Monday, July 30, 2018

Chambersburg and Moorefield

Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, was burned on this date in 1864 by Confederate Brigadier General John McCausland, by order of Lt. Gen. Jubal Early. 
Retreating into West Virginia, McCausland's force was pursued by cavalry under US Brigadier General William W. Averell, another obscure Union raider.
Outnumbered, Averell launched a surprise and victorious night attack at Moorefield on Aug. 7, inflicting losses which reduced the effectiveness of Confederate cavalry for the rest of the Shenandoah Valley campaign.
On Sept. 23, after the Battle of Fisher's Hill, Averell would be relieved by Major General Philip Sheridan, in circumstances not dissimilar from his relief the next year of Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Warren at Five Forks. Sheridan may or may not have been justified , but both Averell and Warren did good service through most of the war.



Saturday, July 28, 2018

George Stoneman and Levon Helm

 George Stoneman (seen above at front center near Fair Oaks, Va., June 1862) seems to have been a troubled and unlucky man in his Army and family life. On this date in 1864, he was a day into a cavalry raid east and south of Atlanta, which would end somewhat ignominiously in his capture on July 31.
He was exchanged after three months and led a couple more raids, the last immortalized in The Band's 1969 song, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. That is a rebel's lament written by a Canadian, Robbie Robertson, and influenced and sung by an Arkansan, Levon Helm. It is the greatest song about the Civil War since The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Go Down Moses, with both of which it sharply contrasts.
Stoneman's last raid in southwestern Virginia was not merely destructive, even though Helm may have seen it that way. It played a role in denying supplies to Robert. E. Lee's army and cutting off its retreat, helping set the stage for Appomattox. Then, continuing into North Carolina, the raiders may have helped convince Confederate General Joe Johnston to give up, too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

In Memoriam

Yesterday, the 133rd anniversary of the death of Ulysses S. Grant, the cottage was closed, as usual on Monday. Our annual Remembrance Day was held the day before. (I did not go, but was giving tours the day before that, Saturday.) Monday was, however, marked by a cheerful pot-luck dinner at the visitor center, attended by my fellow volunteers and some staff and board members, at which I won this memorial album produced not long after Grant died.
 It has pictures from his youth and childhood,
and depictions of Grant the soldier,
the politician,
and various others.
 The booklet reminds me of a couple of pictures hanging on the walls of our house, one an 1869 photo of President Grant and associates in Saratoga Springs, which I was given several years ago at the cottage,

and the other a copy of a May 1864 illustration of Lincoln and Grant given to me many years ago by my wife Barbara, with whom I first visited the cottage in 1983 when we were not yet married, and were greeted by caretakers Suye and Tony Gambino.

Then there is this other image from Mount McGregor, turned into the cover of a book:







Monday, July 23, 2018

Dix and Wool (updated)

On this date in 1861, the day before his 63rd birthday, Major General John Dix (above) was appointed to command the Department of Maryland. In that capacity, he would make judicious use of Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus to arrest a few key Confederate sympathizers, including members of the state legislature, to such effect that secession was avoided. These tactics have been much decried, including by US Chief Justice Roger Taney (author of the Dred Scott decision), from that day to this. But, if the arrests did serve to prevent secession, they were undoubtedly a military necessity. With Virginia already the strongest part of the Confederacy, Washington, DC could not have survived in Union hands if surrounded by another rebel state.

In 1863, Dix took over the Department of the East from the considerably older Major General John Wool (below), whose distinguished Civil War service included the capture of Norfolk, Va. 
The move was made during -- or in the immediate aftermath of -- the New York City draft riots, which Wool had worked hard to suppress despite a shortage of troops on hand. The old soldier returned to his home town of Troy, NY, and despite his repeated requests never received another command. Wool is buried in north Troy, in the same cemetery as the Rock of Chickamauga.

(July 24 update:) Some say the threat of secession was exaggerated in Maryland in 1861. But in another crucial border state, Kentucky, it persisted well after that, as I was surprised to discover in researching my Granger book. The Union major generals overseeing civil affairs in Kentucky at the end of 1862, Horatio Wright and Gordon Granger, were seriously concerned about the possibility of that state seceding, and took steps to forestall it.



Thursday, July 19, 2018

Longstreet at Blackburn's Ford (updated)

On the morning of this date in 1861, few people had heard of Confederate Brigadier General James "Pete" Longstreet, and that day's skirmish at Blackburn's Ford would not make him famous, either. [Correction: Yesterday's date, i.e. it was July 18, 1861.]
Four years later, he had proven himself one of the war's great generals, successful on almost every field until the last days of action, with one great and well known exception in early July 1863. But at Gettysburg the Confederate defeat was caused by Robert. E. Lee's rejection of Longstreet's excellent advice.
Longstreet was a good friend of Grant before the war, and their friendship resumed the day after the surrender when Grant, still at Appomattox, saw Longstreet and greeted him warmly. The only time they met in battle against each other was in 1864 at Wilderness, where Longstreet's corps almost carried the day before he was wounded.
After the war, Longstreet was a courageous fighter for the rights of African-Americans. This did not endear him to the "Lost Cause" school of Confederate historians and myth-makers, led by the former general Jubal Early. It is perhaps noteworthy that Longstreet's victory at Blackburn's Ford was diminished by an accidental attack on his troops from Col. Early's reinforcements.
It was at Blackburn's Ford that a Union shell struck the kitchen of Wilmer McLean's house, helping persuade that gentleman to move west to Appomattox. Lee would surrender to Grant in McLean's parlor on April 9, 1865.

(Update later on July 19:) Not long after Lee's death in 1870, Early famously and unfairly blamed Longstreet for the defeat at Gettysburg. At that battle, Longstreet's corps took huge losses in its attacks on the Union left and center on July 2 and 3.
 In-between, on the evening of July 2, it was Krzyzanowski's Charge which dislodged Early's men from their incursion on the Union right, at East Cemetery Hill.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Disastrous Appointment of Hood


On this date in 1864, Confederate President Jefferson Davis told Joseph E. Johnston, "... you are hereby relieved from the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood."
Johnston had recently won a defensive victory at Kennesaw Mountain against an uncharacteristic frontal attack by US Major General William T. Sherman. But, to Davis' chagrin, Johnston was then compelled to continue retreating when Sherman reverted to using his superior numbers in flanking maneuvers north of Atlanta.
 Hood delivered as expected a new offensive strategy, launching an assault on the Army of the Cumberland under George Thomas on July 20 at Peachtree Creek, in which Thomas' fellow Virginia Unionist, US Brigadier General John Newton, played a key defensive role, and Thomas himself placed and directed an artillery battery. On July 22, Hood launched another attack against the US Army of the Tennessee, whose young commander, Maj. General James McPherson, was a friend of Grant. Both these Confederate offensive actions, and another on July 28 at Ezra Church, failed with heavy casualties, although the Union dead on July 22 included McPherson.
By the beginning of September, after various other engagements, Sherman captured Atlanta. He then set off on a more or less unopposed march to Savannah on the Atlantic coast, dispatching Thomas to defend Tennessee against a potential invasion by Hood.
Hood did set off for Tennessee, where he wasted his men's lives in an unsuccessful assault on Franklin. Then he advanced to Nashville, where his army was crushed by Thomas' counter-offensive in mid-December. The aggressive strategy of Davis and Hood had produced nothing but Confederate casualties.
The capture of Atlanta helped convince the northern electorate that the war was not stalemated, giving a necessary boost to Lincoln's re-election campaign. The political defeat of Lincoln was the Confederacy's last military hope, and, in hindsight, it is clear that only the retention of the highly competent Johnston could have given the Rebels any chance of holding Atlanta until after the election.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee was led during 1862 and 1863 by Braxton Bragg, whose tenure was about as disastrous as John Bell Hood's in 1864. Bragg, another friend of Davis, was finally relieved after his defeat by Grant at Chattanooga, but retained influence with  the president, advising him to replace Johnston, whom Davis detested, with Hood.
In Grant's Memoirs, he writes:
   "It was known that Mr. Jefferson Davis had visited Bragg on Missionary Ridge a short time before my reaching Chattanooga. It was reported and believed that he had come out to reconcile a serious difference between Bragg and Longstreet, and finding this difficult to do, planned the campaign against Knoxville, to be conducted by the latter general.
   … It may be that Longstreet was not sent to Knoxville for the reason stated, but because Mr. Davis had an exalted opinion of his own military genius, and thought he saw a chance of  'killing two birds with one stone.' On several occasions during the war he came to the relief of the Union army by means of his superior military genius."
Weakening Bragg's army by sending Longstreet to Knoxville was indeed a very foolish military decision, as was retaining Bragg so long in high command and influence -- as, for that matter, was attacking Fort Sumter in 1861, although that perhaps was more of a political blunder.
 But no military decision by Davis was more disastrous than his replacement of Johnston with Hood, the folly of which was recognized at the time by Sherman and other Union generals. Unlike Lincoln, the Confederate president lacked the capacity to learn from his military mistakes.


Monday, July 16, 2018

Holmes, Hindman and Herron

On this date in 1862, Theophilus H. Holmes replaced Confederate Major General Thomas Hindman as commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, Holmes, a friend of President Jefferson Davis, in October was promoted to lieutenant general, despite his lack of significant achievements in the current war.
Holmes made what seemed like the sensible decision to leave Hindman -- a generation younger -- in field command. Hindman was a longtime friend of another Confederate general, Patrick Cleburne, but while he shared the latter's energy and commitment, he lacked his military genius.
In early December, Hindman moved against James Blunt's Union division in northwestern Arkansas, which was reinforced by another division commanded by a brigadier general, Francis Herron. It was Herron's men who did most of the marching, fighting and dying on the federal side at the subsequent Battle of Prairie Grove. This was the 25-year-old Herron's third major battle, after Wilson's Creek in southwestern Missouri in 1861, and Pea Ridge over the Arkansas line in March 1862. The two Arkansas battles were Union victories.
Blunt and Herron next captured Van Buren, Ark., on Dec. 28, 1862, before ending the campaign. In 1863, Herron joined the siege of Vicksburg on the Mississippi, serving under Grant.
 The historical marker pictured above perhaps should have mentioned that Union victories in Arkansas helped US forces capture Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the last Confederate bases on the Mississippi, in July 1863.
 Herron is a major character in The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Rosecrans and Grant


George McClellan and William Rosecrans got the reputation of being slow-moving generals in the Civil War US Army, but they moved fast enough in western Virginia in 1861 to create the conditions for a new state of the Union. And that summer, as in the fall of 1862 under Grant in west Tennessee, it was Rosecrans and his soldiers who were doing the actual fighting.
Today is the 157th anniversary of his first victory, at Rich Mountain, Virginia (now West Virginia).
The next year, at the battles of Iuka and Corinth, Grant was dissatisfied enough with his performance that he was on the verge of relieving him, when (perhaps to Grant's surprise) Rosecrans was promoted to command the Army of the Cumberland. The promotion came because to most people Iuka and Corinth looked like victories for which Rosecrans should receive credit. But Grant thought he was slow in pursuit. 
At the end of the year, at Murfreesboro, Rosecrans eked out a hard-won victory as his chief of staff  riding alongside was decapitated by a cannon ball. Then he gathered strength for half a year, infuriating Secretary of War Edwin Stanton back in Washington, before launching the Tullahoma campaign that drove the Confederates out of middle Tennessee -- without, however, severely damaging their army.
Rosecrans had a bad second day at Chickamauga, which justified his ouster by Lincoln, Stanton and Grant. The latter, en route to take over a defeated army, crossed paths with Rosecrans. As Grant relates in his Memoirs, quietly twisting the knife, "we held a brief interview, in which he described very clearly the situation at Chattanooga, and made some excellent suggestions as to what should be done. My only wonder was that he had not carried them out."
Rosecrans was shifted to Missouri, where in 1864 he dispatched Alfred Pleasonton's cavalry to help drive out Sterling Price's Confederate raiders. (Grant, predictably, found fault with his performance.)
He left the Army after the war, and was elected to Congress in 1880, where he opposed a pension for Grant. But at the last, as Grant's life was running out, according to Adam Badeau: "Rivals in the army like Buell and Rosecrans made known that the calamity which impended over the nation was a sorrow for them, because they were Americans."

Friday, July 6, 2018

Bristow's Progress

Benjamin H. Bristow, a Kentucky lawyer, volunteered for the US Army and served under Grant in 1862 at Donelson and Shiloh, where he was wounded. After recovering, he helped raise a new regiment, the 8th Kentucky Cavalry, which he led following the promotion of its colonel, James Shackleford, to brigadier general.
From at least July 2 through July 26, 1863, Col. Bristow's regiment, serving under Shackleford, was among those pursuing Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan's cavalry in its "great raid" through Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia and Ohio, which ended in the defeat and capture of Confederate forces. Morgan himself was captured, although he escaped in November, and was killed in 1864.
Bristow left the Army in 1863 to serve in the Indiana Senate. He later became an important and constructive member of the Grant administration, although falling out with the president in 1876 and resigning his post.
Bristow is a character in The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

For July 4: Two colonels of the 21st Illinois

On this date in 1861, the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment observed Independence Day festivities before and after a 17-mile march. They were en route from Springfield to Quincy, in the west of the state on the Mississippi River, across from the disputed slave state of Missouri. Grant, the regiment's new colonel, had elected to march rather than going by rail "for the purpose of discipline and speedy efficiency for the field," as he reported after the war (by then a lieutenant general) to the adjutant general of Illinois.
July 4 was notable in Grant's life for the birth of his daughter Nellie in 1855, and the surrender of Vicksburg in 1863.
Grant was promoted to brigadier general on Aug. 5, 1861, and his replacement as colonel of the 21st Illinois was Lt. Col. John W. S. Alexander, from Edgar County in eastern Illinois. He had joined up as a captain, and had prior volunteer experience in the Mexican War.
The regiment would go on to suffer more than 300 casualties at the Battle of Murfreesboro at the end of 1862, and another 238 at Chickamauga in 1863. Alexander was among the wounded at Murfreesboro (also known as Stone's River). Grant was not present at either battle.
Grant ended his postwar report by referring to "that gallant and Christian officer, Colonel Alexander, who afterwards yielded up his life whilst nobly leading it [the 21st] in the Battle of Chickamauga." Alexander's grave marker at Edgar Cemetery is shown at the top of this post.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Krzy┼╝anowski's Charge

The most famous bayonet charge on this date in 1863, the middle day of the Battle of Gettysburg, was from Little Round Top, on the southern, left flank of the Union line, when Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain led the out-of-ammunition 20th Maine to drive away their Confederate attackers.
But there was another one later in the day, after dark, at the other end of the Union Line on Cemetery Hill (where Lincoln, four months later, delivered the Gettysburg Address).

The previous day, July 1, the Union forces had been driven back and through Gettysburg. Among the units taking heavy casualties were the Second Brigade, consisting of five regiments commanded by Col. Vladimir Krzyzanowski, of the Third Division, commanded by another immigrant soldier, Major General Carl Schurz, of XI Corps (led by Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard). The brigade's total losses at Gettysburg were 698 killed, wounded or missingKrzyzanowski himself was injured and knocked unconscious that first day when his horse was shot, but he stayed with his men.

The Confederate attacks on Cemetery and Culp's hills at the depleted north end of the Union line came late in the day of July 2, and the Louisiana Tigers brigade (in the division of Major General Jubal Early) did take the summit of East Cemetery Hill. But Schurz and Kryzanowski immediately led two of the regiments in the latter's brigade, the 58th and 119th New York, with fixed bayonets to retake the position, which they did with assistance from Col. Samuel Carroll's brigade of II Corps (dispatched by Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock). The 119th, led by Krzyzanowski, pursued the Confederates to the base of the hill, then lay down to allow Union artillery to fire over them.

By 1885, Krzyzanowski was working in the same US Customs house in lower Manhattan from which Herman Melville had recently retired, and he is a recurring character in The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant. (Schurz comes up as a subject of conversation and criticism -- for his turn against Reconstruction -- by Nadine Turchin.)

Upcoming Events

I'll be at the Chronicle Book Fair this Sunday, Nov. 4, from 11 to 3 at the Queensbury Hotel in downtown Glens Falls. I'll be do...