General George H. Thomas – Among the Greatest

Here between the sesquicentennial commemorations of Chickamauga in September and Lookout Mountain in November, it seems appropriate to write a few summary paragraphs and posts about one of the greatest generals in the Civil War – George H. Thomas.

When we think of the great generals of the War, names like Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Grant, Meade, and Sherman come quickly to mind. The list is even longer of those who were found to, or deemed to have, deadly deficiencies of character or initiative. When simply looking at the battle record of even the greatest names, there are grave defeats and questionable tactics. Few have as solid a record as Union General George Thomas, yet his name is not as well-known here 150 years later.

I have recently been reading more on Thomas, given the season of the 150th commemorations, and am much enjoying the biography “Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas” by Benson Bobbrick. It is extraordinarily well-written.

When I think of Thomas in my earlier Civil War studies some years ago, I recall an account as told by Alexander K. McClure – a prominent Chambersburg, Pennsylvania attorney, anti-slavery newspaper publisher, and political activist. This was in the early War, not long after Sumter, while Patterson’s troops were encamped on his farm. Having invited the veteran General Patterson and his staff to dinner, the entire group enjoyed a pleasant evening of cigars on the porch of his farmhouse. Naturally, the topic of a pending war was primary in the conversation. McClure recorded that the consensus of these generals and colonels was “agreed that it might be necessary to fight one general battle, but beyond that the war could not possibly be extended.” This sentiment prevailed due to confidence in superior resources in the North. Only two officers voiced concerns opposed to this general line of thinking. One was the Virginia native, George H. Thomas, who warned “how terribly the South was in earnest, and how desperately its people would fight for their homes.” The other dissenting opinion was offered by Abner Doubleday, who spoke of having been “in immediate intercourse with the Southern people.  He declared with great earnestness that if one general battle was fought between the North and the South, it would precipitate the bloodiest war of the century.” Apparently not long after this exchange, Doubleday was called away to duties with his command, and General Patterson remarked that it was a shame that Doubleday was “gone in the head.” An additional McClure recounting of this incident records that after Doubleday’s departure, several of the officers ridiculed his opinion of an extended war, with one of them saying that Doubleday was a Spiritualist, and a little “gone in the head.” This is an early reference to a viewpoint usually thought to have only been a quirky belief of Doubleday in the latter years of his life. But whatever it says about Doubleday’s personality and theology, or lack of personality and theology, it certainly demonstrates a macro sort of understanding of the global nature of the crisis facing the country. It could also be seen as eerily prophetic!

Statue in Washington:   Erected 1879 at Thomas Circle, Vermont and Massachusetts Avenues at 14th Street, N.W… Sculptor: John Quincy Adams Ward.

Statue in Washington: Erected 1879 at Thomas Circle, Vermont and Massachusetts Avenues at 14th Street, N.W… Sculptor: John Quincy Adams Ward.

At this season of the second half of October of 1863, General Rosecrans was being removed from command of the Army of the Cumberland, and it was given to Thomas. To review, at Chickamauga, Rosecrans was in rapid retreat, while Thomas – soon to be called the Rock of Chickamauga, cobbled together a stout defense at Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill and averted a total disaster. Of Rosecrans and his numb reactions after the battle, Lincoln said that he appeared “confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head.”  He had to be replaced.

Grant, now in charge of this theatre, sent the news of the transfer of command at Chattanooga on the 19th and visited in person on the 23rd.  Getting there was no small task. The Union forces were essentially under siege and desperately short of rations. A well-devised plan by Thomas for a successfully-executed amphibious operation on the 27th opened up supply lines both by land (called the “cracker line”) and water (the Tennessee River). This provisioned the Army of the Cumberland for future operations.

Actually, Grant and Thomas were not pals. Grant saw the latter as too slow and deliberate for his tastes. Thomas was indeed a man of careful thought, but also of strong action when the moment of crisis arrived. Unlike Grant who would fling wave after wave of men in attacks, Thomas would calculate more thoughtfully and judiciously – though not in the extreme sense of McClellan, for example.

Thomas would only live until 1870 and did not write memoirs as so many other generals would compose after the War. And he deliberately destroyed his personal papers. But he was indeed a hero in the north (note the picture and caption), and rightly so … even if he is only now being historically resurrected to a more appropriate appreciation.

I’ll return with more writings on Thomas in subsequent posts.

The Bristoe Campaign – 150 Years Ago

This is a season of wrangling and fighting back and forth, with each side entrenched in their political positions, maneuvering over the same old terrain that has been fought over before. There is nothing very new about the tactics. Nobody is really willing to pick a place of meeting and simply fight it out to a conclusion. Rather, it is a series of skirmishes – with each side constantly attempting to ascertain the strength of the other, while hoping to get the best of their opponents. Public criticism is high. The President doesn’t seem very sure what to do other than send daily notes to his main commander on the front lines of the conflict asking, “How is it now?”  And in the end, nothing is really going to be accomplished or settled.

OH!  Did you think I was talking about the current congressional debates and the ongoing shutdown of the government and national parks?  Haha! LOL!  You thought I was talking about this season now, and President Obama?  Sorry, no. This is, after all, a Civil War blog; and so I was talking about the maneuverings of Robert E. Lee and George Meade during this week in the fall season of October 1863 – 150 years ago!

This is a campaign called the Bristoe Campaign – dated as beginning on October 9, 1863, but variously dated as ending either 12 days later or by others as extending to the 9th of November. In any event, it was a series of movements and skirmishes with some of the most interesting names in Civil War history – places like Fry Pan Church, Pohick Church, Jeffersonton, Fox’s Ford, Accotink, Buckland Mills, Rixeyville, and Muddy Creek.

Lee had sent Longstreet’s Command to the West in early September. In consequence of this and the outcome of the Battle of Chickamauga, Lincoln, Stanton and Union command in Washington decided on September 23rd to send troops to Rosecrans in Chattanooga. The 11th and 12th Corps of the Army of the Potomac were dispatched under Hooker’s command. It was a brilliantly executed movement that was completed by October 2nd.

It was in the mind of Lee to maneuver against this Federal reduction in force, though, as always, he was still outnumbered. The course of action was to follow a previously common pathway to march to the west and north out of his position upon the Rappahannock, essentially the same route taken to 2nd Manassas. But there was to be no 3rd Manassas or 3rd Bull Run. Meade sufficiently anticipated and understood the flanking action and was successful in maintaining a posture between Lee and Washington, yet his defensively strong positions were not advantageous for aggressive attacking opportunities. Daily engagements occurred in a wide variety of places, such as those mentioned above.

Larger engagements include:orange-alexandria-railroad

Bristoe Station – October 14 – Confederate forces under A.P. Hill attacked rear guard Union troops, and 2nd Corps federals put a nasty hurt on Henry Heth’s division. Meade was found to be well-entrenched near Centreville, and Lee had outrun his supplies. Retreating south again, the Confederates tore up the tracks of the Orange and Alexandria – rendering Meade incapable of fulfilling the Washington-goaded desires to successfully catch and destroy Lee.

Buckland Mills – October 19th – JEB Stuart’s cavalry served as a shield for the withdrawal of Lee’s army from the familiar Manassas Junction region. Union troopers under Gen. Judson Kilpatrick were in pursuit and lured into an ambush. The resultant Union flight and Rebel pursuit was over a distance of five miles, causing the affair to be more commonly known as “The Buckland Races.”

As Lee re-crossed the Rappahannock on the 21st, Confederate losses were about 200 killed and 1400 total casualties, while the Union numbers respectively were approximately 140/3000.

Second Battle of Rappahannock Station – November 7th – Lee’s fortified protection north of the river at the approach to Kelly’s Ford at Rappahannock Station was overrun with a surprise attack by Sedgwick’s 6th Corp, wherein 1600 men of two of Jubal Early’s division were captured. Meade crossed, and Lee retreated to the previous line along the Rapidan. Once again the armies were back to their respective places of a month earlier.

The more things changed, the more they stayed the same; and on the 9th, to get a break from the pressures of it all, Lincoln went to the theatre to see John Wilkes Booth perform in “The Marble Heart.”

Antietam Closed, but Parks Everywhere!

This may well qualify as my most bizarre headline ever! Yes, as I write this, the government is shut down to the extent that Antietam National Battlefield is not open to visitors, nor is any other National Park here in Washington County, MD. This means I’ll not likely be hosting some guests as scheduled for tomorrow, nor will I be able to bike as I do most days on the C&O Canal. So, I might as well sit here at my computer, risking another deep vein thrombosis, but writing about the Civil War!

And, yes, there are Parks everywhere!  Let me explain …132nd Monument at Antietam

I was an adopted kid. My biological father was of the last name of “Parks.”  I had written previously here in Enfilading Lines about a William Parks who fought with the 132nd PA at Antietam and Fredericksburg and who is connected to the story of their regimental monument at Bloody Lane. One of the readers of this page – a Thomas Park – has written to me recently to tell me the story of his great grandfather named William Parks (actually his name did not have the “s” officially, but he went by it with the longer spelling). This William Parks also fought at Bloody Lane with the 57th NY, carrying a flag and being wounded in the process. The question of my reader was to ponder with me what are the chances that these could really be two fellows of the same name in the same place – both identified with their regimental colors; or could they perhaps be the same guy with conflated stories?

Before giving you the two stories, let me write this incredible fact … There are 203 people named William Parks who fought in the Civil War, and there are another 82 of the name William Park!  Isn’t that amazing?!?

Story #1 – The William Parks of the 132nd PA – This first excerpt is from the history of the 132nd Pennsylvania in the book entitled “War from the Inside” by Frederick Hitchcock. The writer was the last person to carry the colors at Fredericksburg in their assault upon Marye’s Heights, and in referencing what happened to the flag after Hitchcock went down with it being shot out of his hands …

“It can be well understood that we felt very keenly the loss of our flag, although we knew that it had been most honorably lost. It was known to have been brought off the field in the night by Corporal William I. D. Parks, Company H, one of the color-guard, who was mortally wounded, and left by him in a church used as a temporary hospital. Corporal Parks was removed to a hospital at Washington, where he died shortly afterwards, and the colors mysteriously disappeared. The act of this color-bearer in crawling off the field with his colors, wounded as he was to the death, was a deed of heroism that has few parallels.”

Story #2 – The William Parks of the 57th NY – The reader contacting me told me the following story of his great-grandfather, and I was able to find it (and the ancestor) verified in several sources. I’ll just quote the following from the book “The Story of a Regiment, Being a Record of the Military Service of the Fifty-Seventh New York State Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865” by Gilbert Frederick, D.D., Late Captain, 57th N.Y.V.I.

A letter dated Bolivar Heights, September 25th, 1862 and written by W. H. Hardy, of Company A contains the following items of interest: “Company A is color company. Our former captain ‘A. B. Chapman has been promoted to Major. Company A was led into action at Antietam by Captain C. B. Curtis, formerly of Company K, ably seconded by Lieutenant Covert. The colors were borne by Sergeant Frazer of Company C, Corporals Parks and Mesler. We had not been under fire two minutes before two of the color bearers, Frazer and Parks fell. Henry C. Housel, although not one of the color guard, threw down his musket, seized the flag and plunged into the thickest of the fight, calling the boys to ‘Come on,’ under a terrific fire which was thinning our ranks at an awful rate. Housel carried the colors for nearly an hour, when his turn came, a minie ball struck him in the throat, when falling he said ‘Boys protect these colors.’ We lost one killed, Sergeant Cooper. Sergeants Stubbe and Paden, and twenty-one privates were wounded. Andrew Miller who was wounded at White Oak Swamp, was again wounded in the hip, C. K. Garretson and Martin Connelly slightly, N. Reed, lately released from Richmond prison was shot in the hand, David Wright through the leg. Our regiment suffered a heavy loss in the death of Colonel Parisen of Amboy. He was loved and trusted by every man under him. When charging into the cornfield he led us mounted upon Dick, his old faithful horse, and waving his sword. ‘We drove the enemy through the cornfield, over the hill and out of sight. It was here he received his death wound. “I saw him after the fight and he looked as natural as though sleeping. He died the soldiers death. “Old Dick,’ as General Richardson is called, was wounded severely in the shoulder by a piece of shell and it is feared he may not survive. He is a brave old man and is thought everything of by his troops. General Hancock, so famous for his charge at Williamsburg and Malvern Hill is now in command of our division.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, I am very confident that we have here two different stories and people who share the name William Parks along with 201 others in the history of the Civil War. The former of these men is listed in Samuel P. Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers as a William J.D. Parks of Company H. The listing indicates him as wounded indeed on 12/13 and dying in Washington on 12/28. It further states that he was buried in the Military Asylum Cemetery. This is now the Soldiers Home National Cemetery – the location of the Lincoln Summer Cottage. And someday I’m going to find that grave and picture it here.  The latter of these men survived the War with veteran’s benefits and is buried in the Forty Fort Cemetery in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

In my own family search, I discovered that I had a lone cousin surviving – yep – named William Parks! But finding him took months. Again, there are thousands by this name, and even my next door neighbor was named Bill Park!  Eventually, after several false attempts, I did find him and we even met together one day last summer, which was an awesome experience. Sadly, he suddenly passed away a few months ago.

Chicamauga, and the Rock Thereof! 150 Years Ago

I’ll introduce my rather scant summary remarks on Chickamauga by stating that I have found it to be one of the most interesting campaigns of the War to study. It was my intent to build up to it with a biographical sketch on George Thomas, and to then look at the Battle through his eyes. However, I’ve had my own blood campaign the past week with clots and the first hospitalization of my life. I simply have had concentration problems.

Chickamauga Summary

The Battle is essentially a two-day affair on the 19th and 20th, though some interesting fighting occurred on the 18th as well. That day, Braxton Bragg was intent on interposing his forces between Rosecrans and Chattanooga.  His optimism was bolstered by reinforcements that had come from Virginia in the past 24 hours. Cavalry skirmishing ensued, with the Union getting the best of it, being armed with Spencer repeating rifles. The so-called “Lightening Brigade” of Col. John Wilder was the first unit in the Union army to be outfitted with this state-of-the-art weaponry – firing about 14 shoots per minute as compared to just 2-3 of the typical rifle in the Civil War. Again on the 20th, this brigade held off a break-through Confederate division of Gen. Thomas Hindman, causing him to believe for a time that a new Federal Corps had mysteriously appeared on the field. Wilder was himself in awe of this new capacity, writing that “It actually seemed a pity to kill men so. They fell in heaps; and I had it in my heart to order the firing to cease, to end the awful sight.”

General George Thomas

General George Thomas

The heat of the battle arrived on the 19th along the Chickamauga Creek. The Union line held against repeated assaults by Bragg’s men. Even heavier fighting followed on the 20th, as a total of eight brigades from the Army of Northern Virginia under James Longstreet arrived to achieve a breakthrough of the Federal line in the afternoon. One-third of the Union forces, including Rosecrans himself, were driven from the field. On Horseshoe Ridge was the soon-to-be-called “Rock of Chicamauga” George Thomas, who rallied sundry forces and held onto an area called Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill. This allowed for a successful Union retreat to Chattanooga. Though the day was a Confederate victory, the Union still held onto Chattanooga, and the forces of Rosecrans were not defeated. Two months later, the fighting would open again.

Chickamauga was the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War, trailing only Gettysburg and making it the deadliest event in the Western theatre. Casualties totaled more than 16,000 for the Federals and 18,000 for the Confederates. Bragg’s failure to pursue the Union and defeat them soundly appears historically as a probable failure to expand his victory, thus rendering it ultimately as a strategic defeat.

The unique geographical features of every battlefield contribute to the final story, and Chicamauga is an especially unique example. The swampy terrain and thick woods made it a particularly deadly place to fight. Whereas in “Indian talk” the word Antietam was rendering an innocuous title of “slow-moving water,” in Cherokee the word Chicamauga meant “River of Death.”  And whereas Antietam was shallow and oft flowing through open spaces, the Chicamauga was heavily tree-lined with large roots and trunks, deep, and often bordered by rocky banks. There were thickets everywhere, preventing commanding officers from any broad view of movements… with the armies often stumbling into one another. Coordinated efforts were exceedingly difficult and often impossible to achieve.

Chicamauga = River of Death = one nasty place to be.

Antietam at 151 / The Hospital Experience

So here on the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, I am a bit predisposed. I’m not at the Battlefield – as I was last year, lecturing at the east side of the Burnside Bridge at the very moment the Union made a first successful charge across that 12-foot arch. I am, myself, sitting in a hospital bed in Hagerstown as I write these words – thankful to have survived a double pulmonary emboli three days ago.

So my thoughts right now drift to the imagined experiences of thousands of boys in blue and gray, far from home, being wounded and taken to various “hospitals.”  I’m mindful of the story told by George F. Noyes – a Maine lawyer who served in Doubleday’s supply command structure : The army of the wounded, numbering at least ten thousand, occupied more than seventy of these impromptu hospitals, stretching from the Potomac out over the battlefield, through Sharpsburg, Keadysville, and Boonesborough, even to Frederick and Hagerstown, while miles of ambulances bore daily northward their precious freights of patriotic pain. Over the river, also, we could see the red flag waving from many a dwelling, the hospital of the wounded rebels, whom the enemy had carried with them in their late escape. In barns, and sheds, and farm-houses; in churches, halls, and residences; in colonies of hospital marquees; in yards and gardens crowded with shelter-tents; wherever, in a word, there was space for the narrow hospital bed, there lay a soldier chained to his couch by a wound more or less severe. No matter what flag he followed into battle, an equal surgical aid surrounded him, an equal kindness soothed his agony. Once within the hospital, the distinction between the patriot and the rebel was forgotten; and I was touched in noticing that, in some of the little graveyards which sprang up, ah! so rapidly, near the different hospitals, the men of the North and the men of the South slept side by side together.

I’m thinking of the story I tell so much of Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr. – declared a goner on the field from a shot through the neck, only to end up being cared for in a home here in Hagerstown.

And then there are the stories of the Connecticut guys – so many of their wounded going to the Henry Rohrbach farm. These stories are wonderfully told in my friend’s new book “Connecticut Yankees at Antietam” by John Banks. He and I were able to visit the site one day last year – notice the big “HR” for Henry Rohrbach in the bricks of the barn, high on the gable end.

So, hospital food is indeed everything I was told it would be! But it is certainly beyond anything the 127,000 soldiers were getting 151 years ago today!

IMG_0273

Civil War Era Political Complexities in Maryland

In consequence of being asked to speak on this subject for a political event (actually in a rental of the Mumma Barn on the Antietam Battlefield), I have put together this summary of the complex political situation in Maryland leading up to the Civil War, and continuing also into the early months of the conflict. Having served in partisan political activism in Maryland, I am acutely aware of the bitter debates and heated conflicts that permeate state politics. However, the situation in 1861 would certainly dissuade current state senators and delegates from ever desiring a return to “the good old days!”  At least none of them are being arrested these days for their viewpoints, though likely some of them should be for the goofy positions they take (and that’s the end of my political posturing – let’s go back to history, which is more fun!).

The state of Maryland in 1860-61 faced the ultimate caught-in-the-middle diagnosis of political and cultural multiple personality disorder. Bordered by Pennsylvania and Virginia, the state shared an agrarianism and slave culture with the South, yet a mercantile environment with the North. With proximity to the capital of Washington, and possessing key harbor and railroad connections, Maryland found itself too much at the focal point of a conflict it did not desire yet could not escape.

As a state that was very diverse in its ethnic and religious composition from the very beginning (exemplified by the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649 – a sort of precursor to the First Amendment), the viewpoints of the citizenry toward the pending conflict ran passionately across the entire spectrum. The areas immediately around the capital and the agrarian, tobacco-growing, slave-empowered Eastern Shore were more decidedly Southern in sympathy, while the central and western regions leaned much more heavily toward the Northern perspective. Baltimore had a total mix of everything, but especially some very angry, vocal, and active Southern adherents. It was a city familiar with violence.

The significant percentage of Marylanders who embraced Southern sympathies did not however possess a necessarily immediate passion and appetite for secession, such as was sweeping through Southern States. Yet again, the abolitionist perspectives of the Republican Party and leanings of their candidate Abraham Lincoln were not popular in the state as well. In fact, Lincoln gained but 2.5% of the total 1860 presidential election votes, and he did not gain even a single vote in seven counties! That is an amazing statistic (though four years later he would tally 55% of the vote).

As Lincoln travelled to Washington in late February to assume the office of the Presidency, a credible plot to kill him in Baltimore was uncovered. It was decided to sneak him through the city surreptitiously on a common passenger train in advance of the publicly-known schedule. In charge of this was the detective Allan Pinkerton, who had the President in a sleeping booth as an allegedly ill traveler when his ticket was handed to the conductor. Lincoln was ultimately much embarrassed by this affair, though yielded to it on the pervasive advice and counsel of all those close to him.

The reality of the threat was clearly evident in the journey of Vice President elect Hannibal Hamlin through Baltimore. A rowdy mob surrounded his train where he could hear comments such as “No damned Abolitionist like Lincoln or Hamlin should enter the White House.” Boarding the train, the rowdies looking for Lincoln simply did not recognize Hamlin when face to face with him.

Baltimore Riot 1861

Baltimore Riot 1861

The truly violent nature of such crowds in Baltimore became quite manifest just two months later on April 19th.  Merely a week after the attack upon Fort Sumter in the Charleston, SC harbor, the 6th Massachusetts was passing through Baltimore on the way to Washington. It was necessary for them to march a number of blocks from one train station to another. A mob of secessionists and Southern sympathizers attempted to block the route, throwing cobblestones and bricks at the troops, and hurling insults. In consequence, the firing of a shot set off a full-scale riot and chaos, out of which four soldiers and a dozen citizens were killed.

The incident inspired the writing of a poem by James Ryder Randall which became the song “Maryland, My Maryland” – which yet remains as the official state song. It was played and sung by Confederate troops as they crossed into Maryland in the Antietam Campaign of 1862. The words are rather shocking, quite frankly … speaking of the need to “spurn the Northern scum” and “burst the tyrant’s chain.”

Baltimore continued in a state of unrest for many weeks. A delegation of the leading city citizens went to Lincoln to complain about troops crossing Maryland. To them, Lincoln said, “We must have troops, and as they can neither crawl under Maryland nor fly over it, they must come across it.”  He further vented some frustrations with them by saying, “You, gentlemen, come here to me and ask for peace on any terms, and yet have no word of condemnation for those who are making war on us. You express great horror of bloodshed, and yet would not lay a straw in the way of those who are organizing in Virginia and elsewhere to capture this city. The rebels attack Fort Sumter, and your citizens attack troops sent to the defense of the Government, and the lives and property in Washington, and yet you would have me break my oath and surrender the Government without a blow.”

Accommodations were made to funnel troops rather by way of Annapolis. Lincoln also helped to defuse the situation by promising Governor Hicks and Baltimore’s Mayor Brown that troops were for the defense of Washington, not for an attack upon the South.

Governor Hicks decided to call the Maryland legislature into session on April 26 – meeting in Frederick to avoid the more charged atmosphere of Annapolis with Union troops, etc.  Among those attending were 10 recently elected delegates from Baltimore who were known as secessionist in ideology. The aggressive Union General Benjamin Butler was desirous of the President’s authority to bag the whole nest of traitorous Maryland legislators,”  But Lincoln was unwilling to go to this extreme, though plans were being made in Washington to very aggressively deal with the situation were the vote to favor secession and arms against the government. (Butler would in fact, without orders to do so, seize and occupy Baltimore a few weeks later.)

The Assembly voted on the 27th and 28th (unanimous in the Senate, and 53-13 in the House of Delegates to state that it did not have the constitutional authority for actions resulting in secession. A later statement on May 10th detailed greater specificity – protesting the war as unjust and unconstitutional, encouraging Marylanders to work for peace between the sections, soliciting the recognition of the Confederate States as an independent nation, and affirming that any state convention to vote upon secession would be imprudent.

At this same time as the legislature was meeting in Frederick, Lincoln rendered the opinion to General Scott that the time had come for a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus – the right to not be imprisoned without a trial. This was seen by the Lincoln Administration as a necessary war powers action of self-preservation, recognizing that there were many disloyal Maryland citizens transporting even supplies and munitions to the rebel cause. Chief Justice Taney ruled this as unconstitutional – an opinion totally ignored by the Lincoln Administration. It was a ruling no President ever would accept in such circumstances, and it was in fact terribly wrongly rendered.

The Maryland legislature was set to reconvene in mid-September in Frederick. Understand that since the former vote, there had been significant bloodshed, particularly with the First Battle of Bull Run. New concerns arose about Maryland secession. Secretary of War Simon Cameron wrote General Banks on September 11, “The passage of any act of secession by the legislature of Maryland must be prevented. If necessary, all or any part of the members must be arrested. Exercise your own judgment as to the time and manner, but do the work effectively.” On September 17, General Banks reported that “all members of the Maryland Legislature assembled at Frederick City on the 17th instant known or suspected to be disloyal in their relations to the Government have been arrested.”

A total of less than 20 were arrested on September 13th including Mayor Brown and the managers of a couple of secessionist-oriented newspapers. They were imprisoned in Fort McHenry. This rather definitively put a halt to any such ideas or actions. Governor Hicks was generally very cooperative with the Federal government, and by the time of Lincoln’s annual address to congress on December 3, 1861 he was able to say, “The insurgents confidently claimed a strong support from north of Mason and Dixon’s line; and the friends of the Union were not free from apprehension on the point. This, however, was soon settled definitely and on the right side, south of the line, noble little Delaware led off right from the first. Maryland was made to seem against the Union. Our soldiers were assaulted, bridges were burned, and railroads torn up, within her limits; and we were many days, at one time, without the ability to bring a single regiment over her soil to the capital. Now, her bridges and railroads are repaired and open to the government; she already gives seven regiments to the cause of the Union and none to the enemy; and her people, at a regular election, have sustained the Union, by a larger majority, and a larger aggregate vote than they ever before gave to any candidate, or any question.”

Though political wranglings of great difficulty in the state of Maryland were far from ever calmed during the period of the Civil War, by April of 1864, Lincoln was able to say in an address to a Maryland gathering of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, “Looking upon these many people, assembled here, to serve, as they best may, the soldiers of the Union, it occurs at once that three years ago, the same soldiers could not so much as pass through Baltimore. The change from then till now, is both great, and gratifying. Blessings on the brave men who have wrought the change, and the fair women who strive to reward them for it. …

… The change within Baltimore is part only of a far wider change. When the war began, three years ago, neither party, nor any man, expected it would last till now. Each looked for the end, in some way, long ere to-day. Neither did any anticipate that domestic slavery would be much affected by the war. But here we are; the war has not ended, and slavery has been much affected — how much needs not now to be recounted. So true is it that man proposes, and God disposes. …

… The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name– liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names– liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated.

Surely, the greatness that IS Abraham Lincoln, is seen in this address.

Chattanooga Seized by the Union: 150 Years Ago Today

On this date of September 9, 1863, the critical rail and river center of Chattanooga, Tennessee was entered by General Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland, having been abandoned by Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. The Confederates withdrew into Georgia, not far away. Rosecrans’ forces were spread out over 40 miles.

“The enemy has decided not to fight at Chattanooga,” Rosecrans wrote to Halleck … adding in a subsequent communication,  “Chattanooga is ours without a struggle, and East Tennessee is free … Our move on the enemy’s flank and rear progresses, while the tail of his retreating column will not escape unmolested.”Chat

Five days earlier, Rosecrans had completed the crossing of the Tennessee River, threatening Chattanooga from the south and west. Worried by these reports, Jefferson Davis (on the 5th) asked Bragg, “What is your proposed plan of operation? Can you ascertain intention of enemy? … Can you not cut his line of communication and compel him to retreat for want of supplies?” Beyond skirmishing, there were no major engagements, and the Confederates reluctantly retreated into Tennessee, where the interesting battle of Chickamauga would break out nine days later.

Longstreet Detached

On this same date, an amazingly accurate story appeared in the New York Herald that the Corps of James Longstreet was being detached from Lee in Northern Virginia to join with Bragg in Tennessee. Jefferson Davis had convinced the anxious General Lee that this was necessary, to which Lee acquiesced in the hopes that a great victory there might accomplish much for the mood and war effort of the South (in the wake of Vicksburg and Gettysburg). As Longstreet was boarding the trains with his men, Lee is reported to have said, “General, you must beat those people out there” … to which Longstreet replied, “They shall be beaten if I live.”

Interesting Extra Stuff

The Chickamauga Battlefield was a part of the very first National Military Park. Veterans proposed this late in the 1800s, and it was established as such in August of 1895 (including the nearby sites of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge). This designation would be followed by Shiloh, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Antietam.

Before it became a park, the forests of Chickamauga remained largely untouched. So many bullets had been imbedded in the trees at that location that local lumber mills in the region would never accept any timber from the site of the battle. It was simply too dangerous to cut into the wood!

The Summer of 1863 in Washington

It is now the day after Labor Day, marking the traditional end of the summer season. Apart from one beastly hot week, it has not been as warm and humid here in Western Maryland as it has been most other years. We have witnessed a rather wet season, with the Antietam flowing higher, faster, and muddier than most years.

This area of the country is often known for high humidity and terribly uncomfortable weather conditions over the summer, particularly in August. And even as in our era, where Congress is out of session at this time, in 1863 the city of Washington was much less occupied at the end of the summer. It was an unhealthy place to be – quite unbearable before the days of air conditioning.

DSC_0214

Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home

President Lincoln especially enjoyed and used a cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in northern Washington as a place to daily escape the city. Though it is now in the midst of an urban area, at that time it was removed from the density of city life and located upon a hill where at least a few cooler breezes might render the overnight hours less stifling.

As I have written about previously both HERE and HERE, I enjoy visiting this restored location; and it should be a must-see on the itinerary of any Civil War enthusiast when coming to Washington. The best written piece on the subject is by Dickinson College professor Matthew Pinsker with his book Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home.  The following couple of stories are largely derived from this.

Mary Lincoln was gone from Washington for much of the summer of 1863, choosing to travel to a better climate in Vermont. On most days, Lincoln would trek early in the morning from the Cottage, travelling the several miles into the city … from which he would return around sunset.

For the modern observer – used to the extensive network of Secret Service and security that surrounds any President – it is startling to look back at the scant protection guarding Abraham Lincoln during the most intense and impassioned era of American history. The final event at Ford’s Theatre would be the first illustration to come to mind. But beyond that, as one reads of the travels of President Lincoln, it universally stands out that the surrounding security detail is incredibly scant.

Well, even at that time there were those who had a similar thought … such as the account of Noah Brooks – the Washington correspondent for the Sacramento Daily Union.  He observed that the protection amounted to a cavalry escort and a company of infantry. In theory, this would comprise about 100 men, but I am betting that it was in actuality considerably less. Brooks wrote, “To my unsophisticated judgment, nothing seems easier than a sudden cavalry raid from the Maryland side of the fortifications, past the few small forts, to seize the President of the United States.”

The diary of Lincoln’s young assistant John Hay noted in an entry on 7/25/1863 about riding back to Washington in the dark, passing through “a party of drunken gamblers & harlots.”  Pinsker writes that there were 24,000 arrests in wartime Washington in 1863 … also noting that sources claimed there were in excess of 5,000 prostitutes in the city!

At this end of the summer of 1863, John Hay said that the “town is as dismal now as a dead tombstone.”  As evidenced recently even by the fewer “150 years ago today” entries in this blog, this period of time was not nearly as active as most others of the four-year war. It was simply hot, humid, and quiet.

Also gone from Washington in August of that summer was Lincoln’s other primary senior aide John G. Nicolay. John Hay sent a note to update his fellow worker by saying of Lincoln, “The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. … I am growing more and more firmly convinced that the good of the country absolutely demands that he should be kept where he is till this thing is over. There is no man in the country, so wise, so gentle and so firm. I believe the hand of God placed him where he is.”  And as a theologian by trade, I fully concur with this; and I certainly believe history affirms it.

On the 21st of this month at the Cottage, there is going to be a Family Day Celebration – the details of which may be found HERE.  Among activities is a child’s petting zoo. Why?  Well, as it says, “…play with animals at a petting zoo with Tad Lincoln’s favorite pets.”  Tad had a little goat, and the President wrote to his wife about it in the summer of 63, “Tell dear Tad, poor ‘Nanny Goat’ is lost … The gardener kept complaining that she destroyed the flowers, till it was concluded to bring her down to the White House. This was done, and the second day she had disappeared, and has not been heard of since.”

My own particular Civil War personage of special interest also crosses paths with the topic of this day – being in Vermont with his wife at the same place as Mary Lincoln. Abner Doubleday was wounded at Gettysburg by a shell fragment that hit him square upon the back of his neck, knocking him out of the saddle and over the head of his horse. As well, he had been relieved of active command duty just after the battle. From Team of Rivals, page 541 >> “For Lincoln, it was enough to know that his wife and sons were happily ensconced at the Equinox House in Manchester, Vermont, then considered a ‘primary summer resort,’ providing access to fishing, nature walks, gardens, swimming holes, concerts, croquet, archery, and excellent dining facilities. During the visit, Mary climbed a mountain, socialized with General Doubleday and his wife, and enjoyed the clear refreshing air.”

From other research that I have done, I know that Mrs. Doubleday was often one who would visit the Washington hospitals of soldiers along with the Lincolns. But I do not believe Abner and Abe were buddies whatsoever. My guess – and it is merely that – is that Abner Doubleday and Mary Lincoln were kindred spirits due to each having a highly aroused interest in Spiritualism and related occult intrigue. Yes … weird, creepy!

Gearing Up for Chickamauga

It has been an unusual time of silence for the Enfilading Lines blog page over the past several weeks. I have had some busyness issues for sure with kids going back to college, but more than that, I don’t have any major topics to write about for my current primary focus on looking back “150 Years Ago Today.”  I have several times stated that my regular writing on this (with the bulk of the 240 posts or so that I’ve done since the sesquicentennial season began) has served to give me a unique “feel” for the duration of time between events. It has made it come alive (not to overuse a term) by lifting it off of the flat landscape of a printed page and placing into a sense of elapsing days and weeks.

The recent quietness (relatively speaking – as there are regular daily skirmishes and smaller-scaled events almost every day in August of 1863) speaks to the mutual exhaustion in the wake of Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Fatigue and resource deprivation prevailed on all fronts and all sides. A missed opportunity (that I will someday research and study further) would have been to weigh in heavily on the issue of the criticism of George Meade for not attacking and moving more aggressively to destroy Lee’s army – particularly as it was pinned down in Williamsport, which is my town!  I’ve read much and listened to lectures that approach this topic, and I have honestly not landed strongly enough at this point. My fellow of particular study and interest – Abner Doubleday – was among the most vocally critical of Meade. The two certainly did not care for each other! A day will come when I give the final and officially accurate conclusion upon the matter!

The Swamp Angel

The Swamp Angel

The Latter Half of August 1863

Beginning on the 17th, the first great bombardment of Fort Sumter commenced in Charleston Harbor. Continuing for multiple days, by the 23rd over 5,000 shells had been fired from land and sea by the Union forces. Less than a handful of Confederate guns were able to fire back, as the brick installation was reduced to a pile of rubble. Yet Sumter remained resolute and unassailable.

An unusually large gun called the “Swamp Angel” was used on the 21st and 22nd to fire shells into Charleston itself. An 8-inch Parrott seacoast rifle with 11 rifle grooves, the barrel was 13.5 feet in length with a 16-pound powder charge. It could throw a shell 8,000 yards! However, on the 36th shot that it fired, the breech broke and it was useless from that point. The barrel, sent to Trenton, NJ in 1871 to be melted down, was recognized as the Swamp Angel and preserved. It sits today in a local public area named Cadwalader Park.

The Swamp Angel in Trenton

The Swamp Angel in Trenton

The Next Big Thing Just Over the Horizon

Chickamauga is the next really big campaign and battle to come – to be fought on the 19th and 20th of September. It will be the bloodiest two-day battle of the war. It was on the 16th of August that Gen. Rosecrans Army of the Cumberland began moving in Tennessee toward Chattanooga, while General Burnside’s forces in the Lexington, Kentucky area also started in the same direction. This would be the start of the Chickamauga Campaign. By the 9th of September, Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee had evacuated Chattanooga.

Looking ahead, the battle will be a Confederate victory, though Bragg will not fully capitalize on it given the numbers of casualties. General George H. Thomas’ stout defense of 25 or more attacks would add to the hollow nature of the victory.

The Battles of Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge on November 23-25 would give the Federals a convincing victory in the region, hence opening the heart of the South. Chattanooga would serve in the next spring as a supply base for Sherman’s march on Atlanta and to the sea.

Here is a really cool picture of the Battery B artillery of Antietam from this weekend. Some of the Antietam Battlefield Guides work with this, and our friend and bookstore worker Sharon Murray took the picture.

Battery B

Lincoln Letter to Grant Regarding Colored Troops

On this date of August 9, of 1863 – 150 years ago today – President Lincoln penned a brief letter to Ulysses Grant in the western theatre. After a brief thought on a possible expedition against Mobile, Alabama, Lincoln wrote the following:

A word upon another subject. General Thomas has gone again to the Mississippi Valley with the view of raising colored troops. I have no reason to doubt that you are doing what you reasonably can upon the same subject. I believe it is a resource which if vigorously applied now, will soon close the contest. It works doubly, weakening the enemy and strengthening us. We were not fully ripe for it until the river was opened. Now, I think at least one hundred thousand can, and ought to be rapidly organized along its shores, relieving all white troops to serve elsewhere. Mr. Dana understands you as believing that the emancipation proclamation has helped some in your military operations. I am very glad if this is so.

At Dutch Gap 1864 <credit: americancivilwarphotos.com

At Dutch Gap 1864

Grant gave President Lincoln enthusiastic support for black recruitment, replying on August 23, 1863:  I have given the subject of arming the negro my hearty support. This, with the emancipation of the negro, is the heavyest blow yet given the Confederacy. The South care a great deal about it and profess to be very angry. But they were united in their action before and with the negro under subjection could spare their entire white population for the field. Now they complain that nothing can be got out of their negroes.

There has been great difficulty in getting able bodied negroes to fill up the colored regiments in consequence of the rebel cavalry run[n]ing off all that class to Georgia and Texas. This is especially the case for a distance of fifteen or twenty miles on each side of the river. I am now however sending two expeditions into Louisiana, one from Natchez to Harrisonburg and one from Goodrich’s Landing to Monroe, that I expect will bring back a large number. I have ordered recruiting officers to accompany these expeditions. I am also moving a Brigade of Cavalry from Tennessee to Vicksburg which will enable me to move troops to a greater distance into the interior and will facilitate materially the recruiting service.

The portion of Lincoln’s letter where he speaks of relieving white troops to serve elsewhere has the tone of early thoughts upon black regiments – that they would be only best deployed in garrison duty. But the bravery and excellence displayed in battle in places such as Fort Wagner, Port Hudson/Milliken’s Bend, and Nashville demonstrated abilities beyond the expectation of many. In a letter to his friend James Conkling of Illinois, Lincoln wrote of reports from certain successful field commanders who “believe the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion; and that, at least one of those important successes, could not have been achieved when it was, but for the aid of black soldiers.”

Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry <credit: AmericnCivilWarPhotos.com

Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry

Lincoln also wrote in that same letter (8/26/1863), “Negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive—even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.”  And with the conviction that indeed a day of peace would come, Lincoln added … “And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.”

We see in this the strength of conviction Lincoln had in the correctness of the Emancipation Proclamation. Gettysburg College historian Allen Guelzo writes:  “Black enlistment made the Emancipation Proclamation irrevocable. No one in their right mind could seriously recommend canceling the Proclamation after ordering black soldiers into the nightmare of war.”  (Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, p. 219)

Looking back, it is sometimes said that Lincoln appeared either half-hearted or purely utilitarian about the issue of emancipation. I believe this is entirely ungenerous and devoid of an understanding of the many varied and competing realities in Lincoln’s world. Just over a decade after the War in 1876, Frederick Douglas summarized it well by saying:

23rd New York Infantry

23rd New York Infantry

His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he needed the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow- countrymen. Without those primary and essential conditions to success his efforts would have been utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. From the genuine abolition view, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent, but measuring him by the sentiment of his country—a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult—he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.  (Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, pp. 541–42)