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Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Canadian Involvement in the American Civil War

The June 2014 edition of Civil War Times magazine included an article on the Canadian role in the Civil War.  That inspired the following trivia question  for me. 

What major impact did an escaped Missouri slave named John Anderson have on the slavery issue and secession?

John Anderson, a slave in Fayette, Howard County, Missouri married a enslaved neighbor named Maria Tomlin and they had a child. When he was sold to an owner 30 miles away and forbidden to return to visit his family he ran away to Canada.  His legal efforts to maintain his freedom were upheld by the Canadian Supreme Court in April 1960, aided by intercession from Great Britain, and established a precedent regarding return of runaways in Canada.  In his escape he killed Seneca D. P. Diggs in a slave catcher.  Extradition was requested for the murder.  Had he lost his legal battles slave catchers would have been free to take runaways off the streets of Toronto just as they could in Boston or New York.  This loss made secession a more clear option for the southern states.

There were about 40,000 Canadians who crossed over and served in the war primarily for the Union. 

The Confederacy used Canada as a base for a spy ring and sabotage.  Plans included destroying Manhattan Island by fire.  Bank raids such as that at St Alban’s.  Canadians were paranoid  about their fear that they might be invaded as the US did in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.  England had considered sending forces to Canada to invade the US if necessary. 

All this motivated a introspective look at their government and motivated John A. Macdonald to formulate the parliamentary democracy that exists today with a strong central government with the provinces more or less municipalities.  The Seventy-Two  Resolutions from the 1864 Quebec Conference and Charlottetown Conference laid out the framework for uniting British colonies in North America into a federation.  They had been adopted by the majority of the provinces of Canada and became the basis for the London Conference of 1866, which led to the formation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. The term dominion was chosen to indicate Canada’s status as a self-governing colony of the British Empire, the first time it was used about a country.  All as a result, directly or indirectly of our Civil War.



Answers to St. Louis Civil War Roundtable March Quiz

St. Louis Civil War Roundtable

March 1014


1. Who or what was “Faugh A Ballaugh”

Not a person, it is the Motto of the Irish Brigade meaning “Clear the Way”. Other units such as the 7th Missouri Volunteer Infantry also used the motto. The 24th Georgia Volunteer Infantry CSA, part of Cobb’s Legion, was an all Irish unit.

2. What were the furthest geographic points in the Confederate states?

North:   Hancock County, West Virginia just north of New Cumberland

      South:  Key West, Florida  

      East:    Rodanthe, North Carolina on Cape Hatteras Island.

      West:     El Paso, Texas


3. Which of the following Civil War officers hold US patent: JEB Stuart, Ambrose Burnside, and George McClellan?

All of them: Burnside for his carbine, McClellan for his military saddle and Stuart for his “sword clip”. Stuart was in Washington trying to sell the rights when he was recruited to go to Harpers Ferry to deal with John Brown.

4. What famous Confederate general was the grandson of a US Judge and Speaker of the Legislature in Missouri?

J.E.B. Stuart’s grandfather was a Missouri Circuit Court Judge and third Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives from 1826 to 1828.

5. In August 1861 General John C. Frémont led a force of St. Louis Volunteers on the Bird’s Point Expedition.  Where was Bird’s Point?

Along the western bank of the Mississippi River directly across from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at Cairo, Illinois. The area was a major Union supply point for Grant’s river operations.  The Battle of Charleston (a.k.a. Battle of Bird’s Point) occurred on 19 August 1861 where Col. Henry Dougherty destroyed a Confederate camp. Fremont did not accompany the troops.

  1. At the Battle of Fredericktown, Missouri, on 21 October 1861, the Confederate force under Brigadier M. Jeff Thompson was driven off by the Union force under Cols. Plummer and Carlin.  What was the strategic material that the southerners carried off with them as they withdrew?

18,000 pounds of lead for rifle bullets.

  1.       After working for seven days in the sixteen hospitals of Richmond, Virginia, the lady volunteers pinned purple Calycanthus flowers on their clothes for what purpose?

To combat the stench of the wards.

8.   Who was the highest ranking Union general to be captured in the Civil War?

Major General George Stoneman was captured near Macon, Georgia on 30 July 1864 and held prisoner at Ft. Oglethorpe until exchanged. He was the Cavalry Corps commander of the Army of the Ohio.

9. Name the Famous Grand Reviews of the Civil War.  Name all that you can and see if I found them all.

McClellan’s Cavalry and Artillery Grand Review 24 September 1861; Lincoln’s Grand Review of the Troops in Bailey’s Crossroads on 20 November 1861; Stuart’s Cavalry Reviews on 5 & 8 June 1862; Hooker’s Belle Plains Review on 6, 8, 9 & 10 April 1863; the final Grand Review of the Union Armies on 23 & 24 May 1865 (no black units were invited);  Pennsylvania Grand Review USCT in Harrisburg, PA 14 November 1865 was and all black review held to compensate for the Washington , DC slight. There are others.

                                                                            Copyright© 2014 John A. Nischwitz

Espionage in the Two Civil Wars

Today’s blog posting is different.  It is about the First American Civil War.  Many people do not realize that the American colonies were deeply divided about the 18th Century war with England.  About one third of the colonists were Tories, those that were supportive of King George III.  Obviously that was where they were financially invested in the trade with England.

Than there were the Patriots; Americans wanting independence from the English crown. They were about another third.  They felt they were being unfairly treated and sought independence that they called “Freedom”.

Then there was the other third that did not care who won they just wanted it over so life could get back to normal.

Wow!!  Americans fighting Americans.

A 2013 book I just read entitled George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Won the Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager that shined a bright light on a little known espionage cell that only recently had the clandestine leader identified.   The story explains the risks, fear and paranoia the members experienced especially after the execution of Nathan Hale as a spy in New York City.  But they kept at it and eventually the Patriots prevailed.

What did they do?  They can be credited with four major victories for General Washington.  They uncovered a plan by the British to destroy the American financial base by a massive counterfeiting effort.  They apprised Washington of the concern the British had about the security of New York and did not move to defeat the French force being landed in Rhode Island because of fake documents leaked to indicate an attack on New York was imminent.  They informed Washington of the treasonous plans of Gen. Benedict Arnold to turn over the West Point defenses to the British.  And lastly they were able to secure a copy of the British Navy’s signal code and allowed the French Fleet to corner Cornwallis at Yorktown.

The techniques they use are taught today at the CIA training program with little fanfare.  Who would have known?  The Culper Ring of six members is virtually unknown.  One member, a lady, is known today only as 355.  Her identity is not defined because it is believed she died imprisoned aboard a British prison ship, the HMS Jerseyin New York Harbor. The others were Robert Townsend, Austin Roe, Caleb Brewer, Abraham Woodhull, and James Rivington.  Their espionage efforts had a major impact on the Revolutionary War.

I could not think of any spies in the “Second” Civil War that had that impact with the possible exception of the members of the Fifth Estate who reported what they learned to their newspaper publishers.  And then there is Sam Davis, the “Nathan Hale of the Confederacy”, dedicated and courageous and with a relatively small contribution but a shining role model as was his namesake.  

Currency, Counterfeiting and the Secret Service

Both the Union and Confederate States financed the Civil War by issuing currency in addition to taxation, bonds, duties and tariffs.  The Act of July 17, 1861 authorized Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to raise money via the issuance of $50,000,000 in Treasury Notes payable on demand. The U.S. government issued the first standardized version of modern paper money then called Legal Tender Notes.  The first of these notes printed were issued directly into circulation and were also known as ‘greenbacks’ and had intricate engraving and scrolling like today’s money.  This made it harder for counterfeiters to reproduce contemporary currency.  During the Civil War counterfeiters still had to hand engrave their printing plates and the new elaborate designs adopted by the  government made it a more difficult task. The new currency also used a unique kind of paper that was hard for counterfeiters to reproduce. In December 1861, economic conditions deteriorated and a suspension of specie payment led the government to cease redeeming the Demand Notes in coin. Greenbacks were eventually replaced by the more modern ‘Legal Tender Notes’ of 1862.  The ultimate objective was to eliminate counterfeiting which had become common place for previous issues. However, the new system of paper money did not put the counterfeiters out of business although their rate of success went down.  The physical number of counterfeit bills in circulation actually increased after the issuance of the new standardized currency.  Many counterfeiters took large amounts of the bogus bills to the Confederate States because they were very desirable alternative to the southern population considering the severely devalued state of Confederate currency.  After the Civil War, the Federal Government began cracking down on counterfeiters and organizing raids to disrupt their manufacturing. In 1865 the Secret Service was created to suppress mass counterfeiting of the nation’s currency. The Secret Service was given sole authority to investigate and destroy counterfeit money operations. They were specially trained on how to detect bogus bills and find underground printing shops. New security features like the unique blend of paper and specialized ink made it easier for agents to detect fakes.  When they were involved in an investigation in Chicago they discovered the plan to steal Lincoln’s corpse and hold it for ransom.  That is how the Secret Service became involved in protecting the President of the United States.

Communications and Deception

As I have recently written about two books, Sherman’s Memoirs and the 2nd Battle of Fredericksburg I was struck by comments both authors made regarding Civil War Communications.  Sherman commented that “the value of the magnetic telegraph is by far the best” means of rapid transmission of orders and reports on the strategic level. President Lincoln had discovered this fact early in the war but found it difficult to get field commanders to respond.  But General Sherman, to my way of thinking, was a very practical man.  He recognized that “the paper and pencil and good mounted orderlies” answer every purpose on the tactical field.  At 2ndFredericksburg telegraph lines had been cut and even though the two battles of Chancellorsville and Sedgwick’s westward move to join Hooker were only about ten miles apart, it was not possible for the generals to keep the wires operational for many reasons.  Signal towers had inherent security issues and were not favored by Sherman in the Western Theater.

Multiple mounted couriers were routinely sent to insure that the written messages got through.  It is interesting to note that even when the telegraph was working, the timeliness of forwarding the orders to the field commander often took excessive time and then when following orders were transmitted the often arrived and caused confusion with previous instructions.  A competent courier officer could often answer questions and clarify the orders.  I was assigned in Korea to this responsibility and found it respected and appreciated by the receiving commanders.

I was also impressed by the efforts of both armies to create subterfuge and deception to keep the opposing force in place.  Some units that were encamped in clear vision of the enemy were left in place as the major part of the Union Army moved to Chancellorsville.  Union forces were cautioned to move on masked routes to deny Lee observation.  Lee did likewise to obscure the strength and disposition of his force on Marye’s Heights as he moved to counter Hooker’s move. The cat and mouse operations of the Chancellorsville Campaign are truly classic and underscore the need for timely and accurate communications and dispatches.     

St. Louis Civil War Roundtable March Trivia Quiz

1.  Who or what was “Faugh A Ballaugh” 

2. What were the furthest geographic points in the Confederate states?





3. Which of the following Civil War officers hold US patent: JEB Stuart, Ambrose Burnside, and George McClellan?

4. What famous Confederate general was the grandson of a US Judge and Speaker of the Legislature in Missouri?

5.  In August 1861 General John C. Frémont led a force of St. Louis Volunteers on the Bird’s Point Expedition.  Where was Bird’s Point?

6.   At the Battle of Fredericktown, Missouri, on 21 October 1861, the Confederate force under Brigadier M. Jeff Thompson was driven off by the Union force under Cols. Plummer and Carlin.  What was the strategic material that the southerners carried off with them as they withdrew?

7.     After working for seven days in the sixteen hospitals of Richmond, Virginia, the lady volunteers pinned purple Calycanthus flowers on their clothes for what purpose?

8.   Who was the highest ranking Union general to be captured in the Civil War?

9.  Name the Famous Grand Reviews of the Civil War.  Name all that you can and see if I found them all.

 Copyright© 2014 John A. Nischwitz

Chamfer Wheels on a 20-pounder Parrott Rifle

20-pounder Parrott RifleNote the chamfer in the wheels. The wheel seems to be somewhat concave. This gun weighed 1750 Lbs. This much weight on the axle could easily break an inflexible wheel thereby putting the gun out of action until a replacement wheel could be mounted.

What is the difference between the way Civil War artillery carriage wheels and wagon wheels were constructed and why the difference? Because artillery mounts carried extremely heavy weight directly over the axle and the wheels would break if they did not have some shock absorbing capability. This was accomplished by chamfering. The rim was offset from over the hub. This allowed the wheels to flex. The chamfer also facilitated the wheel throwing off accumulated caked mud. Wagon wheels did not need to be camferred because the weight distribution was more equal and they were not normally used on rough, rocky ground for long distances. It is interesting that this concept was used on rear wheel drive automobiles because of the engine weight over the rear axle. Some wheels are still chamfered. You can buy modern wheels on the internet that are chamfered called “artillery wheels”.

There was always a spare wheel mounted on the casson in each gun section.  There was also a spare wheel mounted with the battery forge.  The next time you are looking at an artilery piece on a battlefield be sure to note the chamfer.

Convoy!! Who Would Have Thought? Sherman On To Atlanta

I have been reading more into Sherman’s Memoirs.  What a history lesson and deep insights into the Art of War. 

I was well aware of the logistical demand for Sherman’s armies in the Atlanta Campaign but he spells out the immensity of the requirement at the end of his book.  He states he could not have been successful without the railroad.  Let me explain.

The line of communication (LOC) was from Louisville to Nashville (185 miles) then from Nashville to Chattanooga (151 miles) then from Chattanooga to Atlanta (137 miles) for at total of 473 miles.   All of it single track that could be broken by a single man in a matter of minutes.  Much of it steep grades.  Terrain included numerous bridges and trestles vulnerable to enemy action.

The story could fill a book in its entirety but that is for another day.  So how did they do it?  Trains were ganged.  A train included an engine, fuel tender and ten cars.  Four trains ran in tandem four times a day at about ten miles an hour carrying sixteen tons.  That equals 160 cars a day bringing food, ammunition, and supplies needed to support his army of 100,000 men and 35,000 animals for 196 days. An animal consumes 20 pounds of forage per day and each soldier requires three pounds per day.  That makes 700,000 pounds of cargo required just to feed the stock each day or a total of 137,200,000 pounds of forage which had to be delivered in the campaign.

To put it in perspective, a typical supply wagon pulled by six mules could carry 2 tons twenty miles in one day.  To do the job on roads would have required 36,800 wagons and 220,800 horses or mules. A physical impossibility!  This somewhat explains Sherman and Grant’s concern over Nathan Bedford Forrest loose in their rear.

Bridges and trestles were protected by two story block houses with dirt roofs.  They were impervious to infantry attack but were somewhat vulnerable to a cavalry rush.  However, only one blockhouse was actually captured on the main line in the campaign.  That occurred 2 miles south of the AllatoonaPass on 5 October 1864 by Gen. Samuel French.  This was part of Hood’s efforts to cut Sherman’s LOC.  In one of Hood’s most bizarre orders of his career, he told French to march to the pass, attack the fort, fill the 185 foot deep pass with earth and logs, then meet Hood’s army further north in 36 hours.

Based on the ratio of men committed to battle to the casualties, the Battle at Allatoona Pass 5 October 1864 was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and it was all based on logistical considerations.

In order to run the railroad as securely as possible Sherman’s “convoys” brought the bullets and beans.

Interesting Trivia Stimulated by A book About Fredericksburg

As most of you know I write trivia quizzes for the St Louis Civil War Roundtable meetings.  I have published one book with 1200 of my questions.  I have about 1800 more unpublished and almost every day I learn something new that I save in the question format.

Here are three I have crafted from the book Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front by Mackowski and White.

I may use this format for postings in the future.  I would like to have comments-one way or the other. Thanx.

  1. What was unique about the Thomas’ Legion of North Carolina?

It was commanded by Col. William H. Thomas, the only white man to be named chief of the Cherokee tribe.  He was in fact the Principle Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.  He had befriended a previous chief, learned their language and after studying law practiced in defense of the Cherokee.  The Thomas Legion was never defeated by Union forces.

    2.  Brigadier General William Smith, CSA was a pre-war lawyer who served five terms in the US Congress.  He was easily recognizable by what unusual artifact that he carried while drilling his regiment as well as exhorting them on in battle?

An Unbrella.  Another affectation was his proclivity to ride in a carriage instead of on horseback.  He also had a colorful nickname that he earned during his congressional days from kickbacks he received while overseeing a postal route from Washington to Milledgeville, Georgia, “Extra Billy”.   He was the oldest general in the Army of Northern Virginia at age 65.

     3.  Match the name with the non de guerre:

a. Seawolf of the Confederacy               (     )John Taylor Wood

b. Nathan Hale of the Confederacy        (      )John Newland Maffitt

c. Swampfox of the Confederacy           (      )Charles W. Read

d. Thunderbolt of the Confederacy         (      )John Singleton Mosby     

e. Seaghost of the Confederacy              (      )Sam Davis          

f. The Prince of Privateers                      (      )M. Jeff Thompson           

g. The Gray Ghost                                     (      )John Hunt Morgan

                                                                           Answers: e,f,a,g,b,c,d

     4. What Civil War battlefield included these topographic features:  Taylor’s Hill, Stansbury Hill, Willis Hill (a.k.a Cemetery Hill), Telegraph Hill, Howison’s Hill and Landsdown Valley?

West of the town of Fredericksburg are the five hills otherwise known as Marye’s Heights.  These hills dominate the flat land just west of the Rappahannock River.  Telegraph Hill is the highest and was Lee’s headquarters location.  South of Marye’s Heights was Prospect Hill, Jackson’s defensive line.  The layout of these features provided the strength of the superior defensive position as shown in the 11-12 December 1862 battle.

     5.  What are the inherent advantages of deploying a defense on the military crest of a hill instead of the topographic crest(the physical high point)?

The defenders are not silhouetted against the backdrop and the firing positions provide grazing fire down the slope.  From the geographic or actual crest the attackers are masked for some part of their approach and can be upon the defenders in greater numbers.  The classic example of this situation is Bragg’s position along Missionary Ridge.

     6.  What are the differences between grazing, plunging and enfilading fires?

Grazing fire allows the trajectory the opportunity to strike several targets on a given plane from front to rear.  Plunging fire limits the trajectory to a smaller lower elevation impact zone and renders the fire much more ineffective.  Enfilading fire is lateral fire across or along a line of attackers thus allowing significantly increased effectiveness. A classic example of the effectiveness of enfilading fire was the action of Major John Pelham at Fredericksburg in the Landsdowne Valley.   The Union had the benefits of grazing fire at Gettysburg’s defense against Pickett’s assault.    

Wooden pontoon used at Fredericksburg on 11-12 December 1862 and 3 May 1863

From Fredericksburg abd Spotsylvania National Military Park

From Fredericksburg abd Spotsylvania National Military Park

These pontoons were used in December 1862 for the first crossings of the Rappahannock into the face of the Confederate defenders of Fredericksburg. The crossing ultimately was accomplished by using the pontoons as assault craft and establishing a bridgehead under fire. They were again used in April 1863 at Second Fredericksburg. Because of the square nose they allowed easy exit on the hostile shore much like the Higgins Boats of WWII.

Officers crossed in the pontoon and towed their mount swimming behind the boat.

The crossing of 11-12 December 1862 was the first combat amphibious river crossing in US Army history, under hostile fire.

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