William Tecumseh Sherman

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155 Years Ago: Friday, April 12, 1861

155 years ago today – April 12, 1861 – the first shot of the Civil War rang out in Fort Sumter, South Carolina. “The Civil War has now begun in earnest,” Harper’s Weekly would later tell its readers.

This was not a war started in haste. The founding fathers had managed to set aside the issue of slavery in order to create unity between the thirteen colonies. The thought was that it would eventually die a slow death; by 1800 importation of slaves had nearly ceased & the slave population was around 694,000. With the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, it allowed Southern farmers to process more cotton; with slave labor, it also allowed them to also make bigger profits. By 1860 there were 3.95 million slaves in the United States, which was 12% of the total population; in the South, slaves accounted for 43% of their population.

When the Battle of Fort Sumter occurred, only seven southern states had seceded from the Union. Later Virginia (including West Virginia, though in 1863 they were admitted as a new state to the Union), Tennessee, Arkansas & North Carolina would also secede and join the Confederate States of America. Three states would maintain neutrality – Maryland, Kentucky & Missouri – though thousands of people served either the northern or southern cause.

While the subject of slavery fueled the flames for war, in the end it came down to State’s rights vs. National government. Ever since the United States was formed, there had been differences in opinion over what type of control national government should have. Initially there was great focus on State and Local governments, with the national government role evolving and expanding with each election. Most disagreements were on things such as tariffs and sectionalism (looking at the nation as sections, with most of the power being held in the North at the time of the war). Slavery played a large role as it was tied into the Southern economy, but it was not the sole reason for secession.

Secession was something many states throughout the United States had explored at various times through its history. Other places around the world had separated from an initial government; a break did not necessarily have to mean war. The Southern states thought that they had every right to break away & form their own union; to them, it was no different than when the 13 colonies sought to break their ties to England. It was the position of the Northern leaders that the South did not have this right. Based on these two very different stances, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and C.S.A. Provisional President Jefferson Davis did what was in the best interest of their countries for the people they represented.

It’s important to keep in mind that in 1861, the country was quite vast, but travel was limited for most people. There was not a large sense of U.S. patriotism or even a strong connection. When people spoke of home, it was often in reference to their state. It is why people like Robert E. Lee would leave the U.S military and his “country” to fight for his home state of Virginia – which will soon become a part of the Confederate States of America.

When the first shot rang out at Fort Sumter, many understood that this meant the start of something. Very few predicted it would be the start of a four year war, with 1,100,000 casualties, 620,000 of them being killed from battle wounds or from illness. Even those in the most powerful of positions, such as U.S. President Lincoln, thought this would be the beginning of a “90 day war,” to be mostly fought by volunteers in an effort to put an end to a small “rebellion.”  A few people, one of them being future U.S. General William T. Sherman, understood that this was more than a rebellion, and would write to his brother, U.S. Senator John Sherman (Ohio): “I still think it is to be a long war – very long – much longer than any Politician thinks.”

U.S. General Robert Anderson and his men manage to survive the first day of Confederate attacks, led by C.S.A. General P.G.T. Beauregard, who years before had been a student of Anderson’s at West Point. The bombardment of the fort will continue throughout the night.

Fort Sumter

Source: Library of Congress

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: Monday, April 27, 1863

Joseph Hooker U.S. Commanding General, Army of the Potomac Source: Library of Congress

Joseph Hooker
U.S. Commanding General, Army of the Potomac
Source: Library of Congress

How does it look now?“, reads U.S. Commanding General Joseph Hooker. The telegram in his hands is from President Abraham Lincoln, who, like every Spring since the war started, is highly anxious and high strung now that Winter is behind them. With the warmer weather, the Army of the Potomac should be on the move. But at the beginning of each Spring they must deal with rising rivers from the melting snow and consistent rains, which often hinder their movements. The last major move the Union army made in the Eastern theater of war was at Fredericksburg last December, under U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside. It had resulted in a major loss that has challenged the will of the people in the North to continue the war and has diminished the power of the United States on an international level. With Hooker now in charge, Lincoln has been sending communications that he no longer wants constant maneuvering of positions. He wants a battle and he wants it won. The Union needs a major victory.

It just so happens that Hooker has just begun moving his troops today, in what he considers a major plan to surprise C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee and the majority of his troops in the Fredericksburg area. Hooker is hoping to swing around Lee and cut off their supply lines from Richmond, and to turn the Confederate left flank. Hooker isn’t looking for a repeat battle at Fredericksburg; he was against the move back in December as he saw Lee’s troops on the high ground behind the stone wall protecting them. He has his own plans for success.

After days of waiting for the water levels to lower, Hooker’s Fifth, Eleventh and Twelfth Corps cross the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers above Fredericksburg. Union cavalry under Major General George Stoneman begins a long distance raid against Lee’s supply lines that Hooker is hoping will be successful and also preoccupy some of Lee’s troops.

The man who had once been a friend of U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant and had met with him on surrender terms back in February 1862 at Fort Donelson, Tennessee is promoted today by C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis. Major General Simon Buckner, who has spent the last six months in command of the District of the Gulf and has been in charge of the defenses in Mobile, Alabama, has been assigned command of the Department of East Tennessee. He will make arrangements to make the move to Knoxville, where he will work closely under C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg, who he has worked with before and dislikes as a General. In fact, Buckner had been one of many to publicly denounce Bragg’s performance during his Fall campaign in Kentucky last year, which resulted in Bragg’s army abandoning any future invasion of Kentucky even after a successful fight in Perryville in October.

Two days ago Grant had given specific orders for his men to be ready to take Grand Gulf, Mississippi fortifications in a strategic move to take the final target of Vicksburg. Yesterday Grant had arrived at U.S. Major General John McClernand’s camp only to find it highly disorganized and not at all working on his orders to prepare for the move today. McClernand had steamers and transports that were still scattered freely along the river and bayous, unable to support the move as planned. The two divisions that were to board the steamers were stuck on land. Instead of following Grant’s orders of preparation, McClernand staged a review of a single brigade for his visiting friend, Illinois Governor Richard Yates. McClernand’s men listen to a long and splendid motivational speech from Yates, followed by one from McClernand. At the end, McClernand has his artillery fire a salute to the Governor using ammunition that was to be saved to fight the enemy per Grant’s orders, as they were in very low supply. McClernand couldn’t have made a more obvious statement to Grant that he did not only disagree with his plan, but disrespected him as a leader. This was not new to Grant, who has been struggling with McClernand for months, with McClernand feeling that he should be the one in charge of the Vicksburg campaign. Though Yates has strong political power, Lincoln has the final say and he believes in Grant’s abilities.

Grant again sends specific, written orders to McClernand as to what he wants done today: McClernand’s troops are to board and await orders to move via steamers to a point opposite Grand Gulf. The Navy will reduce whatever batteries the Confederates have in place, and then McClernand’s men will be ferried to the Mississippi shore, where they are to unload from the steamers and storm up the bluffs, capturing the Confederate fortifications. Men are to take only three days supply of rations; Grant wants everyone traveling light and with only the bare necessities. He needs his men to be able to move quickly.

Instead of following Grant’s orders, McClernand again has other ideas. Instead of taking the troops via water, he wants to take an open road to the same point opposite Grand Gulf, which leads to a little village called Hard Times. Grant allows a reconnaissance party to see if roads are passable, and instead they find Confederate cavalry. As McClernand still does not have enough transports to board his men, Grant seizes the opportunity and orders the last two of McClernand’s divisions to drive the Confederates out and take the village of Hard Times. There will be no move today against Grand Gulf but at least the Union army can accomplish something.

Wanting to create a diversion, Grant turns his attention to his most trusted fellow officer, U.S. Major William T. Sherman, who is the furthest north and closest to Vicksburg. He sends a note to Sherman:

“If you think it advisable, you may make a reconnaissance of Haynes’ Bluff, taking as much force and as many steamers as you like. The effect of a heavy demonstration in that direction would be good so far as the enemy are concerned, but I am loath to order it, because it would be so hard to make our own troops understand that only a demonstration was intended, and our people at home would characterize it as a repulse. I therefore leave it to you whether to make such a demonstration. Publish your order beforehand, stating that a reconnaissance in force is to be made for the purpose of calling off the enemy’s attention from our movements south of Vicksburg, and not with any expectation of attacking.”

The orders Sherman receive give him a lot of leeway and decision making power. But Grant trusts him fully. Sherman immediately swings into action. To cover the road from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage, he detaches a division under Major General Frederick Steele. Sherman reveals to Steele that “General Grant directs me to control matters at this end.” Sherman knows he has Grant’s trust and that fuels him; it gives him confidence in his own abilities, which is something he lacked at the beginning of the war.

The move Grant wanted to make today against Grand Gulf will have to wait until tomorrow. He only hopes that this delay has not given the Confederates time to repulse their attack. But in typical Grant fashion, he has still made moves and tried to take advantage of the delay as best he can. He understands that public and political perception is very important right now.

C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson sends another battle report to General Robert E. Lee, this time regarding the second Battle of Manassas (known as Bull Run in North) from last August. He once again praises the support of C.S.A. Major General and cavalry officer J.E.B. Stuart for his action on the field. His fondness for Stuart is very obvious; it’s a huge compliment coming from someone who does not often give such high praise so freely. Jackson closes with the following:

For these great and signal victories our sincere and humble thanks are due unto Almighty God. We should in all things acknowledge the hand of Him who reigns in heaven and rules among the armies of men. In view of the arduous labors and great privations the troops were called to endure and the isolated and perilous position which the command occupied while engaged with greatly-superior numbers of the enemy we can but express the grateful conviction of our mind that God was with us and gave to us the victory, and unto His holy name be the praise.

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: Wednesday, December 31, 1862

Battle of Stone River (also known as Second Battle of Murfreesboro)Source: Library of Congress

Battle of Stone River (also known as Second Battle of Murfreesboro)
Source: Library of Congress

At 6 a.m. C.S.A. Lieutenant General William J. Hardee attacks U.S. Major General William Rosecran’s right flank before Union soldiers have finished eating their breakfast, completely catching the men off guard. 10,000 Confederates attack in one massive wave; several Union artillery batteries are captured without having time to fire a single shot. By 10 a.m. Hardee drives the Union troops back three miles, but U.S. Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson rallies his men despite his own brigade casualties of 50%.

Rosecrans races across the battlefield directing units, his uniform covered in blood from his friend and chief of staff, Colonel Julius Garesche, who was beheaded by a cannonball while riding alongside him.

A second Confederate wave is not met with the same unexpected shock. U.S. Major General Philip Sheridan had anticipated an early attack and had his division up and in line by 4am; Sheridan’s men repulse the Confederates in three separate charges. Unfortunately while they slowed the Confederate advance it comes at a heavy cost; all three of Sheridan’s brigade commanders are killed and more than one third of his men are casualties in just four hours of fighting in a cedar forest surrounded on three sides that is later named “The Slaughter Pen.”

Though the morning had been very successful for the Confederates, by the afternoon mistakes are made in communications and movements are made based on false reports. This allows Rosecrans to reposition his troops before an attack by C.S.A. Major General John Breckinridge. Breckinridge and his men move slowly and his first two brigades are assaulted in piecemeal attacks and suffer heavy repulses. Two more brigades arrive but the Confederate attack fails a second time. By 4:30 p.m. the fighting is finished for the day.

C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg’s plan had been to cut Rosecran’s line of communication, but instead it drives the Union troops to concentrate at one point: Nashville Pike. This gives the Union a stronger defensive position than when the day had started.

In Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signs the legislation that paves the way for West Virginia to enter into the Union as the 35th state. The citizens of West Virginia will still have to vote for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, after which Lincoln will be able to submit an official document stating that West Virginia has met all statehood requirements.

Lincoln also meets with his Cabinet one last time to go over revisions he made to the Emancipation Proclamation the previous evening after listening to their suggestions the day before. Afterwards he meets with U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside to discuss military matters; Burnside has been called to testify before Congress regarding his actions at Fredericksburg.

Outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S. Major General William T. Sherman starts to move his men towards Drumgould’s Bluff, but the fog is so thick that he calls off the movement and subsequent attack. He will have to wait another day.

Tonight Rosecrans holds a council of war to decide what to do next. Some of the generals feel that the Union has been defeated and recommend a retreat. But Rosecrans and two other generals disagree; the decision is made to stand and fight.

Though he has suffered 9,000 casualties out of 35,000 men, Bragg ends the day certain he has won a victory. He is convinced that the large number of captured Union soldiers means that Rosecrans has lost considerably more than his own numbers. The Confederate troops dig in, facing the new Union line. Bragg sends a telegram to Richmond, Virginia before heading to bed:

“The enemy has yielded his strong position and is falling back. We occupy  the whole field and shall follow him. God has granted us a happy New Year.”

Though they have spent the entire day in battle against each other, men on both sides – Confederate and Union – join together in singing “Home Sweet Home” on this last night of the year.

From his camp in Falmouth, Virginia, U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes a final entry in his journal for the year:

“Well, the year 1862 is drawing to a close. As I look back I am bewildered when I think of the hundreds of miles I have tramped, the thousands of dead and wounded that I have seen, and the many strange sights that I have witnessed. I can truly thank God for his preserving care over me and the many blessings I have received. One year ago tonight I was an enlisted man and stood cap in hand asking for a furlough. Tonight I am an officer and men ask the same favor of me. It seems to me right that officers should rise from the ranks, for only such can sympathize with the private soldiers. The year has not amounted to much as far as the War is concerned, but we hope for the best and feel sure that in the end the Union will be restored. Good bye, 1862.”

150 Years Ago: Tuesday, December 30, 1862

U.S.S. MonitorSource: Library of Congress

U.S.S. Monitor
Source: Library of Congress

In a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the U.S.S. Monitor crew evacuates onto the wooden ship U.S.S. Rhode Island at the direction of Commander John P. Bankhead. Just nine months earlier, the ship had been part of a revolution in naval warfare when the ironclad dueled with the C.S.S. Merrimack off Hampton Roads, Virginia, which resulted in a standoff. It was the first time two ironclads faced each other in a naval engagement. Today as the Monitor pitches and sways in the rough seas, the caulking around the revolving gun turret loosens and water begins to leak in the hull. The high seas continue to jolt the ship’s flat armor bottom, each time opening more seams. 46 crewmen make it onto the Rhode Island; the Monitor’s pumps eventually stop working and the ship sinks before 16 crewmen can be rescued.

At the U.S. White House, President Abraham Lincoln meets with his Cabinet members and provides them with a copy of his draft Emancipation Proclamation. Though he had already announced it back in September, he will release the final, binding document on the first day of the upcoming new year. He asks for their suggestions, which he will take into account. He also notifies them that he plans on approving the bill from Congress that will make West Virginia a state. After his meeting Lincoln sends a quick note to the Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac, Major General Ambrose Burnside, who is currently in the city: “I have good reason for saying you must not make a general movement of the army without letting me know.

Out West, U.S. Major General William T. Sherman concludes that resuming his attacks on the Chickasaw Buyou bluffs would be pointless. He meets with Admiral David Dixon Porter and plans a joint army-navy attack on Drumgould’s Bluff to the northeast, hoping that the steep bluffs will provide cover for his 32,000 men as they advance. They will proceed with the new plan tomorrow; Sherman has yet to hear anything from his commanding General Ulysses S. Grant, who was to support him with additional troops via a land route.

Outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, U.S. Major General William S. Rosecrans slowly approaches the main Confederate forces led by C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg with fighting at Jefferson, La Vergne, Rock Spring and Nolensville. Though the Confederates do a good job of slowing their advance, Rosecrans continues to move closer to the Murfreesboro Confederate stronghold.

John T. FordSource: National Park Service

John T. Ford
Source: National Park Service

This past March in Washington City, a former Baptist Church and short-lived opera house on 10th Street reopened it’s doors as Ford’s Atheneum, a music hall. Owned by successful theatrical entrepreneur John T. Ford from Baltimore, Maryland, it had been hailed a success by the local newspaper and President Lincoln had even paid to a visit to the hall in May. Around 5pm, a fire caused by defective gas meters breaks out in the cellar under the stage. Fed by the combustible materials of the dressing rooms and stage scenery, the fire rages well into the night, lighting the city skies. While there is no loss of life, nearby buildings to the north and south are also damaged. By morning only the blackened walls remain standing and the entire interior of the theatre is gutted. Ford’s loss, estimated at $20,000, is only partially covered by insurance. He will need to decide whether or not to rebuild his theatre.

150 Years Ago: Monday, December 29, 1862

Walt WhitmanSource: Library of Congress

Walt Whitman
Source: Library of Congress

From Washington City, poet Walt Whitman writes to his mother about finding his brother First Lieutenant George Washington Whitman of the 51st New York Infantry, who they had seen listed as “killed or wounded” at the battle of Fredericksburg in the December 16th New York Tribune:

“I landed here without a dime. (TCWP note: A pickpocket took Walt’s money) The next two days I spent hunting through the hospitals, walking day and night trying to get information, when I found dear brother George, and found that he was alive and well, O you may imagine how trifling all my little cares and difficulties seemed. And now that I realize the way that hundreds of thousands of good men are now living, and have had to live for a year or more, not only without any of the comforts, but with death and sickness and hard marching and hard fighting (and no success at that) for their continual experience – really nothing we call trouble seems worth talking about.”

Walt was relieved; with only a minor facial wound, his brother was one of the lucky ones. He writes more gruesome details of what he sees in a notebook:

“Spent a good part of the day in a large brick mansion on the banks of the Rappahannock, used as a hospital since the battle. Out doors, at the foot of a tree, within 10 yards of the front of the house, I noticed a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc., a full load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each covered with its brown woolen blanket. In the dooryard, toward the river, are fresh graves, mostly of officers, their names on pieces of barrel-staves or broken boards, stuck in the dirt.”

It is from this experience that Walt Whitman decides to devote himself to the care of wounded and sick soldiers; he will not return home to New York.

Unaware that U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant was forced to suspend his advance to Vicksburg due to communications and supply lines being cut by Confederate cavalry, Major General William T. Sherman launches his attack on the outer defenses of Vicksburg. Nothing about the battle at Chickasaw Bayou goes well for Sherman; troops become lost, some are lacerated by Confederate crossfire, heavy rains pour and the Yazoo River rises to dangerous levels. “This has been a dreadful disaster,” a distraught Sherman tells Admiral David Dixon Porter tonight, whose own attacks using naval gunboats failed to do any significant damage to the Confederates. Yet Sherman also declares that he is “generally satisfied with the high spirit manifested” by his men as they had the difficult job of attacking the enemy safely positioned on the high bluffs. As a result, Union casualties are 1,776 killed, captured or missing; Confederate casualties are only 207. Sherman consults with Porter and they decide that they will resume attacks tomorrow. In the meantime, Porter will send a boat north to Memphis, Tennessee to obtain more small arms ammunition.

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