Thursday, April 30, 2009

They Got Across The River

Major General Frederick Steel
Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith caught up with Union General Frederick Steel's force on April 30th 1864, bring on the Battle of Jenkin's Ferry.

After having been slammed at Mark’s Mills and Poison Spring, and being low on supplies, Major General Frederick Steele’s Union forces were in retreat from Camden, Arkansas. On the afternoon of April 29th 1864 they began crossing the flooded Saline River at Jenkin’s Ferry. On April 30th the Confederate’s caught up and made repeated attacks on the Union troops. The Federals fought off the attacks and managed to cross the river with men and supply wagons. General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederates lost the last chance to destroy Steele’s army due to his army being deployed piecemeal. They failed to hit the Union’s vulnerable left, choosing instead frontal attacks, which devastated Kirby’s men.

Both armies had high casualties, with the Confederates reporting 443 dead, wounded or missing, and the Union side reporting 521 casualties. The battle is still consider a Union victory as they held back the Rebel’s until they could cross the Saline River. The Union troops continued to retreat toward Little Rock, Arkansas.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Fitzhugh Lee; Robert E Lee’s nephew, died on April 28th 1905.

Fitzhugh Lee was born November 19th 1835 at Clermont in Fairfax County Virginia the son of Sydney Smith Lee.  He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he came close to being expelled by his famous uncle.  He graduated in 1856.

In 1861 Lee was serving as an instructor at West Point, but with the start of the Civil War he resigned his United States commision and became a First Lieutenant in the Confederate Army, serving as a staff officer in the Peninsula campaign. He would become one of the youngest cavalry commanders at 27 during the war serving as General Robert E Lee’s chief of cavalry corp.

After the Civil War was over Fitzhugh became a farmer in Stafford Co, Virginia, elected governor of Virginia, and accepted an appointment from President Grover Cleveland as consul general in Havana, Cuba. He was one of only three ex-Confederate generals to serve as a Major General with the United States Volunteer Army during the Spanish-American War.

He died in Washington, DC on April 28th 1905.

Monday, April 27, 2009

They Didn't Make It Home

Seven miles north of Memphis Tennessee on April 27th 1865 the steamboat the Sultana exploded and sank.

The boat which was only made to hold 376 people was carrying about 2,300 crew, civilians and recently released Union Prisoners of War.  About 1,700 never made it home. Around 2am three of the steamboat’s four boilers blew up.

The Sultana, a paddle wheeler, was built in Cincinnati Ohio in 1863 at the John Lithoberry Shipyard. She sailed the Ohio and Mississippi river between St Louis and New Orleans. She was considered to be state of the art, with modern safety gauges, three fire fighting pumps and a metallic lifeboat. In April 1865 recently release Union Prisoner of War were gathered in Vicksburg where the government was paying $5 a man to steamboats for the trip to Cairo Illinois. The soldiers were packed onto the Sultana so closely there was no place to sleep and even barely room to stand. The explosion was due to a leaky and poorly repaired steam boiler. The explosion threw some of the deck passengers into the water, while the rest of boat caught fire.

An archaeologist may have found the remains of the Sultana in 1982 under about 32 feet of dirt in a soybean field on the Arkansas side of the river.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Largest Group Of Confederates

Confederate General Joseph E Johnson’s army was camped at Greensboro on April 26th 1865 when he surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman at the Bennett Place.

After General Robert E Lee’s surrender seventeen days earlier at Appomattox Court House, Confederate General Joseph E Johnson knew it was time. Johnson with a detachment of the 5th South Carolina cavalry traveling east along the Hillsborough road toward Durham Station met Union General William Tecumseh Sherman who was riding west with an escort of the 9th and 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry at the farm of James and Nancy Bennett. The first day’s negotiations were interrupted by a telegram informing them of President Abraham Lincoln’s death. The first surrender agreement made on April 18th was rejected by the politicians in Washington, DC as being to generous. The two Generals met again on April 26th 1865  and signed papers that disbanded the largest Confederate force of the war, 98,270 soldiers.

Confederate General Richard A Taylor’s force in Alabama would surrender a week latter, and Kirby Smith would do the same with his Trans-Mississippi Army in New Orleans a month latter.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Crossing Cane River

Toward the end of the Red River Expedition on April 23rd 1864, Union Major General Nathaniel P Banks being followed by Confederate forces evacuated Grand Ecore and retreated to Alexandria. The forward command being lead by Brigadier General William H Emory ran into confederate Brigadier General Hamilton P Bee’s cavalry near Monett’s Ferry on the Cane River.

Bee’s order was to keep the Union troops from crossing. Emory was reluctant to attack the strong position in the front of the Confederate line, and sent two brigades to search for another crossing. One brigade found a way around and hit the Confederate’s in their flank, causing them to retreat.

The Union troops put down a pontoon bridge and by the next day all had crossed the river. The chance to capture or destroy Bank’s army at Monett’s Ferry was gone.

Some other reading
Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West

Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaigns, 1863-1864

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In God We Trust

The United States Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864 on April 22nd 1864, mandating the words “In God We Trust” to be placed on coins minted as US currency. Due to the increasing religious feeling resulting from the horrors of the Civil War, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P Chase heard pleas from many Americans asking that God be recognized on US coins. The legislation passed on the 22nd authorized minting a two-cent piece, with the motto in the design.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Last Ride

On Friday April 21st 1865 Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train left Washington DC. The train would travel 1,654 miles pretty much retracing the route that president elect Lincoln had taken in 1861. Known as the Lincoln Special, that engine had the late president’s photo on the cowcatcher and carried about 300 mourners. It also held the remains of young Willie Lincoln who had been disinterred to be reburied in Springfield L with his father. When the train stopped in Baltimore MD Lincoln’s coffin was removed to the Merchant’s Exchange Building, where about 10,000 people viewed it in three hours. It was placed on a decorated horse drawn hearse and transport to the view area. This was repeated through out 180 citied and seven states on its way to Springfield IL. Each stop was published in the paper. Many mourners would wait five hours to view the President’s body.

A prairie fire in 1911 near Minneapolis MN would destroy the train that had carried Lincoln’s body to it’s final resting place.

A book you might enjoy
The Lincoln Funeral Train: The Final Journey and National Funeral for Abraham Lincoln

Monday, April 20, 2009

He Couldn't Draw His Sword On Virginia

Robert E Lee resigned his commission from the United State Army on April 20th 1861. Three days after the state of Virginia adopted secession. In a letter he wrote to his sister he wrote, "We are now in a state of war which will yield to nothing. The whole south is in a state of revolution, into which Virginia, after a long struggle, has been drawn; and though I recognize no necessity for this state of things, and would have forborne and pleaded to the end for redress of grievances, real or supposed, yet in my own person I had to meet the question whether I should take part against my native state. With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission m the army, and, save in defense of my native state--with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed--I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword."

Some good books on this subject

Robert E. Lee on Leadership : Executive Lessons in Character, Courage, and Vision

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fort Pulaski

Built before the Civil War by the US Army, Fort Pulaski was located near the mouth of the Savannah River. On April 10th 1862 Union Captain Quincy Adams Gillmore an engineer replaced artillery on the main land with the new rifled artillery and began a bombardment. Within a few hours the bombardment had caused a breach in the southeast side of the fort. Some of the shells started to get to the traverse that shielded the magsazine, realizing that it could explode confederate Colonel Charles H Olmstead surrendered shortly after two pm on the 11th.

Some other places you can look for more information
The Battle of Fort Pulaski

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Surrender Letters

On April 7th 1865 General Ulysses S Grant made the opening gambit by sending the first of a series dispatches which would lead to a meeting between him and Robert E Lee. These are known as the “Surrender Letters”. Grant’s note was taken through the Confederate line, and Lee responded quickly with a note of his own.

"General R.E. Lee, Commanding C.S.A.:
5 P.M., April 7th, 1865.
The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.
U.S. Grant, Lieutenant-General"

"April 7th, 1865.
General: I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.
R.E. Lee, General."

Monday, April 6, 2009

He Died At Shiloh

Albert Sidney Johnston died April 6th 1862 after a winning day at the Battle of Shiloh.

On February 3rd 1803 Albert Sidney Johnston was born in Washington, Mason, Kentucky. He went to Transylvania University and West Point from which he graduated; eighth in his class, in 1826. Due to his wife’s illness and a move to Texas he resigned his United States military commission. In 1835 he joined the Texas army as a private, but with his background, by 1837 he had been made a Brigadier General in Texas Army. Two years later Texas President Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar appointed Johnston to Secretary of War. With coming of the Mexican American War, Johnston re-enlisted in the US Army. For his service in the Mormon War he was brevetted Brigadier General.

As many southern military men did, Johnston resigned his commission in the Union Army on April 10th 1861 and joined with the Confederacy. Confederate President Jefferson Davis placed Johnston in charge of the Western Department. It was in this capacity that on April 6th Johnston was killed during the Battle of Shiloh. Making a surprise attack his troops were able to drive the Union force they faced back. While managing the battle in the front line he was wounded in leg. Not thinking the wound serious, he didn’t seek treatment and bled to death.

He was buried temporarily in New Orleans, but was re-interred in the State Cemetery in Austin TX.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Faster Mail

A lone rider left the Pikes Peak Stable in St Joseph, Missouri on April 3rd 1860 carrying saddlebags filled with mail. Riders would carry these pieces of mail two thousand miles to Sacramento, California.

It took stage coaches some twenty days to travel from St Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. For the bankers and merchants on the West Coast this was just to long and so the Pony Express came into being. Feeling that the service would be greatly used Senator W M Gwin, Alexander Majors and Daniel E Phelps started the express. Six hundred horses were bought and seventy-five riders who could ride well, shoot straight and weighed under 110 pounds were hired. One of these men was Henry Wallace, who was the first rider on the Pony express. He carried a message from President James Buchanan to the Governeor of California. This message along with the other mail made the cross country trip in ten days.

The Pony Express would not have along life. Men were already string telegraph wire along the path the Express traveled. By 1862 the telegraph had reached California and the Pony Express was dead. Among the famous of the Pony Express riders were Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Five Forks

General George Pickett was told to “Hold Five Fork at all hazards”, but on April 1st 1865 the Union had other ideas.

General Philip H Sheridan had moved his Federal troops forward on March 31st 1865, but the Confederates had managed to halt his progress. Sheridan’s focus was a road intersection known as Five Forks that was a pivotal point on Robert E Lee’s supply line. Lee ordered General Pickett to hold that cross road at all cost.

On April 1st Sheridan’s men supported by General Gouverneur K Warren’s 5th Corps attacked the Confederate’s with about 20,000, crushing Pickett’s 10,000. While the Union lost only about 1,000 men, there were 5,000 Confederates killed, wounded, or captured. During the battle a long standing disagreement between Sheridan and Warren came to a head and Sheridan had Warren removed from his command with General Ulysses S Grant’s approval. [Warren was cleared of any wrong doing in 1882.] With the vital intersection in Union hands and Lee’s supply lines were cut forcing the Rebel’s to evacuate Petersburg ending the ten month long siege.

More reading
Five Forks: Waterloo of the Confederacy

Battle of Five Forks