Edwin Stanton

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50 Facts About William Tecumseh Sherman

Today on Twitter, the hashtag #50factsaboutme is a popular one. One of my newer projects still in development, which I call “Sherman Kitty,” will be geared towards children yet also will be entertaining for adults. I thought that it would be fun to list 50 facts about Sherman through the @GenShermanKitty Twitter account. And, since it’s relevant to the Civil War, I thought I would post them here as well.

William Tecumseh Sherman is a very unique individual with a lot of different complexities. He has been simplified in history books; he helped General Ulysses S. Grant win victory in the North, and is a villain in the South. Some of the things said about him include: He burned Atlanta to the ground; he raided homes & stole everything from the Southerners they came across; he was crazy. He is also called “The Father of Total War.”

As it turns out, it’s not that simple. And while you may disagree with some of his tactics & beliefs, I have personally found him to be so wonderfully complex & intelligent that he has become one of my favorite people in history to talk – and learn more – about. So here are 50 facts about Sherman:

1. He was born in Lancaster, Ohio, the 6th of 11 children.

2. His father, Charles, served on the Ohio Supreme Court until his unexpected death in 1829; Sherman was just 9 years old.

3. Original birth name was Tecumseh Sherman. His father had a great respect for the Shawnee Chief, who actually fought against the Americans with the British in the War of 1812, and died in battle in 1813. But he had earned a great reputation from both sides, for his “courage, fortitude, ambition, generosity, humanity, eloquence, military skill, leadership…above all, patriotism and a love of liberty.” As for Sherman, his nickname throughout his life was “Cump.”

4. His mom, Mary Hoyt Sherman, couldn’t support the 11 children. A close family friend, Thomas Ewing, took Cump into his home just a few doors over from Cump’s family home. Ewing, at the time, was a leading member of the Ohio Bar Association.

5. The reason Cump was chosen was because Ewing wanted the “smartest boy.” After some discussion between Mary & her oldest female child, Mary Elizabeth, it was decided that “Cump” was the best choice. At the time the decision was made, Cump was playing in a nearby sandbox.

6. W.T. Sherman was baptized & given the Christian name “William” by Ewing’s very religious wife Maria. She was shocked that the boy had not been baptized and remedied it immediately after he became a part of their family. She also felt “Tecumseh” was not an appropriate name, hence how he earned “William” as his new first name. Those that were close to him, however, would forever call him “Cump.”

7. He was appointed to West Point at age 16 by his unofficial adopted father, Ewing, who at this point is a U.S. Senator for the state of Ohio.

8. At West Point, William excelled academically, but could have cared less about their demerit system. He would write in his memoirs that “At the Academy I was not considered a good soldier, for at no time was I selected for any office, but remained a private throughout the whole four years. Then, as now, neatness in dress and form, with a strict conformity to the rules, were the qualifications required for office, and I suppose I was found not to excel in any of these. In studies I always held a respectable reputation with the professors, and generally ranked among the best, especially in drawing, chemistry, mathematics, and natural philosophy. My average demerits, per annum, were about one hundred and fifty.” Fellow cadet, Ohioan (& later fellow Civil War General) William Rosecrans would say that Sherman was “one of the brightest and most popular fellows” and “a bright-eyed, red-headed fellow, who was always prepared for a lark of any kind.

9. He spent 4 years at West Point & graduated in 1840, 6th out of a class of 40. Sherman also would state in his memoirs that his demerits cost him his ranking; without them, he would have placed 4th.

10. After West Point, he was assigned to the 3rd U.S. Artillery & stationed in Florida. There, he fought in the 2nd Seminole War, which was against the Seminole Tribe. He served well but nothing happened that propelled him to a larger role or fame.

11. While many of Sherman’s fellow military generals during the Civil War received great experience while fighting in the Mexican-American War, Sherman was instead stationed in California at the time. He greatly disliked being stationed so far away from the action, but performed his duties well.

12. Sherman fell in love with one of the Ewing daughters, Ellen. He was 23, and she was 19, when he took a four month leave of absence so he could spend time with her & officially propose. They became engaged Fall 1843.

13. William & Ellen had to wait years before they could marry. Sherman’s unofficial foster father, Thomas Ewing, had gotten him in at West Point. However, he had hoped Sherman could join the Corp of Engineers. Since Sherman was not able to do so, Thomas opposed his daughter becoming a “soldier’s wife.” He was very close to Ellen, and Ellen was very attached to her parents. She did not want to travel with Sherman around the country, going wherever he was stationed, though she did love him. But given that he was sent to California, it further delayed a marriage. Ellen would live in Washington City (DC) at the time, where her father continued to have roles in politics.

14. It wasn’t until May 1, 1850 that William & Ellen married. Sherman had just received a promotion to Captain, and that seemed to satisfy Thomas enough to allow the marriage.

15. They married in Washington at the Ewing’s home – the Blair House – which was across the street from the White House. It was a highly social affair. At the time, Thomas was serving President Zachary Taylor as Secretary of the Interior. Not only did the President attend the wedding & reception, but it also included Senators Daniel Webster & Henry Clay.

16. After the wedding, Sherman served as Captain of the Subsistence Departments in St. Louis, Missouri & New Orleans, Louisiana. He resigned in 1853. During that time they had their first of eight children, Maria & Mary.

17. He had spent 13 years in the military, serving with honor but no real distinction. He had seen very little combat, unlike many of his former West Point classmates. Having a family to support, he turned to business.

18. A friend, Major Henry Turner, offers Sherman a job in San Francisco, California, where he would be responsible for opening a branch bank of Lucas & Symonds. He accepts the position.

19. While Sherman does a good job of running the bank in San Francisco & earns a reputation of being very honest, a severe economic downturn will force the bank to close in 1857.

20. Sherman heads to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he joins with brother-in-laws Thomas & Hugh Ewing. He attempts to become a lawyer.

21. Sherman spends less than two years trying to make a go of law, but is no good at it. He is offered a Superintendent position at the Louisiana Military Academy in 1859, which he accepts.

22. Sherman is not anti-slavery & sympathizes with the South. However, he is very against the idea of secession. He explains to a friend of his, a professor in Virginia, what he predicts would become of the South if they are to secede:

“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it… Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth—right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.”

23. Sherman is in Louisiana when it secedes from the Union in January 1861. He can see that the Southern people are very serious & willing to go to war. It’s a perspective many in the North will not fully understand for months to come.

24. William resigns his post in Louisiana, much to his displeasure. He enjoyed the people & the students there, but could not support an institution that would supply troops against the United States government. He would head to Washington City at the request of his brother John, now a U.S. Senator from Ohio.

25. John arranges a time for his brother to meet with newly elected President Lincoln. At this time John is hoping his brother will make a push to become a high ranking officer in the military effort that is likely to come together to bring the Southern rebellion to an end.

26. William meets with President Lincoln at the White House shortly after he has been sworn into office in March 1861. At first, the President wraps up a meeting with a few of his department heads. William’s brother John introduces him, saying “Mr. President, this is my brother, Colonel Sherman, who is just up from Louisiana, he may give you some information you want.” “Ah!” said the President, “How are they getting along down there?

William is shocked, and abruptly answers “They think they are getting along swimmingly. They are preparing for war.

Oh well, I guess we’ll manage to keep house” responds the President.

William found himself with nothing to say. His brother & the President exchanged a few quick words, and then the two Sherman brothers leave. Sherman would write in his memoirs that he was sadly disappointed, and that he broke out in anger to John, “damning the politicians generally, saying ‘You have got things in a hell of a fix, and you may get them out as best you can.‘”

27. William feels there is no use for him in Washington after his brief discussion with President Lincoln. He heads to St. Louis to take a position as President of a streetcar company. He signs a contract stating it is a position he will hold for one year.

28. On April 6, 1861, Sherman was offered the Chief clerkship of the War Department with a promise to be made Assistant Secretary of War when Congress came back into session. Sherman declined, wishing the “Administration all success in its almost impossible task of governing this distracted and anarchical people.

29. Cump witnesses the St. Louis riot on May 10, 1861, along with his son William (Willy), between the U.S. militia and Confederate supporters backed by the Missouri governor Claiborne Jackson. He will write an account to his brother John.

30. Sherman will correspond with his now father-in-law, Thomas Ewing, who is still in Washington. Ewing asks what Sherman wants; Sherman says he will come back if made Colonel in the U.S. Regular Army (not the volunteer army that President Lincoln had formed to combat the Southern rebellion).

31. Thomas Ewing will meet with U.S. General Winfield Scott & other political allies to get Sherman what he has requested. Eventually Ewing has a one-on-one meeting with President Lincoln. It results in William being made Colonel in the U.S. Army. He resigns his President position in St. Louis with the streetcar company. He hates backing out of obligations, but at this point Missouri is still up for grabs as to whether it will be kept under U.S. control or if it will officially become a part of the Confederate States of America.

32. Sherman writes to his brother John on June 3, 1861: “I still think it is to be a long war – very long – much longer than any Politician thinks.” This is important & unique, as most people – on both sides – were saying it was going to be a “90 day war.”

33. Colonel William T. Sherman led his men at the Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861. It was considered the first major battle of what would be called the Civil War. The Union originally had the advantage, but the Confederates rallied and were claimed the victors. It was a startling realization to both sides; the North realized that the South had the energy & enthusiasm needed to make this beyond just a “one battle & done” scenario. At the same time, the South realized that even though many of the Union men were from a more “industrialized” part of the country, they still put up enough of a fight where a total victory of independence wasn’t going to be easy. This would be no 90-day war.

34. William was promoted to Brigadier General, back dated to May 17, 1861, after his actions at Manassas were thought to be impressive. Sherman was much harder on himself & didn’t think he had been any good. He was sent to Kentucky to serve under General Robert Anderson, who was there overseeing the Department of the Cumberland.

35. U.S. General Robert Anderson had been the hero of Fort Sumter. However, he was older in years, and the organization of troops & defenses within the Department of the Cumberland territory was too much for him. Shortly after Sherman arrives, Anderson steps down & Sherman is put in command. Sherman is upset. He had asked several months before to never be the one in charge; he always wanted someone over him. This move, he felt, went against that promise made to him by President Lincoln.

36. Sherman begins to request hundreds of thousands of troops to defend the region, which the U.S. cannot supply. Though the Confederate threat is strong, he makes it out to be much worse than it really is. Newspapers begin to report that Sherman is crazy. There is a history of insanity on his mom’s side, which further propels gossip. A local Cincinnati newspaper called the Cincinnati Commercial calls him “insane.”

37. Secretary of War Simon Cameron visits Sherman in October 1861. At that time he does not believe Sherman is fit to oversee that command. Instead of being completely relieved of duty, General Henry Halleck who is stationed in St. Louis has Sherman transferred under him. However, by December 1861 Halleck puts Sherman on leave, feeling he is unfit for duty at that time.

38. Sherman returns to his boyhood home of Lancaster, Ohio. His wife & children are there with him. He is severely depressed & without a command. He feels like a failure & contemplates suicide.

39. William’s wife Ellen writes his brother John & also President Lincoln in an effort to help her husband. She asks for their help in restoring him to command. She also asks John to reach out to William & help him through what was likely a nervous breakdown, though it was never officially classified as such.

40. William is restored to duty by mid-December under Halleck in St. Louis. The army is restructured & he now falls under the Department of the Missouri. He starts with receiving admin duties, as well as “rear-duties” that keep him & any men he commands at the back instead of the front of the lines.

41. In February 1862, while U.S. Grant makes a push to take Fort Henry & Fort Donelson in Tennessee, it’s Sherman who is back helping him with troops, supplies, etc. Every time troops arrive, they come to Grant with a message of support from Sherman. Even though Sherman is higher in rank (and older), he tells Grant he will help in any way he can, and if needed he can help out on the field & will gladly follow his orders & surrender his authority. Sherman technically didn’t have the right to make such an offer, but Grant was still very impressed by it. Grant, up until this point, had dealt with so many people fighting for the command spotlight that he thought it was very noble. He had never met Sherman, but he liked the man. One of Sherman’s messages: “Command me in any way.” The interaction was a start of a friendship & bond that would last throughout the Civil War & beyond (though not without a few misunderstandings along the way).

42. Sherman joins Grant in the field & once again is put in command of men, though it’s under Grant’s leadership. Sherman’s first major assignment is at Shiloh, Tennessee. While waiting for reinforcements & Grant to arrive – where the plan is to then head to Corinth, Mississippi, a key railroad depot for the South – Sherman & his men are taken by surprise by Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, who attacks them at camp while many men are asleep or just making breakfast. Sherman had been receiving reports of Confederates in the area for days, but he dismissed them as he thought they were just patrols or scouts. The incident in Kentucky a few months prior where he thought the threat was worse than it was likely made him more cautious. Unfortunately it left the Union army completely unprepared.

43. Though Sherman is caught of guard, his men put up a fight. Though the Confederates almost entirely take their camps on the first day of battle, that night Grant arrives. Sherman, who has been shot in the hand & had three horses shot from under him that day, goes to find Grant to tell him they need to retreat. He finds Grant under a tree by the river. It’s pouring rain, cold, but there sits Grant against the tree, with his army brimmed hat pulled down slightly to shield his face, smoking a cigar. Instead of giving him the recommendation he had prepared in his mind, Sherman instead says “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant takes a puff of his cigar and responds “Yup. Lick ’em tomorrow though.” Sherman decides against saying anything about a retreat. The next day U.S. troop reinforcements that arrive in the night help push the Confederates back to where they started, and by the end of the day the victory is the Union’s. One thing that also helped the Union was that the key Confederate commander who had planned the attack, C.S.A. General Albert Sidney Johnston, was shot in the leg the first afternoon of battle. He had an injury from the Mexican-American War that left him with no feeling in that leg, so he didn’t realize he was shot until blood was later pouring out of his boot & his officers found him reeling on his horse. He died, leaving C.S.A. General P.G.T. Beauregard in charge. Beauregard had won the Battle of Fort Sumter the previous year, but he did not win on that day as he had not been involved in Johnston’s plans. The end of the second day, the Confederates retreated from the field.

43. Shiloh was a bloodbath. Up until that point, casualties had not been as horrific as what they were these two days of battle. While the Union celebrated victory, they were shocked when the numbers came in to see what the price of that victory had cost them: 13,000 Union & 10,600 Confederate casualties (dead, wounded, missing). It was called “Bloody Shiloh.” But much of the criticism fell on Grant, not Sherman. Sherman was promoted to Major General of Volunteers as of May 1, 1862.

44. Questions arose as to why Grant was not on the field that first day at Shiloh, and accusations started that Grant was a drunk & that is why he was unprepared. General Halleck started to take over Grant’s men, essentially leaving him without a command. One day in May 1862, Sherman came across Grant at his tent & noticed his stuff packed. Grant said he was going home on leave, but Sherman could tell that Grant wasn’t planning on coming back. Sherman begged him to stay, telling him to at least not make a decision until saying goodbye to him. Sherman told Grant that “Before the battle of Shiloh, I was cast down by a mere newspaper assertion of ‘crazy’, but that single battle gave me new life, and I’m now in high feather.” He told Grant that, if he remained in the army, “some happy accident might restore you to favor and your true place.” Sherman’s words worked: Grant stayed in the Army. His words were also correct, as Halleck was sent to Washington in July 1862 & Grant was given his old command back.

45. In mid-1862, Sherman was made military governor of the now-Union occupied Memphis, Tennessee.

46. From Memphis, Sherman assisted Grant in taking Vickburg, Mississippi. On several occasions Sherman led his men down to Vicksburg, often having to abort plans; the city was practically a fortress with water almost completely surrounding it. However, to have Vicksburg meant that the Union would once again have full control of the Mississippi River. It also would cut the Confederacy in two. Vicksburg finally fell on July 4, 1863. Out East, the Union was celebrating at the same time their victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

47. When Grant is promoted to General of all Union forces & is moved East to fight C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee & his Army of Virginia, Sherman is given command of forces in the West. This was a far cry from the individual who never wanted to be in charge & always wanted a superior right above him. Though Grant was still his superior, it was still William’s responsibility for troop movements, battles, etc.

48. Sherman & Grant would meet at the Burnet House in Cincinnati, Ohio, just blocks from the Ohio River. It was also within a mile of where Grant’s parents lived in Covington, Kentucky, and not too far from where Sherman was stationed in 1861 when he came to Kentucky. It was there that they planned strategy for how they would win the war for the Union. Grant would take Lee; Sherman would take C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston.

49. Sherman would send a telegram to the White House on September 22, 1864, stating “Atlanta is ours & fairly won.” He would order his men to burn factories, military & government buildings, though some homes & stores were also burned. While many say that Sherman burned Atlanta to the ground, in reality about 30% of the city was burned.

50. He had to work hard to convince President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton & even Grant himself that his next move should be a “March to the Sea.” He told Grant he could “make Georgia howl.” His plan was reluctantly approved. He would be out of communication range from November 15 through December 21, 1864. Sherman & his 62,000 troops basically made two columns/paths and lived off the land during their march. Sherman’s orders were to only take what they needed to survive. While they had a few skirmishes along the way, for the most part there was no fight from the Confederacy, as most of the troops were kept with Lee in Virginia or with General John Bell Hood in Tennessee.

So those bring us to 50. Think we are through? Well, we are for today. But stay tuned for Part 2 in the near future!

If you are ever in the Lancaster, Ohio area, the Sherman House is a great place to visit to learn more!

150 Years Ago: Sunday, December 28, 1862

Execution of Asa LewisSource: Library of Congress

Execution of Asa Lewis
Source: Library of Congress

“Amidst a drenching rain-storm, Asa Lewis, member of Captain Page’s company, Sixth Kentucky regiment, was shot by a file of men. He was executed upon a charge of desertion, which was fully proven against him. The scene was one of great impressiveness and solemnity. The several regiments of Hanson’s brigade were drawn up in a hollow square, while Generals Breckinridge and Hanson, with their staffs, were present to witness the execution. The prisoner was conveyed from jail to the brigade drill-ground on an open wagon, under the escort of a file of ten men, commanded by Major Morse and Lieut. George B. Brumley. Lewis’s hands were tied behind him, a few words were said to him by Generals Breckinridge and Hanson, and word fire was given, and all was over. The unfortunate man conducted himself with great coolness and composure. He was said to have been a brave soldier, and distinguished himself at the battle of Shiloh.” — The Chattanooga Daily Rebel Banner

Asa Lewis was 19 when he was executed for desertion, with the orders given by C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg, Commander of the Army of the Tennessee. Lewis had joined Company E, the 6th Kentucky Infantry Regiment of the “Orphan Brigade” at the beginning of the war. Just a farm boy from Barren County, Kentucky, he had received no training, only a rifle. He was at the horrific battle of Shiloh, Tennessee in April 1862 and afterwards was promoted to Corporal for his actions on the field. When his enlisted service period of one year was over, Lewis stayed instead of returning home.

But Lewis was receiving panicked letters from his mother that his family needed him. His father had passed away shortly after he left home, and his mother and three sisters were unable to take care of the farm and were starving and financially broke. Lewis formally requested a furlough so he could return home to plant the crops needed for his family to survive, but was denied as the Confederates needed every man they could muster serving in the field. Lewis made the decision to leave anyway, without permission; he would return home to make sure his family had a crop this year and then would then return to his unit.

Desertion in both armies is very common and causes a great deal of frustration for both governments. In order to have an effective military force, both sides need reliability when it comes to their troops. An emphasis is put on finding deserters and bringing them back; while some are sent back into the field, others are punished or sentenced to death. Though the officers of Lewis’s unit plead with Bragg, he refuses to repeal the sentence, stating that the desertion rate is growing and an example has to be set. Even Kentuckians who were supporters of the Confederacy petitioned that the sentence be commuted. It didn’t make a difference; Lewis was executed two days ago. Kentuckians are furious at Bragg as the news spreads of Lewis’s execution; the 6th Kentucky Infantry is so outraged that a mutiny almost breaks out. Lewis will not be the only one to die for desertion; many are killed at the orders of Bragg to set an example to the rest of his men that desertion will not be tolerated.

North of Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S. Major General William T. Sherman has been conducting reconnaissance to find weaknesses in Confederate defenses surrounding the city. One of his four divisions, led by Frederick Steele, attempts to turn the Confederate right flank but is repulsed by artillery fire as they advance on a very narrow front. For now Sherman remains on his own with 32,000 troops; Major Generals Ulysses S. Grant and John McClernand are no where near the city where the attacks were to be coordinated.

After traveling from Springfield, Illinois, McClernand arrives Memphis, Tennessee and finds himself without the divisions he expects to have waiting for him. He finds that Sherman has absorbed them into his command and has already gone downriver. McClernand is under the impression that the Vicksburg campaign is his to run, not Grant’s; he has papers from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton assigning McClernand command of the Vicksburg expedition. Not having heard from Grant, he sends him a letter expressing his disappointment with how things have been handled and wants guarantees from Grant that his command will be restored to him. He is not aware that Grant is currently maneuvering his troops back towards Memphis after his supply and communication lines were cut off by Confederate cavalry in Mississippi.

Betty Herndon MaurySource: Virginia Historical Society

Betty Herndon Maury
Source: Virginia Historical Society

Twenty-seven year old Elizabeth “Betty” Herndon Maury is a life-long Virginian and supporter of the Southern cause. Her husband (and cousin) of five years, William A. Maury, is the Judge Advocate General of the Confederate States of America. Her brother Richard is a commander of the 24th Virginia.

Betty was living in Fredericksburg before the battle and has since returned to her home. Today she writes in her diary about the conflict:

“On the 13th of December God blessed us with a great victory at Fredericksburg. Upwards of eighteen thousand of the enemy were killed. We lost but one thousand. Even the Yankees acknowledge it to be a great defeat.

The battle took place in and around the town. The streets were strewn with the fallen enemy, the houses were broken open, sacked and used for hospitals, and their dead were buried in almost every yard.

Dr. Nichols was there—came as an amateur with his friend Gen’ Hooker—he occupied Uncle John’s house (where his wife has been most hospitably entertained for weeks at a time) drank up Uncle J’s wine, used his flour and ate up Ellen Mercer’s preserves.

Delicacy, and so cold blooded and heartless as to come—not at the stern call of duty, but for the love of it—to gloat over the desolated homes of people he once called friends, and who are relations and connections of his wife’s.”

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, December 24, 1862

Dakota Chief Little Crow(Escaped to Canada after Dakota Conflict) Source: Library of Congress

Dakota Chief Little Crow (1862)
(Escaped to Canada after Dakota Conflict)
Source: Library of Congress

Though thirty-eight Dakota Indians and “half-breeds” were sentenced by a military tribunal in Minnesota and subsequently approved for death by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, there have been delays in the execution and it did not occur on December 19 as scheduled. A new date of December 26 has been set, and today the condemned Dakota are allowed to meet with their families for the last time.

Lincoln had asked for input from his Cabinet members on admitting West Virginia as a state into the Union and he has gotten their input. Surprisingly, the Cabinet is split. Secretaries William Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edwin Stanton agree with the bill; Gideon Welles, Montgomery Blair and Edward Bates do not. With no consensus, Lincoln will have to carefully review the matter and come to a decision on his own.

From his camp near Falmouth, Virginia, U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes in his diary about changes in leadership:

We are in trouble about our new Major and former Chaplain, Rev. Thorndike C. Jameson. Governor Sprague promoted him Major over all the Captains. He is incompetent, and we do not want him with us. I hear that he is to be ordered before a board of officers for examination, and as he probably could not pass, I hope he will resign and leave us in peace. Jameson is not fitted for a soldier in some respects and ought to know it. He is brave, and that is all. Capt. Benoni S. Brown, Senior Captain, has resigned because Jameson was promoted over him. General Wheaton has invited me to dine with him. We have commenced regular drills and camp duties once more, but a new movement will probably be ordered soon.

U.S. Major General John Reynolds travels to Philadelphia on leave, during which time he plans to visit his secret love, Catherine “Kate” Hewitt. He had met Kate when he was stationed in California before the war and they had fallen in love. She had come back East with him and they had an agreement: If he survived the war, they would get married. If he didn’t, she would become a nun as she was of strong Catholic faith. Many Protestants hold negative views of Catholics at this time, which may have been one reasons why Reynolds has yet to mention Kate to anyone he knows, including his family (though one can also say that Reynolds is generally a private man). But he wears her Cross around his neck and she wears his West Point ring on a chain around hers. While he is in town he also plans to call on Major General George Meade’s wife Margaretta, which he knows will please George as he is stuck in Virginia. Calls from fellow officers are often welcome by the wives when their own husbands are able to come home; it’s comforting to hear stories and to know they are in good company.

For the soldiers of both sides, and their families at home, it’s mostly a quiet day on the second Christmas Eve of the war. For those who write letters to loved ones, homesickness and loneliness is the common theme.

150 Years Ago: Friday, December 19, 1862

George Templeton StrongSource: Library of Congress

George Templeton Strong
Source: Library of Congress

George Templeton Strong writes in his journal of the Fredericksburg disaster, revealing increasing public frustration and a loss of patience for their Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and their Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln:

“Our loss at Fredericksburg is crawling up to 17,000. It is generally held that Stanton forced Burnside to this movement against his earnest remonstrance and protest. Perhaps Stanton didn’t. Who knows? But there is universal bitter wrath against him throughout this community, a deeper feeling more intensely uttered than any I ever saw prevailing here. Lincoln comes in for a share of it. Unless Stanton be speedily shelved, something will burst somewhere. The general indignation is fast growing revolutionary. The most thorough Republicans, the most loyal Administration men, express it most fiercely and seem to share the personal vindictiveness of the men and women whose sons or brothers or friends have been uselessly sacrificed to the vanity of the political schemes of this meddling murderous quack. His name is likely to be a hissing, till it is forgotten, and the Honest Old Abe must take care lest his own fare no better. A year ago we laughed at the Honest Old Abe’s grotesque genial Western jocosities, but they nauseate us now. If these things go on, we shall have pressure on him to resign and make way for Hamlin. (TCWP note: Hannibal Hamlin is the Vice President)

From his headquarters in Falmouth, Virginia, Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac, Ambrose Burnside, seems to be escaping a lot of the criticism when it comes to the loss at Fredericksburg. Given the uproar of the country, he writes a letter defending his actions and also accepting responsibility to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck in Washington, who has generally supported his plan and efforts during the forty days he has been in command:

General: I have the honor to offer the following reasons for moving the army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock sooner than was anticipated by the president, secretary of war and yourself, and for crossing at a point different from the one indicated to you at our last meeting at the president’s.

During my preparations for crossing at the pace I had first selected, I discovered that the enemy had thrown a large portion of his force down the river and elsewhere, thus weakening his defenses in front, and also thought I discovered that he did not anticipate the crossing of our whole force at Fredericksburg, and I hoped, by rapidly throwing the whole command over at that place, to separate, by a vigorous attack, the forces of the enemy on the river below from the forces behind and in the rear of the town, in which case we could fight him with great advantage in our favor. To do this we had to gain a height on the extreme right of the crest, which height commanded a new road lately made by the enemy for the purpose of more rapid communication along his line, which point gained, his position along the crest would have been scarcely tenable, and he could have been driven from them easily by an attack on this point in connection with a movement in the rear of the crest.

How near we came of accomplishing our object, but for the fog and unexpected and unavoidable delay in building the bridges, which gave the enemy twenty-four hours more to concentrate his forces in his strong positions, we would almost certainly have succeeded. In which case the battle would have been, in my opinion, far more decisive than if we had crossed at the place first selected. As it was we came very near success.

Failing in accomplishing the main object, we remained in order of battle two days, long enough to decide that the enemy would not come out of his strongholds to fight us with his infantry, after which we re-crossed to this side of the river, unmolested and without the loss of men or property.

As the day broke, our long lines of troops were seen marching to their different positions as if going on parade. Not the least demoralization or disorganization existed.

To the brave officers and soldiers who accomplished the feat of thus re-crossing the river in the face of the enemy, I owe everything. For the failure in attack I am responsible, as the extreme gallantry, courage and endurance shown by them was never exceeded, and would have carried the points, had it been possible.

To the families and friends of the dead I can only offer my heartfelt sympathies; but for the wounded I can offer my earnest prayer for their comfortable and final recovery.

The fact that I decided to move from Warrenton on to this line, rather against the opinion of the President, Secretary of War, and yourself, and that you left the whole movement in my hands, without giving me orders, makes me responsible.

Our killed amounts to 1152, our wounded to about 9000, and our prisoners 700, which last have been paroled and exchanged for about the same number taken by us. The wounded were all removed to this side of the river, and are being well cared for, and the dead were all buried under a flag of truce. The surgeons report a much larger proportion of slight wounds than usual, 1632 only being treated in hospitals.

I am glad to represent the army at the present time in good condition.

Thanking the government for the entire support and confidence which I have always received from them, I remain, General,

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

A. E. Burnside, Maj. Gen. Commanding Army of the Potomac.

Later Burnside receives a communication for him; Lincoln requests that he “Come, of course, if in your own judgment it is safe to do so.

Newspapers are across the country are filled with print regarding Lincoln’s “Cabinet Crisis”, specifically calling for Secretary of State William Seward’s resignation. Some rumors are going around that Seward has already resigned; they are correct. Two days ago Seward quietly handed a resignation letter to Lincoln for not only himself, but also for his assistant and son Frederick Seward. Lincoln has yet to accept it or respond to it.

Lincoln's Cabinet as of 12/19/1862 (l to r): Stanton, Chase, Lincoln, Welles, Seward (sitting), Smith, Blair, Bates)Source: Library of Congress

Lincoln’s Cabinet as of 12/19/1862 (l to r): Stanton, Chase, Lincoln, Welles, Seward (sitting), Smith, Blair, Bates
Source: Library of Congress

The “delegation of nine” Senators arrive at the White House tonight as a follow-up to their meeting with Lincoln last night. They find not only Lincoln, but the members of his Cabinet with the exception of Seward. Lincoln clearly states the concerns that the nine Senators have expressed, and one by one asks each Cabinet member if they agree with the assessment. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair disagrees with their message and offers to resign if it will put the matter to rest, but it is never accepted. One by one each Cabinet member refutes the Senators observations, their request for a partial reconstruction of the Cabinet and the removal of Seward, with the exception of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase.

Chase was the one personally responsible for feeding the Senators the information they approached Lincoln with; if he agrees with the Senators, then he goes against the rest of the Cabinet and the President. If he disagrees, then it becomes obvious to the Senators that he’s a liar. Chase tries to walk a fine line by stating that while the Cabinet is often consulted in many important matters, he is sometimes not as involved or informed by Lincoln and Seward as he would like. After Lincoln’s brilliant and calm handling of the situation, and the displayed unity by the Cabinet, the Senators come to the conclusion that no changes need to be made to the Cabinet; Seward can keep his position. An embarrassed Chase goes home for the night and writes a resignation letter that he will deliver to Lincoln tomorrow. Seward will learn of the night’s events as several Cabinet members head over to his house after the meeting to let him know what transpired. To Seward it is a great relief, but he still expects that his resignation will be accepted.

Out West, C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis and General Joseph E. Johnston meets up with Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Grenada, Mississippi to discuss the defense of Vicksburg. They travel by train to Jackson where Davis reviews the troops; by nighttime they are on the train again, headed for Vicksburg where Davis can view this critical city he is determined to keep in Confederate hands.

150 Years Ago: Thursday, December 18, 1862

“The country is gone unless something is done at once. We must have men in command of our armies who are anxious to crush the rebellion.”  — Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler to his wife Letitia

Nathan Bedford ForrestSource: Library of Congress

Nathan Bedford Forrest
Source: Library of Congress

In the Western theater, Confederate cavalry leader General Nathan Bedford Forrest leads a raid into western Tennessee, an area held by the Union. With U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s main force occupying northern Mississippi, C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg had ordered Forrest several days ago to cut the Federal supply lines in Tennessee in hopes that it will capture Grant’s attention and force him back north and out of Mississippi.

This morning Forrest advances along Lower Road outside of Lexington, Tennessee. U.S. Colonel Robert Ingersoll’s scouts had left the Confederates a clear path towards the smaller part of Ingersoll’s command by failing to destroy a key bridge the day before. The inexperienced Union troops try to swing around and stop the attack but it is too late; Forrest’s troops overwhelm the panicked Union soldiers and they capture Ingersoll along with 140 of his men. Forrest also obtains artillery pieces, horses, rifles and supplies that can now support the Confederate cause. From here, Forrest sets his sights on Jackson, Tennessee, followed by a push into Kentucky.

This evening a delegation of nine Republican Senators present a resolution to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln calling for a “partial reconstruction of the Cabinet.” Both Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward were warned two days ago that Seward is the Senators’ particular target; his conduct, and that of the Cabinet in general, having been repeatedly, though cautiously, maligned by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Chase, feeling superior to Lincoln and Seward, has been divulging private Cabinet meeting information to the nine senators, though not all of it is truthful in nature; it can, however, be considered self-serving. Chase wants Seward’s position, after which he feels he will have enough power to control what he feels is an inept President not up to the task of managing the country or the war. Lincoln listens quietly to the nine senators and simply asks them to return tomorrow evening so he has time to process their concerns.

Northern editorials also blame the Lincoln Administration for losing the war, especially after the recent defeat in Fredericksburg. The Hartford Daily Courant publishes an editorial today that echoes the sentiments of many in the Union:

Mismanagement in the War Department

There is no mistaking the fact that the people of the United States are enraged at the blundering and incompetency of the War Department. No one questions the integrity of Mr. Lincoln. Though nominally Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy, he cannot directly plan campaigns, or guide the movements of our forces. The experiences of a civilian do not fit one in a month or a year to exchange peaceful pursuits for supreme leadership in war. The multiplicity of other duties, too, compels the Chief Magistrate of the nation to rely on the honesty and wisdom of his immediate advisers. The generous heart of the people attributes the errors of the Administration to the misplaced confidence of the Executive. Dependence upon subordinates is an inseparable condition of the Presidential office, and especially is this true in the midst of a terrible civil war, like that now convulsing the nation, giving rise as it does to an infinitude of new duties and new responsibilities.

From the beginning, as our readers will bear witness, we have never surrendered our columns to the adulation of imaginary heroes. We have endeavored to know but one cause—the cause so precious to every patriotic heart. The fate of party measures, the prospects of individual men, sink into utter insignificance when the life of the rising nation of the world is imperiled. Politicians will pass into oblivion. The achievements of their ambition will be forgotten, and their names will rot their bones. But this noble land will either continue entire, scattering blessings among long lines yet unborn, and holding up the beacon light of liberty for the guidance of the nations, or it will crumble into contemptible fragments. In a crisis of such magnitude every man, woman, and child, forgetful of self, should burn the incense of pure patriotism on the altar of their country.

Last spring our arms were prosperous everywhere. The people were full of hope. The rebels were discouraged and demoralized. Our legions swept triumphantly into the very heart of the Mississippi valley. We had victories almost to satiety. To fight was to win. The enemy lost heart. Despair was fast sapping the last lingering remnants of courage in the rebellious states.

So far the plans devised at headquarters were crowned with admirable results. While cheering news from the South and the West was daily giving us fresh cause for rejoicing, Gen. McClellan left Washington to finish the grand and comprehensive campaign which thus far had progressed so magnificently. Scarcely had he left when Mr. Stanton took the bits in his teeth. Intoxicated by the consciousness of power, he staggered into monstrous absurdities. He tacked rotten rags to a sound garment. He presumed to meddle with matters where he was profoundly ignorant. The army of the Potomac, which according to the original design was to have been hurled unitedly and irresistibly upon Richmond, was divided, and a portion of it left unsupported, to contend alone against the combined hosts of the Confederacy.

The campaign at Fredericksburg will bring down a storm of indignation upon the heads of the military managers at Washington, which will probably compel Mr. Lincoln to throw them overboard. General Burnside, with the gallant officers and men under him, have done nobly. When the change of base was determined on, he moved rapidly to the banks of the Rappahannock. From lack of foresight at the War Department, the means of crossing the river were not provided till Gen. Lee had been allowed sufficient time to mass his troops and render the heights beyond Fredericksburg impregnable. Had the promptitude of the War Department equaled the celerity of Gen. Burnside, the army of the Potomac ere this would have reached the precincts of Richmond.

Many thousand lives and many millions of treasure have been thrown away already, through imbecility, chicanery, and general mismanagement. Neither the patriotism nor the patience of the people can long endure such exhausting and fruitless drains. A land of unrivaled power and resources, impelled by a spirit of consecration to a noble cause, has unquestioningly placed its wealth of men and means at the disposal of the Government. Though matters have gone badly, the strength of our army is by no means materially impaired. It far outnumbers the rebel army, and in all respects is incomparably better supplied. The soldiers fight like veterans. Our generals in the field are gallant and true. What we need is intellect and honesty at headquarters. Let Mr. Lincoln repudiate all political plotters. Let him entrust the momentous interests of the hour to those who have genius to plan, and the fidelity to execute, with an eye single to the good, the honor, and the happiness of the land.

150 Years Ago: Friday, December 5, 1862

Chandler House, "Fairfield"Source: Library of Congress

Chandler House, “Fairfield”
Source: Library of Congress

In an effort to be closer to his men, C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson moves his headquarters to “Fairfield”, the sprawling farm owned by the Chandler family at Guinea Station, Virginia, which is slowly becoming a main railroad supply hub for the Confederates. The Chandler’s offer Jackson use of their main house but he refuses. They try to persuade him to at least use a small outbuilding located nearby, but he instead chooses to stay in his tent; he doesn’t feel entitled to additional comforts just because of his rank. He prefers to work and sleep in the same conditions as his men.

U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside has ordered Commodore Andrew Harwood to command the Potomac Flotilla, consisting of four gunboats, up the Rappahannock River from the south. Burnside assumes that all of C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee’s forces are within his sights at Fredericksburg; he is wrong. Burnside is unaware of the arrival of Jackson’s corp on December 3, and did not know C.S.A. Major D. H. Hill is as far south as Port Royal. The Confederates, with the help of skillful reconnaissance by cavalry Major General J.E.B. Stuart, have constructed rifle pits and placed a field of artillery overlooking the Rappahannock where Burnside had hoped to cross: Skinker’s Neck. To make his plan even more obvious, Burnside has also ordered the use of Union hot air balloons to oversee the traveling gunboats, which is a clear sign to the Confederates that Burnside is intending to cross his army right where they predicted. As the balloon observers watch from the air, the gunboats are relentlessly fired upon and eventually retreat. Assessing the results, Burnside comes to the conclusion that Lee expects him to cross at Skinker’s Neck and likely has reduced forces at Fredericksburg on the heights behind the city. He will need some time to formulate his plan, but Burnside now feels confident that crossing at the city would be a shock to Lee and will also be his safest bet on getting his army across the river safely.

Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City, NYSource: Library of Congress

Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City, NY
Source: Library of Congress

From the 5th Avenue Hotel in New York City former U.S. General George B. McClellan is still dealing with military affairs, though what he addresses today is an old situation that Brigadier General Charles P. Stone still has questions about. Stone had been arrested in February for his conduct in the battle of Ball’s Bluff in October 1861. One could say that the charges against Stone were political and personal; it was during this battle that U.S. Senator and Colonel Edward D. Baker was killed. The death of Baker was devastating to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, as Baker had been a long time friend from Springfield, Illinois. Congress was enraged that one of their own died in a way that they felt could have been avoided if a more capable leader – and one who was more “pro-Union” – was in charge. The blame fell on Stone, and while he was arrested and held prisoner, no charges were ever brought against him and he was released on August 16 with no explanation or apology. McClellan had tried to re-instate Stone in September as he felt his services were needed, but Secretary of War Edwin Stanton declined the request. Stone is in Washington and is still technically in the military but “awaiting orders.” McClellan writes him today in response to questions Stone had about why he was arrested; he is trying to come to terms as to what happened.

McClellan writes to Stone that he was given the order by Stanton, who informed McClellan that it was based at the solicitation of the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War and was based upon testimony taken from them (Stone was one of the 39 people who testified). He also writes that “At the time I stated to the Secy that I could not from the information in my possession understand how charges could be framed against you, that the case was too indefinite.” McClellan takes the position that he tried for several days prior to the arrest to approach the Congressional Committee and requested that they fully confront Stone with all the witnesses and testimony against him, as McClellan was “confident that you were innocence of all improper motives, and could explain whatever facts were alleged against you.” It was common for McClellan to do whatever necessary to make himself look good, so whether these statements were truthful or whether McClellan was posturing to make himself out to be a hero is unclear.

From Chattanooga, C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston boards a train to Murfreesboro, Tennessee so he can see General Braxton Bragg’s army and assess their situation. In the meantime C.S.A. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton has his hands full with U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant as he continues to push his way south into Mississippi towards Vicksburg.

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, November 12, 1862

In Louisville, Kentucky, a feverish Charles Freeman is discharged from Union service due to “sexual incompatibility.” When admitted to the hospital yesterday the staff discovered that Charles was actually a female; only males are allowed to serve in the military. Mary Scaberry, who had enlisted during the summer as a private in the 52nd Ohio Infantry, is just 17 years old. She will be treated for the fever and then sent back home.

The Army of the Potomac and the people of the United States are still dealing with the news of U.S. General George B. McClellan’s removal from command on November 5. With McClellan now in Trenton, New Jersey per U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s orders, General Ambrose E. Burnside is busy assuming command and making plans for a campaign that can be executed quickly. Burnside was intimately involved with McClellan in working on the next move against C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee and his formidable Army of Virginia. Though Burnside was reluctant to take the command, he now faces pressure from U.S. President Lincoln to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Lincoln expects to see and approve a plan from Burnside as soon as possible; it’s not an easy demand to meet.

From his headquarters in Virginia, General Lee knows that Burnside will be pressured by the Lincoln administration and the citizens of the Union to push forward and end the war. He is pleased to hear from one of his key generals, Lieutenant-General Thomas J. Jackson, that he is ready to move his troops at any time. Lee writes to Jackson, unsure of Burnside’s next move:

“He has as yet given no indications of his further movement or direction southward. Whether he will cross the Rappahannock or proceed to Fredericksburg I cannot tell. It is easier for you to determine what damage you can inflict on him from where you are. If you can accomplish nothing but maintain control of the Valley, in the apparent and probable need of all our forces southward the force under you is too far from the scene of action. If an advance towards Fredericksburg is discovered, it is plain that you cannot delay any longer, and you must be prepared to move at any time. General (JEB) Stuart has been directed to watch the enemy closely, but you know the difficulty of determining first movements.”

It’s been a very long day for U.S. Major General William T. Sherman, but he takes up the pen once again at 11pm from his headquarters in Union-occupied Memphis, Tennessee and writes a long letter to Judge John Swayne. Part of Swayne’s job is to enforce U.S. Federal law before State or Local laws, especially when it comes to the issue of slavery. Sherman expresses his displeasure to Swayne as he feels he is not following Federal law, as slaves captured by the U.S. military are to be “forever free of servitude.” Swayne is not enforcing this in his courtroom and Sherman takes it upon himself to make a legal argument as to why this needs to change. Sherman, having no legal training, does this because it’s his duty to enforce Federal law. He is not the type of person who can just look the other way, even though he does not have a personal issue against the institution of slavery. Even if it’s a matter outside of the military, Sherman will stand up and let his voice be heard if he feels certain actions weaken the Union cause and what his men in the field are fighting for.

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