Posts Tagged ‘American Civil War’
One of my readers is researching General Grenville M. Dodge and asked for information. I, of course, turned promptly to my buddy Peter A. Hansen who knows more about rail history than anyone I know. Pete writes for most of the major rail history magazines, consults with museums and rail companies, speaks regularly on rail history, and is currently editor of Railroad History, the scholarly journal of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society. Pete has also been an on-camera source for CBS News and NBC News. More about Pete here.
Fun Fact: It’s an indisputable fact that Railroad History is the oldest (and still the most scholarly) rail history journal, but it is also believed to be the oldest industrial heritage journal of any kind in the U.S.
The information below is all Pete’s.
“You’ve seen Dodge many times, though you may not have known it. He appears at the center of what’s arguably the most famous photograph in American history (below). Two men on the ground are shaking hands; Dodge is the one on the right.
Dodge was born in Danvers, Mass. in 1831, and educated at New Hampshire’s Durham Academy and Vermont’s Norwich University. Upon receiving his engineering degree, he did what many ambitious young engineers did in the 1850s: He went to work for a railroad. He started with the Illinois Central, and later went to the Chicago & Rock Island and the Mississippi & Missouri. It was during his service to the latter two roads that he met Thomas C. Durant, who would later become the driving force behind the Union Pacific, the eastern half of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.
Dodge’s relationship with Lincoln stemmed from a chance 1859 encounter on the front porch of the Pacific House hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Lincoln was in town to inspect some real estate that had been offered as collateral for a loan requested by a friend, and he was also due to make a speech there. (He wasn’t yet an officially-declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, but he was at least considering it.) Dodge had just returned from a surveying expedition in Nebraska’s Platte Valley, seeking a route for an eventual Pacific railroad. Lincoln, a frontiersman by birth, was intensely interested in the subject of internal improvements, and particularly in a line to California. During their two-hour meeting, Lincoln did most of the listening, and Dodge, the talking. “By his kindly ways,” Dodge would recall, “[he] soon drew from me all I knew of the country west, and the results of my reconnoisances. [sic] As the saying is, he completely ‘shelled my woods,’ getting all the secrets that were later to go to my employers.”
A few years later, when President Lincoln needed impartial advice on the Pacific Railroad, the greatest non-military undertaking of his administration (or indeed, in all of American history, up to that point), he turned to Dodge. Apart from his unquestioned abilities, it may have been Dodge’s relationship with Lincoln that made him a favorite of Sherman and Grant.
Dodge began the war inauspiciously enough, as colonel of the Fourth Iowa infantry regiment. He was to make his mark at Pea Ridge in early 1862, where he sustained multiple minor wounds and had three horses shot from under him. He was promoted to brigadier general in April of that year, and was commanded to rebuild the Mobile & Ohio Railroad between Corinth, Miss., and Columbus, Ky. Despite continual harassment by Nathan Bedford Forrest, he got the job done by October.
His performance did not go unnoticed. Grant’s chief of staff, John Rawlins, sent for him that month, and he was given a divisional command with the Army of Tennessee. He became something of a spymaster during the Vicksburg campaign, where he also covered Grant’s left during the final stages.
It’s also worth noting that Lincoln sent for Dodge during the Vicksburg siege, seeking his advice on several matters related to the Pacific Railroad Act. In particular, the Act had authorized the president to name the eastern terminus of the line, and Lincoln wanted to hear more about Council Bluffs. Also, certain provisions of the 1862 Act had scared private investors away from the project: Lincoln sought Dodge’s advice on how to redress them, but ultimately rejected Dodge’s advice on the finance question. Dodge thought the government should simply build the railroad itself; Lincoln favored a revised Pacific Railroad Act in which government bonds would take second position to private issues – a reversal from the original Act. Lincoln’s view prevailed in Congress, and a second Pacific Railroad Act was passed in 1864. Lincoln did follow Dodge’s advice about Council Bluffs, however, and to this day, the city is Milepost 0 on the Union Pacific’s line west from the Missouri River.
Dodge went on leave after Vicksburg, and Durant lobbied him vigorously to resign his commission and return to railroading. Durant saw an opportunity in the young engineer for unparalleled Washington influence, and offered him the generous salary of $5,000. Nonetheless, Dodge remained in uniform for the rest of the war, though he would never again attain the distinction of the early campaigns. He served under Sherman during the siege of Atlanta, where a bullet fractured his skull, after which he was effectively out of the war.
Incidentally, Dodge’s papers can be found at the Iowa State Department of History and Archives in Des Moines. Do take his writings with a grain of salt: Dodge was not above embellishing his record. His home in Council Bluffs is now a museum, and it’s well worth a visit. While you’re in town, you might also check out the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, which tells the story of the first transcontinental railroad, and of Dodge’s role in it.
Two additional footnotes:
- One of the perks of being a railroad construction engineer, especially in virgin territory, was the ability to name places. Thus, the highest point on the first transcontinental line was at Sherman, Wyo., 8013 feet above sea level. Some 120 miles west, another Wyoming town bears the name of Rawlins.
- Some of Dodge’s history with Lincoln is recounted in my February 2009 Trains magazine feature, ‘The Rail Splitter and the Railroads.’”
Many thanks to Pete for the information above!
For more on Grenville Dodge, I recommend:
- Iowa Public Televisions Series on Dodge here.
- Dodge’s book, How we built the Union Pacific railway: and other railway papers and addresses thanks to Google Books.
In class, we’ve been discussing how the decisions of the two commanders-in-chief during the American Civil War impacted events at the operational level. Modern scholars have challenged the notion that Lincoln simply stayed involved in military details until he found the right general (Grant). Eliot Cohen posits that’s “Lincoln exercised a constant oversight of the war effort from beginning to end.”(1) This intense interest in providing direction can be seen as early as the events surrounding the attack on Fort Sumter. Lincoln’s order of the nonviolent resupply of the fort, which caused the Confederates to fire the first shot and thus initiate the war, demonstrates Lincoln’s willingness to go against the advice of senior commanders. Equally important, it showed his considerable ability at playing the game of strategy. Cohen summed it up well by calling Lincoln’s move “characteristically cunning” and revealing of “a steely willingness to accept the hazards of war.”(2)
Lincoln continued to immerse himself in operational details, stepping back only to a degree when General Grant became General-in-chief but certainly not completely. Lincoln carefully reviewed dispatches and, as has been well documented, literally camped in the telegraph office during battles. In fact, he qualified as a micro-manager to some degree. As such, one of the ways in which his leadership impacted operation was by his dismissal of generals who didn’t perform. “By comparison with our recent presidents, Lincoln was an exceptionally unforgiving boss.”(3) He also took considerable personal interest in the technological advancements that took place prior to and during the war. His personal influence could make things happen as it did with the development of river canon, which helped to win control by the Union of the Mississippi River and southern ports.
Lincoln was so intent upon staying informed of field activities that he installed journalist Charles Dana as, effectively, a spy in Grant’s camp while he was assigned in the west. Dana, who even had his own cipher for sending reports back to Stanton, was also dispatched to observe and report back on the command abilities of General Rosecrans. Lincoln put Dana back in Grant’s camp later in the war even after Grant had demonstrated success and earned Lincoln’s trust. This fact further dispels the notion that Lincoln simply turned over the war’s higher direction to Grant.(4) In fact, Cohen posits that “Lincoln did not merely find his generals; he controlled them. He molded the war to its last days, and he intended to dominate the making of peace at its end.” (5)
(1) Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime, (London: Free Press, 2002), 19.
(2) Ibid., 20.
(3) Ibid., 24.
(4) Ibid., 51.
(5) Ibid., 21.
The good folks at Oxford University Press recently sent me a copy of the new paperback edition of James McPherson’s This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War. First published in 2007, it comprises 16 essays in which McPherson attempts to answer the following questions:
- Why did the war come?
- What were the war aims of each side?
- What strategies did they employee to achieve these aims?
- How do we evaluate the leadership of both sides?
- Did the war’s outcome justify the immense sacrifice of lives?
- What impact did the experience of war have on the people who lived through it?
- How did later generations remember and commemorate that experience?
- Author: James M. McPherson
- Publisher: Oxford University Press
- ISBN13: 9780195392425
- ISBN10: 0195392426
- Paperback, 272 pages
- Sep 2009
I read the hardback version in 2007 and can highly RECOMMEND.
FYI – Amazon has the paperback version available for here for $12.21.
STEVEN E. WOODWORTH. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. 1990. Pp. xv, 380. $16.95.
Much has been written about the political and military genius of Abraham Lincoln and the successful leader he grew to be while Commander in Chief of a fractured union. But as the country divided and civil war became a reality, a new leader was called upon to assume the role of Commander in Chief for the Confederacy, the seasoned Jefferson Davis. At the precipice of war, betting men looking at the comparative qualifications of the two presidents could easily have predicted that Davis would outshine Lincoln. What kind of leader did Davis prove to be and how did he recruit and manage those men who would become members of his high command? What kind of generals were they and how did their personalities and actions impact the outcome of the war?
Steven E. Woodworth’s monograph answers those questions and others through examination of Jefferson Davis’ handling of the generals who defended the newly formed Confederacy in the Western theater of the American Civil War. Against a chronology of key events, each commander is introduced with information essential to understanding the skills they brought to war. Woodworth gives us their respective birthplaces, education, military and political experience, and reasons for consideration as senior leaders. Their performances in command roles are examined along with their interactions with Davis. There is brilliance to be sure from both Davis and some of his generals. But there is also incompetence, jealousy, loss of nerve, and even a propensity toward sabotage of brother commanders. Varying degrees of analysis are given to among others: Leonidas Polk, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Early Van Dorn, John C. Breckenridge, Edmund K. Smith, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Patrick R. Cleburne, Sterling Price, William J. Hardee, John C. Pemberton, Joseph E. Johnston, Benjamin F. Cheatham, James A. Seddon, Daniel H. Hill, James Longstreet, Gideon J. Pillow, David Twiggs, and John Bell Hood. Woodworth pulls no punches.
Woodworth concludes that Davis was highly trained, skilled from a breadth of experience in the militarily and in politics, and eminently qualified to assume the role of Commander in Chief of the Confederacy. He was also flawed. His imperfections are revealed as the war in the West is traced from beginning to end. Davis is shown to be incapable of judging objectively the performances of personal friends. He both trusts and delegates too much to his leaders. This trait worked to the detriment of some of the most exceptional men like Albert Sidney Johnston, who accomplished miracles in the defense of western borders despite unanswered requests to fill and equip his ranks. It also left incompetents like Leonidas Polk in power, impairing more talented men like Braxton Bragg. Davis becomes consumed by the war emotionally and physically. In the end, failure in the West is seen to have contributed significantly to the failure of the Confederacy. Woodworth posits that the faults of Davis himself, stemming from a deep-seated insecurity, are contributory to this failure.
Woodworth brings to the work the credentials of a seasoned historian. He holds history degrees from Southern Illinois University (B.A. 1982) and Rice University, where he received a Ph.D. in 1987. At the time of the book’s publication, he taught history at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. He now teaches U.S. history, Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Old South at Texas Christian University. He also teaches military history at the American Military University. He is a prolific and award winning author.
Woodworth provides an insightful contribution to our understanding of the Civil War by revealing the best and the worst of the Confederacy’s senior military leadership in the West.
Particularly helpful to an understanding of the challenges faced by Davis’ high command is Woodworth’s campaign analysis. Also exemplary is the concise summary he provides of key points at the end of each chapter. This important study in leadership fills a gap and stands equal to and complementary of the T. Harry William classic, Lincoln and His Generals. It is both highly readable and academically rich.
A friend recently found a newpaper article regarding the death of his wife’s great grandfather, published below with permission. Since I live near the border of Missouri and Kansas and have posted quite a bit on our Civil War era border wars, I found this particularly interesting.
Note that Elwood, Kansas (originally called Roseport) is directly across the Missouri River from St. Joseph, Missouri.
St. Joseph Morning HeraldThursday September 11, 1862
Killing in Elwood (Kansas). Last Thursday a Mr. Slaughter was killed in Elwood by some Federal soldiers from Troy. We heard different versions of
the affair, at the time, and declined to publish any of them. Yesterday Mr. John Norton of Elwood, who lives with the Coroner, and was the
first man on the ground after the killing, brought us the following account of the affair, obtained from Mrs. Slaughter, the wife of the deceased:
Samuel A. Slaughter, living in Elwood, was killed Thursday night Sept 4, about 1 o’clock, as follows: A man named Day was living in
the house with the deceased. The soldiers came to the door which was left open, and began ballooing for the man of the house. Mr. Day asked
them what they wanted, and they replied, “A light.” He immediately struck a light, and they then asked him if a man named Slaughter lived there.
He replied affirmatively. They told him to tell Slaughter they wanted to see him. Mr. S. put on his clothes, went to the door, and asked them
what they wanted of him. They replied, “No matter, come along with us.” They took him out of the yard, and as soon as he was outside the gate, a revolver was fired. After the firing, the soldiers twice cried “halt.” They then cried, “There is a dead man out here, come and take care of him.”
Mr. Day and Mrs. Slaughter went out there, found Mr. Slaughter dead, ‘roused some of the neighbors, and procured a Coroner. The soldiers forbid them holding an inquest. They said they were there to arrest Mr. S. and he ran from them, and none should be held.
Mr. Slaughter was a secessionist, aged 26 or 28 years, and leaves a wife and two children. He formerly lived in this city, and once kept a
small saloon by the Elwood Ferry landing, called “The First and Last House.”
Elwood, first called Roseport, was established in 1856. In its heyday scores of river steamboats unloaded passengers and freight at its wharves and every 15 minutes ferryboats crossed to its Missouri rival, St. Joseph. During the 1850′s thousands of emigrants outfitted here for Oregon and California. Late in 1859, Abraham Lincoln seeking the Republican nomination, here first set foot in Kansas, and spoke in the three-story Great Western Hotel. Elwood was the first Kansas station on the Pony Express between Missouri and California. Construction of the first railroad west of the Missouri river began here in 1859. On April 23, 1860, the first locomotive, “The Albany,” was ferried over and pulled up on the bank by hand. Elwood’s ambitions for greatness were thwarted, not by St. Joe, but by the river which undermined the banks and washed much of the old town away.
12 b&w illus., 1 map
The good folks at the University of Oklahoma Press sent me a review copy yesterday of Bryce Benedict’s Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane. In my usual fashion, I’m posting a few comments prior to a thorough reading.
I live on the borders of Missouri and Kansas so confess some considerable fascination with both Jim Lane and the evolution of war in the towns and farmlands of this part of the Western theater. Lane, a Kansas senator and strong advocate of Lincoln, was a player. Benedict identifies Lincoln himself as having given Lane authority “to raise and command two volunteer regiments.” Lane used them to harass Missourians with violence, theft, and destruction of property in a manner foreshadowing that of Sherman. Benedict posits that Lane thus embraced the notion of “total war” as a means of disabling the enemy’s war machine before it became more widely adopted as a strategy of the Union.
The photo of Lane on the cover (above) was a brilliant choice. After perusing the Library of Congress and finding his carte d’visite (left), it becomes clear that the look of the man fit his personality. In the words of Milton W. Reynolds, Lane was “weird, mysterious, partially insane, partially inspired, and poetic.” He described him as having lived a “…wayward, fitful life of passion and strife, of storm and sunshine a mysterious existence that now dwelt on the mountain-tops of expectation and the very summit of highest realization, and anon in the valley of despondency and deepest gloom.”  Lane committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a pistol in 1866.
Author Bryce Benedict has produced a well researched work with notes for each chapter and three appendices including considerable information about fate of the casualties of Lane’s brigade, most of whom died from disease.
For further reading, check out these books digitized for online reading at the Library of Congress.
 Connelley, William Elsey, (1855-1930) James Henry Lane, the “Grim chieftain” of Kansas (Topeka: Crane, 1899). The Library of Congress Digitized Book. LOC Call number: 9594581, Digitizing sponsor: Sloan Foundation
I made a number of new acquisitions over the past month. The latest arrived in the mail today and has been added to my virtual bookshelves here. I’m actually pretty excited by this purchase.
and Steven Stanley (Maps and Photography) 62 photos and 70 full color maps
A friend just sent this. Very cool.
A battle guidon carried by members of the California Hundred – cavalry volunteers who served in the Massachusetts 2nd. The only surviving California flag from any Civil War engagement, these colors
witnessed action in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864.
See more on this flag at the Fort Tejon Historical Society here.
The good folks at PublicAffairs Books sent me a review copy of Marc Wortman’s The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta viewable on my virtual bookshelves here. I decided to create a shelf specific to “Civil War Sieges” because this book doesn’t quite fit in other categories. That uniqueness is part of its draw.
Full disclosure: This is my usual “pre-read” post where I’ll share some early impressions. Wortman had me before page one because he put six nicely done maps right up front. His poignant introduction left me with no recourse but to read on. A small excerpt:
War is cruelty. Its bloodshed and destruction – the “hard hand of war,” as Sherman really did call it – struck Atlanta with a greater ferocity than it has any American city in history. This is the story of how Atlanta and its people came to be in the direct line of the whirlwind, what one of the besieged city’s Confederate defenders called “a grand holocaust of death.” (Wortman, 2)
Having read the first chapter, I can say that Wortman has a talent for turning a phrase. His depiction of a devastated Atlanta on the morning of September 2, 1864 put me there.
A reeking sulfurous stew that stung the eyes had already settled over the town, filling the railroad cuts, hollows, and streets. Its tendrils wavered along the hillsides and ravines and sifted through the blackened skeletons of what once were houses and factories, railcars and machine shops. It was the silence, though, that shocked people most. Three predawn hours of gut-rattling, earsplitting, and window-shattering explosions and gunfire made the previous night feel like the announcement that the Apocalypse had finally come. But the infernal noise had ended shortly before morning’s light tipped into the eyes of those hunkered down within the earth. (Wortman, 5)
From reading just a few chapters of book, its TOC, and its index, I can add that Wortman’s work emphasizes the broader historical context of the war, covers the importance of railroads during the Civil War, provides insights into the conflict as seen from the perspectives of common soldiers and citizens, and draws upon a substantial amount of primary sources. All of these are pluses.
I look forward to a thorough reading.
An earlier book published by PublicAffairs Books in May of 2007, The Millionaires’ Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power, also looks like a great read and I recently ordered a copy. Per the publisher, it is in development as a major motion picture. Of note, both of Wortman’s histories are available in Kindle versions which means you can begin reading them in about 40 seconds.
Ah… the “ding dong” of the door and the Amazon boxes thump against the door. Love it.
Full disclosure…I had to get some of these from resellers.
Here’s the stack.
For more on my upcoming class, see the post below or “the courses” page here.
My August 16, 2009 post, Review of History Shots – History of the Union Army, American Civil War 1861 – 1865, promised a Q & A with History Shots creator Larry Gormley of History Shots. Larry was kind enough to shoot answers to my first barrage of questions this evening.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of creating the two Civil War graphics?
A: The toughest challenge was how to display the multi-variable data sets within an easy to follow and interesting design. The subject matter dealt with both chronological and geographical content which is difficult to map in a two dimensional space. Selecting the scale and scope of the data took a lot of trial and error. The color palette was critical to the design and information flow and, therefore, required significant work.
Presenting accurate and objective information is very important to me as well. And the importance of accuracy and objectivity is directly related to the level of complexity found in each of the graphics. I wanted to provide enough information and context about the subject to allow people to understand the topic and to draw their own opinions and conclusions.
Q: What techniques do you use to research and create the graphics? I’m imaging a room with ceiling to floor white boards and lots of dry erase pens along with sticky pads.
A: The creation process was long and often difficult but it was always interesting and highly educational; I enjoy greatly the journey from raw idea to completed print. It took about a year to create the first print, History of the Confederate Army, and about nine months to complete the History of the Union Army. Half of the time was devoted to research and data collection. For the research, I started with books in my collection and quickly added material from many libraries located throughout the Boston area. In addition, I purchased a number of very specific, limited run editions that focused on Civil War statistics. Also, I spent hundreds of hours going through a CD version of the Official Records. I captured my research in a spiral notebook and many Excel spreadsheets.
After most of the data is collected I started to prototype micro parts of the story (for example, an individual army in 1862) and high-level views. I find working in both micro and macro levels helps me during the design process. I created about 10 rough ideas before settling on an overall design. I started the design process using paper and colored pens then I moved to Adobe Illustrator.
Q: In your mind, why is this form of social study powerful?
A: I think it is powerful because it presents a large and complex issue within a form that allows the viewer to learn and explore at their own pace. It provides detailed and multi-layered context about important stories within a beautiful design. The design draws you in and lets you dive as deep as you want into a lot data.
Q: Do you have any other Civil War graphics planned?
A: I have an idea for a third graphic but at this time I do not have a firm start date. The idea covers a more direct comparison between the Union and Confederate armies. In addition, I have an idea that includes the Civil War era plus other time periods as well. I have a long list of ideas and it keeps getting longer!
Speaking of The Battle of the Crater, I found this at the Library of Congress. This is a zoomed in view of pages of what appears to be a journal. Whether intended or not, it implies by its shape a salient (see previous post: Military History Word of the Day – “Salient”). The author appears to be unknown.
I just registered for my next course: Civil War Command and Leadership. Here’s a quick summary: “a study of national, theater, and operational command structures of the Union and Confederacy, the leadership styles of key military leaders on both sides, and the evolution of command and control in the war. Major themes include the relationship between the commanders in chief and the generals who led the armies in the field, the relationships between the generals themselves, and the ways in which the relationships described above either served to facilitate or debilitate the causes those commanders served.”
I am VERY excited about the professor, Steven E. Woodworth!
- Ph.D., Rice University, 1987
- Professor of history at Texas Christian University
- Author, co-author, or editor of twenty-seven books you can view here
- Two-time winner of the Fletcher Pratt Award of the New York Civil War Round Table (for Jefferson Davis and His Generals and Davis and Lee at War)
- Two-time finalist for the Peter Seaborg Award of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War (for While God Is Marching On and Nothing but Victory)
- Winner of the Grady McWhiney Award of the Dallas Civil War Round Table for lifetime contribution to the study of Civil War history
I’ve added a new page on my bookshelves to show the booklist for the course as it stands today which you can access here.
Military. to bend or curve back (the flank units of a military force) so that they face generally to the flank rather than the front.
refuse. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.
(accessed: August 08, 2009).
It is not surprising that McClellan did not immediately decide to employ his left wing under Franklin to relieve Harpers Ferry. In focusing on Frederick for the past several days, the Federal right had not only advanced quicker and farther, but the left had angled northward toward Frederick. In consequence Burnside was now considerably nearer Harpers Ferry than Franklin. Moreover, McClellan needed to refuse his left flank along the Potomac until he learned the meaning of the rumor that Jackson had recrossed the river at Williamsport. Lincoln may have jumped to the conclusion that the Confederates were retreating, but the possibility of a turning movement could not be dismissed lightly.
1. Joseph L. Harsh, Taken at the Flood : Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 / [book on-line] (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1999, accessed 8 August 2009), 209-210; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=102364919; Internet.
I’m thrilled to be finally reading Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862. Clearly I must obtain copies of the other books in this series.
There is a fascinating debate afoot on the new book The State of Jones I mentioned in a post on June 23rd here. Authors John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins respond to the three part review by Vicki Bynum. I suggest that interested readers begin with Dr. Bynum’s review (Part III here) and then make your way over to Kevin Levin’s blog post where the majority of the debate is captured here.
T. HARRY WILLIAMS. Lincoln and His Generals. New York: Random House, 1952. Pp. viii, 363, $2.40.
Over half a century ago, T. Harry Williams wrote an exceptional work with as major theme that the performance of President Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief during the American Civil War positioning him as the true director of the war efforts of Northern armies and the progenitor of the country’s first modern command system. He shows Lincoln to be an able student of military strategy who ramped up quickly, grasped the end game and generally how to reach it, but struggled to find the right executioner of those plans. That he was even more skilled as a politician meant that he functioned superbly as leader in both political and military spheres throughout the conflict.
This is a work about the challenges of leadership set against what Williams calls the first of the “modern total wars.” (3) Williams chronicles the war from Lincoln’s perspective presenting the strengths and, more notably, the many foibles of the men who served the North in senior military positions. Their relative caliber appears to have been directly correlated to the attention Lincoln had to give them. More attention from and scrutiny by Lincoln was thus not a mark of achievement. Williams’ work reflects that relative attention. For example, he begins his discussion of McClellan in Chapter 2 and does not finish with him until Chapter 8 at which point Lincoln finally dismisses McClellan in disgust. (179) Williams takes his readers through the agonizing months Lincoln spent attempting to manage McClellan and his paranoia regarding enemy troop strength and inability to execute when it would put his men in harm’s way or there was the potential to fail. Grant, by contrast to McClellan, received some but not extensive coverage by Williams reflecting Lincoln’s own confidence that Grant could carry forward Lincoln’s strategic aims effectively. Williams concludes that in the waning months of 1864, Lincoln had sufficient trust in Grant to intervene little in the war’s management. That is not to say that Lincoln shrugged off any responsibility in setting strategic direction or in monitoring closely “and sometimes anxiously” the conduct of the war. (336) He was quick to reset direction when required.
Williams’ organization of the book is driven largely by the order of his encounters with senior military leaders. He begins with the infamous but corpulent and declining General Winfield Scott. We are given images of Lincoln chatting by the fire in Scott’s drawing room about daily reports and strategic options. Lincoln begins to reveal his own nascent military strategies and to measure those proposed by the militarist Scott against civilian and political realities. Lincoln also demonstrates an important resolve to make and stand by decisions even if they go against those of senior military advisors. Williams provides illustration of this by pointing to Lincoln’s grasping of the strategic golden nugget within Scott’s Anaconda Plan of control of the Mississippi but Lincoln’s rejection of its execution because it risked a drawn out and uncertain resolution.
Regular army man Irvin McDowell is then tagged by Lincoln to take command of the swelling number of troops in and around Washington, a number that by the summer of 1861 exceeded 30,000 men. Lincoln pushes McDowell, of course, into an offensive movement at Manassas to disastrous results. While the mark against McDowell’s mediocre reputation is severe, Williams allows us to see that Lincoln is willing to bear some of the blame.
The scene is thus set for the summoning of McClellan to Washington. This begins Lincoln’s relationship with “the problem child of the Civil War.” (25) Williams chronicles the early months of McClellan’s experiences in the East, his messianic complex, disrespect for Lincoln and others with whom he had to deal, and the efforts that Lincoln had to make to manage a man who held such promise but failed to deliver. It is clear that Lincoln, to this credit, attempted many different techniques in his efforts to supervise McClellan.
John C. Fremont, McClellan’s peer in the Western Department and a political appointment made by Lincoln himself, proves disastrous in his mismanagement of Missouri and a bitter disappointment. Williams captures well the odd quirks of both Fremont and the Blair family, his patrons, and the lengths to which Lincoln had to go to remove him.
Halleck is portrayed as only marginally effective and jealous enough of Grant’s successes in the field to take credit for them. (61) His self-directed shift to subordinate role as coordinator and communicator between Lincoln and his staff is fascinating.
Other commanders are mentioned primarily for their lack-luster performances including Rosecrans, Buell, Thomas, Banks, and Butler to name a few. Williams’ provides an excellent summary of each man including physical characteristics, approach to command, reputation, and personality traits. He often reveals the quirks or failings that made them less than acceptable as senior command candidates. For example, he describes Benjamin F. Butler as “ingenious, resourceful, and colorful, but …no field general.” (188) Williams’ description of Rosecrans reveals a well researched sum of the man from his “intensified Roman nose” to his “good strategic sense and aggressive instincts.” (186-187) But he is thorough enough to point to Rosecrans weaknesses including a lack of “balance and poise that a great commander should have” which revealed a man unable to “control himself and the situation.” (187)
Clearly apparent in this history is that Lincoln, while climbing a steep learning curve, became an astute war strategist. In fact, Williams contends that the notion of “total war” as a means of destroying the Confederate Army was identified earliest and most enthusiastically as a strategic plank by Lincoln who “saw the big picture” better than most of his commanders and staff. (7) He further asserts that no one in the military leadership of either side had the experience to wage war at the scale that would be America’s Civil War. Both sides shared an equal innocence of the knowledge war making. (4) That said, Lincoln’s performance when viewed against that of Davis is all the more impressive.
Williams points out that Lincoln exhibited many good qualities as a leader. By example, he was not quick to claim credit for the successes of Sherman, even though he would have been justified to do so given the strategic direction he provided. Rather, Lincoln showered praise on men whose efforts were successful. He seemed to simply want vigilance and self-reliance from his commanders, both qualities he saw in Grant. (315)
Williams’ use of primary sources is impressive and adds credibility to his conclusions. Many citations were from actual correspondence or official records of exchanges between Lincoln and his team or Halleck and the field commanders. This depth of research adds much to the work.
At the time of publication, this book was the only one to fully examine Lincoln’s performance as commander in chief and stood as such for many years. Interestingly, in 2009, historian James McPherson visited the same topic and drew much from Williams’ foundation in his work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. While good, I find it no better and in many ways a rehashing of Williams’ work, one that continues to stand on strong scholarship and goes far toward explaining Lincoln’s brilliance as both politician and military strategist.
Informative read about the Battle of Antietam prepared as a “Staff Ride Guide” by Ted Ballard, CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY, UNITED STATES ARMY. This assisted, among other things, with my understanding of artillery and particularly how units were organized who supported the guns. Interesting factoids from page 83 -84 (note this entire book is available online by clicking on the book image above):
“The artillery of both armies was generally organized into batteries of four or six guns. Regulations prescribed a captain as battery commander, while lieutenants commanded two-gun “sections.” Each gun made up a platoon, under a sergeant (“chief of the piece”) with eight crewmen and six drivers.
For transport, each gun was attached to a two-wheeled cart, known as a limber and drawn by a six-horse team. The limber chest carried thirty to fifty rounds of ammunition, depending on the size of guns in the battery. In addition to the limbers, each gun had at least one caisson, also drawn by a six-horse team. The caisson carried additional ammunition in two chests, as well as a spare wheel and tools. A horse-drawn forge and a battery wagon with tools accompanied each battery. A battery at full regulation strength included all officers, noncommissioned officers, buglers, drivers, cannoneers, and other specialized functions and might exceed 100 officers and men. With spare horses included, a typical six-gun battery might have 100-150 horses.
A battery could unlimber and fire an initial volley in about one minute, and each gun could continue firing two aimed shots a minute. A battery could “limber up” in about one minute as well. The battery practiced “direct fire”: the target was in view of the gun. The prescribed distance between guns was fourteen yards from hub to hub. Therefore, a six-gun battery would represent a front of about 100 yards. Depth of the battery position from the gun muzzle, passing the limber, to the rear of the caisson was prescribed as forty-seven yards. In practice, these measurements might be altered by terrain.”
Each July we bring out the film Gettysburg and watch it in a couple of sittings. (My husband can’t wait for the four plus hour epic to come out in Blu-ray.)
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s more than a bit hokey here and there but the scene of the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment is always a highlight.
My current reading for class discusses the legacy of bayonet charges from the Mexican War and the debate over the frequency of their use during the American Civil War still goes on. Undebatable is the inspired use of a downhill bayonet charge by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and its standing on the list of well-known actions at Gettysburg.
Check them out. Very much worth perusing.
The Library of Congress has a new entry in their always fascinating Civil War Photographs section. They challenge the authenticity of the photo above which the owner of the copyright, Levin C. Handy (1855-1932) and nephew of Mathew Brady, claims to be General Grant at Center Point, Virginia. They step the reader through their discovery process which reveals …. well I won’t spoil it for you. Find out for yourself how this photo was created here.
From class reading several weeks ago, I thought I would share a fascinating quote from T. Harry Williams and his 1952 work Lincoln and His Generals discussing the military preparedness of both sides to wage the war between the states.
“All of them were unready for war in 1861, and in that year and even later were not able to furnish field commanders with the technical information or advice or supplies which they were suddenly called on to provide. One of the most ironic examples of American military unreadiness was the spectacle of Northern – and Southern – generals fighting in their own country and not knowing where they were going or how to get there. Before the war the government had collected no topographical information about neighboring countries or even the United States, except for the West. No accurate maps existed. General Henry W. Halleck was running a campaign in the western theater in 1862 with maps he got from a book store.”
By the way, I highly recommend the David Rumsey Map Collection site available here. Outstanding collection of maps and the user interface is superb!
Currently reading… Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhitney and Perry D. Jamieson. Incredible statistics describing the carnage resulting from Confederate offensives against fortified positions.
When Grant became General in Chief of northern armies in 1864, he was 42 years old, 5’8″ tall and weighed 135 pounds.
The good folks at Doubleday sent me a review copy of The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer. It is available for pre-order now from WigWags Books and will be published on June 23rd.
- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday (June 23, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385525931
- ISBN-13: 978-0385525930
- Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
This is the story of Newton Knight who was a Unionist living in Mississippi and strongly anti-slavery. The authors suggest that he was “the South’s strangest soldier.”
Some quick facts:
- In Jones County Mississippi, fifty-three men had not only fought as anti-Confederate guerrillas, but formally enlisted in the Union army in New Orleans
- Knight’s group of guerrillas “remained unconquered though surrounded by Confederate Armies from start to finish.”
- Jones was drafted into the Confederate army but refused to fight and eventually deserted.
- Knight had two families, one white and one black. His black family was with a slave named Rachel who was owned by his family and who helped him during the war. He acknowledged her children as his own.
I profess to getting behind in my reading for school because of this book. I promise to write a proper review after I’m finished reading it. I can say that it is VERY well written.
Newton Knight’s story is being made into a film currently in production. Filmmaker Gary Ross is writer, director, and one of several producers.
Sally Jenkins is an award-winning journalist currently with the Washington Post. She has authored eight books, three of New York Times bestsellers.
John Stauffer is Professor of English and African American Studies and Chair of the Committee on Higher Degrees in the History of American Civilization at Harvard.
His prior book, GIANTS: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, I mentioned in a previous post which you can read here.
After a delay of several weeks due to work obligations (reorganization), I’m starting up on Monday the course CIvil War Strategy and Tactics with great enthusiasm. Having seen the syllabus, I know that we begin with a discussion/debate of Jomini’s (pictured right) influence on the strategies employed by both sides during the Civil War. We read, (or in my case read again, as this was assigned in the course Great Military Philosophers), John Shy’s masterful essay on Jomini that appears in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Do a search on my blog on the word Jomini (or click here as I’ve done it for you) and you may be as amazed as I was on the number of posts I’ve made about him.
See previous posts about the class below outlining the texts we’ll be using.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was reading Civil War Hospital Sketches, a collection of pieces that Louisa May Alcott wrote for The Commonwealth, a well known Boston newspaper (now in the public domain). Alcott tells of her experiences at a hospital in Washington D.C. in which she cared for injured and ill Civil War soldiers as a volunteer nurse. Much of the book is filled with Alcott’s humor but her chapter titled “A Night,” conveys the tragic side of the war. This moving account of the last days of a patient named John is quite remarkable.
He came in a day or two after the others; and, one evening, when I entered my “pathetic room,” I found a lately emptied bed occupied by a large, fair man, with a fine face, and the serenest eyes I ever met. One of the earlier comers had often spoken of a friend, who had remained behind, that those apparently worse wounded than himself might reach a shelter first. It seemed a David and Jonathan sort of friendship. The man fretted for his mate, and was never tired of praising John his courage, sobriety, self-denial, and unfailing kindliness of heart; always winding up with: “He’s an out an’ out fine feller, ma’am; you see if he aint.”
I had some curiosity to behold this piece of excellence, and when he came, watched him for a night or two, before I made friends with him; for, to tell the truth, I was a little afraid of the stately looking man, whose bed had to be lengthened to accommodate his commanding stature; who seldom spoke, uttered no complaint, asked no sympathy, but tranquilly observed what went on about him; and, as he lay high upon his pillows, no picture of dying statesman or warrior was ever fuller of real dignity than this Virginia blacksmith. A most attractive face he had, framed in brown hair and beard, comely featured and full of vigor, as yet unsubdued by pain; thoughtful and often beautifully mild while watching the afflictions of others, as if entirely forgetful of his own. His mouth was grave and firm, with plenty of will and courage in its lines, but a smile could make it as sweet as any woman’s; and his eyes were child’s eyes, looking one fairly in the face, with a clear, straightforward glance, which promised well for such as placed their faith in him. He seemed to cling to life, as if it were rich in duties and delights, and he had learned the secret of content. The only time I saw his composure disturbed, was when my surgeon brought another to examine John, who scrutinized their faces with an anxious look, asking of the elder: “Do you think I shall pull through, sir?” “I hope so, my man.” And, as the two passed on, John’s eye still followed them, with an intentness which would have won a clearer answer from them, had they seen it. A momentary shadow flitted over his face; then came the usual serenity, as if, in that brief eclipse, he had acknowledged the existence of some hard possibility, and, asking nothing yet hoping all things, left the issue in God’s hands, with that submission which is true piety.
The next night, as I went my rounds with Dr. P., I happened to ask which man in the room probably suffered most; and, to my great surprise, he glanced at John:
“Every breath he draws is like a stab; for the ball pierced the left lung, broke a rib, and did no end of damage here and there; so the poor lad can find neither forgetfulness nor ease, because he must lie on his wounded back or suffocate. It will be a hard struggle, and a long one, for he possesses great vitality; but even his temperate life can’t save him; I wish it could.”
“You don’t mean he must die, Doctor?”
“Bless you there’s not the slightest hope for him; and you’d better tell him so before long; women have a way of doing such things comfortably, so I leave it to you. He won’t last more than a day or two, at furthest.”
I could have sat down on the spot and cried heartily, if I had not learned the wisdom of bottling up one’s tears for leisure moments. Such an end seemed very hard for such a man, when half a dozen worn out, worthless bodies round him, were gathering up the remnants of wasted lives, to linger on for years perhaps, burdens to others, daily reproaches to themselves. The army needed men like John, earnest, brave, and faithful; fighting for liberty and justice with both heart and hand, true soldiers of the Lord. I could not give him up so soon, or think with any patience of so excellent a nature robbed of its fulfillment, and blundered into eternity by the rashness or stupidity of those at whose hands so many lives may be required. It was an easy thing for Dr. P. to say: “Tell him he must die,” but a cruelly hard thing to do, and by no means as “comfortable” as he politely suggested. I had not the heart to do it then, and privately indulged the hope that some change for the better might take place, in spite of gloomy prophesies; so, rendering my task unnecessary. A few minutes later, as I came in again, with fresh rollers, I saw John sitting erect, with no one to support him, while the surgeon dressed his back. I had never hitherto seen it done; for, having simpler wounds to attend to, and knowing the fidelity of the attendant, I had left John to him, thinking it might be more agreeable and safe; for both strength and experience were needed in his case. I had forgotten that the strong man might long for the gentle tendance of a woman’s hands, the sympathetic magnetism of a woman’s presence, as well as the feebler souls about him. The Doctor’s words caused me to reproach myself with neglect, not of any real duty perhaps, but of those little cares and kindnesses that solace homesick spirits, and make the heavy hours pass easier. John looked lonely and forsaken just then, as he sat with bent head, hands folded on his knee, and no outward sign of suffering, till, looking nearer, I saw great tears roll down and drop upon the floor. It was a new sight there; for, though I had seen many suffer, some swore, some groaned, most endured silently, but none wept. Yet it did not seem weak, only very touching, and straightway my fear vanished, my heart opened wide and took him in, as, gathering the bent head in my arms, as freely as if he had been a little child, I said, “Let me help you bear it, John.”
Never, on any human countenance, have I seen so swift and beautiful a look of gratitude, surprise and comfort, as that which answered me more eloquently than the whispered
“Thank you, ma’am, this is right good! this is what I wanted!”
“Then why not ask for it before?”
“I didn’t like to be a trouble; you seemed so busy, and I could manage to get on alone.”
“You shall not want it any more, John.”
Nor did he; for now I understood the wistful look that sometimes followed me, as I went out, after a brief pause beside his bed, or merely a passing nod, while busied with those who seemed to need me more than he, because more urgent in their demands; now I knew that to him, as to so many, I was the poor substitute for mother, wife, or sister, and in his eyes no stranger, but a friend who hitherto had seemed neglectful; for, in his modesty, he had never guessed the truth. This was changed now; and, through the tedious operation of probing, bathing, and dressing his wounds, he leaned against me, holding my hand fast, and, if pain wrung further tears from him, no one saw them fall but me. When he was laid down again, I hovered about him, in a remorseful state of mind that would not let me rest, till I had bathed his face, brushed his “bonny brown hair,” set all things smooth about him, and laid a knot of heath and heliotrope on his clean pillow. While doing this, he watched me with the satisfied expression I so liked to see; and when I offered the little nosegay, held it carefully in his great hand, smoothed a ruffled leaf or two, surveyed and smelt it with an air of genuine delight, and lay contentedly regarding the glimmer of the sunshine on the green. Although the manliest man among my forty, he said, “Yes, ma’am,” like a little boy; received suggestions for his comfort with the quick smile that brightened his whole face; and now and then, as I stood tidying the table by his bed, I felt him softly touch my gown, as if to assure himself that I was there. Anything more natural and frank I never saw, and found this brave John as bashful as brave, yet full of excellencies and fine aspirations, which, having no power to express themselves in words, seemed to have bloomed into his character and made him what he was.
After that night, an hour of each evening that remained to him was devoted to his ease or pleasure. He could not talk much, for breath was precious, and he spoke in whispers; but from occasional conversations, I gleaned scraps of private history which only added to the affection and respect I felt for him. Once he asked me to write a letter, and as I settled pen and paper, I said, with an irrepressible glimmer of feminine curiosity, “Shall it be addressed to wife, or mother, John?”
“Neither, ma’am; I’ve got no wife, and will write to mother myself when I get better. Did you think I was married because of this?” he asked, touching a plain ring he wore, and often turned thoughtfully on his finger when he lay alone.
“Partly that, but more from a settled sort of look you have; a look which young men seldom get until they marry.”
“I didn’t know that; but I’m not so very young, ma’am, thirty in May, and have been what you might call settled this ten years; for mother’s a widow, I’m the oldest child she has, and it wouldn’t do for me to marry until Lizzy has a home of her own, and Laurie’s learned his trade; for we’re not rich, and I must be father to the children and husband to the dear old woman, if I can.”
“No doubt but you are both, John; yet how came you to go to war, if you felt so? Wasn’t enlisting as bad as marrying?”
“No, ma’am, not as I see it, for one is helping my neighbor, the other pleasing myself. I went because I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want the glory or the pay; I wanted the right thing done, and people kept saying the men who were in earnest ought to fight. I was in earnest, the Lord knows! but I held off as long as I could, not knowing which was my duty; mother saw the case, gave me her ring to keep me steady, and said ‘Go:’ so I went.”
A short story and a simple one, but the man and the mother were portrayed better than pages of fine writing could have done it.
“Do you ever regret that you came, when you lie here suffering so much?”
“Never, ma’am; I haven’t helped a great deal, but I’ve shown I was willing to give my life, and perhaps I’ve got to; but I don’t blame anybody, and if it was to do over again, I’d do it. I’m a little sorry I wasn’t wounded in front; it looks cowardly to be hit in the back, but I obeyed orders, and it don’t matter in the end, I know.”
Poor John! it did not matter now, except that a shot in the front might have spared the long agony in store for him. He seemed to read the thought that troubled me, as he spoke so hopefully when there was no hope, for he suddenly added:
“This is my first battle; do they think it’s going to be my last?”
“I’m afraid they do, John.”
It was the hardest question I had ever been called upon to answer; doubly hard with those clear eyes fixed on mine, forcing a truthful answer by their own truth. He seemed a little startled at first, pondered over the fateful fact a moment, then shook his head, with a glance at the broad chest and muscular limbs stretched out before him:
“I’m not afraid, but it’s difficult to believe all at once. I’m so strong it don’t seem possible for such a little wound to kill me.”
Merry Mercutio’s dying words glanced through my memory as he spoke: “‘Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ’tis enough.” And John would have said the same could he have seen the ominous black holes between his shoulders; he never had; and, seeing the ghastly sights about him, could not believe his own wound more fatal than these, for all the suffering it caused him.
“Shall I write to your mother, now?” I asked, thinking that these sudden tidings might change all plans and purposes; but they did not; for the man received the order of the Divine Commander to march with the same unquestioning obedience with which the soldier had received that of the human one; doubtless remembering that the first led him to life, and the last to death.
“No, ma’am; to Laurie just the same; he’ll break it to her best, and I’ll add a line to her myself when you get done.”
So I wrote the letter which he dictated, finding it better than any I had sent; for, though here and there a little ungrammatical or inelegant, each sentence came to me briefly worded, but most expressive; full of excellent counsel to the boy, tenderly bequeathing “mother and Lizzie” to his care, and bidding him good bye in words the sadder for their simplicity. He added a few lines, with steady hand, and, as I sealed it, said, with a patient sort of sigh, “I hope the answer will come in time for me to see it;” then, turning away his face, laid the flowers against his lips, as if to hide some quiver of emotion at the thought of such a sudden sundering of all the dear home ties.
These things had happened two days before; now John was dying, and the letter had not come. I had been summoned to many death beds in my life, but to none that made my heart ache as it did then, since my mother called me to watch the departure of a spirit akin to this in its gentleness and patient strength. As I went in, John stretched out both hands:
“I knew you’d come! I guess I’m moving on, ma’am.”
He was; and so rapidly that, even while he spoke, over his face I saw the grey veil falling that no human hand can lift. I sat down by him, wiped the drops from his forehead, stirred the air about him with the slow wave of a fan, and waited to help him die. He stood in sore need of helpand I could do so little; for, as the doctor had foretold, the strong body rebelled against death, and fought every inch of the way, forcing him to draw each breath with a spasm, and clench his hands with an imploring look, as if he asked, “How long must I endure this, and be still!” For hours he suffered dumbly, without a moment’s respire, or a moment’s murmuring; his limbs grew cold, his face damp, his lips white, and, again and again, he tore the covering off his breast, as if the lightest weight added to his agony; yet through it all, his eyes never lost their perfect serenity, and the man’s soul seemed to sit therein, undaunted by the ills that vexed his flesh.
One by one, the men woke, and round the room appeared a circle of pale faces and watchful eyes, full of awe and pity; for, though a stranger, John was beloved by all. Each man there had wondered at his patience, respected his piety, admired his fortitude, and now lamented his hard death; for the influence of an upright nature had made itself deeply felt, even in one little week. Presently, the Jonathan who so loved this comely David, came creeping from his bed for a last look and word. The kind soul was full of trouble, as the choke in his voice, the grasp of his hand, betrayed; but there were no tears, and the farewell of the friends was the more touching for its brevity.
“Old boy, how are you?” faltered the one.
“Most through, thank heaven!” whispered the other.
“Can I say or do anything for you anywheres?”
“Take my things home, and tell them that I did my best.”
“I will! I will!”
“Good bye, Ned.”
“Good bye, John, good bye!”
They kissed each other, tenderly as women, and so parted, for poor Ned could not stay to see his comrade die. For a little while, there was no sound in the room but the drip of water, from a stump or two, and John’s distressful gasps, as he slowly breathed his life away. I thought him nearly gone, and had just laid down the fan, believing its help to be no longer needed, when suddenly he rose up in his bed, and cried out with a bitter cry that broke the silence, sharply startling every one with its agonized appeal:
“For God’s sake, give me air!”
It was the only cry pain or death had wrung from him, the only boon he had asked; and none of us could grant it, for all the airs that blew were useless now. Dan flung up the window. The first red streak of dawn was warming the grey east, a herald of the coming sun; John saw it, and with the love of light which lingers in us to the end, seemed to read in it a sign of hope of help, for, over his whole face there broke that mysterious expression, brighter than any smile, which often comes to eyes that look their last. He laid himself gently down; and, stretching out his strong right arm, as if to grasp and bring the blessed air to his lips in a fuller flow, lapsed into a merciful unconsciousness, which assured us that for him suffering was forever past. He died then; for, though the heavy breaths still tore their way up for a little longer, they were but the waves of an ebbing tide that beat unfelt against the wreck, which an immortal voyager had deserted with a smile. He never spoke again, but to the end held my hand close, so close that when he was asleep at last, I could not draw it away. Dan helped me, warning me as he did so that it was unsafe for dead and living flesh to lie so long together; but though my hand was strangely cold and stiff, and four white marks remained across its back, even when warmth and color had returned elsewhere, I could not but be glad that, through its touch, the presence of human sympathy, perhaps, had lightened that hard hour.
When they had made him ready for the grave, John lay in state for half an hour, a thing which seldom happened in that busy place; but a universal sentiment of reverence and affection seemed to fill the hearts of all who had known or heard of him; and when the rumor of his death went through the house, always astir, many came to see him, and I felt a tender sort of pride in my lost patient; for he looked a most heroic figure, lying there stately and still as the statue of some young knight asleep upon his tomb. The lovely expression which so often beautifies dead faces, soon replaced the marks of pain, and I longed for those who loved him best to see him when half an hour’s acquaintance with Death had made them friends. As we stood looking at him, the ward master handed me a letter, saying it had been forgotten the night before. It was John’s letter, come just an hour too late to gladden the eyes that had longed and looked for it so eagerly! yet he had it; for, after I had cut some brown locks for his mother, and taken off the ring to send her, telling how well the talisman had done its work, I kissed this good son for her sake, and laid the letter in his hand, still folded as when I drew my own away, feeling that its place was there, and making myself happy with the thought, that, even in his solitary place in the “Government Lot,” he would not be without some token of the love which makes life beautiful and outlives death. Then I left him, glad to have known so genuine a man, and carrying with me an enduring memory of the brave Virginia blacksmith, as he lay serenely waiting for the dawn of that long day which knows no night.
In this world of hustle and bustle, having books read to me is a wonderful luxury. Today I found a terrific site, Freeaudio.org, that takes largely public domain works and provides them free to the public in audio form. This trumps my Kindle 2 text-to-speech feature in that real human readers are easier to listen to.
I picked up the American Library version of Frederick Douglass’ works back in January and love it, but with freeaudio.org, I can clean the garage and “listen” to a professional reading of Douglass’ work as performed by Marvin Pain, an excellent reader.
I will be adding the site to my “Primary Sources” links. Note that some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches are also available.
I plan on submitting a donation and asking that they begin putting up some of the biographies and autobiographies of our American Civil War military men as well as soldiers diaries.
The good folks at Oxford University Press have sent me a review copy of Jennifer L. Weber’s book, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North. I’m very much looking forward to reading Weber’s work as it addresses the political war that was in play during the American Civil War in the North. This quick excerpt from the back jacket gives a taste of the ferocity of that conflict.
The Northern home-front during the Civil War was far from tranquil. Fierce political debates set communities on edge, spurred secret plots against the Union, and triggered widespread violence. At the heart of all the turmoil stood the anti-war Democrats, nicknamed “Copperheads.” Now, Jennifer L. Weber offers the first full-length portrait of this powerful faction to appear in almost half a century. Weber reveals how the Copperheads came perilously close to defeating Lincoln and ending the war in the South’s favor.
Note that James M. McPherson provides the foreword.
Dr. Weber is an Assistant Professor with the Department of History at Kansas University and you can see her profile on the campus site here. Oxford University Press provides an online Q & A with Dr. Weber on her book here.
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 9, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195306686
- ISBN-13: 978-0195306682
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
- Note that this book is also available in a Kindle edition.
I’ve spent some time at the Kindle Store perusing their books for deals on American Civil War Books. I’ll follow up with additional lists on Military History and History in general although they are numerous. One plus – many of the Army Field manuals are available for $0.99, You could, of course, download most of the latter from other sites and load to you Kindle as well.
Here’s my list so far of ACW books that are free or under $2.00 in the Kindle Store. Bear in mind that most of these are in the public domain so you can also load them to your Kindle 2 for free in the manners I described in previous posts.
History of the Civil War, 1861 – 1865 by James Ford Rhodes $0.99
Memoirs and Biographies
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army Volume 1 by Philip Henry, General, 1831-1888 Sheridan – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army Volume 2 by Philip Henry, General, 1831-1888 Sheridan – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of P.H. Sheridan, both volumes in one file by Philip Henry Sheridan – $0.99
Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant Volume 1 by Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885 Grant – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant Volume 2 by Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885 Grant – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain- $0.99
Letters of Ulysses S. Grant to His Father and His Youngest Sister, 1857-1878 by Ulysses S. Grant and Jesse Grant Cramer – $0.99
Campaigning with Grant (1907, [c1897]), First Person Account of Ulysses S. Grant During the Civil War by Horace Porter – $1.59
Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, both volumes in a single file by Colonel G.F.R. Henderson – $0.99
Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War by G. F. R. Henderson – $0.99
Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War by G.F.R. Henderson and Viscount Wolseley – $0.99
The Life of General Robert E. Lee by Captain Robert E. Lee (his son) – $0.99
A Life of General Robert E. Lee by John Esten Cooke – $0.99
Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee by his son by Captain Robert E. Lee – $0.99
With Lee in Virginia, a Story of the American Civil War by G.A. Henty – $0.99
Memoirs of General William T. Sherman by William T. Sherman – $0.99
Thirteen Months in the Rebel Army by William G. Stevenson – $0.99
Captains of the Civil War – A Chronicle of the Blue and the Gray by William Wood – $0.99
Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, both volumes in a single file by Jacob Dolson Cox – $0.99
Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox – $1.84
Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 2 by Jacob Dolson Cox – $1.84
Reminiscences of Two Years with the Colored Troops by Joshua M. Addeman – $0.99
Army Life in a Black Regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson – $1.00
Heroes of the Great Conflict: Life and Services of William Farrar Smith, Major General, United States Volunteer in the Civil War by James Harrison Wilson – $0.99
The Scouts of Stonewall: The Story of the Great Valley Campaign by Joseph A. (Joseph Alexander), 1862-1919 Altsheler
The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis
History of Company E of the Sixth Minnesota Regiment by Alfred J. Hill – $1.59
Woman’s Work in the Civil War; A Record of Heroism, Patriotism, and Patience by M.D. L. P. Brockett – $1.80
Memories: a Record of Personal Experience and Adventure During Four Years of War by Mrs. Fannie A. Beers – $0.99
Fortifications and Armaments
The Story of the Kearsarge and the Alabama by A. K. Browne – $0.99
The Cruise of the Alabama and the Sumter, both volumes in a single file by Raphael Semmes- $0.99
The Great Railroad Adventure – a True Tale from the American Civil War by Lieut. William Pittenger – $0.99
Andersonville: a Story of Rebel Military Prisons, all four volumes in a single file by John McElroy – $0.99
The Life, Crime & Capture of John Wilkes Booth by George Alfred Townsend – $0.99
Speeches and Legislative Documents
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln – $0.49
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln – $0.49
The Emancipation Proclamation (Preliminary and Final Version) by Abraham Lincoln and William Seward – $0.80
Jefferson Davis’ Inaugural Address by Jefferson Davis – $0.99
Civil War Photography
The Little Regiment and Other Episodes of the American Civil War by Stephen Crane. Published by MobileReference (mobi) by Stephen Crane – $0.99
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane – $0.99
A friend tipped me off on Friday to a EXCEPTIONAL site, AcademicEarth.org, which provides free audio-visual lecture series of some of the world’s best scholars.
David W. Blight’s entire Spring 2008 term course, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877, is online for free viewing. Professor Blight is the Class of 1954 Professor of History at Yale University and Director of the The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, also at Yale University.
In addition to the course, presented in an extremely user friendly format, Academic Earth provides a syllabus, reading list (yes I’ve already ordered them all), and full text transcripts of all lectures. GOLD MINE.
I’ve made it through 13 of 27 lectures and they are both outstanding and mesmerizing. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
My copy of Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand arrived this week. Thanks to Daniel Sauerwein, a fellow WordPress blogger over at Civil War History for the recommendation. Published by the good folks at University of South Carolina Press, it is edited by James M. McPherson and William J. Cooper, Jr. Contributors include:
- Michael Les Benedict
- Drew Gilpin Faust
- Gary W. Gallagher
- Joseph Thomas Glatthaar
- Michael F. Holt
- Peter Kolchin
- Reid Mitchell
- Mark E. Neely, Jr.
- Philip Shaw Paludan
- George C. Rable
- James L. Roark
- Emory M. Thomas
Note: I’ve put up new bookshelves over at WigWags Books and have begun adding links to my – no kidding – MANY books on writing. It will take me some time to get them all added. That said, there is a new shelf titled specifically, “Writing – Civil War” on which I’ve placed the book above. Please let me know if you’re aware of others in this category.
Finally, I’ve added a new icon/picture to the write navbar of WigWags on which you can click to be directed to books on my bookshelves. This is an actual image of just a few of the books on my home bookshelves. You’ll find the new icon right under the title,
Find books on my bookshelves at WigWags Books
This week, I had the opportunity to view the independent film American Drummer Boy by Writer/Director C. Dorian Walker and producer, Elain Nogay Walker. The story takes place in the Western Theater of the American Civil War and chronicles the coming-of-age of young Johnny Boone (Cody Newton) who runs away from his Kentucky farm in hopes of joining his hometown unit, Company A of the 11th Kentucky Infantry, U.S. His adventures take him behind Confederate lines where he is captured and accused of being a spy. With the help of a shady English minstrel, Reginald T. Deets (Clay Watkins), he escapes but is forced to mascaraed as a Rebel drummer with the 24th Mississippi Regiment. He experiences battle on the other side before eventually escaping to the North and finding his unit. There, while serving as drummer boy, he demonstrates valor under fire and is awarded the Medal of Honor (this a true occurrence).
Walker bases the storyline on a compilation of true events. Those events are described in some detail in a companion documentary, Call to War, also on the DVD, which is quite good and includes interviews with historians such as Bill Bright, Curator of the Kentucky Historical Society. It tells the true stories of William Horsfall, 14, who became one of the youngest recipients of the Medal of Honor and Asa Lewis who, although serving with distinction, was sentenced to death before a firing squad of his own unit because he went home to help his recently widowed mother put a crop in.
Two performances stand out in the film. Cody Newton (X Files, The Movie) is quite good in his lead role of young Johnny Boone (pictured above). Clay Watkins also does an admirable job as Reginald T. Deets, Johnny’s sometimes mentor. The music score by Eric Colvin is outstanding.
The film will be of interest to Civil War re-enactors because of its attention to historical details and would be perfect for young audiences as a teaching tool for the American Civil War. The team has put together a nice website which includes teacher resources available here. Recommend.
I am going to begin in earnest to find a suitable topic for my thesis. I don’t expect to have one locked in until I get another course or two under my belt but I am interested in the opinions of many of you who I would consider expert on topics of Civil War military history. Where are there gaps in scholarship that need filling from your perspective?
Let me hear from you!
The good folks at Hill and Wang sent me a review copy of Tom Chaffin’s book, The H.L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy which arrived today. I’m really jazzed about this since I wrote a post on the Hunley a while back (see On Dog Tags, Sunken Confederate Subs, and Graves Registration). Fascinating stuff.
The book’s official webpage is here and includes some interesting features including interactive blueprints of the sub.
Hill and Wang
Published: September 2008
Trim: 5 1/2 X x 8 1/4 inches
352 pages, 16 Pages of Black-and-White Illustrations/2 Maps/Appendix/Notes/Bibliography/Index
I found Professor Chaffin’s credentials (see his page at the University of Tennessee here) impressive and will enjoy reading the text version of his dissertation as well.
Ph.D., U.S. History, May 1995; Emory University. Dissertation: “‘Buffalo Hunt’: Narciso López and the Clandestine U.S. War against Cuba, 1848-1851.”
M.A., American Civilization, 1982, New York University. Thesis: “Toward a Poetics of Technology: Hart Crane and the American Sublime.” B.A., English, “with honors,” and philosophy minor, 1977, Georgia State University.
Over the weekend, I added quite a few links to the right navbar which I use to keep myself organized. Here’s a quick run down of several of the new adds. There’s a theme in here somewhere….
- Links to all state historical societies
- The Historical Maritime Society
- Smith’s Master Index to Maritime Museums (WOW!)
- Portsmouth Historic Dockyards (GO if you get a chance!)
- Five excellent new links to sites related to slavery filed under “Slavery Links”
Yesterday, I was pleased to receive a review copy of James M. McPherson’s upcoming release, Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life from Oxford University Press. It is scheduled to be released on the date marking the 200th year since Lincoln’s birth. While I’ve yet to complete it, I was impressed by Dr. McPherson’s candor in the introduction about his own shift in opinion about Lincoln and his presidency. While initially critical of Lincoln, not unlike the abolitionists of the era of his presidency, McPherson’s years of study brought new appreciation for Lincoln’s skills as an adroit commander-in-chief tasked with challenges of incredible complexity.
Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 1, 2009)
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches
Class has started, Antebellum America. Books have been added to the reading list, some familiar and respected authors.
First up, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South by Kenneth M. Stampp.
And, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men by Eric Foner.
On October 29, 2008, the National Parks Conservation Association’s Center (NPCA) for the State of the Parks released the first of ten Civil War park assessments. It presented a “good news – bad news” story. According to Perry Wheeler, with the NPCA, the Vicksburg assessment…
“…finds that overall conditions of the park’s known cultural resources rated a score of 67 out of 100, indicating fair conditions. This score includes ratings for the park’s historic structures, cultural landscapes, archaeology sites, and extensive museum collection.” [The Vicksburg assessment is available in its entirety by clicking here.]
Wheeler indicated that a recent grant of $142,000, “received as part of the National Park Centennial Challenge program, additional maintenance funding and staff needs” will help, but it’s only a start.
“NPCA’s assessment found that the park is in need of an additional 9.4 full-time employees and roughly $716,000 in funding, which obviously the grant will help with. The park currently has only two full-time cultural resource staff: a historian and a museum curator.
Furthermore, Vicksburg’s interpretive staff consists of only two interpreters, two guides, and one supervisory park ranger — not enough to serve the 700,000 people who visit the park each year. Current staff levels equal 140,000 visitors per ranger each year!!”
If you’re not a supporter, consider becoming one or help spread the word.
Find out how on the Civil War Preservation Trust site here.
The Vicksburg National Military Park photostream on flickr is available here.
Peter Maslowski and Allan R. Millett. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. Enlarged edition. Simon & Schuster, 1994. See the book on publisher’s site here.
This monumental survey of American military history has three stated purposes. The first is to analyze the development of military policy. The second is to examine the characteristics and behavior of the United States armed forces in the execution of that policy and the third is to illuminate the impact of military policy on America’s international relations and domestic development. Millett and Maslowski propose that there are six major themes that position military history within the larger context of American history. These include the following and are quoted from the text.
- Rational military considerations alone have rarely shaped military policies and programs. The political system and societal values have imposed constraints on defense matters.
- American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most notably a mixed force of professionals and citizen-soldiers.
- Despite the popular belief that the United States has generally been unprepared for war, policy makers have done remarkably well in preserving the nation’s security.
- The nation’s firm commitment to civilian control of the armed forces requires careful attention to civil-military relations.
- The armed forces of the nation have become progressively more nationalized and professionalized.
- Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, but especially during the twentieth century, industrialization has shaped the way the nation has fought.
The authors further suggest that Americans do not consider themselves a warring people but have in fact become involved in a number of conflicts and that because of this, the study of the United States’ military history is important in if one hopes to gain better insight into both America’s history and its current and future identity.
Millett and Maslowski structure their book chronologically, which is completely fitting. They begin with a survey of colonists from 1609 – 1689. They devote a chapter as well to the Colonial Wars that occurred between 1689 and 1763. The American Revolution follows and includes the years between 1763 and 1783. Two chapters cover the military history of the new republic including its expansion. This includes the period 1783 – 1860 after which the country is on the precipice of civil war. Two chapters are devoted to the American Civil War the first focusing on the early years of 1861 and 1862. The second surveys the years between 1863 and the war’s end in 1865. And so the format continues covering major years of either military growth or conflict through to two great wars. Several chapters are devoted to the period spanning the Cold War during which the Korean War took place. The Vietnam War covers the period from 1961 – 1975. The periods marking the end of the Cold War follow and then a chapter is devoted to the Gulf War.The book was written and published in its revised format prior to the Iraq War.
Millett and Maslowski’s work provides outstanding bibliographies expanded in the revised edition to include selected references at the end of every chapter as well as a generous General Bibliography. It also includes an excellent set of illustrations and photographs. This work is intended for students of American military history and American history in general. It should also appeal to the reader who wants a perspective on the events of world history in which the American military has been engaged.
Both authors bring impeccable credentials to their authorship of this text. Allan R. Millett (see his 2007 vitae here) is the Raymond E. Mason Jr. Professor Emeritus of History from The Ohio State University. He is the Stephen Ambrose Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. He received his B.A. in English from DePauw University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The Ohio State University. He is a retired colonel of the Marine Corps Reserve, and a specialist in the history of American military policy and 20th century wars and military institutions. He is one of the founders of the military history program at The Ohio State University. Dr. Millett was recently honored with the 2008 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing (see the news release here).
Peter Maslowski is Professor of History at the University of Nebraska where he specializes in the history of the Civil War, military, and Vietnam War. He received his B.A. from Miami University and M.A. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. Professor Maslowski served as the John F. Morrison Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff from 1986 to 1987. In 2002, Professor Maslowski, a highly regarded teacher/lecturer, received the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA). He is on the Advisory Board of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. For an excellent interview with Professor Maslowski on his career, see the 2005 interview in the Daily Nebraskan here
I have found no other resource on U.S. Military History that is so comprehensive in nature. Recommend.
This week I received a review copy of James M. McPherson’s new work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief from the good folks at Penguin Press. Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to diving in as Dr. McPherson’s books on Lincoln remain among my favorites.
He opens the book with the following.
“The insurgent leader…does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union; we can not voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory.”
—Lincoln’s annual message to Congress,
December 6, 1864
Tried by War
Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief
James M. McPherson – Author
Hardcover | 6.14 x 9.25in | 384 pages | ISBN 9781594201912 | 07 Oct 2008 | The Penguin Press
A work of fiction can be judged by many criteria. My approach is pretty simple.
1) Did it keep my interest past page five?
2) Did I find myself wanting to set other pressing activities aside to return to the story?
3) Did the characters grab me?
4) Was the writing such that I could see what the characters see?
5) If a mystery, did it keep me guessing?
6) Did I learn something?
7) Was I a bit blue the day after I finished it because — I didn’t want to be finished?
8) Would I recommend it to family, friend, or colleague?
Here is my run down on Sweetsmoke. The numbered answers below correlate, of course, to the aforementioned questions above.
1) By the time I thought about whether the story had held my interest past page five, I’d just finished Chapter 5. Enough said on that one.
2) My finances remain in a growing “to do” pile.
3) The protagonist, Cassius Howard, was entirely satisfying as the central player in the story. I found particularly intriguing his relationship with his owner, Hoke Howard. And what a fresh idea to make the “sleuth” of the murder mystery that is the undercurrent of the story, a plantation slave.
4) I found Mr. Fuller’s descriptive writing excellent. His recounting of the Battle of Antietam (see Antietam National Battleground link here), was shockingly realistic and worth the price of the book alone. He is a master of “showing,” not telling. Well done.
5) The mystery’s twists and turns definitely kept me guessing. I won’t reveal anything here…
6) While I was familiar with the history, Mr. Fuller’s description of plantation life from the slave’s perspective was insightful. Many readers will benefit from the historical aspects of the book.
7) I am completely miffed that I don’t get to continue the story this evening.
8) I just this minute loaned my copy to my sister to read on her vacation. She and her daughter will likely fight over it. Vacation reading is sacred. Only the best.
I received a review copy of David Fuller’s Sweetsmoke today from the good folks at Hyperion and very much look forward to reading it and passing along my impressions. Mr. Fuller is a screenwriter by profession. He has an interesting lineage of combatants in the American Civil War, which you can read more about on his website here.
Belatedly, I want to mention that I’ve received a pre-publication copy of Noah Andre Trudeau’s Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea, which I’ll hope to provide a full review of before too long. At first blush, it appears to be an excellent read.
Since this book falls into the category of Civil War Campaigns, I’ve added a shelf in my virtual bookstore to accommodate it which you can find here.
As a student of military history, one of the many things that I find so fascinating about Sherman’s march is that its destructive power encourages its consideration as “total war” a la Clausewitz. Can’t wait to dig in to this one.
For those of you in the Chicago area, Mr. Trudeau’s publisher Harper Collins, indicates that he will be publicizing his book at the following on Thursdays.
05:00 PM – 07:30 PM
PRITZKER MILITARY LIBRARY
2nd FL 610 N Fairbanks Court Chicago, IL 60611
Continuing my series on “Manet and the American Civil War,” (see posts 1 here, 2 here, 3 here, and 4 here. In posts 3 and 4, I introduced the captains and vessels of one of the most famous naval engagements of the American Civil War, the sea battle between the C.S.S. Alabama and the U.S.S. Kearsarge. And now to the battle…
Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, in their fascinating book Manet and the American Civil War, do an excellent job of sifting through sources for a non-partisan view of the events of Sunday, June 19, 1864, a view without the “spin” of media. 
The C.S.S. Alabama anchored in the Cherbourg roads, “a huge sheet of calm water sheltered from Channel currents by a breakwater,” on June 11, 1864. It had stopped to disembark 40 captives taken during raids on U.S. merchant ships and to refuel. Captain Semmes asked permission of “Vice Admiral Adolphe-Augustin Dupouy, head of the naval district headquartered in Cherbourg,” to have the Alabama undergo repairs in the naval doc.  The offer was denied and the request withdrawn. Semmes was now well aware that Captain Winslow and his U.S.S. Kearsarge had come after the Confederate raider and was hovering offshore in wait. While the French attempted diplomatic maneuvers, Captain Semmes informed Samuel Barron, “his senior officer in Paris,” that he intended to fight Winslow. 
“On the morning of Sunday, June 19, Alabama left the Cherbourg roads followed by the French navy flagship, Couronne, and accompanied by a steam yacht flying the Union Jack and a British yach club flag. Alabama fired the first shot. Having elected to fight starboard to starboard, Alabama and Kearsarge then steamed in interlocking circles five to seven times as the current pushed them west. Alabama sank, and Kearsarge returned to anchor on the land side of Cherbourg’s breakwater.” 
This from George Terry Sinclair, a native of Virginia sent to Europe in 1862 to buy ships for the Confederate Navy, in a letter to his immediate superior, Samuel Barron.
“After some exchanges at long range, they passed each other, using their starboard batteries. They then passed & repassed, always using the same battery (which Semmes had told me was his intention) after passing the seventh eighth time, I observed Semmes make sail forward, and stand in, and I thought I saw smoke issuing from the ship.” 
He was told by another observer that “Alabama ‘went down with her colors flying…the Flag… was the last thing to disappear.’ Sinclair’s own view of the climactic moment had been obscured by a house.” 
In the next post, Edouard Manet’s painting, The Battle of the “Kearsarge” and the “Alabama,” 1864.
 Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 31.
 Ibid., 28-29.
 Ibid., 31.
 Ibid., 28, 31.
 Ibid., 31-32.
 Ibid., 32.
Continuing my series on “Manet and the American Civil War,” (see posts 1 here, 2 here), in post 3 here, I introduced Captain Semmes of the C.S.S. Alabama, the target of U.S.S. Kearsarge in the waters off of Cherbourg France in 1864. This post provides background on the Kearsarge and her captain, John A. Winslow.
According to authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War, the U.S.S. Kearsarge was ordered built by U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles (click here for bio) in 1861 as a part of the Civil War emergency shipbuilding program intended to augment the number of vessels available for blockade duty. 
As of March 4, 1961, the U.S. Navy possessed ninety vessels, twenty-one of which were being overhauled of those remaining only twenty-four were in commission. U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles needed many more than that to blockade a coastline 3,500 miles long. Welles therefore launched an ambitious program of acquisition and construction. U.S.S. Kearsarge was one of the steam sloops that he ordered to be built. It was roughly 198 feet long, 34 feet across, and displaced 1,550 tons, third-rate in the navy’s classification system. Construction began on June 17, 1861. 
The U.S.S. Kearsarge “was a Mohican class steam sloop of war, and was built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine. She was commissioned in January 1862 and almost immediately deployed to European waters, where she spent nearly three years searching for Confederate raiders.” 
Her captain was John Ancrum Winslow (1811 – 1873), appointed in April of 1863 and given the task of patrolling European waters for Confederate raiders. He had begun his career as a midshipman in 1827 and saw action in the Mexican War and along the Mississippi during the Civil War.
In the next post, the sea battle between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama.
U.S. Library of Congress for photo of Gideon Welles available at
cwpb.04842 , accessed August 18, 2008.
[1,3] Naval Historical Center,
, accessed August 18, 2008.
 Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 25.
Dave Rosenthal, the Sunday and Readership Editor for the Baltimore Sun, asked me to contribute to a discussion of Civil War Books on their book blog, Read Street. I’m up for any opportunity to talk about books. Check out my recommendations and those of fellow commentators here.
Continuing from posts 1 here and 2 here, in this post I begin to examine what authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War call “one of the most celebrated naval battles of the American Civil War.”
The authors adeptly set the scene by providing the reasons why an American Civil War naval battle would take place in European waters and capture the imagination of artist Edouard Manet. They chronicle the debate that led to “Lincoln’s blockade” of the south contending that the very word “blockade” ultimately gave the “Confederate organization” the status of a “quasi government” which would have “a position among nations.” [i] This ultimately led to both Queen Victoria (see bio here) of Great Britain (May 13, 1861) and Emperor Napoleon III of France (June 11, 1861) declaring the neutrality of their respective countries. “The evolving rules and policies of neutrality would eventually play a large role in determining the circumstances under which, in June 1864, U.S.S. Kearsarge – a ship originally built to enforce Lincoln’s blockade – engaged and sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of France…” [ii]
The Alabama, a six screw steamer, was built in Great Britain by John Laird Sons and Company and found its way into Confederate hands because the “British customs agents, port authorities, prosecutors, judges, and courts found ways of understanding England’s Foreign Enlistment Act and the Queen’s declaration of neutrality.” [iii] Enacted during the reign of George III, the Act “prohibited the outfitting of, or aid to, vessels that would be used to commit hostilities against a nation with which England was not currently at war.” [iv} But in a clandestine series of events surrounding the vessels shake down cruise, the ship, known initially as simply No. 290, was acquired by Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch (1823 - 1901) [a fascinating fellow who deserves a post of his own] who saw it supplied and crewed sufficiently to sail to the Azores where its new captain, Southern “son” Raphael Semmes (1809 – 1877), would christen it the CSS Alabama on August 24, 1862. The “enterprising” and “abrasive” Semmes would become a celebrity for his raiding of Federal ships. His exploits would be enthusiastically covered by the London media, indicative of Great Britain’s sympathy for the “Confederate cause for almost the entire duration of the American Civil War.” [v]
[i - v] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).