Just another site

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Did You Ever Hear of Robert E. Lee’s Older Brother?

Robert E. Lee is well known by anyone interested in the Civil War. He had an older brother, Sydney Smith Lee, who also had a stellar military career.

Smith as he was called, or “rose” his nickname, entered the US Navy as a midshipman in 1820. He rose to the rank of lieutenant in eight years. He served in the Mexican War at Vera Cruz on a large caliber naval gun mounted in the siege of the city of Vera Cruz. Robert was an engineer involved in building the gun emplacements. He and Smith briefly met during this time.

Smith’s assignments were as commander of the Philadelphia Navy Yard for three years, a major responsibility, followed by assignment as Commandant of Midshipmen at Annapolis from 1848 to 1851. He sailed as Commodore Matthew Perry’s flagship captain on the USS Mississippi in 1853 after being promoted to Commander.

He was named chief of the Bureau of Coast Survey in Washington and his career was at it’s peak.

Neither he nor his brother were in favor of ssecession but made a pact to follow their state if Virginia left the Union.

Sydney Smith Lee was holding the bag when the Federals retook the Norfolk NAvy Yard of which Smith was commander. He had to give the unfortunate order to burn the CSS Virginia. It is often overlooked that he is responsible for saving the over 1000 heavy guns and the machine tools necessary to keep the Confederacy in the War.

Two brothers who had stellar careers.


The Unique Aspects of the Union Blockade

The first and one of the most significant decisions of the Lincoln Administration was the imposition of the blockade of the southern coast.  Historically, blockades have been used as an economic tactic for centuries.  It was most common in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when England held supremacy over the seas.  But the interesting aspect was that the technique was used to bottle up the enemy’s fleet in port to assure safe passage of British commerce.  This tactic was used to limit the effectiveness of American privateers during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. 

But in the Civil War the reverse was intended.  Since the Confederacy had no blue water fleet to speak of the objective was to keep the export of cotton primarily to a minimum and to cut off importation of supplies from outside, primarily England and France. 

This required a much larger naval presence as the entire coastline, some 3,500 miles from Hampton Roads, Virginia to Brownsville, Texas, had to be closed to be effective.  There were initially 189 harbors, inlets and navigable river entrances that had to be controlled.  No navy in history had ever attempted such an endeavor!!  And considering the severely limited number of ships available at the beginning it is truly remarkable.  Both the Union and the Confederacy had to start from very limited naval assets to effect their strategies. 

The Union had to post warships at each port to maintain the legality of the blockade.  The legality was a stretch because Lincoln did not want to provide any legitimacy to the Confederate States as a sovereign nation.  Initially the legal justification was to collect the fair duties that were being avoided by the rebellous states.  This ploy did not sit well with the Europeans but they also had to consider their best customer relationship with the United States.  Money always trumps sentiment!!

The Union began with a very small of contingent of ships available and had to call back those that were scattered all around the globe.  The first ship on station was the USS Niagara off Charleston arriving 10 May 1861 and marking the beginning of the blockade.  Eventually about 500 ships and 100,000 sailors would be involved.  The total exceeded the number of men and ships employed in all the previous US wars. 

I am amazed at how fast the Federal Navy reacted to build up the fleet.  In around ninety days twenty three gunboats were delivered from the keel up.  Additional ships were armed and converted from commercial uses to blockaders.  The recall of the regular ships of the line deployed overseas brought the total to over one hundred.  Enough to get started.  Wow!!  Talk about rapid mobilization!  Impressive.

The Horse and The Civil War

As the armies marched mile upon mile and approached, engaged and withdrew from the battles of the war, the horse was an unheralded ally. Horses gave mobility to commanders enabling them to observe and control their units from a high vantage point and from various perspectives. The mount was also clearly a large target or at least was near the center of the enemy focus.

Horses pulled the artillery guns and caissons. They drew the supply and ration wagons and they towed the ambulances filled with the unfortunate wounded from the battlefield to the infirmaries and hospitals.

They provided the mobility for the cavalry to be able to reconnoiter and to deliver messages from commanders to subordinates. Confederates joined the cavalry with their own mounts and when something happened to the mount they had to find a replacement or revert to the infantry, which for the horse soldier was a fate worse than death.

General Sherman valued the horses of his command, as did all commanders, and he is quoted as instructing his army in the care of the mounts as follows: “Every opportunity at a halt during a march should be taken advantage of to cut grass, wheat, or oats and extraordinary care be taken of the horses upon which everything depends.”

General Thomas’ Union attack on Hood’s army at Nashville was delayed, much to the chagrin of General Grant,due to lack of horses and mules to draw the artillery.

Some statistics on horses are interesting. The North had 3.400,000 horses at the beginning of the war. The South had 1,700,000. Missouri and Kentucky, border states on the periphery, had an additional 800,000.

The South had more mules because of its agricultural economy, some 800,000 while the North had 100,000. Mules could pull more weight than horses. Kentucky and Missouri had an additional 200,000 which were srongly coveted by both sides. One of the strategic reasons Vicksburg was so important was the ability of the South to move horses and mules east from the Trans-Mississippi are of Texas and Arkansas.

During the war the Union used 825,000 horses and mules valued at $150 each or $123,750,000. Losses were dramatic as exemplified by Gettysburg losses of 1500 horses and mules from both sides.

The Union cavalry, initially at a disadvantage, was restructered by Gen Joseph Hooker and from that point on developed a dominance in that arm.

Larger horses were requisitioned for artillery and drayage uses than for infantry or cavalry.

A new development that appeared during the war was the McClellan saddle which was developed by the famous Union general and toward the end of the war the Confederacy adoped this as well. This saddle took into account the needs of the mount for the first time in military history.

Confederate Naval Mines

Mines. or as they were called at the time of the Civil War torpedoes, were a defensive weapon used to protect certain locations from enemy use.  Places like landing sites and harbor entrance channels were just right for this use. 

The first use was part of the defense of the Aquia Creek Landing, Virginia batteries on 7 July 1861.  The position was abandoned 9 March 1862.  The battle that occurred there between US naval gunboats and secesh defensive batteries is considered one of the 384 principle battles of the Civil War by the US National Park Service. 

The channel entrance to Ft Morgan at Mobile in 1864 was another classic example which has been imortalized in the famous Admiral David Farragut quotation, “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead”.  The USS Techumseh was sunk under the guns of Ft Morgan in 30 seconds with the loss of 94 souls.

Mines came in several types but the main distinction was between the contact mines and the electrically detonated mines.  The USS Cairo was the first warship sunk by a remotely detonated electric mine on the Yazoo River near Vicksburg on 12 december 1862  while clearing mines near Haines’ Bluff. 

The most successful naval mine used by the Confederacy was called the “Singer Mine”, manufactured by The Singer Company of LaVergne, Tennessee, the same company famous for its sewing machines.  Mines were deployed to protect Charleston Harbor and various other ports of blockade runners.  Confederate mines sunk 27 Federal vessels compared to only 9 sunk by gunfire. 

Thomas Jefferson’s Legacy for the Union

A current (August 2013) exhibit of the Slavery At Monticello at the Missouri History Museum was an interesting summation of Jefferson’s chattel slave holdings at his famous historic farm. Some 600 enslaved toiled on the plantation during his lifetime and are listed in his famously detailed inventories. Six prominent families were profiled and it appears as if Jefferson tried to maintain family units and provide for the betterment of his slaves, not always the condition at other locations.

Of the six families many decendants have scattered across the United States. The following ten served in the Union army during the Civil War: Captain Peter Fossett, Cincinnati Black Brigade; Corporal George Edmondson, 127th US Colored Infantry; Sgt. Charles Shorter, 22nd US Colored Infantry; 2LT John Freeman Shorter, 2LT James Monroe Trotter, 2LT William H. Dupree, 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; Private William Beverly Hemings, 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry; Lieut. Colonel John Wayles Jefferson, 8th US Volunteer Infantry; Private Thomas Eston Hemings, 175th Ohio Volunteer Infantry; and Private Beverly Jefferson, 1st Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.

All are African-American descendents of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello slaves. The Hemings and Jefferson’s were grandsons of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Private Thomas Eston Hemings died in a Confederate POW camp in Meridian, Mississippi and is buried in the Vicksburg National Cemetery. Lieutenants Trotter and Dupree were outspoken advocates for equal pay for black soldiers in the Massachusetts regiment.

I believe President Thomas Jefferson would be proud of the service and sacrifice of all his extended family!,

The State with the Greatest Investment In the Ciil War

Junkie has been sick.  He is back and hopes to be a regulator in posting in the future.

I was just reading an interesting article in the St Louis Post Dispatch in the August 11 travel section.  Chris Carola (AP) was describing the “Empire for the Union” permanent exhibit which opened on July 27 at the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY. 

What a great piece of trivia!  What state, North or South, provided the most soldiers, supplies and funding of the Civil War?  Note: this state also suffered the most casualties of any state!

According to the curator of the New York State Military Museum, Courtney Burns, New York is the clear winner in all categories.  Nearly 40,000 New Yorkers fell during the rebellion.  An interesting statistic is that of the 94,000 Union soldiers who fought at Gettysburg, more than 23,000 were from The Empire State.  On 1 July when Lee quit the field, more than 6,800 New Yorkers had been killed or wounded, missing or captured equaling more than 25% of the Federal losses.   The 9th NY Cavalry regiment claims the first shots were fired by Corporal Alpheus Hodges, F Company, picket post commander on the Chambersburg Pike who was fired on at 5am near the stone bridge over Willoughby Run.  A monument was erect by the unit in his honor.  This claim is challenged by Lt. Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry who erected his own monument on the same road who fired at 7:30 am.  Hodges claim was supported by the 1888 Gettysburg Battlefield Commission Association at the unveiling of the New York Monument.  Who is right?  Look them up and decide for yourself.  

The 9th New York Cavalry also claims the credit for the first Yankee to die in the battle as their Corporal Cyrus James, hit by Confederate shirmishers.

The 51st New York Infantry along with the 51st Pennsylvania were the first to sieze and cross the Rohrbach (Burnside) Bridge at Antietam.

It is important to point out that many of New Yorks contingent were very recent immigrants from Ireland and other European nations who sailed into New York harbor as their port of entry.

I guess it could also be pointed out that New York City had passed an Ordnance of Secession prior to the firing on Ft Sumter due to their heavy investment in southern cotton and the financial losses anticipated if the country became permanently divided.  Only the firing on Sumter ended this action as the loyalty of the state was clear at that point.



The number of units provided by New York State is 15 Artillery Regiments, 248 Infantry Regiments, 8 Engineer Regiments, 27 Cavalry Regiments and 3 regiments of US Colored Troops composed of about 4125 Free men of color. Between 400,000 and 460,000 men including 130,000 foreign born.

Post Navigation