Monday, December 26, 2011

Stopping Rat-Holes

A collection of post-Christmas odds and ends
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"Brother Jonathan Stopping the Southern Rat-Holes" (Harper's Weekly)
Below are some good reads for your holiday reading. But first a few items from the capital area that occurred 150 years ago.

On December 26, tragedy struck the government stables located on the grounds of the Naval Observatory. Between 150 and 200 horses were killed when a fire broke out. 102 of the horses belonged to Massachusetts regiments stationed in the area, of which only 11 survived the fire.

On December 27, Congressman Alfred Ely of New York arrived in Washington from Richmond. Ely hadn't been visiting or on a diplomatic mission, he had been captured on the Warrenton Turnpike during the Union route at Bull Run, where he had accompanied a New York regiment to watch the action. Ely had been exchanged on Christmas for Charles James Faulkner. Faulkner, a former Virginia Senator, had been President Buchanan's ambassador to France and stayed on to negotiate an arms deal for the Confederacy. But the new U.S. charge had ordered him arrested in August. The exchange was Faulkner's idea, and he had negotiated the entire project himself.

Finally, also on December 26, one of Pete Longstreet's brigades lost its commander. Brig. General Philip St. George Cocke was a cotton planter in Powhatan County when Virginia seceded. Cocke had been alarmed by John Brown's raid, which stoked the ancient Southern paranoia about slave-revolts, and set to work raising, equipping, and training a local militia. Cocke had been to West Point as an artillery officer, and had become adjutant of the 2nd U.S. Artillery before he grew tired of military life and returned home to his plantation.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

As Far As Possible, A Merry Christmas

Celebrating in no-man's land
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"There is a tremendous pressure being brought to bear on McClellan," Brig. General George Meade had written his wife on December 22, "And there is no telling how long he can or will stand it."

Meade was writing her a follow-up letter to give her more details on the minor battle that had occurred at Dranesville a few days earlier in which he had had a tiny supporting role (kudos to Ron for a fantastic write-up). It was a tumultuous crossroads for Washington's war policies, when decisions were being made that would effect the shape of the conflict for the next few years.

In Congress, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was committing itself to a course of partisan activism through the decision to focus on Charles P. Stone. Heading the War Department, Simon Cameron had decided earlier that month to cast his lot with anti-slavery forces and support the enlistment of black soldiers, probably because he would otherwise become a target of the Joint Committee's investigations for his corrupt awarding of contracts. Consequently, Lincoln was being forced to make a decision about whether to publicly rebuke his top military adviser or endorse a similar anti-slavery position himself.

Both Lincoln and Cameron were meanwhile leaning on general-in-chief Maj. General George McClellan to provide a victory to sooth the erupting political turmoil, which meant McClellan had to decide whether to launch a winter offensive or have his men continue building shelters. Everything was overshadowed by the ongoing Trent Affair, wherein the seizure of two Confederate envoys off a British civilian ship had led to an ultimatum from Great Britain to return the men or to face war. An invasion force was readying in Canada to prove it was no bluff.

"No one can predict the future for twenty-four hours," Meade had advised his wife, "and all we can do is to endeavor to be ready for all contingencies. Good-by! God bless you all and give you a happy and as far as possible a merry Christmas!"

It was Christmas 1861, and the war continued, despite the holiday. Soldiers both North and South did their best to celebrate the holiday, which was at the time (as it is now) both a pious holy day and a raucous good time. As well documented at All Not So Quiet Along the Potomac the 3rd Pennsylvania Reserves of Meade's brigade had a feast on care packages sent from home. Their brigade commander's thoughts turned to home too, when he wrote to his wife that "though absent from you in body, that I am with you and my dear children in spirit and thought."


Friday, December 23, 2011

Public Shot

The further adventures of Charles P. Stone's foot in his mouth
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Charles P. Stone was furious when he sat down to write on December 23. Just a few days earlier, his own State's senator, Charles Sumner (R-MA), had denounced him on the Floor of the U.S. Senate. Angry that the Lincoln Administration and the War Department were forcing Massachusetts soldiers to comply with the Fugitive Slave Act, Sumner's thundering denunciation of the policy dragged Stone to the center of the fight between anti-slavery Republicans and the conservative prosecutors of the war. Sumner had sarcastically said that:
Brigadier General Stone, the well-known commander of Ball's Bluff, is now adding to his achievements there by engaging ably and actively in the work of surrendering fugitive slaves. He does this, sir, most successfully. He is victorious when the simple question is whether a fugitive slave shall be surrendered to a rebel.
If Sumner dragged Stone into the middle of the national spotlight, it was Stone who nailed himself to the ground so firmly there was no escaping. When a friend gave Stone a copy of Sumner's remarks, transcribed in the local papers, Stone sat down to angrily rebut the Senator's criticism. He argued that it was his orders and his responsibility to enforce the laws of the nation, including the fugitive slave law, and that only a strict respect for property rights of loyal civilians as understood before the war began would lead to a quick end and a reunion of the country (in fact, he had sent the commander of the expedition to Ball's Bluff with standing orders to shoot any soldier who plundered).

But if Stone's self-confidence was his greatest virtue, the arrogance it bred was his greatest vice. And his fury at Sumner's perceived mangling of his carefully considered position brought out the worst in Stone. The letter he wrote on December 23 was the first time since Ball's Bluff when he addressed anyone other than personal friends about the hot water he had found himself in outside of the official military channels, a major breach of personal decorum for Stone. Worse, he concluded his letter with words meant to insult:
Please accept my thanks for the speech in which you use my name... There can hardly be better proof that a soldier in the field is faithfully performing his duty than the fact that while he is receiving the public shot of the enemy in front he is at the same time receiving viterpuration [sic] of a well-known coward from a safe distance in the rear.
Never politically savvy, Stone probably did not realize he was making himself Enemy No. 1 of the group of Republicans that would come to be known as the Radical Republicans (a name full of baggage and not contemporary to 1861, so I'll avoid it for now). Sumner took the letter immediately to Lincoln, when he received it. Sumner and his allies believed that Stone's actions at Ball's Bluff had been either gross mismanagement or outright treason, and that Lincoln's good friend, Senator Edward Baker, had paid the price to either save Stone's debacle or thwart Stone's malfeasance. The letter's conclusion seemed to offer proof that Stone was malicious.

Lincoln, who had closely interviewed Stone about Baker's death, was deeply disturbed, but told Sumner that though he would not have written such cruel words himself, he believed Stone was probably within his rights after the harsh treatment Sumner had given him on the Floor. Not recorded is what Lincoln responded to Sumner's original speech, considering it was his Administration's policy that Sumner was following.

Whatever Lincoln's feelings, Sumner also took the letter to Senators Benjamin Wade (R-OH) and Zachariah Chandler (R-MI), the top two members of the newly formed Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. The investigation into what happened at Ball's Bluff now had a principal subject of investigation.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Brave and Impetuous Soldier

Wherein we begin the tribulations of Charles P. Stone
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The Senate had changed since it last met in the summer. In the days following the Union defeat at Bull Run (actually, before it too) the top critics of the Lincoln Administration were Democratic Senators John C. Breckinridge from Kentucky and Trusten Polk from Missouri. Neither was present when the Senate reconvened at the beginning of December. Breckinridge had fled to the Confederacy and was expelled December 4, but Polk's whereabouts (as well of those of his fellow Missouri Senator Wade Johnson) were unknown. It was suspected (correctly) that both had joined the Confederates, and on December 18 the Senate debated expelling two more of their colleagues. The fourth missing member was Senator Edward Baker of Oregon, who had been killed leading troops at the Battle of Ball's Bluff in late October.

Outside the Senate, the war effort had changed to. The top military adviser was now Maj. General George B. McClellan, who had advocated a policy of holding on all fronts while the Army of the Potomac, which he also commanded, was built up for an advance on the Confederate capital at Richmond. Unfortunately, the Lincoln administration still favored a policy closer to that devised by the former general-in-chief, Winfield Scott, which relied on a blockade of the South and controlling the Mississippi River to break the control of secessionists over Southern State governments.

The combination of traitors in their midst and strategic shifts brought back a Senate (and House) much more aggressive about overseeing the Administration's execution of the war. One of their very first acts when returning was to create a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, Chaired by Senator Benjamin Wade (D-OH). At the top of the Committee's list of priorities was to find out what had happened at Bull Run and Ball's Bluff.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rec: I Expose My Neck. UGH!

My favorite things I read this week
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OLD SECESH. "While I cover my Neck, I expose my Feet, and if I cover my Feet, I expose my Neck. Ugh !"(Harper's Weekly)

Before proceeding to a heaping helping of recommendations, a report from a minor skirmish today in history:
Headquarters One hundred and fifth Pa. Vols.
Camp Jameson, Va
December 19, 1861

Sir: In obedience to your orders, I left this camp at 9 pm of the 18th instant with a force consisting of the regiment under my command, a squadron of the New Jersey Cavalry, under Captain Jones, and two sections of artillery, under Lieutenant Monroe, New Jersey Volunteers, and arrived at Potter's house within half a mile of the extreme outposts of our pickets on the right near 11:30 pm. I found that the pickets had been undisturbed, and immediately proceeded to distribute my force as would best support the pickets and preserve the force itself, should we be attacked. No demonstration was made by the enemy during the night. I left Potter's house for Pohick Church about three quarters of an hour after daybreak, having been detained that long in developing a movement to capture some of the enemy, but which proved abortive.

We arrived at Pohick about 9 am; was informed that the previous day the enemy had there a force of 200 cavalry and also a regiment of infantry concealed in the woods to the west of the village. Remained at Pohick about two hours; sent a party down the Telegraph road and discovered about a mile distant a rebel picket 6 or 8 strong; fired at them and they fled, but did not pursue as my instructions did not allow me to proceed beyond this point. Left Pohick Church between 11 and 12 am, and returned to camp at 3:30 pm. Came by the village of Accotink, and was there informed that no rebel forces had been in the village for over a month.

Respectfully submitted,
A.A. McKNIGHT,
Colonel, One hundred and fifth Regiment Pa. Vols.

Colonel Amos A. McKnight had led his small detachment out on a heavy patrol, because his division commander, Brig. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman, had suspected Confederate activity around the remains of Pohick Church (which his men had ransacked in November). McKnight had raised the men himself from around the Pittsburgh area in August, after completing his own service as Captain of Company I, 8th Pennsylvania, a 90-day unit that had not done much of anything under Robert Patterson while Joe Johnston sneaked off to help clobber McDowell at Bull Run.

McKnight would continue with the regiment into the spring, before being severely wounded and missing almost a year of fighting. He would return for two battles, before being killed at Chancellorsville.

***

Disunion managed two entire good articles this week. First, the most suspenseful read I've had in awhile, when an LSU professor recounts the story of two Tigers condemned to death. Then the story of "The Picket Guard", a forgotten poem whose popularity still influences us today, most famously through the English-language title of Erich Maria Remarque's famous war novel (oh, and also some blog out there).

Speaking of Ron, he covered one of those courts-martial that George Meade spent so much of November and December complaining about.

This week I featured some stories about the Confederate right, including the Aquia District, led by Theophilus Holmes. By coincidence, here's his resignation letter from the U.S. Army. People believe handwriting tells a lot about people. It's probably not true, but if it was, this would say all you need to know about ol' Theophilus.

The Atlantic had an interesting piece contrasting how the Civil War was remembered 50 years ago to today, called "Not Your Grandfather's Civil War Commemoration."


And introducing one of my new favorite blogs, which covered the Irish Brigade in Winter Quarters.

It was a good week for reading.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ice on the Potomac

Wherein either Hooker exaggerates or global warming is real
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The cold weather of December had brought a warming, rather than a cooling of tensions on the Lower Potomac. From the headquarters of the Department of Northern Virginia in Centreville, General Joseph E. Johnston was preparing his Southern army for a battle that he expected, even this far into the winter. While winter campaigning was something that no army enjoyed, it certainly wasn't unusual. Writing to his subordinate commanders about the situation, Johnston would have been well aware that Union forces were on the offensive in the Western Virginia mountains and that Brig. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was playing a cat and mouse game with two Union forces in what is today the West Virginia panhandle.

On December 5, Johnston had written to Brig. Gen. William H.C. Whiting, commanding his right flank at Dumfries about the eventuality of an attack by the Union army and his plans for a Confederate response.
My Dear General... I want to know precisely what roads are open and which closed. Please inform me The enemy's movements might be such as to tempt me to go in your direction first. It is necessary to be prepared to do so at all events... Should we go against your enemy it ought to be in two columns on those two routes. 
And, referring to the way he had tricked Union Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson before Manassas into thinking his army was at Winchester when it was in fact on the way to turn the battle's tide, he added a line that would have brought a shout of triumph to Professor Thaddeus Lowe: "The infernal balloon may interfere with such success as we had with Patterson."

Meanwhile, Johnston was also in a letter battle with Richmond over orders issued by Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin that he immediately create two brigades of only Mississippi troops, which Johnston scornfully refused to do in several hundred words, especially because two of his Mississippi regiments were with Whiting.
The forces as now arranged are perfectly familiar with their respective positions, officers and men have become accustomed to each other, are acquainted with the nature of the ground they occupy, &c. The execution of Orders No 252 would work a complete revolution in the organization of the army, and necessitate a change of position of all the regiments from Leesburg to Dumfries, and from this position to Dumfries and Leesburg. Should the enemy attack us whilst these changes of station are in process, an event by no means improbable, it would be almost impossible to avert disaster to our arms.
Benjamin, naturally, wrote back expressing President Jefferson Davis' "desire" that Johnston should simply send the 13th, 17th, and 18th Mississippi regiments from Leesburg (where they had been crucial at Ball's Bluff) to Whiting as reinforcements, "to whose brigade they belong". Johnston could then move any other brigade to take their place at Leesburg, never mind that the last major troop movement at Leesburg had prompted a battle.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Defenses of Washington

In which we begin taking a closer look at how the war changed the city
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This is the first in an occasional series on the Defenses of Washington. Future posts in the series will focus on the neighborhood of the fort or forts covered and how they have changed since their founding. This one just covers the state of the defense of Washington in December 1861. Think of it like a pilot for a spin-off series that takes place in the old series, like that time Edith Bunker had to say goodbye to Louise. That's right, this post is spawning The Jeffersons. Alright, back to moving on up.

In early December George McClellan's wife and newborn daughter had arrived in Washington, ending the steady supply of incriminating letters from Little Mac for the winter. It almost gives the impression that he had given up on internal feuding. But on December 4, something he read in the New York Times prompted a letter to the Secretary of War that still suggests his wife's arrival had done nothing to ease his squabbling nature.

As we have seen, cavalry patrols were almost constant in December, despite the common myth that all was quiet. But both armies were also hard at work trying to get their command structure, defenses, and logistics in order -- a daunting task considering that prior to July 1861, the largest American military force ever assembled had been Winfield Scott's 30,000 man army that marched on Mexico City. Both armies were larger than that by themselves, McClellan's over twice as large.

An American experiencing the war real-time, would have followed each of these story lines in the newspaper as often as possible, hoping that attention would be rewarded when one of those threads led to something of significance. Though the New York Times of 1861 was only a minor newspaper, the Grey Lady's importance today allows the 2011 reader to browse its full archives of the war. So we can read the paper on any given day just as a reader 150 years ago would have.

In this case, on December 4, a reader of the Times interested in the war around Washington would have found these articles: a small item that the loyalist Virginians meeting in Wheeling to plan the separation of their counties from their mother state had changed their preferred name from "Kanawha" to "Western Virginia"; an account of the second day of Congress in the new session and the reception Lincoln's State of the Union message received; a report by the Secretary of the Navy, including information on the Potomac Flotilla; a report on movements of New York regiments, including a (as it turned out erroneous) report on the departure of the Irish Brigade from Washington; an analysis piece on the importance of new types of pontoon bridges to the army; and a piece trying to read in to the departure of Charles P. Stone from his division across from Leesburg for several days (the paper failed to guess that McClellan was assigning him the responsibility of reopening the Canal as far as Harper's Ferry).

But it was none of these that upset McClellan. In a furiously written letter of December 9 to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, he explained:
I have the honor to enclose herewith a copy of the N.Y. Times of Dec. 4, 1861, containing as you will see a map of our works on the other side of the Potomac, & a statement of the composition of the Divisions in that same locality.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Bitter Secessionist and Bad Men

In which George Meade forages in Great Falls
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The major drama of December 1861 revolved mostly around the ongoing saga of the Trent Affair, an international incident caused when a U.S. Navy vessel boarded a British vessel and removed two Confederate diplomats. The actual combat in the Potomac Watershed, meanwhile, was largely constrained to cavalry skirmishes in the no-man's land between the two rival Armies of the Potomac and daily harassment of shipping on the Potomac by batteries at Evansport [Quantico]. But skirmishes were not the full extent of operations occurring. December 6 provides a good example.

Brig. General George Meade spent the first few days of December contemplating horses. "The most important piece of intelligence I have to communicate is that I have bought another horse," he wrote to his wife on December 2. "He is a fine black horse that was brought out to camp by a trader, for sale. I bought him on the advice and judgment of several friends who pretend a knowledge in horse flesh, of which I am entirely ignorant."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Old Ravensworth

In which a skirmish occurs near Burke
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A quick programming note: the internet has been almost unusable at home (it's Comcastic!) and work has kept me from having much time to write anyway, so we've missed several events in the area. Most importantly, in the "now" of 150 years ago, Congress was back in session. Disunion turned to Ted Widmore to not embarrass itself too badly and cover the event.

As November turned to December, the agitated calm that had characterized the relationship between the two armies continued unabated. On December 2 and December 4 two more skirmishes broke out in the no-man's land between the two armies, an arc of territory that ran from Dranesville on the Potomac, down to Vienna, on to Burke's Station, then Springfield Station, and finally followed the course of Pohick Creek back to the Potomac [the mouth of which is today at Ft. Belvoir].

For approximately five miles on either side of that line, cavalry patrols roamed. After that, the pickets of both armies were stationed, ready to run or ride back to the main armies if a sizable force appeared. Both sides' leaders assumed that any day a massive army would drive them in for a major attack, and both sides' leaders knew they wouldn't be ready for an attack until the spring. So the fighting was confined to cavalry patrols riding until they found the enemy's pickets, charging, then returning to their lines with prisoners to try to collect intelligence.

Central to this campaign of pickets and patrols were the fields of old Ravensworth. In 1650, Virginia's colonial governor (Sir William Berkeley) had made a land grant to Colonel William Fitzhugh, a wealthy Englishman, of a massive internal tract of land in the little settled tributaries of the Potomac. Today, this area is North Springfield, Annandale, Burke, and the surrounding area. Fitzhugh called this estate Ravensworth, after his family estate in England, but it would be another twenty years before he ever saw it. Even then, Fitzhugh preferred to live in King George County, though with the money he was making cultivating tobacco at Ravensworth, he was able to become one of the richest and most influential men in America. The road his property managers built to roll his tobacco hogsheads down to Accotink Creek is a link to this history. Today it is Rolling Road, evolved from the Ravensworth Rolling Road.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The New Confederate Battle Flag

Wherein the most famous (infamous?) non-official symbol in America gets its start
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Today's post actually started back in July. July 21, the date of the Battle of Manassas. Though it didn't really start then either, if we're being completely thorough.

But on July 21, in a commonly recited story, General (then Brig. General) G.T. Beauregard could not tell whether the Stars and Stripes of the United States or the Stars and Bars of the Confederate States fluttered from the flagstaff of the brigade marching from Manassas Junction towards Henry Hill, set to come up behind his barely holding line. Historian Douglas Southall Freeman describes the situation colorfully:
As Beauregard looked anxiously to the southwest he saw a marching column. At its head was its flag. Eagerly he turned his glass on the standard: Was it the flag of the Union or of the South? For all his effort he could not tell. Now a courier brought him a dispatch from the signal corps. A large force, approaching from the very quarter to which Beauregard was looking, was believed to be Patterson's Federals. Beauregard's heart sank. Once again he focused his glass on the approaching column. There was an anxious heart-thumping delay. Then a breeze swept across the hill and set the summer leaves to rustling. It struck the column, it stirred the bunting, it spread the colors--Confederate. The needed brigade had arrived to save the day! It was Early's.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Two More Cavalry Skirmishes

Wherein you're set up with a self-guided tour for Dranesville and Fairfax
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Well, yesterday worked out a little different than I expected and I won't have time to put together a post for the morning. But there were two cavalry skirmishes that occurred 150 years ago today. One at Dranesville, between the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry from George McCall's Division, on the one side, and J.E.B. Stuart's 1st Virginia Cavalry and some South Carolina infantry on the other; and the other at Fairfax Court-House [City of Fairfax] between the First New York Cavalry from William Franklin's Division and an unspecified Confederate command. Unlike the skirmishes near Vienna and Fall's Church, a Confederate after-action report does not exist, making it a little less fun to blog as well.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Skirmish on the Road to Hunter's Mill

Wherein a young captain tries to make his name
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As the excitement (or misery, depending on your point of view) of the Grand Review of the North's Army of the Potomac at Bailey's Cross-Roads wore off, things were getting back to normal in the division of Brig. General Fitz John Porter. Porter, one of general-in-chief Maj. General George McClellan's favorites, had played a prominent role in the review, only a day after men in his division had come under attack by Confederate cavalry near Fall's Church. The men had done well and driven off the scouting expedition of cavalry before they could determine more about his force structure, but it certainly must have underscored for Porter the need to be more vigilant himself.

So he stepped up patrols by his own cavalry. In 1861, the prevailing opinion on cavalry was that it was for intelligence gathering or counterintelligence work, and for timely attacks on your opponent's flanks or rear. So McClellan had split his cavalry (and artillery, too) up among his divisions, to give each division commander a scouting force. Porter had two regiments of Pennsylvanian horsemen, the 3rd and the 8th, who divided up responsibility for scouting beyond the picket line (the extent of the area considered "safe" Union territory, called colloquially "the lines").

Mostly men from Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania, the 3rd Regiment was commanded by Colonel William W. Averell. When the 3rd had been formed originally, it had been deemed a Kentucky regiment. Pennsylvania had exceeded its quota for sending troops to the Federal government, and some of Pennsylvania's excess troops had been bled off by assigning them to represent states' whose loyalties were questionable, such as Kentucky. But after Bull Run, the regiment had been reclaimed by Pennsylvania, and mustered into Federal service as the 3rd Pennsylvania (though in the Keystone State itself it would confusingly be known as the 60th Pennsylvania, because of a decision not to enumerate cavalry and infantry in separate sequences on the state books).

Averell was a U.S. Army cavalry officer and a former cavalry instructor, and had been asked by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin to take command of the rowdy unit and instill some discipline. Averell grouped the companies of the 3rd into squadrons of two each, helping him more tightly rule the regiment with an iron fist. At Camp Marcy, located a few miles south of Chain Bridge, the 3rd Pennsylvania learned discipline the hard way. Remembered the regiment historian, a member of Company B, "Our drills, mounted and dismounted, were incessant. Mutterings of dissatisfaction because of these were loud and unceasing."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

All In Confidence

Wherein George Meade shares his personal thoughts on the war
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Happy Thanksgiving everyone. In 1861, Thanksgiving was not a Federal holiday, but was still widely celebrated in America in November. But we're not commemorating the 150th Anniversary of that today, because the dates didn't line up that way.

Instead, recognizing everyone is busy, including me, here's a letter from George Meade to his wife sharing his thought on the war from Fall 1861:


Camp Pierpont, Va
November 24, 1861

There is but little new here. My duties at the court occupy me nearly all day, and in the afternoon, towards evening, I take a ride through the guards to see that they are on the alert and vigilant. The enemy do not show themselves nearer than eight miles, where they have their pickets. Now and then they make a dash at some part of the line with their cavalry, and drive ours in, killing and wounding a few, when they retire again to their old lines.

In today's papers we have Jeff Davis's report to the Confederate Congress. A careful perusal of it leads me to think it is more desponding and not so braggadocio a document as those we have hitherto had from him. I have no doubt the blockade and the heavy expenditures required to maintain their large armies are telling on them, and that sensible people among them are beginning to say "cui bono," and where is this to end? If such should be the case, it proves the sagacity of our policy in keeping them hemmed in by land and sea, and forcing them to raise large forces by threatening them at many different points. You know I have always told you this would be a war of dollars and cents, that is, of resources, and that if the North managed properly the South ought to be first exhausted and first to feel the ruinous effects of war. In other words, to use my familiar expression, it was and is a Kilkenny cat business, in which the North, being the biggest cat and having the largest tail, ought to have the endurance to maintain the contest after the Southern gentleman was all gone. In the meantime, we at the North should continue the good work of setting aside such men as Fremont, and upholding such sentiments as those of Sherman, who declares the private property of Secessionists must be respected. Let the ultras on both sides be repudiated, and the masses of conservative and moderate men may compromise and settle the difficulty.

Today has been raw and disagreeable; this afternoon we had a slight spit of snow. Camping out in such weather is very hard upon the men and the health of the army is being seriously impaired. I fear no amount of personal energy or efforts to do what is right will ever make these volunteers into soldiers. The radical error is in their organization and the election of officers, in most cases more ignorant than the men. It is most unsatisfactory and trying to find all your efforts unsuccessful, and the consciousness of knowing that matters grow daily worse instead of better is very hard to bear. The men are good material, and with good officers might readily be moulded into soldiers, but the officers as a rule, with but very few exceptions, are ignorant inefficient and worthless. They have not control or command over the men, and, if they had, they do not know what to do with them. We have been weeding out some of the worst, but owing to the vicious system of electing successors which prevails, those who take their places are no better. I ought not perhaps to write this to you, and you must understand it is all in confidence, but you have asked me to tell you everything freely and without disguise, and I have complied with your request.

I had a visit to day from Mr Henry of the Topographical Bureau, who says he saw the review on Wednesday and thought our division looked and marched the best of all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reinforcing the Lower Potomac

In which we swing by Budd's Ferry and Evansport
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Not a long post today, just a quick stop by the opposite sides of the batteries on the Lower Potomac that were impeding traffic to Washington City. In Maryland, at Budd's Ferry, was the headquarters of Joe Hooker, nominally in command, but having a tough day, apparently:

Headquarters Hooker's Division, Camp Baker, Lower Potomac, Maryland, November 22, 1861. Brig. Gen. S. Williams, Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac: 
 General: An animated fire was kept up from the rebel batteries on two or three schooners descending the river this afternoon with no better success than heretofore. The rebels will certainly abandon their purpose of claiming the navigation of the Potomac by means of the batteries now in position ere long. They must see that it is labor in vain. Of late a large number of vessels have passed and repassed at night, and no effort has been made to check them. Thus far their labor has been equally fruitless during the day.
Professor Lowe has not returned from his mission to Washington. I see no effort making to inflate the balloon on shore, as was intended by him at the time of leaving.
The two companies of cavalry dispatched to the lower part of the Peninsula have not returned.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOSEPH HOOKER, Brigadier-General, Commanding Division. 
Hooker had been having trouble with his second-in-command, Dan Sickles, who would give orders without notifying him--if he was even present in Maryland. Thaddeus Lowe and his balloons happened to be Sickles' find, so it's probably not surprising that he was off on his own agenda. Hooker's mood would brighten the next day when McClellan announced that he would be adding a third brigade to his division, one of all New Jersey regiments that called itself the Second New Jersey Brigade, under Colonel Samuel Starr.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rec'd: Delighted to Bow You Out

Wherein we look back at things worth reading this week
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"The First Telegraphic Message from California" from Harper's Weekly
It was a week of good reads from history and from those who write about history. And as all weeks of good reads, it's worth starting with the general-in-chief of the U.S. Army in 1861, Maj. General George B. McClellan.

For McClellan, the week marked the debut of one of his favorite nicknames for Abraham Lincoln, "the original gorilla." McClellan would later attribute the phrase to Edwin Stanton, at the time a DC lawyer and informal adviser to Secretary of War Simon Cameron. If it was Stanton's phrase, he was careful enough not to put it in writing, unlike McClellan who was so pleased with its debut in his November 17 letter to his wife, Mary Ellen, that he used it again in his November 18 letter to her. But aside from the usual McClellan sense of superiority, the November 18 letter has an additional awkward element that reminds your blogger of one of his favorite TV series. Keep in mind Mary Ellen was only about a month removed from giving birth to their daughter.
I had Genl Sumner & Raymond to dinner--then the Gorilla came in. Then I tried to take a nap & was quietly interrupted by a deputation of twelve ladies and twelve gentlemen (there was one very good looking young female in the party) who came on a visit of ceremony, headed by the Governor of Massachusetts. I was as polite as I know how to be; (cross as could be all the time); said something that was intended to be pleasant to all (especially to the good looking young female--you had better come on soon at that rate), & was delighted to bow them out. Then I had a long interview with David Porter of the Navy...then I had to see Mr. Astor... then I had a long confab with the inevitable McDowell, who left just before I commenced this scrawl & during which interview your Papa as well as Arthur skulked off ignominiously leaving me to bear the brunt of the bathery.
McClellan was also excited about a Grand Review he hosted in Bailey's Crossroads, which brings us to our first recommendation, a series of posts in All Not So Quiet Along the Potomac. This year's post, with reports of coverage from newspapers of what was a massive, sensational event is worth a read. But make sure to also check out Ron's coverage of the event itself, and his recap of George Meade's jaundiced take on the affair (not to be missed).

The Smithsonian published a fun piece of eight strange facts on the Civil War (and they're not above using "rectal acorn" to drive page traffic).

To the Sound of the Guns took a brief respite from looking at the big guns in order to post news about the location of Matthew Brady's birthplace. Look up an iconic picture of the Civil War, and it's probably Brady.

And speaking of photography, the history of sports photography exhibit at the Newseum looks like it will be really great. Would love to hear from anyone that has seen it already.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

More Bravery Than Federal Troops Usually Exhibit

In which we go for a ride along on a cavalry scout
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The late fall of 1861 is portrayed in history books as a time of squandered opportunity and stagnation, as both Northern and Southern Armies of the Potomac slouched into winter quarters. This, however, is a hindsight only possible with the knowledge that no major campaign would begin until March. At the time, both armies were restless and planning. On November 19, Confederate General G.T. Beauregard sent orders to Colonel Nathan "Shanks" Evans defending an outpost at Leesburg that clearly anticipated an imminent Union attack. "You should leave, under proper guard," Beauregard told him, "at or about Carter's Mill [Oatland Plantation] all the heavy baggage not already sent back to Manassas and not required by your brigade in a more advanced position." Sending away the baggage, or the wagons and supplies contained that an army relied on for sustenance was the Civil War equivalent of a "red alert."

Beauregard was equally concerned about his other flank at Dumfries, while McClellan's writing shows a concern for his flank divisions of Nathaniel Banks at Point of Rocks and Joe Hooker in Charles County, Maryland. But all the maneuver and concern about the edges of the army, didn't mean that the center was any more settled. On November 18, one of the many skirmishes around the center of the line took place, but this one is rare in that the official reports of both sides survived the war and is printed in the Official Records.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Division Of This Army

Wherein Dumfries is of strategic importance
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With winter coming, General Joe Johnston, commanding the Department of Northern Virginia from his headquarters at Centreville, had two priorities: first, was to provide clothing, food, and dwellings for his men so they could survive the coming winter; second, was to make sure their defensive position was strong enough to defend against an attack by the Northern forces venturing further and further out from their defenses. Neither priority was close to being accomplished, but today we'll focus on defense.

By fiat from Richmond, Johnston's unified command had become three parts. His left-most flank was the Valley District, commanded by Maj. General Thomas Jackson, who people had taken to calling "Stonewall." Jackson, who Johnston had come to rely upon in their pre-Manassas days in the Shenandoah Valley and who he had high hopes for as a division commander, left the Army of the Potomac the first week of July to take over the rowdy militia of the Valley. Not surprisingly, a few days later his old brigade followed him, depriving Johnston of one of his best units. Richmond had also sent Jackson two brigades from across the Alleghenies along with their division commander William Loring, underscoring the importance of the Valley.

On his right-most flank was the second carve-out from Johnston's command, the Aquia District under Maj. General Theophilus Holmes. Stretching from Powell's Creek [Lake Montclair] to the Potomac to the Rappahannock, the district had resulted from the desire to keep Holmes in an important position. But it meant that Johnston's right-wing was effectively an independent force from his main body, the Army of the Potomac. Richmond intended that army to be the District of the Potomac, commanded by General G.T. Beauregard, but Johnston intended to command that army himself in battle, and had long-ago agreed to Beauregard's preference that he command the army's First Corps, with the Second led by Maj. General G.W. Smith.

All this mattered especially in the beginning of the third week of November because the Confederates had become well-aware that the Union Army of the Potomac had moved a division of soldiers opposite the Aquia District's batteries at Evansport [Quantico]. Though Holmes had known about the movement for several days already, it was a subordinate of G.W. Smith's who touched off the powder keg on November 16.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rec'd: Etiquette & Personal Dignity

In which we go through some of my favorite recent articles
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Harper's Weekly failed on cartoons this week, but here's a lovely picture of Massanutten Mountain in the Valley
November 13, 1861 is the anniversary of one of the most famous incidents of the early war, McClellan's snub of Abraham Lincoln. Here is the story, as told by Doris Kearns Goodwin in Team of Rivals (p. 383):
On Wednesday night, November 13, Lincoln went with Seward and Hay to McCellan's house. Told that the general was at a wedding, the three waited in the parlor for an hour. When McClellan arrived home, the porter told him the president was waiting, but McClellan passed by the parlor room and climbed the stairs to his private quarters. After another half hour, Lincoln again sent word that he was waiting, only to be informed that the general had gone to sleep. Young John Hay [Lincoln's secretary] was enraged... To Hay's surprise, Lincoln "seemed not to have noticed it specially, saying it was better at this time not to be making points of etiquette & personal dignity."
No record exists in McClellan's own accounts or among his letters (in fact, there was no letter to Mary Ellen that night), so no explanation for the behavior. McClellan was particularly critical of his men drinking alcohol, but because of the effect on discipline, not out of any tee-totaling principles, so maybe he had enjoyed the wedding too much. On the other hand, of the many criticisms of George McClellan that exist, the frequent general-bashing accusation of "drunkard" is not one. Whatever the reason for the slight, it might have remained overlooked if McClellan had been on better behavior later on.

All Not So Quiet follows up on who led Longstreet's Brigade after Longstreet moved on to lead a division (hint: it's Dick Ewell) and checks in on the Vermont Brigade encamped at Lewinsville, the sickliest brigade in the Union army.

Disunion checks in on Cump Sherman, who was on leave from the army in November, possibly from a mental breakdown, and covers the big national and international story, the Trent Affair.

The Confederate battery at Evansport [Quantico] made due with the artillery they were able to scrounge up, but To The Sound Of The Guns ventures south to Georgia to look at what a real Confederate coastal defense position would be armed with.

And Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post blogged and wrote about Ball's Bluff, just like the Evening Star did 150 years ago. Well maybe not just like.

How can we close without a little bit of Hooker? Before McClellan headed off to his wedding, he would have been advised by his adjutant of a report from the commander of his extreme right-wing, Brig. General Joe Hooker. The report was even thicker than usual for Hooker, because it contained the report of the 74th New York Infantry's expedition to Mathias Point on the Virginia side of the Potomac. Colonel Charles Graham had taken about 400 men from the regiment and transported them on the Island Belle and Dana, two ships from the Potomac Flotilla, during the night of November 9.

Graham and men had shot some pickets and captured some Confederate prisoners, while at the same time determining that no batteries had yet been erected at Mathias Point (though they thought they saw evidence of preparations to make some). They then returned to the north shore in triumph. But the unusual thing is that Hooker had no idea this raid was taking place.
I inclose herewith the report of Colonel Graham of his descent on Mathias Point, as it contains reliable information of the condition of that much talked of point. The expedition was projected without my authority or even knowledge. As it appears to have had no unfortunate sequence so far as I have learned, I shall not censure him, but in future no operations will be projected without my sanction; otherwise my command may be dishonored before I know it.
Hooker probably knew that the expedition had been planned by his subordinate and Graham's superior, Dan Sickles. Unfortunately for the army, making dangerous military moves without informing his superior would become a habit for Sickles.

Friday, November 11, 2011

John Dahlgren and the Union Aircraft Carrier

Wherein we go afloat and end up aloft
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Map of Rebel batteries (left) on the Potomac River, beginning of November
"Between 9 and 11 o'clock a.m.," Brig. General Joe Hooker informed the Army of the Potomac headquarters on November 11, "some of the rebel batteries were in active operation."
Three schooners passed up the river under a six knot breeze without the slightest injury, although thirty-seven heavy guns were discharged to dispute their passage. The crews seemed to entertain a just appreciation of the batteries, for they sailed along with as much unconcern as they would to enter New York Harbor. They do fire wretchedly. Whether it is owing to the projectiles or to the guns I am not informed. Several of the pieces are rifled, but they seem to throw more wildly if possible than the smooth bores. From what was witnessed to day and on previous occasions, I am forced to the conclusion that the rebel batteries in this vicinity should not be a terror to any one.
Despite Hooker's conclusions, he had been sent there two weeks earlier in order to work with the U.S. Navy's Potomac Flotilla to eliminate the potential threat that the batteries caused to Union shipping. At the order of the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, river traffic had been reduced to a fraction of the usual shipping required to sustain the capital, and almost all supplies were coming down the B&O Railroad from Confederate-sympathizing Baltimore.

Hooker knew a good thing when he had it, though, and was content to ride out the winter with his division over a day's march from Washington and therefore from George McClellan, his staff, and anyone else who might outrank him. Not nearly as content with his situation was Commander Thomas Tingey Craven, the head of the Potomac Flotilla. As early as October 23, Craven had declared the mission of the flotilla to control the river a lost cause and suggested removing the guns from his ships and setting up batteries on the Maryland side that could exchange fire with the Confederates (his plan was partially put into action, the guns from the Pensacola had been used by Hooker to establish his one operating battery at Budd's Ferry).

"Feeling that my position here in command of the flotilla can be of no further benefit," Craven wrote Welles, "I most respectfully request to be detached from the command and appointed to some seagoing vessel."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gradually Carried Into Effect

Wherein we take stock of the belligerents at an early turning point
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November 1861 saw the realization of plans for change in both Northern and Southern armies that had been percolating since July, changes that when completed over the winter would shape the next two years of warfare. The most immediately obvious was the removal of Bvt. Lt. General Winfield Scott in favor of Maj. General George McClellan as general-in-chief of the U.S. Army and thus the Northern war effort, but changes in the South had equal impact.

McClellan had already put an indelible touch on the North's Army of the Potomac through his careful shepherding of young officers of his own military and social persuasions through the process of nomination to and confirmation of the grade of brigadier general of U.S. Volunteers. These were men that believed in a professional, European-style army, were socially and politically conservative, and for the most part had not been senior officers in the pre-war Army (and therefore had not been hand-picked already by Winfield Scott).

Among the division commanders, the senior leadership of McClellan's new army after his own staff, five of the 11 commanders named by November 9 could safely be called McClellan's men: William Franklin, Fitz John Porter, Charles P. Stone, Don Carlos Buell, and "Baldy" Smith. Only Irvin McDowell was truly Scott's man, though Sam Heintzelman was also from the Old Army leadership promoted by Scott. Nathaniel Banks, Louis Blenker, George McCall, and Joe Hooker were the President's political picks.

Among the 32 brigades commanded by those generals collectively, 15 were led by men who can safely be called McClellanites, with a few more sympathizers additionally. Strategically, McClellan tended to group the brigades of his people together under a divisional commanders that were also his people. McClellan's appears to have already been thinking of divisions as "trustworthy" and "suspected", a separation that would grow in his mind until it became a major problem in the spring.

Much is made about the impact of political generals on the Army of the Potomac, but that may be a function of how many McClellanites served in the army that were around to complain about them for years after the war. Of the three subsequent commanders of the army, two would be fully disciples of McClellan and two would also be ousted by coups engineered by senior leadership cabals consisting of McClellan disciples. Long after he ceased commanding the army, the men that McClellan had put into command positions by Fall 1861 would direct the course of battles and campaigns.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Early Returns

In which we celebrate Election Day at a secesh BBQ
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Brig. General Joseph Hooker had settled his small division well into their positions along the Lower Potomac in Maryland by November 8. Hooker called his headquarters at Chickamuxen Church "Camp Baker", after the Senator from Oregon killed in battle who had given Hooker his first break during the war, and had occupied himself with establishing an efficient military camp there for his old brigade and down the road for the other brigade in the division, that of Dan Sickles'. He detailed it all in his long daily reports to Maj. General George McClellan, through his adjutant, Seth Williams.

The November 8 report is typical of Hookers' reports, which collectively form a remarkably complete picture of the daily activities of a division commander on detached duty (and should surprise those of used to depictions of Hooker as a self-seeking bungler with their above-average competence). In it Hooker reports the establishment of a new hospital at Camp Baker, which he hopes will deprive men of an excuse to escape work by traveling all the way back to the old hospital at Camp Union in Bladensburg. He also complains about the discipline of Sickles' Brigade, a nearly daily occurrence (though he doesn't hesitate to criticize his old brigade in earlier reports).

But Hooker's movement down the Potomac was not to establish a camp further from the city, and his report reflects that. Part of his objective had been to establish control over a population that was known to be Confederate-sympathizers, if not outright Confederates. It certainly hadn't been lost on Hooker or McClellan, or anyone in the War Department or White House that Hooker would arrive just in time for the first Wednesday of November, the date of Maryland state and local elections.

On November 2, he had received orders through Seth Williams with regards to the election. Hooker's reply carefully specifies that he will use his cavalry "to preserve quiet and good order, and to suppress any coercion or intimidation on the part of the secession leaders." But he and his superiors in Washington were intimately aware that the 1861 elections in Maryland would seat a state legislature that would again take up the topic of secession. The president had already authorized suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and Fort McKinley in Baltimore Harbor was already stocked with Southern-sympathizing Maryland politicians, including the mayor and police commissioner of Baltimore. But it was imperative for the defenders of Washington to ensure that the new Maryland legislature didn't move towards secession.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Seeing the Old Man Off

Wherein we bid farewell to Winfield Scott
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Harper's Weekly cover announcing the retirement of Winfield Scott. A depiction of the last Cabinet meeting.
Before dawn on November 2, in the midst of a heavy rainstorm, retired Bvt. Lt. General Winfield Scott left his headquarters on F and 17th Street near the White House and rode to the B&O Railroad Station, located at the site of today's Union Station. It was still dark, and Scott was trying to leave town before anyone had time to call on him about his retirement the night before. The New York Times recorded:
A drenching rain was falling at the time, and this fact prevented Gen. McClellan and staff, with an escort of cavalry, from accompanying him on the route thither. A numerous assemblage, in view of the hour and the unpropitious state of the weather, had gathered at the depot, among whom were nearly a dozen ladies.
His staff accompanied him; Colonels George W. Cullum, Henry Van Rennselaer, and Edward H. Wright, all aides-de-camp to Scott, and his chief of staff, Colonel Edward D. Townsend. All four were career military men who had enjoyed many years of good fortune under the longest-serving commander of the Army in U.S. history (a record that still holds) and who had earned the respect and praise of the man now leaving in the middle of a gloomy downpour. His replacement would also be his arch enemy, who the Scott staffers had spent the last three months helping the old general attempt to thwart. Their futures were bleak, and it would take the fall of McClellan to fully rehabilitate their army careers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Life So Grand

In which Winfield Scott is at last deposed
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On November 1, the long war that had burned since the end of July at last came to a close. Maj. General George Brinton McClellan became the U.S. Army's general-in-chief. McClellan and the army's outgoing general-in-chief, Bvt. Lt. General Winfield Scott had been at each others' throats for months. Back during the summer Scott had asked the President to put him on the retired list to try to force him to reign in the ambitious young McClellan, who was circumventing Scott to talk strategy with Cabinet members directly and who refused to give Scott any details about his army. Lincoln had ignored Scott's retirement gambit after only a minor rebuke of McClellan, and the campaign had simmered. Then Scott had tried to catch McClellan disobeying a lawful order, a scheme in which the younger man happily obliged, but Secretary of War Simon Cameron had done nothing to punish him. So Scott had renewed his request to be placed on the retired list and on October 31, the president had finally complied. By having his name added to the retired list, Scott would receive a full pension, but be ineligible to command troops any longer. Characteristically, Lincoln informed Scott that his suggestion was accepted gently, telling him he would still call on him for advice, but not too often so he could properly enjoy his retirement.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hooker On The Lower Potomac

Wherein you realize you've been duped again by "hooker" in the post title
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It's been a busy weekend for your blogger, so a post light on effort in the meantime while he puts off a longer post on the latest Beauregard-Davis bru-ha-ha. It's the October 31 report by Joe Hooker that is interesting for two reasons. First, Hooker describes his success at setting up a temporary battery with Parrott guns commanded by Lt. Colonel George W. Getty. The guns are much too small to be an effective battery to control the Potomac, but as you will read, Hooker still had fun with them. Second, it provides a sense of the attentiveness Hooker always paid to care for the men in camp. Unlike many generals of his day, Hooker had very modern scruples about things like cleanliness and nutrition, and units he lead always had better health than their fellow units. Additionally, the mistakes about rations is part of a larger scandal that would come to a head in January.

In the Southern camp, acting Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin spent October 31 meddling in the affairs of Joe Johnston's army again. This time, it was a communication directly to Maj. General Earl Van Dorn, who Johnston believed commanded a division in Maj. General G.W. Smith's Second Corps, and who Benjamin believed commanded the First Division in Johnston's corps-less army. Van Dorn was an old Mississippi friend of Jefferson Davis, who the provisional President had asked to train the Confederate cavalry, and subsequently promised could command all the cavalry in Johnston's army as well as infantry. Johnston didn't like the idea based on two principles: 1) that the cavalry was dispersed for scouting duty and therefore a major general would effectively command no more than a brigade of infantry and, 2) that Jeff Davis should keep his nose out of Johnston's army.


And there's one other major thing that happened on October 31, but you're going to have to wait until tomorrow so I can do that one justice.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Something of an Epilogue

Wherein Edward Baker's body begins its journey home
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A brief post today, courtesy of the Evening Star reprinted in the New York Times. Baker is the blog's first reoccurring individual during the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War to depart from our area of interest permanently (since Cump Sherman will be back), though he will not be the last and the impact of his death will loom over the remainder of the war.
The Evening Star,
October 29, 1861
The Body of Col. Baker  
The evening after the funeral of the lamented Col. Baker, the corpse was removed from the vault in the Congressional Cemetery, where it was deposited, to the embalming rooms of Dr. Holmes, to be prepared for transmission to its final resting place in California. The committee of Californians who have charge of the body, have taken great care that all the arrangements for the removal of the body should be made in the most appropriate manner. The undertaker's work, by Buchly, is in his best style. 
The temporary coffin in which the body of Col. B. was brought from Poolesville, has been replaced by a handsome metallic case, imitation of rosewood, mounted with silver; a large plate of glass covering the face, through which the features of the deceased may be seen by his friends, below which, over the breast, is a silver plate with the inscription: "Col. E.D. Baker, killed in battle near Ball's Bluff, Virginia, Oct. 21, 1861." 
The process of embalming was made very difficult by the shattered condition of the body, upon inspection of which eight wounds were apparent. One large wound in the left temple; a small ball wound above the right ear; one in the back of the neck; one between the collar bone and shoulder blade, passing down into the body; one through the chest; one passing across the thighs; one dividing all the interior fleshy portion of the left arm; and one in the breast, near the left armpit.  
Notwithstanding these difficulties, Dr. Holmes succeeded in thoroughly embalming the body. The torn and blood-stained uniform in which he was killed was removed, and this morning, clad in a new uniform, he lay in the coffin not a ghastly and pale corpse, but as life-like as we have seen him in all the glow of health, and if lying upon a couch, he would be easily mistaken for a sleeping soldier.  
Today, by invitation of the committee, the President and other distinguished friends of the gallant dead will visit the rooms of Dr. Holmes, at Buchly's establishment, Pennsylvania avenue near Ninth street, and see the face of their late friend for the last time; after which the case will be sealed for transmission to New York, thence to California.
Baker's body would reach its final resting place at San Francisco National Cemetery after a tour through the Union, including a massive parade in Philadelphia. Long after the war, a statue of Baker would be commissioned, and then delivered to the Capitol.
The Evening Star, April 13, 1868
Statue of General Baker  
On Saturday last a beautiful statuette of the late General E.D. Baker, Senator from Oregon, who was killed at the battle of Ball's Bluff, in the early part of the war, was received here from Rome, by Colonel Stephens, of California, for whom it was made by the well-known Washington, Dr. Horatio Stone, who is now in the Eternal City. It is now on exhibition at Messrs. Galt & Bro.'s jewelry store. 
Gen. Baker is represented with a roll of manuscript in his right hand, in the act of delivering a speech, and the likeness is pronounced by all who knew the deceased, to be most striking. The work is mounted on a pedestal, the upper portion of which revolves with the statue. It bears representations of justice, war, etc., and below are the following lines from the last speech of the deceased in the Senate delivered August, 1861. 
"There will be some graves reeking with blood, watered by the tears of affection. There will be some privation. There will be some loss of luxury. The will be somewhat more need of labor to procure the necessaries of life. When that is said, all is said. If we have the country, the whole country, the Union, the Constitution, Free Government, with all these will return all the blessings of well ordered civilization. The path of the country will be a career of greatness and glory, such as our Fathers in the olden time foresaw in the dim visions of years yet to come; and such as would have been ours today had it not been for the treason for which the Senator [Breckinridge] too often seeks to apologize."
Galt & Brothers opened in 1802 near the White House and operated as a District cornerstone until 2001. Baker's statue (which fittingly inscribed part of his final stemwinder countering John Breckinridge) stood for years in the Capitol rotunda and is still somewhere in the building (your intrepid blogger is hunting down its location). But the impact of his death would return to haunt the capital must more quickly.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Miserable Marksmen

Wherein Hooker is sent to end the "blockade" of Washington
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Scene of Northern ships running the gauntlet on the Lower Potomac, from Harper's Weekly

Brig. General Joe Hooker must have been gratified. After months of trying to join the army despite an old grudge held by general-in-chief Winfield Scott, followed by months of parades and organizing under the finicky eye of the Union Army of the Potomac's George McClellan, he had finally embarked on some real soldiering. His division had been tasked with defending a mighty bend of the Potomac River, stretching clockwise from Port Tobacco to Pomonkey Creek, on the Maryland side.

McClellan's primary concern was the battery at Evansport [Quantico] and its companion across Quantico Creek at Shipping Point, that had recently shut down river traffic to the capital. The channel of the Potomac at that point in the river winds close to the Virginia side, which put any ships sailing for Georgetown or Alexandria City right under the guns of the Confederates, including, according to the historian of the 1st Massachusetts, a state-of-the-art 7-inch Blakely muzzle-loading rifled cannon purchased from England. The weapon could fire a 120-pound projectile with stunning accuracy, assuming its operators could use it correctly. In the opinion of the New Englanders, they weren't:
High hills on the Maryland side afforded the troops an excellent observatory wherefrom to watch the firing; and, as the rebels, it seemed, had plenty of powder and ball to expend, twenty-four hours seldom passed but they afforded observers an opportunity to observe what miserable marksmen they were.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Key to Decipher History

Wherein he blogs about that thing that didn't happen
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Just a short post today on the nature of writing history. McClellan spent October 27 reviewing troops from the division of Fitz John Porter at Fort Corcoran [Rosslyn]. Joe Hooker was leading his division down to Budd's Ferry, opposite Evansport [Quantico], to monitor the Confederates and see if action could be taken to shut down their battery there. Charles P. Stone was trying to get his division put back together after Ball's Bluff. And Winfield Scott was darkly waiting for the President's order into retirement, having heard the results of the previous week's cabinet meeting.

But in the Southern army headquarters at Centreville, the concern was entirely focused on areas outside the theater. First, the army's commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, was doing his best to ignore an order he had received on October 23 from Richmond assigning one of the new major generals he and his fellow general, G.T. Beauregard, had fought to obtain. Maj. General Thomas Jackson, called "Stonewall" because of his actions at Manassas, was supposed to command a division in Johnston's Second Corps. But the Confederate War Department had decided instead to send him to organize the defenses of the Shenandoah Valley in a new subordinate command to Johnston's, the District of the Valley.

Theoretically, Johnston agreed with the creation of a command specifically focused on delivering the Valley, the breadbasket of Virginia. He didn't know it, but Winfield Scott had created a semi-analogous Northern command, the District of Harper's Ferry and the Cumberland, which was to protect the critical railroad infrastructure that Confederates from the Valley could easily spill into and disrupt, cutting the capital from Ohio Its commander, Frederick Lander, had been wounded the day following Ball's Bluff and was in Washington recuperating before heading to his new command. On October 27, men from his department under Brig. General Benjamin Kelley (a former B&O executive and a key player in McClellan's early war western Virginia successes) took aggressive action and captured the mountain city of Romney, underscoring the need for a Confederate commander.

Johnston just didn't want to lose Jackson, who, along with J.E.B. Stuart, he had been working with since April and come to rely heavily on. The trick was dragging his feet enough that the War Department would ask him to name a different commander to the critical post. Richmond, for its part, was too occupied with a different threat altogether to bother Johnston about sending Jackson (or the daily lecture about reorganizing the army to brigading state regiments together). "Sir," acting Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin wrote Johnston, "We have received from several quarters information that the enemy intend a movement in force up the Rappahannock and that he has about 25,000 men in the fleet now concentrated at Fort Monroe for that purpose."

Benjamin continued (with a typically peculiar and prickly addendum):
This may be a feint or the information although coming from friends may have been allowed to leak out with the view of deceiving us, yet it is of sufficient importance to be sent to you. I send a private note to Colonel [Thomas] Jordan the adjutant of General Beauregard by special messenger. The note incloses [sic] a communication in cipher sent to the President from some unknown quarter and the President has an impression that Colonel Jordan has a key which will decipher it. If so, the contents will no doubt be communicated to you by General Beauregard, if of any importance. We have so many apparently reliable yet contradictory statements about the destination of this great expedition that we are much at a loss to prepare defense against it.
History recognizes the expedition as the Port Royal Expedition and so usually leaves out the consternation it caused Joe Johnston when he thought his flank was about to be turned, and instead focuses on the planning, lead-up to, execution, and aftermath of the event as if it was one coherent whole. Union Brig. General Thomas W. Sherman and Commodore Samuel F. DuPont (of the Circle fame) were using Hampton Roads as a rendezvous for two separate forces before heading off to South Carolina together. But for those living it, the arc of the story would only be clear much later, and not fully until after the war. At the time it was a confusing event that led Benjamin to federalize the Virginia militia and accelerate the deployment of troops from as far as Georgia to Virginia, in order to protect Johnston's flank, as well ask ask Johnston to be prepared to shift large numbers of his men around.

On the next day, Benjamin wrote to Johnston, saying, "Just heard from Norfolk that the enemy's great fleet is going to sea, thus indicating that the threat of attack on the Rappahannock was intended to deceive us." Even then, though, for the people living the event, where was the flotilla headed to? Thomas Jordan wrote back to Jefferson Davis directly, coolly ignoring the question about the cipher key and instead confidently let him know that his informants in Washington City indicated the attack was to be on Cape Fear, North Carolina. He was wrong, but that wouldn't be clear for another week, until the expedition appeared at Port Royal. Cape Fear wouldn't be attacked until 1864.

But while the non-story of a Union flank attack via the Rappahannock is ignored by historians short on time and space, the subject Benjamin turned his mind to next shows up in almost every account, because the story it begins goes somewhere stunning:



Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stars, Falling and Rising

Wherein an extinguished political career helps launch a newspaper's
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Ad for Baker's Philadelphia funeral march,
November 7, 1861


The newspaper of record in Washington City in 1861 was the Evening Star, sometimes called the Washington Star outside of the city, a name it wouldn't take officially until 1970s and would keep until it closed in 1981. Its presses and building (and the contracts of many of its staff, including Mary McGrory, Howard Kurtz, Fred Hiatt, and Jonathan Yardley, as well as rights to those soap comics that still run) were purchased by the Washington Post. The building at the corner of 11th and Pennsylvania now houses Fogo de Chao, among other tenants, but the paper's original 1861 building stood across Pennsylvania Avenue. The paper was small and new then, it had only been in operation for ten years, but the boom in population in Civil War Washington would build the paper, and the evolving, sensational news surrounding Ball's Bluff and the death of sitting U.S. Senator Edward Baker would be part of what caused the paper's circulation to explode.

On October 23, the paper reprinted George McClellan's General Orders No. 31 commemorating Baker, and added its own report, which would subsequently be forwarded by newspapermen around the country:
The remains of the late gallant Col. E.B. Baker have not yet reached Washington.  They are to be taken to the residence of Major J.W. Webb, at the corner of Fourteenth and H streets--No. 363.  We learn incidentally that his body was pierced with six balls, either of which would probably have been fatal; thus showing that his person on the field was a shining mark indeed. On leaving his quarters at his friend, Major Webb's for the field of his death, he remarked to that gentleman that he expected to be in action in less than forty-eight hours, and felt that he should lose his life; closing the conversation with a request that Major W. should send for his body if his presentment proved true.