Monday, November 30, 2009

His Company Built The Gun That Won The West

Oliver Fisher Winchester was born November 30th 1810.

Oliver Fisher Winchester the son of Samuel and Hannah (Bates) Winchester was born November 30th 1810 in Boston, Massachusetts. He married in Boston February 20th 1834 to Jane Ellen Hope, they had three children.

Winchester was a clothing manufacturer in the New York City and New Haven, Connecticut areas. He found out that Smith & Wesson, who had new patents for arms, were having financial trouble. Seeing a money making opportunity, Winchester bought the Volcanic Repeating Arms division of the Smith & Wesson Company in 1850. By 1856 he had moved the company to New Haven Connecticut and renamed it the New Haven Arms Company. An engineer working for the company, Benjamin Tyler Henry redesigned the Volcanic Repeating rifle, enlarging the frame and magazine so it could use his new all-brass .44 rimfire cartridges. It was this .44 cartridge that built the company, and made the Henry Rifle famous.

With the success of the Henry Rifle, Winchester reorganized and renamed his company the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The repeating rifles had some limited use in the Civil War. Since it was new technology, the Union Army didn't trust them and stuck with the breech-loading single shot rifles. But the Repeaters were popular with civilians and became known as the gun “that won the West“.

Winchester was active in politics. He was the New Haven City Commissioner and an delegate for the Republican Presidential election of 1864, and he was the Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut in 1866 - 1867. Winchester died December 11th 1880 and his company passed to his son William Wirt Winchester.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Surrender House

The Wilmer McLean house known as the “Surrender House” as it was the house in which Ulysses S Grant excepted Robert E Lee’s surrender, was sold at auction on November 29th 1869.

The house was built in 1848 by Charles and Eliza D Raine. In 1863 the Raine estate was sold to Wilmer McLean. The first major battle of the Civil War; the Battle of First Manassas took place on the Wilmer McLean farm in Virginia. After that battle McLean decided to move south in an attempt to avoid the war. He bought the house at Appomattox, Virginia.

McLean made a nice fortune during the war smuggling sugar, however most of it was in Confederate money. With the end of the war the currency was worthless. In 1867 McLean left Appomattox and returned to his wife’s estate in Prince William County, Virginia. The bank in Richmond, Virginia obtained a judgment for the default of loans made to McLean. The house known as the “Surrender House” was sold on November 29th 1869 at auction to recover money owed on loans. It was purchased by John L Pascoe, who rented the house to the Ragland family of Richmond, Virginia.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hood Lost His Chance

The Battle of Spring Hill begun on the night of November 28th 1864 has been called a non-fighting event.

Confederate General John Bell Hood and the Army of Tennessee marched on the night of November 28th 1864 toward Spring Hill Tennessee. The object was to seal off Union Major General John McAllister Schofield’s supply line. As the Confederate’s advanced cavalry on both sides had skirmishes. With Union Brigadier General James H Wilson fighting the Confederate troopers led by Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The next day November 29th 1864 Schofield was holding the crossroads at Spring Hill with reinforcements. Late that afternoon the Union troops were able to repulse an Confederate infantry attack. Hood’s assault was piecemeal at best and poorly executed. During the night the Union troops moved through Spring Hill to Franklin. Many have called this battle "one of the most controversial non-fighting events of the entire war.
Hood lost his best chance to envelop the Union command, and Schofield punished him for that failure the next day at Franklin Tennessee.

Friday, November 27, 2009

End Of Winter Fighting

A battle fought during the Winter Campaign, the Battle of Payne’s Farm occurred on November 27th 1863.

General George Gorden Meade attempted to march through the Wilderness in late November 1863. He planed to hit the right flank of the Confederate army located to the south of the Rapidan River. Confederate Major General Jubal Anderson Early was in command of Ewell’s Corp and he marched his troops east along the Orange Turnpike, where they met the Union III Corp near Payne’s Farm on November 27th 1863.

The Union division attacked twice, the Confederates made a counterattack, but the ruff terrain and heavy Union fire scattered the Rebels. After dark General Robert E Lee pulled back to Mine Run where fortifications were made. The next day there was intense skirmishing, but no major attack. Meade decided on the night of December 2nd that the Confederate line was to strong and left the field, ending the winter campaign for 1863.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hold The Union And Buy Some Time

Maj Gen Patrick Cleburne
To gain a little time, the Confederates held up Hooker’s Union forces on November 26th 1863 at the Battle of Ringgold Gap.

Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s troops were stretched out for over 15 miles after the Battle at Missionary Ridge. Union Major General Joseph Hooker was right behind them. Looking to gain a little time, Bragg chose Major General Patrick Cleburne. As Bragg went through the city of Ringgold he sent orders to Cleburne to cover the Confederate retreat until they could reorganize in Dalton, Georgia.

At 3 am on November 26th 1863 as Cleburne and his men marched towards Ringgold, they passed through the gap where the Western and Atlantic Railroad drops towards Atlanta. Cleburne had men and two cannons placed in that gap, where they could watch the Union troops approaching. The Confederate troops held their fire until the Union troops were in the gap. The volley sent a withering fire and the soldiers retreated. Hooker decided to try the flanks of Confederate force, but Cleburne anticipated this and moved his troops, repulsing the Union attacks. The Battle continued for five hours.

Bragg had by this time reorganized at Dalton, Georgia and sent orders to Cleburne to join him there. Cleburne with just 4100 Confederate soldiers held off Hooker’s 12,000 Union troops. Although Hooker reported his losses at less than 500 men, descriptions of the battlefield indicate losses were higher. General Ulysses S Grant noted this on the bottom of report filed by Hooker.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Confederate Army Of Manhattan

A group of Confederate’s attempted on November 25th 1864 to burn New York City.

The Civil War was in its last stages on November 25th 1864 when the “Confederate Army of Manhattan” planned to start fires around New York City. The scheme was hatched by Jacob Thompson. Eight southern sympathizers would slip into New York City coming down from Canada. On Friday night at about 8:45 they were going to start fires at the same time in nineteen hotels, P T Barnum’s museum and a theater. The idea being that all these fire would overwhelm the cities firefighter.

The fires either failed to start or were quickly brought under control. All of the Confederates got away save one. Robert Cobb Kennedy a Louisiana native, was caught in January 1865 traveling from Canada to the Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia. He was found guilty after a trial and was executed at Fort Lafayette in New York on March 25th 1865.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Thousand Witnesses

A leading American abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld was born November 23rd 1803.

Theodore Dwight Weld was born November 23rd 1803 in Hampton, Connecticut. He went to Phillips Andover Academy in 1820. His eyesight which was failing caused him to leave school in 1822. After several years he entered the Oneida Manual Labor Institute in Oneida New York, from here he moved to Hamilton College. Along the way Weld picked up the cause of Emancipation.

Weld would become in the 1830’s one of the leaders and founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, working along the side of the Grimke Sisters, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, James G Birney and Gamaliel Bailey. He married one of the Grimke sisters; Angelina on May 14th 1838. In 1839 Weld along with the sisters wrote the important book “American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses”.

Weld launched a school in 1854 in Eagleswood, New Jersey, which accepted all students regardless of sex of race. He moved in 1864 to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, where Weld opened another school with same ideology. He continued until his death in 1895 to work for the rights of women and African Americans.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Battle In The Keys

Fort McRee, located in Florida was on the morning of November 22nd 1861 bomb by Union forces.

Located on the Perdido Key in Florida, Fort McRee was begun in 1834. It was a three tiered fort with a separated water battery. The fort was completed in 1839, but the 124 guns weren’t in place until around 1844. The fort was named in 1840 for Army Engineer Colonel William McRee. The first soldiers stationed at the fort were of Company I of the 3rd United States Artillery, and they began service there on May 2nd 1842.

At the outbreak of the Civil War there were less than 50 Federal troops in Pensacola. The senior officer, First Lieutenant Adam J Slemmer, moved them all to his most defendable location at Fort Pickens, across the bay from Fort McRee. The Union soldiers spiked the guns at Fort McRee on January 9th 1861, and the Confederate troops took over the evacuated fort on the 12th of the month.

Beginning on the morning of November 22nd 1861, Union troops at Fort Pickens along with the ships the “USS Niagara” and the “USS Richmond” laid in a heavey bombing. The Confederates in Fort McRee returned the fire and did damage to the “Richmond”. The combined effect of the ships and firing from Fort Pickens, overcame the Rebel artillery and the guns at Fort McRee fell silent around 5pm. The bombing by the Union forces resumed the next morning, but the guns at Fort McRee remained quite.

Fort McRee was badly damaged by the attack. Chunks of wall were blown away and one part of the wall had completely collapsed. A powder magazine caved in killing 6 Confederate soldiers. Confederates abandoned Pensacola in May 1862. When they left they burned the Fort.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

He was First In His Class

A career United States army officer James Birdseye McPherson was born November 14th 1828.

James Birdseye McPherson was born November 14th 1828 near Clyde, Ohio. He began his education at the Norwalk Academy in Ohio, before going on the graduate first in his class at West Point in 1853. His roommate at the Military Academy was John Bell Hood. McPherson was appointed to the Corps of Engineers, and taught for a year after his graduation at West Point.

At the beginning of the Civil War he was stationed in San Francisco, California. McPherson requested a transfer to the east, and received a position on the staff of Major General Henry W Halleck. McPherson was the Chief Engineer for Brigadier General Ulysses S Grant when the Union Army captured Forts Donelson and Henry. Following the Battle of Shiloh he was promoted to Brigadier General. In 1862 McPherson was given command of the XVII Corps in the Army of the Tennessee, and in 1864 he got command of the whole of the Army of the Tennessee when Major General William Tecumseh Sherman was promoted.

On July 22nd 1864 Union troops noticed that the Confederate soldier had pulled out of Atlanta, Georgia. Sherman felt the Confederates where evacuating, but McPherson argued that they were moving to attack the Union’s right flank. While this was being discussed four divisions under Confederate General William J Hardee flanked the Union XVII Corps. McPherson was riding toward his old Corp when he was confronted by a line of Rebels yelling for him halt. He turned his horse in an attempt to escape but was mortally wounded.

Four days after McPherson’s death Sherman wrote to his wife, telling her, "I lost my right bower in McPherson."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Only Independent Unit

The Virginia Military Institute was founded on November 11th 1839 on the site of Virginia state arsenal.

The Virginia Military Institute; VMI, the oldest state supported military college is located in Lexington Virginia. VMI has been referred to as the West Point of the south. VMI students known as cadets, are required to take ROTC, they are not however expected to serve in the military after graduation.

VMI was founded on November 11th 1839 on the site of the Lexington, Virginia state arsenal. The first superintendent was Major General Francis Henry Smith, and the first cadet was Private John Strange. In 1842 the school graduated sixteen cadets. Thomas J Stonewall Jackson became a professor at VMI in 1851 teaching Natural and Experimental Philosophy. Infantry and artillery units from VMI attended the execution of John Brown, providing security.

Upon the out break of the Civil War VMI cadets were called to serve the Confederate army during fourteen different battles. On May 15th 1864 at the Battle of New Market, VMI became only military school in the country to fight as an independent unit. The Confederate commanding General John C Breckinridge held the VMI cadets in reserve until the Union troops broke through lines. The VMI students held their line and eventually moved forward capturing Union artillery. Union forces under General David Hunter shelled the Institute on June 12th 1864 as part of the Valley campaign. The school was destroyed and class had to be held in Richmond, Virginia until after the end of war. VMI reopened on the Lexington campus on October 17th 1865.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Only President

Jefferson Davis was elected November 6th 1861 the first and only President of the Confederate States of America.

Jefferson Davis was elected the president of the Confederate Provisional Government on November 6th 1861, for a six year term. By the time of his inauguration in February 22nd 1862 the Confederate capital which had started out in Montgomery, Alabama had moved to Richmond, Virginia. Interestingly Davis had never served a full term of any of his previous elections, and of course would not make the full six years of the Confederate Presidency either.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

God Wanted Him To Lead

Nat Turner was convicted of starting a slave revolt on November 5th 1831.

Nat Turner the son of slaves and the property of Benjamin Turner was born October 2nd 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia. He was quite intelligent, and learned to read and write at a young age, taught by his Master’s son. Turner’s parents encouraged his deep held religious beliefs, and he spent a great deal of time reading the bible, fasting and praying. These beliefs caused him to believe that he had been chosen by God to lead his people out of bondage.

In 1831 upon the death of Benjamin Turner, Nat was sold to Joseph Travis. An eclipse of the sun in February of that year was seen as the sign Turner was waiting for from God to start the insurrection. On August 21st 1831 Turner and around seven other slaves murdered the Travis family, beginning the slave revolt.

Turner thought that his actions would cause a large scale uprising among slaves but in the end only about seventy-five joined him. The state militia with about three thousand member turned out and soon defeated the members of the revolt. Turner escaped capture for about six weeks. After being tried and found guilty on November 5th 1831, Turner was executed on the November 11th 1831 in Jerusalem Virginia. During the uprising about fifty whites were killed, but the retaliation saw more than hundred blacks murdered.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Trying To Slow The Union Movement

In Benton County Tennessee on November 4th 1864 the Battle of Johnsonville was fought.

Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest with 3,500 cavalry and infantry lead an attack on the Union supply base at Johnsonville Tennessee, in an effort to slow the Federal’s movement through Georgia. Forrest moved north from Corinth Mississippi, temporarily blockading the Tennessee River, and than moving along the river he captured several Union steamers and a gunboat. On the 4th of November 1864 the Confederates set up their ten cannon on the river across from the Union supply base at Johnsonville Tennessee. The Union troops under the command of Lieutenant E M King and Colonel C R Thompson, observed the Confederates in the afternoon, and engaged them with their artillery and gunboats. The Confederate gun were well placed and soon disabled the Federal guns.

In an attempt to keep the Confederates from crossing the river and capturing transports, the Union set them on fire. A wind caught the fire and caused it to spread across the levee and to a nearby warehouses. The Confederates shelled the Union soldiers keeping them from putting out the fire. With the fire lighting his way Forrest withdrew in the night, without any serious losses. Union damages were estimated to be over two million dollars.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Un-repentant Rebel

Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early was born on November 3rd 1816, he established through his writings the Southern view of the Lost Cause.

Jubal Early was born in Franklin County Virginia November 3rd 1816, the son of Joab and Ruth (Hairston) Early. While he was a cadet at West Point he had a disagreement with Lewis Addison Armistead, causing Armistead to break a plate over Early’s head. Early graduated in 1837 from the Military Academy ranking 18th out of a class of 50. He served with the 3rd US Artillery against the Florida Seminoles, before resigning from the military in 1838. He became a lawyer and served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1841 to 1843.

Early politically was a Whig and he opposed secession at the Virginia Convention in April 1861. However, President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops to put down the rebellion angered Early, and he accepted a Confederate commission in the Virginia Militia. He was promoted after First Manassas to Brigadier General. General Robert E Lee valued Early’s aggressive fighting style and his capacity for independent command. Lee called him, his “Bad Old Man”. His soldiers named him “Old Jubilee”.

After being wounded in 1862 at Williamsburg, he returned to servce under the command of Major General Thomas J Stonewall Jackson. At Fredericksburg Early counterattacked Union General George Gorden Meade troops, plugging a gap in Jackson’s line, for this he was promoted to Major General. At Gettysburg he was in command of a division in Lieutenant General Richard S Ewell’s corp.

Early did not surrender, and he fled to Texas when the Army of Northern Virginia laid down their arms. He was hoping to find a Confederate force holding out there. He excapt to Mexico, and from there sailed to Cuba and finally to Canada. He wrote a memoir about his Valley Campaign while living in Toronto Canada. He was pardoned in 1868 and returned the Virginia where he resumed practicing law. Ever the un-repentant Rebel he strongly promoted the “Lost Cause” movement and was among those who maligned General James Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg. Early died in 1894 after falling down stairs in Lynchburg Virginia, and is buried in the Spring Hill Cemetery.