John C. Pemberton

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150 Years Ago: Thursday, April 23, 1863

John Wilkes Booth, 1863

John Wilkes Booth, 1863

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Brother,

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

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

Affectionately yours,

W. T. Sherman

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

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

150 Years Ago: Saturday, December 27, 1862

America continues to be the one theme that occupies the world’s tongue and thought. The Rappahannock has been crossed in the face of the whole Confederate army; and by the time these pages reach the reader a battle will probably have been fought upon which great issues may hang. If the Confederates are the winners it will go far to establish, as an unquestionable fact, their military superiority, and to inspirit them, in spite of all difficulties, to new exertions and struggles. But if they are beaten their position will be a most dangerous one. General Sumner has also, and on an earlier day, crossed the river some miles further down, and from that point was almost within a day’s march of Petersburg and its railway, which is connected with all the railways of North and South Carolina, and must be the chief line for bringing supplies to Lee’s army. Sumner, therefore, in the event of a Federal victory at Fredericksburg, would be ready to make a flank attack on the retreating army; and that most dangerous measure under the circumstances could only be evaded by the Confederates retreating by a different and circuitous line to Richmond, so that the Federals would probably be able to reach the Confederate capital first. Much, then, depends upon the battle at Fredericksburg, which we are told by telegrams arriving at the moment we write had actually begun.

The Alabama threatens to become a source of trouble between our own and the American Governments. If the responsible advisers of the Crown say the English law of enlistment has been violated by the building and fitting out of such a vessel in our country, it will be of course our duty to offer amends. But if no law has been violated the Americans must learn to be less susceptible, to annoyance, and direct their energies rather to the capture of the offending vessel than to angry abuse of us. Meantime we cannot but own the Americans are doing a very handsome act in contributing so largely to the wants of our operatives.

– – The London Times

The final Emancipation Proclamation is to be issued in a few days and many are nervous that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln may change his mind. He spends the day meeting with various members of Congress and clergymen on the issue, one of them Dr. Bryan Sunderland, who tells the President that “We are full of faith and prayer that you will make clean sweep for the Right.” Lincoln leans forward in his chair towards the clergyman and says “Doctor, it’s very hard sometimes to know what is right! You pray often and honestly, but so do those across the lines. They pray and all their preachers pray honestly. You and I don’t think them justified in praying for their objects, but they pray earnestly, no doubt! If you and I had our own way, Doctor, we will settle this war without bloodshed, but Providence permits blood to be shed. It’s hard to tell what Providence wants of us. Sometimes, we, ourselves, are more humane that the Divine Mercy seems to us to be.

John A. McClernandSource: Library of Congress

John A. McClernand
Source: Library of Congress

U.S. Major General William T. Sherman’s troops move their way through the swamps and bayous as they make their way towards Vicksburg. They are engaged in small skirmishes against Confederate pickets as Lieutenant General John Pemberton rushes troops in from the north to defend the strategic Confederate city. Sherman is waiting to receive additional assistance from Major General John McClernand, though he lacks respect for the man and is not looking forward to working with him. McClernand has proven himself to care more about using his political connections to advance his rank than to actually earn his promotions. Very few men respect or trust him; and they probably shouldn’t, as he is one of the key people responsible for spreading the word to politicians and the press that U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant is a drunk. Of course, if Grant is forced to step down because of this, McClernand naturally assumes he will obtain Grant’s position of Commander of the Western army. He has already been working closely with Illinois Governor Richard Yates to gain control over the Vicksburg campaign and authority to execute his own plan that goes against what Grant already has in motion. He knows that capturing Vicksburg will be a huge win for the Union; if his plan is the successful one, he will gain the credit and fame. But for now, Grant’s orders – backed by Washington – put him under Sherman’s control.

In Tennessee, U.S. Major General William Rosecrans continues his march towards Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg and his army of over 20,000 are stationed in defense of the city.

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 16, 1862

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers writes about his retreat out of Fredericksburg, as he is part of the last group to cross before the pontoon boats are disassembled, loaded on wagons and sent to storage for the next time they need to be put to use:

Barnard House, after the battle of FredericksburgSource: Library of Congress

Barnard House, after the battle of Fredericksburg
Source: Library of Congress

This morning at one o’clock our Brigade was formed in line to protect the rear of the Left Grand Division as it recrossed the Rappahannock River. We waited until all the troops had reached the Falmouth side and then our Brigade silently moved over the bridge. As soon as we reached the north side the bridge was broken up and the pontoons taken back from the river banks. We were the first to cross the river and the last ones to recross. The 10th Mass. Vols. was the last Regimental organization to cross the river, but a Bridge Guards detailed from the 2nd R.I. Vols. and under the command of Capt. Samuel B.M. Read was the last troop to recross. The Rebels were on the south bank as soon as we left it. The Army has met with a severe loss, and I fear little has been gained. The 4th, 7th and 12th R.I. Regiments were in the main battle in the rear of the city and their losses we hear are heavy. May God help the poor afflicted friends at home. I am tired, O so tired, and can hardly keep awake. We have had very little sleep since we first crossed the river. My heart is filled with sorrow for our dead, but I am grateful that my life has been spared. Mr. A.N. Barnard owns a place near where we crossed. He calls it Mansfield. His brother owns the place below which is called Smithfield. Barnard’s house was shattered by shot and shell, one shot passing through a plate glass mirror. Barnard left in great haste and left his pistols and a purse paying on a table. His books were all scattered about the yard and fine china was used by the men to hold their pork. He has already dug a cellar and intended to build a new house soon. The bricks were piled up in his yard and served as a cover for Rebel skirmishers who fired upon us as we crossed the bridge. We captured one officer and several Rebel soldiers from behind his bricks.

In Washington it is politics as usual, as Congress quickly tries to place blame on anyone they can for the disastrous loss at Fredericksburg. A caucus of Republican Senators vote 13-11 in support of a resolution calling for the resignation of Secretary of State William Seward. Though Seward initially had a great dislike for the man who bested him for for the Republican candidate for President back in 1860, President Abraham Lincoln and Seward have become close personal friends. Private conferences between the two are almost a daily occurrence, and the way Seward comes & goes from the White House is seen with an easy familiarity of a household intimate. It is not at all uncommon for Lincoln to walk over to the State Department or Seward’s house (just down the street from the White House), day or night, with or without a private secretary carrying papers.

This close relationship has made many Republicans uncomfortable and Seward has increasingly become the target of jealousy and enmity from other members of the Cabinet – especially from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase – and many members of Congress. Seward is often blamed for any bad decision made by the President or any military reverse in the field, even if no evidence supports their claims. They can’t get rid of a sitting President, but they feel they can get rid of a Cabinet member even though historically Congress has stayed out of Cabinet affairs.

After Lincoln learns of the caucus meeting, he meets with his old friend Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning about the situation, asking him what the men wanted. Browning replies “I hardly know Mr. President, but they are exceedingly violent towards the administration, and what we did yesterday was the gentlest thing that could be done. We had to do that or worse.

Lincoln responds that “They wish to get rid of me, and I am sometimes half disposed to gratify them.

Senator Browning replies that “Some of them do wish to get rid of you, but the fortunes of the Country are bound up with your fortunes, and you stand firmly at your post and hold the helm with a steady hand – To relinquish it now would bring upon us certain and inevitable ruin.

We are now on the brink of destruction. It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope,” states Lincoln.

Browning answers “Be firm and we will yet save the Country. Do not be drive from your post. You ought to have crushed the ultra, impracticable men last summer. You could then have done it, and escaped these troubles. But we will not talk of the past. Let us be hopeful and take care of the future Mr. Seward appears now to be the especial object of their hostility. Still I believe he has managed our foreign affairs as any one could have done. Yet they are very bitter upon him, and some of them very bitter upon you.

The President, filled with the stress of the last few days, ends the conversation asking “Why will men believe a lie, an absurd lie, that could not impose upon a child, and cling to it and repeat it in defiance of all evidence to the contrary. Since I heard last of the proceedings of the caucus I have been more distressed than by any event of my life.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis is dealing with his own issues. He took a train west to Tennessee to meet with his Western Commanding General Joseph E. Johnston to discuss strategy and to review troop positions and conditions. Davis and Johnston are in constant disagreement; Johnston believes that getting full control back of Tennessee is key, while Davis believes that the Mississippi River is the only thing that matters.

It’s a confusing situation as there are three Confederate armies in the West: The Army of the Tennessee led by General Braxton Bragg (30,000 troops), the Trans-Mississippi Army led by Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes (under 10,000 troops), and the Army of the Mississippi under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton who is in charge of protecting Vicksburg (12,000 troops) and the state of Mississippi (21,000 troops). While Holmes and Pemberton are relatively close to each other, Bragg is far removed. To make matters more complex, Johnston has no control over anything west of the Mississippi River, which means he has no authority over Holmes and his men, who are currently in western Arkansas, and cannot order them to support Pemberton or Bragg without the orders coming directly from Richmond.

Instead of moving Holmes men to support Pemberton, Davis repeatedly tells Johnston to move men from Bragg’s army to enforce Pemberton. Johnston thinks this is absurd and doesn’t give the order, so Davis does it for him. Bragg agrees with Johnston that this is an incorrect move, but they are helpless against the President’s orders. Bragg sends 9,000 of his men to join Pemberton in an effort to protect Vicksburg from U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s army of 60,000, not including his 30,000 U.S. troops in nearby Memphis under Major General William T. Sherman and John McClernand. Even with the additional troops, Pemberton’s forces are still half of what Grant has at his disposal.

Davis and Johnston will now make their way towards Vicksburg to meet with Pemberton; the trip will take these two men who can’t stand each other three long days to get there.

U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster posts his infantry along the riverbank along with several batteries of artillery on the hill overlooking Whitehall, North Carolina. As they begin their attack against the Confederates on the other side of the river, Foster’s troops suffer heavy casualties from their own artillery when projectiles fall short of their intended targets. A large number of sawlogs along the riverbank protect the Confederates as well as a gunboat that is being constructed; the boat receives very little damage.

150 Years Ago: Monday, December 15, 1862

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Sister,

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

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

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

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

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

Remember me to all at home.

Your brother,

Ulys.

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

My dear Wife,

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

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

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

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

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

She is na my ain Lassie

Though fair the lassie be

For well ken I my ain lassie

By the kind love in her eye.

Ever affectionately,

Your Husband

150 Years Ago: Friday, December 5, 1862

Chandler House, "Fairfield"Source: Library of Congress

Chandler House, “Fairfield”
Source: Library of Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

150 Years Ago: Thursday, December 4, 1862

CSA General Joseph E. JohnstonSource: Library of Congress

CSA General Joseph E. Johnston
Source: Library of Congress

C.S.A. General Joseph E. Johnston had been one of the most successful generals in the earlier stages of the war, but was forced out of commission when he was seriously wounded on May 31 at Seven Pines by an exploding Union shell. He has recuperated from his injuries but has had difficulties getting a new assignment due to his continuous disagreements with Confederate President Jefferson Davis as they both openly dislike each other. But Davis needs capable generals and while he has General Robert E. Lee handling affairs very well in the Eastern theater, the Western theater has been weakened and continues to be threatened by Major General Ulysses S. Grant and the very capable men who serve under him. Despite what Davis’s personal feelings are about Johnston, he is the most capable for the job. Today Johnston starts his new position as Commander of the Department of the West. With his headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he is now responsible for land from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, which includes Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and parts of North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia. He will oversee two large armies, one commanded by General Braxton Bragg in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and the other by Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Johnston doesn’t have much time to settle in before he receives an urgent message from Pemberton that he is falling back due to strong pursuits from Grant’s forces and desperately needs reinforcements. The Confederate government had originally sent additional troops to Pemberton but they have since been moved to northern Arkansas. Johnston looks to Bragg to see if he has any troops to spare; he doesn’t, and even if he did it would be difficult to move the troops past the strong Union lines. Though Johnston oversees a vast amount of territory, he has absolutely no control over the additional troops that are in Arkansas. While it would make the most sense to order them back to protect the crucial city of Vicksburg, Johnston must look to Richmond to give the order. In the meantime he asks Bragg if he could at least spare some cavalry to disrupt Grant’s supply lines.

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes and the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers are finally on the move:

“I do not know exactly where we are. We left our camp near Stafford Court House this morning and marched to this place which is twelve miles below Fredericksburg and half way between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. I know one thing – it is very cold on the hill where we are in camp.”

Joshua Lawrence ChamberlainSource: Library of Congress

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Source: Library of Congress

In camp in Falmouth across from Fredericksburg, Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine writes to his wife Fanny back home about these first few days of December:

My Dearest Fanny,

We have been here a week & are waiting nobody knows for what. All sorts of rumors arise of course, but our business is to obey orders & it becomes us to be patient as well as obedient. There is a great army here you may be sure something will be done with it, I have no doubt. Saturday I rode over to the front, on the banks of the Rappahannock, only a few rods from the Rebels opposite in Fredericksburg. I rode along for some miles, & of course I had no difficulty in seeing the Rebels. They were busy as bees throwing up fortifications & planting cannon. They kept as much out of sight as possible in order not to show their forces movements. I did not feel fully comfortable, I own, in full view & reach of every one of those ugly looking cannon. They are training to slaughter us by & by, & some of the Rebel rifles looked saucy, but I presumed on the mutual understanding not to fire on either side & so in company with Mr. Brown took my time to view the city & enemy at my leisure. We did not stay very long in one spot, but dashed along from hill to hill, leaping ditches & scampering around in a quite exhilarating fashion. Fredericksburg is a fine looking city; some of the buildings – churches I imagine chiefly – are really in good taste. Warrenton is the only Virginia city I have seen equal to this. We called on Wm. H. Owen on our way back, & reaching camp at dark found that we had orders to go out on picket five or six miles to the right where some of our cavalry had been taken – “gobbled up” as the press elegantly has it – a day or two ago. Our orders were to stay out forty-eight hours & expect a skirmish. The picketing we did – the skirmishing, not.

The first day of December was a lovely day. I thought of you in my rude tent & grow rather lonely, till some duty took me away. You may imagine how warm it is, or perhaps how tough I am, when I say that I took a full bath in “Potomac creek” the first day of winter, without the least inconvenience. To be sure ice formed to quite a thickness the night before, but the days are delightful when it does not rain. Sometimes it snows – a wet driving snow – then I beg to assure you it is not particularly agreeable weather to experience. The country is nearly all devastated in this part of the state & starvation pretty sure for some I cannot but believe. The distress is great now. Our generals are kind enough to place guards around every house that is inhabited & Rebel property is carefully protected from pillage. Our Quartermasters it is true take whatever we must have & give receipts for it which are presented to the Govt, & pay obtained on them I suppose. I do not think the Rebels are treated very severely however. If this were really war we should not leave rabid secessionists within our lines to observe & give information while we protect them from loss or harm. I do not mean to question the propriety of the present policy. But regardless in a merely military point of view, the war would seem to be much more effectively carried forward if we should leave no Treachery in the midst of us or behind us – nor anything to aid support or strengthen the enemy. We should take horses, forage, cattle, & send women & children & all non-resistants over the lines; all active rebels to the rear that is to confinement within our lines, & for every ship burned at sea fire a rebel courthouse, or even private house worth $20,000 to $50,000. I tell you we should not have to fight the same ground over again, as we have here so many times. In that way we should weaken & crowd the enemy & at the same time strengthen & advance ourselves. Of course the country would be laid waste absolutely, but it would be war. We have not got over the old idea of suppressing a mob. Whatever cruelty there might seem to be in the course I indicated would be countervailed if the great saving of life & treasure in a speedier ending of the war. Now we take no advantages, use little or no strategy, but gain what we do by mainforce, by bearing on.

Perhaps I speak strongly but it seems to me you may think I am very savage in what I have said, but it is to lessen animosity. I looked over at the Rebels in Fredericksburg, without the least blood-thirstiness though if the order had come to “charge” on them, I could have gone in with all the vigor & earnestness in the world. Did I ever tell you that I tried to find out, of a rebel South Carolina officer-prisoner what had become of your uncle Harold? He did not know. I don’t believe he was foolish enough to get hung after all his knowledge of the world. He is probably a resident still of S. Carolina.

Today – Only think we had two ladies to dine with us on tin platters yesterday Mrs. Eaton & Mrs. Fogg of the Sanitary commission & very proper & efficient ladies they are too. They think I have been well instructed in the manly art of taking ladies bonnets & cloaks properly. Send them to have your Thanksgiving letter & the package of shirts & drawers (2 pairs) just what I wanted – & the “Jomini” too (art of war) with a letter tonight from Sarah from Prof. Smith of Bangor, from Mrs. Bacon & from Julia poor girl. I feel perfectly crazed so much good fortune. I thank you very much & think you are as usual a darling. I dreamed of you last night of course. I shall write you another letter on our wedding day the 7th. About the money there can’t be any risk of it being lost. The delay I don’t understand I have not had a cent yet. They owe me $600. So already in haste to get this off & love to aunty & the darlings, your own Lawrence.

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