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The Unspoken Significance of Fort Fisher’s Fall in 1865

Fort Fisher, January 2017

This weekend the Fort Fisher historic site near Kure Beach, North Carolina observes the 152nd anniversary of the second Northern attack that succeeded in capturing the fort after a massive bombardment of 50,000 shells which killed or wounded 500 or so mostly-North Carolinians who fought valiantly from traverse to traverse before capitulating. Those taken prisoner by the enemy were shipped northward to frigid prisons in New Jersey and New York – the latter infamously referred to as a death camp.

Many people visiting Fort Fisher note that it can be an eerie experience – like walking the fields of Appomattox and sensing the death-knell of liberty and independence it is known for.

The State employees of the historic site will hold events of blue-clad troops splashing ashore to free North Carolinians from the yoke of independence and self-government, as well as waving the US flag from the top of captured cannon traverses. The red, white and blue flags of the North Carolinians will be minimized if shown at all. Rather than note that most of the defenders were North Carolina farmers from surrounding counties, the fort and media will refer to them as merely “Confederates.”

Often noted during these observances is the enemy soldier who fell out of ranks to visit his mother’s home — as his brother was fighting to defend his country in a grey uniform.  And few seem to comprehend that this wayward North Carolinian in blue is the very definition of treason, of aiding, abetting and going over to the enemy.

Also, what is usually not discussed at events like this are the sectional differences of that era and multitude of reasons why the South was invaded, and the important aftermath of that battle for the fort. What really happened in mid-January 152 years ago was the ending of an American struggle for freedom and independence, the consent of the governed to rule themselves, and the equivalent of Washington surrendering to British forces at Yorktown.

What happened after the fort fell is very important to remember, especially as one looks at the blue-clad reenactors splashing ashore waving their flag on what was then foreign soil to them. What was their true purpose?

After the fort was overwhelmed and silenced, the 10,000-man enemy army marched toward Wilmington in two columns and after some spirited skirmishes, captured the city, imposed martial law, seized private property, and forced citizens to swear allegiance to a foreign government in order to conduct their businesses.

When the enemy departed Wilmington, they moved to join other enemy forces coming into North Carolina from South Carolina and from occupied New Bern. At Bentonville the combined enemy outnumbered Southern forces 4 to 1 — who fought them to a standstill – they then moved on to capture Raleigh, arrest and imprison the governor, and impose military rule on North Carolina. Think of the French capitulation to Germany in 1940.

After the surrender of Southern forces in May, 1865 at Bennett Place, the “reconstruction” of the South lasted until 1877 – some say it never ended — though without armies and without as much gunfire. North Carolina endured rule by a new State constitution imported by a military consul appointed from Washington, and corrupt local men who sought employment with the late enemy. The new imported constitution settled the secession issue for good by stating that North Carolina will never again seek independence or political freedom from the United States Government.

Understandably, July 4, 1865 in occupied Wilmington was a muted affair, celebrated only by locals collaborating with the enemy and newly-freed blacks who were unaware that they had only changed masters.  Blue-clad sentries still patrolled the streets to ensure the rebellion did not re-ignite; then came the vultures known as “carpetbaggers.”

Former Governor Zebulon Vance described the aftermath of war in North Carolina in 1890:

“The carnival of corruption and fraud, the trampling down of decency, the rioting in the overthrow of the traditions of a proud people, the chaos of hell on earth which took place beggars the descriptive powers of plain history . . . I believe a committee of Congress, who took some testimony on this subject, estimated in 1871 the amount of plunder which was extracted from the Southern people in about 5 short years — some $300 millions of dollars in the shape of increased debt alone, to say nothing of the indirect damage inflicted by the many ways of corruption and misrule which cannot be estimated in money.”

The fall of Fort Fisher and ultimate surrender at Bennett Place led to the carnival of corruption that Vance illuminated. We should remember what occurred at Fort Fisher in mid-January 1865 for what it was and what it led to — the ending of an American struggle for freedom and independence, the consent of the governed to rule themselves. This is the sad fact that we should observe, and be cognizant of when gazing at the great earthen fortress.

Bernhard Thuersam

 

 

Ohio Bounties Stimulate Enlistments

There was only one “flush of patriotic enthusiasm” in the North after the war began, and Gen. Halleck advised Lincoln in early 1862 that enlistments had virtually ceased and few new volunteers were to be had. A new system of procuring troops was needed, and conscription was contemplated. States, cities and counties feared losing local men to the threatened draft, and therefore raised exorbitant amounts to buy substitutes and anyone who would take the money to fill Lincoln’s troop quotas. As the war wore on, higher bounties had to be offered to attract men.

Ohio’s Governor William Dennison reminded his constituents in mid-May 1861 that the federal government “offers a bounty of one hundred dollars to all who may enlist, payable at the close of service, or to the soldier’s family, if he should not survive.” Dennison was a Whig and Republican like Lincoln, with the latter rewarding him with the cabinet post of Postmaster General.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ohio Bounties Stimulate Enlistments

“An act of May 1, 1861, exempted from execution the property of any soldier in the militia of Ohio mustered into the service of the United States during the time he was in service, and fro two months thereafter. In February, 1862, the general assembly sought to protect citizen-soldiers charged with criminal offenses by providing that judges should postpone their trials until they were discharged. Still later, in March 1864, certain relief was given to debtors in the armed services who might have judgement rendered against them without defense . . .

After the first flush of patriotic enthusiasm had passed, one of the strong inducements to enlistment was a financial one – a bounty, and, at a later date, the advance of the first month’s pay. During the Civil War, bounties came from three sources – the federal government, local government units, and private subscription. (In Ohio there was no bounty offered directly from State funds.)

Indeed, as the provost marshal wrote, the federal bounty paled into “comparative insignificance” when compared to “the exorbitant bounties paid in advance by local authorities.” These, he believed, were the most mischievous in encouraging desertion, bounty-jumping and other evils connected with the system.

So great was the stigma of the draft that local authorities were highly competitive in the amounts offered to volunteers. Furthermore, they paid all the sum in advance. The primary objective of these payments, as [Provost Marshal] General [James B.] Fry put it, came to be “to obtain men to fill quotas.”

Localities began by offering moderate bounties. In 1862 the average local bounty in Ohio was estimated at $25; in 1863 in advanced to $100; in 1864 it bounded to $400; and in 1865 the average bounty was $500, although in some localities it was as high as $800.

The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners levied a tax of two mills in 1863 to take care of local bounty payments. The next year (1864), however, the city of Cincinnati began to borrow in order to offer city bounty payments, and during the year 1,811 volunteers were paid bounties of $100 each.

After the war the adjutant general of Ohio estimated that $54,457,575 had been paid in local bounties throughout the State, of which amount cities and counties paid about $14,000,000 and private subscribers, $40,457,575.”

(Relief for Soldiers’ Families in Ohio During the Civil War, Joseph E. Holliday; Ohio History, July 1962, Volume 71, Number 2, James H. Rodabaugh, editor, excerpts, pp. 98-100)

Grabbing Pennies Off the Southern Corpse

Sherman’s army occupied Savannah in late December, 1864 after Gen. William J. Hardee had evacuated his troops into South Carolina. Offshore and awaiting the occupation of the city by Sherman were US Treasury agents and others anxious to seize bales of cotton and other valuables for government or personal enrichment. In addition, presidential-aspirant Edwin M. Stanton presciently coveted the Negro vote in the South as Grant eventually did, and pretended concern for their future.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grabbing Pennies Off the Southern Corpse

“In making the rounds of the city [in late December, 1864, Sherman] was irritated to find that an agent of the [US] Treasury had arrived in the city ahead of him and seized a large stock of cotton there, estimated at 25,000 bales, later found to amount to 31,000 bales.

His chief annoyance . . . was from outside meddlers, agents from the North, the forerunners of the pestiferous army of carpetbaggers that swarmed into the South in the next few months and years. Some were sincere and fervent, but narrow-minded, zealots determined to impose salvation as decreed by the abolitionists upon the Negroes; many were greedy and unconscionable rascals bent upon seizing political power and grabbing the pennies off the Southern corpse.

[Sherman] . . . divined the developing purpose of the Radicals in Congress. It became apparent in the attitude suggested in hints let out here and there by the chief of the northern agents who descended upon Savannah while Sherman was there.

This was none other than Secretary of War Stanton, who hurried down by boat at the first opportunity to look the ground over. Stanton was fussy about many things, peeking here and there, prying, asking questions, seemingly deeply concerned about the Negro and his future, but in reality carefully measuring the political potentialities in this Southern tragedy, thus foretelling his action, a few months later, in joining the Radicals openly in their desperate and vicious Reconstruction program.

Sherman was most resentful when Stanton revealed his intention to quiz the Negroes about [Sherman’s] own policies . . . [and] witnesses upheld Sherman also in the firm policy he had adopted against recruiting Negroes for his army by State agents who rushed into Savannah and were trying to enlist Negroes right and left.

[Sherman] did not want to enlist any Negro soldiers, not only because of the bother of handling such unseasoned troops, but also because he had smarted under the taunts of Confederate General [John B.] Hood at Atlanta to the effect that the North had to use the South’s own Negro slaves to defeat the Confederacy.”

(The Savannah, More Than the Story of a River, Thomas L. Stokes, University of Georgia Press, 1951, excerpt, pp. 285-288)

 

Shaping Northern Opinion Against the South

As the Northern armies spread across the Confederacy, newspaper reporters following them sent observations and stories northward. The result was predictable as they wrote of an evil land and emphasized any unfavorable aspects of Southern civilization. In the last year of war, the United States government refused prisoner exchanges while Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee pleaded in vain for the starving men in blue held in Southern prisoner of war camps to be saved by their own leaders.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Shaping Northern Opinion Against the South

“[The] years from 1865 to 1880 were dreary years in which there was no peace. The war had only ended on the battlefield. In the minds of men it still persisted. Memories of the past and issues living in the present combined to perpetuate and perhaps enlarge the antagonism that victory and defeat created. One observer made the comment that “it was useless to preach forgiveness and good will to men still burning with the memory of their wrongs.”

Deeply [engraved] on the Northern heart was the conviction that the Confederacy had deliberately mistreated the prisoners of war captured by its armies. The Southern prisons . . . were at best what one Confederate surgeon described as a “gigantic mass of human misery.”

A war-crazed [Northern] public could not dissociate this suffering from deliberate intent of the enemy. Rather it fitted the purposes of propaganda to attribute the barest motives to the Confederates [that] “there was a fixed determination on the part of the rebels to kill the Union soldiers who fell into their hands.” The great non-governmental agencies of relief and propaganda contributed to the spread of similar impressions.

Northern opinion was thus rigidly shaped in the belief that “tens of thousands of national soldiers . . . were deliberately shot to death, as at Fort Pillow, or frozen to death as at Belle Island, or starved to death as at Andersonville, or sickened to death by swamp malaria, as in South Carolina.”

Horror passed into fury and fury into a demand for revenge. And the arch-fiend of iniquity, for so the North regarded him, Major Henry Wirz, was hanged as a murderer [in November 1865] . . . he was the scapegoat upon whom centered the full force of Northern wrath.

Meanwhile the South had no effective way of meeting these charges of brutality [though] it is not difficult to find, however, material in these years that the South received the Northern charge with sullen hatred.

Typical is an article contributed to the Southern Review in January 1867:

“The impartial times to come will hardly understand how a nation, which not only permitted but encouraged its government to declare medicines and surgical instruments contraband of war, and to destroy by fire and sword the habitations and food of noncombatants, as well as the fruits of the earth and the implements of tillage, should afterwards have clamored for the blood of captive enemies, because they did not feed their prisoners out of their own starvation and heal them in their succorless hospitals.

And when a final and accurate development shall have been made of the facts connected with the exchange of prisoners between the belligerents, and it shall have been demonstrated . . . that all the nameless horrors [of both sides] were the result of a deliberate and inexorable policy of non-exchange on the part of the United States, founded on an equally deliberate calculation of their ability to furnish a greater mass of humanity than the Confederacy could afford for starvation and the shambles, men will wonder how it was that a people, passing for civilized and Christian, should have consigned Jefferson Davis to a cell, while they tolerated Edwin M. Stanton as a cabinet minister.”

(The Road to Reunion, 1865-1900, Paul H. Buck, Little, Brown and Company, 1937, excerpts, pp. 45-48)

Our Inhuman Foe

Though Northern General David Birney was born in Alabama, his Kentucky abolitionist father moved the family to Philadelphia where he was educated and indoctrinated. A thoroughly political general who rose through the ranks by self-promotion and connections, his career was dotted with discipline issues and courts martial. He was described as a “pale, Puritanical figure, with a demeanor of unmovable coldness . . .” He ordered the indiscriminate bombardment of women, children and old men in mid-1864 Petersburg, which offered no military targets.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Our Inhuman Foe

“The war against the civilian population of the Cockade City began in earnest on June 16. The 10th Massachusetts Battery took an advanced position near the Hare House Hill, from which, one artilleryman later recalled, the “spires of Petersburg were now in full view, though distant, perhaps, two miles.”

Two days of bitter fighting remained before the Union leaders would admit failure in their attempt to storm Petersburg, but the targeting of noncombatants did not wait that long. “By order of Gen. Birney we gave our pieces ample elevation and fired the first shots known to have been thrown into the city,” cannoneer John D. Billings noted.

“What a night was the last,” Fanny Waddell wrote the next morning. “Our inhuman foe without a single warning opened their guns upon us, shelling a city full of defenseless women, children and old men.” The bombardment that began on June 16 lasted well into the early hours of June 17.

“I lay quietly until nearly one o’clock listening the bursting of the shells when one exploded so near that the light flashed in my face,” Mrs. Waddell recollected. Ah! The bitterness of that night will never pass from our hearts and memories.”

The correspondent for the Savannah Republican reported on June 19 that a “number of shells have exploded in the streets [of Petersburg], but thus far only eleven persons have been hurt, including one old Negro woman killed.”

An officer visiting Petersburg shortly after this report was filed thought that everything seemed “exceedingly depressing. The streets were almost deserted, and the destructive work of the shells was visible on every hand. Here a chimney was knocked off, here a handsome residence was deserted, with great rents in its walls, and the windows shattered by explosion; here stood a church tower mutilated, the church yard filled with new-made graves.”

Large numbers of civilians fled the Petersburg battle zone within days of Grant’s approach. James Albright, a Virginia artilleryman, wrote in his diary on June 20, “The vandals are still throwing shells into the city, and it is very distressing to see the poor women and children leaving. It is hard on all; but to see the poor women with the children on one arm and their little budgets on the other seeking a safe place – is enough to move the hardest heart.”

The civilian exodus was accelerated by rumors that the Yankees planned to celebrate the Fourth of July with “a furious bombardment of the City.” Another Petersburg diarist noted that during one bombardment “pieces of shell [were] rattling like hail about our house.” There were so many burning structures that one Southern artilleryman angrily declared that the “Yankees appear[ed] to be throwing incendiary shells into the city – as some five buildings were on fire at the same time.”

At least one Union battery did use Petersburg to test its homemade incendiary shells. These were concocted by Major Jacob Roemer and thrown into the city in late July, doing “a great deal of damage there.” Another heavy Union bombardment on July 28 started a number of blazes, all noted by Union observers.

To add to the fire hazard, the Union artillery would concentrate its shelling on the burning structures, so that the air around the men battling the flames would be filled with a “perfect storm of shot and shell.”

(The Last Citadel, Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865, Noah Andre Trudeau, Little, Brown and Company, 1991, excerpts pp. 91-92; 95-96)

Death and Robbery Await Prisoners

Camp Butler near Springfield, Illinois was a death camp for Southern prisoners in 1862 and 1863. With medical supplies almost nonexistent, malnutrition, dysentery, typhus and pneumonia ravaged the camp and in late 1862, over seven hundred Southern prisoners died in a smallpox epidemic.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Death and Robbery Await Prisoners

“At Arkansas Post, January 11, 1863 the whole command to which I was attached was captured, and we were all sent to [the Northern prison] Camp Butler, near Springfield, Illinois, where we were imprisoned for about three months.

The rigors of winter in that latitude, against which our thin Southern clothing afforded us insufficient protection, prostrated nearly all of us with diseases; but in a short time a supply of blankets and woolen clothing came to us from some ladies of Missouri and Arkansas, and improved our condition very much.

Prison life was rather monotonous; but there was occasionally a little stir among us produced by an exhibition of authority by a small fellow called Colonel [William F.] Lynch, who was our master.

On one occasion he had us rush out of the barracks and into line, and while one of his set of  underlings were searching our sleeping places — for “spoons,” perhaps — another set were searching our persons for money. On another occasion a detail of us, including myself, were ordered out by this little tyrant to shovel snow out of his way — not out of ours.

And when we got on the [railroad] cars to leave the place, he sent men through each coach with orders to rob us of everything we had except what we had on our backs and one blanket apiece.”

(The Case of the South Against the North, Benjamin Franklin Grady, Edwards & Broughton, 1899, pp. x-xi)

 

South Carolina’s Legislature of Crooked Aliens

Like other conquered Southern States, South Carolinians at the close of the war found themselves within a Union not of their choosing, yet they we not “of” this Union. Their governor was a prisoner of war, they were under martial law, and would be soon under the rule of their former servants.  The Robert Small (or Smalls) mentioned below is credited with the theft of the steamer Planter during the war, and delivering it to the Northern fleet which was aiding and abetting the enemy, and treason against South Carolina.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

South Carolina’s Legislature of Crooked Aliens

“In the [postwar South Carolina] Senate Chamber sat Major Corbin . . . a captain of Vermont troops badly wounded in the war and for a time in Libby prison, he had remained in military service until the end of the war and was then ordered to Charleston in charge of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

In the same body with Major [David T.] Corbin sat Robert Small, who while still a slave had won national fame as a pilot by running the Planter out of Charleston harbor to the Federal fleet. Some of the local black folk said that he did this in fear and trembling at the mouth of a loaded pistol leveled by a braver and more determined slave, one who never shared in the fame of the Planter exploit and was big enough not to care to.

Another of those South Carolina Senators was Beverly Nash. Black as charcoal . . . he was the perfect type of the antebellum ideal of a “white gentlemen’s colored gentleman.”

Besides those three . . . Senators, there was Leslie, once a member of the New York legislature, shrewd, crooked and cynical. And there was  [B.F.] Whittemore [of Massachusetts], who had got national notoriety while in Congress by selling a West Point cadetship for money instead of the customary price which was influence.

For the rest, the Senate floor was occupied by whites and blacks . . . But there was nobody of the old romantic type of South Carolina aristocrat. At the president’s desk sat a Negro, Lieutenant-Governor A.J. Ransier, who presided with dignity . . . A year or two before he died and [he was] working as a street cleaner in Columbia . . .

In the [House] chamber at the other end of the capitol building . . . were a great body of members, mostly Negroes. The body as a whole was in a legislative atmosphere so saturated with corruption that the honest and honorable members of either race had no more influence in it than an orchid might have in a mustard patch.”

(A “Carpetbagger” in South Carolina, Louis F. Post; Journal of Negro History, Carter G. Woodson, editor, Volume 10, January 1925, excerpts, pp. 15-17)

 

For What are They Waging War?

Jefferson Davis referred to Lincoln’s proclamation of emancipation in early 1863 as affording “our whole people the complete and crowning proof of the true nature of the designs of the party which elevated to power the present occupant of the Presidential chair at Washington and which sought to conceal its purpose . . .” Davis, like others familiar with the United States Constitution, saw that only the individual States could emancipate, not the government created by the States. And waging war upon the States was an act of treason under that same Constitution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

For What are They Waging War?

January 5, 1863

“Friends and Fellow Citizens . . .

I am happy to be welcomed on my return to the Capital of our Confederacy – the last hope, as I believe, for the perpetuation of that system of government which our forefathers founded – the asylum of the oppressed and the home of true representative liberty.

Anticipating the overthrow of that Government which you had inherited, you assumed the right, as you fathers had done before you, to declare yourselves independent, and nobly have you advocated the assertion which you have made. You have shown yourselves in no respect to be degenerate sons of your fathers.

Men who were bound to you by the compact which their fathers and themselves had entered into the secure to you the rights and principles not only guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, but rights which Virginia wisely and plainly reserved in her recognition of the government in which she took a part, now come to you with their hands steeped in blood, robbing the widow, destroying houses, seizing the grey-haired father, and incarcerating him in prison because he will not be a traitor to the principles of his fathers and the land that gave him birth.

Every crime which could characterize the course of demons has marked the course of the invader. The Northern portion of Virginia has been ruthlessly desolated – the people not only deprived of the means of subsistence, but their household property destroyed, and every indignity which the base imagination of a merciless foe could suggest inflicted, without regard to age, sex or condition.

In like manner their step has been marked in every portion of the Confederacy they have invaded.

They have murdered prisoners of war; they have destroyed the means of subsistence of families, they have plundered the defenceless, and exerted their most malignant ingenuity to bring to the deepest destitution those who only offence is that their husbands and sons are fighting for their homes and their liberties. Every crime conceivable, from the burning of defenceless towns to the stealing of our silver forks, and spoons, has marked their career.

It is in keeping, however, with the character of the people that seeks dominion over you, claim to be your masters, to try to reduce you to subjection – give up to a brutal soldiery your towns to sack, your homes to pillage and incite servile insurrection.

They have come to disturb our social organizations on the plea that it is military necessity. For what are they waging war? They say to preserve the Union.

Can they preserve the Union by destroying the social existence of a portion of the South? Do they hope to reconstruct the Union by striking at everything which is dear to man? BY showing them so utterly disgraced that if the question was proposed to you whether you would combine with hyenas or Yankees, I trust every Virginian would say, give me the hyenas.”

(Jefferson Davis, the Essential Writings, William J. Cooper, Jr., editor, Modern Library, 2003, excerpts, pp. 285-287)

 

Nov 27, 2016 - Enemies of the Republic, Historical Accuracy, Lincoln's Blood Lust, Lincoln's Grand Army, Lincoln's Patriots    Comments Off on Grant Never Faced Stonewall Jackson

Grant Never Faced Stonewall Jackson

Grant’s relentless and costly attacks on General Lee in Virginia earned him the title of “Butcher” among his own troops and was kept in command by Lincoln who was unbothered by the vast casualty numbers amassed by Grant. He quickly saw that following the Radicals after his master’s assassination was the proper path, and he was rewarded with election to the presidency, though only with the votes of freedmen herded to the polls in the South. His administration was marked with scandal, and his own vice president indicted for corruption. The following able criticism of General Grant’s claim to great generalship was published in the New York Tribune in July 1883.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grant Never Faced Stonewall Jackson

“To the Editor of the Tribune:

Sir, — The attitude in which General Grant has so long been posed before the world is likely to receive a severe blow from the publication of General Humphrey’s last volume of “The Campaigns of the Civil War,” of which the Tribune contained a review yesterday.

Colonel Hambley, of the British army, in his great work on the Art of War . . . speaks of General Grant as one “who was successful on a moderate terrain like Vicksburg, but whose Virginia campaign was a failure,” and elsewhere of “Grant’s useless sacrifice of ten thousand men at Cold Harbor.” This judgement is tacitly supported by General Humphrey’s book by what would seem to be a column if indisputable facts.

I understand from him that General Grant was at least seven times conspicuously and with enormous loss defeated by General Lee before the exhaustion of his war materials and the universal collapse of the Confederacy compelled the latter to surrender. These were not reported as defeats in the bulletins of the day, and some of them were even supposed to be victories, as in the case of Hancock’s magnificent attempt to break through Lee’s centre at Spottsylvania Courthouse; but they were defeats nonetheless.

Many things conspired to prevent General Lee’s victories from being decisive: The overwhelming superiority of the Union army in numbers and munitions of war, his own lack of absolutely necessary war materiel . . . and the lack of an able coadjutor like Stonewall Jackson.

One can well believe that had Jackson lived a year longer Grant would not only have been defeated, but, as a consequence of his stubborn adhesion to a single military idea, pretty nearly destroyed. Grant possessed an advantage over all his predecessors in Virginia; that he never had to contend with Jackson. The dry truth of it is that Grant lost more battles in Virginia than he ever won elsewhere.

In the tenacity with which Grant followed out a determination once fixed in his mind, perhaps no man has ever surpassed him; but it was an expensive virtue for his soldiers, as the hundred thousand men he lost in Virginia are a witness. Whether he should have been removed after Cold Harbor, a disastrous blunder only equaled by Burnside’s at Fredericksburg, is a difficult matter to determine.

Yet this man . . . received the credit of having suppressed the Confederacy; without education for or experience in civil affairs was made President for eight years; and finally was carried around the earth and exhibited to the nations as the greatest prodigy of the age.

F.P.S. College Hill, Mass., July 4, 1883”

(A Northern Opinion of Grant’s Generalship, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XII, 1884, J. William Jones, editor, Broadfoot Publishing, 1990, excerpts, pp. 21-22)

Grant’s Sable Arm at the Crater

After the mine under Confederate lines at Petersburg was exploded in late July, 1864, the Northern assault into the crater was to be led by black troops, ordered by Gen. Ambrose Burnside, though criticized by Gen. George Meade as they were inexperienced. The black troops were not committed until after the initial assault, but intense defensive fire routed them and their white counterparts caught in the crater. It was reported that black troops were the most visible participants in the retreat and an observer recalled being brought to a halt by “terror-stricken darkies who came surging over [us] with a force that seemed almost irresistible. They yelled and groaned in despair and when we barred their progress” (Army of Amateurs, Longacre, pg. 190). Gen. Grant later stated that he was confident that the black troops would have carried the assault if they had led it, though agreeing that they were inexperienced troops.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grant’s Sable Arm at The Crater

“Lieutenant Colonel Charles Loring, a [General Ambrose] Burnside aide who had been observing matters [at the Crater battle] all morning, was so appalled by the prospect of the black soldiers’ advancing into the confusion that he countermanded the order and raced off to report directly to [Burnside, who simply restated his previous order to attack].

The officers commanding the black troops now discovered that it was nearly impossible to advance their men in any orderly fashion. Confederate artillery ranged all surface approaches to the jump-off point . . . [but the] 30th [US Colored Troops] was the first black regiment to advance toward the crater. “The slaughter was fearful,” one [young regimental officer] later wrote home . . . “bullets came in amongst us like hailstones . . . Men were getting killed and wounded on all sides of me.”

[Northern commander U.S. Grant] found Burnside in a small fieldwork overlooking the front. Grant wasted no time. “The entire opportunity has been lost,” he said, rapidly. “There is now no chance of success. These troops must be immediately withdrawn. It is slaughter to leave them here.” Burnside . . .”was still hoping something could be accomplished.”

[At a court of inquiry, Grant stated that] “I blame myself for one thing, I was informed . . . that General Burnside . . . trusted to the pulling of straws [as to] which division should lead [the attack]. It happened to fall on [who] I thought was the worst commander in his corps . . . I mean General [James] Ledlie.”

[Grant continued:] “General Burnside wanted to put his colored division in front [to lead the initial assault], and I believe that if he had done so it would have been a success. Still I agreed with General Meade as to his objections to that plan [that the colored division was “a new division, and had never been under fire – had never been tried . . .”].

General Meade said that if we put the colored troops in front . . . and it should prove a failure, it would then be said, and very properly, that we were shoving these people ahead to get killed because we did not care anything about them.”

(The Last Citadel, Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865, Noah Andre Trudeau, Little, Brown and Company, 1991, excerpts, pp. 115-117; 126)