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Archive for the month “July, 2013”

“Come On Down…and Bring ‘um With You”

According to an 1886 history of the Confederate Navy, Southern authorities recruited US Navy officers and men to come back to defend their home states and “bring with you  every ship and man”. 

Prior to the firing on Ft. Sumter, Confederate law authorized a CS Navy officer corps of four captains, four commanders and 30 lieutenants.  Fifteen captains, thirty-three commanders and seventy-eight former US lieutenants applied by July 1861. Several of these held significant responsibilities such as Franklin Buchanan, commander of the Washington Navy Ward.

The initial Confederate strategy was to defend the coast with fortifications and a $2,000,000 appropriation was passed to arm and equip 100 small gunboats each with two heavy caliber guns.  This was the largest appropriation for naval defense of the South. This strategy changed later in favor of larger armored warships.  The South had limited ability to produce guns but was fortunate to be able to acquire 1195 heavy guns, many of the most current design, from the Gosport Navy Yard they captured near Norfolk in April 1861. 

In any event, it is interesting to note that all the US Navy officers that resigned to go south, honorably did their duties in turning over to their replacements the ships and equipment they were responsible for and not a single Uniteds States vessel was delivered over to the Southern authorities by a departing officer.  That is a tribute to their dedication and professionalism even in the face of the moral dilema that each of them surely faced.     


The Famous Harriet Lane

Harriet Lane was the niece of US Senator and later President James Buchanan.  He being a batchelor designated this lovely woman as  First Lady during his presidency.

As was the custom, a US Revenue Cutter was christened in New York in 1859 and named the USRC Harriet Lane.  She was a proud side-wheel steam ship sheathed in copper.  Her crew of 95 Officers and men served a battery of seven guns which were later upgraded in size and firepower when she entered the Navy service in 1858 for diplomatic duty off Paraguay.    USS Harriet Lane returned to Revenue Service in 1859 and was assigned to carry the British Prince of Whales Edward Albert to Mount Vernon during the first visit of a member of a British Royal Family to America. 

On 30 March 1861 she was assigned to expedition to resupply Ft Sumter in Charleston Harbor.  During this duty Lt. W. D. Thompson USN fired a 32-pounder across the bow of a merchant vessel attempting to leave the harbor on 11 April  1861 without a flag flying identifying its allegience.  The vessel was the Mail Steamer Nashville and this firing is condidered the first naval cannon shot of the war. 

When the war started she was assigned to the US Navy North Atlantic Blockading Squadron participating in the fleet action around Ft Clark and Ft Hatteras which was the first large scale combined amphibious operation in the War 26 August 1861.  Harriet Lane participated in the naval attack on Fts. Jackson and St. Philip defending New Orleans.

She participated in the naval operations at Ft Pickens and the Pensacola Navy Yard.  She then was detailed to sail up the Mississipp River and assist on the bombardment of Vicksburg from the south with Admiral Farragut.

Participating in the Battle of Galveston she was captured by Confederate forces on 1 January 1863 and her Captain Jonathan M. Wainwright, grandfather of the WWII general of Corrigador fame, was killed.

She served with the Confederacy briefly as a blockade runner and was retaken at Havanna in March 1863.  Refitted as a merchant ship she was abandonned at sea in 1881  




The 1861 Fake-Out That Saved A State

On 26 April 1861, Maryland Governor Thomas H. Hicks, unsure of the position his state should take on secession called the legislature into session in Frederick, by rail on the B&O Railroad between Harpers Ferry and Baltimore, to decide the secession question once and for all.   Agitators in Baltimore were a real threat to the Union side.  Frederick seemed like neutral ground to get a final unemotional vote.

General Scott selected a rail junction at Relay House to sieze and hold as a protection against secessionist activity.  He assigned General Benjamin F. Butler to hold the junction with his 6th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment augmented with artillery.  Duty at the Relay House Junction was just a bit too boring for Butler, ever the activist.  He came up with a plan to secure Baltimore once and for all. 

On 13 May, he loaded his infantry on a train headed west for Frederick and captured secessionist agitators along the way.  But short of Frederick he reversed the train and steamed east as fast as possible back the way he came, passed Relay Junction and steamed directly into Baltimore.     Detraining at Camden Street he occupied Federal Hill and emplaced artillery to cover the ship basin.  The Union force had arrived during a violent storm and the citizenry was not aware of the coup.  When the rain abated and the citizens came out of doors, they were surprised to learn of the Federal occupation of 1000 men and guns.  The secession movement in Maryland was all but over.  I enjoy knowing that Butler did this little stunt completely without permission.  When called on the carpet he might well have said “Should I give it back?”, with a lisp and a whistle.

Those of you that are baseball fans will be familiar with Camden Yards, where this all happened in 1861. 

Who Was First to Defend the US Capital?

I had checked out a book from my local library as I was interested in clearing up a point of information on another subject when I was intrigued by the question of who exactly were the first units to arrive to defend the US Capital which was at that time surrounded by potential hostile secessionists in Virginia and Maryland.  Here is a trivia question plan to give to the St Louis Roundtable in the future.   But it too good not to share now.

What is the distinction that the following Pennsylvania militia companies hold:  Ringgold Light Artillery, Logan Guards, Allen Infantry, National Light Infantry and the Washington Artillery?

These units are considered “The First Defenders” of Washington DC.  They arrived 18 April 1861, three days after the firing on Ft Sumter. They were the first units to arrive to defend the US Capitol at the request of President Lincoln to his friend, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin.  One man, Nicholas Biddle, an escaped 64 year-old slave, deployed with the Washington Artillery and was wounded on 18 April in BaltimoreHe is considered by some as the first casualty of the Civil War, hit by a brick tossed by a civilian.  Blacks were not permitted to serve in the militia at that time but Biddle served as a volunteer aide to Captain James Wren, the company commander.  




After The Men Went Off To War

In 1860 much of the United States was agrarian and the farms and families had to be tended by those left behind.  Being a farm family was tough enough with the father and sons at home.  But when the soldiers went off to the war the womenfolk picked up the responsibilities.  Planting, tending, harvesting and the other myriad tasks of food preparation and preserving the crop by canning and curing were an even greater workload.  But somehow the ladies stood to the task. 

Now in heavily fought over areas  like Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and Tennessee, preserving the farm was complicated by the need to reconstitute fences and facilities that were destroyed by the opposing armies.  These fences were very important and had taken years to erect and in a few short days could be consumed by cooking fires and fortifications.  So important were they that General Lee specifically directed that in the two invasions of the North fences were to be respected and left intact if possible.  Even with this they often were destroyed.

The ladies on the farms were very busy and so were the ladies in the cities.  To be sure they also had their chores to do but their usual passtimes of needlework were severely challenged because they weRe asked to focus on making and sending socks, shirts and quilts which the soldiers desperately needed in the field.  This used up the supplies of thread and other consumables so the few minutes they had been able to spend in artistic quilt and needlework creations became almost nil. 

Then came the call from the Sanitary Commissions for the more fancy work which could be sold to raise money for the work in hospitals and infirmeries and to aid in the resettlement effort with the freedmen.  The ladies rallied and provided a myriad of exquisite detail and design work that provided the badly needed funds.  It also gave the ladies a vent for their frustrated craftsmanship. 

I was fortunate to receive a copy of The Living Museum Magazine from the Illinois State Museum which showcased a splended collection of various designed quilts and whitework from their collection.  That these fantistic items were able to be created from the limited supply of prints and homepun fabrics during the Civil War is a remarkable feat indeed. 

The exhibit also details the myriad of other items sent to the troops from the home front including  pickled, dried and preserved goods, barrels of onions and potatoes and as much as 206,159 gallons of saurkraut sent from the Western Sanitary Commission in St. Louis to the Union Army.  Other Items such as sewing supplies, games, eyeglasses, cooking utensils, writing paper, pencils, books and the like were also gathered at the home front and sent off to the units.  Interestingly the soldiers had to become skilled at the domestic chores in the army because the ladies just were not there to do them and clothing need to be mended because replacements were a long way off and no one was there to cook for the messes so they had to learn to fend themselves.

The last thought I want to include in this post is a brief explanation for the term “Sanitary” when applied to these commissions.  It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that scientists and doctors understood for the first time that microbes (germs) spread disease.  European physicians had discovered that thoroughly cleaning operating rooms and hospitals reduced the spread of disease and death.  Through these “Sanitary Commissions” civilians spread the word and helped the medicos provide better cleanliness in field hospitals.  The number of religious orders of Catholic nuns aided greatly in demonstrating the value of a clean hospital ward. It may be said that that was a long term benefit for mankind of the war.  It would not be the last time that wartime conditions stimulated technical development and progress.    

July 1863 Just Was A Bummer for the Confederacy

The momentous US Army victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Tulahoma that I have written about in earlier blog posts piqued the sensabilities of the US Navy!  There was a definite desire, nay a need, for some glory and justification for the dollars spent on expensive ironclad monitors and heavy guns.  Again in a previous blog I wrote about the black pilot, Robert Smalls,  who commandeered a Confederate supply ship, CSS Planter, with his family and surrendered it to the blockading force.  Well, Smalls reported that the defenders of Charleston had pulled back from the southern reaches of James Island along the Stono River.  This provided an opportunity for a flanking attack on Charleston’s defenses.  The avenue for the installation of the Swamp Angel was a result of this information as well as the seeds of the land attacks on Morris Island which held the infamous Battery Gregg and its southern flank defensive position, Battery Wagner, of Glory fame.  On 18 July Col. Robert Gould Shaw and his famous 54th Massachusetts attacked Ft Wagner. But it took until 7 September for the Confederates to be forced to abandon Wagner.

We were on Folly Island this Spring and looked across the Lighthouse Inlet to the beach approach to FT Wagner.  It is clearly evident why the attack was made in column of regiments on line.  The depiction of the attack on the beach in the movie is exactly correct.

The siege of Charleston and it’s harbor defenses is the longest set battle of the Civil War.  An amphibious attack was made on FT Sumter, the perceived key to the harbor, and it failed.  It was a sole Navy operation and suffered from lack of coordination and underestimation of the defenders capability and determination.  Other attacks along the coast including Ft Wagner also suffered from lack of adequate foresight and coordination-often deliberately caused by self interest on the part of Gideon Wells and Gustavus Fox, the Undersecretary of the Navy.   On the Mississippi close relations between Grant and the Navy were wildly successful.  In the East not so.  Too bad. 

The Last Chapter of the Gettysburg Campaign-New York City Riots

New York City Draft Riots occurred from July 11-13, 1863  and hundreds of people were injured or killed during during the confrontations.  The riots were the result of several causes and it is interesting to note that these causes were very easy to understand.  Irish immigrants were being drafted to fill the ranks of the Union Armies being depleted by causalties and illness.  These immigrants were unhappy about being conscripted because they did not feel obligated to fight for the freedom of blacks who were then going to take the low wage jobs they were currently doing. 

Blacks in New York were targeted and the city police force was not manned or equiped to protect them.  The Colored Orphan Asylum was burned to the ground but no lives were lost. About 120 civilians and at least eleven black men were lynched during the riots.  Because the New York Militia had been sent off to assist the Pennsylvania Militia at Gettysburg the police force was all that was available to protect the draft offices and the city.  The Police Superintendent, John Alexander Kennedy, himself was severely beaten by the mob.  

During the first day of rioting the First Battalion of the Invalid Corps under Provost Marshall General Robert Nugent was employed to suport the police.  Again not enough to save the PT Barnum Museum and other buildings.  The New York Times defended its building with a battery of Gatling Guns it had acquire for its own defense. 

Five regiments of infantry were routed to New York from Gettysburg and by the end of the riots about 4000 Union soldiers with artillery were deployed to end the conflict.  There was a belief that these riots were fomented by Confederate insurgents. 

In all the riots were like all wartime battle zones.  If you lost a loved one it was a tragedy for your family, otherwise it was another fast dissipating event, but this one was not to be forgotten as easily except that it occurred in the shadow of Gettysburg.            

July 4, 1863-The Day After Gettysburg and Others

Robert E Lee had been badly beaten.  He stayed overnignt to plan for the retreat, He had to assign routes for his corps and for the supply trains and the ambulance train so they were covered and well out of the range of the Union force.  His ambulance train was seventeen (17) miles long.  The screaming and anguish of the wounded could be heard for miles.  Remember the ambulance wagons did not have any suspension system so each and every bump on the macadam roads was excruciatingly painful.

So many Southern generals were lost that staff planning for this retreat was more than normally difficult.  The weather was not cooperating and the Potomac River was in flood stage.

Meade too, I believe, was in a bit of shock.  He was a recently appointed commander of the Army, who did not arrive at the battlefield until midnight of the first day.  He was not aggressive in his pursuit for several reasons.  His force had lost a lot of men and leaders.  He did not want to be taken by surprise by Lee, and the weather does not play favorites.  He was, however, able to strike Lee at least nine times through cavalry  skirmishes before the campaign ended on 23 July.  It took the Army of Northern Virginia until the night of July 13-14 to make their escape across the Potomac.  The river had to subside before the army could chest the river at Falling Waters.  Lee’s vulnerability while waiting for the crossing opportunity was not appreciated by the Union commanders and so they did not press yheir advantage.  Sherman or Grant would likely have attempted to crush Lee there.  What would the war have looked like then?  Remember Vicksburg surrendered on 4 July and Rosecrans had just maneuvered Bragg out of Middle Tennessee in the Tulahoma Campaign ending 3 July.  Not a good month to be Confederate.

I think it is interesting to ponder why Lee went North to Pennsylvania.  He needed to get a rest for Virginia so a crop could be gathered for the upcoming winter.  I believe he also felt he could divert some strength from Grant to take some pressure off Vicksburg.  In any event, he did get a breather for the Old Dominion.  Would he do it again in hindsight?  I believe this old fighter would.

Gettysburg-Third Day 150 Years Ago

Today was the third day-Pickett’s Charge and all.  I have a few choice comments about this day in Pennsylvania.  Trivia wise, I find it interesting that Longstreet’s Chief of Artillery, E. Porter Alexander, was the first and only member of the Confederate Air Force.  He was a balloonist and the only member of the army to assend up in a balloon.  All the others were civilian contractors. 

Now to the artillery preparation for the afternoon assault.  I find it hard to understand how effective that bombardment could ever have been.  The Southern batteries were firing up hill and there was no way to effectively adjust fire to be on target.  The fire either hit in front of the Union line or went over.  Very few rounds could be expected to hit near the Union guns.  Also, the Union artillery was ordered to cease fire because General Henry Hunt, Union artillery commander, did not want to discourage the Confederate attack.  He knew that it would be a giant killing field in retribution for what was unleashed on the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg. He thought that if the Union guns kept up the fire maybe the attack would be cancelled. 

The big loosers were the Union artillery horses and caissons parked beyond the defensive line.  The sound of the explosions and the screaming of the wounded horses must ahve been incredible.  Did you know that the artillery exchange was heard all the way in Pittsburgh?  The soldiers were eventually interred in the cemetery but the hundreds of horses were burned.  World’s biggest smelly barbeque!!  The soldiers were reinterred from their initial graves into the cemetery for 4-cents each.

Pickett’s Charge is always the main topic of discussion but there was another battle occurring at about the same time.  That was the cavalry battle on the East Cavalry Field about three miles away which some historians believe was to be the coup d’grace as Stuart and his mounted Cavalry Corps came ridding into the Union rear.  He was stopped dead in his tracks by George Armstrong Custer and his Michigan brigade.  It is hard to imagine the  sound of the impact of the two cavalry forces hitting head to head at full gallop.  Many who visit Gettysburg do not even know about this action.  What would have been the result of it coming off as Lee may have invisioned?

Lastly a bit of opinion.  Today an editorial in the St Louis Post Dispatch stated that the objective of the war has not been achieved even today.  Well lets see.  Somewhere between 623,000 qand 800,000 men, mostly white, died to end slavery.  The freed slaves now have the right to vote and to all the other rights of this wonderful country.  Yes they suffered for many years but….   They have access to public schools but many are not faithful in attendance or cooperative in doing home assignments.  Many public schools are governed by African-American school boards which may seem to be more interested in self gain than in educating the children.  Without education there cannot be the full participation in the benefits available in this country. 

We are often treated to the story of how slaves yearned for family life.  It is always sad to hear about slave families being separated by unfeeling masters.  But today where is the African-American family unit?

Jews, Italians, Russians, Germans and many others including Vietnamese and Bosnians came to this country with little money or language skills, including my ancesters.  They insisted their children go to school and almost all have met success since their arrival.  I try to understand but it is hard to be sympathetic to the cries of “give me more” after 150 years.  When does this idea that some people are owed end?

White Americans served, suffered, and died to provide the opportunity.  Prejudicial behavior is now illegal.  But personal qualification is an individual responsibility and cannot be guaranteed regardless of how many laws are passed.


Gettysburg-Second Day 150 Years Ago

2 July 1863-opportunities won and lost. It is raining now in St. Louis and has been for some time. Puts me in mind of what General Robert E. Lee may have been feeling. It had rained on the Confederate force for some time, I believe three days in route to Pennsylvania. Lee was not particularly well. Some believe he may have been having some heart problems. He was at least feeling sick from the weather. So that may have contributed to his crankyness with some of his subordinates.

Stuart rolled into camp. His cavalry worn out and tired from a nine-hour ride from Chambersburg all night. Lee ordered him to rest his unit!
Longstreet was ordered to attack Little Round Top. It took a long time to get into position involving considerable countermarching by McLaws’ Division. Countermarching is not fun. It gives the soldiers a feeling that things are not being well executed and may even reflect some disagreement among the generals. Not good for the troops.
Longstreet is about to overrun the Little Round Top when it is reinforced and defended as a result of General Gouverneur K. Warren has rushed reinforcements to the top on his own prerogative. He is an unsung hero of mine who had a sad ending to a stellar war time service.

And then there was Union General Dan Sickles, who without orders, positioned his Corps way out in front of the Union line. This unit acted as a shock absorber and may have saved the Union position by receiving the full force of Longstreet’s attack. Was he a hero or a fool? There are supporters on both sides of the argument. In any event he gave up his right leg to a cannon ball.

A last hero of mine on the second day was General George S. Green. The oldest Union general on the field and a experienced civil engineer he determined to fortify his position on Culp’s Hill. This was a controversial decision at the time because the unit did not expect to be there long and that it was considered somewhat unmanley to “hide” behind earthworks. His unit was served well by the position they created. Read about General Green and see if you do not feel as I do.

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