Browsing "Lincoln’s Grand Army"

Defenders of Their Once Peaceful Homes

Bethel, Virginia is located about ten miles from Yorktown where Cornwallis surrendered and virtually ended the Revolutionary War, with French assistance. Oddly enough, the War to conquer the South began near the same place, Little Bethel Church and a little further north, Big Bethel Church.

In command of forces invading Virginia was Massachusetts lawyer and General, Benjamin Butler.  His plan of battle was described as “the official plan for the first battle for the maintenance of the Republic.” The object of Butler’s expedition “was stated in these unconventional words: “If we bag the Little Bethel men, push on to Great Bethel, and simultaneously bag them.  Burn both Bethels or blow up if brick.” Most of the work, it was further directed, was to be done with the bayonet.

Colonel John B. Magruder was commander of three Southern regiments, one of which was the First North Carolina Volunteers under Col. D. H. Hill.

Defenders of Their Once Peaceful Homes

“Yorktown, Virginia July 3, 1861

To: Mrs. Hugh McCormick, Bladen County, NC

As I am not well today I am not at work. I cannot pass off my time in a more satisfactory way than writing to one of my most highly esteemed cousins. I hope when this letter is received by you that Cousin Hugh, you and the babe will be well and enjoying the richest blessings of life.

 Cousin Bettie, I am now faring worse than I ever have. I try to take it in good faith, since I do not consider myself better than those who are sharing the same fate. I will stand firmly under all the hardships and temptations I’m exposed to here.

The Cause that I’m engaged in is a glorious one. Please do not understand me to say that Civil War is a glorious thing – it is not. On the other hand it is the greatest curse that ever befell a nation. But we did not introduce war into our peaceful land. We are only defenders of our once peaceful homes. We have taken up arms to drive back the invading foe and the hirelings of the North. Our commanders are much stronger than Lincoln or Scott. I believe our great Benefactor is interceding for us and will continue to do so as long as we are engaged in the right Cause.

Tell Cousin Hugh that I was in the battle at Bethel. Our company was in the most exposed position of any of them . . . We could only dodge the balls the best way we could. The shells came so thick it gave the appearance of a hailstorm. A shell burst about twenty or thirty feet from me in the air.

Cousin Bettie, I must close by saying I hope to see you all one more time.

Yours until death, N.G. King”

(Our John of Argyll and Cumberland, An Informal Narrative of John MacCormick and His Descendants, 1762-1976, Luola MacCormick Love, Publisher, 1976, pp. 55-56)

Immigrant Politics and Recruits

A congressional committee investigating naturalization frauds in New York and Philadelphia found it was the common practice on the eve of elections for immigrants, many not yet qualified by residency, were naturalized in droves by political machines like Tammany Hall. The immigrant influx had created two Americas by the late 1850s: An immigrant-dominated North versus a South still consisting of English and Scots-Irish who originally settled the region. The former knew little of American institutions; the latter revered limited government, self-reliance and independence.  

In 1860, the South contained some 233,000 people born under a foreign flag, while the North held nearly 4 million foreign-born inhabitants. While running for president in mid-1860, Lincoln purchased Springfield (Illinois) Zeitung to gather immigrant votes; by 1864, fully 25% of Lincoln’s war machine consisted of Germans.

Immigrant Politics and Recruits

“In 1835, it was reported that more than one-half of the paupers in the almshouses of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore were foreign-born, and in later years the proportion was even higher. Crime statistics, too, revealed a disproportionate number of foreign-born offenders; in 1850 there were three times as many foreign-born inmates of the New York State prisons as there were natives.

To many nativists an equally grave and more immediate threat to republican freedom stemmed from the political role of the foreign-born. In places the proportion of foreign-born voters had so increased as to hold the balance of electoral power; this of itself was a source of alarm, for most immigrants remained ignorant of American institutions.

In addition, the electoral violence and voting frauds, which had come to characterize immigrant voting in politics, we believed to be sapping the very foundations of the American political system.  There were numerous complaints of native voters being kept from the polls by organized mobs of foreign laborers, of immigrants voting on the very day of their arrival in America, and of hired witnesses and false testimony as the commonplaces of naturalization proceedings.

[Native resentment] of German arrogance gave way to excited warnings against the machinations of a disaffected and turbulent element to whom America had unwisely given asylum. [An example of this were] the demands of Communist Forty-Eighters like Wilhelm Weitling, who advocated complete social revolution and the establishment of an American “republic of the workers.”

In Missouri in the spring of 1861, the bulk of Union forces consisted of German militiamen [who] thwarted secessionist attempts to take the State out of the Union.  What led many to enlist was the offer of a bounty greater than an unskilled laborer’s annual earnings.  Large numbers, too, joined the army because the trade depression at the beginning of the war, and its consequent unemployment, left them no choice save starvation or military service.

Such cases were common, for example, in New York where Horace Greeley, struck in April 1861 by the high proportion of foreigners among the recruits, wondered whether “the applicants were actuated by the desire of preserving the Union of the States or the union of their own bodies and souls.”

(American Immigration, Maldwyn Allen Jones, University of Chicago Press, 1960, excerpts pp. 152-154; 171-172)

No Quarter for Old Men and Beardless Boys

Marianna, Florida was a peaceful west Florida town of prewar Whigs who bitterly opposed their State’s secession. Aware of the theft and destruction Northern forces had visited upon other Florida towns, Marianna made ready to defend their homes. Though a disaster for the town, the old men and boys succeeded in causing sufficient casualties to thwart the enemy advance to Tallahassee, and force its retreat to Pensacola.

No Quarter for Old Men and Beardless Boys

“On the morning of the 25th of September, 1864, the usually quiet town of Marianna, in west Florida, of about 2,000 inhabitants, was in a state of great anxiety over the report that the “Yankees were coming.”

The church bells were rung, calling out all citizens to the court house, where a meeting was held and resolutions passed to repel the invaders. A few Confederate soldiers, then at home and on sick leave, formed the nucleus of an organization which was at once perfected. Grayheaded old men, boys under 16 years of age within the town and ten miles around, regardless of previous Union sentiment, arrived with shotguns and formed what they themselves called “The Cradle and Grave Militia company,” in all about 200, and partly mounted.  They elected Captain Norwood, a prominent Unionist, as their captain, and reported for duty . . . full of ardor and brave endeavor. [Their commander formed a defensive] line with its right at the boarding-house and the left resting at the Episcopal church.

[The enemy invader] consisted of a battalion of the Second Maine cavalry . . . and several companies of deserters, the so-called First regiment of Florida Troops, and two full companies of ferocious Louisiana Negroes, in all about 600 . . . [the enemy] detached a part of his command to flank the village, and advanced the main body directly toward the church.

An indiscriminate firing began from the Confederate front and rear, the old men and beardless boys fighting like enraged lions, disputing every inch of ground. The contest was fierce and deadly for half an hour, when [the enemy commander] ordered the church, boarding-house and a private residence opposite burned.

The militia kept their ground manfully between the two walls of flames. In the meantime the Federal flanking party gained the rear of the militia and commenced an indiscriminate slaughter, giving no quarter to anyone. The Negro companies in particular acted in a most fiendish manner. Old men and boys who offered to surrender were driven into the flames of the burning buildings; young lads who laid down their arms were cut to pieces; others picked up bodily by stalwart Negro soldiers and thrown into the seething, burning church.

The half-charred remains of several of the half-grown boys were afterward found in the ruins of the church. The Confederates scattered in every direction, every man for himself, pursued by the Maine cavalry who kept up a steady fire on them. The whole fight lasted about an hour . . . [the enemy] would return to Pensacola with their prisoners, contraband and plunder.

The day after the fight, Marianna presented a pitiable sight. The dead and wounded lay all about, and the wails and cries of mothers, wives and sisters could be heard in every direction. Women and children searched for father, son or brother in the ashes of the burnt buildings. Here and there a charred thigh or ghastly skull was disinterred from the debris.”

(Federal Incursion to Marianna, J.J. Dickison, Confederate Military History, Clement A. Evans, editor, Confederate Publishing Company, 1899, excerpts pp. 114-117)

Merchant of Terror

To his brother John Sherman on October 1, 1862, General W.T. Sherman wrote:

“I rather think you now agree with me that this is no common war — that it was not going to end in a few months or a few years. For after eighteen months the enemy is actually united, armed and determined, with powerful forces well-handled, disciplined and commanded on the Potomac, the Ohio, the Missouri. I knew, and know yet, that the Northern people have to unlearn all their experiences of the past thirty years and be born again before they will see the truth.”

Property destruction was not the complete answer. Sherman was convinced of this, since the “guerilla” attacks continued even after the example offered in the fate meted out to Randolph. There was something lacking – an element to complete the new concept of war – if the part played by the people of the South was to be eliminated.  With acceptance of the fact that destruction of property was not the final answer, Sherman’s mind leaped the gap and seized on the solution – terrorism. 

He would so thoroughly inject the shock of fear into the South that it would lead to its complete demoralization. Such demoralization would work like a slow poison, resulting in the paralysis of the Confederate armies through wholesale desertions of men returned home to assure the safety of their families. More important, dread would so sicken the people of the South that they would clamor for cessation, and to obtain relief they would exert every pressure on their government to end the war.

Here then, in Memphis, was the mold made. The months ahead would see it filled in: it would harden into the completed philosophy of total war, employing a program of devastation and waste, the turning loose on the countryside of a horde of pillagers and looters who would do their work systematically and well.”

(Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War, John Bennett Walters, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1973, excerpt pp. 65-66)

Lee’s Only Chance

Though Lincoln doubted that he would be reelected in 1864, and was heard to state that he hoped another Republican would replace him as he feared being imprisoned by a Democrat for his numerous unconstitutional acts, his Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana said “the whole power of the War Department was used to secure Lincoln’s re-election in 1864.” By that time there were far too many whose careers and wealth depended upon the powerful centralized government Lincoln had created, and which the Radical Republicans wanted to rule.

The starving, ragged soldiers of Lee and Johnston were the last remaining barriers to full Radical control of the destiny of the “nation conceived in liberty” declared at Gettysburg in November 1863.  

Lee’s Only Chance

“In Lee’s ranks there was less fear of Grant than of that grim enemy, hunger. George Cary Eggleston [A Rebel’s Recollections] reports the rigid economies in food which his men practiced; then he adds:

“Hunger to starving men is wholly unrelated to the desire for food as that is commonly understood and felt. It is a great agony of the whole body and the soul as well. It is unimaginable, all-pervading pain inflicted when the strength to endure pain is utterly gone. It is a great despairing cry of a wasting body – a cry of flesh and blood, marrow, nerves, bones, and faculties for strength with which to exist and to endure existence. It is a horror which, once suffered, leaves an impression that is never erased from memory, and to this day the old agony of that campaign comes back upon me at the mere thought of any living creature’s lacking the food it desires, even though its hunger be only the ordinary craving and the denial be necessary for the creature’s health.”

In the whole campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, the Union losses were 55,000, nearly as much as Lee’s whole army. Grant, however, could find new recruits; he was amply reinforced; and he had no embarrassment from the lack of food or equipment. As a defensive accomplishment in fighting off superior numbers, the campaign stands as a significant chapter in Confederate annals.

Confederate losses in the Wilderness campaign were proportionally heavier than those of Grant, behind whom stood the North with its numbers, wealth, organization, and equipment.  Lee’s chance of conquering the Northern armies had gone.  His only chance was in the doubtful hope that a stout and desperate defense, if continued long enough, would wear down the Northern will to fight, produce Lincoln’s defeat in the election of 1864, and by the sheer force of war weariness bring peace on terms acceptable to the South.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 544-547)

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

In early May 1864, Grant moved across the Rapidan River in Virginia to pass quickly through the Wilderness before giving battle. Instead, there he lost some 26,000 men in the dense thickets. On June 3rd Grant lost “more men in the eight minutes of hottest fighting than in any period of the war.”  Though this carnage intensified the peace movement in the North, Lincoln provided Grant with an endless supply of immigrants, substitutes and conscripted men to continue this fearful slaughter. Lincoln, despite ruling the North with near-dictatorial powers, was well-aware 1864 was an election year and victories at any cost were needed before November.

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

“With the spring of 1864, the war entered a new phase. Union victories in the West had cut deeply into the economic and military strength of the Confederacy.  They had done more, for they had associated the names of Grant and his lieutenants with a habit of mind which connoted aggressiveness, strategy on a large scale, and victory.

It was not that Grant was a supreme master of the “science of war,” nor even that he merited full credit for the victories under his command . . . It was rather that a situation had been reached where, with Northern recruiting, Confederate depletion, and Grant’s sledge-hammer blows, the essential conditions of Union triumph had been presented.

Almost immediately [after Grant’s elevation to lieutenant-general] the final grand strategy of the war began to unfold itself, a strategy by which Grant used his numerical superiority and plunged ruthlessly ahead in Virginia, losing an enormous number of men, but wearing out the Confederates by sheer attrition; while in the lower South Sherman attained unenviable laurels by destroying vast amounts of food and other supplies in his “march” through Georgia and the Carolinas.  

It was by these unceasing blows at the heart of the Confederacy that the war, which had dragged on indecisively for three years, was brought to an end in 1865.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 539-543)

The Carnage at Fredericksburg

The battle at Fredericksburg began at first light, December 13, 1862, and soon became a slaughter of Northern soldiers urged on against a near-impregnable barrier of musket and cannon-fire.  New York Times reporter William Swinton’s post-battle dispatch to the Times noted: “[The Federal soldiers] were literally mowed down. The bursting shells make great gaps in their ranks . . . flesh and blood could not endure it. They fell back shattered and broken, amid shouts and yells from the enemy.”  By nightfall, more than twelve thousand Union soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing.

This severe defeat of Northern forces at the end of a year that witnessed astronomical casualties on both sides, leaves us to question Lincoln’s motives for continuing his war.  After shelling and starving the women, children and old men of Vicksburg into submission, and the wounded, dead and maimed at Gettysburg, Lincoln unleashed Sherman, Sheridan and Grant upon Americans in the South in absolute total war – war against military and civilians.

The Carnage at Fredericksburg

“It was the first of six assaults, each more futile than the last. Federal artillery assayed a covering barrage; the euphemism “friendly fire” had not yet been invented, but according to [Cincinnati Commercial reporter Murat] Halstead, “at least half of the shells” fell into the Federal ranks, “killing more of our men than the enemy.”

A large number of Federal troops – wound or otherwise – were trapped on the battlefield. [London Times correspondent Francis] Lawley presented the view from the rebel lines:

“Such a scene . . . would baffle any mortal pen to describe. In addition to the agonized cries for water, and the groans of tortured and dying men, may be heard voices, constantly growing fainter and fainter, shouting out names and numbers of their regiments in hope that some of their comrades may be within hearing . . . Their bodies, which lie in dense masses, as thick as autumn leaves, within 40 yards of the muzzles of the Confederate guns, are best evidence of their bravery as well as to the desperate plight of their bitterly deceived commanders.”

Lawley, noting the large number of European mercenaries in the Federal army, offered a particular ethnocentric comment:

“It is not likely that the full details of this battle will be generally known in the North for weeks and weeks; but if, after the failure of this last and feeblest of all the Federal attempts to reach Richmond . . . the Irish and Germans are again tempted to embark on so hopeless a venture, then it is the conclusion irresistible that, in addition to all the shackles of despotism which they are alleged to have left behind them in Europe, they have left also that most valuable attribute of humanity, which is called common sense.”

“It became apparent to all observers,” the Cincinnati editor wrote, that the fortunes of the day on our side were desperate. It was manifestly absolutely impossible for our columns of unsupported infantry to carry the terrible heights.”

(Blue and Gray in Black & White: Newspapers in the Civil War, Brayton Harris, Brassey’s, 2000, excerpts pp. 224-225; 228)

On The Bare Hills, Men Without a Country

It is said that Grant at Appomattox offered rations and transportation home to Lee’s surrendered Americans, or to exile in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Many might have gladly avoided living under Northern rule, “but in distant homes were old men, helpless women and children, whose cry for help it was not hard to hear.” With all the destruction around them and carpetbaggers flowing Southward, “no one dreamed of what has followed.”

On the Bare Hills, Men Without a Country

“[The enemy] were proud of their success, were more willing to give than our men, in the soreness of defeat, and not a man of that grand army of a hundred and fifty thousand men but could, and, I believe, would testify, that on purely personal grounds, the few worn out, half-starved men that gathered around General Lee and his falling flag held the prouder position of the two. Had politicians left things alone, such feelings would have resulted in a very different condition of things.

“We stacked eight thousand stands of arms, all told: artillery, cavalry, infantry, stragglers, wagon rats and all the rest, from twelve to fifteen thousand men.

The United States troops, by their own estimate, were one hundred fifty thousand men, with a railroad connecting their rear with Washington, New York, Germany, France, Belgium, Africa – all the world, and the rest of mankind,” as General [Richard] Taylor comprehensively remarked, for their recruiting stations were all over the world, and the crusade against the South, under pressure of the “almighty dollar,” was as absolute and varied in its nationality as was that of “Peter the Hermit,” under pressure of religious zeal upon Jerusalem.

Those of us who took serious consideration of the state of affairs, felt that with our defeat we had absolutely lost our country – the one we held under the Constitution – as though we had been conquered and made a colony of by France or Russia. So far, it was all according to the order of things, and we stood on the bare hills, men without a country.”

(Dickison and His Men, Mary Elizabeth Dickison, Courier-Journal Printing, 1890, excerpt pp. 241-243)

The Triumph of Industry Over Idleness

Though Lincoln had been dead for a week, numerous Northern abolition and Republican party personages assembled in Charleston “for Lincoln’s elaborately planned ceremonial of retribution.” General Milton Littlefield spoke in Savannah a few days later, after remarks by his commander, General Quincy Gillmore. Both had been instrumental in conscripting black men from overrun plantations and using them for destructive raids in Georgia and South Carolina – and assisting Salmon P. Chase in his presidential ambitions and conquering Florida for its electoral votes. Littlefield is best known for his role in raising black troops and pocketing most of each recruits bonus money for enlistment, as well as his postwar railroad bond frauds in North Carolina and Florida.    

The Triumph of Industry over Idleness

 “[Judge William D.] Kelley, then and long after a Congressman from Philadelphia, was probably more symbolic of the past and future than the others present. A founder of the Republican party, abolitionist advocate for the use of Negro troops, he was to become famous in history as “Pig Iron” Kelley because of his equally earnest advocacy of high tariffs on iron and steel, which the Republican party had won along with the war.

“For both the whites and blacks it was a highly emotional occasion: “from the hysterical contraband to the dispassionate judge there was no reserve or restraint in the general flow of tears.”

Littlefield spoke and tied his fellow Yankees to New England] where that “Christian band of patriots,” the Pilgrims, had planted their feet and the tree of liberty on the rocky shore. Such Yankees, he said, sought liberty, not gold. “In crossing the old Atlantic,” he told the Southerners who had gathered in subserviency, “they were led by no such allurements as guided DeSoto and his followers.” It had been 350 years since the Spaniard had visited Savannah greedy for any treasure. Little gold was apparent there in 1865.

“This principle [of liberty] is what had given New England her fame, the Yankee a name,” he went on in cool instruction, “and this is what the people of the South contended so strongly against, Free Labor.  We have fought for this, and will fight for it still. We know that the Yankee side of the question is Industry and the opposite is Idleness; the contest is over at last, and the question has been decided on the side of self-government and universal liberty.

The people of South Carolina, Georgia and all the Southern States, can have peace if they wish, by simply complying with the laws and showing themselves unconditionally loyal. The United States Government can afford to be generous; she will be so when those in rebellion repent of the errors of their ways, become good peaceable citizens, and prove it by their actions.

If instead, of standing upon a sentiment, mourning for lost aristocracy, you will go at once, like a good businessman, to restore harmony among your people among your people, industry in all classes, there will be no questions of your rights and wrongs. Should you want help to put yourselves in order, we will send down some of our Yankees in blue, to put you in running shape.  

If you cannot do this, do not be at all disappointed if you should find, one of these fine mornings, some of these Yankees filling your places. You have now but a short time to consider. The world moves, and so does the Yankee nation.”

(The Prince of Carpetbaggers, Jonathan Daniels, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1958, excerpt pp. 117-119)

The Most Costly Price of the Civil War

It is estimated that the Civil War cost $8 billion, which, including destruction of property, derangement of the power of labor, pension system and other economic losses, is increased to $30 billion. To this total is added the human cost of 620,000 battlefield deaths – the war killed one out of every four Southern white males between 20 and 40 — and at least 50,000 civilians dead from indiscriminate Northern bombardment of cities, and starvation.

In the immediate postwar and its two million men in blue mustered out, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) became a rich political endorsement as Northern politicians lined up to offer higher pensions in return for votes.  

The Most Costly Price of the Civil War

“War always intrenches privilege in the councils of the nation. The power of the financier is increased. He is called in to rule. Otherwise the state would not go on. Such was our own experience as a result of the Civil War.

Prior to 1861 a democratic spirit prevailed in the nation. Economy was the note in government expenditures. The Civil War ushered on a new era. The need for revenue brought about a merger of the protected interests of Pennsylvania and New England and the banking interests of Wall Street with the Treasury Department, a merger which has continued ever since.

Corruption born of army contracts and war profits penetrated into Congress and the various departments of the government. The public domain of the West was squandered in land grants to the Pacific Railroads with no concern for posterity. The richest resources of the nation were given away. For years after the war, privilege was ascendant and democracy reached to lowest ebb in our history.

Taxes were collected not for the needs of the government, but to maintain a protectionist policy. Revenues were squandered and pork-barrel methods prevailed. Pensions were recklessly granted to prevent a treasury surplus, while appropriations for rivers and harbors, for public buildings, and other purposed became the recognized practice of congressional procedure.

For fifty years the reactionary influences which gained a foothold during the Civil War maintained their control of the government. This was the most costly price of the Civil War, far more costly than the indebtedness incurred or the economic waste involved.”

(Why War? Frederic C. Howe, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918, excerpt pp. 313-314)

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