battle soon made aim-taking mere guessing. ... Hotter and hotter grew the fight, and soon this same boy cried: "Look—look behind us," and, sure enough, the regiment to our left had disappeared, and we were flanked. 
"Stop! halt! surrender!" cried a hundred rebels, whose voices seem to ring in my ears to this very day. But there was no stopping, and no surrender. We ran, and ran manfully. It was terribly hot, a hot afternoon under a Mississippi sun, and an enemy on flank and rear, shouting and firing. The grass, the stones, the bushes, seemed melting under the shower of bullets that was following us to the rear. We tried to halt, and tried to form. It was no use. Again we ran, and harder, and farther, and faster. ... Like ten thousand starving and howling wolves the enemy pursued, closer and closer, and we scarcely dared look back to face the fate that seemed certain. Grant had seen it all, and in less time than I can tell it a line of cannon had been thrown across our path, which, as soon as we had passed, belched grape-shot and canister into the faces of our pursuers. They stopped, they turned, and they, too, ran, and left their dead side by side with our own.
A modern picture at the same location as the above sketch. Source.
 The fighting on the right continued in this fashion, with one line driving the other back and forth. A Federal officer out to reconnoiter discovered that Pemberton's left flank was in the air. But the information was not communicated to Grant, so no action was taken. If he had moved on the flank he could have got in Pemberton's rear and completely destroyed the Confederate army. Grant missing that opportunity didn't assure Confederates safety. Pemberton was reinforcing his left from his right, which was lightly attacked, but when he ordered Loring, who had caused Stonewall Jackson trouble in the Shenandoah Valley, to move to reinforce the left, he refused. Without Loring's troops to aid them, when Grant attacked again, the line crumbled. Pemberton ordered his army to fall back, which they were able to do successfully. It had been a costly battle. The Confederates had lost 381 killed, 1,018 wounded and 2,441 captured. The Federals 410 killed, 1,844 wounded and 187 captured. This was a very important battle. If Pemberton had won, Vicksburg would have been saved. The battle was lost through the failure of Loring to obey orders. The Federals were not without their problems as well. McClernand had not done his share of the fighting and he had not suffered nearly the causalities as McPherson.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lee Proposes Invasion of North

Lee had won a glorious victory in the Battle of Chancellorsville, but he had been unable to completely destroy the Union army. The war was not progressing well for the south in other theaters and Grant was making progress towards the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi. It seemed that unless something was done, the city was doomed. Lee also believed that even only considering Virginia, he would eventually have to go on the offensive again, or the fighting would turn into a siege which the Confederacy would not be able to maintain.

This left the Confederacy with two options. Lee could fall back to the defenses around Richmond and send a large portion of his army to try to help Vicksburg, or he could embark on another invasion of the North. He chose the latter, and went to Richmond 150 years ago today for a multi-day conference with high ranking Confederates.
Jefferson Davis
It was hoped that an invasion would accomplish a few purposes. First, it would demoralize the northern populace, and it might convince the government in Washington to pull troops from Vicksburg to meet Lee's threat. Second, the food supply in Virginia was diminishing, and it was getting harder and harder to find supplies in the places through which the armies and marched and counter marched. Moving north he could live off the enemy's country. And third, always in the back of Lee's mind was the thought that if he gained a great victory on the Union's own ground, he might finally be able to follow up on his victory, capture Washington, and perhaps even end the war. Lee believed continued defeats would mean that Lincoln would loose the election next November, and if Lincoln lost the election doubtless the war would end. He wrote to his wife:
If we can baffle them in their various designs this year, next fall there will be a great change in public opinion at the North. The Republicans will be destroyed & I think the friends of peace will become so strong as that the next administration will go in on that basis. We have only therefore to resist manfully ... [and] our success will be certain.
It was for all these reasons that Lee decided, with the agreement of the government in Richmond, to attempt another invasion of the north.

Battle of Jackson

On May 13th Joseph E. Johnston, the new overall commander for the Confederates in Mississippi, had ordered that Jackson be abandoned as Grant's troops were advancing. But the evacuation took time, and 150 years ago the 6,000 infantry under John Gregg were still guarding the town. Two Union corps advanced toward him, but they were held up by rainy weather. By 11 am serious fighting began and the Federals brought their superior numbers to bear, and Gregg's troops fell back slowly. Finally in the afternoon Johnston sent word that the evacuation was complete, and Gregg disengaged and fell back. In the day's fighting Gregg had lost about 850 men, the Federals – 286.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Battle of Raymond

Vicksburg campaign
Grant's orders were, after crossing the Mississippi River, to march south to join Banks and capture Port Hudson, before moving on Vicksburg. But he decided to attack Vicksburg first. Although the Federal armies would be smaller, if they united Banks out ranked him and would receive all of the glory if they were victorious. Although he was sure Halleck would veto his plan, Grant's message informing him of the change would not reach him until Grant had already moved and it was too late to do anything about it.

One of the major problems for Grant was supplies. He wanted to move quickly on Vicksburg before it was reinforced. He wrote to Sherman who was moving to join him:
It is unnecessary for me to remind you of the overwhelming importance of celerity in your movements. The enemy is badly beaten, greatly demoralized, and exhausted of ammunition. The road to Vicksburg is open. All we want now are men, ammunition, and hard bread. We can subsist our horses on the country, and obtain considerable supplies for our troops.
The situation was not as good for the Federals as Grant thought. The Confederates would not give up Vicksburg without a hard fight. Reinforcements were on the way to reinforce Pemberton, and he pulled his men back north to limit the territory they would have to defend. This would lengthen Grant's supply line even farther, making it harder and harder to keep his men fed. However, Pemberton miscalculated. Like Scott had done in the Mexican American War, Grant would not depend on his supply line. Through carefully managed logistics, he would bring up a few necessary supplies and for the rest would live off the country and what he could carry in wagons. He would capture Jackson, Mississippi first, and destroy it as a railroad hub, at which point he could turn on Vicksburg without having to worry about an army in his rear. McClernand would move up the Big Black River between Jackson and Vicksburg, while McPherson moved directly on Jackson, leaving Sherman in reserve.

McPherson encountered the Southern troops around Raymond on May 12th. They were 4000 Confederate troops under John Gregg. McPherson alone had three times this number. Gregg planned to attack what he originally thought was only a raiding party by ambushing and surrounding them after they crossed Fourteen mile creek. The first division McPherson sent forward was disorganized by the terrain. The creek was very shallow, but it was in a deep gorge and the area was covered with vines and thorns. When the Confederates charged with their terrible rebel yell, the Federals retreated, but they rallied and engaged in a hot fight with the Confederates at very close range. When the regiments Gregg had sent to get in the Yankee's rear were in position, they found the plan was impractical because they were fighting an entire corp, instead of the raiding party they expected. The Confederates would not be able to hold their position for long, and a retreat was ordered. Half of a regiment fought as a rear guard against the Union division, allowing many Confederates to escape from the disorganized battle. The Confederates fell into disorder before the large number of Federal troops, but Gregg threw in his reserves and rallied his fleeing men. He was able to delay McPherson long enough for his outnumbered and battered men to be able to retreat safely.

John McPherson

Friday, May 10, 2013

Stonewall Jackson Dies

After being shot in front of his lines on May 2nd, Jackson was taken to a field hospital. There his staff doctor, Hunter McGuire, amputated his left arm. The arm had been hit twice, and with the medical technology of the day amputation was the best option. Lee was distressed to hear of his wound, writing, “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead. I congratulate you upon the victory which is due to your skill and energy." “General Lee is very kind,” Jackson said, “but he should give the praise to God.”

He was taken out of harm's way on the battlefield and moved 28 miles to the south, to Fairview Plantation. His wife, Mary Anna was called along with his young daughter Julia. They had left him just nine days before, and now returned under very different circumstances. At first it seemed that Jackson would recover, but on May 7th he took a turn for the worse. Doctors speculated that he had caught pneumonia while weakened from the wounds. 150 years ago today, Jackson's wife told him that he would not recover. He replied, "It will be infinite gain to be translated to Heaven. ... It is the Lord's Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday."

The building where Jackson died
As he grew closer to death, his mind wandered off to the field of battle, and like many old soldiers he believed himself again in command and shouted out orders to his generals. Dr McGuire wrote this of his last moments:
A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, "Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks," then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he cried quietly and with an expression as if of relief, "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees"; and then, without pain or the least struggle, his spirit passed from earth to the God who gave it.
At 3:15 pm, Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson passed from the earth. With his death, people all over the South went into mourning. Some believe that it was this was the turning point of the war, and that without Stonewall the South no longer had a good chance of victory. The Stonewall Brigade, Jackson's old command, requested permission to escort the general's body to Richmond. But Lee was forced to refuse, as the army was in danger of being again attacked. In Richmond, 20,000 people viewed his body.

Lee visits Jackson's grave after the war

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Earl Van Dorn is Killed

Van Dorn

Earl Van Dorn was one of the leading Confederate commanders in the West. He had been defeated as an army commander at the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, but had redeemed some of his reputation as a cavalry commander. But 150 years ago today his career would come to an end. Van Dorn had a reputation as a womanizer, and he once said, "I hate all men, and were it not for the women, I should not fight at all." Dr. James Bodie Peters thought that reputation was not unfounded, because he believed his wife had an affair with Van Dorn. It was on this day that Peters decided that Van Dorn must die. Riding to the general's headquarters at Ferguson Hall, he had no difficult obtaining entrance as he was known to the staff. Walking up to Van Dorn, who was writing at his desk, he shot him through the head. He was able to escape the scene, but was later arrested by Confederate authorities. He was never charged for the murder.

The site of Van Dorn's death

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Clement Vallandigham Arrested

The north was not completely unified behind Abraham Lincoln and his conduct of the war. There was a significant movement for peace in the North. They were called Copperheads by their enemies as a reference to the snake, but they adopted the name, and wore the heads of Liberty cut out of copper pennies. The recognized leader of the Copperheads was Clement Vallandigham of Ohio, a U.S. Representative who had lost his seat in 1862 due to gerrymandering. He was a support of state's rights, saying the states had a right to secede and the federal government had no power under the constitution to regulate slavery. He said this in Congress on January 14th, 1863:
Soon after the war began the reign of the mob was... supplanted by the iron domination of arbitrary power. Constitutional limitation was broken down; habeas corpus fell; liberty of the press, of speech, of the person, of the mails, of travel, of one’s own house, and of religion; the right to bear arms, due process of law, judicial trial, trial by jury, trial at all ... Whatever pleases the President, that is law! Prisoners of state were then first heard of here. Midnight and arbitrary arrests commenced; travel was interdicted; trade embargoed; passports demanded; bastiles were introduced; strange oaths invented; a secret police organized; "piping" began; informers multiplied; spies now first appeared in America. The right to declare war, to raise and support armies, and to provide and maintain a navy, was usurped by the Executive.... I have denounced, from the beginning, the usurpations and the infractions, one and all, of law and Constitution, by the President and those under him; their repeated and persistent arbitrary arrests, the suspension of habeas corpus, the violation of freedom of the mails, of the private house, of the press and of speech, and all the other multiplied wrongs and outrages upon public liberty and private right, which have made this country one of the worst despotisms on earth for the past twenty months; and I will continue to rebuke and denounce them to the end.... 
And now, sir, I recur to the state of the Union to-day. What is it? Sir, twenty months have elapsed, but the rebellion is not crushed out; its military power has not been broken; the insurgents have not dispersed. The Union is not restored; nor the Constitution maintained; nor the laws enforced. Twenty, sixty, ninety, three hundred, six hundred days have passed; a thousand millions been expended; and three hundred thousand lives lost or bodies mangled; and to-day the Confederate flag is still near the Potomac and the Ohio, and the Confederate Government stronger, many times, than at the beginning.... You have not conquered the South. You never will. It is not in the nature of things possible; much less under your auspices. But money you have expended without limit, and blood poured out like water. Defeat, debt, taxation, sepulchers, these are your trophies.... The war for the Union is, in your hands, a most bloody and costly failure. The President confessed it on the 22d of September.... War for the Union was abandoned; war for the negro openly begun, and with stronger battalions than before. With what success? Let the dead at Fredericksburg and Vicksburg answer....
His arrest
The government could not let Vallandigham remain free to express his opinion. 150 years ago today he was arrested for violating Burnside's General Order Number 38. The charges against him were that he criticized the war, and said that the government was despotic and was violating the people's rights. Vallandingham was denied the writ of habeas corpus, and tried by a military tribunal, which caused many to say that his civil rights were violated. He was convicted and sentenced to prison for two years for attempting to hinder the war effort. Lincoln upheld the conviction, but changed it to banishment to the Confederacy. He went there against his will, and traveled to Canada. From there he ran for Governor of Ohio. He was nominated by the Democrats but lost the election in a landslide. Nonetheless he remained an active part of the Democratic party.

Politicians including Vallandigham

Hooker Retreats from Chancellorsville

See all posts about the Battle of Chancellorsville.

End of the Chancellorsville campaign
With Sedgwick back across the river, Lee got his section of the army moving to try to resume the offensive on Hooker's main body. The night before Hooker had called a meeting of his corps commanders to consider what should be done. He stated the situation and his responsibility to guard Washington, DC. It was obvious to everyone that Hooker favored a retreat. Nevertheless  he left the generals along to discuss the situation among themselves. After a time they voted, with Meade, Reynolds and Howard for a resumption of the attack, and Sickles and Couch against it. Even though a majority of his subordinates disagreed with him, Hooker declared that he would order a retreat across the river. John Reynolds complained "What was the use of calling us together at this time of night when he intended to retreat anyhow?" The next day Hooker crossed the river, followed by his army. By the next morning the retreat had been complete. Lee had been poised to attack Federals, who were in strong entrenchments. It may have turned the campaign around, but Hooker didn't want to take the risk.

Lee had been victorious. Although the ultimate victory had slipped from his grasp, he had, when surrounded by two forces twice his numbers, converged on one, switched corps commanders in the middle of the fighting, pushed Hooker against the river, drove back Sedgwick, and finally convinced Hooker to retreat as well. This victory was gained not only through the brilliance of the Confederate army, but the many mistakes of the Federals. The man who made the most mistakes was Joe Hooker. During the beginning of the campaign he had advanced and talked boldly, but then he faltered. He would not press the advance, instead retreating until he was eventually across the river. Some blamed it on drunkenness, or from withdrawal from alcohol, others on an injury from his close call with a shell. Publicly he blamed the defeat on anyone he could, but privately he acknowledged the source of the defeat, saying according to one source, "It was not hurt by a shell, and I was not drunk. For once I lost confidence in Joe Hooker, and that is all there is to it."

Confederate dead from 2nd Fredericksburg
In the battle of Chancellorsville the North lost 1,606 killed, 9,672 wounded and 5,919 missing. The Confederates 1,665 killed, 9,081 wounded and 2,018 missing. The fighting had been very heavy. On May 3 alone over 20,000 men had been lost. It was the bloodiest day of the Civil War second only to Antietam.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Battle of Salem Church

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Battle of Salem Church
In the battles of the last three days, Lee had beaten back Hooker, but he was still in a dangerous position. Sedgwick on his flank, advancing from Fredericksburg. 150 years ago today he would adopt another daring plan. While Stuart kept Hooker's men contained with Jackson's old Second Corps, Lee, with the contingent of the First Corps present, would deal with Sedgwick. Confederate General Jubal Early was able to reoccupy Marye's Heights at 7:00 am. Sedgwick was forced back into a horseshoe position with both flanks on the river, very much like Hooker's position to the west. He had received no aid or orders from Hooker, other than an authorization to fall back across the river if he thought it necessary.

Union troops in a tench at Fredericksburg
Lee pushed Sedgwick throughout the day, but the attacks were disorganized, and were unsuccessful in breaking the Union line. Fighting raged around Salem Church. Many bullets struck the church, and their marks can still be seen to this day. Lee ordered a night attack be made, but it was morning before they were able to reach the Union lines. They found Sedgwick's trenches empty. With Hooker's permission he had retreated across Bank's Ford during the night.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Streight Surrenders his Mule Cavalry to Forrest

Col. Abel Streight
As Grant was preparing to cross the Mississippi River, he arranged for several feints to try to distract the Confederates from his beachhead. One of these was a raid by Abel Streight and his “Mule Cavalry.” Streight was from Indianapolis, and was a printer before the war. He rose to the rank of Colonel, but had seen no combat. He did, however, serve as part of a unit in Union-held Alabama. There he met the Union sympathizers of the area, but this contact caused him to overestimate the number of men in Alabama who supported the Union.

He proposed a plan to his commanding officer to take a mounted brigade into Alabama and strike the Western & Atlantic Railroad, an important Confederate supply line. The scheme was approved, and he was assigned 1,700 soldiers from two cavalry and four infantry regiments. But the problem was that the army didn't have enough horses to mount these troops. Instead, they were assigned mules from Tennessee farms as their mounts. Much amusement was had at the would-be cavalry's expense as they attempted to train these mounts. It didn't bode well for Streight's raid.
Streight's raid
The expedition began on April 19, 1863. Notwithstanding a temporarily shielding by 8,000 real Union cavalry, soon Nathan Bedford Forrest was on his track with the gray troopers. On April 30 he caught up with him at the Battle of Day's Gap. Forrest tried to surround him, but he was repulsed by Federal charges. Although they had a temporarily reprieve, Streight's men were doomed. Their mules couldn't keep ahead of the Confederate horses, and their position was betrayed by loud braying.

Streight burned the bridge across Black Creek after he crossed. He hoped he could make it to Rome, Georgia, ahead of Forrest, and turn and face in in the town's entrenchments. But a Confederate girl, Emma Sanson, directed Forrest to a ford across Black Creek that allowed him to continue the pursuit, and a local ferry operator made it to Rome before the Union. The citizens came out of the town and beat back the Federal advance.

Nathan Bedford Forrest
His 1,400 exhausted men were soon surrounded by Forrest, who actually had only 400 men. But Forrest paraded his men over and over again before Streight during negotiations, convincing him to surrender. When he discovered the trick Forrest had played on him, he tried to change his mind, but Forrest would have none of it. Many of the Union prisoners, including Streight, were sent to Libby Prison in Richmond. But after a year he was able to escape along with 107 others, in one of the most dramatic prison stories of the entire Civil War.

Videos courtesy of Cullman County Museum and Kelton Design.

Battle of Chancellorsville – Day 3

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Wounded Union soldiers

Although Howard's XI Corps of the Union army had been destroyed on May 2, Hooker still had many more men than Lee for the fighting the next day. He also had the better position, with Sickles holding the high ground at Hazel Grove that separated Stuart and Lee. From there his line curved back like a horseshoe, with each side anchored on a river, the right on the Rapidan and the left on the Rappohannock. There would be no more flanking today.

But Hooker did not recognize the importance of the position he held. He ordered Sickles to abandon Hazel Grove and fall back to the Plank Road. Sickles protested, but Hooker believed that it had to be done to simply the defense. Once Sickles fell back, the Confederates occupied Hazel Grove. It proved not only an opportunity to reunite the Confederate army, but also the key to the entire battlefield. Confederate artillery commander Col. E. Porter Alexander had spotted the site during the night and was ready to occupy it as soon as Sickles fell back. Over the winter Alexander had reorganized the Confederate artillery into battalions, and this centralized system allowed guns to be brought up quickly to man the valuable position. The Confederate cannons placed at Hazel Grove soon opened on the Union artillery position at Fairview, 1200 yards distant. 30 cannons converged with 54 elsewhere on the line, creating a very destructive fire. Some have called it the Army of Northern Virginia's best artillery position in the war, and Hooker had given it up without a fight.

Confederates attack Hazel Grove
With the powerful support of this artillery Stuart began his attack. His three divisions pushed in three lines through the woods, along side the field running between Fairview and Hazel Grove. He had abandoned the idea of cutting the Federals off from the river fords, as Meade's corps had been positioned to block the way. The first two divisions, those of Heth and Colston, met hard resistance by the Federal troops. J.E.B. Stuart rode along his lines, encouraging the men. As usual, he was in very showy apparel, wearing a brand new uniform, cape and plumed hat. He looked the ideal caviler. As he rode he sang a favorite song:
Ol' Joe Hooker, won't you come out of The Wilderness? Come out of The Wilderness, come out of The Wilderness? Ol' Joe Hooker, won't you come out of The Wilderness? Bully boys, hey! Bully boys, ho!
Finally the Federal lines broke under a charge by the last division, that of Rhodes, combined with the effects of the tremendous bombardment. The victorious Confederates plunged forward with shouts of "Remember Jackson!"

It was at this moment, in the height of the battle, that the most important casualty of that day of fighting occurred – Joe Hooker himself. The Chancellor house, for which the battle would be named, was being used as Hooker's headquarters as well as a field hospital. The Confederate artillery pieces began throwing their shells into the area to disrupt Union communications and supplies. Just after 9:00 Hooker was standing on the porch of a house when a solid Confederate cannonball struck the pillar on which he was leaning, knocking him to the ground and throwing splinters everywhere. His staff put him down on a blanket and gave him some brandy. Eventually he felt well enough to stand up. Just as he did that another ball flew into the area and struck the blanket on which he had just been lying, demonstrating that this was no place for the commander of the army. Riding off, Hooker soon sent a message to summon Darius Courch. He turned over the command, as he had been badly shaken by the shock. Hooker said, "Couch, I turn the command of the army over to you. You will withdraw it and place it in the position designated on this map."

But even as he turned over the command, he gave Couch orders which Couch disagreed with. The army's new commander wanted to try to continue to hold the ground they still had. But Hooker had made up his mind to abandon the field, and there was little anyone else could do about it.

Lee cheered by his men
As the advancing Confederates reached the Chancellor House, the two corps of the army were reunited. One Confederate staff officer remembered the moment:
The scene can never be effaced from the minds of those that witnessed it. The troops were pressing forward with all the ardor and enthusiasm of combat. The white smoke of musketry fringed the front of battle, while the artillery on the hills in rear shook the earth with its thunder and filled the air with the wild shrieking of the shells that plunged into the masses of the retreating foe. To add greater horror and sublimity to the scene, the Chancellorsville House and the woods surrounding it were wrapped in flames. It was then that General Lee rode to the front of his advancing battalions. His presence was the signal for one of those uncontrollable bursts of enthusiasm which none can appreciate who has not witnessed them. The fierce soldiers, with their faces blackened with the smoke of battle, the wounded crawling with feeble limbs from the fury of the devouring flames, all seemed possessed with a common impulse. One long unbroken cheer, in which the feeble cry of those who lay helpless on the earth blended with the strong voices of those who still fought, rose high above the roar of battle and hailed the presence of a victorious chief. He sat in the full realization of all that soldiers dream of—triumph; and as I looked at him in the complete fruition of the success which his genius, courage, and confidence in his army had won, I thought that it must have been from some such scene that men in ancient days ascended to the dignity of gods.
The Southerners continued to press forward, routing the in some places and almost catching Howard's XI Corps in the flank as they had done the day before.

Sedgwick breaks through on May 3rd
A great victory had been won. The only thing preventing Lee from following up on it was news from Fredericksburg. Early had been left to watch the large Union force there under Sedgwick. This morning Sedgwick had advanced. Early had beaten back two attacks on Marye's Heights had been done at Fredericksburg in December, but a truce was called to remove casualties and the Federals saw how empty the Confederate position was. A third attack was launched and this one was successful. Early, obeying orders, retreated as slowly as possible. Lee had to delay a further attack on Hooker to shift troops to meet this threat.

Skeletons in the woods at Chancellorsville