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:

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:

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)

General Lee Offers to Resign – 150 Years Ago Today

After Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, General Lee rode out to the edge of the battlefield and watched his shattered forces returning. “It’s my fault” he was reported to say, “It is I who have lost this fight, it’s all my fault.”

To General Pickett he said, “You must look after your division.” And Pickett replied, “General Lee, I have no division.” The pain of such a conversation surely rode back to Virginia with Lee.all-my-fault

On this date of August 8, 1863, more than four weeks after Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee expressed his sadness at the recent setback, and with weariness of body wrote a letter to President Jefferson Davis wherein he solicited his replacement at the head of the army.

I spend a tremendous amount of my time writing – for this blog, for a baseball network, and of course quite extensively as part of my duties as a pastor. I admire anyone who writes well and does so with an ease of word flow. This letter of Lee – like so many Civil War era documents – is a thing of beauty, and I include it below in its entirety.

It was three days later that Davis wrote back saying, “To ask me to substitute you by someone… more fit to command, or who would possess more of the confidence of the army… is to demand an impossibility.”

Camp Orange, August 8, 1863

His Excellency Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States

Mr. President,

Your letters of July 28 and August 2 have been received, and I have waited for a leisure hour to reply, but I fear that will never come. I am extremely obliged to you for the attention given to the wants of this army, and the efforts made to supply them. Our absentees are returning, and I hope the earnest and beautiful appeal may stir up the virtue of the whole people; and that they may see their duty and perform it. Nothing is wanted but their fortitude should equal their bravery to insure the success of our cause. We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies and to prevent our falling into greater disasters. Our people have only to be true and united, to bear manfully the misfortunes incident to war, and all will come right in the end.

I know how prone we are to censure and how ready to blame others for the non-fulfillment of our expectations. This is unbecoming in a generous people, and I grieve to see its expression. The general remedy for the want of success in a military commander is his removal. This is natural, and in many instances, proper. For, no matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops disaster must sooner or later ensue.

I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army. I have seen and heard of expression of discontent in the public journals at the result of the expedition. I do not know how far this feeling extends in the army. My brother officers have been too kind to report it, and so far the troops have been too generous to exhibit it. It is fair, however, to suppose that it does exist, and success is so necessary to us that nothing should be risked to secure it. I therefore, in all sincerity, request Your Excellency to take measures to supply my place. I do this with the more earnestness because no one is more aware than myself of my inability for the duties of my position. I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire. How can I fulfill the expectations of others? In addition I sensibly feel the growing failure of my bodily strength. I have not yet recovered from the attack I experienced the past spring. I am becoming more and more incapable of exertion, and am thus prevented from making the personal examinations and giving the personal supervision to the operations of the field which I feel to be necessary. I am so dull that in making use of the eyes of others I am frequently misled. Everything, therefore, points to the advantages to be derived from a new commander, and I the more anxiously urge the matter upon Your Excellency from my belief that a younger and abler man than myself can readily be attained. I know that he will have as gallant and brave an army as ever existed to second his efforts, and it would be the happiest day of my life to see at its head a worthy leader — one that would accomplish more than I could perform and all that I have wished. I hope Your Excellency will attribute my request to the true reason, the desire to serve my country, and to do all in my power to insure the success of her righteous cause.

I have no complaints to make of anyone but myself. I have received nothing but kindness from those above me, and the most considerate attention from my comrades and companions in arms. To Your Excellency I am specially indebted for uniform kindness and consideration. You have done everything in your power to aid me in the work committed to my charge, without omitting anything to promote the general welfare. I pray that your efforts may at length be crowned with success, and that you may long live to enjoy the thanks of grateful people.

With sentiments of great esteem, I am, very respectfully and truly, yours,

R.E. Lee,

August 6, 1863 – Thanksgiving Day, Part A

During his presidency, Abraham Lincoln issued a total of nine proclamations of prayer, fasting, or thanksgiving. The first one was issued on August 12, 1861 upon a request from Congress.

The fifth of these nine such occasions occurred on this date of August 6, 1863 – the text of which is copied below. It was offered in the wake of victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg – affording a renewed hope in the North that the war was surely winding down. This, of course, proved to be a good bit premature.Sarah Hale

The next such proclamation set the precedence for which the common November observance would take root. Sarah Hale, an author and magazine editor – best known as the author of the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb” – had championed the cause of a national day of thanks for many years.  On September 28, 1863, she wrote to Lincoln and urged him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.”  Lincoln responded positively through a document written by William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State.

The Confederate States also had two such observances. These occurred after the two Bull Run (Manassas) victories – the thanksgivings occurring on July 28, 1861 and September 28, 1862.

Here is the text of the July 15 proclamation that set this day 150 years ago today as an observance of thanks to God (and might I add a personal note – imagine the anti-Christian / anti-religious, secular outcry that would accompany such a document were it to be offered by a modern-era President!):

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

It has pleased Almighty God to hearken to the supplications and prayers of an afflicted people and to vouchsafe to the Army and the Navy of the United States victories on land and on the sea so signal and so effective as to furnish reasonable grounds for augmented confidence that the Union of these States will be maintained, their Constitution preserved, and their peace and prosperity permanently restored. But these victories have been accorded not without sacrifices of life, limb, health, and liberty, incurred by brave, loyal, and patriotic citizens. Domestic affliction in every part of the country follows in the train of these fearful bereavements. It is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father and the power of His hand equally in these triumphs and in these sorrows:

Now, therefore, be it known that I do set apart Thursday, the 6th day of August next, to be observed as a day for national thanksgiving, praise, and prayer, and I invite the people of the United States to assemble on that occasion in their customary places of worship and in the forms approved by their own consciences render the homage due to the Divine Majesty for the wonderful things He has done in the nation’s behalf and invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit to subdue the anger which has produced and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion, to change the hearts of the insurgents, to guide the counsels of the Government with wisdom adequate to so great a national emergency, and to visit with tender care and consolation throughout the length and breadth of our land all those who, through the vicissitudes of marches, voyages, battles, and sieges, have been brought to suffer in mind, body, or estate, and finally to lead the whole nation through the paths of repentance and submission to the divine will back to the perfect enjoyment of union and fraternal peace. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 15th day of July, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-eighth.


By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

July 1863: A Bloody Month Ends

Gettysburg, Vicksburg, the Charleston Harbor, etc. – it was a terribly bloody month of July, 1863. With the “the Father of Waters flowing unvexed to the sea,” the mood in the North had risen, even as another round of depression returned to the South along with Lee’s battered army.

British Neutrality Affirmed

On the 29th of July, Queen Victoria spoke at the adjournment (until October 10th) of the British Parliament and said, “The civil war between the Northern and Southern States of the American Union still unfortunately continues, and is necessarily attended with much evil, not only to the contending parties, but also to nations which have taken no part in the conflict. Her Majesty, however, has seen no reason to depart from the strict neutrality which Her Majesty has observed from the beginning of the contest.”

A significant point to be made with guests at Antietam is that the Union victory – as marginal as it was, though occasioning the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation five days later – mitigated against any European assistance to, or acquiescence to, the Confederate’s quest for independent recognition. Though England was disadvantaged by the loss of the cotton trade, neutrality was maintained.

Just this week at Antietam, I hosted a guest from Mancester, Engand who was immediately affirmative of this connection and significance.

Treatment of Black Soldiers by the South / Retaliation Order by Lincoln

With black soldiers now fighting for the Union in a variety of places – particularly with their extraordinary valor in July at Fort Wagner with the 54th Mass – the issue arose as to what sort of treatment these fellows would receive when captured or for whatever reason fell into the hands of the Rebels. Toward that concern, the following was drafted by the War Department and signed by Lincoln … and was issued by the Adjutant General’s Office on July 31, 1863, as General Orders No. 252.

It is the duty of every government to give protection to its citizens, of whatever class, color, or condition, and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service. The law of nations and the usages and customs of war as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies. To sell or enslave any captured person, on account of his color, and for no offence against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism and a crime against the civilization of the age. The government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers, and if the enemy shall sell or enslave anyone because of his color, the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy’s prisoners in our possession. It is therefore ordered that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war.

Back to Brandy Station!Stuart's Horse Artillery Flag

The actual, final end of the Gettysburg Campaign is marked by skirmishes on August 1st and 4th  at Brandy Station, VA (the site of the huge cavalry battle in June), as the armies again settled in along familiar lines at the Rappahannock River. Union cavalry forces under John Buford crossed the river and engaged Stuart’s men on a very hot day (August 4th).  Battling at this time as part of Stuart’s Horse Artillery was Mooreman’s Lynchburg Battery … who wrote thus of the skirmish, “I had the hottest arty fight I have had for some time. The Yankees had a four gun battery playing on my one gun (Napoleon) and literally ploughed up the ground around my piece – every man at the gun was struck and three of them badly wounded – still we held our ground until a shell struck the wheel of the carriage, disabling the piece entirely – we then had to withdraw.”

The Capture of John Hunt Morgan – 150 Years Ago Today

As a person who has always been involved in varied sorts of leadership positions and having to work with people in groups, every so often you come across someone who has great leadership capacity – people naturally follow them. But a negating problem that is also resident in some is a lack of capacity for “followership.”  These folks are unable to coordinate their efforts within the larger picture of what others are doing around them. Though they may have some accomplishments, as time goes by, they become more of a curse than a blessing.


John Hunt Morgan

The Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan was one of these “lone wolf” types, and his most dramatic adventure into northern territory ended on this date of July 26 – 150 years ago today.

Morgan was born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1825 but was more connected to his mother’s home state of Kentucky. Attending Transylvania College, he was expelled after a couple of years due to bad behavior – dueling with a frat brother will get you into that sort of trouble! He served in the Mexican War, where he saw combat with the First Kentucky Cavalry under Zachary Taylor in the Battle of Buena Vista.

A merchant in Lexington, KY between the wars, he was not at first in favor of secession, though by the Spring of 1862 was connected to the Confederate cause in cavalry command (2nd KY). He achieved a good measure of fame and even the gratitude of the Confederate government for a series of raids in the first half of the Civil War, advancing to brigadier general on 12/11/1862. Morgan was a major pain for Don Carlos Buell, and also later against General Rosecrans (Murfreesboro Campaign), as he hampered their supply lines, etc.

As with other Southern cavalrymen and their exploits, his actions provided copious quantities of material for the press in both the North and South. This was especially true of his final raid from July 2-26, 1863.

Morgan had been granted permission to enter Kentucky, but he violated Braxton Bragg’s instructions not to journey over the Ohio River. Crossing over into Indiana, he moved into Ohio – passing near Cincinnati and sending it into a virtual panic. Pursued by cavalry and militia, he was bleeding men from his command, as they would spend even 21 hours a day in the saddle. Many of his cavalrymen were captured and held prisoner for the remainder of the War in the Camp Douglas Prisoner of War camp in Chicago – a place with a terribly high death rate.

Morgan and the fractional remains of his command were finally captured near New Lisbon, Ohio on July 26th.  (Only about 400 of his original 2,400 made it back safely to the South.)  Morgan and his officers were sent to the newly opened Ohio State Penitentiary. Adding to his legend, he and his men tunneled out on November 27, 1863; however, Morgan was killed in battle a year later.

I have often thought that if I had to go back in time and fight in the Civil War, I think I’d like to be a cavalryman – sure seems exciting. But I don’t think I’d want it to be under Morgan, as that is just about more excitement than I think I could handle!

John Hunt Morgan statue in Lexington, KY

John Hunt Morgan statue in Lexington, KY

New York City Draft Riots – 150 Years Ago Today

I had a history professor in college who would often conclude, after teaching some concept involving less than stellar human behavior, “And so we see again, there is nothing new under the sun.” And so we see on this Monday when headlines in America speak of racial tensions surrounding the Trayvon Martin case, along with the never-ending debates regarding the complex issues of immigration, those same problems were a part of the human landscape 150 years ago this very day.

During the middle of the Civil War in 1863, Congress passed a conscription law that would make all men between the ages of 20 to 45 liable for the draft into military service. Beginning on July 13, the application and enforcement of this measure kicked off the worst civil unrest ever seen to that point in American history. By this date of July 15, pitched battles with troops (recently diverted from fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg) were being fought in NYC.300px-New_York_Draft_Riots_-_fighting (1)

In New York, “Windows were broken, police were pelted with rocks, reporters were assaulted, American flags were burned, and roads were shut down.” Actually, that last sentence was a news report from today, not 150 years ago. The story in 1863 involved about 120 people being killed (including the lynching of about 10 blacks), and perhaps round 2,000 wounded – mostly rioters. Buildings were burned down, including two protestant churches, an orphanage for blacks, abolitionists’ homes, and many houses and businesses of blacks as well. Public structures were ransacked, the mayor’s house set afire, and even the New York Times attacked – the mob repulsed there by the staff manning Gatling guns!

The pre-war economy of New York City was closely tied to the South – particularly the export shipping industry where cotton comprised at some points about half of all outgoing cargo. As well, the city was the point of entry for many thousands of immigrants, especially Irish and German. Contributing to the uprising was the tension surrounding the availability of working-class labor, with emotions particularly high among the impoverished Irish and dock workers. Free blacks and the Irish competed for the same jobs, and fears abounded (after the Emancipation Proclamation) that the city would be flooded with newly freed African-Americans. (Does this not sound like concerns about legalization of immigrants today?)

A provision in the draft law allowed for a $300 fee to be paid that would free a person from conscription. This was an enormous sum of money at the time, particularly for immigrants at the lower levels of society. Only the rich could afford such a payment. To the Irish particularly, this war seemed to be about abolition of slavery, and being conscripted to fight for such an event that was only going to hamper the economics of their already fragile survival … well, it was too much. And blacks became the scapegoats of this anger.

By the 16th, Federal troops had arrived and the situation was brought more under control. But in the conflagration, police superintendent John A. Kennedy was beaten to a near unconscious bloody pulp, the ugly nature of race relations in the melting pot of America exposed, and millions of dollars of property destroyed.

Then, and today, these issues are complicated. And though it is no secret to anyone who knows me that my political alliances are well to the right on the spectrum, and though I’ve been an activist in the past and may yet someday surprise everyone by a level of involvement in the future, the ultimate solutions lie more in the realm of the confluence of theology and sociology than they do in the convergence of political ideologies. Law is important and must be established and maintained for a civil society, but the crisis finds even deeper roots in the heart of man – in the consequent disharmony of man with man, due to the disunion of man from God because of sin in the human condition. It was Christ who came to bring a true and perfect unity – realized only perfectly in eternity, though possible in preliminary form even in this fallen world though union with one another in common faith in the one who died to save this lost creation. As it says in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Therein is the answer for peace, union, harmony, and true eternal life.

Confederate Retreat through Williamsport 150 Years Ago

My current town of Williamsport, MD has been preparing for a number of years for this very weekend – the commemoration of the retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg 150 years ago. With the swollen Potomac River, Lee’s army was more than a bit pinned down on the north shore in the town and surrounding area of Williamsport.

The interest in this aspect of the Civil War has grown significantly in recent years. Antietam historian Ted Alexander spoke of this, saying that a few years ago there was but a simple work by fellow Antietam Battlefield Guide John Schildt; but now there are two extensive studies on the retreat, bus tours, and varied micro-studies, etc.

IMG_0736[1]The weekend kicked off in the Springfield Barn on Friday night with a panel discussion by Ted Alexander along with four of those who have contributed to these more extensive examinations: local historians and writers Steve French and George Franks, along with “One Continuous Fight” authors Eric Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi. The panel was moderated by local newspaper columnist and historian (and personality) Tim Rowland.

Let me share some notes from this discussion that gave an overview of the retreat:

The Close of the Battle at Gettysburg:

Unlike 1862, Lee has a well-equipped army in 1863. Whereas his men had about 30% smoothbore muskets at Antietam, now it is only about 10%.  Many Confederates had new uniforms. But Lee has not just 3.5 miles to go to cross the Potomac (as at Shepherdstown), but rather about 50 miles to cover. There will be fighting for 10 days. The cavalry is critical for both sides. For most of the War prior to this time, Confederate cavalry has been superior, but now, the Union’s forces are really beginning to blossom.

Regarding the Weather:

It often seems like in the aftermath of Civil War battles there are huge storms, as if nature is sending a cleansing. The rain begins after Pickett’s Charge and continues with downpours off and on for days, and we see this running narrative of the muddy road and difficult travel conditions … particularly affecting a Confederate wagon train ranging from 11 to 17 miles long.

The Beginning of the Retreat:

Brigadier General J.D. Imboden is given the task of getting the train of wounded to Williamsport to cross the Potomac. He was a Staunton, VA lawyer who had an independent command of a group of rangers … who joined the Confederate Army – serving directly under R.E. Lee.  He arrives at Gettysburg on the 3rd and does not participate in any fighting. Imboden starts at 4:00 on 7/4 and some first wagons arrive at Williamsport at 2:00 on 7/5 to find the river flooded. Along the way, the trains of wagons have many breakdowns, and many wounded are left behind. There are skirmishes along the route – south of Greencastle and at Cearfoss in particular. The pontoon bridge at Falling Waters has been destroyed by Union cavalry. Imboden asks Williamsport citizens to help with the wounded.

The Situation in Williamsport

The predominant loyalty in town was Unionist, though Confederate sympathies were not rare. Williamsport has already suffered much in the war from both sides. Imboden promises to not quarter his soldiers in town if the citizens will help with the wounded. We should picture this army in the area of about 60,000 soldiers with thousands of animals – horses and beef cattle. It must have been horrific, as the average horse/mule produces 14 pounds of manure a day … and this is July.

He who commands and controls the mountain passes and networks of roads (and Hagerstown) will ultimately control the crossings … and so this sets up a continuous situation of cavalry fights. On the 4th and 5th, Kilpatrick attacks Ewell’s wagons in the battle of Monterrey Pass. Other Confederates are retreating out of the more northern Cashtown Pass. It takes a couple of days for Meade to believe confidently that there is a general retreat in the works.

Why was this not a Bigger Affair? …

This retreat has been so oft overlooked until recent years because there was nothing of the drama of a Pickett’s Charge. Rather, it consists of a series of smaller engagements. For example, JEB Stuart attacks Union forces in the Battle of Boonsboro to pin them down, not to win the engagement itself. This is a common theme – the outcomes are not important – the goal is to keep the Union forces at bay until Lee is ready to receive an attack.

Newspapers both north and south at this time are anticipating the climactic battle of the War, but it did not turn out that way. Eric Wittenberg listed the following four reasons…

1.  The Union Army gave up the opportunity to interdict the line of retreat early on – a failure to be laid at the feet of Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick.

2.  Lee had 3.5 days to build defensive lines that would make Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg look like a speed bump.

3.  Meade had three Corps commanders gone, affecting the infrastructure of his command: Reynolds was killed, and Sickles and Hancock wounded. French, Hays and Newton were simply not going to bring on a similar aggressive fight.

4.  Lincoln had given explicit instructions, as always, to keep the army between the enemy and Washington.

Ted Alexander added to these: The Union Army is quite worn out. Meade had force marched them from Virginia and through Maryland to beat Lee to Gettysburg. They were ragged and low on ammunition, and all-in-all not really much better off than the Confederates.  Beyond that, with the rain, the conditions of the Marsh Run and fields across which they would need to attack would have been through a sort of natural moat.

Eric again spoke of the condition of the Union cavalry that the command of which had fallen upon Alfred Pleasanton – simply beyond his skills – who served for a week as an absent leader. Most units were functioning without command as their role is undefined with few orders.

Should Meade be Blamed? …Summary by the group: 

Meade could not be expected to have better ordered the situation to have really turned out better than it did. He deserves credit for Gettysburg and will be more remembered by the general public for that than for any failures in the retreat. If he had attempted more, he might have had it go against him and negate his victory in Pennsylvania. Lincoln, with his criticism of this being McClellan all over again, is sitting “inside the beltway,” being critical without understanding the problems in the actual theatre, also bearing the false hope of a “knock-out blow.”

Eric rendered the final thought that you can make the argument that the retreat from Gettysburg did not really end until the forces of both sides were back upon the Rappahannock again – where Meade becomes very aggressive, being told by Halleck to stand down for a variety of other exigencies (draft riots, service time expiring, etc.).

The Army of Northern Virginia would make their escape on this day of July 14, 150 years ago today.

Here is a link to the web page of the retreat activities:


John A. Dahlgren, Fort Wagner, the 54th Mass, and the Dahlgren Chapel

On this week 150 years ago, Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren took command of the South Atlantic Squadron. Most of the U.S. Navy’s

John A. Dahlgren

John A. Dahlgren

monitors and the USS New Ironsides wooden-hulled broadside ironclad were at Charleston Harbor – the location also of the heaviest concentration of Confederate shore artillery under the command of General Pierre G.T. Beauregard. The Union commander was the inventor of the 11-inch and 15-inch Dahlgren guns on the monitors.

USS New Ironsides

USS New Ironsides

On the 10th, a combined plan of bombardment of the monitors and infantry assaults on the series of forts outlying the harbor was undertaken. The oppressive heat of that day caused more heatstroke casualties than did the fighting, though Dahlgren’s flagship – the Catskill – took 60 direct hits from Battery Wagner (called Fort Wagner by the Federals).

Over the next week, the vessels continued to pound Battery Wagner. On the 18th, a heaviest bombardment rained down on the fort to soften it for and infantry assault at dusk. This was led by the famous black regiment of the fame from the movie “Glory” – the 54th Massachusetts. They fought with extraordinary bravery, suffering losses by a ratio of 7-1.  The combined Federal forces set in for a siege that lasted two months before the Confederates abandoned the forts on September 6th.  The entire effort was a grueling one for all sides with much disease and deprivation in the oppressive heat and humidity.

54th Mass monument in Boston

54th Mass monument in Boston

Admiral Dahlgren would die (143 years ago tomorrow) on July 12, 1870 at age 60. His wife would later buy the tavern mountain house on the national turnpike at Turner’s Gap on South Mountain, naming it Dahlgren Manor. She had a gothic revival stone chapel built across the road in 1881. Of the Roman Catholic faith, it was consecrated as the Chapel of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was buried there in 1898.

The chapel today is under the administration of a historic district, and it is often used for weddings. It sits at a beautiful location near the South Mountain Inn (which I have written about HERE), and is but a few feet from the pathway of the Appalachian Trail.

I have done a total of three weddings in the chapel over my years in this community, including some church friends just two weeks ago. Here are some pictures from that occasion …

photo (4)photo (2)photo



Rededication of Doubleday Hill in Williamsport

It was great fun this morning to attend the re-dedication ceremonies of Doubleday Hill in Williamsport. This is the hill overlooking the ford of the Potomac, which was a place of crossing between Virginia and Maryland in 1861. At this time in the summer of 1863, it was a crossing to West Virginia, and it was beginning to fill higher with water from the huge rains after the Battle of Gettysburg. There is a big weekend event next week in Williamsport to commemorate all of that history.

But the Doubleday connection in Williamsport was at the very outset of the War in the summer of 1861. On the high ground that is the town cemetery today, Doubleday commanded a battery of four artillery pieces. I have written about this in the past, and the full story (which I’ll humbly proclaim is fascinating) can be found HERE.

A local fellow named Scott Bragunier is much interested in history, and along with a love for his hometown put together a grant proposal to have the original cannon tubes restored and remounted. Along with interpretive signs and improved access, the end product is really fantastic.

Let me post a series of photos with comments that precede each …

The cannon were moved to the location on the hill back in May. I was unable to attend this, as I was in Europe at that time…

cannons moved to Doubleday Hill

My friend Tom Riford, who is the head of the Washington County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, gave a great summary history of Doubleday and his Civil War service – particularly related to the time in Williamsport. Tom grew up in Auburn, NY where Doubleday also spent his childhood and teen years (though he was born in Ballston Spa, NY)…


Scott Bragunier deserves all the credit in the world for making this happen…


Senator Chris Shank spoke of the importance of honoring the past as we move to the future…


Here are some other pictures of the event…





Gettysburg Day 3 – Doubleday Letter to his Wife

Though I am not straying anywhere near the crowds at Gettysburg, I don’t need to in order to know that there have been tons of people attending sesquicentennial events. That has been clear simply from the activity around Antietam. There have been unusual numbers of people and the park is alive with visitors and activities. On Saturday, I spent some time greeting people in the West Woods and met lots of folks – almost all who were combining trips to the two parks, and maybe a couple of other battlefields. It was like a continuous conversation with people coming and going. Monday, I proved to myself again (for the third time as a guide) that I am a tour guide iron man! Well … iron voice at least! I did three groups and figure that I talked continuously for about 8.5 hours.

As I wrote two days ago, I am not a Gettysburg expert at all. But I thought I would write just a bit about Abner Doubleday on this occasion. On this third day of the battle 150 years ago, July 3, 1863, Doubleday was wounded late in the conflict just after Pickett’s charge. In his little book from the Campaigns of the Civil War Series (where he wrote about Chancellorsville and Gettysburg), Doubleday said “… after it (the charge) was over, I sent out stretcher-bearers attached to the ambulance train, and had numbers of wounded Confederates brought in and cared for. I was told that there was one man among these whose conversation seemed to indicate that he was a general officer. I sent to ascertain his rank, but he replied: ‘Tell General Doubleday in a few minutes I shall be where there is no rank.’ He expired soon after, and I never learned his name.IMG_0101

The rebels did not seem to appreciate my humanity in sending out to bring in their wounded, for they opened a savage fire against the stretcher-bearers. One shell burst among us, a piece of it knocked me over on my horse’s neck, and wounded Lieutenant Cowdry of my staff.”

This fragment tore through his hat – which is on display in the visitor’s center at Gettysburg. When doing Doubleday research in the past, there is a letter in the library at the battlefield that was written from the General to his wife, dated the day after the battle – July 4th.

Battle Field of Gettysburg, Pa, July 4, 1863.

My Dearest Mary:

The most awful battle of the war occurred yesterday.  The rebels attacked the right and left center and were repulsed.  They then attacked near my position (in the center) opening with from 100 to 150 pieces of artillery.  Words cannot describe the terrific shower of missiles poured upon us.  Two private horses belonging to me were killed and three belonging to the members of the staff.  One of these horses was my splendid bay, the other a cheap pack horse given me by the mess.  After several miraculous escapes I was hit and knocked over on my horse’s head by a piece of shell which struck me in the back of the neck after cutting through my hat (sketch of the piece of shell) . . . 

< At this point there is a tracing of the size and shape of the fragment that I would estimate about the size of a 50-cent piece. >

Luckily I was hit squarely by the smooth, round surface.  Had the jagged part struck first it would have killed me. My hat I suppose turned it.  My head aches from the blow and my neck is sore swollen and stiff, but I shall be all right in a day or two.

My raw Vermont troops with the 20th N.Y.S. Militia and 151st Penn. not only resisted the attack (which was led by Pickett in person) splendidly but captured several battle flags and took several hundred prisoners. Nevertheless we have had an awful slaughter. There is hardly an officer left unhurt in the 1st Army Corps. . . .

He goes on to talk of others who were wounded and who had died. He also proclaims that he is now worthy of a corps command – that he should get it or else otherwise resign. Well, he would not get it, as Meade put John Newton (Doubleday’s junior) in charge. He was forever bitter about this and held the grudge the rest of his life. As well, Doubleday never fought again in the War, serving in duties in Washington for the remainder.