Browsing "Lincoln’s Grand Army"

Conquest, Not Union

On April 12, 1864, Fort Pillow, located north of Memphis on the Mississippi River, was surrounded by some 1,500 troops under Gen’s. Nathan Bedford Forrest and James Chalmers. After sending an ultimatum to surrender or suffer “no quarter” and the enemy rejecting capitulation, Forrest’s men attacked and caused most of the enemy’s 600 soldiers to flee into the river. As northern colored troops were half of the fort’s garrison, they suffered great loss along with their white counterparts, and the usual cries of “massacre” were heard from northern reporters anxious to sell newspapers to a gullible public. The Radical Republicans were also quick to establish a congressional committee to investigate Fort Pillow for political purposes.

This pattern was repeated late in the war as the northern public was fed atrocity stories of Georgia’s Andersonville prison stockade. Missing from the stories were the pleas of President Davis and other Southern leaders for prisoner exchanges, including safe passage for medical supplies and food to sustain the inmates. These were all refused by Grant, with Lincoln’s approval.

Conquest, Not Union

“What exactly did the [Committee on the Conduct of the War] uncover and how objective was its investigation? Critics have assumed that the committee deliberately exaggerated Southern atrocities to smear Forrest’s reputation, inflame public sentiments, and serve its own narrow partisan agenda.

The committee’s most thorough historian, T. Harry Williams, for instance, argues that Benjamin Wade used this investigation, as well as previous atrocity reports, as a means to create a consensus for an even more radical reconstruction. By deliberately exaggerating Rebel brutalities, he would cause the public to support a reconstruction policy that would treat the South as a conquered territory.

There is little doubt that the issue of reconstruction was on the minds of committee members and other Republicans during the Fort Pillow investigation. George Julian, chairman of the House Committee on Public Lands, was already busy sponsoring legislation to confiscate the large holdings of Rebel planters and redistribute them to veterans of the Union armies, both white and black.

In remarks to the House of Representatives shortly after Fort Pillow, Julian castigated the Confederates as “devils” and argued that the [alleged] massacre provided additional reasons to support the program of confiscating [Southern property].

Even before the war, there were many in the North who viewed the South as backward and in need of radical reordering along the outline of Northern free labor institutions. The war accelerated such beliefs. “The war is quickly drawing to an end,” the Continental Monthly predicted in the summer of 1862, “but a greater and nobler task lies before the soldiers and free men of America – the extending of civilization into the South.”

In formulating its Fort Pillow findings, the committee reflected Northern opinion as much as it sought to shape it.”

(“These Devils Are Not Fit to Live on God’s Earth”: War Crimes and the Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1864-1865”. Bruce Tap. Civil War History – A Journal of the Middle Period, John Hubbell, ed. Kent State University Press, June 1996, Vol. XLII, No. 2, pp. 121-122)

Yankees in Georgia

Yankees in Georgia

“I . . . reached Halifax, my sister’s place, in two and a half hours at 9AM. She unlocked the door, looked at me with a terrified air [and] all overwhelmed with distress for my danger, for they too believed the Yankees were still in the county.

Then followed the sad recital of their sufferings and losses at the hand of the Yankees. The evidences were on every side. Broken trunks, smashed bureaus, overturned wardrobes – everything topsy-turvy just as the Yankees had left them. No use to put things in order to be again disturbed. But worse, far worse than all the mental agony from fear of personal violence and insult.

The Yankees had entered the house every day for nearly two weeks. Every separate gang ransacked the house afresh, entering every room and taking whatever they desired. The mental suffering of these three ladies and of my child only fourteen-years-old during these two weeks can never be told.

As soon as I could get a word in edgewise, I told them my reasons for believing the Yankees had left the county, but at the same time my grave fears that they were returning or had already returned. If they desired to go out, they must do so immediately, [and] the wagons would be here tonight. Anything was preferable to a repetition of the dreadful suspense through which they had passed.

In the afternoon I walked over to my own place to see Calder, the overseer. I received from him a detailed and most doleful account of [my] losses and the behavior of the negroes. Every living thing taken or destroyed, all the horses, the mules, the hogs (of which there were 100 head), cattle, chickens, ducks, every wheeled vehicle, also much corn, but none of the rice and cotton.

The negroes throughout the country he represents as in a state of complete insubordination – no work of any kind done. The Yankees had not only stripped him, Calder, of everything but had personally maltreated him and his family. They have treated overseers everywhere, I hear, harshly, and the negroes too take the opportunity of showing their dislike. To me and Sister’s family the negroes are extremely kind and considerate, even affectionate. Sister and her family are served as usual, and even more kindly and faithfully than usual.”

(‘Ware Sherman: A Journal of Three Months Personal Experience in the Last Days of the Confederacy. Joseph LeConte. LSU Press, 1999. Original 1937. pp. 29-32)

Sherman’s Final Solution

The following is excerpted from a review of author Michael Fellman’s “Citizen Sherman: A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman (Random House, 1995). The reviewer is John Y. Simon of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 1996.

Sherman’s Final Solution

“In 1875, a fellow officer reported to [General] Sherman that Indians in Florida were receiving training as soldiers and might eventually return to police their tribes [out West]. Sherman wrote in response that this experiment, if successful, might present a “final solution to the Indian problem.” (pg. 260). Sherman could write that that some Indians were “more to be pitied than dreaded” and others deserved pursuit with “vindictive earnestness” to the point of “extermination, men, women and children.” (pg. 264).

$300 Patriots and Deserters

$300 Patriots and Deserters

“As a sideline to his regular clothing business, [John N.] Eitel was a recruitment broker. During the Civil War, recruitment for the [north’s] armed services fell largely into private hands. The government itself at first encouraged private recruiting by offering a two-dollar premium to any person who brought in a recruit who was accepted into service.

Gradually this led to private brokers all but taking over the supply side of the recruiting system. And nowhere were they more active than New York City, where the New York County Board of Supervisors offered a $300 bounty for volunteers and permitted another committee to use private brokers for distribution of the bounties. When a man volunteered in New York, the broker who brought him in paid the soldier a part of the bounty price agreed upon beforehand. Then the soldier would assign the whole bounty to the broker, who would collect $300 from the New York County committee. Three hundred dollars constituted a substantial sum of money in those days, and there were thousands of recruits, the bloodiest war in American history.

Opportunities for fraud were abundant in this system not only because of the middlemen and the vast sums of money involved, but also because of the rather primitive record keeping. War Department Detective Col. Lafayette Baker wrote: “Another manner of desertion, and by far more generally practiced [between May and October 1864], was by permitting recruits to desert in transit from the rendezvous in New York to the Island or receiving ships.”

The problem of northern draftees buying substitutes in 1863 bedeviled Lincoln’s unending need for troops. Historian William Marvel writes: By early September administration officials claimed that a thousand conscripts a day were arriving in the national capital, but those men came under increasingly heavy guard. Most of them had enlisted as substitutes [and were described by one New York captain as ‘the ugliest set of Devils that ever went unhung’. Thieves thickly seeded every lot, ready to stomp or stab anyone who resisted their pilfering. Sergeants were soon tying or locking up many of the rest to prevent them from running off, but they still drained away to the rear – or to the enemy.” (Lincoln’s Mercenaries, Marvel, pg. 191).

(The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Mark E. Neely, Jr. Oxford University Press. 1991, pp. 95-96)

A Land as Silent as a Graveyard

A Land as Silent as a Graveyard

“The raids and rumors of raids were so traumatic to Clarissa Bowen that the tired, terrified woman miscarried. “All was over and we knew that God had taken from us the desire from our hearts – our much prayed for and longed for treasure,” the South Carolinian wrote in her journal, June 1865. “O, it was hard, very, very hard to give up . . . My recovery had been slow, being constantly retarded by fear of the Yankees.”

“Still another batch of Yankees . . .,” a weary Eliza Andrews scribbled in her diary. “One of them proceeded to distinguish himself at once, by ‘capturing’ a Negro’s watch. They carry out their principles by robbing impartially, without regard to race, color or previous condition. Ginny Dick has kept his watch and chain hid ever since the bluecoats put forth this act of philanthropy, and . . . old Maum Betsy says that she has “knowed white folks all her life an’ some mighty mean ones, but Yankees is de fust ever she seed mean enough to steal from n******.”

Not surprisingly, after suffering through several such visits, most plantations and farms had little more to offer. “We were left almost destitute,” said one stunned and suddenly impoverished lady. “Our poverty,” noted another victim, “is now our protection.”

Eventually, the highways of the South began to resemble scenes from antiquity and the plundering hordes of Mongolia. Observed one man:

“The road was filled with an indiscriminate mass of armed men on horseback and on foot, carts, wagons, cannon and caissons, rolling along in most tumultuous disorder, while to the right and to the left, joining the mass, and detaching from it, singly and in groups, were hundreds [of soldiers] going empty-handed and returning laden. Country carts, horses, mules and oxen, followed by Negro men, women and even children, (who were pressed into service to carry plunder) laden with every conceivable object, were approaching and mingling in mass from every side.

When the blue tide finally receded and moved off to garrison the cities and towns of the South, it left behind in its wake a land “as silent as a graveyard.”

(The Day Dixie Died – Southern Occupation 1865-1866. Thomas and Debra Goodrich. Stackpole Books, 2001, pp. 100-101)

The Sack of Williamsburg

The Sack of Williamsburg

“Our [25th Pennsylvania Regiment] picket line extended from the York to the James Rivers, about four miles; and with gunboats on either flank was a strong one.

One of the pickets posted at Williamsburg was at the old brick house once occupied by Governor Page of Virginia. It was built of brick imported from England. The library in the mansion was a room about eighteen by twenty feet, and the walls had been covered with books from floor to ceiling; but now the shelving had been torn down and the floor was piled with books in wretched disorder – trampled upon – most pitiful to see. In the attic of this old house the boys found trunks and boxes of papers of a century past – documents, letters, etc.

Among the latter were those bearing the signatures of such men as Jefferson, Madison, Richard Henry Lee; and one more signed by Washington.”

(25th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion. Samuel H. Putnam. Putnam, Davis and Company, Publishers. 1886, pp. 249-250)

Jul 30, 2023 - America Transformed, Economics, Lincoln's Grand Army, Targeting Civilians    Comments Off on “This Class of People”

“This Class of People”

“This Class of People”

Of the infamous General Order No. 11, President Jefferson Davis considered Grant’s conduct as an arbitrary abuse of power; the Confederate States never issued any orders which singled out religious groups for discriminatory attack.  

“Speculators were swarming around Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters at Holly Springs, Mississippi, and following his forces in search of cotton to be bought as cheaply as possible and sold in the north. Grant complained to Assistant Secretary of War C.P. Wolcott about “Jews and other unprincipled traders” who flouted Treasury regulations, and ordered his commanding officer at Columbus, Kentucky to deny permits to all Jews who wished to travel south.

In other correspondence he expiated on his unfavorable opinions of Jewish traders with their “carpet sacks” and pockets full of gold.” When Grant’s own father, a leather merchant who came to Holly Springs with some Jewish tradesmen in hopes of making money from the cotton trade, Grant sent him north again and in cold fury issued his notorious General Order 11 of December 17, 1862.

This read: “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department and held in confinement within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order. Post commanders will see that this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and anyone returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs for sending them out as prisoners.”

(The Jew in American Politics. Nathaniel Weyl. Arlington House. 1968, pp. 58-59)

Dissent in the Northern Ranks

Northern military officers soon found that any Democrat political leanings were an obstacle to promotion from Republican politicians. One officer wrote his brother that “several sources advised that if I change my political views and make a few Republican stump speeches to my troops it would be greatly to my advantage.” Democrat officers claimed that promotions and dismissals were more often based upon partisan politics and Lincoln’s desire to win elections. Historian Michael Holt noted that Lincoln did appoint prominent Democrats to high rank, but only for the purpose of luring Democrat votes to union parties in northern States.

Dissent in the Northern Ranks

“While Republican soldiers had no difficulty [obtaining or] writing to their hometown newspapers, Democratic soldiers often found themselves in hot water. In August 1864, Pvt. Newton B. Spencer of the 179th New York Infantry wrote a letter to his local newspaper of which he had previously been editor, the Penn Yan Democrat, claiming that the “Abolition mania for employing “n****r” soldiers has culminated in the worst disaster of the whole campaign and discouraged and nearly demoralized the whole army.”

Spencer believed that it “was to glorify the sooty abolition idol, that upon a Division of raw and worthless black poltroons, was devolved the most important part of the whole conflict – in the hope that they would crown our temporary success with decisive victory and bear off the hard-won laurels of the white fighting men.”

Spencer was charged with conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline, contempt and disrespect for his commanding officer, violation of the Fifty-seventh Article of War (giving intelligence to the enemy), and “giving aid and comfort to the enemy,” which was essentially a charge of treason. Spencer admitted writing the letter but pleaded not guilty to each of the charges.

In like manner, Sgt. William B. Gillespie of the Twenty-eighth New York Infantry was convicted by courts-martial for publishing a newspaper article in January 1863 in which he stated that Lincoln’s emancipation edict “will be the cause of a large number of our best officers resigning and of a large number of desertions,” to which he added that the freed people should all be “shipped to Washington . . . for a heart welcome and cordial embrace.” Gillespie was sentenced to be reduced to the ranks and then drummed out of the service.

Capt. Thomas Barrett of the Nineteenth Illinois Volunteers was summarily and dishonorably dismissed for publishing a letter in the Chicago Times on May 25, 1863, critical of Lincoln’s policy of enlisting black soldiers.”

(Emancipation, the Union Army and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln. Jonathan W. White. LSU Press, 2014, pp. 55-57)

Colorphobia at New Orleans

In early 1863 Gen. Nathaniel Banks commanded occupied New Orleans and had to deal with problems between his New England troops and colored soldiers of the former Louisiana Native Guards – reconstituted as “Gen. Butler’s Native Guards.” The original Louisiana Native Guards of the city, officers and men, were all free, and in May 1861 were mustered into State service. They became the first black unit in the Civil War, serving a Confederate State. After conquering New Orleans Butler worked to change this during his tenure with most free blacks leaving the unit and replaced by contrabands.

Butler’s replacement, Gen. Banks, was a Waltham, Massachusetts native who shared the deep prejudices of his fellow New Englanders.

Colorphobia at New Orleans

“British-born Colonel Leonard Currie of the 133rd New York Infantry told his men “to continue in the performance of their duty until such time as the regiment is brought in contact with [black soldiers] by guard duty, drills or otherwise.” If that happened, he promised to march them back to their camp so as not to cause “their self-confidence or manliness to be lowered by contact with an inferior race.” The colonel’s prejudices were shared by the post commander, Brigadier General Cuvier Grover, who refuse to recognize Butler’s Native Guards 3rd Regiment as part of the Union army and would not allow it to draw clothing, blankets, or pay.

The volatile situation exploded within days of the 3rd Regiment’s arrival when a black captain reported for duty as officer of the day. The guard was composed of white soldiers from the 13th Maine Regiment of Colonel George Foster Shepley, a Saco, Maine native and Harvard graduate. When the black captain arrived to inspect the guard, the soldiers refused to recognize his authority. The white soldiers were willing to “obey every order consistent with their manhood,” a news correspondent reported, “but as to acknowledging a [black man] their superior, by any virtue of the shoulder straps he might wear, they would not.” The situation quickly turned ugly. The black officer pressed his authority; the white soldiers grounded their rifles in protest and threatened to kill him should he attempt to coerce their obedience.” (National Anti-Slavery Standard, February 28, 1863).

Gen. Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts, the new department commander at New Orleans, soon heard of the episode but did not punish the mutinous white soldiers from the 13th Maine. Banks called the black officers for an interview, listened to their grievances, then instructed them that it was not the government’s policy to commission blacks as officers in the US Army. Banks then recommended they all resign to avoid the embarrassment of being kicked out. Uncertain of their future, the black officers agreed and all sixteen resigned and to their surprise soon found that their white replacements had already been named to take their place.”

(Louisiana Native Guards, James G. Hollandsworth, LSU Press, 1995, pp. 44-45)

May 14, 2023 - America Transformed, Carnage, Lincoln's Grand Army    Comments Off on Slaughter at Cold Harbor

Slaughter at Cold Harbor

In the postwar Grant admitted his regret for sending so many of his men to their deaths at Cold Harbor, stating that “no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.” In the first few days at Cold Harbor in early June 1864, he lost some 3,000 men in fruitless attacks on Gen. Lee. In his last assault on the 4th at least 4,000 of his soldiers were killed or maimed in the first thirty minutes of the attack.

Slaughter at Cold Harbor

“Under an enfilade fire from enemy skirmishers we retired to a point about one mile to our rear and threw up such hasty breastworks during the night as could be done with the poor facilities at hand. They were made mostly with the aid of bayonets, tin plates, etc. This was to be the attacking point of the bloody battle of the second Cold Harbor, known in history as one of the most sanguinary conflicts of the war.

Grant’s attack was made on Clingman’s Brigade of Gen. Robert F. Hoke’s Division of North Carolinians about 3 PM on June 1, 1864. The enemy advanced not only in line of battle but on our left wing in heavy column, masked by the line of battle in front. This attack was signally and repeatedly repulsed with great loss to the enemy, in the entire front of our (Clingman’s) Brigade. On the left flank of the brigade was the 8th NC Regiment, then the 51st NC Regiment, then the 31st NC Regiment, and the 61st NC Regiment, from left to right, as designated; the heaviest attack was on our left, where the enemy attacked in column. There was an interval between our brigade and a brigade on our left, in consequence of a swamp intervening between the two, which was considered impassable, therefore not protected by breastworks or troops. In this interval the enemy’s heavy columns pressed forward and effected a lodgement, which then enfilading our line, compelling the 8th and 51st NC Regiments to fall back.

They were, however, quickly re-formed in line of battle parallel to the original one in an open field while under constant fire from the enemy. While it was so doing the 27th Georgia Regiment of Gen. Alfred H. Colquitt’s Brigade came up from our right and advanced with us; the enemy were then, after a hard struggle, driven back and the whole of our original line was re-occupied.

The following is taken from President Jefferson Davis’ History of Confederate States, p. 400:

“The carnage on the Federal side,” writes General Richard Taylor, “was fearful. I well recall having received a report from General Hoke after the assault and whose Division had reached the army just prior to the battle.

The ground in his entire front, over which the enemy had charged, was literally covered with their dead and wounded and up to that time Hoke had not had a single man killed. No wonder that when the command was given to renew the assault, the enemy soldiers sullenly and silently declined. The order was issued through officers to their subordinate commanders, and from them through the wonted channels; but no man stirred, the immobile lines thus pronouncing a verdict, silent, yet emphatic, against further slaughter. The loss on the Union side in this sanguinary action was over 13,000, while on the part of the Confederates it is doubtful whether it reached that many hundred.

 General Grant asked for a truce to bury his dead, after which he abandoned his chosen line of operation, and moved his army so as to secure a crossing to the south side of James River.”

(www.carolana.com; Thirty-first North Carolina Regiment)

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