Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Day To Remember

Decoration Day is officially proclaimed May 30th 1868, it would become known as Memorial Day.

On May 5th 1868 General John Logan the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic issued General Order #11 to proclaim May 30th as a day of memorial. He ordered that flowers should be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate dead at Arlington National Cemetery. It is sure that many were decorating the graves of the dead before this, including Southern women who made placing flowers a practice during the war. New York was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1873. All of the Northern states had adopted the holiday by 1890. It wasn’t until after the First World War that the south joined, choosing instead to honor her dead on different days.

Now most states celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday in May, ensuring a three day weekend. Several of the southern states still have an additional day to honor the Confederate dead.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Old Fuss and Feathers

Winfield Scott the over all commander of all Union troops at the start of the Civil War,  died on May 29th 1866.

Born June 13th 1786 near Petersburg Virginia, Winfield Scott attended William and Mary but did not graduate. He studied law for a short time, but gave that up and joined the army in 1808. Scott was a hero in the War of 1812. He fought in the Black Hawk War and was a commander of the United States forces during the Mexican War. Scott was nominated by the Whig party for President in 1852, but proved to be a poor candidate. He was known to the soldiers as “Old Fuss and Feathers” do to his love of military protocol and ceremony. Although he was southerner Scott strongly opposed secession.

By the beginning of the Civil War Scott weighed in at over 300 pound. He could no longer ride a horse and was suffering from gout. He knew that because of these health issues he would need a field commander and urged President Abraham Lincoln to place Robert E Lee in that position. Scott anticipated that it would be a long war, and developed his “Anaconda Plan” recommending a naval blockade while giving the Union time to train its troops. After the Union defeat at Ball’s Bluff on November 1st 1861, Lincoln accepted Scott’s offer to resign.

Scott traveled through Europe and wrote a two volume memoir in his retirement. He died at West Point, New York on May 29th 1866 and is buried there.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

They Surprised Many

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry, one of the first African American regiments left Boston on May 28th 1863 to fight for the Union.

Robert Gould Shaw; who organized the troop, was from a prominent Boston abolitionist family. He was appointed to be the Colonel of the 54th by Massachusetts Governor John A Andrew in February 1863. The 54th was formed a month latter in Readville, Massachusetts at Camp Meigs. After training, the 54th was sent to Hilton Head, South Carolinia, where on July 18th they were ordered to lead the attack on Fort Wagner. The troops of this unit showed that they were a strong fighting force against the Confederates, surprising those who felt Black troops were a bad idea.

The sons of Frederick Douglass, Lewis N and Charles Douglass were amoung the 54th’s recruits. Also the first African American to ever receive the Medal Honor, William Carney was part of this unit.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Beating In The Senate

Tension in Congress over the expansion of slavery lead to the beating of northern Senator Charles Sumner by southern Congressman Preston Brooks on May 22nd 1856.

On May 19th Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner began a two day speech on the “Crime Against Kansas” in which he named three of his colleagues. One of these three was the elderly South Carolina Senator Andrew P Butler, who was sick and not present at the time. Sumner compared the South Carolina Senator to Don Quixote saying he was blinded by “the harlot slavery“. Butler’s cousin, Representative Preston Brooks felt it was up to him to defend the honor of his relation.

On May 22nd 1856 Brooks entered the Senate chamber and using a gold tipped cane attacked Sumner at his desk. The desk was bolted to the floor and Sumner found his legs stuck under the desk and he could not escape the beating. The other congressmen  came to Sumner aid but were unable to help him get away. Brooks became an over night hero in the South where many people sent him canes. It became one more incident of the growing hostility between the North and South over the issue of slavery. It would be three years before Sumner recovered enough to return to the Senate.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Many Were Only 15

General Ulysses S Grant began his Overland Campaign in May 1864. He ordered Major General Franz Sigel to enter the Shenandoah Valley to clear it of Confederates. There was very little in the way resistance. In order to stop the advancing Union soldiers Major General John C Breckinridge put together as many troops as he could find in the area, including 257 Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute.

The VMI cadets marched 80 miles in four days in order to be part of Breckinridge’s army. Many of these cadets were only 15 years old. On May 15th 1864 the two forces met near New Market Virginia. Union General Sigel deployed on a ridge north of the town, and pushed skirmishers forward. Breckinridge took the offensive; he formed his soldiers south of New Market and placed the VMI troops in reserve.

Breckinridge’s men pushed through New Market, and met the Union skirmishers on the north side of town. He sent Brigadier General John Imboden’s cavalry around the Union right to flank them. The Confederates overtook the skirmisher and they fell back to the Union line. Breckinridge’s men advanced, but the Union taking advantage of their position thinned out the Confederate line.

When a gap opened in the Confederate line, Breckinridge had to order the VMI cadets into line. The VMI soldiers got into line just as the 34th Massachusetts was beginning their attack. VMI fighting side by side with Breckinridge’s seasoned troops were able to repel the Union. They surged through the mud and made an assault on the Union position braking through the Union line and forcing them from the field.

The battle of New Market cost the Union 96 dead 530 wounded and 225 missing. Confederates lost 43 dead, 474 wounded and 3 missing. VMI had 10 cadets killed or mortally wounded. The Union would withdraw to Strasburg and leave the Shenandoah Valley to the Rebels until Major General Philip H Sheridan would take it back latter in the year.

Other reading about this battle
Cadets At War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market

Seed Corn of the Confederacy: The Story of the Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute at the Battle of New Market

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First Burial

Arlington National Cemetery accepted her first solider on May 13th 1864, the Pennsylvania Private William Henry Christman.

The Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia is a military cemetery established on the estate of Robert E Lee’s wife, Mary Anna [Custis] Lee, known as Arlington House. She was the descendant of the first First Lady Martha Washington. When Lee joined the Confederate Army, Union troops occupied the home and forced Mary Lee off her property. The cemetery is right across the Potomac River from Washington DC.

William Henry Christman was born 1843. He was a labored from Lehigh County Pennsylvania, and enlisted in the Union Army March 25th 1864 as a member of the 67th PA Infantry. He came down with measles three weeks latter, and was admitted to the hospital. He died May 11th 1864 and became the first soldier to be buried in Arlington Cemetery on May 13th 1864.

The early burials were made in Mary Lee’s rose garden. These first graves were dug by a former Arlington House slave, James Parker. He would latter become the only person buried in the Arlington National Cemetery who was born on the property. There would be 2,111 unknown Civil War dead buried just outside of Arlington House in 1866, with a memorial built on the grounds to honor these Union soldiers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It Was Just A Little Town

As a part of the Vicksburg campaign, Union General Ulysses S Grant sent Major General James B McPherson to capture Jackson, Mississippi.

Union Major General McPherson was sent with 12,000 troops towards the town of Raymond, Mississippi, which is fifteen miles from Jackson Mississippi. Early on the morning of May 12th 1863 the Union soldiers ran into a brigade of about 3,000 Confederates under the command of General John Gregg. The two armies were separated only by a small stream known as Fourteen Mile Creak. McPherson sent one division led by General John A Logan against the Confederates. Logan’s men were pushed back after heated battle. McPherson brought up another division and made a counterattack. The fight went on until about 2pm. Gregg could see he was outnumbered, and managed to disengage his troop and retreat toward Jackson.

The losses were high on both sides. The Confederates having 72 killed, 252 wounded, and 190 missing. The Union loosing 66 killed, 339 wounded and 37 missing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The High Point of Union Cavalry

Sheridan’s Cavalry expedition hit its high point on May 11th 1864 at the Battle of Yellow Tavern.

As the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House continued, Union Cavalry under Major General Philip H Sheridan took on a raid against Richmond, Virginia. On May 9th 1864 Sheridan left with 32 guns and more than 10,000 mounted troops, setting off at a walk, four abreast the column stretched out 13 miles. After hitting Lee’s supply road and rail communications, the Union men met the outnumbered Confederate Cavalry being lead by Major General JEB Stuart at Yellow Tavern on May 11th 1864. Yellow Tavern was an abandoned Inn about 6 miles north of Richmond. After a 3 hour fight the Federal horsemen defeated their largely outnumbered Rebel counterparts and General Stuart was mortally wounded. Stuart had stopped on his way to Yellow Tavern at nearby a plantation where his wife and children were visiting, he kissed his wife hello and goodbye without ever dismounting. He would die the day after the fight.

Sheridan would continue south and threaten Richmond, before re-joining Union General Benjamin F Butler at Bermuda Hundred.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Couldn't Hit An Elephant

General John Sedgwick was killed on May 9th 1864 during the Battle of Spotsylvania by a Confederate sharpshooter.

Major General John Sedgwick had been in the service of the Union since the beginning of the war. He was well like and respected by his men who often called him “Uncle John”. As the Army of the Potomac arrived near the town of Spotsylvania Court House, General Sedgwick’s 6th Corp was ordered to General Warren’s 5th Corp’s support. Seeking shelter from the Minnie Balls which whizzed by them, some of Sedgwick’s men laid down on the ground. He chided his men for their concern under fire, but his men asked him to show more caution as the enemy was watching them from just across the field. General Sedgwick responded by saying, “They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." It was than that Sedgwick was hit by a bullet, blood coming from just below his left eye, the General collapsed to the ground. He died quickly, supposedly with a smile still on his face. He was shot by a Confederate sharpshooter at a distance of about 500 yards; the man was using a .451 caliber Whitworth rifle. It is believe that the shooter was a man known as “Kansas Tom” Johnson, who was himself killed latter in the battle.

His soldiers would deeply mourn his loss, as did men; old friends, on the Confederate side. Sedgwick’s body was sent to his home in Connecticut for burial. He was the highest ranking Union officer to be killed on the battle field during the Overland Campaign.

For more information check these out
The Death of General John Sedgwick

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Power Of One Vote

On May 8th 1907 Edmund Gibson Ross, whose vote kept Andrew Johnson from being impeachment, died in New Mexico.

Edmund Gibson Ross was born December 7th 1826 in Ashland Ohio. He went to work in the newspaper business first in Sandusky Ohio, Milwaukee Wisconsin and Topeka Kansas. While in Kansas he was the editor of the “Tribune” which was the only Free-State paper in the territory. He enlisted in the United Sstates Army as a private in 1862, and was made a major by 1865. After Senator James H Lane committed suicide in 1866, Ross was appointed to fill his term and than was elected to the position as a member of the Republican Party. Ross became the seventh of the seven Republicans to break with the party, and he cast the vote which acquitted President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Ross loss his re-election bid in 1870.

After leaving the Senate, Ross returned to the newspaper business, starting a publication in Coffeyville Kansas. Unfortunately on April 23rd 1872 a tornado that went through Coffeyville destroyed the newspaper office. He was appointed by President Grover Cleveland in 1885 to the position of Governor of the New Mexico Territory, a position he held until 1889. He died May 8th 1907.

President John F Kennedy [at this time a senator] included Edmund Gibson Ross in his 1956 book “Profiles in Courage”.

Monday, May 4, 2009

He Took Over For Houston

Edward Clark the Governor of Texas at the out break of the Civil war died May 4th 1880.

Clark was born in New Orleans LA April 1st 1815 the son of Elijah Clark Jr. He spent his childhood in Georgia and Montgomery AL. He moved in 1842 to Texas were he set up a law practice. Clark served the future state of Texas during the Annexation Convention and than for two terms as state representative in the Texas Legislation before he fought in the Mexican - American War. He served on the staff of General J Pinckney Henderson and received a citation for bravery at Monterrey.

After the conclusion of the war Clark served as secretary of state for Governor Elisha M Pease, and than as Lieutenant Governor under Sam Houston. When Houston refused to take the oath to allegiance to the Confederacy in 1861, Clark was declared Governor of Texas. He lost his bid for Governor by 124 votes to Francis Lubbock. So Clark became a Colonel in the 14th Texas Infantry, and after being wounded at Pleasant Hill LA as part of the Red River campaign, as Brigadier General. When the Civil War was over Edward fled for a time to Mexico, but would return to his home in Marshall TX.

Edward Clark died in Marshall on May 4th 1880. He is buried in the Marshall City Cemetery, and has a historical marker.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Stonewall Fell

The Battle of Chancellorsville saw the last charge ever made by General Thomas Stonewall Jackson. It was there on May 2nd 1863 that he was accidentally shot during a nighttime reconnoiter by one of his own soldiers. The shooter was an unknown member of the 18th North Carolina Infantry. Major John D Barry gave the order to fire, and many of his soldiers fired at the same time.

Jackson would have to have his left arm amputated under chloroform. On becoming conscious following the surgery Jackson told Captain James Smith "I have always thought it wrong to administer chloroform in cases where there is a probability of immediate death. It was the most delightful physical sensation I ever experienced. I seem to remember the most delightful music that ever greeted my ears, but I should dislike above all things to enter eternity in such a condition." It was felt at the time that he would recover. Stonewall died from pneumonia eight days latter in a field hospital near Guiney Station VA.

If you would like to read more try these
Stonewall Jackson: Popular Questions

All Things for Good: The Steadfast Fidelity of Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson's Book of Maxims

Friday, May 1, 2009

It Drapped Stonewall's Coffin

On May 1st 1863 about a year after the Confederacy adopted the Stars and Bars flag the decision was made to create a new flag that wasn’t like the Union’s Stars and Stripes. The new flag known as the Stainless Banner, included the canton [the familiar Confederate flag] to be square and about 2/3 the width on field of pure white. The white field of the flag was supposed to be symbolic of the purity of the Southern cause.

Among the first times this new flag, the Stainless Banner was used, was to drape General Thomas Stonewall Jackson’s coffin. It is this flag, which was order by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, to be place on Jackson’s casket that is now on display at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. This flag would be modified one more time, when a red bar was added so the flag wouldn’t look like the white flag of surrender when the air was calm.

Some other information about the flag
The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem

The Flags of the Confederacy: An Illustrated History