Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fall of Savannah

Ruins of Savannah
Upon the conclusion of his march to the sea, when he established contact with the Federal fleet, William Sherman immediately began a siege of Savannah, Georgia. The fleet brought supplies and the siege artillery necessary to capture the city. With his troops in place, he sent a message to the Confederate commander, William Hardee, on December 17th:
I have already received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot as far as the heart of your city; also, I have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison of Savannah can be supplied, and I am therefore justified in demanding the surrender of the city of Savannah …. I am prepared to grant liberal terms to the inhabitants and garrison; but should I be forced to resort to assault, or the slower and surer process of starvation, I shall then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and shall make little effort to restrain my army—burning to avenge the national wrong which they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war.
Hardee did not take Sherman's offer of terms. Instead he abandoned the city, using an improvised pontoon bridge to cross the Savannah River on December 20th. The next day the mayor surrendered the city to Sherman, who telegraphed the president, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” Sherman's gamble, of abandoning his supply lines and heading into Georgia while Hood invaded Tennessee, had paid off. Lincoln was thankful that he had found able generals who could fight and defeat the Confederate forces. He wrote to Sherman,
Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the capture of Savannah. When you were leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that 'nothing risked, nothing gained' I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. … But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave Gen. Grant and yourself to decide.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Siege of Nashville – Day 2

Federal entrenchments
On the morning of December 16th, 150 years ago today, the Federal troops outside Nashville prepared to attack John Bell Hood's new position. It was much shorter and stronger than the previous day's, and the flanks were secured to prevent a repetition of the previous day's disaster. However, they did have critical weaknesses. On Shy's Hill, some of the highest ground on the Confederate left, the entrenchments were on the actual crest of the hill rather than the military crest, a little lower. This meant that the attacking Federals would, for a time, be hidden from Confederate shot as they charged up the hill. Thomas's plan from the previous day remained unchanged – to feint on the right and then push hard on the rebel left.

Unlike the previous day, the diversionary attack did convince Hood to shift forces away from the truly threatened point. Four brigades attacked the right around 3 pm. Most were turned back by the heavy Confederate fire, but the 13th United States Colored Troops continued to pressed forward. They charged up to the Confederate parapets before being driven back, losing a flag and 40% of their strength in the process. Cheatham, commanding the corps on the Confederate left, had to stretch his line even thinner to protect the flank and rear from Union cavalry incursions.

With this golden opportunity on the Confederate right, the Federals failed to move. John Schofield was ordered to make the attack with his corps, but he believed he was outnumbered and requested reinforcements. When these arrived, he still did nothing. With sunset not far distant, Brigadier General John McArthur decided to take matters into his own hands. He announced to his commanders that his division would attack in five minutes unless he received orders to the contrary. No orders arrived, and so his three brigades moved out toward the Confederate left on Shy's Hill. His attack was very successful. The misplacement of the entrenchments meant that the hill could be captured without much difficultly, and another brigade was so close on the heels of the Confederate skirmishers that they entered the rebel works with them. One Federal officers wrote:
It was more like a scene in a spectacular drama than a real incident in war. The hillside in front, still green, dotted with boys in blue swarming up the slope; the wavering flags; the smoke slowly rising through the leafless tree-tops and drifting across the valleys; the wonderful outburst of musketry; the ecstatic cheers; the multitude racing for life down in the valley below …. As soon as the other divisions farther to the left saw and heard the doings on their right, they did not wait for orders. Everywhere, by a common impulse, they charged the works in front, and carried them in a twinkling.

With the left crushed, much of Hood's army fell apart. Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee wrote:
Such a scene I never saw. The army was panic-stricken. The woods everywhere were full of running soldiers. Our officers were crying, 'Halt! Halt!' and trying to rally and re-form their broken ranks. The Federals would dash their cavalry in amongst us, and ever their cannon joined in the charge. … Wagon trains, cannon, artillery, cavalry, and infantry were all blended in inextricable confusion.
Through the night of December 16th the Confederates retreated, with part of Lee's corps still intact and serving as rearguard and repelling strikes by Union cavalry. Over the next few days the rebels pushed forward into Alabama. The Union infantry could make little pursuit due to a missing pontoon train, and two newly arrived divisions of Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest handled the attacks of the Federal troopers.

USCT monument at the Nashville Cemetery. Source
In this battle the Federals lost around 387 killed, 2,562 wounded, and 112 missing. The Confederate casualties are harder to pin down, but they probably lost around 2,500 killed and wounded and more than 4,500 prisoners. This battle was the deathnell of Hood's Army of the Tennessee. They had entered Tennessee with 38,000 men. When they returned to the safety of Alabama they had about 15,000 men. Much of the blame for this debacle was due to John Bell Hood, who had wasted his army in bloody frontal attacks, and had continued to press on in the invasion against vastly superior Federal forces. He resigned his command in January, and the shattered remnants of his command were integrated into other forces.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Siege of Nashville – Day 1

After his bloody defeat at Franklin and the retreat of the Union, John Bell Hood continued to press forward into Tennessee. He arrived at Nashville on December 2nd. He had only 30,000 men to George Thomas's 55,000. Too weak to attempt an assault, Hood settled into four miles of defensive positions, hoping that Thomas would attack him. He detached several brigades and sent them on diversions to try to lure Thomas out of the city. But Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” was not fooled, and would not attack until he was ready. Although Sherman was content for the rebels to busy themselves in Tennessee while he marched through Georgia, this did not sit well with Lincoln. The president remarked, “This seems like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing and let the rebels raid the country.” Grant urged Thomas to attack, and was just about to remove him from command when he finally did.

Attack on the Confederate Redoubts
The attack began on December 15th. The Confederate forces were too weak to completely invest Nashville. Instead of anchoring their flanks on either side of the river, Hood had to leave his flanks relatively exposed. Thomas planned to make a diversion on the Confederate right while the rest of the army struck their left. Wilson's cavalry moved on the far end of the wheeling Union forces, driving away Confederate outposts and ending up nearly in their rear. Federal infantry began attacking the southern redoubts at 2:30 pm. Some of the rebels put up a good defense, but at the end of the day the Union troops held all five of the redoubts covering the Confederate flank. With his position compromised, Hood fell back about a mile to a new and stronger line, where the fighting would resume on the morrow.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Battle of Fort McAllister

March to the Sea
As Sherman's army marched across Georgia, through November and December, destroying southern property along the way, they encountered only very feeble resistance. All the Confederate troops in arms were needed where they were stationed, and they could not be spared to resist this invasion. Several thousand Confederate cavalry under Joseph Wheeler did harass the Federal's march, but they could not hope to defeat the entire column. The Georgia militia tried to make a stand, but the small force, many of whom were young boys or old men, were easily defeated by Sherman's veterans.

The Union troops approached Savannah, their destination on December 10. A Union fleet under Admiral John Dahlgren floated just off the town with supplies for the army, but the town and its fortifications were still in Confederate hands. Sherman deployed his men to surrounded the town's works. He decided to attack Fort McAllister. He believed his infantry could capture it, and then they would have access to the Ogeechee River, which led to the sea.

Fort McAllister
On December 13, 150 years ago today, 4,000 Federals, William Hazen's division, which happened to be Sherman's old command, advanced toward the fort, held by only 230 Confederates. Sherman, who watched the attack, later wrote:
[W]e saw Hazen's troops come out of the dark fringe of woods that encompassed the fort, their lines dressed as on parade, with colors flying, and moving forward with a quick, steady pace. Fort McAllister was then all alive, its big guns belching forth dense clouds of smoke, which soon enveloped our assaulting lines. One color went down, but was up in a moment. On the lines advanced, faintly seen in the white, sulfurous smoke; there was a pace, a cessation of fire; the smoke cleared away, and the parapets were blue with our men.... Fort McAllister was taken....
The assault had taken only 15 minutes. The army met ships from the fleet, and the March to the Sea was officially over. Sherman's men turned without delay to their next task – the siege of Savannah.

Union troops in Fort McAllister

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Battle of Franklin

While Sherman's army was on its infamous march to the sea, the Confederate army under Hood which had been driven out of Atlanta was not idle. Hood led his men North, hoping to cut Sherman's supply line with the aid of Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry, forcing him to turn North to chase the Confederates. At first Sherman's movements were hampered by troops that he positioned to watch for Hood. But finally he decided to head off south, leaving the army of George Thomas to cope with Hood. Hood's hope was that by moving into Tennessee he would force Sherman to turn back from his march across Georgia to pursue him.

The Confederates marched quickly, trying to destroy separate Union corps before they could unite. On November 29th, Hood sent two corps to flank John Scofield's two infantry corps. The rebels were able to reach a position from which they had a great opportunity to strike the Yankees, but through mistakes of the Confederate command the attack was never made. That night Schofield moved 12 miles north to Franklin, Tennessee. The Confederates followed the next day, and found the Federals in an entrenched position. The aggressive John Bell Hood was determined to destroyed the Federals before they made it to the even stronger works of Nashville, so he ordered a frontal attack to be made that evening. Some of his generals expressed worry at the formidable works, but they were determined to capture them. As the famed Patrick Cleburne said, "[I]f we are to die, let us die like men."

On the evening of November 30, Hood's 20,000 men charged across two miles of open ground against the prepared Federal works. They first smashed two advance Federal brigades, and in the center of the line around the Carter House, they broke through the main line. Federals quickly counterattacked, and after hours of hand to hand fighting contained the Confederate foothold, and finally regained their lines. The Confederate attack was eventually beaten back all along the line. This charge has been called by many the Pickett's Charge of the West, but in many ways it far exceeded it. The gallant Confederates at Franklin were attacking earthworks. They suffered 6,000 casualties, many more than Pickett, including Cleburne and eleven other generals. Although the Federal army retreated the next day, the Confederate Army of the Tennessee was crushed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sherman's March to the Sea

The fall of Atlanta marked the end of William Tecumseh Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. He had achieved his objective of capturing one of the South's most important cities, which likely had a significant impact on Abraham Lincoln's reelection as president. The defeated Confederate army did not long sit idle. The aggressive John Bell Hood was soon pressing north into Tennessee. He hoped that by threatening Sherman's supply line, he would force the northern invaders to retreat. Sherman, however, decided to ignore him. George Thomas was commanding in Tennessee, and he left him to deal with Hood.

Instead Sherman would press further south. Sherman believed that war was a terrible thing for both sides. He thought it was his duty to do whatever it took to end it as quickly as possible. No matter the short term suffering it would cause the southerners, it would be justified if it would shorten the war. As he had written to the citizens of Atlanta back in September, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it....” His plan was to march from Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean, destroying crops, livestock, and any buildings that would be of use to the Confederacy, and more importantly, breaking the civilians' desire to continue fighting. “I can make the march,” Sherman telegraphed Grant, “and make Georgia howl.”

Union Station in Atlanta, destroyed by Federal troops
The Union army set off from Atlanta on November 15th. Behind them the city burned. It was a fit beginning to the campaign. Sherman's orders were that structures of military use to the Confederates, like the railroad, be destroyed. None the less, the soldiers lit far more than that, and around half the town burned down. As Sherman told one of his staff officers, “Can't save it. … Set as many guards as you please, [the men] will slip it and set fire.” Although his men were officially violating orders, Sherman did not punish the violators. Instead he praised them in his report, writing, “We quietly and deliberately destroyed Atlanta....” 

Union soldiers destroying the railroad in Atlanta
In Sherman's Special Field Orders No. 120, he gave strict rules for the conduct of his men on the march. They were to “forage liberally on the country,” but not to enter homes of civilians. Horses, cattle and other animals could be taken from the population. Buildings were only to be destroyed under orders from the corps commanders, and then only if guerillas operated in the area. The reality was somewhat different. With foraging parties ranging widely, it would have been difficult for the officers to keep the men in check even if they had desired. Sherman's goal for the march was to break the Georgians' will to fight, and if his men sometimes burnt the people's houses, that worked perfectly for his purposes. 

By the end of the march the Union army captured 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules and 13,000 cattle, and captured or destroyed 9.5 million pounds of corn and large amounts of other provisions. Sherman estimated that he had done $100 million worth of damage to the Confederate war effort, almost $1.5 billion in today's money. Also destroyed were the railroads, and many mills, houses and barns. Although there was widespread destruction of the civilian's property, it was not complete destruction. Many houses in the wake of his army did escape the torch. As the Yankees marched across Georgia, a crowd of hundreds of escaped slaves followed behind, seeing the Union army as leading them to freedom.

No Civil War era civilian would ever want an army to come through his property. Even when a well behaved army was marching through their home territory, they would often trample crops, burn the split-rail fences for warmth, and maybe butcher some chickens for dinner. Intentional destruction of civilian property was also not unheard of. Jubal Early's Confederate army burnt much of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on July 30, 1864, when they did not pay the ransom he demanded. But what was different about Sherman was how intentional he was about the destruction. As he told Henry Halleck after the march:
We are not only fighting armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies. I know that this recent movement of mine through Georgia has had a wonderful effect in this respect. Thousands who had been deceived by their lying papers into the belief that we were being whipped all the time, realized the truth, and have no appetite for a repetition of the same experience.
Sherman's goal was to make war on civilians, and bring the cost home to their doorsteps. In this he had some success. Many soldiers from Georgia worried about what would happen to their families while they were away, and doubtless the March to the Sea caused some increase in desertion rates from the southern armies. In this way Sherman's march set the stage for the total war of the 20th century. He was one of the American commanders during the war who most clearly recognized the importance of support from the home front for maintaining the war effort, and was willing to take whatever actions necessary to break that resolve. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Election of 1864

Throughout Lincoln's term as president there was significant resistance to him in the north. On one side there were the Radical Republicans who did not think Lincoln was firm enough on the issue of slavery, and on the other were the Democrats, some of whom even wanted immediate peace with the south. As the election of 1864 approached, it was clear that there would be obstacles in Lincoln's path for reelection. By the time of the election, the war had stretched on for nearly four bloody years, and there were many who did not think Lincoln was the man to end it.

Frémont's campaign poster
Early in the year Lincoln foiled plans from Salmon P. Chase, his Secretary of the Treasury, to become president. The Radical Republicans did nominate a candidate. At a convention in May, the “Radical Democrats,” as they called themselves, chose John C. Frémont, a former Union general. Frémont accepted the nomination, but offered to resign if Lincoln did not run for reelection. Lincoln did run, but Frémont dropped out anyway, in exchange for the resignation of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, a Democrat.
Lincoln and Johnson
Lincoln did not run again as a Republican. Instead his supporters held the National Union Convention, an alliance of the Republicans with some War Democrats. The idea was that they were putting aside politics, and instead focusing on winning the war. To strengthen the coalition, vice president Hannibal Hamlin, a Republican, was replaced with Andrew Johnson, the military governor of Tennessee and a Democrat.

The Democrats also ran a candidate, but their party was badly divided. Some wanted to continue fighting the war until the Union was reestablished, others wanted an immediate negotiated peace. This strife was evident in the results of the convention, held in Chicago. They nominated George B. McClellan, the general, for president, and George Pendleton, Representative from Ohio, for vice-president. The party platform was anti war, calling for immediate cessation of hostilities. But they had nominated McClellan, who was continuing the war.
Cartoon of McClellan
The division among the Democrats caused confusion in the advertising and propaganda during the campaign. The Republicans argued that McClellan's election would mean armistice, peace and despotism. Their motto was “Don't change horses in the middle of a stream,” trying to win the support of War Democrats so Lincoln could win the war. Early in the year, Lincoln did not believe that he could win reelection, and hoped to win the war before he would turn over the presidency. By November, the tide had turned. With the fall of Atlanta in September it seemed that the Union was winning battles, and that ultimate victory was in site.

Republican campaign poster
Although as the election approached things were looking up for Republicans, it was still far from a sure thing. Republicans worked to get Nevada's statehood approved at the eleventh hour, as they believed those votes would go to Lincoln. Congress had voted to allow Nevada to join back in March, along with Colorado and Nebraska, but before statehood could be finalized they needed to receive state constitutions adopted by popular conventions. Nebraska voted against becoming a state and Colorado did not adopt a Constitution. Nevada, however, passed a constitution, but the copies they sent to Washington did not arrive. Finally the governor decided to telegraph the constitution to Washington. It took two days to send the more than 16,000 words. This was the longest telegraph sent up to that point. The bill for the telegraph was $4,303.27 - more than $63,000 today. With the constitution sent in, Nevada was admitted to the Union on October 31. Just a week later, Lincoln carried the state in the election.

The election was held on November 8th, 150 years ago today. In an era before electronic vote counting or instant communication, election results could take weeks or months to arrive. But by the night of November 8th, enough counts had come in to be pretty certain that Lincoln would be reelected. The result turned out to be a Lincoln landslide. He won 212 electoral votes to McClellan's 21, loosing only New Jersey and Kentucky. The popular vote was significantly closer, with Lincoln winning 55% to McClellan's 45%. The Republicans also increased their majority in both the House and Senate. The voters had approved Lincoln's conduct of the war.

Late at night Lincoln gave a speech from the White House to a group of Pennsylvanians who were serenading him with a band. He said:
[A]ll who nave labored to-day in behalf of the Union organization have wrought for the best interests of their country and the world, not only for the present, but for all future ages. I am thankful to God for this approval of the people. … I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one; but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people's resolution to stand or free government and the rights of humanity.
Lincoln in 1864

Monday, October 27, 2014

CSS Albemarle Sunk

150 years ago today Lieutenant William Cushing executed one of the most daring raids in United States military history – the sinking of the CSS Albemarle. Since its defeat of several Union ships in April, the Albemarle had remained in control of a sizable portion of the Roanoke River. The Federals wanted to end that, and Cushing volunteered to lead two small boats to try to sink her. He wrote this in a magazine article describing the attack:

I intended that one boat should dash in, while the other stood by to throw canister and renew the attempt [on the Albemarle] if the first should fail. It would useful to pick up our men if the attacking boat were disabled. Admiral Lee believed that the plan was a good one, and ordered me to Washington to submit it to the Secretary of the Navy. Mr. Fox, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, doubted the merit of the project, but concluded to order me to New York to “purchase suitable vessels.”

Finding some boats building for picket duty, I selected two, and proceeded to fit them out. They were open launches, about thirty feet in length, with small engines, and propelled by a screw. A 12-pounder howitzer was fitted to the bow of each, and a boom was rigged out, some fourteen feet in length, swinging by a goose-neck hinge to the bluff of the bow. A topping lift, carried to a stanchion inboard, raised or lowered it, and the torpedo was fitted into an iron slide at the end. This was intended to be detached from the boom by means of a heel-jigger leading inboard, and to be exploded by another line, connecting with a pin, which held a grape-shot over a nipple and cap. The torpedo was the invention of Engineer Lay of the Navy, and was introduced by Chief Engineer Wood.

Everything being completed, we started to the southward, taking the boats through the canals to Chesapeake Bay, and losing one in going down to Norfolk. This was a great misfortune, and I have never understood how it occurred. … My best boat being thus lost, I proceeded with one alone to make my way through the Chesapeake and Albemarle canals into the sounds. …

The Roanoke River is a stream averaging 150 yards in width, and quite deep. Eight miles from the mouth was the town of Plymouth, where the ram was moored. Several thousand soldiers occupied the town and forts, and held both banks of the stream. A mile below the ram was the wreck of the Southfield, with hurricane deck above water, and on this a guard was stationed, to give notice of anything suspicious, and to send up fire-rockets in case of an attack. Thus it seemed impossible to surprise them, or to attack, with hope of success.

Impossibilities are for the timid: we determined to overcome all obstacles. On the night of the 27th of October [1864] we entered the river, taking in tow a small cutter with a few men, the duty of whom was to dash aboard the Southfield at the first hail, and prevent any rocket from being ignited.

Fortune was with our little boat, and we actually passed within thirty feet of the pickets without discovery and neared the wharf, where the rebels all lay unconscious. I now thought that it might be better to board her, and “take her alive,” having in the two boats twenty men well armed with revolvers, cutlasses, and hand-grenades. To be sure, there were ten times our number on the ship and thousands near by; but a surprise is everything, and I thought if her fasts were cut at the instant of boarding, we might overcome those on board, take her into the stream, and use her iron sides to protect us afterward from the forts. Knowing the town, I concluded to land at the lower wharf, creep around and suddenly dash aboard from the bank; but just as I was sheering in close to the wharf, a hail came, sharp and quick from the iron-clad, and in an instant was repeated. I at once directed the cutter to cast off, and go down to capture the guard left in our rear, and ordering all steam went at the dark mountain of iron in front of us. A heavy fire was at once opened upon us, not only from the ship, but from men stationed on the shore. This did not disable us, and we neared them rapidly. A large fire now blazed upon the bank, and by its light I discovered the unfortunate fact that there was a circle of logs around the Albemarle, boomed well out from her side, with the very intention of preventing the action of torpedoes. To examine them more closely, I ran alongside until amidships, received the enemy’s fire, and sheered off for the purpose of turning, a hundred yards away, and going at the booms squarely, at right angles, trusting to their having been long enough in the water to have become slimy—in which case my boat, under full headway, would bump up against them and slip over into the pen with the ram. This was my only chance of success, and once over the obstruction my boat would never get out again; but I was there to accomplish an important object, and to die, if needs be, was but a duty. As I turned, the whole back of my coat was torn out by buckshot, and the sole of my shoe was carried away. The fire was very severe.

In a lull of the firing, the captain hailed us, again demanding what boat it was. All my men gave some comical answers, and mine was a dose of canister, which I sent among them from the howitzer, buzzing and singing against the iron ribs and into the mass of men standing by the fire upon the shore. In another instant we had struck the logs and were over, with headway nearly gone, slowly forging up under the enemy’s quarter-port. Ten feet from us the muzzle of a gun looked into our faces, and every word of command on board was distinctly heard.

My clothing was perforated with bullets as I stood in the bow, the heel-jigger in my right hand and the exploding-line in the left. We were near enough then, and I ordered the boom lowered until the forward motion of the launch carried the torpedo under the ram’s overhang. A strong pull of the detaching-line, a moment’s waiting for the torpedo to rise under the hull, and I hauled in the left hand, just cut by a bullet.

The explosion took place at the same instant that 10 pounds of grape, at 10 feet range, crashed in our midst, and the dense mass of water thrown out by the torpedo came down with choking weight upon us.1

A. F. Warley, the captain of the Albermarle, had thought his position weak, as the guns on land were of little use, and they were under constant surveillance from the other side of the river. Nevertheless, he respected the Federals for their attack, and said, “a more gallant thing was not done during the war.”2 Cushing continued his story:

Twice refusing to surrender, I commanded the men to save themselves; and throwing off sword, revolver, shoes, and coat, struck out from my disabled and sinking boat into the river. It was cold, long after the frosts, and the water chilled the blood, while the whole surface of the stream was plowed up by grape and musketry, and my nearest friends, the fleet, were twelve miles away, but anything was better than to fall into rebel hands. Death was better than surrender. I swam for the opposite shore, but as I neared it a man, one of my crew, gave a great gurgling yell and went down.

The rebels were out in boats, picking up my men; and one of these, attracted by the sound, pulled in my direction. I heard my own name mentioned, but was not seen. I now “struck out” down the stream, and was soon far enough away to attempt landing. …

Again alone upon the water, I directed my course towards the town side of the river, not making much headway, as my strokes were now very feeble, my clothes being soaked and heavy, and little chop-seas splashing with a choking persistence into my mouth every time that I gasped for breath. Still, there was a determination not to sink, a will not to give up; and I kept up a sort of mechanical motion long after my bodily force was in fact expended.

At last, and not a moment too soon, I touched the soft mud, and in the excitement of the first shock I half raised my body and made one step forward; then fell, and remained half in the mud and half in the water until daylight, unable even to crawl on hands and knees, nearly frozen, with brain in a whirl, but with one thing strong in me—the fixed determination to escape. The prospect of drowning, starvation, death in the swamps—all seemed lesser evils than that of surrender.

As day dawned, I found myself in a point of swamp that enters the suburbs of Plymouth, and not forty yards from one of the forts. The sun came our bright and warm, proving a most cheering visitant, and giving me back a good portion of the strength of which I had been deprived before. Its light showed me the town swarming with soldiers and sailors, who moved about excitedly, as if angry at some sudden shock. It was a source of satisfaction to me to know that I had pulled the wire that had set all these figures moving (in a manner quite as interesting a the best of theatricals), but as I had no desire of being discovered by any of the rebs who were so plentiful around me, I did not long remain a spectator. My first object was to get into a dry fringe of rushes that edged the swamp; but to do this required me to pass over thirty or forty feet of open ground, right under the eye of the sentinel who walked the parapet.

Watching until he turned for a moment, I made a dash to cross the space, but was only half-way over when he turned, and forced me to drop down right between two paths, and almost entirely unshielded. Perhaps I was unobserved because of the mud that covered me, and made me blend in with the earth; at all events the soldier continued his tramp for some time.... I [regained the swamp] by sinking my heels and elbows into the earth and forcing my body, inch by inch, towards it. For five hours them, with bare feet, head, and hands, I made my way where I venture to say none ever did before, until I came at last to a clear place, where I might rest upon solid ground. The cypress swamp was a network of thorns and briers, that cut into the flesh at every step like knives, and frequently, when the soft mire would not bear my weight, I was forced to throw my body upon it at length, and haul it along by the arms. Hands and feet were raw when I reached the clearing, and yet my difficulties were but commenced. A working-party of soldiers was in the opening, engaged in sinking some schooners in the river to obstruct the channel. I passed twenty yards in their rear through a corn furrow, and gained some woods below. …

I went on again, and plunged into a swamp so thick that I had only the sun for a guide and could not see ten feet in advance. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon I came out from the dense mass of reeds upon the bank of one of the deep narrow streams that abound there, and right opposite to the only road in the vicinity. It seemed providential that I should come just there, for, thirty yards above or below, I never should have seen the road, and might have struggled on until worn out and starved—found a never-to-be-discovered grave. As it was, my fortune had led me to where a picket party of seven soldieries were posted, having a little flat-bottomed, square-ended skiff toggled to the root of a cypress tree that squirmed like a snake into the inky water. Watching them until they went back a few yards to eat, I crept into the stream and swam over, keeping the big tree between myself and them, and making for the skiff.

Gaining the bank, I quietly cast loose the boat and floated behind it some thirty yards around the first bend, where I got in and paddled away as only a man could where liberty was at stake.

Hour after hour I paddled, never ceasing for a moment, first on one side, then on the other, while sunshine passed into twilight, and that was swallowed up in thick darkness, only relieved by the few faint star rays that penetrated the heavy swamp curtain on either side. At last I reached the mouth of the Roanoke, and found the open sound before me.

My frail boat could not have lived a moment in the ordinary sea there, but it chanced to be very calm, leaving only a slight swell, which was, however, sufficient to influence my boat, so that I was forced to paddle all upon one side to keep her on the intended course.

After steering by a star for perhaps two hours for where I thought the fleet might be, I at length discovered one of the vessels, and after a long time got within hail. My “Ship ahoy!” was given with the last of my strength, and I fell powerless with a splash into the water in the bottom of the boat, and awaited results. I had paddled every minute for ten successive hours, and for four my body had been “asleep,” with the exception of my two arms and brain. The picket vessel Valley City—for it was she—upon hearing the hail at once slipped her cable and got underway, at the same time lowering boats and taking precautions against torpedoes.

It was some time before they would pick me up, being convinced that I was the rebel conductor of an infernal machine, and that Lieutenant Cushing had died the night before. …

I again received the congratulations of the Navy Department, and the thanks of Congress, and was also promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander.3

1. “The Destruction of the 'Albermarle'” by William Cushing in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine: May 1888 to October 1888 (New York: The Century Co., 1888) p. 432-436.
2. “Note on the Destruction of the 'Albemarle'” by W. F. Warley in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, p. 439-440.

3. “The Destruction of the 'Albermarle'” by William Cushing in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine p. 436-438.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Battle of Westport

After the fall of Vicksburg, the Transmissippi, Confederate states west of the Mississippi, were cut off from the rest of the Confederacy. However, campaigns still continued there. Kirby Smith, Confederate commander of the theater, came up with a plan for an offensive campaign. He ordered Stirling Price to lead an army into Missouri, and capture St. Louis or Jefferson City, the capitol. He was then to move into Kansas and the Indian Territory, rounding up supplies that would be of use to the south. Price had 12,000 men in three divisions. They were mostly cavalry, but he hoped that Missourians would flock to join his army.


Price began his expedition in September, 1864. Cavalry set out to pursue him, along with A. J. Smith's corps of infantry. He skirmished around St. Louis and Jefferson city, but determined that they were too heavily fortified for his men to capture. Instead he turned west, and headed for Kansas. Samuel Curtis, the Federal commander in Kansas, was hurrying to gather troops to meet him. The Federals were not not prepared to meet this attack, but Curtis was able to gather 22,000 men into his Army of the Border, most of whom were militia. By this time Price's forces numbered less than 9,000, depleted by the marching and fighting.

As Price advanced toward Westport, Missouri, modern day Kansas City, he knew he was in trouble. Curtis was making a stand at Westport, but Price was also being pursued by Union cavalry under Alfred Pleasonton. He would try to deal with the Union armies one at a time, first attacking Curtis at Westport. The battle was fought on October 23rd, 150 years ago today.

Fighting at Brush Creek
The fighting began when Union skirmishers advanced across Brush Creek. The Confederate divisions of Joe Shelby and James Fagan attacked, and drove back the Federal brigades. Curtis arrived on the field, and sent reinforcements in to counterattack. They were driven back, so he looked for another way to strike Price's army. A local farmer named George Thoman pointed the Union troops to a gulch which led to Shelby's left flank. Curtis sent his escort and the 9th Wisconsin Battery to move up this ravine to the Confederate flank. This gave the Yankees the edge they needed, and they began to make progress in their attacks, slowly pushing the Confederates back.

Byram's Ford. Source
Price's rear was also in danger. Pleasonton's pursuing Union cavalry drove the Confederate rearguard away from Byram's Ford. The Confederates soon realized their danger, and Price ordered a retreat to escape from the encircling Federal forces. Disengaging from Curtis' forces was difficult, and at several points Confederate brigades in the rear were broken. The retreat was hasty, and many rebels threw away gear which they could no longer carry. To cover the retreat, the Confederates set the prairie on fire, so they would be shielded by a smoke screen.

Confederate cemetery. Source
Price headed south, with the Union forces still in pursuit. He was able to reach Confederate territory after several skirmishes, but with about half the men he had set out with. The Battle of Westport was one of the most important in the Transmississippi Theater. It has been called the Gettysburg of the West, because it cemented Union control of Missouri and generally ended further Confederate campaigning.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Battle of Cedar Creek

After defeating Early at the Battles of Opequon and Fisher's Hill, Sheridan's Union army moved down the Shenandoah Valley, leaving destruction in their wake. This was in line with the Federal policy in other areas of the war – to break the Confederate will to fight by destroying homes, crops and barns as they marched through the countryside. Unlike Sherman in his march through Georgia, Sheridan's men pillaged and burned under his orders. The valley was sometimes called the Breadbasket of the Confederacy, and Sheridan was determined that when he was finished, it would not be able to provide any assistance to the Confederate cause. As one Union soldier wrote, “The Valley is all ablaze in our rear.”

Early was not content to remain passive while the Yankees wrought this work of destruction. Major General John Gordon and staff officer Jedidiah Hotchkiss scouted a route that would take the army along a narrow path on the northern slope of Massanutten Mountain and across the Shenandoah River, so that they could strike the left flank of the Union army, which was positioned along Cedar Creek. The march went off without a hitch. Leaving on the evening of October 18, the Confederates were in position to strike early the next morning.

The Confederate attack
At 5 am, 150 years ago today, the Rebels charged toward the Union positions. The Federals were completely surprised. Some units had not set out adequate pickets, and many troops were caught unprepared in their camps. The Army of West Virginia, the southernmost part of Sheridan's force, was broken. Next up the line, Emory's XIX Corps, got in line to resist the Confederate attack. They stood firm for some minutes, but they were able to do little more than delay the Southern waves while other units fell back. Soon they too were retreating, falling back north of Middletown. They had, however, held long enough for Wright's VI Corps to get in line. They too were driven back, though Getty's division held a position in a cemetery for an hour. At that point the Federals had established a main line to the north.

Early did not continue to press. His men were hungry and tired after their all-night march and morning of fighting. They believed the victory was already won, and they had the spoils to prove it. They had captured 1,300 prisoners and 24 cannon. Sheridan had actually been absent from the army when it was broken by this Confederate attack. He was in Winchester, returning from a meeting in Washington. When he heard the sounds of a major battle, he set out to join the army, making what would become a famous ride on his horse, Rienzi. When he reached his men he found them rallying, but dispirited after their defeat. His arrival was just the inspiration they needed. Although it is doubtful that if Sheridan had been on the battlefield that morning he would have prevented the disaster, it gave the Yankee soldiers a way to rationalize their reverse. Now that Sheridan was on the field, they thought, their troubles would be over. He rode along the lines, rallying and encouraging his men. “Come on back, boys!” he shouted, “Give 'em h—l! … We'll make coffee out of Cedar Creek tonight!”

Sheridan rallies the Union troops
Sheridan soon launched a counterattack. He placed the VI Corps on his left and the XIX on his right, with the Army of West Virginia in reserve and divisions of cavalry on both flanks. At 4 pm this line advanced, and drove back Early's men toward Middletown. Soon the superior Federal numbers drove the Confederates back. Some Confederates put up a good fight, including Stephen Dodson Ramseur's division. He gathered a few hundred men and resisted Sheridan's advance. Finally he fell mortally wounded, with two horses shot from under him and balls through his arm and both lungs.

The Union counterattack
Under Sheridan's orders, George Custer's cavalry division charged to try to cut off the Confederate line of retreat to the river. He failed to do so, but his charge inspired panic in the Confederate troops. In their hurry to get away, a bridge collapsed on the small “No Name Creek.” Unable to repair this in the face of the enemy, Early had to abandon and captured guns or wagons north of the creek. The army was also thrown into confusion as they hurried through the difficult crossings.

Sheridan leads the charge
The Federals lost 5,764 in this battle, including 1,770 captured; the Confederates 2,910, with 1,050 captured. The Battle of Cedar Creek was a major blow to the Confederate cause. Sheridan was free to continue up the valley, burning and pillaging at will. The Confederates began by willing a glorious victory, but the attacks were halted and the men turned to plundering. They gave the Federals time to rally, and Sheridan's counterattack turned the balance of the day. As Early told Hotchkiss, “The Yankees got whipped and we got scared.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Capture of the CSS Florida

150 years ago today the CSS Florida was captured by Wachusett while while she lay a neutral Brazillian port. To learn more about the cruises and capture of the Florida, check out my post on Discerning History.
The most famous of the Confederate commerce raiders was the CSS Alabama, but it was far from the only one. There were many ships that sailed the world under the Confederate navy jack, and another very successful one was the CSS Florida. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Battle of Peebles's Farm

In the end of September, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant launched several attacks against Lee's lines around Richmond and Petersburg. One of these, conducted on the eastern end of the line by Benjamin Butler, captured Fort Harrison and New Market Heights on September 29th. Lee sent I Corps commander Richard Anderson to the scene to contain the breakthrough. Anderson launched several unsuccessful counterattacks to try to recapture the Confederate line. Grant rightly believed that these attacks were being made by troops from Lee's right, so he ordered Gouverneur Warren to attack on that portion of the line with the V Corps.

Warren's troops begin moving on September 30th, striking A. P. Hill's Third Corps, which had indeed been weakened to reinforce the Confederate left. The Federals attacked at 1 pm and quickly broke the Confederate line, capturing Fort Archer while the southerners fled to the rear. When Lee realized that his right also was in critical danger, he recalled the Light Division and sent them back to the right. The IX Corps had been brought up to support the Union line, which Warren thought would face a counterattack. That Corps was not properly connected to the V Corps. When Heth's men attacked at 4:30 pm, they routed the IX Corps, capturing nearly an entire brigade. Warren rallied his men, and the fighting died down for the day.

On October 1st Heth again attacked Warren's line, but this time the assaults were repulsed. The next day Warren was reinforced with a division from the II Corps, which led an attack on the Confederate works. Their goal was the Boydton Plank Road, an important Confederate supply route. This attack overran Confederate positions, but was stopped before reading the road. Although this battle had no decisive impact on the campaign, it did lengthen the lines further clockwise around Petersburg, bringing Grant closer to cutting off Lee's line of communication. In this fight the Union lost almost 2,900, the Confederates over 1,200.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Battle of New Market Heights

150 years ago today Grant's forces around Richmond and Petersburg attacked the Confederate lines. They captured Fort Harrison and Confederate entrenchments on New Market Heights. The attack on New Market Heights was led by troops of the USCT, who took heavy losses. They won 14 medals of honor because of their gallant fighting. These captured positions did not result in a complete breakthrough of the rebel lines, the Confederates were able to contain these attacks.

These videos were taken at the 150th anniversary reenactment of these battles:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Battle of Opequon

After Jubal Early's 1864 invasion of Maryland, Union cavalry general Philip Sheridan, one of Grant's favorite commanders, was detached to command the Army of the Shenandoah to deal with that threat. For several weeks the armies of Sheridan and Early skirmished in the Shenandoah Valley without any major fighting. Sheridan had 39,000 men, Early only 14,000. Early decided that Sheridan did not plan to fight him, so he did not concentrate his army and left it spread out over many miles. Sheridan, however, was looking for an opportunity just like this to attack. He set his troops moving out to strike Stephen Ramseur's division around Winchester. When Early heard of this movement he ordered all of his troops to concentrate on Ramseur's isolated force.

Sheridan's men were awakened at 1 am on September 19th, 150 years ago today, to begin their march on Winchester. Their progressed was slowed by a canyon, which became clogged by the Union columns and supply wagons. By noon the Federals arrived in position and attacked Early's line, which had now been reinforced by John B. Gordon's division on the left. Two corps advanced, the VI Corps under Horatio Wright on the left, and and XIX Corps under William Emory on the right. Both made some progress against the rebels, slowly driving them back. Where the Confederates were driven back they counterattacked. In one of these Confederate Major General Robert Rhodes was wounded as he led his men forward, shouting, “Charge them boys! Charge them!.”

As the Federals pressed forward a gap opened between them. Reinforcements were rushed close it, but before they arrived the Confederates took advantage of the opportunity. The Federal division of David Russell counterattacked, and stunted the Confederate attack. In the attack, Russell was hit with fragments of a shell, and fell mortally wounded. Emory Upton, known for his attacks at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, took over the division.

With his attacked stalled Sheridan brought up his reserves, the VII Corps under George Crook, and sent them to strike the Confederate left flank, while the other two corps advanced in support. The advance encountered difficulty. Crook's men had to move through a swamp, and the XIX Corps did not get moving at all. A shell tore off a piece of Emory Upton's thigh, but he continued to command his division from a stretcher. Future president Rutherford B. Hayes, commanding a division with Crook, wrote of crossing the swamp:
[T]o stop was death. To go on was probably the same; but on we started again ... the rear and front lines and different regiments of the same line mingled together and reached the rebel side of the creek with lines and organizations broken; but all seemed inspired by the right spirit, and charged the rebel works pell-mell in the most determined manner."
Finally the Federals began to drive back the Southern lines. Early pulled back his lines, but the Federals drove them back closer and closer to Winchester. Sheridan was riding along his lines, waving his hat and encouraging his men. His cavalry was moving around Early's flank, threatening to surround his entire force. Finally as the sun set, the Confederate army was in full retreat.

Sheridan leads the charge
Many call this battle the turning point for the Union in the Shenandoah Valley. This victory began the tide of Union victories. Both sides had suffered heavy casualties. The Federals lost more than 5,000, the Confederates over 3,500. Early had lost a quarter of his army. More men fell at the Battle of Opequon, or Third Winchester as it is also known, than in Stonewall Jackson's entire 1862 Valley Campaign.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fall of Atlanta

Confederate artillery position
After John Bell Hood's disastrous attacks on Sherman's lines around the town of Atlanta, Georgia, the campaign fell into a siege. The Federals positioned artillery and began to shell the town. The Confederate artillery defending the town replied, and the bombardment continued on and off for days. Sherman also sent his cavalry on raids to try to cut the rebel supply lines south of the city. The more skillful Confederate horsemen repulsed these raids, foiling Sherman's plans. He did not want to try to storm the Confederate works. They were strong, and he knew the difficulty of attacking a well fortified position from his reverses at Vicksburg and Kennesaw Mountain. Instead he moved against the railroad in the Confederate rear with a much larger force – six of his seven corps.
A house in Atlanta used by Confederate sharpshooters and hit by Union artillery
Hood received intelligence of the Federal movement, and detached two corps under William Hardee to meet it, but he did not realize the true scale of the attack. On August 31st Hardee attacked Sherman's forces, but both corps did not engage in unison, and one of them was drive off easily by the Federals. The next day Sherman sent several of his corps against a salient in the Confederate line. The rebels fought hard, but the Federals pushed on, and after hand to hand combat broke through the Confederate line. Hardee's men fell back, and Jonesboro and the railroad fell firmly into Union hands. Back in Atlanta, John Bell Hood realized his supply line had been cut, and determined he had no hope of holding the town. The Confederates abandoned Atlanta that night, and the Federal troops occupied it the next day. As Sherman wrote triumphantly two days later, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won."
Atlanta's railroad in ruins
The fall of Atlanta signaled the end of the campaign. Sherman had captured his objective, though without completely eliminating the Confederate army. It came at a very providential time for the Union cause. Abraham Lincoln was in the midst of a reelection campaign. General George B. McClellan had just been nominated by the Democratic party to run against him. Lincoln was not hopeful about his chances for reelection. He had written just a few days before, on August 23rd, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected.” The victory of Atlanta was a major turning point in the campaign. For months the fighting had continued to slog along, especially between Grant and Lee in Virginia, with heavy casualty bills but little to show for it. The fall of Atlanta was a major accomplishment, and it gave the northern people hope that the war was winnable, and before long the nation would be reunified.

Lincoln campaign poster