Tag Archives: american civil war

Robert Smalls and Freedom

Robert Smalls 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am going to be busy the next couple of days working on some things for my literary agent that hopefully will help my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era move towards publication. So for the next few days I will probably post very short articles of re-runs of older ones. This is an article that with a few minor changes that I posted here a year ago, and since today is the 155th anniversary of the act I thought it would be a good time to re-post it. I hope that you enjoy it. 

There are some people and events that are important but get swept up in broader historic events and today we remember the anniversary of an act of daring that led to freedom. This is the story of Robert Smalls, a slave in Charleston South Carolina. Smalls was hired out to work with the money going to his master. He worked in a number of jobs, but as a teenager fell in love with the sea. He went to work as a slave worker on the city’s waterfront where he started as a common dockworker, became a rigger, a sailmaker, and finally a wheelman, which basically was a ship’s pilot, since slaves were not permitted that title. Even so his abilities and knowledge of Charleston harbor well well known and respected by ship owners. 

The CSS (later USS) Planter 

When South Carolina seceded and the Confederacy went to war, Smalls was assigned as wheelman of the CSS Planter, a small and lightly armed transport. On the night of May 12th and 13th of 1862, Smalls took advantage of all three white officer’s absence ashore, by putting into effect an escape plan he had worked out with the other slave crew members of Planter. Smalls and seven other slaves got the ship underway, with Smalls donning the captain’s uniform and a straw hat similar to the captain’s. In the darkness the ruse was perfect, no Confederates ashore suspected anything as Planter stopped to pick up the escaped slaves family members at another wharf before Smalls sailed out past the range of the Confederate shore battery guns to surrender to the USS Onward. Smalls present the U.S. Navy with the ship, her cargo, which included four artillery pieces intended for a Confederate fort in the harbor, but more importantly a Confederate code book and charts showing the location of deadly undersea mines and torpedoes that had been laid in the harbor. 

Smalls quickly became a hero. Congress voted him and his crew the prize money for the ship, and he met with Secretary of War Stanton to argue the case that blacks should be allowed to serve. Smalls’ story helped convince Lincoln of allowing African Americans to serve in the United Staes forces. Smalls served as a civilian pilot working for the Navy and and the Army, serving in numerous battles. He was the pilot for the experimental ironclad USS Keokuk when that ship was heavily damaged by over 90 hits at Charleston. He was responsible for getting the ship safely out of range of the  Confederate batteries before she sank, thus saving many crew members. 

He then was reassigned to the USS Planter, now assigned to the Army. The ship got caught in a crossfire between the Union and Confederate forces and Planter’s captain ordered the ship to surrender. Smalls objected, knowing that any African American caught serving Union forces would not be treated as prisoners of war, but either returned to slavery or executed by order of the Confederate Congress. Smalls took command of the vessel and steered her out of harm’s way. He was appointed Captain of the ship and was present for the ceremonial raising of the American flag over Fort Sumter in April 1865. Smalls was the first African American to command a ship in the service of the U.S. Military.

After the war Smalls got an education and when the 14th Amendment was passed ran for office, serving in the South Carolina legislature and as a member of Congress. He fought against changes to the 1895 South Carolina Constituion that disenfhchised African Americans and codified the Jim Crow laws which had be upheld by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. 

In 1889 Smalls was appointed U.S. Collector of Customs in Beaufort and served in that office until 1911. He also was director of a black owner railroad, and helped publish the black owners Beaufort Standard newspaper. He died in 1915 at the age of 75. 

Small’s courage and his fight for freedom, as well as others who did so should not be forgotten. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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President Trump, I Wish to Remind You that General Jackson is Dead

President Trump, President Andrew Jackson, and President James Buchanan 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am never surprised when President Trump demonstrates his ignorance of American History or our Constitution as he when he discussed how the Civil War could have been avoided in only a dealmaker like Andrew Jackson been around to stop it. During an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Selina Zito, the President explained:

“I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

The President’s remarks were so bumblingly inaccurate that it was painful to listen to. First in his comments about President Jackson, a man whose “big heart” caused him to defy the Supreme Court to order the mass resettlement of the Native American tribes of the Southeast in the midst of winter which led to thousands of deaths in the what is known now as the Trail of Tears. Likewise, the one time Jackson opposed the secession of a state, that of South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis of 1828-1832 it had to deal with tariffs and not slaves, which the President owned. Likewise Jackson never uttered “There’s no reason for this” because Jackson was dead and buried long before the Civil War, and even years before the threats of secession to preserve and expand slavery were proposed in the early 1850s.

Senator Stephen Douglas

There was no deal to be made. Slavery and its expansion were the issues at hand. In 1858 a minority of slave holders in Kansas attempted through election fraud to get a pro-slavery constitution passed in order for the state to be admitted to the Union as a Slave State, a move the President James Buchanan fully supported and fought an unsuccessful battle with Congress to pass. The measure would have set precedent to open every territory of the Union to slavery, but Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois stood his ground and organized bi-partisan opposition to the measure which was supported by Southern Democrats.

When Buchanan threatened him Douglas stood his ground:

The Illinois Senator found out about the President Buchanan’s new support of the measure when he read the newspaper. He was outraged when he saw the news in the Washington Union that Buchanan had decided to support Lecompton. He was infuriated and the fury showed when he wrote with characteristic honesty:

“This left no doubt were the old bastard stood. “Can you believe his Goddamned arrogance?” I told a friend. “I run the Committee on Territories. He should have consulted me before approving the Lecompton fraud. He’ll pay for that. By God, sir, I made Mr. James Buchanan, and by God, sir, I’ll unmake him.” 

As such, the Little Giant threw caution to the wind and stormed to the White House “to confront Buchanan on the “trickery and juggling of the Lecompton constitution.” He warned the president of that his actions in support of the Lecompton party would “destroy the Democratic party in the North,” and we warned that “if Buchanan insisted on going through with it, Douglas swore to oppose him in Congress.” 

It was an epic confrontation. Douglas recalled, “The Lecompton constitution, I told Buchannan bluntly, was a blatant fraud on the people of Kansas and the process of democracy, I warned him not to recommend acceptance of it. With his head titled forward in that bizarre habit of his, he said that he intended to endorse the constitution and send it to Congress. “If you do,” I thundered, “I’ll denounce it the moment that it is read.” His face turned red with anger. “I’ll make Lecompton a party test,” he said. “I expect every democratic Senator to support it.” I will not, sir!” 

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying, “I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back,“Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.” It was an unprecedented action by a sitting Senator, to confront a President of one’s own party and threaten to oppose him in Congress was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense. (You can find my full article about the Lecompton Constitution at https://padresteve.com/2016/10/16/when-political-parties-implode-mr-president-i-wish-to-remind-you-that-general-jackson-is-dead/)

Every State that seceded from the Union included the preservation and expansion of slavery as the primary reason of secession. There were no deals to be made to avoid the Civil War except for the Northern Free states to submit to becoming Slave states again and African Americans to be forever subordinated to the less than human state of being mere property.

President Trump may actually believe what he said, in fact I think that he does, which is why I think is why that he habitually demonstrates such supreme ignorance of American History and the Constitution.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One hundred and forty-four years ago today one of the worst acts of terrorism against Americans by Americans was conducted by members of the White Leagues, a violent white supremacist group in Louisiana. This is from one of my Civil war texts and it is something not to forget in an age where violence against racial and religious minorities is again raising its head.

Have a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The violence against Southern blacks escalated in the wake of the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and with the increasing number of blacks being elected to office in some Southern states during the elections of 1872. In Louisiana a Federal court ruled in favor of Republican Reconstruction candidates following a Democrat campaign to interfere with the vote, which included attacks on polling sites and the theft of ballot boxes. As a result the Louisiana Democrats “established a shadow government and organized paramilitary unit known as the White League to intimidate and attack black and white Republicans.” [1]

The White League in Louisiana was particularly brutal in its use of violence. The worst massacre committed by the White League occurred Easter Sunday 1873 when it massacred blacks in Colfax, Louisiana. Colfax was an isolated nondescript hamlet about three hundred fifty miles northwest of New Orleans. It sat on the grounds of a former plantation whose owner, William Calhoun, who worked with the former slaves who were now freedmen. The town itself “composed of only a few hundred white and black votes” [2] was located in the newly established Grant Parish. The “parish totaled about 4,500, of whom about 2,400 were Negroes living on the lowlands along the east bank of the Red.” [3] Between 1869 and 1873 the town and the parish were the scene of numerous violent incidents and following the 1872 elections, the whites of the parish were out for blood.

White leaders in Grant Parish “retaliated by unleashing a reign of terror in rural districts, forcing blacks to flee to Colfax for protection.” [4] The blacks of parish fled to the courthouse seeking protection from a violent white mob following the brutal murder of a black farmer and his family on the outskirts of town. The people of Colfax, protected by just a few armed black militiamen and citizens deputized by the sheriff took shelter in the courthouse knowing an attack by the White Supremacists was coming.  As the White League force assembled one of its leaders told his men what the day was about. He said, “Boys, this is a struggle for white supremacy….There are one hundred-sixty-five of us to go into Colfax this morning. God only knows who will come out. Those who do will probably be prosecuted for treason, and the punishment for treason is death.” [5] The attack by over 150 heavily armed men of the White League, most of whom were former Confederate soldiers, killed at least seventy-one and possibly as many as three-hundred blacks. Most of the victims were killed as they tried to surrender. The people, protected by just a few armed men were butchered or burned alive by the armed terrorist marauders. It was “the bloodiest peacetime massacre in nineteenth-century America.” [6]

The instigators of the attack claimed that they acted in self-defense. They claimed that “armed Negroes, stirred up by white Radical Republicans, seized the courthouse, throwing out the rightful officeholders: the white judge and sheriff” and they claimed that the blacks had openly proclaimed “their intention to kill all the white men, they boasted they would use white women to breed a new race.” [7] The claims were completely fabricated, after sending veteran former army officers who were serving in the Secret Service to investigate, the U.S. Attorney for Louisiana, J.R. Beckwith sent an urgent telegram to the Attorney General:

“The Democrats (White) of Grant Parish attempted to oust the incumbent parish officers by force and failed, the sheriff protecting the officers with a colored posse. Several days afterward recruits from other parishes, to the number of 300, came to the assistance of the assailants, when they demanded the surrender of the colored people. This was refused. An attack was made and the Negroes were driven into the courthouse. The courthouse was fired and the Negroes slaughtered as they left the burning building, after resistance ceased. Sixty-five Negroes terribly mutilated were found dead near the ruins of the courthouse. Thirty, known to have been taken prisoners, are said to have been shot after the surrender, and thrown into the river. Two of the assailants were wounded. The slaughter is greater than the riot of 1866 in this city. Will send report by mail.” [8]

Federal authorities arrested nine white men in the wake of the massacre and after two trials in which white majority juries were afraid to go against public opinion, three were “convicted of violating the Enforcement Act of 1871.” [9] None were convicted of murder despite the overwhelming evidence against them and even the lesser convictions enraged the White Supremacists in Louisiana who had employed the best lawyers possible and provided them and the defendants with unlimited financial backing. Assisted by the ruling of Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Bradley, who had a long history of neglecting Southern racism, white Democrats appealed the convictions to the Supreme Court.

The attack, and the court cases which followed, notably the judgment of the Supreme Court in United States v. Cruickshank which dealt with the appeal of the men responsible for the Colfax Massacre led to a “narrowing of Federal law enforcement authority” and were “milestones on the road to a “solid” Democratic South.” [10] The decision of the court in United States v. Cruikshank was particularly perverse in its interpretation of constitutional rights and protections. The court ruled in favor of the terrorists and declared that “the right of the black victims at Colfax to assemble hand not been guaranteed because they were neither petitioning Congress nor protesting a federal law. Assembling for any other cause was not protected.” [11] The Cruikshank decision amounted to a Supreme Court endorsement of violence against blacks, and made it “impossible for the federal government to prosecute crimes against blacks unless they were perpetrated by a state and unless it could prove a racial motive unequivocally.” [12] Northern politicians and newspapers, reeling under the effects of the stock market crash of 1873, which had denounced the massacre just a year before now ran from the story and from support of African Americans. A Republican office holder wrote, “The truth is, our people are tired out with this worn cry of ‘Southern outrages…. Hard times and heavy taxes make them wish the ‘nigger,’ the ‘everlasting nigger,’ were in hell or Africa.” [13] Racism and race hatred was not exclusively the parlance of the South.

In the wake of Justice Bradley’s reversal of the Colfax convictions whites in Grant Parish engaged in brutal reprisals against blacks, leading to many murders and lynching’s, crimes which law enforcement, even that favorable to the rights of African Americans were afraid to prosecute for fear of their own lives. Louisiana’s Republican Governor, William Pitt Kellogg wrote Attorney General Williams blaming the violence on Bradley’s ruling, which he wrote, “was regarded as establishing the principle that hereafter no white man could be punished for killing a negro, and as virtually wiping the Ku Klux laws of the statute books.” He added that with the Army leaving the state that his government and other Reconstruction governments would fall, “if Louisiana goes,” Kellogg wrote, “Mississippi will inevitably follow and, that end attained, all the results of the war so far as the colored people are concerned will be neutralized, all the reconstruction acts of Congress will be of no more value than so much waste paper and the colored people, though free in name, will be practically remitted back to servitude.” [14] Governor Kellogg could not have been more correct.

In the years that followed many of the men involved in the massacre and other murders before and after were hailed as heroes, some, including the leader of the attackers, Christopher Columbus Nash were again appointed to office in Colfax and Grant Parish and blacks were reminded every day of just what they had lost. On April 13th 1921 the men who committed the massacre were honored with a memorial in the Colfax cemetery honoring them as “Heroes… who fell in the Colfax Riot fighting for White Supremacy.” In 1951 the State of Louisiana Department of Commerce and Industry dedicated a marker outside the Courthouse which read: “On the site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three White men and 150 Negroes were slain, this event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of Carpetbag misrule in the South.” [15] That marker still stands, there is no marker commemorating the victims.

Other massacres followed across the South, aimed at both blacks and their white Republican allies. In Louisiana the White League had some 14,000 men under arms, in many cases drilling as military units led by former Confederate officers. A White League detachment southwest of Shreveport “forced six white Republicans to resign their office on pain of death – and then brutally murdered them after they had resigned.” [16] This became known as the Coushatta Massacre and it was a watershed because for the first time the White League targeted whites as well as African Americans. The violence, now protected by the courts ensured that neither would last long in the post-Reconstruction South and that the freedom of African Americans in those states would amount to a cruel illusion.

In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant including comments about the Colfax massacre and the subsequent court decisions in his message to Congress. Grant was angry and wrote: “Fierce denunciations ring through the country about office-holding and election matters in Louisiana…while every one of the Colfax miscreants goes unwhipped of justice, and no way can be found in this boasted land of civilization and Christianity to punish the perpetrators of this bloody and monstrous crime.” [17] President Grant, the man who so wanted to help African Americans attain the full measure of freedom, was unable to do more as the Congress and Courts took sides with the Southern insurgents.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.151

[2] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.312

[3] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.42

[4] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[5] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.91

[6] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[7] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.11

[8] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.22

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.494

[10] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.251

[11] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.314

[12] Ibid. Goldfield American Aflame p.494

[13] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.213

[14] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.217

[15] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died pp.261-262

[16] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 185

[17] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.228

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Racism and the Failure of Reconstruction

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my continued series of articles pulled from my various Civil War texts dealing with Emancipation and the early attempts to gain civil rights for African Americans. This section that I will cover for the next few days deals with the post-war period, a period marked by conflicting political and social desires for equality, justice, revenge, and the re-victimization of Blacks who had so recently been emancipated.

I hope that you find these helpful.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Failing to Win the Peace: Racism and the Failure of Reconstruction

Colin Gray wrote, “A successful exercise in peacemaking should persuade the defeated party to accept its defeat.” [1] This is a fact seen throughout history as the peoples of nations that have been defeated militarily rise up against their occupiers to regain some form of independence, often coupled by a desire for revenge. As Liddell-Hart wrote, “History should have taught the statesman that there is no practical halfway house between a peace of complete subjection and a peace of moderation.” [2]

When the Civil War ended the Confederacy was beaten and most people in the South would have agreed to anything that the North presented regarding peace and return to the Union. The primary political policy goal of Lincoln regarding the war was the reestablishment of the Union and one of the military measures adopted by Lincoln was the emancipation of the South’s slaves who were an important part of the Southern war economy. “During the last two years of the war the abolition of slavery evolved from a means of winning the war to a war aim – from national strategy to national policy.” [3] By Lincoln’s reelection in 1864 that policy included the unconditional surrender of the Confederacy as well as the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, while Lincoln himself advocated moderation in achieving the political and social goals of his war policy, as well as in the restoration of the Southern States to the Union, his assassination served to destroy that goal as his successor, Andrew Johnson, and the Radical Republican majority in Congress warred against each other in implementing the policy of Reconstruction.

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The Unreconstructed President Andrew Johnson

That change in policy, the complete abolition of slavery necessitated a remaking of the old South, a culture where economics, social standing and even religion was linked to the “peculiar institution.” In a sense Reconstruction was “what the war was about.” [4] Had Lincoln’s successor, President Andrew Johnson desired he could have gotten the South to accept almost any demands that he decided to place upon them. A Northern correspondent who traveled throughout the South in May of 1865 and surveyed the mood of the leaders and people “concluded that any conditions for reunion specified by the President, even black suffrage, would be “promptly accepted.” [5] But that was not the way of Andrew Johnson.

Johnson set about to work with Southerners to affect a rapid reunion and to reestablish white rule in the South. He adopted a “minimalist process that would establish a mechanism by which former Confederate states could return to the Union with little or no change except for the abolition of slavery.” [6] The procedures Johnson established for the re-admission of states only allowed people who were eligible to vote in 1861 to vote. In effect this ensured a white only electorate, and excluded any free blacks. Johnson then began working to pardon former Confederates as quickly as possible to allow them to return to their political offices. Johnson would often issue hundreds of pardons a day, between June and August 1865, “the president awarded more than five thousand pardons in three states alone – Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama.” [7] These pardons ensured that the former Confederates would never again have to worry about being brought up on charges of treason or war crimes, and no “federal law permitted them from voting once their states had been readmitted to the Union” [8] which under Johnson’s plan ensured that they would have the voted before any newly freed black in the South.

Johnson countermanded the orders of Union Generals in the occupied Confederate States to protect the rights of freed blacks further strengthening and emboldening those committed to restoring white rule in the South and regulating freed blacks to a state all but in name like slavery. Relieved at Johnson’s mild terms for reunion Southerners language included “defiant talk of states’ rights and resistance to black suffrage. My midsummer, prominent whites realized that Johnson’s Reconstruction empowered them to shape the transition from slavery to freedom and to define black’s civil status.” [9] Johnson’s policy set the stage for racial strife that in some places still has fully not ended.

Just two months after Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, Richard Henry Dana, a Federal District Attorney in Boston, declared that “a war is over when its purpose is secured. It is a fatal mistake to hold that this war is over because the fighting has ceased. This war is not over…” [10] As Dana so succinctly noted, and Clausewitz so well understood, was that that war is a continuation of policy and politics by other means. The failure of President Johnson and so many others in the North to fully grasp this fact led to over a century of subjugation of emancipated African Americans by whites. The confusion and lack of determined purpose has fueled a continual racial divide in the United States that is still felt today. Defeated on the battlefield Southerners and emboldened by Johnson’s leniency, Southerners soon turned to political, psychological and even violent means to reverse their losses.

Frederick Douglass understood that simple emancipation was not enough, and that the “war and its outcome demanded racial equality.” [11] Despite the that efforts of many in the North this would not happen during Reconstruction and Douglass knew that the failure to accomplish this would be disastrous, “Whether the tremendous war so heroically fought…shall pass into history a miserable failure…or whether on the other hand, we shall, as the rightful reward of victory over treason have a solid nation, entirely delivered from all contradictions and social antagonisms, must be determined one way or another.” [12]

Other Northern leaders, political and military harbored deep seated illusions about the willingness of Southerners to change their way of life simply because they had lost the war, but with Johnson’s blessing seemed to be winning the peace. Major General Oliver O. Howard, a convinced and longtime abolitionist who believed that it was God’s will for the North to liberate African Americans who was appointed by Lincoln to head the new Freedman’s Bureau “believed that the Southern whites, or at least a sufficient number of them, through their humanitarian instincts and sense of fair play, or if not that, through enlightened self-interest, would deal fairly and justly with the freedmen, would aid in his education, and would give him the same civil and legal rights as the white man.” [13] Likewise, Major General Henry Slocum, who served with Howard at Gettysburg and in the West was appointed military commander of the District of Mississippi. Slocum, like many others entered his duties and “did not fathom the depth of anger and loathing many white Southerners harbored toward blacks, and to the new system in general.” [14]

There was a problem with implementing Reconstruction; when John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, the political leaders of the North could not agree on how to do this. The new President, Andrew Johnson was probably the worst possible leader to lead the country in the aftermath of war for all practical purposes Johnson was a Democrat who believed in white supremacy, he had been brought onto the ticket for his efforts to keep Kentucky in the Union and to support Unionist elements in Tennessee. While his selection helped Lincoln in parts of the North and the Border States it was a disaster for the post-war era.

Johnson’s approach to reconstruction was very simply to “impose minimal demands on the South. He required only minor concessions from the former Confederates before allowing them to resume their political rights and retain their land. As for freedmen, he seemed to think that the needed no further protection beyond the fact of their emancipation.”  [15] Johnson’s attitude regarding freedmen was quite common, even men like William Lloyd Garrison who had spent his life in the cause of abolitionism believed that emancipation and abolition and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment was the end of his work. He urged the dissolution of the American Anti-Slavery Society in May of 1865 declaring, “My vocation, as an Abolitionist, thank God, is ended.” [16] His suggestion was rejected by the membership, but it was a harbinger of things to come.

Johnson was “a lonely stubborn man with few confidants, who seemed to develop his policies without consulting anyone, then stuck to them inflexibly in the face of any and all criticism. He lacked Lincoln’s ability to conciliate his foes and his capacity for growth, which was best illustrated by Lincoln’s evolving attitude to black suffrage during the Civil War.” [17] In the months after his unexpected accession to the presidency Johnson demonstrated that he had no understanding of Lincoln’s political goals for the South and the desires of the Republican dominated Congress.

By the summer of 1865 Johnson was already demonstrating “that his sympathies were with the Southern white population and that he believed that their interests should be cared for even at the expense of freedmen.” [18] Johnson’s approach to reconstruction was very simply to “impose minimal demands on the South. He required only minor concessions from the former Confederates before allowing them to resume their political rights and retain their land. As for freedmen, he seemed to think that the needed no further protection beyond the fact of their emancipation.”  [19] Johnson gave individual pardons to more than thirteen thousand “high-ranking Confederate civil and military officers and wealthy Southerners.” [20] While doing this he minimized political influence the Southern Unionists who had not supported the Confederacy and ensured that freed slaves were excluded from the political process.  He issued a number of orders “appointing interim provisional governors and urging the writing of new state constitutions based upon the voter qualifications in force at the time of secession in 1861 – which meant, in large but invisible letters, no blacks.” [21]

When Frederick Douglass led a delegation of blacks to meet with Johnson in February 1865 Johnson preached that it was impossible to give political freedom to blacks. When Douglass attempted to object Johnson became angry and told Douglass “I do not like to be arraigned by some who can get up handsomely-rounded periods and rhetoric, and talk about abstract ideas of liberty, who never periled life, liberty, or property.” [22] When Douglass took his objections to Johnson’s harangue to a Washington newspaper, Johnson railed against Douglass “I know that d—–d Douglass…he’s just like any other nigger & would sooner cut a white man’s throat than not.” [23]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.14

[2] Ibid. Liddell- Hart Why Don’t We Learn From History? p.86

[3] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 132

[4] Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.323

[5] Foner, Eric A Short History of Reconstruction Harper and Row, New York 1990 p.89

[6] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 177

[7] Langguth, A.J. After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace Simon and Schuster, New York 2014 p.119

[8] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.319

[9] Ibid. Foner A Short History of Reconstruction p.89

[10] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 175

[11] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.407

[12] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.407

[13] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.93

[14] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007

[15] Ibid. Perman and Taylor The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition p.323

[16] Ibid. Foner A Short History of Reconstruction p.30

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.108

[18] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard  New York 1999 p.109

[19] Ibid. Perman and Taylor The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition p.323

[20] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 177

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.490

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.494

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.494

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Infantry Tactics at the Beginning of the American Civil War

2nd michigan

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today another revised section of one of my Civil War texts.

Blessings

Padre Steve+

The heart of the Civil War armies was the infantry, of which the key unit was the infantry regiment. The U.S. Army had ten Regular Army infantry regiments that the outbreak of the war, most of which were scattered about the country in small garrisons especially in the west, where they were engaged in providing security in the newly acquired territories and states. The few Regular Army units of the United States Army were expanded during the war, and more importantly were joined by hundreds of volunteer regiments during the war.

The Confederacy, lacking a regular army also raised hundreds of volunteer infantry regiments.  The regiment was built around the infantry company that was composed of sixty to one hundred soldiers commanded by a Captain. Most companies, in the case of the volunteer regiments came from the same town, county or neighborhood. The infantry regiment was composed of ten companies. Union infantry regiments “maximum strength was fixed at 39 officers and 986 men. A Confederate regiment was larger: 49 officers and 1,340 men maximum.”  [1] However, in practice these guidelines were not rigidly adhered to, depending on recruiting efforts some regiments have fewer men than their authorized strength when organized and others from more populous areas had more.

However, most regiments were rarely at their authorized strength after their muster into service and this got far worse for units after they had been on campaign and in battle. Federal statistics show that, “by April 1862, an average regiment had 560 men; by July 1863, it would number only 375 soldiers.” [2] These were average numbers, at Gettysburg, some regiments like the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which on July 3rd decimated the men of John Brockenbrough and Joseph Davis’s brigades on the left flank during Pickett’s Charge had just 209 men in its the ranks. The 124th New York Volunteer Infantry had just 18 officers and 220 men in its ranks when Hood’s brigades of Texans, Georgians and Arkansas men hit them at Devil’s Den on July 2nd 1863 at Gettysburg. [3]

Prior to the war regiments tended to be scarred about the nation in small garrisons or on the frontier, and the brigade was the largest unit within the army, and then only put together for combat or expeditionary operations. A brigade was typically composed of two to five regiments. In theory brigades were commanded by Brigadier Generals but many times commanded by Colonels. In addition to their organic infantry brigades usually had their “own quartermaster, commissary, and ammunition trains. Medical teams and sometimes artillery, were assigned to brigades.” [4] With the attachments the brigade could function as an independent unit.

With the expansion of the armies divisions of infantry were formed. Composed of two or more brigades divisions could operate independently or banded together as part of an army corps. Corps were composed of two or more divisions. Two or more corps would compose an army.

Infantry formations on both sides relied on Napoleonic infantry tactics which when they were formulated worked well due to the types of weapons used by opposing armies. Depending on the tactical situation, infantry regiments, brigades and divisions advanced into battle in either column formation or line shoulder to shoulder.

The column formation, a tactic borrowed from the French, but also used by other armies was used to move quickly into battle. It involved “massing troops on a narrow front, like a swinging a ram, could smash into, and disrupt, an enemy infantry formation and make it run for its life.” [5] During the Napoleonic Era the French often used to charge in the offense as it could provide weight of numbers at the point of attack. The drawback to this formation was that the attacking units were extremely vulnerable to enemy artillery fire, particularly Solid Shot cannonballs “which could do hideous damage to a tightly packed column with just a few well-placed rounds[6] if the enemy artillery was not sufficiently disrupted or destroyed before they came into range.

Columns could be formed from battalion level up. At Waterloo Napoleon deployed a Corps in column, to gain a better understanding it is best to look at the battalion or regiment in column. Typically a column would be one to two companies wide making a front of 30 to 60 soldiers. Thus a full strength regiment deployed in a two company front column would have about 17 ranks.

The line formation was adopted from the British although the French and Prussians used it as well. The line formation was designed to maximize the fire of regiments by placing the men in a formation of “two or three lines which allowed the full play of musket fire along its front.” [7] Since the rate of fire of muzzle loading muskets, rifled or not was much slower in battle conditions, the tactic enabled infantry regiments to maintain a good volume of fire against enemy units, in the offense or in the defense. However the line was an “extremely fragile formation. Attempting to march a line forward across anything except the smoothest parade ground led to disorder. Men straggled, stumbled, wavered, and the line would soon lose all cohesion.” [8] Confederate General D.H. Hill “later in life once asked, rhetorically but memorably: ‘Whoever saw a Confederate line advancing that was not crooked as a ram’s horn? Each ragged rebel yelling on his own hook and aligning on himself.’” [9]

The great virtue of the line formation was “its ability to deliver musket fire by volley and its relative immunity to artillery fire,” [10] at least fire delivered from the front as it presented a small target. However if enemy artillery was able to get in position to deliver enfilade fire, or fire from the flank as happened to the Confederate troops who made Pickett’s Charge, the effect could be devastating.  Unlike the column formation, the line formation took a great deal of time to deploy in line of battle and to maneuver swiftly as a unit once formed and it was vulnerable to cavalry if caught in the open.

The first American infantry drill manual was issued in 1779 when General Von Steuben was given the task of training the Continental Army. The books was based on the tactics of the Prussian Army under Frederick the Great. However, over time, Americans came to favor French drill manuals. In 1835 General Winfield Scott translated the revised French drill manual and issued it as Infantry Tactics and Rules for the Exercise and Manoeuvers of the United States Infantry. The Army that Scott led into Mexico in 1846 used the manual with success and it remained in publican until 1861, and “its general structure remained the heart of all the civil War drill manuals.” [11] As tacticians began to appreciate the impact of the rifled musket infantry tactics saw some adjustments in order to “increase the speed and mobility of tactical movement.” [12]

Scott’s manual was superseded by the volume produced by William J. Hardee who later became a Confederate general. Hardee’s work, Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise of Manoeuvers of Troops when acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen was “based directly on a new generation of French manuals.” [13] Hardee modified the line formation from three lines to two and had an increased role for skirmishers. Likewise Hardee added “extra provisions for rifle fire and manoeuvers at a gymnastic pace (‘double quick’) of 165 to 180 steps a minute.” [14] While an improvement on the older manuals it was still very similar to Scott’s work.

civilwararmyinfantry

In 1862 the U.S. Army adopted Silas Casey’s manual, Infantry Tactics as its official doctrine. Casey’s work was for the most part a composite of Scott’s and Hardee’s work. That being said, Casey “also contributed tactical doctrine for brigade and larger-unit tactics and made revisions that improved the deployment from column to line.” These contributions were important to both armies as the “Confederates quickly followed the Union army in adapting his revisions.” [15] While Casey’s became the official doctrine it was Hardee’s that “won the widest usage and was issued in the most variants.” [16] These included adaptations for U.S. Colored Troop regiments as well as militia forces.

Casey’s manual was particularly helpful for officers serving as brigade and regimental commanders. Previous manuals had been unclear as to where they should place themselves in the order of march, or when the unit was moving in line or column on the attack. Casey clarified this so that “Budding commanders could easily work out where they should place themselves as their regiments marched to the front in column or line, how brigade artillery should be employed, how the head of a column should be maneuvered to give direction to the main mass, and so on.” [17] Even so new officers who had crammed their heads with Scott, Hardee, or Casey for a few weeks could cause havoc among his own troops. A soldier of the 14th New Hampshire Infantry noted: “The men were serene in their ignorance of tactics; but ambitious officers of the line, who had been cramming Casey for a fortnight, were in a vertebral, cold-shiver temperature…. That the men got caught in a snarl, a tangle, a double twisted, inextricable tactical knot, is tame delineation. The drill caused a great deal of serious reflection…” [18]

As the war went on more use was made of skirmishers, which traditionally had deployed in front of the line. With the rifled muskets the skirmishers, advancing ahead of the massed formations could use the longer range and greater accuracy of their weapons to inflict significant numbers of casualties on the enemy, and to pick off enemy officers and artillerymen. The artillery despised the skirmishers as they could do little to combat them without having their own close infantry support.

But skirmishers took a long time to train and the massed volunteer armies, mostly officered  by volunteers had precious little time or experience to train good skirmishers. The Union attempted to rectify this by organizing Sharpshooter regiments, “two of which were organized for the army of the Potomac by Hiram Berdan in 1862.” [19] Both of these units served well at Malvern Hill in 1862 and Gettysburg on July 2nd and proved their worth on other battlefields of the war.  Highly trained and motivated Berdan’s sharpshooters “lived like a band of brothers, imbued with the one feeling of patriotism in their voluntary enlistment for three years.” [20]

Notes

[1] Robertson, James I. Soldiers Blue and Gray University of South Carolina Press, Columbia 1988 p.21

[2] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.19

[3] For a listing of the numbers of soldiers that each regiment went into battle with at Gettysburg see Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012

[4] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.24

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.38

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion p.39

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion p.38

[8] Ibid. Cornwell Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles p.69

[9] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.111

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion p.38

[11] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.100

[12] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.20

[13] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.100

[14] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.100

[15] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.20

[16] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.101

[17] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.103

[18] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.50

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion  p.38

[20] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion  p.261

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A Revolution in Killing: The Rifled Musket and the Minié Ball

claude_etienne_minie

Claude Minié

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have continued to work on my various Gettysburg and Civil War texts and today something from one of them that should appeal to those interested in Civil War infantry weaponry and tactics.  I have to admit that I am kind of a geek about this kind of stuff but in order to understand the broad brush aspects of history one also has to know something about detailed facts. So anyway, here is a section of my text dealing with the advances in weaponry that made the American Civil War and subsequent wars so much more deadly.

Peace

Padre Steve+

minnie-ball

Minié Ball 

While various individuals and manufacturers had been experimenting with rifles for some time the weapons were difficult to load as the rifled groves slowed down the loading process. The British pioneered the use of the rifle during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. The issue of the Baker rifle, a rifled flintlock which was accurate to about 300 yards was limited to specific Rifle Regiments which were considered elite units, as well as skirmishers in some other regiments. The soldiers assigned to the Rifle regiments wore a distinctive green uniform as opposed to the red wore by the rest of the British Army. When the United States Army formed its first Sharpshooter regiments in late 1861 under the command of Colonel Hiram Berdan. Like the British the men of the regiment as well as the 2nd Regiment of Sharpshooters wore a distinctive green uniform instead of the Union Blue.

In 1832 a captain Norton of the British Army “invented a cylindroconoidal bullet. When fired, its hollow base automatically expanded to engage the rifling of the barrel, thus giving the bullet a horizontal spin.” [1] But the bullet was unwieldy, so it and other bullets that were “large enough to “take” the rifling was difficult to ram down the barrel” and slowed down the rate of fire significantly, and since “rapid and reliable firing was essential in a battle, the rifle was not practical for the mass of the infantrymen.” [2]

In was not until 1848 when French Army Captain Claude Minié who “perfected a bullet small enough to be easily rammed down a rifled barrel, with a wooden plug in the base of the bullet to expand it upon firing to take the rifling.” [3] Unfortunately the bullets were expensive to produce and it was not until in 1850 an American armorer at Harpers Ferry, James Burton “simplified the design that had made Minié famous and developed a hollow based, .58-caliber lead projectile that could be cheaply mass produced.” [4] Burton’s ammunition was very easy to load into weapons, and soldiers were able to drop the cartridge into the muzzle of their rifles as easily as they could musket balls down a smoothbore.

The tactics the officers were educated in were developed at a time when the maximum effective range of muskets was barely 100 yards. However, the Army did make some minor adjustments to its tactics to increase speed and mobility in the tactic movement of the infantry. Colonel William J. Hardee went on to become a Confederate General adapted changes first made by the French to the U.S. infantry manual. These changes “introduced double-quick time (165 steps per-minute) and the run and allowed changes to the order of march to be made in motion rather than after coming to a halt.” [5]

During Napoleon’s time assaulting an opponent with a large body of troops was a fairly easy proposition, one simply maneuvered out of the rage of the enemy’s artillery and muskets, thus “to bring a heavy mass of troops upon them was possible because of the limited destructiveness of smoothbore firearms. Their range was so restricted that defenders could count on getting off only one reasonably effective volley against advancing soldiers. By the time that volley was unloosed, the attackers would be so close to their objective that before the defenders could reload, the attacking troops would be upon them.” [6] One of Napoleon’s favorite tactics was for his troops to make well executed turning maneuvers aimed at the enemy’s flanks, but the increased range and lethality meant that even when such maneuvers were executed, they often produced only a short term advantage as the defenders would form a new front and continue the action.

Yet by 1860 the rifled muskets had an effective range of about 500 yards and sometimes, depending on the type of weapon even more, but in most cases during the Civil War infantry engagements were fought at considerable shorter ranges. Paddy Griffith notes that even in the modern era long range firing by infantry units is still rare, and that there is “a fallacy in the notion that longer range weapons automatically produce longer-range fire. The range of firing has much more to do with the range of visibility, the intentions of the firer and the general climate of the army.” [7] Drew Gilpin Faust wrote that Civil War battles still “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were often able to see each other’s faces and to know who they had killed.” [8] They knew their weapons could fire at longer range, and one Union soldier explained, “when men can kill one another at six hundred yards they would generally would prefer to do it at that distance.” [9] But for the average infantryman such occasions were the exception.

The advent of the breach loading and later the repeating rifle and carbine further increased the firepower available to individual soldiers. However, with the exception of the Prussian Army, armies in Europe as well as the United States Army were slow to adapt the breech loading rifles. In “1841 the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, had prepared the pattern weapons of the first general-issue rifled shoulder arm of the U.S. Army” [10]

The process of conversion to the new weapons was slow, conservatism reigned in the Army and the lack of suitable ammunition was a sticking point. However, the U.S. Army began its conversion “to the rifled musket in the 1840s but rejected both the repeating rifle and the breechloader for infantry because of mechanical problems.” [11] Even so there was a continued resistance by leaders in the army to arming infantry with the rifled muskets despite the already noted obsolescence of them during the Crimean War. In discussing the differences of rifles and smoothbore muskets during the Peninsular Campaign, Edward Porter Alexander wrote that “In the Mexican War fought with smooth bore, short range muskets, in fact, the character of the ground cut comparatively little figure. But with the rifles muskets & cannon of this war the affair was proven both at Malvern Hill, & at Gettysburg….” [12]

However, in 1855 the new Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis ordered the Army to convert to “the .58 caliber Springfield Rifled Musket. Along with the similar British Enfield rifle (caliber .577, which would take the same bullet as the Springfield), the Springfield became the main infantry arm of the Civil War.” [13] Even so the production of the new rifles was slow and at the beginning of the war only about 35,000 of all types were in Federal arsenals or in the hands of Federal troops.

The one failure of Union Chief of Ordnance Ripley was his “insistence in sticking by the muzzle loading rifle as the standard infantry arm, rather than introducing the breach-loading repeating rifle.” [14] Ripley believed that a “move to rapid fire repeating rifles would put too much stress on the federal arsenals’ ability to supply the repeaters in sufficient quantities for the Union armies.” [15] There is a measure of truth in this for troops armed with these weapons did have the tendency to waste significantly more ammunition than those armed with slow firing muzzle loaders, but had he done so the war may not have lasted nearly as long.

weapons

Had Ripley done this Union infantry would have enjoyed an immense superiority in sheer weight of firepower on the battlefield. The noted Confederate artilleryman and post-war analyst Porter Alexander believed that had the Federals adopter breech loading weapons that the war would have been over very quickly, noting, “There is reason to believe that had the Federal infantry been armed from the first with even the breech-loaders available in 1861 the war would have been terminated within a year.” [16] Alexander’s observation is quite correct. As the war progressed and more Union troops were armed with breach loaders and repeaters Confederates found themselves unable to stand up to the vastly increased firepower of Union units armed with the newer weapons. A Union soldier assigned to the 100th Indiana of Sherman’s army in 1865:

“I think the Johnnys are getting rattled; they are afraid of our repeating rifles. They say that we are not fair, that we have guns that we load up on Sunday and shoot all the rest of the week. This I know, I feel a good deal confidence in myself with a 16 shooter in my hands, than I used to with a single shot rifle.” [17]

During the war both the Union and Confederate armies used a large number of shoulder-fired rifles and muskets of various manufactures and vintage. This was in large part because of a shortage of the standard M1861 Springfield Rifled Musket at the beginning of the war and initially standardization was a problem, and as a result many units went to war armed with various types of weapons which made supply, training, and coordinated fires difficult. At the beginning of the war, the Federal government had only about 437,000 muskets and rifles in its inventory, and only about 40,000 of these were rifled muskets, either older weapons converted from smoothbores or the newly manufactured Springfield rifles.

The disparity of types of weapons that might be found in a single regiment contributed to difficulties in supplying ammunition to them, and proved to be nightmarish for experienced quartermasters. This was especially the case when the amateur quartermasters of many regiments did not specify exactly what types of ammunition they required.

Likewise, in addition to the existing stocks of weapons available for use, the Federal government only had two armories capable of manufacturing arms, Harpers Ferry Virginia, which had to be abandoned in 1861 when Virginia seceded from the Union, and the other in Springfield Massachusetts, which had a capacity to manufacture between 3,000 and 4,000 rifles a month. Ordnance Chief Ripley solved that problem by contracting with U.S. and foreign manufacturers to make up for what government armories could not do. In the first year of the war he contracted for nearly 750,000 rifles from U.S. and foreign arms suppliers. During the war he expanded the capacity at Springfield so that it could produce over 300,000 weapons a year. Even so at Gettysburg sixty-five of the 242 Union infantry regiments, some 26%, were fully or partially armed with older substandard weapons, both smoothbores and antiquated rifles. In 1863 and 1864, the Confederate Army of the Tennessee over half of the army was armed with smoothbores or antiquated rifles. [18]

But the initial shortage of weapons caused problems for both sides. The Confederacy had to make the best use of what they had obtained in captured federal depots at the beginning of the war, which amounted to 140,000 smoothbores and another 35,000 rifled muskets.  Like the Federal Government, the Confederacy which had much less industrial capacity was forced to purchase many of its weapons from England expending badly needed capital to do so and requiring the weapons to be shipped through the Union blockade on blockade runners operating from England, the Bahamas, or other English Caribbean possessions. During the war the Confederates purchased approximately 300,000 rifled muskets and 30,000 smoothbores from Europe while producing just over 100,000 shoulder fired weapons of all types during the war. The Union through its economic superiority was able to acquire a million rifled muskets, 100,000 smoothbores from Europe in addition to the 1.75 million rifled muskets, 300,000 breechloaders, and 100, repeaters of its own wartime manufacture. [19]

In the end the disparity in quality and quantity of arms would doom the élan of the Confederate infantry in battle after battle. Porter Alexander wrote of the Confederate equipment situation:

“The old smooth-bore musket, calibre 69, made up the bulk of the Confederate armament at the beginning, some of the guns, even all through 1862, being old flint-locks. But every effort was made to replace them by rifled muskets captured in battle, brought through the blockade from Europe, or manufactured at a few small arsenals which we gradually fitted up. Not until after the battle of Gettysburg was the whole army in Virginia equipped with the rifled musket. In 1864 we captured some Spencer breech-loaders, but we could never use them for lack of proper cartridges.” [20]

The number of kinds of weapons that a given unit might be equipped was difficult for commanders and logisticians on both sides.  For example, Sherman’s division at the Battle of Shiloh “utilized six different kinds of shoulder arms, with each necessitating a different caliber of ammunition,” [21] which caused no end of logistical problems for Sherman’s troops as well as other units equipped with mixed weaponry.

Commonly Used Union and Confederate Rifles and Muskets

Type Designed Manufactured Weight Length Caliber Rate of Fire (Rounds per Minute) Feed System Effective Range Maximum Range
M1861 Springfield 1861 ~1,000,000

9 Lbs.

56 inches .58 2-4 Muzzle Loaded 100-400 yards 500-620 yards
M1863 Springfield 1863 700,000 9 Lbs. 56 inches .58 2-3 Muzzle Loaded 200-300 yards 800-1000 yards
Pattern 1853 Enfield (England) 1853 1,500,000 total 900,000 estimated used in Civil War 9.5 Lbs. 55 inches .58 3+ Muzzle Loaded 200-600 Yards 1250 yards
Lorenz Rifle (Austria) 1853  ~325,000 used in Civil War 8.82 Lbs. 37.5 inches .54 2 Muzzle Loaded 100-600 yards 900-1000 yards
M186 to M1842 Springfield Musket 1816-1842 ~1,000,000 10 Lbs. 58 inches .69 2-3 Muzzle Loaded 75-100 yards 200 yards
Sharps Rifle 1848 120,000+ 9.5 Lbs. 47 inches .52 8-9 Breech Loading 500 yards 1000 yards
Spencer Repeating Rifle 1860 200,000 10 Lbs. 47 Inches .52 14-20 Breech Loading 500 yards

1000 yards

 

While this increase in range, accuracy, and rate of fire were important, they were also mitigated by the fact that the smoke created by the black, non-smokeless gunpowder powder expended by all weapons during the Civil War often obscured the battlefield, and the stress of combat reduced the rate and accuracy of fire of the typical soldier. This was compounded by the fact that most soldiers received little in the way of real marksmanship training. Allen Guelzo notes that the “raw inexperience of Civil War officers, the poor training in firearms offered to the Civil War recruit, and the obstacles created by the American terrain generally cut down the effective range of Civil War combat to little more than eighty yards.” [22] That being said well-drilled regiments engaging enemy troops in the open on ground of their choosing could deliver devastating volley fire on their enemies.

But the real increase in lethality on the Civil War battlefield was the Minié ball “which could penetrate six inches of pine board at 500 yards.” [23] as such, the bullet was decidedly more lethal than the old smoothbore rounds, and most wounds “were inflicted by Minié balls fired from rifles: 94 percent of Union casualties were caused by bullets.” [24] The old musket balls were fired at a comparatively low velocity and when they hit a man they often pass through a human body nearly intact, unless there was a direct hit on a bone. Thus wounds were generally fairly simple to treat unless a major organ or blood vessel had been hit. But the Minié ball ushered in for those hit by it as well as the surgeons who had to treat their wounds:

“The very attributes that increased the bullet’s range also increased its destructive potential when it hit its target. Unlike the solid ball, which could pass through a body nearly intact, leaving an exit would not much larger than the entrance wound, the soft, hollow-based Minié ball flattened and deformed on impact, while creating a shock wave that emanated outward. The Minié ball didn’t just break bones, it shattered them. It didn’t just pierce organs, it shredded them. And if the ragged, tumbling bullet had enough force to cleave completely through the body, which it often did, it tore out an exit wound several times the size of the entrance wound.” [25]

When these bullets hit the arm and leg bones of soldiers the effects were often catastrophic and required immediate amputation of the limb by surgeons working in abysmal conditions. “The two minie bullets, for example, that struck John Bell Hood’s leg at Chickamauga destroyed 5 inches of his upper thigh bone. This left surgeons no choice but to amputate shattered limbs. Hood’s leg was removed only 4 and 1/2 inches away from his body. Hip amputations, like Hood’s, had mortality rates of around 83%.” [26]

This technological advance changed the balance and gave armies fighting on the defensive an edge. The advance in the range and killing power embodied in the rifled musket made it especially difficult for the armies that fought the Civil War to successfully execute frontal assaults on prepared defenders. The defensive power was so enhanced that even a “well executed turning maneuver was likely to produce only a decidedly temporary advantage in the Civil War.” [27] Well trained units could change their front against enemies assailing their flanks and turning them back as was demonstrated by Joshua Chamberlain’s 20th Maine at Little Round Top. Occasionally some assaulting troops would get in among the enemy’s lines, despite the enormous costs that they incurred during their attacks, but “the greater problem was how to stay there and exploit the advantage once the enemy’s line had been pierced. Almost invariably, by that time the attacker had lost so heavily, and his reserves were distant, that he could not hold on against a counterattack by the defending army’s nearby reserves.” [28]

Despite the increased range of the rifled muskets many infantry firefights were still fought at closer ranges, usually under 200 yards, not much more than the Napoleonic era. Much of this had to do with the training of the infantry as well as visibility on the battlefield which in North America was often obscured by heavy forested areas and thickets in which armies would battle each other at close range. Battles such as the Seven Days, Chancellorsville, and much of the Overland Campaign were fought in such terrain.

This was demonstrated time and time again throughout the course of the war as commanders attempted frontal assaults on such positions. “The only way to impose heavy enough casualties upon an enemy army to approximate that army’s destruction was to accept such heavy casualties oneself that no decisive advantage could accrue.” [29] Lee’s assault on Malvern Hill and his numerous frontal assaults on prepared positions at Gettysburg, Burnside’s ghastly assaults at Fredericksburg, Grant’s first attack at Vicksburg, and Grant’s ill-advised attack at Cold Harbor demonstrated the futility and ghastly cost of such tactics. The ability of infantry in the assault to “rise up and deliver a frontal attack became almost always futile against any reasonably steady defenders. Even well executed flank attacks tended to suffer such heavy casualties as experienced riflemen maneuvered to form new fronts against them that they lost the decisiveness they had enjoyed in the Napoleonic Wars.” [30] During the Wilderness Campaign battles were fought for hours on end at point blank range amid heavy woods and fortifications.

As important as the rifled muskets were, the real revolution in battlefield firepower was brought about by the repeating rifles and muskets which came into use during the war. The early examples were not reliable because the ammunition available was in a paper cartridge which sometimes caused gas and flames to escape form the breach, making the weapon dangerous to the user. But this was corrected with the introduction of brass cartridges and later weapons became deadly instrument. Because of its range as compared to the older smoothbores, the rifled musket “added a new spatial dimension to the battlefield,” [31] but the repeating rifles, which had a shorter range than the rifled muskets looked forward to the day of semi-automatic and automatic weapons. The repeaters could “pump out so many shots in such a short time that it offered a new perspective in tactical theory from that used by the old carefully aimed one-shot weapons,” and added “a new temporal dimension to the close range volley.” [32]

Despite the fact that leaders knew about the increased range and accuracy that came with the rifled musket, tactics in all arms were slow to change, and “on every occasion, a frontal assault delivered against an unshaken enemy led to failure.” [33] Even at Gettysburg Robert E. Lee would demonstrate that he had not fully appreciated the effects of the lethality of the rifled musket when he ordered Hood’s assault on Federal troops at Little Round Top on July 2nd and Pickett’s assault on the Union center on July 3rd 1863. Lee should have learned during the bloody battles of 1862 and early 1863 which cost his army over 50,000 casualties.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.15

[2] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.474

[3] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.474

[4] Leonard, Pat The Bullet that Changed History in The New York Times Disunion: 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator edited by Ted Widmer with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.372

[5] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.20

[6] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.33

[7] Griffith, Paddy, Battle Tactics of the Civil War Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1989 p.148

[8] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.41

[9] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.41

[10] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.32

[11] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.17

[12] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.111

[13] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.474

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.317

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.251

[16] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 1691 of 12969

[17] Davis, Burke. Sherman’s March Open Roads Integrated Media, New York, 2016, originally published by Vintage Press 1980 p.196

[18] Ibid. Griffith,  Battle Tactics of the Civil War  pp.76-77

[19] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.80

[20] Ibid. Alexander Military Memoirs of a Confederate location 1683 of 12969

[21] Ibid. McDonough William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country, A Life  p.2

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.255-256

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.250

[24] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.41

[25] Ibid. Leonard, Pat The Bullet that Changed History p.372

[26] Goellnitz, Jenny Civil War Battlefield Surgery The Ohio State University, Department of History retrieved from https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/cwsurgeon/cwsurgeon/amputations 22 December 2016

[27] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.34

[28] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.117

[29] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.34

[30] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.419

[31] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.75

[32] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.75

[33] Ibid. Fuller, The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.104

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Dan Sickles Part Five: War and Redemption

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over this Thanksgiving weekend and am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

sickles as brigadier

 

Dan Sickles completed his term in Congress making few speeches and maintaining a relatively low profile, frequently entering and leaving through side entrances. But as tensions rose and secession fever built, Sickles, the longstanding supporter of Southern states rights, who had declined to run for reelection “briefly transformed himself from outcast to firebrand” [1]when secessionist troops opened fire on the transport Star of the West when that ship attempted to deliver supplies to Fort Sumter. Surprising his Southern colleagues he declared the attack on the ship as “naked, unmitigated war,” and declared:

It will never do, sir, for them [the South] to protest against coercion and, at the same moment, seize all the arms and arsenals and forts and navy-yards and ships… when sovereign states by their own deliberate acts, make war, they must not cry peace… When the flag of the Union is insulted, when the fortified place provided for the common defense are assaulted and seized, when the South abandons its Northern friends for English and French alliances, then the loyal and patriotic population of that imperial city [New York] are unanimous for the Union.” [2]

He declared the assault to an act of war, and predicted that “the men of New York would go in untold thousands anywhere to protect the flag of its country and to maintain its legitimate authority.” [3] Sickles’ speech was electrifying and heartened back to his early career and what might have been, and during the remaining days of his term he continued to speak out in the House against the actions of the South and sponsored legislation to bills to suspend postal service with the South and recover the funds in the United States Mint buildings which had been seized by seceding states. He thundered in the presence of Southern friends still serving in the House, “Surely the chivalrous men of the South would scorn to receive the benefit of our postal laws,… “They cannot intend to remain, like Mahomid’s coffin, between heaven and earth, neither in nor out of the Union, getting all the benefits, and subjecting us to all its burdens.” [4]

Shortly thereafter Dan Sickles left Washington to what many thought would be political and possibly personal oblivion, but they underestimated Sickles. Ambition and the desire for redemption still burned in his heart, and shortly after President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion, Sickles volunteered to help raise and lead the men of the Empire State into battle to restore the Union. As the future commander of a one of the regiments, the French born journalist, Regis De Trobriand, noted “during the lead-up to Sumter, Dan had been among the conciliatory and moderate, “but when the sword was drawn, he was one of the first to throw away the scabbard.” [5]

sickles-brigade

Taking up the challenge to raise a regiment sickles went to work, and “almost overnight, using flag-waving oratory, organizational skills, and promissory notes, he had his regiment, the 70th New York volunteers well in hand.” [6] Soon his authority was expanded to recruit a brigade, which rapidly filled with volunteers, soon over 3,000 men were under his command, and the new brigade, consisting of the 70th, 71st, 72nd, 73rd and 74thNew York Volunteers which Sickles promptly christened the Excelsior Brigade, taking on the Empire State’s motto. However many of the brigade’s volunteers were scorned because of Sickles’ reputation, the brigade’s historian wrote, “no name was too bad for you; one would call you this and another would call you that, and even a person’s own relatives would censure him for joining such a Brigade as that of Daniel E. Sickles.”[7]

Even so, Sickles rapidly captured the hearts of his men. Volunteers were found throughout New York, as well as New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and the men represented the spectrum of White America; men of traditional Anglo-Saxon origin mingled with Irish, Germans, and Dutch. But he was so successful in recruiting that organizers of other regiments, especially in rural New York counties demanded that the Republican governor, Edward Morgan, order Sickles to disband most of the brigade. Believing the action politically motivated, Sickles refused and went directly to Lincoln to get the brigade Federal recognition. At first Lincoln balked at the request, he needed troops but was yet unwilling to get in the way of what he saw as the individual state control of their militias. The result was an impasse as Federal and New York officials argued about the brigade and the status of Sickles himself.

Sickles organizational and leadership skills were tested by the situation, and he went to extraordinary lengths to meet the needs of his soldiers for housing, food and sanitation, “and financed its camp for some time out of his own purse…. At one point he rented a circus tent from P.T. Barnum to house several hundred of his recruits. At another, with several companies or more quartered in a bare hall on lower Broadway, he contracted a cheap bath-house to give fourteen hundred men a shave and shower at ten cents apiece.” [8] To meet the need for cooked meals Sickles’ old friend Captain Wiley “commandeered cooks for the brigade from Delmonico’s, working in inadequate kitchens in side streets, they tried to turn out enough food for the men.” [9] Eventually the brigade was given a campsite on “Staten Island, near Fort Wadsworth, where he and his men could wait until the issue of mustering-in was settled.” [10]

Finally in July of 1861 the Excelsiors were officially mustered in to service as New York Volunteer troops and Sickles commissioned as a Colonel, functioning as the commander of the 70th New York and the de-facto commander of the brigade. Lincoln nominated Sickles for a commission as a Brigadier General of Volunteers but due to pressure from New York officials, still steaming at Sickles for going to Lincoln, and the Senate delated confirmation for months, forcing Lincoln to re-nominate him a second time after which they confirmed him in May 1862, in some measure due to the influence of Sickles former defense attorney, Edwin Stanton who had succeeded Simon Cameron as Secretary of War.

Sickles and his brigade first saw combat at Fair Oaks during the Seven Day’s battle. Sickles acquitted himself well during the fighting, he seemed to be a natural leader of men, who cheered him as he led them into battle. The actions of the Excelsiors and their newly minted Brigadier were praised by the Army commander, George McClellan in a letter to Stanton, “The dashing charge of the Second and Fourth Regiments,…”the cool and steady advance of the Third, occurred under my immediate observation and could not have been surpassed.” [11] A news correspondent attached to the army wrote:

“Gen. Sickles had several narrow escapes; he was always to be found in the thickest of the fight. Had those gifted Senators who refused to confirm his nomination, but witnessed the enthusiasm of his troops when serving under him, and his military qualifications for office, they would do penance until re-elected.” [12]

The success at Fair Oaks was not followed up by McClellan, despite the urging of many officers, including Sickles and Richmond, which many believed could have been taken, remained in Confederate hands. Sickles performance during the Peninsular Campaign won Dan the respect and affection of his soldiers, as well as the respect of his division commander Fighting Joe Hooker. Unlike many other leaders who in their first taste of combat on the Peninsula saw the terrible carnage of battle, the immense numbers of casualties, and the suffering of the troops, Sickles maintained his composure, as others collapsed, “neither the casualties nor the state of the earth daunted Sickles.” [13] Hundreds of his Excelsiors, including his own aid-de-camp were killed or wounded during the campaign, and “the Excelsior Brigade, through steadily reduced by deaths, wounds and illness, had been forged into a body of hard-bitten, battle-wise soldiers educated in the necessities of war and in the tricks of self-preservation.” [14] A member of the brigade wrote, “It is no fable about the men of this Brigade thinking a great deal of the General.” [15]

Following the army’s withdraw from the Peninsula and its return to encampments near Washington D.C. Sickles went back to New York to raise new troops to replace those killed or wounded during the campaign. He also took time to organize efforts to care of the children of the brigade’s soldiers, living and dead who were being taken care of at the Union Home School. Due to this he missed the battles of Second Bull Run and Antietam. His recruiting efforts were successful, even former political enemies were impressed by his service, and his ability to raise and organize troops. His reputation had been so completely rehabilitated by his war service that some of his “old backers in Tammany wanted him to run again for Congress,” [16] but he was opposed by others, like his old friend Sam Butterworth, who had become a “Copperhead,” an anti-war, faction that wanted to end the war and let the South go on its way; “to them, Dan had become a Lincoln man, a crypto-Republican.” [17] the relief of many of his troops he declined the offer to run again. As one of his Chaplains, Joseph Twitchell noted Sickles, “is getting fixed in his new place most successfully and will probably serve himself, as well as the country, better here than in a war of words.” [18]

Sickles-Excelsior-Brigade-Headquarters-City-Hall-Park.-Yorktown

During his recruiting efforts Sickles, now a military, as well as political realist, made many speeches, in which he recognized that conscription was inevitable. Having seen the brutal cost of war and the suffering of his men, Sickles complained of the lack of effort being provided in New York to the war effort. In a speech at the Produce Exchange, he praised the leadership and nerve of President Lincoln, and said, “A man may pass through New York, and unless he is told of it, he would not know that this country is a war…. In God’s name, let the state of New York have it to say hereafter that she furnished her quota for the army without conscription – without resorting to a draft!” [19]

When he returned to the army in November of 1862 his old division commander, Hooker had been promoted to corps command following the relief of George McClellan, and as the senior brigadier was promoted to command of the division. His, division, the Second Division of Third Corps was used in a support role at Fredericksburg and saw little action in that fight and only suffered about 100 casualties. His old friend and defense counsel Thomas Meagher, now commanding the Irish Brigade saw his brigade shattered in the carnage of at Fredericksburg. After Ambrose Burnside who had commanded the army during that fiasco was relieved of command Hooker was appointed by Lincoln as commander of the Army of the Potomac.

One of Hooker’s organizational changes was to establish a Cavalry Corps which was to be commanded by Major General George Stoneman, the commander of Third Corps. This left “Sickles as the corps’ ranking officer.” [20] Sickles was promoted to command the Third Corps by Hooker, who chose Sickles over another volunteer officer, David Birney. Had a professional officer rather than Birney been his competition, “Sickles would have remained division commander.” [21] Sickles was given the corps “on a provisional basis, for his appointment as a major general had not yet been confirmed by the Senate and corps command was definitely a two-star job.” [22]Once again it was political enemies in the Senate, this time Republicans who did not trust the Democrat, who delayed Sickles’ promotion to Major General, but he was finally confirmed on March 9th 1863, with his promotion backdated to November 29th of 1862. “Professionals in the army attributed his rise to his “skill as a political maneuverer.” Few men, however, questioned his personal bravery.” [23]

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.21

[2] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.111

[3] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p. 212

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.214

[5] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.219

[6] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.201

[7] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.23

[8] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p. 153

[9] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.222

[10] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.222

[11] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.30-31

[12] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.149

[13] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.245

[14] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.153

[15] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.222

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.32

[17] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.245

[18] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.32

[19] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.252

[20] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.223

[21] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.206

[22] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.168

[23] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.223

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