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Archive for the month “June, 2013”

Four Generals Who Died In Other Than Martial Conflict

I am a collector of Civil War trivia.  I love to gather similiar stories into lists.  These facts seem to be of interest to others as well but I just get a kick out of gathering these stories.

There were four generals killed in duels or just plain murdered for one of a number of reasons.  There may be more, but since I started my list with these four I will be able to add others if I discover them.  You may have heard about one or more of these events but did you know of all three?

  • Union Major General Jefferson Columbus Davis killed Major General William “Bull” Nelson at the Galt House in Louisville, Kentucky over an argument and insult on 29 September 1862.  Davis had been offended by Nelson on previous occasions and when slapped this time he simply drew his pistol and got satisfaction. 
  • Confederate General Earl Van Dorn was killed by a jealous husband, Dr. james Bodie Peters, at Ferguson Hall near Spring Hill, Tennessee on 7 May 1863.   VanDorn was a notorious womanizer and had been having an affair with Mrs. Jessie McKissack Peters, the doctor’s wife.  VanDorn was shot in the back of the head at his headquarters while writing at a desk.  VanDorn served heroically in the Mexican War and the Indian Campaigns in Texas and Indian Territory (Oklahoma).  In the “Late Unpleasantness” he rose to corps and army command in the West and Trans-Mississippi Theaters but he was most successful as a cavalry commander.
  • Confederate General John Sappington Marmaduke mortally wounded Brigadier General Lucius M. Walker in a duel near Little Rock, Arkansas on 6 September 1863 over a challenge made by Walker for a charge of cowardice rendered by Marmaduke.
  • Confederate Major General John Austin Wharton was shot and killed as a result of an argument with Colonel George Wythe Baylor on 6 April 1865 over the distribution of forces in the Trans-Mississippi Theater at the Fannin Hotel in Galveston, Texas, the headquarters of Gen John MacGruder.

Interesting stories each and to my knowledge none of the killers were ever punished.

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How The Civil War In Missouri Set The Rules of War

When General Henry Halleck was the commander in Missouri he was confronted with the guerrilla problem and was not clear on what was legal or ethical to use to counter the problem.  “Old Brains”, as he was called, was a deep thinker and somewhat of a procrastinator when he was not in control of all the facts.  He wanted to resolve with the problem but did not want any lingering consequences.

He asked a German-American jurist philosopher professor at Columbia University to render an analysis and propose a solution to his dilema. Francis Lieber was an authority on Napoleon’s campaign in Spain where the emperor had similiar problems.  His treatis became the basis for the subsequent laws of war including the geneva and Hague Conventions.   Lieber’s code was in no small part the foundation of the Union decision to recruit black soldiers and provided a framework to deal with issues such as activist behavior of enemy women such as Clara Judd.

The Code published 24 April 1863 as the Instructions For The Government of Armies of the United States in the Field or as General Order No. 100 was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.  The code prescribed how United States soldiers were to conduct themselves in wartime.  The code provided a legal basis for Sherman’s March to the Sea, Grant’s actions in Mississippi and Hunter’s campaign in the Carolinas. 

It is an interesting topic that I heard about some time ago and then I heard it mentioned at a symposium I attended on the Trans-Mississippi Theater.  A recent article in America’s Civil War magazine discussed the effect of the code on Clara Judd, a widow arrested in Mitchellville, Tennessee.  The code allowed a more serious approach to dealing with women who were liberally taking advantage of the chivalrous attitude of the time.

It is a subject that any serious student of the War of the Rebellion should be ware of. How could I have not heard about it for so long? 

How Did Civil War Soldiers Use Spare Time

Very little time during the war was spent fighting or marching.  Camp time was a combination of preparing food, standing guard, drilling or recreating.  Camp chores were divided among mess groups of squad size groups of 6-10 men.  Rations were issued based on the number of men in the mess.  But if you have ever been camping with a group of boy or girl scouts you know how much water needs to be hauled for cooking or cleaning up.  Fire wood must be gathered and cut.  Latrines must be dug, filled and redug.  Fortifications required gathering logs and moving dirt but once the trench works were completed some spare time was available.

Draughts, or checkers as we know it, was very popular around camp.  Newspapers from home were read and reread making the rounds in camp.  Letters were written and diaries were posted.  Chess tournaments and church services were regular events as well as baseball games, bowling with cannon balls and horseshoe tournaments.  Wintertime stimulated snowball fights.

Some crafters were busy carving various items and drawing on various accoutraments. 

The soldiers on picket duty often traded tobacco for coffee and newspapers with the enemy and socialization between pickets was common.  Occasional furloughs allowed visits home or at least away from the camp.  It is clear that boredom was possible but considering the youth and enthusiasm of young Americans on both sides there was always something going on. 

Civil War Gold

Junkie just returned from a tour of the West. We spent some time in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Now nothing that I know relating to the “Late Unpleasantness” occurred there but I was reintroduced to a Union army personality named George A. Custer. Custer led an expedition into the then unexplored Black Hills area from Ft Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck, North Dakota. Along with him were two civilian mineralogists who discovered the gold which led to the Dakota Gold rush of 1874-76 and ultimately to Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn.

I got to thinking of all the American Gold Rushes and stumbled into some interesting Civil War material.

There were three US Mints confiscated by southern states upon secession, Dahlonega, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina and New Orleans, Louisiana. Gold was discovered in Georgia as the first Gold Rush in 1828. Both Dahlonega and Charlotte were sister mints and minted gold and silver coin. The New Orleans Mint was famous for the execution of a Confederate William B. Mumford, who hauled down the US flag from the mint, and was hung by Gen Benjamin Butler in April 1862.

Both the sister mints discontinued operation in 1861 and consequently were never re-activated. The coins minted there now have become very valuable to collectors. These mints also processed bullion from California. $174,000,000 shipped east from San Francisco from the mines in California nd from the Comstock Lode in Nevada. This was an improtant source of funds for the Union.

The Confederate Treasury that traveled with Jefferson Davis when it left Danville, Virginia on 6 April 1865 represented the last assets of the Confederate Government worth $327,022. It included gold and silver coin and billion plus floor sweepings from the Dahlonega Mint, and donated jewelry. Also accompanying the Confederate assets were $450,000 in coin and specie checks (paper that could be converted to coin on demand) which were on deposit at Richmond banks. Total about $800,000 in 1865 dollars.

This money was to be paid to Confederate soldiers going home. Some was stolen by bandits in Lincoln County, Georgia. Union Col. Edward A. Wild led a search for the stolen assets and tortured the civilian Chennault family, who he believed was involved. About $111,000 was recovered and Wild was removed from command by US Grant.

Topographical Reconnaisance-What The Army Commander Needs to Move The Army

In my last post I disussed the lack of information General Robert E. Lee had during the Gettysburg Campaign.  But what did he have and why did he need more?

As the Army of Northern Virginia moved into Maryland and Pennsylvania Lee basically had only a road map.  That allowed him to designate routes for his force so they could move in parallel and supporting routes.  But what about topography? 

Topography lets the Civil War commander know what fords are available for his force.  Infantry can move across a water course in chest high water holding powder and weapon overhead.  But ambulances, supply wagons, artillery and caissons must have crossings below the level of the wagon bed or less than about 2-1/2 feet deep.  They must also must have approaches on both banks that are gentle inclines for entry and exit. The stream bottom must be firm and free of obstructions such as large rocks which could stall the wagons or injure the horses or mules.  None of this information was on the basic road map Lee had.  This information would normally be decerned by cavalry moving in advance of the main force.

Hills were also of concern.  Infantry can march up more steep inclines than can wagons and artillery.  Coming down a steep slope is often more problematic than going up. That explains why the best route for the artillery and supply trains often differed from the infantry route of march.  It was also important for the commander to know about defiles.  Defiles cause a narrowing of the force and stretching it out.  This makes it vulnerable to ambush or being held up by small enemy delaying forces.

This information in addition to enemy dispositions was the responsibility of the cavalry advance force.  Small detachments would be sent to recon farm roads and trails in an attempt to discover alternative routes.  In the case of Jedediah Hotchkiss, he would be sent ahead under cavalry escort and would sketch maps on a board mounted on the pomel of his saddle.  Interestingly it is said that he could accurately estimate distances by counting the steeps of his horse which were typically consistant at about 1050 paces per mile.  Changing to an unfamiliar mount could be a technical problem as you can see.

Road surfaces were also important to march speed of foot troops and cavalry.  When Lee entered Pennsylvania he left behind troops without shoes because the roads were macadamized (covered with crushed rock) which was an obstacle to barefoot troops.  These troops were left behind. 

A little side note, it is often discussed how the Battle of Gettysburg was brought on by a search for shoes. It is interesting to note that General Ewell comments that about 8000 pair of shoes were sucked off the feet of his men by the Potomac River mud on the return. A better crossing site in this regard would seem to have been desirable had time and circumstance allowed. 

These small details are always interesting to me and again I am indebted to the August 2013 Civil War Times article Fighting On Strange Ground by Earl B. McElfresh for his insite.

Importance of Civil War Chartographers-A Rare Look At A Necessary Staff Responsibility


The August issue of Civil War Times Magazine included a wonderful article about the intelligence gathering effort of the Army of Northern Virginia as it invaded Pennsylvania in 1863 and ultimately fought the great battle of Gettysburg. The article entitled Fighting on Strange Ground by Earl B. McElfresh is a unique analysis of the Confederate preparations or lack thereof.

As you may know Civil War trivia is my passion and I am always interested new or unique facts or situations. I was aware that the Union Army began printing topographical maps on a scale that far surpassed the Confederate capability. But I had never considered Robert E. Lee’s need for accurate topographical maps. Because he was fighting in Virginia, his own backyard so to speak, he had a great network of informants and Stuart’s excellent reconaisance abilities to rely on. However moving into Maryland and Pennsylvania in 1863 was another story.

According to the article, Stonewall Jackson had set his topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, to preparing maps for the upcoming campaign season prior to his untimely death at Chancellorsville. This forward thinking must have been one of the little appreciated advantages Jackson brought to Lee’s genius. Unfortunately, the distractions caused by Hotchkiss assignments in regard to Chancellorsville delayed if not sidetracked his map making effort. He was assigned to accompany Jackson from the battlefield to safety and after the battle was tasked to prepare the detailed maps for Lee’s afteraction report. The latter must have been a daunting and all consuming task. Therefore the preparation of the tactical maps for the Pennsylvania Invasion complicated by Stuart’s protracted absence left Lee blind as he moved into unfriendly territory.

Three Civil War Dates That Changed History

At the last Civil War Roundtable meeting I was given a book called It Happened In the Civil War, by Michael R. Bradley. It is loaded with interesting information that might be considered trivia. Some of the commentary is at odds with information I had previously believed true. Now my task is finding out what is correct. Sometimes not an easy task. For example, The book states that Captain Edward Porter Alexander, the artillerist at Gettysburg, was the first and only pilot of the “Confederate Air Force”. But there was an earlier civilian balloonist named John Randolph Bryan, “Balloon Bryan”, who ascended in a balloon for Gen. Joe Johnston in 1861. What is right? That is what makes a trivia junkie’s life exciting! I believe Alexander was a Confederate Officer and was in the Service of the Confederate Army. Bryan was a civilian contractor.

In any event, the three dates of note, I mentioned in the title, are 8 March 1862-the day that wooden navies died with the first clash between ironclad warships at Hampton Roads; 24 June 1863-the date of the engagement at Hoover’s Gap where Col. John Wilder’s Brigade first demonstrated the firepower of semi-automatic rifles by employing Spencer Repeating Rifles against a superior force; and lastly 17 February 1864- the Confederate submarine Hunley sinks the USS Housatonic off Charleston Harbor. These three dates presaged the horrors of warfare seen in the World Wars of the 20th Century.

We are all familiar with the Battle between the Monitor and the Merrimec. And most have heard about the Hunley but the engagement at Hoovers Gap was new to me and may be of interest to you.

Col. John Wilder’s Mounted Infantry Brigade of midwesterners from Indiana and Illinois were armed by Wilder with Spencer Repeating Rifles which the men in the brigade paid for themselves. Since the US Army Ordnance Bureau was not interested in the weapon because of the high cost of ammunition and the feeling that the men would be wasteful with the ammunition. Wilder arranged for the purchase while he was home on leave. The rifle, invented by Christopher Spencer, was a .52-caliber weapon weighing ten pounds. In the stock was a cylinder that held seven rimfire cartridges. Chambering a new round only required moving the trigger guard down and back. Several additional cylinders were carried by each rifleman. The rifle was sighted by a rear sight that allowed dead accuracy at three-hundred yards and reasonable accuracy at 2000 yards.

Rifles cost each man $35 and considering a private’s pay was only $16 per month it required that they pay for the weapon in monthly installmants. The men were investing in their own future.

The baptism of fire occurred along the Manchester Pike on 24 June 1863 during the Tullahoma Campaign in middle Tennessee. Wilder’s Brigade was about nine miles ahead of Thomas’ main force when it passed through Hoover’s Gap. Facing a deliberate attack by Brigadier William Bate’s Confederate brigade, later reinforced by the southern brigade of Brigadier Bushrod Johnson, Wilder’s force literally blasted their way passed the opposition who could not stand up to the bluecoat’s firepower. The day of the single shot muzzle loader had seen its demise.

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