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THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR: Before First Manassas

 
 
Setanta
 
Reply Sun 29 Aug, 2004 06:10 pm
Panzade asked for such a thread. I am a little hesitant, as it is a sufficiently controversial subject, and a great many people know, and often only think they know, a great deal or only just a little, on the subject (i'm not exempting myself from potential criticism here, and this is a point to keep well in mind).

So let us all have at it. Please try to remain courteous, and i will engage to do so myself. Add your thoughts, your comments, your opinions, ask questions, guffaw at buffoonery, tip the wait staff generously.

Let us start at the beginning, and see how it goes.

In 1855, the Secretary of War in the cabinet of Franklin Pierce, a hero of the Mexican War and graduate of West Point, Jefferson Davis, proposed the creation of a second regiment of cavalry, and it whizzed through the Congress, destined specifically for service on the Texas frontier, where there was the greatest apprehension of hostilities with the Indiands. The Second United States Cavlary's roll of officers reads like a pantheon of Confederate Generals. Four of it's officers, Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert Edward Lee, Edmund Kirby Smith and John Bell Hood attained the rank of full general in Confederate Service. The regiment was often referred to in the Army at that time as "Jefferson Davis' Own," and was a career opportunity for many Southern officers. At that time, as at the outbreak of the war, A. S. Johnston was considered the premier soldier of the Southern states. R. E. Lee commanded the regiment briefly when it was first formed and was training, and in 1857 when Colonel Johnston was absent campaigning against the Mormons in Utah (they had decided to kill a few Federal judges and marshalls, in order to assert their supremacy), and again in the winter of 1860-61, after Johnston had yet again left Federal Service, and had gone to California.

Lee had been granted a leave, on the occassion of an illness of his wife (a frequent occurance throughout their married life), just days before the state of Texas seceded from the Union--despite Governor Houston's warnings about the likely consequences. Prior to the referendum called for by Houston, the secession convention had created a Committee for Public Safety (had no one learned anything from the French Revolution?), which seized the Federal Arsenal in San Antonio de Bejar, i believe under the leadership of Ben McCulloch, already a hero in Texas as one of the original Texas Rangers. I haven't much truck for historical "what-ifs," but i do often wonder if Lee would have defended the arsenal based upon his oath, had he not already gone on leave. He later secured transportation to New York, but his luggage was delayed, and subsequently seized by Federal authorities. Another Virginian, George Henry Thomas, took charge of the troopers of the Second Cavalry who had remained in barracks, assembled all of the remounts he had been able to protect, and marched with about 3000 federal troops (most were support troops for the cavalry and outposts on the frontier), eventually arriving at Carlysle Barracks in Pennsylvania--then the home of the Cavalry. Although a Virginian like Lee, Thomas remained faithful to his oath to protect and defend the constitution (as he saw it), and was to play a crucial role in Federal arms in the war.

Lee returned to the Virginia estate of his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, which was named after the estate of his (Custis') great grandfather on the eastern shore--Arlington. There, Lee showed his unflagging consideration and patience for his wife's frail health (she was badly crippled with arthritis by this time), and was courted by another Virginian of monumental military fame, Winfield Scott, to remain in the Federal Service with the rank of Major General, and command of all armies in the field.

For Lee, i recommend the classic biography, R. E. Lee, by Douglas Southall Freeman. Curiously, although Freeman had written an essay early in his career which very objectively shredded Confederate military policy during the war, he used few of those criticisms in his two classics, R. E. Lee and Lee's Lieutenants. I recommend keeping a salt cellar at your elbow while reading.

For Albert Sydney Johnston and George Henry Thomas, i recommend two "antique" biographies: The Life of General Albert Sidney Johnston, Colonel William Preston Johnston, 1878, C. P. Roland--it has been reprinted in 1964 and 1987--W. P. Johnston, son of A. S. Johnston, is also an important source for the Lee hagiography, having interviewed Lee at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) after the war, and was the first President of Tulane University; and, The Rock of Chickamauga: the Life of Major General George H. Thomas, Thomas Budd Van Horne, C. Scribners, 1882 (and be aware that there is a turgid historical novel with the title Rock of Chickamauga about the Army of the Cumberland which i recommend to anyone lacking imagination and careless of historical accuracy)--i don't know if this has ever been reissued, i read it in childhood and in adolescence, having found it in two different small town libraries in the original edition.
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Aug, 2004 06:51 pm
I never realized that R.E. Lee had a Texas connection until my recent driving trip through West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California. Every other historical marker you stop at seems to mention Lee as having commanded a post here, led a sortie against marauding Comanches there etc. For this amateur student of the histpry of that period, this was an eye-opener. I knew that Lee had been commissioned in the Engineers and had fought in the War with Mexico as, I believe, a lieutenant, but had no notion of what, exactly, he did between 1848 and 1860.

His wife, by the way, suffered dreadfully from rheumatoid arthritis. Lee loved her very much and her distress made him a very somber and melancholy man.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Aug, 2004 06:57 pm
Since I was named after Lee's wife, guess I had better mark this thread.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Aug, 2004 07:32 pm
Lee, who at the time of his graduation from West Point was second in his class, could have chosen any service he wanted. He chose the engineers. He worked on the fortifications at New York, when the new brick fortresses were all the rage (Fort Sumter was to demonstrate both that they could take tremendous punishment, and that they were not invulnerable). He also worked on the Corps of Engineers' Mississippi valley project, which had been inspired by Henry Miller Shreve's method for clearing snags known as sawyers from wide Southern rivers, and for whom Shreveport is named. He conducted the difficult operation of smashing the rock bottom and dredging the channel of the river at Rock Island, between Illinois and Iowa. This he accomplished with man-, horse- and steam-power, building cofferdams of wood on the river bottom, and blasting with black powder. As a result of the several severe earthquakes in the New Madrid (Missouri) fault in 1811 and 1812, the Mississippi river was moving east near its juncture with the Ohio River. It was estimated that St. Louis would be fifteen miles inland by 1950, and the citizens of that city unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to pay for a project to halt the drift. Rebuffed, they raised $10,000, and the Corps agreed to allow Lee, still only a First Lieutenant after more than ten years of Federal Service, to undertake the project. Lee built two huge wing coffer dams, diagonal lines of pilings driven into the river bottom on the Illinois side, with the trunks of the "big butts," the giant trees in the river bottom land of Illinois. The river back-filled the coffer dams, one a mile in length, and the other more than a mile in length, and succeeded in convincing The Father of Waters to revisit the Missouri shore--by that time, as much as 100 feet of mud separated the old docks at St. Louis from the river at low water times. Both the Rock Island project and the St. Louis project are the more amazing, given the feeble steam-powered pile drivers available, the lack of any explosive more powerful than black powder, and the relative wilderness condition of those regions of Illinois, Iowa and Missouri in the 1830's. Should the New Madrid fault give the midwest another good shake, the odds are good that the residents of East St. Louis and Belleville, Illinois can kiss their collective ass goodbye, they will find their houses "built on sand" indeed!

With the outbreak of the war with Mexico, Lee did not immediately have prospects for combat. Zachary Taylor lead a small, very professional force into Mexico, including a few familiar names, such as Lieutenant Ulysses David Grant, and Lieutenant Thomas (later, Stonewall) Jackson. With the exhaustion of that campaign on both sides, and a good deal of political bickering, including a vigorous effort by James Polk's administration to assure that Winfield Scott would get none of the glory, and have no prospects to run for President, another expedition was finally mounted, and Scott could not be denied. Ironically, Polk's efforst so far succeeded, that Scott had no chance in the ensuing election, and instead, Zachary Taylor became President.

Lee joined the column of General Wool, building bridges and roads for the march to Mexico. He then joined Scott's army for the landing at Vera Cruz. There, with his brother Smith Lee, an officer of the United States Navy, he supervised the placement of the seige guns which quickly convinced the garrison to sue for terms. Scott knew he had to get his army out of the unhealthy miasmas around Vera Cruz, and head for higher ground, and so began his march on the city of Mexico. Lee was breveted to Captain (a brevet rank, from the French word for brief, was a rank given an officer which did not effectively promote them, but which they would hold in time of war--it was the 19th century equivalent of passing out medals), and made the chief of Scott's staff engineers. An engineer in the field has the task of scouting the terrain, and finding the paths and roads for the approach march when the commander had determined to do violence on the enemy. Lee distinguished himself at Cerro Gordo, finding paths which would allow Americans to get into the hills above the National Road, and take the Mexican artillery batteries. Freeman has him hidden behind a log near a spring for most of the day before the battle, while Mexican soldiers came to the spring to fill their canteens. He seems to have felt his lack of Spanish, and introduced it to the curriculum at West Point when he was superintendant in 1852. A noted companion on Scott's staff was George McClellan, who also won three brevets for galant conduct. Lee later distinguised himself for finding a path, on a moonless night of heavy rains, through the nightmarish terrain of the pedegral, an ancient lava flow south of the city of Mexico. He spent two days in the saddle or on foot, and lead numerous units through the approach march--which effectively outflanked the Mexican General Valencia, who had moved against Santa Anna's orders to outflank the Americans. He collapsed from exhaustion thereafter, and missed out on the Battles of Contreras, Churobusco and Chapultepec which resulted in the capture of the city, and during which both Jackson and Grant distinguished themselves. By the end of the war, Lee had received four brevets, to the rank of Colonel, and came out of the war with the permanent rank of Captain.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Aug, 2004 07:32 pm
So, then, yer name is Lettybettyhettygettymarycustislee?
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panzade
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Aug, 2004 08:13 pm
A sincere thanks Setanta for starting this thread.
My interest in this subject started when I was 8 years old in a cinema house in Buenos Aires watching a dubbed version of Gone With The Wind. I remember being horrified at the thought of brothers and friends fighting each other...it was inconcieveable... and still is.
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Aug, 2004 08:47 pm
Hmmmm. guess I was named after lighthorse Harry. Thought Lee's wife was Elizabeth. Have to contact big sis, I guess.

Just found out that Robert was married twice. Such a disgrace.

Panz, everyone thanks Set for something. That means his responses are so long that in lieu of reading we say, "Thank you, Set." Smile

Goodnight from Letty of Virginia via Florida.
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Aug, 2004 08:49 pm
Goodnight from Panzade of Virginia via Florida.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 10:03 am
Ft. Sumter

With the election of Lincoln certified, the initially slow, but rapidly accelerating secession avalanche began. On December 20, 1860, the convention in South Carolina approved a measure dissolving the connection between that state and the Union. James Petigru, a Unionist and therefore an undoubtedly lonely man in South Carolina, commented that his state was too small to survive as a nation, and too large to serve as an insane asylum. On December 21, The Charleston Mercury published a description of Fort Sumter. On the 22nd, South Carolina sent commissioners to the Federal government to negotiate the surrender of Federal property in the state--a very unlikely event even in Buchanan's lame duck term. James Chestnut, who had lead the South Carolina delegation from the Congress in November, 1860, was a member of the secession convention, and later, of the Provisional government of the newly seceded states. He became a military aide to Jefferson Davis, and his wife, Mary Chestnut became a companion to Varina Davis, who was unpleasant and disliked in Richmond. Mrs. Chestnut kept a very detailed diary, which was not published until 1905 (to my knowledge), almost twenty years after her death. It is an important source document, and a very revealing view of civilian life in the Confederate capital, and in the Carolina backcountry during the war. I believe it is correct to say that this document has never been out of print, and should be easy for anyone to find.

On December 26, Major Robert Anderson decided to abaondon Fort Moultrie, which was indefensible against attack from the mainland, and he removed to Fort Sumter with fewer than one hundred officers and men, and about an equal number of women, children, and civilian laborers. Anderson had been given the command in November, and although a pro-slavery Southerner from Kentucky, he was absolutely loyal to his oath to the Union, and like George Thomas, remained in Federal service.

On January 9, 1861, Mississippi seceded from the Union, and a vessel attempted to relieve Anderson at Fort Sumter. Buchanan's administration had contracted for the use of Star of the West, a side-wheeler, deep water steamer which usually ran a route from New York to New Orleans. It had cleared the harbor, ostensibly for New Orleans, but troops and provisions were put on board, and the troops told to hide below decks. Star of the West entered Charleston harbor, and was fired upon by shore batteries, and forced to retire. The entire mission was a fiasco, with the secret mission being no secret. Senator Wigfall of Texas tipped Buchanan's hand, and news to Major Anderson was sent by the regular mails, which were, naturally, opened and read before being forwarded to him.

Upon the stage now enters one of the most colorful, and militarily incompetent (he runs a close race with Braxton Bragg) officers to achieve high rank in the Confederacy. Pierre Gustave Toutant, after entering West Point, had begun signing his name: "Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard," Beauregard being the name of his family's plantation manor house. The adolescent affectation stuck, though, and he has been known as Beauregard ever since. On March 1, 1861, he was appointed by the Provisional government to command Confederate forces in the Harbor, and he took up his post on March 3--the day before Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President.

In the first week of April, Lincoln determined to relieve Forts Sumter and Pickens (see Pensacola, below). A relief squadron was dispatched, with the flag in Powhatan, and was immediately struck by an Atlantic gale after putting to sea. Unknown to Lincoln, the commander on Powhatan decided to head to Pensacola--i cannot say why, or if anyone has ever determined to a certainty why this officer decided to ignore Fort Sumter and steam to Pensacola. On April 8, the commissioners in Washington were told in no uncertain terms by William Seward, the Secretary of State, that the Federal government would not negotiate with, nor recognize the Provisional Government at Montgomery, Alabama, and would surrender no Federal property. On that same day, Lincoln's messengers to Governor Pickens, Mr. Chew and Captain Talbot, delivered their message--Pickens showed it to Beauregard, who the refused Captain Talbot permission to rejoin Anderson at Fort Sumter. His remark was that no communications would be allowed other than a request by Anderson to evacuate the Fort. On April 9, the ships of the Sumter relief expedition, minus the commander in Powhatan, finally re-assembled off Sandy Hook after the storm, and began steaming to Charleston. On that day, Beauregard stopped Major Anderson's mail. On April 10, Jefferson Davis (now provisional President of the Confederacy), having been informed of the relief expedition by the simple act of reading the newspapers, ordered Beauregard to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter, and if met by a refusal, "to reduce it." On the 11th, Beauregard sent aides to request that Anderson evacuate the Fort. Anderson replied that neither his sense of duty nor of honor would allow that. He then remarked, ostensibly "off the record," that they would be starved out in a few days. This was communicated to Montgomery, and Davis instructed Beauregard to ascertain when Anderson might evactuate the Fort, and if he recieved no satisfactory reply, he was once again ordered "to reduce" the Fort. Shortly after midnight on the morning of Friday, April 12, 1861, a final attempt was made at negotiation. Failing, at 4:30 a.m., a single mortar was fired. A firebrand pro-slavery secessionist from Virginia, Edmund Ruffin, claimed to have fired that shot, and therefore, the first shot of the Civil War. Shortly thereafter, all of the batteries of the harbor opened on the Fort. After more than two hours, at about 7:00 a.m., Anderson gave the orders to his second in command, Captain Abner Doubleday, to reply to the bombardment. At about this time, Captain Fox in Pawnee attempted to enter Charleston harbor to resupply the Fort. He withdrew, and consulting with his fellow officers, they decided to await the arrival of Powhatan, but to proceed to the relief of the Fort if Powhatan did not arrive by the next day. The following day, although Powhatan and Pocahontas had not arrived, Captain Fox attempted to enter the harbor. There was a heavy swell, however, and a dense on-shore fog drifting to sea, and Fox's vessels grounded. At about 10:00 a.m., the flagstaff at Fort Sumter fell--although it was raised again, Beauregard had sent messages to know if Anderson had "struck" (that is, intentionally lowered his flag). This lead to negotiations for the evacuation of the Fort, which, while still defensible, was slowly crumbling into piles of brick fragments and brick dust. The comander of Pocahontas was now the senior naval officer present with the arrival of that ship at about 2:00 p.m., and he entered into the negotiations, eventually agreeing to help evactuate the men, women and children in the Fort.

The civil war had begun in earnest.
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 10:29 am
Setanta, do you do all that from memory? I swear, I am amazed. Was looking for a General Pettus in there somewhere.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 10:44 am
I use my memory for a guide, Miss LettybettyMaryCustisLee . . . then i go on-line to confirm dates and such, which also gives me the opportunity to find the links which i insert in the the text.
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 10:51 am
WooHoo, class is in session
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 11:15 am
Okay, Set. I did find that Elizabeth was Robert's first wife's name..Right? Something about her fear of being buried alive because she had narcolepsy. Shades of Edgar A.Poe.

(betcha don't know what Ohio's state song is. I was dumbfounded)
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 11:17 am
Hail To Tha Buckeye?
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 11:17 am
I'll take that bet, Letty. I'll bet Set does know.
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 11:21 am
Don't you dare look it up, Set.


Panz, It's called the buckeye state, but according to a limey newsman I just heard, that ain't it.

M.A. We'll just have to wait and see with a buck eye.
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 11:29 am
I was fishin Let, or rather trollin.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 11:42 am
Pensacola

More important militarily than Fort Sumter was the excellent harbor at Pensacola, with it's extensive navy yards. This harbor and the navy yard were the most impartant facilities on the extensive southern coasts other than those at Norfolk, with its Gosport Shipyard. When Federal troops abandoned Norfolk in April 1861, and burned the shipyards at Gosport, the Confederates nevertheless got their hands on very valuable materials, including literally thousands of gun tubes for cannon, many of the large calibre necessary for coastal fortifications.

At about five miles from the city of Pensacola was the main entrance to the harbor. Fort Pickens had been built in the 1830's, and was a brick fort like Sumter, but far more massive, using more than two million bricks. It was abandoned, however, and in disrepair. There were many large calibre guns at Fort McRee, but that post had only a sergeant's guard mounted each night, and was otherwise unoccupied. Little Fort Barancas was occupied by an artillery company with some cooks and clerks and "muleskinners" under the command of Lieutenant Adam Slemmer. Although Fort Barancas was immediately adjacent to the Navy Shipyard, Slemmer decided that it was not defensible, but that Fort Pickens, despite the decay, was much more defensible on its island at the harbor entrance. Therefore, in January, 1861, Slemmer decided to act--an attack had been made on his position on the mainland (which would actually qualify as the first shots of the war), and although this had been repulsed, he had little doubt that a determined commander with even a modest force could overwhelm him. Late on the night of January 9, he spiked the guns at Fort Barancas (driving a spike into the touch hole of a cannon renders it completely useless), moved quickly to Fort McRee in the early morning hours of January 10, where he destroyed more than 10 tons of high-grade military black powder, and then evacuated his forces from the mainland, and occupied Fort Pickens. On that same day, Florida seceded from the Union. Slemmer's timing was impecable, as the local authorities had been lulled by his ealier, seeming inaction, into believing that dealing with this handful of troops would not be difficult.

After secession, troops from Florida and Alabama had occupied the fortifications on the mainland, but these had been made useless by Slemmer before he evacuated to Fort Pickens. On January 21, Buchanan sent the powerful ship Brooklyn with stores and reinforcements to Pensacola. On the 26th, however, Buchanan, anxious not to arouse resistance, sent orders for Brooklyn to land the stores, but not the troops--he had been assured through the agency of Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas that Slemmer's tiny command were safe so long as they acted on the defensive and were not reinforced. Buchanan sent orders to that effect to Lieutenant Slemmer.

On March 11, the newly minted Brigadier Braxton Bragg arrived to take command of Confederate forces at Pensacola. The next day, Lincoln set positive orders to Captain Vodges, commanding the troops aboard ship at Pensacola, to land and reinforce the position, and not to abandon the post on any terms. Crusader left New York on March 15 with these orders. Gustavus Vasa Fox, mentioned above, had proposed the relief expeditions to Lincoln, and he was now given the go-ahead to organize these expeditions. A graduate of the Naval Academy, Fox was a rather mercurial individual, and his career in the Navy was not brilliant. As i have also mentioned above, when his relief expeditions were finally authorized, he basically disappeared. Powhatan was the ship to have headed the Sumter relief expedition, and when the expeditions were hit by an Atlantic gale after passing the bar at Sandy Hook, Fox in Baltic pressed on into the teeth of the storm with Powhatan--this was on April 9, 1861. The other ships were scattered, and re-assembled at Sandy Hook two days later. On April 7, Atlantic, commanded by Captain Brown, and the flagship of the Pensacola expedition, had left New York. Lieutenant Worden (USN) had been sent overland as a messenger by Lincoln, and on April 12, he informed Bragg of his presence. Worden was allowed to board Sabine, among the flotilla keeping station off Fort Pickens, and Worden gave Vodges definite instructions to execute his orders. Vodges landed with his troops and a contingent of Marines from the flotilla. When Fox finally arrived in Baltic, with Powhatan (the absence of the latter had assured that the dubious prospect of the relief of Fort Sumter had no chance), the matter was already settled. Fort Pickens was held throughout the war, and Pensacola was basically militarily abandonded by Florida and the Confederate states. Lieutenant Slemmer remains unknown to American history, but his resolve and his active decision saved for the Union one of the most important naval stations on the southern coastline. Fox eventually became Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a post created for him by Gideon Welles, and anonymously rendered great and crucial service to the Federal cause. Worden went on to command Monitor in the engagement with Virginia in the famous 1862 battle of the iron-clads. He served later in the war as superintendant of the construction of "monitors" as the new class of ship became known. Of Adam Slemmer, i sadly do not know much--he joined Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland, serving under George Thomas, and was severely wounded at the battle of Stones River, having then attained the rank of Major.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 11:44 am
I don't have a clue if Ohio has a state song, let alone what it might be. I ain't from around here, ya know . . .
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Aug, 2004 11:49 am
Who cares? as long as you keep pumpin out the stories.
0 Replies
 
 

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