Friday, August 31, 2018


Thanks to Nick Thony of the Capital District Civil War Round Table for this 51-minute intelligent interview about both the Grant and Granger books. I'm happy with it except for one thing: I can't stand people saying "you know" when yakking on radio or TV, and there I am doing it. Next time I will better guard my tongue. It was recorded earlier this month at the Civil War Weekend.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Mick Jagger, Chris Mackowski and Levon Helm (updated)

This is not, in fact, the moment during today's talk by Chris Mackowski at Grant Cottage when he imitated the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger singing Under My Thumb, in describing newly promoted Lt.-Gen. Grant's relationship with his erstwhile superior, Maj.-Gen. Henry Halleck.
No, this was earlier in the engaging presentation about Civil War turning points, maybe when he talked about Grant's decision en route to Fort Donelson "not to thread telegraph wire" behind him so as to avoid Halleck's close supervision. Or  it could have been when he sketched out Grant's finessing Halleck's timid order, after the victory at Donelson, not to take Nashville, by getting Brig.-Gen. Don Carlos Buell to take it, instead.
Mackowski, prolific and trenchant author and editor-in-chief of Emerging Civil War, is always worth listening to (i.e. not just when he is gracious enough to plug my book), and he set out Grant-related turning points from Donelson to Chattanooga and Wilderness. But he wound up with the key one at Vicksburg, and I wouldn't argue with that -- though I do think he was a little hard on Halleck, and, in this Grant-hallowed place, scanted the significance of Meade's great defensive victory at Gettysburg. Turning points crop up all over. But Mackowski is right that it was soldiers under Grant's orders who, through four years of warfare, Drove Old Dixie Down.

Update August 27: I don't mean to imply that Mackowski's talk was unserious. He properly noted, for example, the shock and horror felt through the nation at the news of the war's first mass-casualty battle, Shiloh.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Paducah, Kentucky

Newly appointed Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant did not yet possess the uniform on this date in 1861, his 13th wedding anniversary. Stationed in Jefferson City, Missouri, he was soon summoned, still lacking the proper uniform, to St. Louis by Major General John Fremont, who appointed him to the crucial command post of Cairo at the southern tip of Illinois, just north of where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi. 
August 22 was an eventful day on the Ohio at Paducah, Kentucky, where the Union Navy seized a boat used by the Confederates, but the rebels retaliated by seizing a larger Yankee one, and taking it south up the Tennessee River.
In early September, after the Confederates violated Kentucky's purported neutrality by moving north to occupy Columbus, Grant moved rapidly east, on his own authority, to seize Paducah. The Ohio River was now under Union control, and Abraham Lincoln registered his approval. 
In November, Grant's army would move down the Mississippi to fight a battle at Belmont, Missouri, across from Columbus. Early the next year, it moved again by boat, this time southeast up the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers with the Navy to attack Confederate forts Henry and Donelson. Their capture (along with the rebel army after a battle at Donelson) forced the Confederates to withdraw from Columbus and many other places they would not recover, including Clarksville and Nashville, Tennessee.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Dakota Sioux Uprising ...

… in Minnesota began on this date in 1862. It resulted, on Dec. 26, in the largest mass hanging in American history. Lincoln commuted most of the 303 death sentences, but allowed the 38 pictured above to proceed.
The Indians had killed many civilians, and one vivid perspective on the war, sympathetic to both sides, can be seen in the Swedish film The New Land.  The film is a sequel to The Emigrants, and equally impressive. Both date from the early 1970s, co-written and directed by Jan Troell, starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, and based on novels by Vilhelm Moberg.
After the Dakota War, the surviving Sioux were expelled west, where some may have encountered Custer in 1876.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Second Battle of Dalton ...

… was concluded on this date in 1864, when James Steedman (above), US major general of volunteers, brought down a relief force by train from Chattanooga to drive off the 4,000 Confederate cavalry raiders under Joseph Wheeler who were besieging Dalton in northwestern Georgia. Confederate General John Bell Hood hoped Wheeler's raid would lift the ongoing siege of Atlanta by sufficiently disrupting Major General William T. Sherman's supply line -- which it failed to do.

Steedman was a colorful character with a combat record dating back to West Virginia in 1861, and including the heroic relief of George Thomas at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. After Dalton, in December 1864, he would lead a division under Thomas at Nashville. While that battle was an overwhelming victory, Steedman's African-American troops suffered heavy casualties.

 In-between, still at Chattanooga, Steedman encountered an unimpressed regular, Major General David Stanley, who wrote in his memoirs:
 "At the time he was living in very high style, holding a gay court. The Princess [Agnes] Salm Salm was his guest and occasionally the Prince, who was colonel of a New York regiment stationed about twenty miles from headquarters, dropped in. The Princess was a very beautiful woman, afterwards mixed up with the tragedy of Maximillian. Steedman was dead in love with the woman and such an idiot that I could not get any work out of him. In fact he was so taken up with making love to the Princess and drinking champagne that it was difficult to see this great potentate of Chattanooga." 

Monday, August 13, 2018

General Powell Clayton

"How come I never heard of this guy?" must be a constant refrain of those of us researching Civil War history -- in this case, mostly using The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

A volunteer from humble origins in Pennsylvania, Clayton did most of his fighting before being promoted to US brigadier general in August 1864. He was a captain at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri in 1861, but spent most of the war in Arkansas.
Colonel Clayton commanded the right wing cavalry in the successful defense of Helena on July 4, 1863. Then, when Major General Frederick Steele moved from Vicksburg to Helena to command Union forces, Clayton helped him capture Little Rock.
Given independent command at Pine Bluff, on Oct. 25, 1863, he successfully defended it with the assistance of freed slaves against far superior Confederate numbers led by Brigadier General John Marmaduke. The next spring, Clayton led a raid from Pine Bluff in support of Steele's Camden Expedition, itself a part of the Red River Campaign. While the wider campaign was not successful, US forces escaped from disaster, in part due to the positive role of Clayton's force. 

After the war, he was a Reconstruction governor and US senator, then moved with his family to the resort town of Eureka Springs, which he helped develop. Under Presidents McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, Clayton served as ambassador to Mexico.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Back in the Saddle Again

No, not me, literally, but I will be back up at DA Collins on Ballard Road, Wilton, NY, for conclusion of Civil War Weekend. The Grant Cottage-sponsored event includes re-enactors, music, food and more. I'll show up by noon with books to sell and sign.
(Photo from yesterday by Mike Lesser)
Update: I made it into  Jason Subik's Daily Gazette story:

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Civil War Weekend

A Confederate corporal keeps an eye on Union cavalry in rear. This morning at Civil War Weekend, sponsored by Grant Cottage, at DA  Collins, Ballard Road, Wilton, with re-enactors, music, food and more. Come on up and I'll sell you a book.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"Put Not Your Trust in Princes"

On this date in 1861, Confederate Brigadier General Magruder burned Hampton, Virginia, the most destructive act yet directed at civilian property during the war. 
"Prince" John Magruder had served most of his life in the US Army, and was a favorite of his fellow Virginian Winfield Scott during the Mexican War. He burned Hampton because it was in the long run indefensible, and "was the harbor of runaway slaves and traitors." 
Magruder later found some success delaying George McClellan's advance in the Peninsula Campaign, and, on New Year's Day 1863, recapturing Galveston, Texas, from Admiral David Farragut. 
That admiral decided to leave Galveston in Rebel hands to focus on his top priority, the Mississippi River campaign, which was arguably the product of the much mocked Anaconda Plan of former chief General Winfield Scott. Scott, unlike Magruder, stayed loyal to the United States.
Farragut was another loyal son of the South. He and the midwestern border-state men Lincoln and Grant were turning Scott's plan into action. Magruder, left behind in Texas and Arkansas west of the Mississippi, was condemned to strategic irrelevance.
After the war, he was among the unreconstructed Confederates who went off to serve the Austrian prince who had been installed by the French emperor as emperor of Mexico, and met with no greater success.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Battle of Baton Rouge

Albany, NY, native and Brigadier General Thomas Williams was killed on this date in 1862, leading US forces defending Baton Rouge, La. The Confederate general commanding was John Breckinridge, who had been a candidate for US president in 1860 while serving as vice president under James Buchanan.
Col. Thomas Cahill took over command from Williams, leading the army back closer to the Mississippi River, where Union gunboats were able to play a crucial role in artillery support. Breckinridge was forced to retreat and suffered heavier casualties, but also won time to reinforce Port Hudson to the north, which would be the last Confederate outpost on the Mississippi when it finally surrendered in July 1863. US forces withdrew from Baton Rouge later in August 1862, but then reoccupied it in December through the end of the war.
Cahill, an ornamental plasterer before the war, was a civic leader in New Haven, Ct. The wartime correspondence between him and his wife, Margaret, was recently published. Unfortunately, he died in 1869 and she in 1870, leaving their children orphaned.
Two of Williams' children became prominent in religious and medical matters out West. His theater commander in New Orleans, Maj. Gen. Ben Butler, gave him a glowing death announcement.

"We, his companions in arms, who had learned to love him, weep the true friend the gallant gentleman, the brave soldier, the accomplished officer the pure patriot and victorious hero, and the devoted Christian. All and more went out when Williams died. By a singular felicity the manner of his death illustrated each of these generous qualities.
"The chivalric American gentleman, he gave up the vantage of the cover of the houses of the city-forming his lines in the open field -- lest the women and children of his enemies should be hurt in the fight.
"A good general, he had made his dispositions and prepared for battle at the break of day, when he met his foe.
"A brave soldier, he received the death-shot leading his men."

Friday, August 3, 2018

Granger begins Mobile Bay campaign

On this date in 1864, Major General Gordon Granger landed in the late afternoon with 1,700 or fewer troops on the west end of Dauphin Island, on the west side of Mobile Bay, about 15 miles from Confederate-held Fort Gaines (above) at the east end of the island.  According to my 2013 biography of Granger, they "marched unobserved toward it through deep, heavy sand and drenching rain until midnight, then spent a mostly sleepless night being bitten by innumerable insects. They arrived west of Fort Gaines late the next day," bringing up light artillery and taking over two abandoned Confederate guns.
The next morning, Aug. 5, Granger's guns silenced rebel floating batteries in the bay, as well as two guns in Fort Gaines which were firing on Admiral David Farragut's Union fleet. The fleet was bombarding Fort Morgan, on the east side of the channel across from Fort Gaines, and doing battle with Confederate ships. They won control of Mobile Bay, enhancing the Union blockade -- albeit not for some months yet the city of Mobile, to the north. 
Fort Gaines surrendered on Aug. 8, and Granger shifted his attention to besieging Fort Morgan, which surrendered Aug. 23. 
Granger remained focused on the Mobile campaign for the rest of the war, and occupied the city on April 12, 1865. On May 25, he had to deal with a disastrous ammunition dump explosion, which killed several hundred people and burned a considerable part of Mobile.
Farragut's victory at Mobile Bay capped a dazzling Civil War career for the Union-loyal Virginian -- whose active service had begun in the War of 1812. He had led the fleet which captured New Orleans in April 1862, and the 1862-63 Mississippi River campaign culminating in the fall of Port Hudson.
Pictured below are the sea and land commanders at Mobile Bay, in Fort Gaines after its surrender and the naval battle, planning the reduction of Fort Morgan.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ammen and the Mutineers

Grant's friend Danny Ammen saved his life from drowning as a child, and went on to a long career in the US Navy, retiring as a rear-admiral in 1878. During the Civil War, he led the capture of Fort Beauregard at Port Royal in 1861, and then commanded ships in operations against Confederate forts from McAllister to Sumter and Fisher.
In-between (as I learned Tuesday in a typically informative talk by Steve Trimm at Grant Cottage), Ammen was put in charge of a large contingent of soldiers drafted into the Navy and headed for the West Coast. Many of them mutinied, according to this June 16, 1864 New York Times account, but order was restored by Ammen and others killing two of the ringleaders.
Ammen and Grant were lifelong friends, and when former President Johnson died in 1875, the Grant administration's acting secretary of the Navy was Daniel Ammen.
I will, because of a conflict, be unable to go to Dave Hubbard's Aug. 4 talk at Grant Cottage about John Newman, but recommend attendance to anyone interested in learning more about that sometimes maligned reverend. And the next weekend, Aug. 11-12, I'm scheduled to be selling books at the Grant Cottage-sponsored Civil War Weekend on Ballard Road.

NPR Adds Editor's Note to Juneteenth Story

 NPR National Correspondent John Burnett this morning added an editor's note to his June 20 story about General Gordon Granger and June...