George Meade

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Video Spotlight: Memories of Gettysburg

I recently took my long-time best friend, Maurice Barnes, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the first time. While we had less than 24 hours there, we managed to hit a lot of places. He captured it with his video camera and I used my trusted camera (though I already have over 4,000 photos from previous Gettysburg visits; you can never have enough, right?).

A few weeks after we returned home Maurice surprised me with a video keepsake. It is a compilation of the video he took, along with some photos I took, and a few “fillers” from the Library of Congress. The song he used, “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri, is one that I have listened to when I drive into Gettysburg, and as I drive along the battlefield roads. Words like “one step closer” and “every breath, every hour has come to this” seem fitting in their own ways.

I was so moved by this gift that I asked his permission to share it with all of you. As it turns out, we are launching our own companies today as well, so we are launching this video as our first collaborative project. The dedication he has to me is something he strongly wanted to keep, and I appreciate that. He has always been one of my biggest Civil War Project supporters, and as you will be able to tell from the video, he also has a sincere passion and respect for history. I hope you find it as moving as I do, and it will hopefully give those who have not been to Gettysburg an idea of what it is like, and for those who have been there I hope it captures a small piece of your own experiences:

(If you are on a mobile device, you can watch it here): Memories of Gettysburg

For those of you who want all the specifics on the images shown on the video, you can find them here.

In regards to our two companies: I just launched my company called Visions on Fourth St. It will not just focus on my own creations such as The Civil War Project, but will aim to help others achieve their own vision, whether it be for an event, business start-up, or marketing initiative. The other company, Firefly Productions, is owned by Maurice and his brother Michael. Firefly’s mission is to capture the fire of people, events, places, companies, etc. through a wide range of videography and production services. I think this video is a beautiful representation of the work they produce, and I look forward to doing many more with them in the future.

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: Tuesday, December 23, 1862

Lieutenant Colonel William McCulloughDied in Coffeeville, Mississippi Source: McLean County (Illinois)

Lieutenant Colonel William McCullough
Died in Coffeeville, Mississippi
Source: McLean County (Illinois)Dear Fanny

Dear Fanny,

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend,
A. Lincoln

The Army of Virginia troops had watched the people of Fredericksburg lose their possessions and homes during the Union raids on December 12 and many have been collecting money to give to the citizens to help them rebuild their lives after the devastation. C.S.A. Lieutenant General James Longstreet asks his assistant to write a letter of thanks to Colonel James B. Walton and the men of the Washington Artillery battalion:

By direction of the lieutenant-general commanding, I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your check for $1,391, the contribution of the troops of your battalion to the fund for the relief of the Fredericksburg sufferers. In making this acknowledgment I and directed to express his admiration for the generous and feeling manner in which your command has responded to the call for relief. The members of the Washington Artillery show that they have hearts to feel as well as hearts to fight.

U.S. Major General George B. Meade has reason to celebrate, as he has been given the 5th Corps that had been temporarily under Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield. The 5th Corps had taken a beating at Fredericksburg with over 2,175 killed, wounded or missing, and while many are new recruits they are Pennsylvania men just like Meade. In turn he loses his 1st Corp men, but that particular corps has been quite depleted and he is excited about his new assignment. He throws a party for himself and invites Major General John Reynolds and other officers to join him. He jokingly writes to his wife Margaretta in Philadelphia that “It was unanimously agreed that Congress ought to establish the grade of lieutenant general, and that they would all unite in having me made one, provided I would treat with such good wine.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has done nothing with the bill he received from Congress over a week ago that would admit West Virginia as a new state. He sends his Cabinet members a short note regarding the matter:

Gentlemen of the Cabinet: A bill for an act entitled ‘An Act for the admission of the State of West-Virginia into the Union, and for other purposes,’ has passed the House of Representatives, and the Senate, and has been duly presented to me for my action.

I respectfully ask of each [of] you, an opinion in writing, on the following questions, towit:

1st. Is the said Act constitutional?

2nd. Is the said Act expedient?

From Vicksburg, Mississippi, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issues General Order No. 111, a proclamation declaring U.S. Major General Benjamin Butler a felon and insisting that he be executed immediately if captured, without a military trial. Butler had been acting as military governor of New Orleans since early 1862 and though he had a few friends in the city, many of his actions outraged most Southerners. In fact, he was often called “the most hated Yankee in the Confederacy.” Butler had worked to remove all signs of the Confederacy from the city and ordered civil officers, attorneys and clergy to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. He had, to the disgust of the locals, enlisted former black slaves as Union soldiers. And to top it off, he had issued General Order No. 28, which stated that any woman who insulted Union troops would “be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.” It was a sly way of stating that if a Southern lady was going to act unladylike – for example, slap a Union officer – then under this order the Union officer would be allowed to slap her back. The wording also implied that women who acted unladylike were “prostitutes.” The proclamation was met with great support from Confederate supporters; as for Butler, it certainly was not going to change the way he conducted his affairs that he felt had been successful to date in keeping a key city of Rebels under Union control.

Though C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston has been traveling with Davis for several days, he has been unsuccessful in getting Davis to agree with him on the best use of troops. Perhaps frustrated that his words are not sinking in, he writes a letter to Davis, once again requesting permission to use troops in Arkansas led by Lieutenant General Theophilius Holmes to protect Vicksburg instead of taking from General Braxton Bragg’s forces in Tennessee:

Our great object is to hold the Mississippi. The country beyond the river is as much interested in that object as this, and the loss to us of the Mississippi involves that of the country beyond it. The 8,000 or 10,000 men which are essential to safety ought, therefore, I respectfully suggest, to be taken from Arkansas, to return after the crisis in this department. I firmly believe, however, that our true system of warfare would be to concentrate the forces of the two departments on this side of the Mississippi, beat the enemy here, and then reconquer the country beyond it, which he might have gained in the mean time.

U.S. Major General has been attempting to feed his soldiers and restore his lines of communication and supply after C.S.A. Cavalry officer Earl Van Dorn’s raid on his Holly Springs, Mississippi base, but he has been unsuccessful. He can no longer continue the expedition into Mississippi and capture Vicksburg by a long overland route when he does not have the tools necessary to do so. He officially starts to move his troops back north into Tennessee as U.S. Major General William T. Sherman and his men continue to head to Vicksburg by water.

150 Years Ago: Saturday, December 13, 1862

Today is U.S. First Lady Mary Lincoln’s 44th birthday. But 52 miles south of the city there is no celebration; instead, the day brings the most senseless slaughter that the country has seen to date.

Marye's Heights Today (this would have been open land between the city and this point at the top of the hill)Source: TCWP

Marye’s Heights Today (this would have been open land between the city and this point at the top of the hill)
Source: TCWP

With most of U.S. General Ambrose Burnside’s troops now across the Rappahannock River, the Confederates expect an attack. C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee knows his position is a strong one; most of his men are located on Marye’s Heights, which overlooks the city. The Confederates have a stone wall for protection and the high ground. All they have to do is wait for the Union troops to come to them, which will be no easy task. They have to advance through 200 yards of cannon fire without cover, cross a narrow canal over three small bridges, and then advance against Confederate infantry lined up firing down on them from behind a stone wall. Lee and one of his most trusted Generals, James Longstreet, look to Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, who has been responsible for setting each piece of artillery now aimed at the enemy. Lee believes that artillery will be key in winning this battle. When asked by his superiors for an assessment of their preparedness, Alexander states that “A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.

Across the Rappahannock River at his headquarters at Chatham House, Burnside issues his attack orders early in the morning. He calls for an assault against Jackson’s Corp by Major General William B. Franklin’s Left Grand Division, after which will follow an advance against Marye’s Heights by Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Right Grand Division. Burnside uses ambiguous and hesitant language in his orders, which may reflect a lack of confidence in his plan or his uncertainty of Lee’s troop positions.

Battle of Fredericksburg MapSource: Library of Congress(Click to Enlarge)

Battle of Fredericksburg Map
Source: Library of Congress
(Click to Enlarge)

Burnside believes that he is only facing part of Lee’s army on the heights behind the city. He plans to use artillery on Stafford Heights to control the battlefield on either side of the river. While Sumner moves towards the heights as a diversion, Burnside will take Franklin’s stronger left wing and have him storm the ridgeline south of the city, taking Lee by surprise. Once the ridgeline is taken, Franklin is to sweep north into the city while Sumner’s wing continues the attack on the heights. The final goal is the same for both Franklin and Sumner: seize Marye’s Heights.

Franklin and his key Major Generals, John F. Reynolds and William “Baldy” Smith, agree that the best way to defeat Lee is to roll up Jackson’s front. They had waited until 3am that morning for instructions, thinking they would move early, but instead they don’t receive a go-ahead until 7:30 a.m. As they read Burnside’s instructions, they find that it is not an approval for an all-out attack. One division “at least” is to seize the heights near Hamilton’s Crossing “if possible”, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open. The rest of the command is to be in position for a rapid move up the old Richmond Road towards Maryes Heights, which will only work if Jackson falls back towards the city.

Reynold’s 1st Corps is picked for the drive up the heights with approximately 5,000 men. The privilege of leading the assault goes to the Pennsylvania Reserves, led by Major General George Meade. Reynolds chooses them because he trusts the men and their commander more than anyone else. At 8:30 a.m. Meade leads his three brigades towards Jackson’s position. Jackson’s men put up a difficult fight. At one point Jackson feels his men are losing their position; he orders the “Rebel yell” and his men slam into the exhausted and outnumbered Pennsylvanians. One Union private will later say that “The action was close-handed and men fell like leaves in autumn. It seems miraculous that any of us escaped at all.

Part of the Stone Wall Today (Replica)Source: TCWP

Part of the Stone Wall Today (Replica)
Source: TCWP

Sumner receives similar orders from Burnside, using the same language to send one division “at least” to attack Marye’s Heights. Sumner waits until the fog finally lifts at 10 a.m. and then begins to line up his troops in the city streets. Around noon, the first brigade under Brigadier General Nathan Kimball marches out of the city and towards the heights. As they reach the canal ditch they encounter a bottleneck, which is spanned by partially destroyed bridges established at only three locations. Once they cross, they try as best as they can to reform their lines and march up the muddy slope towards the stone wall. The Confederate artillery and massed musket fire opens up a storm around them once they are within 125 feet of the wall; Kimball is severely wounded and his men suffer 25% casualties. None of them reach the wall. Some start to run away from the fire, but most get on the ground with some attempting to fire at the stone wall but with no impact.

An hour later at 1 p.m., Major General William H. French sends out two additional brigades, and the same thing occurs: the men march out of the city, they bottleneck at the canal, they reform lines and make their way up the muddy slope, only to be fired upon by Confederate shells in every direction. These two brigades suffer 50% casualties.

Thomas Francis MeagherSource: Library of Congress

Thomas Francis Meagher
Source: Library of Congress

Sumner now looks to Major General Winfield Scott Hancock and his men. Hancock first sends in Brigadier General Samuel K. Zook, followed by the famed Irish Brigade led by Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher. Thirty-nine year old Meagher, originally from Ireland, had been the leader of the Young Irelanders in Ireland’s Rebellion of 1848. He had been convicted of sedition and sentenced to death, but instead was transported out of Ireland to Australia. In 1852 Meagher had made his way to the U.S. and settled in New York City, where he studied law, worked as a journalist and held traveling lectures on the Irish cause. He had joined the army immediately at the start of the Civil War and encouraged Irish immigrants to support the Union by joining what was eventually his “Irish Brigade,” which has an outstanding reputation. By complete coincidence, Meagher and his men are aimed at attacking an area at the stone wall defended by fellow Irishmen of C.S.A. Colonel Robert McMillan’s 24th Georgia Infantry. One of the Confederates spot the Irish Brigade’s green regimental flags approaching them and cries out “Oh God, what a pity! Here comes Meagher’s fellows.” But McMillan orders his troops to “Give it to them now, boys! Now’s the time! Give it to them!” Meagher’s men come very close to reaching the stone wall but are repulsed; 545 are killed, wounded or missing out of 1,200. One of the men, U.S. Private Josiah Marshall Favill, will later write that:

“Immediately the hill in front was hid from view by a continuous sheet of flame…The rebel infantry poured in a murderous fire while their guns from every available point fired shot and shell and canister. The losses were so tremendous, that before we knew it our momentum was gone, and the charge a failure. I wondered while I lay there how it all came about that these thousands of men in broad daylight were trying their best to kill each other. Just then there was no romance, no glorious pomp, nothing but disgust for the genius who planned so frightful a slaughter.

By 2:15 p.m. one of Burnside’s staff officers wires his boss regarding Franklin’s Left Division, stating that “Meade and Gibbon badly used up…enemy in force and threatening on left…engaged now heavily in front…too late to advance either to left or front.” There are men waiting to be used, but they are never called in to assist. The Pennsylvania Reserves had gone in outnumbered six to one and against a very strong position held by Jackson; they suffer 40% casualties.

Around 2:30 p.m. Burnside orders continued waves of assaults on the Confederates, convinced he can break through. Brigadier Samuel Sturgis’s brigade attacks and are all thrown back with terrible losses. Not a single soldier gets to the stone wall. As Lee watches the slaughter, he turns to Longstreet and says “It is well that war is so horrible, or else we should grow too fond of it.

After more than two hours of fighting, four Union divisions have failed to take the heights; there are already 5,125 casualties. No progress has been made. Rather than reconsider his approach, Burnside continues to order the same path. He sends orders to Franklin to renew his assault on Jackson’s troops and now orders his Center Grand Division led by Major General Joseph Hooker to cross the Rappahannock into the city and take the same path to the heights as the others who have gone before him.

First Hooker personally performs reconnaissance  – something Burnside nor Sumner had done – so he can assess the situation. He returns to Burnside’s headquarters and advises him against the attack. While Burnside and Hooker argue, the Confederates take the time to strengthen their position even more by adding Major General George Pickett’s division and one of Major General John Bell Hood’s brigades to reinforce Marye’s Heights. The Union men still on the field continued to fight or to take cover as best they can, using their dead comrades as shields. Though he had not received orders from Hooker, Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield sends his division over to relieve Sturgis’s men, but they are hit hard by sharpshooter and artillery fire and provide no effective relief to Sturgis.

Section of the original Stone Wall; it was 4 feet high at the time of battleSource: TCWP

Section of the original Stone Wall; it was 4 feet high at the time of battle
Source: TCWP

A soldier in Hancock’s division reports movement in the Confederate lines that lead some to believe that the Confederates might be retreating. Though this seems unlikely, a division of Brigadier General Andrew A. Humphreys is ordered to attack and capitalize on the situation. Humphreys leads his first brigade on horseback, with his men moving over and around fallen troops with fixed bayonets and unloaded rifles; some of the fallen men clutched at the passing pant legs, urging their comrades not to go forward, causing the brigade to become disorganized in their advance. The charge reaches within 50 yards of the wall before being cut down by concentrated rifle fire.

By 4 p.m., Hooker returns from his meeting with Burnside, unable to convince him to stop the attacks. While Humphreys is still attacking, Hooker reluctantly sends in Brigadier General George W. Getty, but this time focuses on the leftmost portion of Marye’s Heights. They move along an unfinished railroad line and are able to get very close to the Confederate line without detection in the gathering twilight, but eventually they are detected, fired upon and repulsed.

Humphrey's Division Charge "The Last Major Assault"Source: Library of Congress

Humphrey’s Division Charge “The Last Major Assault”
Source: Library of Congress

At 6:30 p.m. it is dark. Franklin never did follow Burnside’s orders for a second attack towards Jackson’s position. Despite strong protests from his generals, especially Winfield Scott Hancock, Burnside orders his reserves to march over the river and attack the stone wall. Humphreys’ men are told the previous attacks have failed because the men stopped to fire their weapons. They advance with unloaded weapons, planning to use only bayonets. As Hooker watches the last assault, he says “I think I’ve lost as many men as my orders required.

Seven Union divisions had been sent in, generally one brigade at a time. There was a total of fourteen individual charges that resulted in 6,000 to 8,000 casualties. Confederates losses at Marye’s Heights total around 1,200. C.S.A. James Longstreet later would write that “The charges had been desperate and bloody, but utterly hopeless.

As the mounted courier/orderly for Brigadier General Orlando M. Poe, Frank Thompson (aka Sarah Emma Edmonds, a female disguised as a male so she could enlist in the Union Army), had been in constant motion and often close to the hottest action during the battle as she spent the day riding up and down the lines carrying messages and relaying orders. The only time in 12 hours that she got off the saddle was to assist an officer of the 79th New York, who lay writhing in agony on the field, having been seized with cramps and spasms and was in extreme pain. Emma provided him with some powerful medicine that got him back on his horse, at his General’s side, within the hour. While many noticed “Frank’s” bravery that day, not everyone was as heroic. Thompson would write that “I never saw, til then, a man deliberately shoot himself, with his own pistol, in order to save the rebels the satisfaction of doing so, as it would seem. As one brigade was ordered into the line of battle, I saw an officer take out his pistol and shoot himself through the side – not mortally, I am sorry to say, but just sufficient enough to unfit him for duty. He was carried to the rear, protesting that it was done by accident.

From behind the Union lines, London Times reporter Francis Charles Lawley witnesses the wholesale bloodletting:

There, in every attitude of death, lying so close to each other that you might step from body to body, lay acres of the Federal dead. Within the town layers of corpses stretched in the balconies of houses as though taking a siesta. More appalling to look at were piles of arms and legs, amputated as soon as their owners had been carried off the field.”

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers would later write about what he experienced today:

We slept upon our arms last night and daylight this morning found us in line. The battle began at an early hour and the shot and shell screeched and screamed over our heads. To our right we could see the fight going on for the heights beyond and back of Fredericksburg. General Sumner tried to take the hills but failed. The city was on fire in several places, and the noise was deafening. We could see the long lines of Union troops move up the hill and melt away before the Rebel fire. But we were not idle, although at times there would be a lull in our front and we could watch the fight on the right. At 3pm our Regiment was sent down to the left of the line and ordered to support a Battery. This was no fun for us, for we had to stand the Rebel shells fired at the Battery. Just at dark the firing ceased, but what a scene was before us. The dead and wounded covered the ground in all directions. Ambulances were sent out to pick up the wounded, but the enemy opened fire upon them, and wounded were left to suffer. During the evening if a match was lighted it would bring a shell from the Rebel forts on the hills. At 8pm we were ordered to the rear and our Division rested for the night.

That night “Frank” Thompson rides three miles south from her camp to Franklin’s headquarters to obtain instructions for the morning. Franklin’s house, once owned by Mr. Barnard, has been destroyed from the fighting. Along they way she is haunted by the constant moans from the wounded. The night is bitterly cold, which is causing extreme suffering. Major General Darius Couch would write “as fast as men died they stiffened in the wintery air and on the front line were rolled forward for protection to the living. Frozen men were placed like dumb sentries.” For Emma, this was the darkest night she has witnessed in her military career.

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, December 10, 1862

West Virginia division from Confederate Virginia. 1862Source: Library of Congress

West Virginia division from Confederate Virginia. 1862
Source: Library of Congress

The reality of West Virginia becoming a state in the U.S. is one step closer today. The U.S. House of Representatives passes a bill that allows the creation of the state of West Virginia; it had already been approved by the Senate in the summer. There had been a lot of discussion surrounding the issue of slavery and whether it would be allowed in this new state. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner had demanded an emancipation clause, while restored West Virginia Senator John S. Carlile wanted his people to decide by holding a statewide election. A compromise had been reached by West Virginia’s other Senator, Waitman Willey, and Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade, who is the Chairman of the Committee on Territories. The “Willey Amendment” reads:

“The children of slaves born within the limits of this State after the fourth day of July, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, shall be free; and all slaves within the said State who shall, at the time aforesaid, be under the age of ten years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-one years; and all slaves over ten and under twenty-one years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-five years; and no slave shall be permitted to come into the State for permanent residence therein.”

Senator Carlile had voted against the bill; many West Virginians now view him as a traitor, but he was unfortunately not up for reelection this year so he continues to hold office. Now that both the Senate and House have passed the bill, it will be sent to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln for his review and approval.

U.S. Major General John F. Reynolds marches his corp down close to the Rappahannock River to a place south of Fredericksburg called Hamilton’s Crossing, just across from C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s men. He’s joined by U.S. Major General George Meade, and both are entrusted to pick men for a midnight mission. They select the trusted Pennsylvania Reserves to cover engineers while they assemble pontoon bridges across the river. They are overseen by Sergeant Tom Dick, who sees no point in sleeping and instead begins preparations for the nighttime march. As he speaks with his men, the talk around the campfire turns serious. Everyone smells battle; they realize that some of them around that fire will not be with them the next time. But at midnight all the men fall into line and enthusiastically march off.

They can see the Rebels lights on the other side in the darkness, but there is no resistance to their presence as they guard the engineers as the pontoon boats are assembled piece by piece. Even as the sun comes up, fog continues to cover their actions as everyone works quickly and quietly to finish the job. But the fog eventually lifts and several engineers are immediately hit by Confederate fire. A Union battery begins to shell the Confederates in a counter-attack so the engineers can continue their work. By 1pm the bridge is complete. A brigade from the 6th Corps crosses the bridge and sets up guard for the night.

150 Years Ago: Saturday, December 6, 1862

Refugees from the Dakota Uprising 1862Source: Library of Congress

Refugees from the Dakota Uprising 1862
Source: Library of Congress

On Sunday, August 17, four Dakota Indians from a breakaway band of young malcontents were on a hunting trip when they came across some eggs in a hen’s nest along the fence line of a settler’s homestead in southwestern Minnesota. When one of the four took the eggs, another in the group warned him that the eggs belonged to a white man. The first young man became angry, dashed the eggs to the ground, and accused the other of being afraid of white men, even though Dakota were half-starved. Apparently to disprove the accusation of cowardice, the other Dakota said that to show he was not afraid of white men; he would go the house and shoot the owner. He challenged the others to join him. Minutes later three white men, a white woman, and a fifteen-year old white girl lay dead. This act quickly started a six week violent attack between the Dakota and settlers; between 400-600 white men/women/children were killed and over 2,000 refugees from southwestern Minnesota sought refuge in Mankato, Minnesota. Colonel Henry Sibley and 1,400 of his troops were in charge of stopping the slaughter, taking 269 white prisoners and 1,250 Dakota prisoners. The military court eventually tried 393 cases, convicting 323 and sentencing 303 to death.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has been reviewing the case information as he has been confronted with numerous appeals from both sides regarding the fate of the condemned. Lincoln is sympathetic to the plight of the Indians who have been moved from their homelands in past decades and he is also aware how frequently the U.S. has defaulted on its part of the treaties designed to compensate Indians for the lands seized by the U.S. He can understand how this feeling of betrayal and frustration played a large part in what occurred in Minnesota.

After careful evaluation of the trial testimony, Lincoln writes a letter to now Brigadier General Sibley in St. Paul, Minnesota and issues a stay of execution for all but 39 of the “Indians and Half-Breeds”; they are to be executed on the 19th day of December. If it is carried out, it will be the largest execution in U.S. history.

It has been snowing heavily over the last 24 hours in not only Washington City but also in Virginia, where C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee and U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside and their combined 186,000 men are camped around Fredericksburg and the surrounding area. Major General George Meade, who is just returning from a trip to Washington, writes a letter to his wife Margaretta in Philadelphia:

I have just sent you a telegram announcing that I have received from Washington notice by telegraph of my promotion. I am truly glad, for your sake as well as my own.

I wrote you a few lines last night, at the end of George’s (McClellan – whom Meade met up with yesterday) letter. Soon after closing, an order came countermanding our marching, owing to the storm. The weather is very cold tonight, everything freezing hard; but with my stove and buffalo robe, and with the good news of today, I bid defiance to the weather.

From his headquarters in College Hill, Mississippi, Major General William Sherman writes to his brother Senator John Sherman in Washington. He writes of his travels with Major General Ulysses S. Grant into Mississippi and the conditions they’ve encountered:

We have had two days’ hard rain and snow, making the roads very bad. Indeed, since the building of the railroad, the mud roads, leading north and south are disused and are washed very badly, the North Mississippi. I doubt if we shall proceed much further on this line, as operations should now proceed against Vicksburg and Yazoo. I hear nothing from Virginia or Kentucky. We are ahead of them, and they should push up…

I suppose you hear little of me. I allow no reporters about. My official reports go to the proper office, and thus the enemy shall learn nothing of my forces, plans or purposes, through an egotistical and corrupt press…

150 Years Ago: Tuesday, December 2, 1862

John Beauchamp Jones, a clerk in the Confederate War Department, expresses his worries in his journal about the constant internal dissent within the Confederacy:

“But the Enquirer to-day contains a communication from T. E. Chambliss, not the Virginia member of Congress, proposing the election of Commissioners from North and South, to put an end to the war. What can this mean but reconstruction on the old Democratic basis? It will not meet with favor, unless we meet great reverses this winter. Still, but few have faith in foreign intervention, to terminate the war; and there is a growing party both in the North and the South opposed to its indefinite prolongation. If we beat Burnside, I think it will be the last battle of magnitude. If he beats us, no one can see the end of the struggle. But from every State complaints are made against the military agents of the Confederate Government, for their high-handed oppressions. We may split up into separate States, and then continue the war—but it will be a sad day for us! The President ought to change his cabinet immediately, and then change his policy. He should cultivate the friendship and support of the people, and be strong in their affections, if he would rule with a strong hand.”

George Meade is with Ambrose Burnside at his headquarters as news is received of John F Reynolds promotion to Major General, which was confirmed by the Senate on November 29. Later that evening Meade writes to his wife Margaretta that “I am very glad Reynolds is promoted, for I always thought he deserved it for his services at Mechanicsville.” He also writes, with a potential hint of jealousy or maybe just admiration, that “Reynolds is a man who is very popular and always impresses those around him with a great idea of his superiority.”

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