Category Archive 'Civil War'
03 Jul 2018

Lee’s Gamble

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For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstance which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.

—William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust, 1948.

15 May 2018

Foraging

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Major General Sterling Price, C.S.A.

Andy Adams, “The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days” (1903):

Another vivid recollection of those boyhood days in Georgia was the return of my father from the Army. The notice of Lee’s surrender had reached us, and all of us watched for his coming. Though he was long-delayed, when at last he did come riding home on a swallow-marked brown mule, he was a conquering hero to us children. We had never owned a horse, and he assured us that the animal was his own, and by turns set us on the tired mule’s back. He explained to mother and us children how, though he was an infantryman, he came into possession of the animal. Now, however, with my mature years and knowledge of brands, I regret to state that the mule had not been condemned and was in the “U.S.” brand. A story which Priest, “The Rebel,” once told me throws some light on the matter; he asserted that all good soldiers would steal. “Can you take the city of St. Louis?” was asked to General Price. “I don’t know as I can take it,” replied the general to his consulting superiors, “but if you give me Louisiana troops, I’ll agree to steal it.”


Louisiana Tiger Zoauves.

17 Oct 2017

The Annotated Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

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T.J. Stiles reviews Harvard University Press’s new annotated edition of Grant’s Memoirs.

At this distance, it’s hard to see the appeal of McClellan’s self-regard and concocted grandeur, because he sounds like an ass. It’s easier to like Grant. In his memoirs, Grant expresses his “rigorous distaste” for “ceremony, theater and oratory” (in the words of the historian John Keegan) by describing two generals of the war with Mexico, in which he fought bravely as a young West Point graduate. He admires the unaffected Zachary Taylor, who “dressed himself entirely for comfort,” in civilian clothes. But Winfield Scott “always wore all the uniform . . . allowed by law,” Grant observes: “dress uniform, cocked hat, aiguillettes” — loops of braid at the shoulder — “saber, and spurs.” Grant respects Scott’s ability but not his language, noting he was “not averse to speaking of himself, often in the third person, and he could bestow praise upon the person he was talking about without the least embarrassment.”
Photo

That’s funny — almost Calvin Trillin funny — but we hear the bite. As modest and decent as Grant was, he appears to have clutched in his pocket a little squirming snake of resentment. After the Mexican War, he failed in the Army because of his secret shame, alcoholism, at a time when temperance was a major cultural force; he scrabbled hard in the years that followed, trapped in a desert of poverty. He returned to duty in the Civil War and won victory after victory, rising so high that Congress resorted to creating new ranks for him. His enemies retaliated by making his shame public, charging him with drunkenness. He felt the scorn of patricians like Henry Adams, who concluded he was “pre-intellectual . . . and would have seemed so even to the cave-dwellers.” Here and there, Grant shows how much it hurt. In cutting Scott, he goes beyond a mere lack of affectation into positive derision, mocking the pretensions of the refined society that mocked him.

“Perhaps never has a book so objective in form seemed so personal in every line,” Edmund Wilson observed, and I agree. But I disagree that Grant’s voice is “aloof and dispassionate.” Pain flickers behind the stolid pillars of the memoirs. He reflects his internal state off external surfaces, as with Taylor and Scott. Early on, he describes how as a boy he botched a negotiation for a horse — a telling anecdote, as financial failures agonized him — and the ensuing ridicule. “Boys enjoy the misery of their companions, at least village boys in that day did; and in later life I have found that all adults are not free from the peculiarity.”

He armored himself with simplicity. Grant’s style is strikingly modern in its economy. It stood out in that age of clambering, winding prose, with shameless sentences like lines of thieves in a marketplace, grabbing everything in reach and stuffing it all into their sacks. Indeed, Grant adhered to Adams’s own instructions to the staff of the North American Review: “Strike out all superfluous words, and especially all needless adjectives.” Wilson observed, “Every word that Grant writes has its purpose, yet everything seems understated.”

Authenticity is not perfect honesty, of course. Grant cannot always escape the impulse to put things in a favorable light, and he remembers his detractors. “The most confident critics are generally those who know the least about the matter criticized,” he writes. That defensive tone is uncharacteristic, though it’s revealing.

The Civil War rages for most of his book, and Grant proves an exemplary military narrator. He provides context clearly, even after he becomes general in chief, operating on a national scale. He makes his strategy sound like common sense, not genius. We feel his strength of will, from the dreadful first day of Shiloh to the great risk of his Vicksburg operation and beyond. He knew, too, how to shape the reader’s experience. He opens Chapter 50 with these two sentences: “Soon after midnight, May 3d–4th, the Army of the Potomac moved out from its position north of the Rapidan, to start upon that memorable campaign, destined to result in the capture of the Confederate capital and the army defending it. This was not to be accomplished, however, without as desperate fighting as the world has ever witnessed; not to be consummated in a day, a week, a month or a single season.” He delivers so much dread and anticipation with those words, at just the right place.

Grant’s preface alludes to the fact that he wrote as he was dying cruelly of throat cancer, after a swindler had bankrupted and humiliated him. Remarkably, that’s irrelevant to the text, which any writer could count as a triumph.

RTWT

29 Aug 2017

General Hooker Was on the Union Side

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25 Aug 2017

Cause of Hunley’s Crew’s Death Established By Duke Researchers

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Daily Mail:

The first combat submarine to sink an enemy ship also instantly killed its own eight-man crew with the powerful explosive torpedo it carried, new research has found.

The HL Hunley fought for the confederacy in the US civil war and was sunk near North Charleston, South Carolina, in 1864.

Speculation about the crew’s deaths has included suffocation and drowning, but a new study claims that a shockwave created by their own weapon was to blame.

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina set blasts near a scale model of the vessel to calculate their impact.

They also shot authentic weapons at historically accurate iron plates.

They used this data to work out the mathematics behind human respiration and the transmission of blast energy.

Ms Rachel Lance, one of the researchers on the study, says the crew died instantly from the force of the explosion travelling through the soft tissues of their bodies, especially their lungs and brains.

Ms Lance calculates the likelihood of immediately fatal lung trauma to be at least 85 per cent for each member of the Hunley crew.

She believes the crippled sub then drifted out on a falling tide and slowly took on water before sinking.

‘This is the characteristic trauma of blast victims, they call it “blast lung”, said Ms Lance.

‘You have an instant fatality that leaves no marks on the skeletal remains.

RTWT

18 Jul 2017

Shooting the .451 Whitworth Civil War Sniper Rifle

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“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this range.” U.S. General John Sedgwick’s famous last words.

10 Jun 2017

CSS H.L. Hunley Conservation Progress

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The Charleston City Paper reports that considerable progress has been made in removing rust and undersea concretions and revealing the original surfaces of the CSS H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel but which was also lost herself mysteriously in the aftermath of the successful attack in Charleston harbor 17 February 1864.

For the first time since the disappearance of the H.L. Hunley, experts are closer than ever before to seeing the Confederate submarine as it originally appeared in 1864.

Following a lengthy and ongoing effort to restore and preserve the first successful combat submarine, a team at Clemson University’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center revealed the inner workings of the Hunley on Wednesday. Soaking the vessel in low concentrations of sodium hydroxide has allowed researchers to slowly break away the tough layers of sand, sediments, and corrosion that accumulated on the Hunley over the 136 years that it spent submerged off the coast of Charleston. This effort has revealed the structural features of the Civil War submarine and provided experts with a better view of the interior of the vessel.

“The hull is exposed in its entirety on the exterior, so they’re going to be able to see the submarine as it was originally constructed. It looks like a submarine now as opposed to a corroded artifact,” said Clemson archeologist Michael Scafuri, who has been working on the Hunley since 2000. “The design of the submarine will be visible. The features that were hidden before are now exposed. Basically, it looks like a submarine now more than ever.” …

While the ultimate goal at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center is to restore the Hunley to its original state and display the submarine to the public, there remains a considerable amount of mystery surrounding the sinking of the vessel following an attack on the Union ship USS Housatonic.

“There’s still a lot of thing we don’t understand about how the submarine worked and about what happened the night of the attack on Feb. 17, 1864. We’re still trying to answer a lot of the questions that we have,” says Scafuri.

10 May 2017

Last Confederate Town

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Knowledge Nuts informs us that Lee and Johnson may have surrendered in 1865, but the last Confederate stronghold, Town Line, New York, which seceded and joined the Confederacy in 1861, held out without rejoining the Union until 1946.

Unusually for a town so near the Canadian border, Town Line, New York voted to secede from the Union in 1861 and join the Confederacy. While the circumstances surrounding the treasonous act is shrouded in urban legend, the secession—ignored by the Union government—remains a curious aberration. Town Line was the only Northern town to turn rebel during the Civil War, and didn’t rejoin the US until 1946, making it the last stronghold of the Confederacy.

Town Line in Erie County, New York is only a few miles from the Canadian border. Go to the local fire station and until recently, you might have seen the personnel wearing shoulder patches reading “Last of the Rebels 1861–1946.” During Civil War celebrations, townsfolk display the Confederate flag and wear the Confederate gray. Any visitor would be baffled. It is well-known that the loyalty of towns farther south, near the Mason-Dixon Line, wavered along the divide between North and South during the war. But in upstate New York a few minutes from Canada? In a town populated in the 1860s by first- and second-generation German immigrants with no kinship ties to the South?

Nobody really knows the reason why, in late 1861, the men of Town Line gathered in a schoolhouse and voted 85–40 (or by some accounts 80–45) to leave the Union and join the Confederacy. They clearly supported Abraham Lincoln in the previous election. Among other provocations, perhaps the most likely was President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 men, to which the German farming community refused to comply.

The secession was largely symbolic, as the government did not recognize it. It never sent troops in to compel the town to return to the US, the Post Office continued its business and taxes were still duly paid. That didn’t mean, though, that the entire thing was a sham. There were real rebels in the town, and a few even left to actually enlist in the Confederate army. On the other hand, some of the men also fought for the Union. By 1864, as the tide of war turned against the South, the town’s secessionists were being harassed, forcing some to flee to Canada.

Things settled back to normal at the end of the war. The secession was conveniently forgotten until 1945. In a wave of patriotism accompanying American victory in World War II, residents realized that they were technically not part of the US. Returning veterans were chagrined and infuriated that they were not American. A special committee wrote to President Harry Truman about the situation. Truman responded good-naturedly, “Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie County, barbecue it and serve it with fixins, and sort out your problems.”

The matter was once again put to the vote. Incredibly, the first vote held on December 1945 still failed to secure unity. The town had by now become national news, and the next attempt at reunion was attended by celebrities like movie actor Cesar “the Joker” Romero. Finally, on January 26, 1946, Town Line officially voted to be readmitted into the Union. (Still, 23 rebels decided against the measure—truly the town’s last Confederates.) The rebel flag that had flown for 85 years was hauled down, and the residents took the oath of allegiance.

RTWT

04 Sep 2016

Still Audible Defeatism

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JohnCFremont
John C. Frémont

S.C. Gwynne, Rebel Yell — The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, 2014, p. 319, on the impending Battle of Cross Keys, June 8, 1862:

(emphasis added)

Frémont should’ve won the battle quickly. He had a two-to-one numerical advantage, and better than that in artillery. If he had thrown his entire force at Ewell’s line, which was set up on a long ridge, he would very likely have broken it. But with Frémont nothing was ever that simple. He was facing not just Stonewall Jackson now but also the myth of Stonewall Jackson, and the myth told him and his officers that they were facing twenty thousand battle-hardened Confederate troops instead of the five-thousand-plus effectives in front of them. At Frémont’s council of war he and his brigade commanders worried about this terrible numerical disadvantage and bemoaned the poor condition of their ragged, starved-out, exhausted army. A hundred and fifty years later, you can almost hear the defeatism.

Result: Decisive Confederate Victory.

Battle-of-Cross-Keys

29 Jun 2016

Civil War Hardtack

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Steve1989 makes YouTube videos in which he tries eating military rations from by-gone days. This time he tries a 153-year-old hardtack cracker made for the Union troops during the Civil War.

19 Jun 2016

A Moment After Fredericksburg

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MoxleySorrel
General G. Moxley Sorrel, C.S.A.

At the Right Hand of Longstreet: Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer:

An incident on the river may bear telling. It was after the battle [Fredericksburg], when the pickets had resumed their posts and had become friendly; more given to trading than shooting each other at less than one hundred yards. … A fine Federal band came down to the river bank one afternoon and began playing pretty airs, among them the Northern patriotic chants and war songs. “Now give us some of ours!” shouted our pickets, and at once the music swelled into Dixie, My Maryland, and the Bonnie Blue Flag. Then, after a mighty cheer, a slight pause, the band again began, all listening; this time it was the tender, melting bars of Home, Sweet Home, and on both sides of the river there were joyous shouts, and many wet eyes could be found among those hardy warriors under the flags. “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

20 Dec 2015

Ken Burns: The Galactic Civil War

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23 Nov 2015

Ouch!

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CivilWarSkull
Skull from Civil War battle. Fatal wound inflicted by exploding 12 pound artillery shell. National Museum of Health and Medicine.

25 Jun 2015

Confederates

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BlackConfederate1
“Sergeant A.M. Chandler of the 44th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, Co. F., and Silas Chandler, family slave, with Bowie knives, revolvers, pepper-box, shotgun, and canteen.” Handwritten label on back of frame: “Andrew Martin Chandler, born 1844, died 1920. Servant Silas Chandler. 44th Mississippi Regiment, Col. A.K. Blyth. Wounded in battle of Chickamauga.”

In 1861, A.M. Chandler enlisted in the Palo Alto Confederates, which became part of the 44th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. His mother, Louisa Gardner Chandler, sent Silas, one of her 36 slaves, with him. On Sept. 20, 1863, the 44th Mississippi was engaged in the Battle of Chickamauga, where Chandler was wounded in his leg. A battlefield surgeon decided to amputate but, according to the Chandler family, Silas accompanied him home to Mississippi where the limb was saved. His master’s combat service ended as a result of the wound but Silas returned to the war in January 1864 when A.M.’s younger brother, Benjamin, enlisted in the 9th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment.

Via vanderleun.

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