Henry Halleck

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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: Friday, April 24, 1863

Franz (or Francis in U.S.) Lieber Source: Library of Congress

Franz (or Francis in U.S.) Lieber
Source: Library of Congress

Today U.S. General Order No. 100 is published, which provides a specific code of conduct for soldiers and officers when dealing with Confederate prisoners of war and civilians. The idea behind the Orders had come from Francis Lieber, a Prussian immigrant born in Berlin whose three sons are serving in the military, though one had died in the Battle of Williamsburg, Virginia (also known as the Battle of Fort Magruder) almost a year ago on May 5, 1862. He had advised General-in-Chief Henry Halleck on the subject, and President Abraham Lincoln worked on the Order personally along with four generals and Lieber. It consists of 157 articles and establishes policies on the treatment of prisoners, civilians when found to be engaged in guerrilla warfare, exchanges, and flags of truce.

The Orders also address a crisis that was started by Emancipation of slaves in the rebellion (Confederate) states earlier in the year on January 1, which Confederate President Jefferson Davis has insisted is in violation of the customary rules of war. More importantly, Davis has dictated that the Confederate army treat black Union soldiers as criminals, not soldiers, and they are therefore subject to execution or re-enslavement if captured. The Orders, which would also be known as “The Lieber Code” and “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field”, specifically defends the lawfulness of Emancipation under the laws of war and insists that those same laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of color among combatants.

The Orders are the considered to be the first of its kind. Up until today nothing like this has ever been published. It will stand the test of time, as the U.S., Europe and other nations will use it in the future as the foundation for rules of war as it is gradually applied and expanded internationally.

U.S. Major General John Reynold’s men are continuing their mission to Port Conway, Virginia. Along the way his two regiments, the 24th Michigan and 84th New York, completely surprise the Confederate cavalry led by one of their most praised officers, J.E.B. Stuart. Though C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee was used to Union efforts to distract them, he is still alarmed by what occurs. He writes to Stuart that “I am afraid the cavalry was negligent. They gave no alarm; did not fire a shot; lost some public horses and two wagons. The citizens gave the alarm. I desire the matter inquired into.

In the meantime, the U.S. Army of the Potomac remains bogged down due to swollen streams from recent rains. U.S. Commanding General Joesph Hooker cannot move his men until they can cross. So for now they wait in camp, the men unaware of where Hooker will lead them next now that winter is over and they need to be back on the move. What was once thought to be nothing more than a 90 day war has now lasted more than two years, and in the Eastern Theater it seems like little progress has been made in the goals of capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia or obtaining the surrender of Lee’s army.

The Confederacy, like any government during war – including the U.S. government – is having difficulty raising money to keep the war in progress. Pay for the men, food, clothes, weapons, ammunition, etc.; this all costs a great deal of money. Taxes have already been put in place but collection has been difficult. Today a “tax in kind” is enacted that requires each state to collect one-tenth of their citizens agricultural product. The money will go directly to supplying the Confederate army, which has often struggled to keep its men fed, clothed and paid, especially in the western Confederate states.

In the Western Theater, U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant has been getting different reconnaissance information on the viability of taking Grand Gulf, Mississippi, about 30 miles from his main target of Vicksburg. Grant decides to view the situation for himself, so he and Admiral David Dixon Porter take a steamer downriver. Upon closer evaluation Grant believes he sees the key to the entire position: the northern-most bluff. Porter had earlier told Grant that he had seen fortifications on that area being constructed by slaves, but Grant notices there is no artillery yet in position that would prevent them from taking the bluff. He gives the order that he wants to make an attack in two days. Porter’s gunboats will take care of any artillery at Grand Gulf (if there is any by then) and Major General John McClernand’s men will be transported there by boats and are charged with taking the bluff. Grant’s vision is clear and he orders his officers to leave their horses and tents behind so they can move swiftly.

Just to reduce their chance of any surprises, Grant gives additional orders to McClernand to send armed reconnaissance south past the ground opposite of Grand Gulf so he can be aware of any Confederate troops or movements there. Grant has spent months trying various ways to get to Vicksburg; he is hoping this is the opening he needs.

150 Years Ago: Friday, December 26, 1862

The Hanging of the DakotaSource: Library of Congress

The Hanging of the Dakota
Source: Brown County Historical Society in New Ulm, MN

At 10 a.m. in Mankato, Minnesota, the thirty-eight condemned Dakota Indians sing and chant as they are led to the scaffolds. Three drumbeats signal the moment of execution, and hundreds of civilian men & women who have shown up to witness the execution cheer in celebration. It is the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The bodies of the dead are buried in a single mass grave at the edge of town. An additional 300 convicted Dakota Indians will remain imprisoned in Mankato.

In the House Chamber at the Capitol building in Jackson, Mississippi, Confederate President Jefferson Davis gives a long speech to the state legislators and citizens of the state he once called home at the start of the war. It is meant to rally its citizens and celebrate the successes the Confederacy has had under extreme circumstances where many felt the odds were against them. He closes with the following two paragraphs:

I can then say with confidence that our condition is in every respect greatly improved over what it was last year. Our armies have been augmented, our troops have been instructed and disciplined. The articles necessary for the support of our troops, and our people, and from which the enemy’s blockade has cut us off, are being produced in the Confederacy. Our manufactories have made rapid progress, so much is this the case that I learn with equal surprise and pleasure from the general commanding this department, that Mississippi alone can supply the army which is upon her soil.

Our people have learned to economize and are satisfied to wear home spun. I never see a woman dressed in home spun that I do not feel like taking off my hat to her; and although our women never lose their good looks, I cannot help thinking that they are improved by this garb. I never meet a man dressed in home spun but I feel like saluting him. I cannot avoid remarking with how much pleasure I have noticed the superior morality of our troops, and the contrast which in this respect they present to those of the invader. I can truly say that an army more pious and more moral than that defending our liberties, I do not believe to exist. On their valor and the assistance of God I confidently rely.

Harpers Ferry, Virginia Source: Library of Congress

Harpers Ferry, Virginia
Source: Library of Congress

Communications between U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside and General-in-Chief Henry Halleck are fast and furious as cavalry reports possible Confederate movements near Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. This small but strategic city has continuously changed hands between the United States and the Confederacy. The reports make Burnside very nervous, as he had no idea that General Robert E. Lee had moved any of his troops after Fredericksburg, especially as far north as Harpers Ferry. Burnside sends a full Corps of troops led by Major General Henry Slocum to help protect the city that is currently protected by Major General John Adams Dix.

In the meantime, Confederate cavalry perform their reconnaissance on Harpers Ferry but take no action. There are no Confederate troops waiting to storm the city; it is merely a routine Confederate tactic to observe Union positions. Little did they know it would cause such a panic that Burnside would send over 10,000 men to guard a city that was in no way under attack.

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: 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: Tuesday, December 9, 1862

Robert Todd LincolnSource: Library of Congress

Robert Todd Lincoln
Source: Library of Congress

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln may be the leader of a country at war, but he is also a father. He receives correspondence from Thomas Hill, the President of Harvard, where his oldest son Robert is attending school to obtain his law degree. Hill informs the President that the faculty had just approved public admonishment of his son for smoking in Harvard Square after he had privately been warned not to do so. No doubt the subject will be approached when Robert comes home during the holidays.

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes in his diary that “We have found a name for this section: Belle Plain. We are all ready to move and probably will have to cross the Rappahannock River and attempt to drive the Rebels from Fredericksburg.

U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside calls for council of war with the leaders of his three Grand Divisions: William B. Franklin, Joseph Hooker and Edwin V. Sumner. Burnsides argues C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee is not expecting them to cross at the city and attack Fredericksburg, so therefore that is their best option. The three generals do not agree with Burnside; they take the plans back to their camps to share with their corps, division and brigade commanders, and again there is blatant and bitter opposition. Most vocal are Major Generals Darius N. Couch and Winfield Scott Hancock, who believe it will not only lead to a loss, but a complete, senseless slaughter of Union men.

Burnside is unable to convince those around him of his firm belief that he has Lee right where he wants him. He now turns to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck in Washington for support, writing:

“I think now the enemy will be more surprised by a crossing immediately in our front than any other part of the river. I’m convinced that a large force of the enemy is now concentrated at Port Royal, its left resting on Fredericksburg, which we hope to turn.”

After giving the situation a little more thought, President Lincoln sends a follow-up message to Brigadier General Henry Sibley in Minnesota regarding the 39 he had sentenced to execution a few days ago. He realized that a lot of the Indians had similar names, so Lincoln cautions Sibley to take special care to make sure that the correct Indians are put to death and to not hang an innocent Indian as a result of simple name confusion.

150 Years Ago: Thursday, November 27, 1862

Lewis Hayden

Lewis Hayden

In Boston, Massachusetts, Governor John Andrew joins a self-emancipated black man, Lewis Hayden, at his Beacon Hill home. Hayden had escaped a life of slavery in Kentucky and had settled in Boston where he runs a used clothing store and is an abolitionist leader. Before the Civil War, he used his residence as a safe house as part of the Underground Railroad. Today they share a meal and discuss how to persuade U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to allow black men to serve in the military. This topic has often been discussed politically in Washington City, but has yet to receive support. Hayden has friends willing to fight and feels it is important for former slaves to be allowed to fight for the freedom of others still in bondage. Andrew promises Hayden that he will seek permission to form one regiment of black soldiers, but after Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, just a little more than a month away.

Over the years, Thanksgiving is slowly becoming an established holiday, though the date varies depending on what state one lives in. Today New York Governor George Opdyke’s proclamation is produced in the New York Times, declaring today as a day of public Thanksgiving and Praise.

On the steamer Baltimore near Aquia Creek, Lincoln meets with the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, General Ambrose Burnside. Lincoln feels Burnside is “stuck” and has studied the situation he now faces. Burnside somewhat agrees; with the flooded Rappahannock River he sees no good place to cross his troops and Confederate General Robert E. Lee has over 40,000 men on the heights above Fredericksburg waiting for them and watching their every move. Burnside also feels a great deal of pressure from General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, who is constantly telegraphing him that he needs to attack now.

Lincoln tells Burnside that he is the President and has the ultimate authority over Halleck, and is personally not opposed to waiting until the correct pieces are in place that would bring them the most likely success for a victory. He proposes that Burnside put additional corps at Port Royal, 20 miles southeast downriver. He also suggests to put a similar force of new troops south on the north bank of the Pamunkey River (east of Richmond), which would be backed by gunboats. These two additional forces could converge at or behind Fredericksburg while Burnside attacks Lee head-on. In Lincoln’s view, this will prevent Lee from falling back to Richmond and will force him to abandon his current lines at Fredericksburg. He knows this will take time and is willing to wait; he just wants to see movement and action, something that he often longed for in his previous General, George McClellan.

After discussing the plan, Burnside accompanies Lincoln back to Washington City. Lincoln telegraphs Halleck, who was not only unaware of the President’s visit with Burnside but also Lincoln’s proposed plan, so the communication is very unexpected. From Lincoln, Halleck reads of his plan with the closing comment that “I think the plan promises the best results, with the least hazard, of any now conceivable.” From Burnside comes a very different reaction; he flatly disagrees with Lincoln’s plan, fearing it will take too long to deploy the other columns and will take the campaign too far into the Winter months. Halleck agrees with Burnside and sticks with the message he’s been sending for days now: Attack as soon as possible.

Out West, Major General Ulysses S. Grant has his men on the move in northern Mississippi. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman has moved his troops from Memphis and comprises Grant’s right wing; Major General James Birdseye McPherson is commanding the center, and Major General Charles Smith Hamilton is leading the left wing after spending the last couple of months in Corinth, Mississippi. Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton is deeply worried by this show of force and sends a telegram to Adjutant Inspector General Samuel Cooper:

The enemy is advancing in force; crossed a considerable force in Helena; is also moving down the river in boats. I am told General Holmes objects to sending 10,000 men to Vicksburg; it is essential to its safety. I hope the order will be reiterated at once. I have no doubt we shall soon be attacked by a superior force. A strong demonstration also against Port Hudson.

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