Friday, March 28, 2014

Riot in Charleston, Illinois

Coles County
While the Federal armies were beginning the spring campaigns of 1864, trouble was brewing on the home front in Coles County, Illinois. The county was a stronghold for the Copperheads, a section of the Democrat Party that opposed Lincoln's policies and wanted an end to the war, even if it meant a division of the Union. On March 28, 1864, Judge Charles Constable was holding court in the town. The previous year he had been arrested for releasing four Union deserters. Although the judge was released, he was still meeting rough treatment at the hands of Union soldiers, who treated him as a traitor. One of the sports of the soldiers was to stop known Democrats, including Judge Constable, and force them to kneel and take an oath of loyalty to the United States.

With the judge in town tensions were high between the Copperheads and Union soldiers home on leave. A Democratic rally was scheduled for the day, with Democrats John Eden, Congressman of the district, scheduled to speak, and Sheriff John O'Hair in attendance. Both soldiers and civilians were drinking heavily, and both had brought guns with them, knowing that trouble was possible.

The courthouse, around which fighting took place
The conflict broke out when Private Oliver Sallee of the 54th Illinois approached Nelson Wells and asked him if there were any Copperheads in the town. Wells replied that he was one. It is here that the accounts differ. Democrats said that Sellee at this moment drew his pistol, and shot at Wells. Republicans said that Sallee laid his hand on Wells shoulder, so he shot first. Either way shots broke out, and Sallee was hit. Partially rising, he killed Wells with a bullet from his gun. General fighting quickly broke out.

There were about sixteen Union soldiers in the square when the shooting broke out. There were many more Copperheads on hand, and they ran to their wagons to retrieve their weapons. The soldiers got the worst of the quick fight. When the smoke settled six soldiers were killed and four wounded, including the Colonel of the 54th Illinois. One Republican civilian was killed and three wounded. On the Copperhead side there were only two killed and six wounded, including the sheriff, who was nicked by a ball inside the courthouse.

As the fighting stopped, Colonel Mitchell gathered what men he could find and telegraphed for reinforcements. The Copperheads, led by Sheriff O'Hair, quickly left the town. They decided not to return and try to drive out the soldiers, or the mob, as the sheriff called them. Instead the group scattered.

For several days rumors ran wild, some saying that the sheriff was going to attack Charleston with 1,500 men. However, this was the end of the fighting in Charleston, IL. Fifty known Copperheads were rounded up by the military, and after some questioning all but fifteen of them were released. These were denied the right of habeas corpus and sent to prison at Fort Delaware. Lincoln ordered their release seven months later. Two were tried for murder and acquitted, and twelve others were indicted but never arrested or tried.

Unsurprisingly, the riot was interpreted by the press in accordance with their politics. The Republican Plain Dealer of Charleston said:
What the end. of this state of things will be, we can. not tell; but if the government does not now take the matter in hand, we fear that the terribly exasperated soldiery and citizens will. Union men have long been threatened and Union soldiers have been so bitterly cursed, and now brutally butchered, by those from whom better things had been. expected, that forbearance will cease—has ceased—to be a virtue. Loyal men here, and the soldiers at the front, are endeavoring to uphold the laws of the land; but they cannot, and will not, stand unconcernedly by. and see their fellows assassinated for so doing.
On the other side, the New York World wrote, “The troubles in the West are clearly due to an. unhealthy public sentiment among the Republicans, countenancing drunken soldiers in insulting peaceable citizens.” You can read this article for more of the history of this story.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Red River Campaign Begins

Red River Campaign
As Grant took command of all the Union armies in March, 1864, one major movement was already under way. For some time Henry Halleck and Nathaniel Banks had been planning a campaign up the Red River in Louisiana. Banks would move to capture Shreveport, LA, the Confederate headquarters in the Trans-Mississippi, along the way destroying the Confederate army under Richard Taylor, and seizing cotton from the Confederate plantations. This movement began 150 years ago today, on March 12, 1864. Banks had about 20,000 in his army, along with 10,000 more from Sherman, who would have to be sent back in April. He was supported by the flotilla of David Porter, with 26 warships of varying amounts of armor. At the beginning of the campaign Taylor had only 10,000 men in Louisiana to oppose him, but he had learned during his time under Stonewall Jackson, and the Federals would not be able defeat him without a hard fight.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Grant Appointed Lieutenant General

Over the past three years of civil war the Union had been plagued with bad generals, especially in the east, where a series of them had been defeated by the Army of Northern Virginia. But they had at least one successful army commander, and that was Ulysses S. Grant. Grant had begun the war under inauspicious circumstances, a prewar military career had ended with his resignation under charges of drunkenness. Back in the army, he performed very well, capturing Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and then marching into Tennessee. He beat off an attack at Shiloh, and after months of campaigning was able to capture the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Moving to Chattanooga, he supervised the attacks that broke the siege of the town.

150 years ago today Grant got a reward for his successes. Congress had revived the rank of Lieutenant General, previously held only by George Washington and Winfield Scott, who had it by brevet. Grant was given this rank, and with it the command of all the Federal armies. It was hoped that he could develop a cohesive strategy that would lead the Union its to long-sought victory.

Missionary Ridge
In his report written over a year after his appointment, Grant said:
The resources of the enemy and his numerical strength were far inferior to ours; but as an offset to this, we had a vast territory, with a population hostile to the Government, to garrison, and long lines of river and railroad communications to protect, to enable us to supply the operating armies. The armies in the East and West acted independently and without concert, like a balky team, no two ever pulling together, enabling the enemy to use to great advantage his interior lines of communication for transporting troops from east to west....

From the first, I was firm in the conviction that no peace could be had that would be stable and conducive to the happiness of the people, both North and South, until the military power of the rebellion was entirely broken. I therefore determined, first, to use the greatest number of troops practicable against the armed force of the enemy, preventing him from using the same force at different seasons against first one and then another of our armies, and the possibility of repose for refitting and producing necessary supplies for carrying on resistance; second, to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but an equal submission with the loyal section of our common country to the constitution and laws of the land. These views have been kept constantly in mind, and orders given and campaigns made to carry them out.
His plan was for Sherman to lead the attack on one of the main Confederate armies, that of Joseph E. Johnston, while George Meade pressed on the other, that of Robert E. Lee. Although Meade remained in command, Grant would be on hand to directly supervise him. Smaller movements were also planned, such as Franz Sigel's into the Shenandoah Valley and Nathaniel Bank's Red River Campaign.