George B. McClellan

This tag is associated with 24 posts

150 Years Ago: Thursday, April 23, 1863

John Wilkes Booth, 1863

John Wilkes Booth, 1863

Actor John Wilkes Booth is enjoying his time back on stage. After suffering from a respiratory illness during February and March, Spring has given him life and energy and he is back in Washington performing to packed theatres as he plays the title roles in both Hamlet and Richard III. The National Republican drama critic states that Booth “takes the hearts of the audience by storm” and terms his performance “a complete triumph.” Booth is earning top money and praise; with it comes his choice of women, who fight for the chance to be with the actor, even if it is for just one evening.

From a country farm in Spotsylvania, Virginia, C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson finds himself with time to catch up on battle reports. He starts by sending General Robert E. Lee details on his troops activities from September 5 – 27, 1862, which includes details on (yet another) capture of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and the battle of Sharpsburg (known in the North as the battle of Antietam) in Maryland.

Though Jackson mostly keeps it brief and simple, giving overall battlefield movements and casualties, there are two people that stand out, one in a good way, another not. He praises Major General J.E.B. Stuart, one of the Confederacy’s most valued cavalry officers, by stating “Maj.-Gen. Stuart had the advance and acted his part well. This officer rendered valuable service throughout the day. His bold use of artillery secured for us an important position, which, had the enemy possessed, might have commanded our left.” As for Major General A.P. Hill and the movement of his troops from Harpers Ferry to Sharpsburg – which many Confederates felt saved them from possibly losing not just a battle but the war – Jackson simply writes, months later, “I have not embraced the movements of his division.” Jackson had several quarrels with Hill leading up to that moment, Jackson being the higher ranking officer and expecting his orders to be followed to the letter, which Hill did not always do. Though Lee had sent for Hill during the Sharpsburg attack for much needed reinforcements, Jackson was unaware of it and did not seem to approve; it had gone against his own orders for Hill to stay at Harpers Ferry to make sure it did not yet again fall into Union hands. To Jackson, it was another order Hill had not obeyed and it did not sit well with him, even seven months later.

U.S. Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac Joseph Hooker is still in the Fredericksburg, Virginia vicinity. It’s been over four months since the Union defeat there and the army has not yet made a significant move to destroy Lee’s army, most of which has spent the winter behind their strong defenses in Fredericksburg. Hooker has completed plans to move and surprise Lee by sweeping down to behind him and cutting off his supplies from Richmond, but first he wants to test Lee’s strength before he starts his main troop movements. Three days ago Hooker sent out troops under Major General Abner Doubleday to do reconnaissance and they have since returned. Now U.S. General John Reynolds sends the 24th Michigan and 84th New York on the same path: down the north bank to Port Conway, eighteen miles from camp. “The object of this demonstration is to draw the enemy force in that direction“, Reynolds is informed. His men should pretend to conceal their wagon train but to let enough of it show to give the impression of strength to the enemy; Hooker knows Lee’s men will be watching.

In Mississippi, as he waits for orders from U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant to make yet another attempt to take the geographically well-protected city of Vicksburg, Major General William T. Sherman writes his brother Senator John Sherman back in Washington as they continue to trade opinions on the important issues of the day via letters:

Dear Brother,

I have noticed in the Conscript Act the clauses which empowered the President to consolidate the ten companies of a regiment into five, when the aggregate was below one-half the maximum standard, and to reduce the officers accordingly. Had I dreamed that this was going to be made universal, I should have written you and begged you for the love of our ruined country to implore Lincoln to spare us this last and fatal blow. Two years of costly war have enabled the North to realize the fact that by organized and disciplined armies alone can she hope to restore the old and found a new empire. We had succeeded in making the skeletons of armies, eliminating out of the crude materials that first came forth the worthless material, and had just begun to have some good young colonels, captains, sergeants and corporals. And Congress had passed the Conscript Bill, which would have enabled the President to fill up these skeleton regiments full of privates who soon, from their fellows, and with experienced officers, would make an army capable of marching and being handled and directed. But to my amazement comes this order…This is a far worse defeat than Manassas. Mr. Wade, in his report to condemn McClellan, gave a positive assurance to the army that henceforth, instead of fighting with diminishing ranks, we should feel assured that the gaps made by the bullet, disease, desertion, etc., would be promptly filled, whereas only such parts of the Conscript Law as tend to weaken us are enforced, viz.: 5 per cent for furlough and 50 per cent of officers and non-commissioned officers discharged to consolidate regiments. Even Blair is amazed at this. He protests the order cannot be executed, and we should appeal to Mr. Lincoln, whom he still insists has no desire to destroy the army. But the order is positive and I don’t see how we can hesitate. Grant started today down to Carthage, and I have written to him, which may stave it off for a few days, but I tremble at the loss of so many young and good officers, who have been hard at work for two years, and now that they begin to see how to take care of soldiers, must be turned out…

If not too late, do, for mercy’s sake, exhaust your influence to stop this consolidation of regiments. Fill all the regiments with conscripts, and if the army is then too large disband the regiments that prefer to serve north of the Potomac and the Ohio. Keep the war South at all hazards. If this Consolidation Law is literally enforced, and no new draft is made, this campaign is over. And the outside world will have a perfect right to say our Government is afraid of its own people…

Affectionately yours,

W. T. Sherman

What Sherman doesn’t know is that a Union flotilla of six transports and twelve barges have passed the Confederate artillery batteries protecting Vicksburg. One transport and six barges were sunk yesterday, but the remainder carried their supplies to Grant’s troops now stationed below the city. It is has been slow going for Grant and his mission to take Vicksburg, but his plan does appear to be coming together. C.S.A. Major Generals Carter L. Stevenson and John C. Pemberton try come to an agreement on how to best use their scarce resources; they lack the number of troops that Grant has at his disposal. Stevenson is convinced that the Union army will cross the Mississippi River at Warrenton, just eight miles south of Vicksburg. He wants troops stationed on the south side of Vicksburg where they can cover roads that would lead into the city from Warrenton. Pemberton wants to send troops directly to Warrenton itself. Neither General is looking 20 miles further south to Grand Gulf, which is exactly where Grant is preparing his men for a major move.

Ever since their son Willie’s death last February, U.S. President Abraham and his wife Mary Lincoln continue to have difficulties getting over the loss. Especially given the loss of loved ones during the war, spiritualists and séances are becoming a trend across the country, whether it be a sincere attempt to make contact with a loved one, or simply a show for entertainment. Mary Lincoln has especially found comfort in them, believing that through the séances she is able to make contact with her dear deceased son. Though the President does not believe in such things and is getting over an illness which has affected his throat and eyes, he gives in to his wife and attends a séance in the White House Red Room tonight; several cabinet members also attend. There is no unusual activity until after the Lincoln’s left the room. Newspapers will report that after the Lincoln’s left, the “‘Spirits’ tweaked the nose of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and tugged on Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles beard.

150 Years Ago: Saturday, December 20, 1862

Salmon P. ChaseSource: Library of Congress

Salmon P. Chase
Source: Library of Congress

This morning U.S. President Abraham Lincoln receives the resignation letter from an embarrassed Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase. He now holds the resignations of Chase and Secretary of State William Seward in his hands. As he sits there with their resignations, one in each hand, he tells visiting New York Senator and friend Ira Harris that “I can ride now – I’ve got a pumpkin in each end of my bag.

He laughs it off; Seward and Chase might not get along, but they balance each other out. Lincoln refuses to accept either resignation. Lincoln knows how Seward is perceived to be in control of everything, but Lincoln knows that is not the case and values his contributions. Though Chase is untrustworthy in his lust for power and Lincoln is well aware that Chase has such strong ambitions to become President that he is even willing to switch parties to run against him in 1864, Chase has proven to be invaluable in the Treasury Department, where he has made it an efficient and organized “machine” and he has done an outstanding job selling war bonds and managing the finances of the U.S. government during a time of war. Neither man argues with the President’s decision and the rest of the Cabinet supports it. The “Cabinet Crisis” is officially over.

Confederate cavalry under Major General Earl Van Dorn raid U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s secondary – yet crucial – supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi, capturing the entire 1,500 man garrison and destroying ammunition and food. Combined with recent similar actions by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry in Tennessee, Grant finds his communications and supply lines with the North temporarily suspended. He stops his movement toward Vicksburg and decides to withdraw to Oxford, Mississippi. While his men ask him what they are to do, Grant responds “We had endeavored to feed ourselves from our own northern resources, but our friends in gray have been uncivil enough to destroy what we had brought along, and it could not be expected that men, with arms in their hands, would starve in the midst of plenty.” Grant sends troops and wagons to collect all the food and forage they can find for fifteen miles on each side of the road, along with “assisting in eating up what we left.

One of Grant’s generals is unaware of this development: U.S. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, who is aboard the Forest Queen and leaving Memphis today with 20,000 men towards Vicksburg. They will stop at Helena to pick up 12,000 more. Sherman writes to his brother John, an Ohio Senator:

Of course the pressure of this force acting in concert with Grant must produce good results. Even if we don’t open the Mississippi, by the way an event not so important as at first sight, until the great armies of the enemy are defeated – we are progressing. I wish Burnside and Rosecrans were getting along faster, but I suppose the encounter the same troubles we all do…

The great evil is absenteeism, which is real desertion and should be punished with death. Of course I would have the wounded and sick well cared for, but the sick list real and feigned is fearful. More than one-half the paper army is not in the enemy’s country and whilst the actual regiments present for duty are in arrears of pay and favor, sick and discharged men are carefully paid and provided for. Unite with other and discriminate in favor of the officers and soldiers who are with their companies. The “absent and sick” should receive half pay because of the advantages they receive of fine hospitals and quiet residence at home. The “absent without leave” should be treated as deserters and in no event receive a dollar’s pay – clothing or anything else. In course of time we may get an army. Finance is very important but no use of discussing that now; we must fight it out if it devastates the land and costs every cent of the North…

I rise at 3 a.m. to finish up necessary business and as usual write in haste… I am very popular with the people here and officers and indeed with all my men. I don’t seek popularity with the “sneaks and absentees” or the “Dear People”…

Former U.S. Commander of the Army of the Potomac George B. McClellan writes to U.S. Brigadier General Fitz John Porter from the 5th Avenue Hotel in New York City. Porter has been recently arrested and court-martialed for his actions at the Second Bull Run battle in August (he did not follow orders to attack) and is awaiting a hearing. McClellan has always had a close personal relationship with Porter, who he considers his protege. Unable to keep his feelings quiet about the recent Fredericksburg defeat, he writes:

The monied men & the respectable men of this city are up in arms, their patience is exhausted & unless the President comprehends the gravity of his situation I see great danger ahead.

Burnside must have conducted his withdrawal very skillfully to have succeeded so well – poor fellow how I pity him! I have defended him to the best of my ability.

The sacrifice of Saturday was an useless one – nothing gained, not even honor. Banks ought to have gone to the James River, & to the last moment I hoped that it was so.

The future looks dark & threatening – alas for our poor country! I still trust in God & bow to his will – he will bring us victory when we deserve it. A change must come ere long – the present state of affairs cannot last.

I shudder, Fitz, when I think of those poor fellows of ours so uselessly killed at Fredericksburg!

McClellan also asks Porter if he wants him as a witness in front of the court, as McClellan is willing to go to Washington to defend his friend’s actions.

U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside travels to Washington at Lincoln’s request; tonight he meets with him and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to personally review his report on what happened on the Fredericksburg battlefield.

U.S. First Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. writes to his father back home in Massachusetts from Falmouth, Virginia:

After the inspiration of a night which would have been rather a nipper in your furnace-warmed house with double glass, passed here with a couple of blankets in one of the tents which I suppose General Halleck (whom may the Lord confound) would enumerate among the “luxuries” of the Army of the Potomac. I sit down to give you the benefit of my cheerfulness. U always read now that the Advertiser religiously as well as other papers and I was glad to see that cheerful sheet didn’t regard the late attempt in the light of a reverse. It was an infamous butchery in a ridiculous attempt in which I’ve no doubt our loss doubled or tripled that of the Rebs. However that’s neither here nor there. I’ve just been reading Mr. Motley’s letters to Billy (William) Seward. What a noble manly high-toned writer he is. I always thought his letters to you were more thoroughly what a man should write than almost any I ever saw. I never I believe have shown, as you seemed to hint, any wavering in my belief int eh right of our cause. It is my disbelief in our success by arms in which I differ from you & him. I think in that matter I have better chances of judging than you and I believe I represent the conviction of the army & not the least of the most intelligent part of it.

The successes of which you spoke were to be anticipated as necessary if we entered into the struggle. But I see no farther progress. I don’t think either of you realize the unity or the determination of the South. I think you are hopeful because (excuse me) you are ignorant. But if it is true that we represent civilization in its nature, as well as slavery, diffusive & aggressive, and if civilization and progress are the better things why they will conquer in the long run, we may be sure, and will stand a better chance in their proper province – peace – than in war, the brother of slavery – brother – it is slavery’s parent, child and sustainer at once.At any rate dear Father don’t, because I say these things imply or think that I am the manner for saying them. I am, to be sure, heartily tired and half worn out body and mind by this life, but I believe I am as ready as ever to do my duty. But it is maddening to see men put in over us & motions forced by popular clamor when the army is only willing to trust its life & reputation to one man.

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: Monday, December 15, 1862

Just before light our Regiment was sent to the front and pushed behind the bank of a road. Here we lay all day watching the enemy’s forts. About 3 p.m. our Batteries opened firing over our heads, and as the Rebels replied the shots would cross in the air. It was not pleasant for us and somewhat dangerous.” — U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Throughout the night and into the day and during a bad storm, the Union army continues to retreat and makes a skillful and organized recrossing of the Rappahannock River. C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee’s army doesn’t provide them much resistance at this point; they have held their lines, Richmond is safe, and the Union cost is high. Union casualties are 12,653; Confederates lose 5,377, though most were from the right flank under Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson’s Corp, who did not have as much time to dig in and did not have the protection of a stone wall. Even though the Confederate losses are much smaller, so is their population; it will be more of a challenge to bring in fresh recruits to replace the men they lost in this battle compared to the Union and their larger population.

Burial of Union Dead in Fredericksburg, 12/15/1862Source: Library of Congress

Burial of Union Dead in Fredericksburg, 12/15/1862
Source: Library of Congress

In Fredericksburg and the surrounding area, every building has been converted into a hospital for Union and Confederate wounded. Each side is burying their dead, though many of the Confederates will be taken back to their homes for burial or placed in cemeteries in Fredericksburg. Even with the battlefield still covered with blood, politicians in both the North and South begin their criticism. In Richmond, Virginia, where news of a victory should have been a reason to celebrate, there is instead questioning as to why Lee did not follow-up the successful defense of the heights above Fredericksburg with a counterattack. They ignore the crucial fact that even after U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside’s significant losses, Lee’s army is still outnumbered and heavy Union artillery is undamaged across the river at Stafford Heights. In Washington, fury against Burnside pours in from every direction. Reports from Major General Joseph Hooker are perhaps the most loud and damaging. President Abraham Lincoln is unable to criticize; he fired George B. McClellan for failing to move/fight. Burnside did what Lincoln had wanted, even if it wasn’t the plan Lincoln had suggested a week before when it was obvious that the situation had changed from when the original plan to take Fredericksburg and Richmond had been developed. Still, he could not chastise Burnside and knew that the politicians, media and public would demand answers.

Though Fredericksburg was a costly battle, nothing is gained on either side and the war continues.

U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster continues his “Goldsboro Expedition”, and this morning in Kinston he paroles 400 Confederates he has captured over the previous few days. He recrosses the partially-burned Jones Bridge and then successfully burns the remainder of it to prevent a Confederate rear attack. Foster and his men proceed west toward Whitehall (now Seven Springs) and Goldsboro. They are within four miles of Whitehall before they stop for the night. Knowing that Foster is on his way, C.S.A. Cavalry Officer Beverly H. Robertson crosses the Neuse River and burns the bridge at Whitehall to help protect Confederate troops and a gunboat being constructed on the north side.

From Oxford, Mississippi, U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant writes a letter to his sister Mary Grant, who is watching his children as his wife Julia travels into Mississippi with his father Jesse Grant:

Dear Sister,

Yesterday I received a letter from you and the children and one from Uncle Samuel. Today I learn by telegraph that father is at Holly Springs thirty miles North of here. Julia is there and as I expect the railroad to be completed to here by tomorrow I look for them soon. I shall only remain here tomorrow, or next day at farthest; so that Julia will go immediately back to Holly Springs. It was a pleasant place and she may as well stay there as elsewhere.

We are now having wet weather. I have a big Army in front of me as well as bad roads. I shall probably give a good account of myself however not with-standing all obstacles. My plans are all complete for weeks to come and I hope to have them all work out just as planned.

For a conscientious person, and I profess to be one, this is a most slavish life. I may be envied by ambitious persons but I in turn envy the person who can transact his daily business and retire to a quiet home without a feeling of responsibility for the morrow. Taking my whole department there are an immense number of lives staked upon my judgment and acts. I am extended now like a Peninsula into an enemies country with a large Army depending for their daily bread upon keeping open a line of railroad running one hundred & ninety miles through an enemy’s country, or at least through territory occupied by a people terribly embittered and hostile to us. With all this I suffer the mortification of seeing myself attacked right and left by people at home professing patriotism and love of country who never heard the whistle of a hostile bullet. I pity them and a nation dependent upon such for its existence. I am thankful however that although such people make a great noise the masses are not like them.

With all my other trials I have to conduct against is added that of speculators whose patriotism is measured by dollars and cents. Country has no value with them compared with money. To elucidate this would take quires of paper so I will reserve this for an evenings conversation if I should be so fortunate as to again get home where I can have a day to myself.

Tell the children to learn their lessons, mind their grandma and be good children. I should like very much to see them. To me they are all obedient and good. I may be partial but they seem to me to be children to be proud of.

Remember me to all at home.

Your brother,

Ulys.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis is in Chattanooga, Tennessee to meet with General Joseph E. Johnston and to review the troop situation there. Even though he’s only been gone a few days, he writes a letter to his wife Varina back home in Richmond; he has yet to hear the news that Lee has been successful at Fredericksburg:

My dear Wife,

We had a pleasant trip & without an incident to related reached this place on the 11th. The troops in Murfreesboro were in fine spirits and well supplied. The enemy keep close within their lines about Nashville, which place is too strongly fortified and garrisoned for attack by troops unprepared for regular approaches on fortifications.

Many of your acquaintances made kind inquiry for you. Especially Genl. Hardee. I saw Joe Mitchell and Willie Farish, both were well. Last night on my arrival here a telegram announced the attack made at Fredericksburg. You can imagine my anxiety. There are indications of a strong desire for me to visit the farther West expressed in terms which render me unwilling to disappoint the expectation.

Mrs. Joe Johnston is well, not quite pleased with her location. Genl. Johnston will directly to Miss. and reinforce Genl. Pemberton. I saw Mr. Clay, who gives a discouraging account of the feeling of the people about Huntsville. He says the fear of the traitors is so great lest they should in the event of a return of the Yankees bring down vengeance on the true men that our friends look around to see who is in earshot before speaking of public affairs.

It is raining this morning and unreasonably warm. I have traveled constantly since starting and feel somewhat the want to rest, but otherwise am better than before the journey. Joe was a little unwell yesterday, but seems bright today. Many of the officers inquired for Col. Preston Johnston and felt, as I did, regret at his absence.

Kiss the children of their loving Father. They can little realize how much I miss them. Every sound is the voice of my child and every child renews them memory of a loved one’s appearance, but none can equal their charms, nor can any compare with my own long-worshipped Winnie.

She is na my ain Lassie

Though fair the lassie be

For well ken I my ain lassie

By the kind love in her eye.

Ever affectionately,

Your Husband

150 Years Ago: Sunday December 14, 1862

“From the battle field near Fredericksburg: We crossed the river Thursday night and have been under fire ever since. The Rebels are strongly entrenched, and we have not made much headway. Today has been very quiet with an occasional shell from the Rebels. We tried to keep the Sabbath the best we could. We lay all day in our rifle pits awaiting events. I write this on the battlefield.” — U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Yesterday 19-year-old C.S.A. Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland’s unit, Company G of the 2nd South Carolina, had spent the day behind the stone wall inflicting heavy casualties against Union troops. As morning came, daylight reveals over 8,000 Union soldiers still on the battlefield in front of them. Many are still alive but there are thousands that are wounded and suffering terribly from pain and a lack of water. Orders have not been given to the men to retreat and no truce has yet been reached to remove the wounded from the field, so the Union troops are stuck on the cold, open field, shielding themselves from occasional Confederate rifle fire and the cold by propping dead soldiers up around them as a “wall” of protection.

"The Angel of Marye's Heights" Memorial at Fredericksburg, VirginiaSource: TCWP

“The Angel of Marye’s Heights” Memorial at Fredericksburg
Source: TCWP

Men from both sides are forced to listen to the painful cries throughout the night and morning, with neither side daring to make a move to help anyone for fear of being shot. By mid-morning Kirkland approaches C.S.A. Brigadier General Joseph B. Kershaw and tells him that he wishes to help the wounded soldiers. At first Kershaw declines the request, but later he relents. Once given permission, Kirkland asks if he could show a white handkerchief, but white flags are used for surrender; this is not a surrender situation so Kershaw declines. Kirkland responds “All right, sir, I’ll take my chances.

Kirkland gathers all the canteens he can carry, fills them with water and then makes his way out into the battlefield. He ventures back and forth several times, giving wounded Union soldiers not only water, but warm clothing and blankets that his fellow Confederates have donated to the cause. Kershaw watches in amazement, thinking that the Union will open fire and the Confederacy will respond in return, leaving Kirkland in the crossfire; but no one fires a shot. Within a very short time it is obvious to both sides as to what Kirkland is doing, and soon cries for water erupt all over the battlefield. Kirkland does not stop until he helps every wounded soldier who asks for him – Union and Confederate – on the hill near the stone wall. He is dubbed “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.”

Despite the horrific results of yesterday’s attacks, U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside wants to continue the attack and has to be talked out of it by the other generals as they refuse to continue the wave after wave of suicidal marches with their men. If his generals won’t do it, Burnside will; he still believes he can break Lee’s lines and offers to personally lead another attack. He is finally talked out of it.

This afternoon Burnside requests a truce to tend to the thousands of wounded soldiers and C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee agrees. Under the cover of darkness and a storm, the Union army starts its withdrawal that will go well into tomorrow.

Lee writes to the Confederate War Department that Fredericksburg has been a victory. So far he counts 1,800 killed or wounded on his side, with 550 Union men captured; he is unsure, however, what the full extent of Burnside’s loss is.

LaSalle "Sallie" CorbellSource: Library of Congress

LaSalle “Sallie” Corbell
Source: Library of Congress

C.S.A. Major General George Pickett writes to his love interest, Sallie Ann Corbell, who has changed her name to LaSalle Corbell but whom Pickett still calls “Sallie.” Pickett has been married twice before and rumor has it that his new girl is just that – a girl who is 14 years old compared to his 37 years of age. It turns out she is 18, but she likes being referred to “Schoolgirl Sallie.” They had first met in 1852 when she was just 9 and recovering from whopping cough, and Pickett was recovering from the loss of his first wife and child. When he can he travels to Suffolk, Virginia to see her. He now writes to her about what he has witnessed these last few days at Fredericksburg:

Here we are, my darling, at Fredericksburg, on the south side of the Rappahannock, half-way between Richmond and Washington, fortified for us by the hand of the Great Father.

I penciled you a note by old Jackerie (headquarters postmaster) on the 12th from the foot of the hills between Hazel Run and the Telegraph Road. In it I sent a hyacinth given me by a pretty lady who came out with beaten biscuit – and some unwritten and written messages from Old Peter (note: James Longstreet) and Old Jack (note: Thomas Jackson), Hood, Ewell, Stuart, and your “brothers,” to the “someone” to whom I was writing.

My division, nine thousand strong, is in fine shape. It was on the field of battle, as a division, for the first time yesterday, though only one brigade, Kemper’s, was actively engaged.

What a day it was, my darling – this ever to be remembered by many of us thirteenth of December dawning auspiciously upon us clad in deepest, darkest mourning! A fog such as would shame London lay over the valley, and through the dense mist distinctly came the uncanny commands of the unseen opposing officers. My men were eager to be in the midst of the fight, and if Hood had not been so cautious they would probably have immortalized themselves. Old Peter’s orders were that Hood and myself were to hold our ground of defense unless we should see an opportunity to attack the enemy while engaged with A.P. Hill on the right. A little after ten, when the fog had lifted and Stuart’s cannon from the plain of Massaponax were turned upon Meade and when Franklin’s advance left the enemy’s flank open, I went up to Hood and urged him to seize the opportunity; but he was afraid to assume so great a responsibility and sent for permission to Old Peter, who was with Marse Robert in a different part of the field. Before his assent and approval were received, the opportunity, alas, was lost!

If war, my darling, is a necessity – and I suppose it is – it is a very cruel one. Your Soldier’s heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin fearlessly rush to their death. The brilliant assault on Marye’s Heights of their Irish Brigade was beyond description. Why, my darling, we forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our lines. About fifty of my division sleep their last sleep at the foot of Marye’s Heights.

I can’t help but feel sorry for Old Burnside proud-plucky, hard-headed old dog. I always liked him, but I loved little Mac, and it was a godsend to the Confederacy that he was relieved.

Oh, my darling, war and its results did  not seem so awful till the love for you came. Now I want to love and bless and help everything, and there are no foes – no enemies – just love for you and longing for you.

Your Soldier

The Lacy HouseSource: Library of Congress

The Lacy House
Source: Library of Congress

When not carrying messages, the Union mounted orderly for Brigadier General Orlando Poe, Emma “Frank” Thompson, assists the ambulance corps with taking the wounded to the Lacy House, where Clara Barton waits to receive them. Since dawn, surgeons have been working frantically in every room, and soon an inch or more of blood covers James Lacy’s beautiful hardwood floors.

On the Western front, U.S. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman is back in Memphis, Tennessee after being charged by Major General Ulysses S. Grant to organize the forces from there and nearby Helena, Arkansas for a move towards Vicksburg, Mississippi. Grant was hoping Sherman would have 40,000 troops, but by Sherman’s count he will have 30,000 to move down the Mississippi River via steamers and should arrive by December 18. Sherman is concerned that the different leaders – himself, Grant, Major General Samuel Curtis and Admiral David Dixon Porter – are too apart from each other but has confidence that when the move comes they will all act in concert to take the difficult city fortified by both land and water.

George B. McClellan sends a quick letter to August Belmont, the leader of the National Democrat party: “I fear that Mr L is busily engaged in breaking the rest of the eggs in the basket! Is this the blackest hour which precedes the dawn?

In Washington, Mary Lincoln attends church services with Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning while her husband stays at the White House looking over maps and discussing military options after what appears to be a defeat at Fredericksburg. President Lincoln is in anguish over the results, yet is still looking for a lot of answers; he has no idea what the cost of the defeat has been.

150 Years Ago: Sunday, December 7, 1862

U.S. Brigadier General Rufus B. SaxtonSource: Library of Congress

U.S. Brigadier General Rufus B. Saxton
Source: Library of Congress

U.S. Brigadier General Rufus B. Saxton is currently acting military governor for the Department of the South. Originally from Massachusetts, his father Jonathan Ashley Saxton was a feminist and abolitionist writer.  At age 20, he received an appointment to West Point from which he graduated in 1849. At the time, he was one of the few cadets that was anti-slavery. He is considered handsome, courteous and affable; both a gentleman and a soldier. He sees the growing issue of what to do with former slave refugees and proposes the following:

“The prospect is that all the lands on these sea islands, will be bought up by speculators, and in that event, these helpless people may be placed more or less at the mercy of men devoid of principle, and their future well being jeopardized, thus defeating in a great measure the benevolent intention of the Government towards them.

To prevent this, and give the negroes a right in that soil to whose wealth they are destined in the future to contribute so largely, to save them from destitution, to enable them to take care of themselves, and prevent them from ever becoming a burden upon the country, I would most respectfully call your attention to the importance of the immediate passage of an act of Congress, empowering the President to appoint three Commissioners, whose duty it shall be to make allotments of portions of the lands forfeit to the US…to the emancipated negroes…”

Rufus will order the refugees under his jurisdiction to settle on abandoned lands; he will issue each laborer two acres of land and provide them with tools to plant crops for their own consumption. In exchange, they will produce a portion of cotton for U.S. government use. He will appoint several superintendents to oversee the blacks’ welfare, and private relief associations quickly organize to provide additional supplies, supervision and education. Time will tell if his efforts are successful, but transitioning former slaves to a life that is there own is a problem no one knows how to best approach/resolve.

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes is still waiting with over 100,000 men to see what their orders are from Commanding General Ambrose Burnside: “We are still in camp at the unknown place. Plenty of snow, ice and cold. Colonel Wheaton has gone to Washington for a few days.

Former U.S. Commander George B. McClellan continues to catch up on his correspondence. He sends a letter to Edward Everett, who had written him on November 17 with his support and tribute of admiration for McClellan’s conduct during his time in leadership. McClellan writes:

“I cannot express too warmly my very grateful appreciation of your kind feeling and good opinion of me, and I assure you that the approval of such as you far more than compensates me for whatever of abuse and detractions I may have undergone.

I am content to await the arbitrament of the future, conscious that I have at least endeavored to do my best for the cause of our country and that my mistakes were not intentional.”

McClellan also writes to August Belmont, the national chairman of the Democratic party. Belmont, who is originally from Germany, is very loyal to the party but historically has been one of the easier Democrats to work with; he has often advised U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on economic policies between the U.S. and Europe and is very pro-Union. The one thing Belmont and the President do disagree on is their confidence in McClellan. Belmont had been the one leading the charge for McClellan to be re-instated this past September, stating that someone as trusted and respected as McClellan was needed given the lack of confidence citizens had in the war department and administration regarding the conduct of the war and the outcomes to date. Even though he supports the Union, Belmont has already started thinking about who should run against Lincoln in the 1864 Presidential election. He has set his sights on Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase (a former Democrat turned Republican, but a discouraged one who thought he deserved to be President over Lincoln); but now Belmont sees McClellan as a strong contender. With the popular McClellan no longer being utilized in the Union army, Belmont sees an opportunity. He had sent McClellan copies of letters he had written to Lincoln and other administration officials in an effort to make him feel important and “in the know.” It is the first step in grooming McClellan for a potential run. In response, McClellan writes that “In reading them my greatest regret is that the administration could not be induced to act in accordance with your views – some such policy as that you urged must yet be adopted or we are lost.

On a bitter cold day in Prairie Grove, Arkansas, twelve miles southwest of Fayetteville, the Confederates try to regain control of northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri. Confederates under Major General Thomas C. Hindman and Missouri “Bushwacker” leader William C. Quantrill are defeated in an encounter with U.S. Major General James G. Blunt and Major General Francis J. Herron.

There are 1,251 Union casualties out of 10,000 engaged; Confederates lose 1,317 out of 10,000. After the battle, the Union troops will find many unwounded Confederates frozen to death on the battlefield.

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.

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