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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)

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)

German Patriots of the South

In late antebellum years German immigrants were found in Virginia, North Carolina, New Orleans, and Texas. The German-language New Orleans Zeitung wrote that the war was “indeed of conquest and subjugation,” and called Lincoln the “personification of despotism.” Wilmington’s “German Volunteers,” which became Company A of the Eighteenth North Carolina Regiment, was led by Captain Christian Cornehlson. All but 30 of the 102 men in the company were natives of Germany; 26 of the 30 were born in North Carolina of German parentage.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

German Patriots of the South

“The Germans felt it wrong that the North, after selling its slaves to the South, should attempt to force the slaveholders to free their slaves without compensation. Furthermore on the question of commercial independence many of the Germans shared the free-trade principles of their Anglo-Saxon Southern neighbors.

They resented the high tariff, firmly believing that Northern manufacturers under its protection extorted tribute from every inhabitant of the South on almost every article he purchased, and demanded that the wrong should be corrected.

Like other residents of the South, they could not escape the fear, aroused by the John Brown raid, of possible Negro insurrections. It must not be forgotten that, while opposed to slavery, they, like [Robert E.] Lee, preferred to see it abolished in a lawful, peaceable manner.

Where the Germans took up arms voluntarily, they did do for the perpetuation of liberty, as they saw it through the lens of Confederate constitutionalism, not for the striking of the chains from the Negro, but for the casting off of political and economic shackles from the limbs of the whites.

On [November 30, 1860 the editor of the Richmond Anzeiger] spoke out on the political crisis which he called “long anticipated” and declared that Lincoln’s election “on a platform which openly mocks Southern rights guaranteed by the Constitution must lead to a decision of the pending crisis.” He later pointed to various fugitive slave laws of the Northern States as proof it was the North which had produced the crisis by its disregard of the Federal laws.

He asserted that if the Northern States would repeal those obnoxious laws, the conservative elements of the South would seize the hand of friendship thus expended and would regard a secessionist as a high traitor to the common fatherland.”

(Foreigners in the Confederacy, Ella Lonn, UNC Press, 1940, excerpts pp. 41-44)

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)

George Davis’s Last Public Address

Renowned Wilmington, North Carolina attorney and statesman George Davis served as the last attorney general of the Confederate States of America, 1864-1865. He was selected as a North Carolina delegate to the Washington Peace Conference of February 1861, and was elected to the North Carolina Senate before becoming Attorney General. His eminent bronze statue stands in downtown Wilmington, erected and dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911.  Davis was said to have little toleration for new ideas and did not believe in popular education – it was a heresy with him. He was a Cavalier, not a Puritan, and stated that “this thing you boys are advocating, called progress, and the introduction of new notions is wrong. It is but synonym for graft and rascality.” Read more about Davis at www.cfhi.net.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

George Davis’ Last Public Address

George Davis’s last public address was a memorial of his former chief, President Jefferson Davis, in December 1889, on which occasion he spoke without notes in Wilmington’s famous Thalian Hall Opera House. Already in feeble health, George Davis spoke of his fallen President being a “high-souled, true-hearted Christian gentleman, and if our poor humanity has any higher form than that, I know not what it is.”  Davis ended his last oration with:

“My public life was long since over; my ambition went down with the banner of the South, and, like it, never rose again. I have had abundant time in all these quiet years, and it has been my favorite occupation to review the occurences of that time, and recall over the history of that tremendous struggle; to remember with love and admiration the great men who bore their parts in its events. 

I have often thought what was it that the Southern people had to be most proud of in all the proud things of their record?  Not the achievement of our arms!  No man is more proud of them than I, no man rejoices more in Manassas, Chancellorsville and in Richmond; but all the nations have had their victories.

There is something, I think, better than that, and it was this, that through all the bitterness of that time, and throughout all the heat of that fierce contest, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee never spoke a word, never wrote a line that the whole neutral world did not accept as the very indisputable truth.

Aye, truth was the guiding star of both of them, and that is the grand thing to remember; upon that my memory rests more proudly than upon anything else. It is a monument better than marble, more durable than brass. Teach it to your children, that they may be proud to remember Jefferson Davis.”

 

Aug 10, 2018 - American Military Genius, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on The True Test of Civilization

The True Test of Civilization

The True Test of Civilization

“Outwardly, Jackson was not a stone wall, for it was not in his nature to be stationary and defensive but vigorously active. He was like an avalanche coming from an unexpected quarter, like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. And yet he was in character and will more like a stone wall than any man I have known.

On the field his judgment seemed instinctive. No one of his staff ever knew him to change his mind in battle. There was a short, quick utterance, like the flash of the will from an inspired intelligence, and the command was imperative and final.

He was remarkable for as a commander for the care of his troops and had daily knowledge of the work of all the staff departments – supply, medical, ordnance. His ten minutes rest in the hour was like the law of Medes and Persians, and some of his generals were in frequent trouble for their neglect of it.

Of such things he was careful, until the hour of action arrived, and then, no matter how many were left behind, he must reach the point of attack with as large a force as possible. He must push the battle to the bitter end and never pause until he had reaped the fruits of victory. Over and over again he rode among his advancing troops, with his hand uplifted, crying, “Forward men, forward; press forward!”

He well understood that it was a volunteer and patriot soldiery with which he had to do, not with an army of regulars, disciplined and drilled and fought as a machine. Contented and happy in camp, in the field they asked only the will of their commander, and went into the fire of battle with a moral power that was irresistible.

It was not for the defense of slavery that these men left their homes and suffered privation and faced the peril of battle. Bred in whatever school of American politics, these men believed, to a man, in the integrity and sovereignty of the commonwealth, and, men like Robert E. Lee, they laid down everything and came to the borders to resist invasion at the call of the Mother. The troops that Stonewall Jackson led were like him, largely, in principle and in aim, and he rode among them as one of themselves – a war genius of their own breeding.

“The true test of civilization,” says Emerson, “is not the census, nor the size of the cities, nor the crops; no, but the kind of men the country turns out.”

(Some Elements of Stonewall Jackson’s Character, James Power Smith; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XLIII, September 1920, Broadfoot Publishing (1991), excerpts pp. 61-62)

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