Archive for May 2008
Above: Group of the Construction Corps U.S. Mil. R. Rds., with working tools, etc., Chattanooga, Tennessee
Courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-62364
Millett and Maslowski posit that President Abraham Lincoln did not have Jefferson Davis’ sensitivity about government interference with railroads. The evidence supports the point and also suggests that Davis’ hands-off approach expanded to other areas under his purview including signals and communications. Whether he was afflicted with chronic indecisiveness or was bowing to the perceived whims of a public unreceptive to “big government” is open for discussion but as in many things, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Regardless, it is clear that rational military considerations were not the sole concern in shaping the South’s military policies and programs. Had they been so, military needs would have received higher priority and the events of the war may have flowed differently.
Above: Lincoln and McClellan
The impact of the decision making processes in the Lincoln and Davis administrations and the respective Congresses as regards those issues impacting the military is indeed a fascinating one and worthy of continued analysis and review. Clearly the social, economic, and political nuances of the North versus the South had much to do with the directions taken within each section. But one is left to wonder whether the leadership qualities of Lincoln and Davis, including the ability to be decisive, allowed the North to more frequently follow a path guided by rational military reason.
Above: The engine “Firefly” on a trestle of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
This post continues from Part I, here.
Jefferson Davis (above) and the Confederate Congress, by contrast, were reluctant to wrestle control of the railroads away from civilian owners. This was consistent with a laissez faire pattern exhibited by Davis on a number of issues involving civilian commercial interests and may have been a response to the populace’s opposition to overbearing centralized government. The consequences were dire for Lee. In the winter of 1862, he found his Army of Northern Virginia completely reliant on its communications. [i]
Above: Pocotaligo, South Carolina – Railroad depot center of image surrounded by rough sketch of soldiers and covered wagons. Circa: 1865
Medium: 1 drawing on tan paper : pencil, black ink wash, and Chinese white ; 14.7 x 21.4 cm. (sheet).
Source: Library of Congress Ref: LC-USZ62-14306 (b&w film copy neg.)
With the mobility, indeed the survival, of the army dependent on the efficient use of the railroads, the railroad owners responded with an assertion of their individual rights. They failed to cooperate. Government shipments were accorded low priority. The railroads over which the animals’ feed had to be transported refused to use the space for bulk fodder. The breakdown of the railroad system led to a crisis in the supply of horses, mules, fodder, and subsistence. The Army of Northern Virginia was left hanging at the end of its lines of communications.[ii]
Above: Warrenton Depot, on the Orange & Alexandria RR, in August 1862. Supply point for Lee.
Davis’ refusal to give greater control to the military for operation of the railroads added to “the weight of this burden of waging war by improvisation within the confines of the Confederacy’s social and political ideals [and] helped break the back of Confederate offensive power.” [iii]
Edward Hagerman notes that problems continued into 1863 as “conflicts between the commissary agents of field commanders and those of the [Confederate] Subsistence Department hampered efficient gathering of available resources.” [iv] The largest obstacle was “the failure of the railroads to cooperate in the distribution of food surpluses from other states to the Army of Northern Virginia. Neither the army nor the government exercised any control over the railroads.” [v] It wasn’t until Lee’s army was faced with starvation that the Confederate Congress intervened. In April of 1863, it “hesitantly” granted Jefferson Davis the “authority to regulate the railroads.” [vi]
The laissez faire-minded Davis was as reluctant to accept the authority as the Confederate Congress was to bestow it. Here was the instrument to prevent a recurrence of the crisis of the past winter. It would enable through scheduling the interchange of rolling stock from one railroad to another. It also would enable the War Department, rather than the railroad owners, to decide on the priority of material to be transported. [vii]
Davis signed the bill into law but Congress ensured its ineffectiveness by failing to approve an “office of railroad superintendent” as proposed by the secretary of war and by sacking the temporary appointee. [viii] “Not until early 1865, far too late, did the Confederacy finally take control of the railroads.” [ix]
[i, ii, iii] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 121.
[iv, v] Ibid., 130.
[vi, vii, viii] Ibid., 131.
[ix] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, 165.
The decisions made by leaders of the North and South regarding the dispensations of their respective railroads, could arguably be some of the most impactful of the war. Armies on both sides considered railroads critical. But Lincoln and Davis approached the control and stewardship of these vital resources differently. The resulting policies did not equally reflect rational military consideration.
Above: United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln’s presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.
The need for oversight of the rails came early in the war. Edward Hagerman highlights Federal Quartermaster General Meigs’ complaints in the opening months of the war over the problems of coordination that arose “from civilian control of the railroads.” [i] In January of 1862, Congress gave Lincoln the authority he needed “to take control whenever public safety warranted it.” [ii] Lincoln moved decisively, appointing within thirty days Daniel C. McCallum (below) as director of the United States Military Railroads (USMRR).
Daniel C. McCallum (1815 – 1878)’
Photo Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain
In May of 1862, Abraham Lincoln “took formal possession of all railroads.” General McCallum recruited Herman Haupt (below), a “brilliant railroad engineer,” to assume duties as Military Director and Superintendent of the United States Military Railroad. Haupt was given the rank of Colonel and Lincoln gave him broad, albeit frequently challenged, powers.
Henry Haupt (1817 – 1905)
Military Director and Superintendent of the united States Military Railroad
In the next post, the action of the South.
You may also be interested in two of my previous posts on Civil War Railroads:
[i] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 63.
[ii] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 165.
“Lee took longer to learn from his experience that the frontal assault contributed only to attrition without victory than any other field commander in the Civil War.”[i]
Edward Hagerman covers in detail the practices of the Federal and Confederate armies as it relates to entrenchment. McClellan and his successors employed it masterfully. Lee and his generals came to the practice slowly. Hagerman suggests that the reason may have been that, unlike McClellan, Lee lacked a peer group from the Corps of Engineers in the Army of Northern Virginia. [ii] Lee also graduated from West Point before Dennis Mahan (see post here) arrived to instruct cadets on the benefits and “how to” of entrenchment.
An example, despite having the time and equipment to entrench at Antietam (see photo below), Lee did not. According to Hagerman, “his failure to do so suggests that he may have identified with an extreme tendency in American tactical thought opposing all fortifications on the open field of battle, on the grounds that they made green volunteer troops overcautious and destroyed discipline and the will to fight.” [iii]
Burnside Bridge (below) taken from the Confederate viewpoint on the
west side of Antietam Creek looking east.
Likewise at the Battle of Fredericksburg, where Lee assumed “a tactical defense where doctrine called for fortification of his front,” Lee again failed to entrench. “He had his troops construct only a few minor earthworks at scattered positions. This despite Antietam and despite the fact that the rifled musket, with its greatly increased range and accuracy, was now in general use in the eastern theater.” [iv]
Longstreet (above) finally broke the tactical pattern, not Lee.
“Although he occupied one of the strongest natural positions in the Confederate line, Longstreet ordered ditches, stone walls, and railroad cuts occupied and strengthened with rifle tranches and abatis. The Federal assaults against his positions on Marye’s Heights never got within a hundred yards of the stone wall. Behind the wall were four lines of infantry armed with rifled muskets, supported by sharpshooters in rifle trench, and entrenched artillery that directly covered and enfiladed the wall from the two terraces that rose behind it. Their fire cost the Union troops 3,500 dead to their own loses of 800 men.” [v]
Watching the battle with Longstreet, Lee (finally) ordered fatigue parties to entrench the heights as soon as the fighting stopped. [vi]
[i, ii] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 123.
[iii] Ibid., 116.
[iv, v, vi] Ibid., 122
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While in search of documentation for Civil War statistics, I discover the Fact Sheet: American Wars published in November 0f 2007 by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. It provides the following:
It lists the last Union veteran as Albert Woolson (right) who died August 2 1956 at age 109. He was a member of Company C of the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment but never saw action. A brief biography is available here.
The last Confederate Veteran, John Salling, died March 16, 1958, at age 112. Some references, including one available here, suggests that he may have been an imposter.
And the last Union widow, Gertrude Janeway, died January 17, 2003, age 93. Mrs. Janeway death was covered in the January 21, 2003 issue of New York Times here. In brief, she was married to Union veteran John Janeway at age 16. He was 81. They made their home in a three room log cabin in Blaine, Tennessee. He died there at age 91 in 1937. She died in the same home. Mr. Janeway fought for the 11th Illinois Calvary under the name January. A photo of Mr. and Mrs. Janeway shortly after their wedding and of Mrs. Janeway in 1998 available here.
The last Confederate widow was Mrs. Alberta S. (Stewart) Martin who died in May 31, 2004. A site dedicated to Mrs. Martin including photos is available here. She was married to veteran Willaim Jasper Martin when she was 21 and he was 81.
A transcript of a 1998 interview with Mrs. Martin is available on radiodiaries.org here. Host Robert Siegel also interviews Daisy (Graham) Anderson who was, at the time, also one of the last know Union widows. Mrs. Anderson was married in 1922 at age 21 to Robert Anderson, then age 79, who was an escaped slave who joined the Union Army and served in the 125th Colored Infantry near the war’s end and in the Indian campaigns. He was a successful homesteader in Nebraska. Their story is available in the New York Times article about her death here. A article about Mr. Anderson’s fascinating life, titled “The Odyssey of an Ex-Slave: Robert Ball Anderson’s Pursuit of the American Dream,” by Darold D. Waxm is available through JSTOR here.
Civil War (1861-1865)
Total U.S. Servicemembers (Union)…………..2,213,363
Battle Deaths (Union)………………………………140,414
Other Deaths (In Theater) (Union)………………..224,097
Non-mortal Woundings (Union)…………………..281,881
Total Servicemembers (Conf.) (note 2) ………..1,050,000
Battle Deaths (Confederate) (note 3) ………………74,524
Other Deaths (In Theater) (Confed.) (note 3, 4)……59,297
Non-mortal Woundings (Confed.) ……………..Unknown
2. Exact number is unknown. Posted figure is median of estimated
range from 600,000 – 1,500,000.
3. Death figures are based on incomplete returns.
4. Does not include 26,000 to 31,000 who died in Union prisons.