Browsing "Southern Heroism"
Apr 8, 2019 - Carnage, Costs of War, Memorials to the Past, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on The Absolute Edge of No Return

The Absolute Edge of No Return

Though referred to as a defeat below, the end of the third day at Gettysburg left 3155 Northern men and 3903 Southern men dead – the latter higher due to massed assaults. On the fourth day, the Northern commander remained behind his entrenchments, made no effort to attack, and ordered only his cavalry out to ascertain his adversary’s movements.

During his foray into Pennsylvania, Lee had drawn Northern troops away from Richmond, sent fear into the North with his invasion, resupplied his troops in a fertile region, and allowed the Shenandoah a peaceful respite.

The Absolute Edge of No Return

“Toward the end of his long life, the Confederate General James Longstreet is supposed to have visited the town of Oxford, Mississippi, where his sister lived and where his uncle, the Judge Longstreet of the “Georgia Scenes,” had once resided. It was after Longstreet’s extended dispute with other former Confederate leaders over the responsibility for the defeat at Gettysburg, and so when a small boy came up to the old man and asked him: “General, what happened to you at Gettysburg?” Longstreet almost suffered a stroke then and there. The name of the small boy, the story goes, was William Faulkner.

The episode almost certainly never took place. Longstreet’s biographer places it in 1898, when Faulkner was one year old, and not even William Faulkner would have displayed such precocity as that. It probably happened in Chicago, not Oxford, and if anyone asked such a question of Longstreet, it was Faulkner’s longtime friend, Phil Stone. The anecdote recalls a passage from Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust.” Lawyer Gavin Stevens is talking to his young nephew, Chick Mallison:

“It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. 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 afternoon in July, 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 looking for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance . . . And that moment doesn’t even need a fourteen year-old boy to think — This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and 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 . . . This is it: the absolute edge of no return, to turn back now and make home or sail irrevocably on and either find land or plunge over the world’s roaring rim.”

(Regionalism and the Southern Literary Renascence, Louis D. Rubin, Jr.; The South and the Sectional Image: The Sectional Theme Since Reconstruction, Dewey W. Grantham, Jr., editor, Harper & Row, 1967, excerpts pp. 146-147)

To Lift the Minds of Those Who Come After Us

The many monuments to Americans across the South represent a lasting tribute to the patriots who fought in 1861 for the very same reasons patriots of 1776 fought: independence, political liberty, and in self-defense. They were symbols of bereavement for those lost in battle, as well as symbols to guide future generations toward emulating their patriotic example.

To Lift the Minds of Those Who Come After Us

“In April 1878, former President Jefferson Davis prepared a letter to be read at the laying of the cornerstone of the Confederate monument at Macon, Georgia: “Should it be asked why, then, build this monument? The answer is, they [the veterans] do not need it, but posterity may. It is not their reward, but our debt . . . Let the monument, rising from earth toward heaven, lift the minds of those who come after us to a higher standard than the common test of success.

Let it teach than man is born for duty, not for expediency; that when an attack in made on the community to which he belongs, by which he is protected, and to which his allegiance is due, his first obligation is to defend that community; and that under such conditions it is better to have “fought and lost than never to have fought at all”. . . Let this monument teach that heroism derives its lustre from the justice of the cause in which it was displayed, and let it mark the difference between a war waged for the robber-like purpose of conquest and one to repel invasions – to defend a people’s hearth’s and altars, and to maintain their laws and liberties . . .”

The next year, an editorial in the Southern Historical Society Papers perpetuated the concept of memorializing the Southern soldier by stating: “But let us see to it that we build them a monument more enduring than marble, “more lasting than bronze,” as we put on record the true story of their heroic deeds, and enshrine them forever in the hearts of generations yet unborn.”

(A Guide to Confederate Monuments in South Carolina: “Passing the Silent Cup,” Robert S. Seigler, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1997, excerpts pg. 14)

The Famed Army of Northern Virginia

Captain John De Forest of the Twelfth Connecticut regiment was a veteran of Louisiana’s military occupation when it was hurried to Washington to defend it from General Jubal Early’s march up the Shenandoah. In his letters home De Forest wrote that army regulations did not provide Northern officers with rations or credit for obtaining them, thus he often went hungry when short of money. “In addition, he remarked bitterly to his brother in a letter, “many of the commissaries are scamps, who charge us a profit over and above the government price for the article. I have known the same article to vary in price the same day . . . I cannot help suspecting that some of the generals share with the commissaries in this kind of plunder.”

The Famed Veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia

“Halltown, Virginia, August 8, 1864:

A column of cavalry four or five miles long is in sight coming up the Potomac Valley. Possibly they have been hunting Mosby’s guerillas, who are said to be troubling our communications with Washington. Early with his main force is at Winchester seven miles southerly from us.

The Sixth Corps, one of the best in the Army of the Potomac, is lying near us. They seem to be badly demoralized by the severe service and the disastrous battles of the campaign in Virginia. Their guns are dirty; their camps are disorderly clutters of shelter tents; worst of all, the men are disrespectful to their officers. I heard a private say to a lieutenant: “I’ll slap your face if you say that again.”

“Looking for guns [Captain]?” Drawled a sergeant. “Well, if you find a clean gun in this camp, you claim it.” We hain’t had one in our brigade since Cold Harbor.” Their talk about the war and our immediate military future had a tone of depression which astonished me.

“But don’t you believe in Grant at all?” I finally asked.

“Yes, we believe in Grant,” replied the colonel. “But we believe a great deal more in Lee and in that Army of Northern Virginia.”

Near Charles Town, Virginia, August 21, 1864:

Thus far General Sheridan is cautious about fighting, perhaps because of instructions from high political authority. With the elections at hand, including the presidential, it would not do to have this army beaten and the North invaded. So, whenever Early is reinforced, Sheridan retreats to a strong position and waits to be attacked. It is to the enemy’s interest just now to take the offensive, but we doubt if Early has men enough to risk it.

Three points I noted with regard to our opponents, the famed veterans of “the Army of Northern Virginia.” They aimed better than our men; they covered themselves (in case of need) more carefully and effectively; they could move in a swarm, without much care for alignment and touch of elbows. In short, they fought more like redskins, or like hunters, than we. The result was that they lost fewer men, though they were inferior in numbers, and perhaps not half our number.”

(A Volunteer’s Adventures: A Union Captain’s Record of the Civil War, John William De Forest, Archon Books, 1970 (original 1946), excerpts pp. 165-166; 190)

A Part of the Southern Family

The fidelity of black people is attested by many reports during the war, such as when Northern soldiers seized plantation hands to help them locate buried valuables. In front of Hopewell Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church in Chester, South Carolina, is a memorial stone to Robert Hemphill, the slave of Robert Hemphill — both were church members. The stone commemorates the fact that Burwell was hung by Northern soldiers who wanted the location of buried valuables on the plantation. They hung him briefly several times before killing him for refusing to answer, and died rather than be unfaithful to those he loved and served.

Part of the Southern Family

“As the tension between the two races who live side by side in our land seems to be increasing, I am glad to remember my colored friends with sincere appreciation of their merits, their keen sense of humor, and their loyalty. Should these words ever reach the rising generation, I hope it will give them a pleasant picture of the friendly relations between those who served and those who expected service.

The present-day movies and comics present our Negroes as “step-and-fetch-it” or a caricature of a would-be heavy sport. Gone is the real affection that made a white child cling with both arms around his nurse’s neck, or that prompted a gentleman to sit in open court beside an ex-slave being tried for his life.

In a friend’s house stands a gun, an old muzzle-loading gun long enough to reach from here to yonder. During the Civil War a raiding party from the Northern Army carried off a young Negro and the long gun. The boy patiently followed his captors, and then escaped one night to come safely back home to tell his master where the gun had been sold for $1.00. It was quickly rescued and is today a priceless antique in [a residence in] Brevard, North Carolina.

There was little black Liza . . . who sang me to sleep in my infancy, and lived to launder my wedding lingerie and to welcome my son when he entered the University of North Carolina. She and her husband, John Evans, were respected and useful citizens of Chapel Hill all their lives.

My children’s “Mammy” was “Aunt” Rilla McDonald. As a nurse of babies and sick people, her patience and fidelity were beyond praise; the touch of her hands brought comfort and peace. Only a few moments did she need to subdue the most rebellious infant; the very sound of her voice was soothing, and her presence in a sick room brought comfort and security.

Sixty years ago Southern people had not forgotten to call elderly Negroes “Aunt” or “Uncle” and to treat them with the courtesy their innate dignity demanded.

I do not know how many years “Aunt” Bina Ledbetter served Mr. Thomas Leak’s family, but I do know she was as much a part of the family as the mistress she served with unswerving fidelity. “Aunt” Bina was a large, black woman with a mien of commanding dignity and always extremely neat in her dress. “Aunt” Bina once got into a controversy with a tan-colored member of her church, being taunted with the words: “Ef I was as black as you I would keep my mouth shet.” She replied: “Tain’t so much the color that makes the difference between people – it’s the blood!”

(A Rare Pattern, Lucy Phillips Russell, UNC Press, 1957, excerpts pp. 165-167)

Jackson Versus Two Amateurs of War

Stonewall Jackson’s stunning success in the Valley was truly Napoleonic as he fought against enormous odds and sent opponents reeling in defeat. One, Northern General James Shields, an Irish-born politician-general who boasted that Jackson feared him, had only days before their clash vowed that he would clear the Shenandoah Valley of Jackson’s patriot army. In truth, Jackson benefited as well from the hand of Providence and inept enemy leadership in Washington.

Jackson Versus Two Amateurs of War

“Next, Lincoln tried his hand in strategy.  He ordered [Major-General John C.] Fremont into the Shenandoah to Jackson’s rear, and after countermanding the order to join [Major-General George B.] McClellan, directed [Major-General Irvin] McDowell instead to send 20,000 men to the Shenandoah to assist Fremont, or to capture Jackson if he could not effect the junction.

More disaster followed when Jackson routed [General Nathaniel P.] Banks at Winchester on May 25 and drove him in wild flight thirty-five miles across the Potomac. Stanton, believing Washington in imminent danger, telegraphed the Northern governors to send militia for its defense.

Lincoln seized the railroads, recalled part of McDowell’s corps to Washington, and ordered Fremont, Banks and McDowell – still separated – to capture Jackson. On June 8, Fremont overtook the retreating Jackson at Cross Keys, but was repulsed; so was Shields who next day struck at Jackson at Port Republic.

Colonel [David] Henderson said that Jackson “fell as it were from the skies into the midst of his astonished foes, struck right and left before they could combine, and defeated in detail every detachment that crossed his path.”

With 17,000 men Jackson in a month won four battles and captured many prisoners. More important, he terrorized Washington and kept 40,000 men from joining McClellan [in his advance on Richmond]. Margaret Leech observed: “Divine interposition could scarcely have scattered the Federal forces more perfectly than had those two amateurs of war, Mr. Stanton and Mr. Lincoln.”

(The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, William M. Lamers, LSU Press, 1961, excerpts pg. 81)

Arch-Rebel George Washington

On August 23, 1775, George III proclaimed the American colonists of New England to be traitors and in rebellion. To suppress the American revolt, George III prepared for total war and sent an army of Scots Highlanders and Royal Guards; his effort to buy troops from Catherine of Russia had fallen through, though he acquired 7,000 German mercenaries from Brunswick and Hesse-Cassel.

One cannot fail to see the similarities with 1861 as a new American nation declared its independence and raised an army for defense. An American president then assembled an army which included paid German troops to suppress a “rebellion,” and the rebel leader is denounced as an “arch-rebel.”

George III offered amnesty and pardon if the colonists again recognized him as their Sovereign; Lincoln offered the South amnesty if it recognized him as their Sovereign. The “hideous dens of malnutrition and disease” described below were replicated in many Northern prisons and the cruel fate of the “Immortal 600” Southern officers held at Morris Island in 1864. One may also compare the tactics and methods of rebel-general Washington with rebel-general Stonewall Jackson in the Valley.

Arch-Rebel George Washington

“Washington’s plight [at New York in July 1776] was made more desperate by a piece of awesome news. America and the mother country had come to the parting of the ways. An express from Philadelphia brought the report that independence had been declared by [the Continental] Congress on 2 July.

Was he the first general of an emerging nation, or, as British propaganda had it, “the arch-rebel Washington,” outlaw leader of a guerilla band. [Howe’s] troops crossed the Hudson, scaled the Palisades, and took Fort Lee in twenty minutes, with yet another cache of arms and soldiers, the former to bombard the rebels, the latter to languish miserably in prison ships, floating sewers anchored off New York Harbor, hideous dens of malnutrition and disease.

[In early January 1777 near Princeton, British troops] opened a cannonade on the outnumbered Americans, trapped them in an orchard between a ravine and their cannon, leveled them with fresh blasts of artillery, and waded in with bayonets. Trapped and frightened, the [Americans] began to fall back to the rear . . . [and at] that moment Washington appeared.

Glancing once at the bloodied terrain, [Washington] plunged through the melee to within thirty yards of the advancing British and disappeared in a burst of fire and a gigantic cloud of smoke. It blew off a minute later, revealing George, possessed as ever, sitting calmly on his big white horse.

“Advance!” and the army plunged after him into the British center, driving them through the fields into the red brick buildings of the Princeton campus, where they holed up in schoolrooms, firing from class and chapel windows until blasted out by barrages of artillery or chased out at the point of bayonets. Perpetrators of the earlier orchard massacre received a dreadful vengeance; convinced the foe had used their bayonets with excessive severity, Americans closed in on the survivors and slaughtered nearly sixty on the spot.

[Cornwallis’s aide] Charles Stedman, objective even in catastrophe, traced the coup to Washington’s use of surprise and timing to unbalance a much larger army and his disposal of small forces for the maximum effect.”

(Washington: A Biography, Noemie Emery, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976, excerpts pp. 192-193; 202; 210-211)

Dec 21, 2018 - American Military Genius, Patriotism, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Falling on the Altar of His Country

Falling on the Altar of His Country

General JEB Stuart recommended Major John Pelham of Alabama for promotion in early 1863 after his exemplary initiative, coolness under fire and bravery at Fredericksburg. Stuart viewed Pelham as “one who possessed a heart intrepid, a spirit invincible, a patriotism too lofty to admit selfish thought and a conscience that scorned to do a mean act. His legacy would be to leave a shining example of his patriotism to those who survive.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Falling on the Altar of His Country

“You know how much his death distressed me. How much he was beloved, appreciated and admired . . . the tears of agony we had shed, and the gloom of mourning throughout my command [bore] witness.”

He fell mortally wounded in the Battle of Kellysville, March 17, with the battle cry on his lips, and the light of victory beaming from his eye. Though young in years, a mere stippling in appearance, remarkable for his general modesty of deportment, he yet disclosed on the battlefield the conduct of a veteran, and displayed in his handsome person the most imperturbable coolness to danger.

His eye glanced over every battlefield of his army from the first Manassas to the moment of his death, and he was, without a single exception, a brilliant actor in all. The memory of “the gallant Pelham,” his manly virtues, his noble nature and purity of character, are enshrined as a sacred legacy in hearts of all who knew him.

His record was bright and successful. He fell the noblest of sacrifices on the altar of his country, to whose glorious service he had dedicated his life from the beginning of the war.”

(JEB Stuart Speaks: An Interview with Lee’s Cavalryman, Bernice-Marie Yates, White Mane Publishing, Inc., 1997, excerpts pp. 58-59)

Oct 13, 2018 - Carnage, Lincoln's Blood Lust, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Achieving the Supposed Impossible

Achieving the Supposed Impossible

The “Bloody Angle” at the battle of Spottsylvania on May 12, 1864 was a severe test of Lee’s men against the overwhelming forces of Grant – the latter mounting successive attacks in his war of attrition against Lee’s army. In two weeks of fighting since the start of the Wilderness battles, Grant had already lost 32,000 men to battle as well as 20,000 who reached the end of their enlistments. But more foreign and bounty-enriched recruits would replenish his ranks; despite the continuing heroism of his troops, Lee’s losses were near impossible to repair.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Achieving the Supposed Impossible

“In his extended and penetrating study “Grant’s Campaign of 1864-1865,” (page 285), Major [Charles F.] Atkinson [of the British Army] says truly of the angle:

“The battle is indescribable except by catalog of those deeds of individual heroism that happened to be noted and to be remembered in quieter hours . . . The problem is how to account for Lee’s success and Meade’s failure.” He ascribes it, of course, to “the success of Lee’s men in keeping the battle within the breastworks and to the actual combat of the fight. Lee’s exact knowledge of the tensile strength of his material enabled him to use them to the best possible advantage in succession.”

Comparing their successive hand-to-hand contests with the battles in Greek and Roman warfare, he discusses the psychology of their endurance, the hero’s instinct to fight it out, and the will to win.

He concludes: “All this however does not account for the devotion of the actual combatants. The conditions at the point of contact were certainly such as no man could have endured for long.” He did not know that the South Carolina brigade fought continuously at the point of contact for eighteen hours – achieving the supposed impossible.

Generals Grant, Meade and Wright endeavored all day to reenter the Salient at that “vulnerable” west angle. By defeating them there, Harris’ Mississippi and McGowan’s South Carolina brigades defeated their purpose for the whole battle.

With Lee’s infantry and artillery manning it, the new line was practically impregnable to the Federals. General Barlow, whose division a week later, again led in assault, wrote “On th 18th [of May] we assaulted their second line without success.” This was at 4AM and was a carefully planned combined assault by Hancock’s Second Corps, strengthened by eight thousand fresh troops from Washington.

Wright, Burnside and Warren were to cooperate, but did not attack because the heavy artillery and musketry fire soon drove back Hancok’s troops. “Thus ended the last concerted effort to break up the Confederate lines of defense at Spottsylvania.”

The soldiers who, by their long death struggle made the building of Lee’s new line of breastworks possible, were the South Carolinians who “held the key to the Confederate arch” through the great day of battle – or who died there. There they left their dead and the many wounded unto death. They had not failed. The sacrifice of the heroes in the Bloody Angle line was necessary to save the lives of many others.

General Lee telegraphed to Richmond that after the losses at daybreak “thanks to a merciful Providence our subsequent casualties were not large” – that is, in the army as a whole. At the Bloody Angle, the Mississippi and South Carolina brigades each lost about half their numbers. [The losses elsewhere] would have been great if the soldiers holding the apex-line at the Angle had given way before the new intrenchments were ready.

Upon one brigade depended the fate of the army more than is usual even in battle. They died there that they might save their army. Facing almost certain death, it seemed, for eighteen hours, they and their brigade kept the vastly greater numbers of the enemy who were assaulting them from breaking through to the heart of Lee’s army . . . By their suffering and death many thousands of their comrades were saved.”

(A Colonel at Spottsylvania: The Life and Character of Colonel Joseph Newton Brown, The Battle at Spottsylvania, May 12, 1864, Varina D. Brown, The State Company, 1931, excerpts pp. 300-302)

Oct 12, 2018 - Memorials to the Past, Southern Heroism, Uncategorized    Comments Off on Recognizing Valor

Recognizing Valor

Recognizing Valor

“It is not the battle itself which is being celebrated, but the heroism of the men who took part in it. The battle itself was an abominable thing . . . In all its crimson horror . . . Not a thing to celebrate . . .

At Gettysburg thousands died in utmost agony . . . Good and gentle women were widowed and the happiness of homes was destroyed . . . We are not celebrating the battle . . . but the valor of the men who faced, without flinching, a thing that was infernal.”

(Charleston News & Courier editorial, July 4, 1913.)

Oct 12, 2018 - American Military Genius, Lincoln's Blood Lust, Lincoln's Grand Army, Lincoln's Patriots, Southern Heroism, Uncategorized    Comments Off on Grant Versus Lee at the Wilderness

Grant Versus Lee at the Wilderness

Popular histories of Gettysburg proclaim that Lee suffered a great defeat at the hands of Meade and that the Confederacy’s strength was on the wane; however, Colonel Thomas L. Livermore of the US Army wrote: “After Gettysburg, the Confederacy had the same capacity for recruiting armies and supplying them as before, and the morale of the Army of Northern Virginia was just as good.  In the autumn of 1863, Lee crossed the Rapidan to attack Meade, and in December he came out of his entrenchments along Mine Run to attack, but failed to come to blows because Lee had retreated across the Rapidan in the night.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Grant Versus Lee at the Wilderness

“In referring to the opening of the campaign in May 1864, Colonel Tyler, of the Thirty-seventh Massachusetts, wrote: “The Army of the Potomac had never won a decisive victory on Southern soil . . . The Army of Northern Virginia . . . against great odds had achieved victory after victory, and hardly tasted defeat.”

In May 1864 came General Grant with the prestige of his success in the southwest, and with the vast resources of the North and West at his call, confident that his 118,649 “present for duty equipped,” could defeat Lee’s 61,953.

But Grant was meeting Lee – “the greatest of all the great Captains that the English speaking people have brought forth,” whose name, says General Sir Frederic Maurice, must be added to the select group of the world’s greatest commanders named by Napoleon – Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus, Turenne, Eugene, and Frederick the Great.

[Northern] General [Morris] Schaff says . . . [in] the two days of deadly [at the Wilderness] encounter every man who could bear a musket had been put in; Hancock and Warren repulsed; Sedgewick routed, and now on the defensive behind breastworks; the cavalry drawn back; the [supply] trains seeking safety beyond the Rapidan.

Colonel T.L. Livermore estimates that the numbers engaged were: Federals, 101,895; and Confederates, 61,025. The total Federal losses in the Wilderness battles were 17,666. The Confederate losses were reported in only 70 out of 183 regiments; Livermore says, “it is not extravagant to estimate the Confederate losses at a total of 7,750.”

(A Colonel at Gettysburg: Life and Character of Colonel Joseph N. Brown, Varina D. Brown; The State Company, 1931, excerpts pp. 237; 244-245)

 

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