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“I Knew What I Was Fighting For” The Social Revolution of the Civil War: Emancipation Part 1


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing my foray into African American History which for those that don’t know is really a key and often neglected part of American History. This is a several part series dealing with Emancipation, and the social revolution that it brought about in the United States Military. The process that began in 1862 has taken another century and a half to come to a much better state, and the men who pioneered the way deserve the credit for persevering in spite of prejudice, in spite of discrimination, and in spite of a country not appreciating them as they should have been. Their sacrifice not only pioneered the way for African Americans, but women, other minorities, and LGBTQ people. As a nation we are indebted to them.

Please enjoy,


Padre Steve+

Emancipation and the U.S. Military


Men of the 4th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops

The war brought about another change to warfare in America. This was a societal and political change that has shaped American military history, culture and life ever since. The Emancipation Proclamation gave African Americans, both Freedmen and recently freed slaves the opportunity to serve in the Union Army. The change of policy instituted by Lincoln was revolutionary as well as controversial and it had strategic implications for the war effort. There were many doubters in the north whose attitudes towards African Americans were not much different than Southerners, especially among the Copperheads.

Prior to the Emancipation some Union commanders in occupied Confederate territory “had unofficially recruited black soldiers in Kansas and in occupied portions of South Carolina and Louisiana in 1862. But the administration had not sanctioned these activities.” [1] The issue for Lincoln in 1861 and 1862 was the necessity of keeping the Border-Slave Sates of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland, which had not seceded from the Union. Lincoln repudiated the orders of General John Fremont, in Missouri, and his friend General David Hunter, who commanded the Department of the South regarding emancipation, not because he was in complete disagreement, but because he felt that the officers had overstepped their authority.

Lincoln understood that this might hurt him with the abolitionist wing of the Republican Party. While Lincoln was certainly sympathetic to their cause, he insisted that such decisions were not within the prevue of local commanders, but that any such proclamations had to come from him, as Commander-in-Chief. He told Treasure Secretary Salmon Chase, who supported the measures of Hunter and Fremont, “No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me.” [2] Lincoln’s decision to reverse and repudiate the decisions of local commanders infuriated some in his cabinet and in the Congress. But Lincoln remained firm in that conviction due to the need to ensure the cooperation of the Border States the continued loyalty of which were absolutely vital to winning the war, without which no meaningful emancipation would be possible.

However, Lincoln did support the efforts of General Benjamin Butler. Butler commanded the Federal forces at Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads. Butler had been a former pro-slavery Democrat who learned that the Confederates were using slaves to construct fortifications and to support their army on the Peninsula. In May 1862 twenty-three slaves escaped to his lines and their owner, a Confederate Colonel, “demanded the return of his property under the Fugitive Slave Law! With as deadpan expression as possible (given his cocked eye), Butler informed him that since Virginia claimed to have left the Union, the Fugitive Slave Law no longer applied.” [3] Butler then declared that since the escaped slaves had worked for the Confederate Army that they were “contraband of war – enemy property subject to seizure.” [4] It was a solid argument, since Southerners themselves referred to African American slaves as property was subject to seizure. Lincoln and Secretary of War Cameron approved of Butler’s action and “eventually, the Congress passed a confiscation law ending the rights of masters over fugitive slaves used to support Confederate troops.” [5]

Salmon Chase and other strong abolitionists opposed Lincoln vehemently for this, but it would not be long until Lincoln made the decision for full emancipation. This was first accomplished by the Emancipation Proclamation, a military order that only applied to the states that had seceded. However, Lincoln would follow this by pushing for a constitutional amendment to end slavery.   The latter occurred when Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in January 1865. This amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Lincoln had already decided upon emancipation in the spring of 1862, however, following the defeat of McClellan on the Peninsula he decided to postpone announcing it, Secretary of State Seward recommended against it until “until you can give it to the country supported by military success.” Otherwise the world might view it as an incitement for slave insurrections, “as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help…our last shriek, on the retreat.” [6] The wisdom of Seward’s advice was profound, and Lincoln put off the announcement until after the Battle of Antietam.

McClellan, true to form opposed any such policy. When Lincoln visited him after his withdraw from the Peninsula, the defeated but still arrogant General handed Lincoln a memorandum on what McClellan viewed as the “proper conduct of the war.” McClellan advised Lincoln that the war “should not be a war looking to the subjugation of any State in any event…but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, the territorial organization of States, or the forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [7]

Lincoln was not seeking advice from his recalcitrant commander and put the letter in his pocket and simply told McClellan, “All right.” Interestingly enough just a few months earlier Lincoln would have agreed with McClellan’s views on the conduct of the war. However, with the passage of time and the realization that the Confederacy was fully committed to its independence as well as the continuance and even the expansion of slavery had come to the view that fighting a limited war with limited aims was foolish. He told another Unionist Democrat a few days after McClellan offered his advice that the war could not be fought:

“with elder-stalk squirts, charged with rose water….This government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy this government, and if they fail still come back into the Union unhurt.” [8]

From Slavery to Soldiering


Gun Crew of 2nd Colored Light Artillery 

But as the war continued on, consuming vast numbers of lives the attitude of Lincoln and his administration began to change. After a year and a half of war, Lincoln and the closest members of his cabinet were beginning to understand that the “North could not win the war without mobilizing all of its resources and striking against Southern resources used to sustain the Confederate war effort.” [9] Slave labor was essential to the Confederate war effort, not only did slaves still work the plantations, they were impressed into service in war industries as well as in the Confederate Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle, a British observer who was with Lee’s army at Gettysburg noted, “in the rear of each regiment were from twenty to thirty negro slaves.” [10] The fact is that the slaves who accompanied the army remained slaves, they were not the mythical thousands of black soldiers who rallied to the Confederate cause, nor were they employees. “Tens of thousands of slaves accompanied their owners to army camps as servants or were impressed into service to construct fortifications and do other work for the Confederate army.” [11] This fact attested to by Colonel William Allan, one of Stonewall Jackson’s staff members who wrote “there were no employees in the Confederate army.” [12] slaves served in a number of capacities to free up white soldiers for combat duties, “from driving wagons to unloading trains and other conveyances. In hospitals they could perform work as nurses and laborers to ease the burdens of patients.” [13] An English-born artilleryman in Lee’s army wrote in 1863 that “in our whole army there must be at least thirty thousand colored servants….” [14] When Lee marched to Gettysburg he did so with somewhere between ten and thirty-thousand slaves in support roles and during the advance into Virginia Confederate troops rounded up and re-enslaved as many blacks as they could, including Freedmen.


Secretary of War Edwin Stanton

Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton; who was a passionate believer in the justice of emancipation, was one of the first to grasp the importance of slave labor to the Confederate armies and how emancipation was of decided military necessity. Stanton, “Instantly grasped the military value of the proclamation. Having spent more time than any of his colleagues contemplating the logistical problems facing the army, he understood the tremendous advantage to be gained if the massive workforce of slaves could be transferred from the Confederacy to the Union.” [15]

Lincoln emphasized the “military necessity” of emancipation and “justified the step as a “fit and necessary war measure for suppressing the rebellion.” [16] The process of emancipation now became not only a moral crusade, but now became a key part of national strategy, not just in a military means, but politically, economically and diplomatically as Lincoln “also calculated that making slavery a target of the war would counteract the rising clamor in Britain for recognition of the Confederacy.”  [17]

Lincoln wrote to his future Vice President, Andrew Johnson, then the military governor of occupied Tennessee that “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoration of the Union.” [18] The idea of simply mollifying the border states was dropped and policy changed that of “depriving the Confederacy of slave labor. Mobilizing that manpower for the Union – as soldiers as well as laborers – was a natural corollary.” [19] Reflecting President Lincoln’s and Stanton’s argument for the military necessity of emancipation, General Henry Halleck wrote to Ulysses Grant:

“the character of the war has very much changed within the past year. There is now no possibility of reconciliation with the rebels… We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them….Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat.” [20]


Ulysses Grant concurred with Lincoln’s decision. Grant wrote to in a letter to Lincoln after the assault on Battery Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts, “by arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion as it strengthens us.” [21] William Tecumseh Sherman was supportive but also noted some facts that some radical abolitionists did not understand. He noted in his correspondence that, “The first step in the liberation of the Negro from bondage will be to get him and his family to a place of safety… then to afford him the means of providing for his family,… then gradually use a proportion – greater and greater each year – as sailors and soldiers.” [22] Lincoln wrote after the Emancipation Proclamation that “the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.” [23] The change was a watershed in both American history as well as for the future of the U.S. Military services.

In conjunction with the Emancipation Proclamation Secretary of War Stanton “authorized General Rufus Saxton to “arm, uniform, equip, and receive into the service of the United States such number of volunteers of African descent as you may deem expedient, not exceeding 5,000, and [you] may detail officers to instruct them in military drill, discipline, and duty, and to command them.”  [24] The initial regiments of African Americans were formed by Union commanders in liberated areas of Louisiana and South Carolina, and most were composed of newly freed slaves. Others like the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiments were raised from free black men in the north. Stanton’s authorization was followed by the Enrollment Act passed by Congress in March of 1863 which established the draft also allowed blacks to serve. By March Stanton was working with state governors to establish more black regiments. The units became known as United States Colored Troops, or U.S.C.T. and were commanded by white officers and organized into the infantry, cavalry and, artillery regiments organized on the model of white regiments. The U.S.C.T. “grew to include seven regiments of cavalry, more than a dozen of artillery, and well over one hundred of infantry.” [25]

Some Union soldiers and officers initially opposed enlisting blacks at all, and some “charged that making soldiers of blacks would be a threat to white supremacy, and hundreds of Billy Yanks wrote home that they would no serve alongside blacks.” [26]  But most common soldiers accepted emancipation, especially those who had served in the South and seen the misery that many salves endured, one Illinois soldier, stationed who served in the Western Theater of war wrote, “the necessity of emancipation is forced upon us by the inevitable events of the war… and the only road out of this war is by blows aimed at the heart of the Rebellion…. If slavery should be left undisturbed the war would be protracted until the loss of life and national bankruptcy would make peace desirable on any terms.” [27]

Another soldier’s letters home show his conversion from being against emancipation to being fully for it. Corporal Chauncey B. Welton from Ohio wrote to his father after the Emancipation proclamation:

“Father I want you to write and tell me what you think of Lincoln’s proclamation of setting all the negroes free. I can tell you we don’t think much of it hear in the army for we did not enlist to fight for the negro and I can tell you that we never shall or many of us any how[.] no never.” Following over two years of service in which he served with Sherman’s army he became a critic of the anti-abolitionist Copperheads in the North, especially former Clement Vallandigham, and finally wrote in February 1865, “dear parents let us trust in Him that never forsakes the faithful, and never cease to pray… that soon we may look upon an undivided Country and that Country free free free yes free from that blighting curs[e] Slavery the cause of four years of Bloody warfare.” [28]

Even so racial prejudice in the Union ranks never went away and sometimes was accompanied by violence. It remained a part and parcel of life in and outside of the army, even though many Union soldiers would come to praise the soldierly accomplishments and bravery of African American Soldiers. An officer who had refused a commission to serve with a U.S.C.T. regiment watched as black troops attacked the defenses of Richmond in September 1864:

“The darkies rushed across the open space fronting the work, under a fire which caused them loss, into the abattis… down into the ditch with ladders, up and over the parapet with flying flags, and down among, and on top of, the astonished enemy, who left in utmost haste…. Then and there I decided that ‘the black man could fight’ for his freedom, and that I had made a mistake in not commanding them.” [29] Likewise, “Once the Lincoln administration broke the color barrier of the army, blacks stepped forward in large numbers. Service in the army offered to blacks the opportunity to strike a decisive blow for freedom….” [30]


The Defense of Milliken’s Bend 

Emancipation allowed for the formation of regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT), which were mustered directly into Federal service. In sheer numbers the U.S.C.T. formations soon dwarfed the few state raised Black Regiments.  However, it was the inspiration provided by those first state raised regiments, the heroic accounts of those units reported in Northern newspapers, as well as the unprovoked violence directed against Blacks in the 1863 New York draft riots that helped to provoke “many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of violent racism.” [31]

Despite the hurdles and prejudices that blacks faced even in the North, many African Americans urged others to enlist, self-help mattered more than self-preservation. Henry Gooding, an black sergeant from Massachusetts wrote the editor of the New Bedford Mercury urging fellow blacks to enlist despite the dangers, “As one of the race, I beseech you not to trust a fancied security, laying in your minds, that our condition will be bettered because slavery must die…[If we] allow that slavery will die without the aid of our race to kill it – language cannot depict the indignity, the scorn, and perhaps the violence that will be heaped upon us.” [32]

The valor of the state regiments, as well as the USCT units that managed to get into action was remarkable, especially in regard to the amount of discrimination levied at them by some northerners, including white Northern soldiers, and the very real threat of death that they faced if captured by Confederates. In response to the Emancipation Proclamation and to the formation of African American regiments the Confederate Congress passed measures that would make Union officers who commanded African American troops as war criminals and return any black soldier captured by Confederate forces return to slavery, if those blacks captured in battle were not summarily tortured by their captors or executed as happened at Fort Wagner, Petersburg, and at Fort Pillow.

In late 1862 Major General Nathaniel Banks was in desperate need of soldiers and received permission to form a number of regiments of free blacks. Known as the First, Second and Third Regiments of the Louisiana Native Guards they were primarily composed of former slaves who had escaped to Union lines, as well as some mulattos who were the children of prominent white citizens of the city. During an inspection, the white Colonel of the Guards told another officer:

“Sir, the best blood of Louisiana is in that regiment! Do you see that tall, slim fellow, third file from the right of the second company? One of the ex-governors of the state is his father. That orderly sergeant in the next company is the son of a man who has been six years in the United States Senate. Just beyond him is the grandson of Judge ______ …; and through all the ranks you will find the same state of facts…. Their fathers are disloyal; [but] these black Ishmaels will more than compensate for their treason by fighting in the field.” [33]

In May of 1863 Banks dared to send the First and Third Regiments of “Louisiana Native Home Guard regiments on a series of attacks on Confederate positions at Port Hudson, Louisiana” [34] where they received their baptism of fire. They suffered heavy losses and “of the 1080 men in the ranks, 271 were hit, or one out of every four.” [35] A white Wisconsin soldier commented that the black soldiers “fought like devils,” while a soldier of the 156th New York wrote, “They charged and re-charged and they didn’t know what retreat meant. They lost in their two regiments some four hundred men as near as I can learn. This settles the question about niggers not fighting well. They on the contrary make splendid soldiers and are as good fighting men as we have.” [36] Banks too was caught up in the moment and said of these troops in his after action report: “They answered every expectation…In many respects their conduct was heroic…The severe test to which they were subjected, and the determined manner in which they encountered the enemy, leave upon my mind no doubt of their ultimate success.” [37]


54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner 

But the most famous African American volunteer regiment was the 54th Massachusetts, commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the “North’s showcase black regiment.” [38] Raised in Boston and officered by many men who were the sons of Boston’s blue blood abolitionist elite, the regiment was authorized in March 1863. Since there was still opposition to the formation of units made up of African Americans, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew authorized the formation of the 54th under the command of white officers, a practice that with few exceptions, became standard in the U.S. military until President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948. Governor Andrew was determined to ensure that the officers of the 54th were men of “firm antislavery principles…superior to a vulgar contempt for color.” [39]

The 54th Massachusetts first saw action in early June 1863 and at Shaw’s urging were sent into battle against the Confederate positions at Fort Wagner on July 18th 1863. Leading the attack the 54th lost nearly half its men, “including Colonel Shaw with a bullet through his heart. Black soldiers gained Wagner’s parapet and held it for an hour before falling back.” [40] Though they tried to hold on they were pushed back after a stubborn fight to secure a breach in the fort’s defenses. “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” [41] Shaw was buried with his men by the Confederates and when Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s father quelled a northern effort to recover his son’s body with these words: We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.” [42] As with so many frontal attacks on prepared positions throughout the war, valor alone could not overcome a well dug in enemy. “Negro troops proved that they could stop bullets and shell fragments as good as white men, but that was about all.” [43]

Despite the setback, the regiment went on to further actions where it continued to distinguish itself. The Northern press, particularly abolitionist newspapers brought about a change in the way that many Americans in the North, civilians as well as soldiers, saw blacks. The Atlantic Monthly noted, “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night, the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.”  [44]


55th Massachusetts being welcomed in Charleston SC 

In the African American 55th Massachusetts, which was recruited after the 54th, twenty-one year old Sergeant Isaiah Welch wrote a letter which was published in the Philadelphia Christian Recorder from Folly Island South Carolina:

“I will mention a little about the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. They seem to be in good health at the present and are desirous of making a bold dash upon the enemy. I pray God the time will soon come when we, as soldiers of God, and of our race and country, may face the enemy with boldness. For my part I feel willing to suffer all privations incidental to a Christian and a soldier…. In conclusion, let me say, if I fall in the battle anticipated, remember, I fall in defense of my race and country. Some of my friends thought it very wrong of me in setting aside the work of the Lord to take up arms against the enemy…. I am fully able to answer all questions pertaining to rebels. If taking lives will restore the country to what it once was, then God help me to slay them on every hand.” [45]

Like the 54th Massachusetts, the 55th would see much action. After one particularly sharp engagement in July 1864, in which numerous soldiers had demonstrated exceptional valor under fire the regiment’s commander, Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell “recommended that three of the black sergeants of the 55th be promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.” But Hartwell’s request was turned down, and a member of the regiment complained, “But the U.S. government has refused so far to must them because God did not make them White…. No other objection is, or can be offered.” [46]

Frederick Douglass, who had two sons serving in the 54th Massachusetts, understood the importance of African Americans taking up arms against those that had enslaved them in order to win their freedom:

“Once let a black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S… let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny he has won the right to citizenship in the United States.” [47]

Douglass urged African American men to enlist to secure their freedom, even while noting the inequities still prevalent in society and in the military, in which they did not receive the same pay as whites, nor could they become officers. Appealing to duty and reality Douglass noted in a speech in Philadelphia urging black men to volunteer. In it he carefully defined the real differences between the purposes of the Confederacy which was to “nothing more than to make the slavery of the African race universal and perpetual on this continent,” which was “based upon the idea that colored men are an inferior race, who may be enslaved and plundered forever.” [48]


Sergeant William Carney 54th Massachusetts, Medal of Honor

But the premier leader of the African Americans of his day, who had himself suffered as a slave, did not stop with that. Douglass understood that winning the war was more important that to what had been the attitude of the Federal government before the war and before emancipation, “Now, what is the attitude of the Washington government towards the colored race? What reasons have we to desire its triumph in the present contest? Mind, I do not ask what was its attitude towards us before the war…. I do not ask you about the dead past. I bring you to the living present.” He noted the advances that had been made in just a few months and appealed to his listeners. “Do not flatter yourselves, my friends, that you are more important to the Government than the Government to you. You stand but as the plank to the ship. This rebellion can be put down without your help. Slavery can be abolished by white men: but liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect…. Young men of Philadelphia, you are without excuse. The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union army. Remember that the musket – the United States musket with its bayonet of steel – is better than all the mere parchment guarantees of liberty. In your hands that musket means liberty…” [49]

Other African American units less famous than the illustrious 54th Massachusetts distinguished themselves in action against Confederate forces. Two regiments of newly recruited blacks were encamped at Milliken’s Bend Louisiana when a Confederate brigade attempting to relieve the Vicksburg garrison attacked them. The troops were untrained and ill-armed but held on against a determined enemy:

“Untrained and armed with old muskets, most of the black troops nevertheless fought desperately. With the aid of two gunboats they finally drove off the enemy. For raw troops, wrote Grant, the freedmen “behaved well.” Assistant Secretary of War Dana, still with Grant’s army, spoke with more enthusiasm. “The bravery of the blacks,” he declared, “completely revolutionized the sentiment in the army with regard to the employment of negro troops. I heard prominent officers who had formerly in private had sneered at the idea of negroes fighting express after that as heartily in favor of it.” [50]

The actions of the black units at Milliken’s bend attracted the attention and commendation of Ulysses Grant, who wrote in his cover letter to the after action report, “In this battle most of the troops engaged were Africans, who had little experience in the use of fire-arms. Their conduct is said, however, to have been most gallant, and I doubt not but with good officers that they will make good troops.” [51] They also garnered the attention of the press. Harper’s published an illustrated account of the battle with a “double-page woodcut of the action place a black color bearer in the foreground, flanked by comrades fighting hand-to-hand with Confederates. A brief article called it a “the sharp fight at Milliken’s bend where a small body of black troops with a few whites were attacked by a large force of rebels.” [52] In the South the result was chilling and shocked whites, one woman wrote “It is hard to believe that Southern soldiers – and Texans at that – have been whipped by a mongrel crew of white and black Yankees…. There must be some mistake.” While another woman in Louisiana confided in her diary, “It is terrible to think of such a battle as this, white men and freemen fighting with their slaves, and to be killed by such a hand, the very soul revolts from it, O, may this be the last.” [53]


Louisiana Native Guards at Port Hudson 

By the end of the war over 179,000 African American Soldiers, commanded by 7,000 white officers served in the Union armies. For a number of reasons most of these units were confined to rear area duties or working with logistics and transportation operations. The policies to regulate USCT regiments to supporting tasks in non-combat roles “frustrated many African American soldiers who wanted a chance to prove themselves in battle.” [54]  Many of the soldiers and their white officers argued to be let into the fight as they felt that “only by proving themselves in combat could blacks overcome stereotypes of inferiority and prove their “manhood.” [55] Even so in many places in the army the USCT and state regiments made up of blacks were scorned:

“A young officer who left his place in a white regiment to become colonel of a colored regiment was frankly told by a staff officer that “we don’t want any nigger soldiers in the Army of the Potomac,” and his general took him aside to say: “I’m sorry to have you leave my command, and am still more sorry that you are going to serve with Negroes. I think that it is a disgrace to the army to make soldiers of them.” The general added that he felt this way because he was sure that colored soldiers just would not fight.”  [56]

The general of course, was wrong, for “Nothing eradicated the prejudices of white soldiers as effectively as black soldiers performing well under fire. And nothing inspired black soldiers to fight as desperately as the fear that capture meant certain death.” [57]  In the engagements where USCT units were allowed to fight, they did so with varying success most of which was often attributable to the direction of their senior officers and the training that they had received. As with any other unit, well led and well trained regiments performed better than those whose leaders had failed their soldiers. When given the chance they almost always fought well, even when badly commanded. This was true as well when they were thrown into hopeless situations.

One such instance was when Ferrero’s Division, comprised of colored troops were thrown into the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg when “that battle lost beyond all recall.” [58] The troops advanced in good order singing as they went, while their commander, General Ferrero took cover in a dugout and started drinking; but the Confederate defenders had been reinforced and “Unsupported, subjected to a galling fire from batteries on the flanks, and from infantry fire in front and partly on the flank,” a witness write, “they broke up in disorder and fell back into the crater.” [59] Pressed into the carnage of the crater where white troops from the three divisions already savaged by the fighting had taken cover, the “black troops fought with desperation, uncertain of their fate if captured.” [60] In the battle Ferrero’s division lost 1,327 of the approximately 4,000 men who made the attack. [61]

Major General Benjamin Butler railed to his wife in a letter against those who questioned the courage of African American soldiers seeing the gallantry of black troops assaulting the defenses of Petersburg in September 1864: The man who says that the negro will not fight is a coward….His soul is blacker than then dead faces of these dead negroes, upturned to heaven in solemn protest against him and his prejudices.” [62]

In another engagement, the 1864 Battle of Saltville in western Virginia the troops of the 5th USCT Cavalry who had been insulted, taunted, and derided by their fellow white Union soldiers went into action against Confederate troops defending the salt works in that town. The regiment’s commander, Colonel Wade, order his troops to attack. Colonel James Brisbin detailed the attack:

“the Negroes rushed upon the works with a yell and after a desperate struggle carried the line killing and wounding a large number of the enemy and capturing some prisoners…. Out of the four hundred men engaged, one hundred and fourteen men and four officers fell killed or wounded. Of this fight I can only say that men could not have behaved more bravely. I have seen white troops in twenty-seven battles and I never saw any fight better…. On the return of the forces those who had scoffed at the Colored Troops on the march out were silent.” [63]

The response of the Confederate government to Emancipation and African Americans serving as soldiers was immediate and uncompromisingly harsh. “When in the autumn of 1862 General Beauregard referred the question of a captured black soldier to Davis’s latest Secretary of War, James A. Seddon, the later replied “…my decision is that the negro is to be executed as an example.” [64] Davis approved of the summary executions of black prisoners carried out in South Carolina in November 1862, and a month later “on Christmas Eve, Davis issued a general order requiring all former slaves and their officers captured in arms to be delivered up to state officials for trial.” [65] Davis warned that “the army would consider black soldiers as “slaves captured in arms,” and therefore subject to execution.” [66] While the Confederacy never formally carried out the edict, there were numerous occasions where Confederate commanders and soldiers massacred captured African American soldiers.

The Lincoln administration responded to the Confederate threats by sending a note to Davis that threatened reprisals against Confederate troops if black soldiers suffered harm. It “was largely the threat of Union reprisals that thereafter gave African-American soldiers a modicum of humane treatment.” [67] Even so, they and their white officers were often in much more danger than the officers and soldiers of all-white regiments if captured by Confederate forces.

When captured by Confederates, black soldiers and their white officers received no quarter from many Confederate opponents. General Edmund Kirby Smith who held overall command of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi instructed General Richard Taylor to simply execute black soldiers and their white officers: “I hope…that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma.” [68] This was not only a local policy, but echoed at the highest levels of the Confederate government. In 1862 the Confederate government issued an order that threatened white officers commanding blacks: “any commissioned officer employed in the drilling, organizing or instructing slaves with their view to armed service in this war…as outlaws” would be “held in close confinement for execution as a felon.” [69] After the assault of the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner a Georgia soldier “reported with satisfaction that the prisoners were “literally shot down while on their knees begging for quarter and mercy.” [70]


Fort Pillow Massacre 

On April 12th 1864 at Fort Pillow, troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred the bulk of over 231 Union most of them black as they tried to surrender. While it is fairly clear that Forrest did not order the massacre and even may have attempted to stop it, it was clear that he had lost control of his troops, and “the best evidence indicates that the “massacre”…was a genuine massacre.” [71] Forrest’s soldiers fought with the fury of men possessed by hatred of an enemy that they considered ‘a lesser race’ and slaughtered the Union troops as they either tried to surrender or flee; but while Forrest did not order the massacre, he certainly was not displeased with the result. His subordinate, General James Chalmers told an officer from the gunboat Silver Cloud that he and Forrest had neither ordered the massacre and had tried to stop their soldiers but that “the men of General Forrest’s command had such a hatred toward the armed negro that they could not be restrained from killing the negroes,” and he added, “it was nothing better than we could expect so long as we persisted in arming the negro.” [72] It was a portent of what some of the same men would do to defenseless blacks and whites sympathetic to them as members of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Liners, White League, and Red Shirts, during and after Reconstruction in places like Colfax Louisiana.

Ulysses Grant was infuriated and threatened reprisals against any Confederates conducting such activities, he a later wrote:

“These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them.

“The river was dyed,” he says, “with the blood of the slaughtered for up to 200 years. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed; but few of the officers escaped. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” Subsequently Forrest made a report in which he left out the part that shocks humanity to read.”  [73]

The bulk of the killing was directed at the black soldiers of the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, which composed over a third of the garrison. “Of the 262 Negro members of the garrison, only 58 – just over 20 percent – were marched away as prisoners; while of the 295 whites, 168 – just under sixty percent were taken.”  [74] A white survivor of the 13th West Tennessee Cavalry, a Union unit at the fort wrote:

We all threw down our arms and gave tokens of surrender, asking for quarter…but no quarter was given….I saw 4 white men and at least 25 negroes shot while begging for mercy….These were all soldiers. There were also 2 negro women and 3 little children standing within 25 steps of me, when a rebel stepped up to them and said, “Yes, God damn you, you thought you were free, did you?” and shot them all. They all fell but one child, when he knocked it in the head with the breech of his gun.” [75]

A Confederate Sergeant who was at Fort Pillow wrote home a week after the massacre: “the poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and shot down.” [76] The captain of the Union gunboat Silver Cloud was allowed by the Confederate to bring his ship to the Fort to evacuate wounded, and to bury the dead was appalled at the sight,

“All the buildings around the fort and the tents and huts in the fort had been burned by the rebels, and among the embers of the charred remains of numbers of our soldiers who had suffered terrible death in the flames could be seen. All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy…. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen, Bodies with gaping wounds,… some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that little quarter was shown…. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and the hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter…. Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.” [77]The rabidly pro-slavery members of the Confederate press lent their propaganda to cheer the massacre of the captured blacks. John R. Eakin of the Washington (Arkansas) Washington Telegraph, who later became a justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court after Reconstruction, wrote,

“The Slave Soldiers. – Amongst there are stupendous wrongs against humanity, shocking to the moral sense of the world, like Herod’s massacre of the Innocents, or the eve of St. Bartholomew, the crime of Lincoln in seducing our slaves into the ranks of his army will occupy a prominent position….

How should we treat our slaves arrayed under the banners of the invader, and marching to desolate our homes and firesides….

Meanwhile, the problem has been met our soldiers in the heat of battle, where there has been no time for discussion. They have cut the Gordian knot with the sword. They did right….

It follows that we cannot treat negroes in arms as prisoners of war without a destruction of the social system for which we contend. We must be firm, uncompromising and unfaltering. We must claim the full control of all negroes who may fall into our hands, to punish with death, or any other penalty, or remand them to their owners. If the enemy retaliate, we must do likewise; and if the black flag follows, the blood be upon their heads.” [78]

However, when African American Troops were victorious, and even after they had seen their brothers murdered by Confederate troops, that they often treated their Confederate with great kindness. Colonel Brisbin wrote that following Battle of Saltville that “Such of the Colored Soldiers who fell into the hands of the Enemy during the battle were murdered. The Negroes did not retaliate but treated the Rebel wounded with great kindness, carrying them water in their canteens and doing all they could to alleviate the sufferings of those whom the fortunes of war had placed in their hands.” [79]

African American soldiers proved themselves during the war and their efforts paved the way for Lincoln and others to begin considering the full equality of blacks as citizens. If they could fight and die for the country, how could they be denied the right to votes, be elected to office, serve on juries or go to public schools? Under political pressure to end the war during the stalemate before Petersburg and Atlanta in the summer of 1864, Lincoln reacted angrily to Copperheads as well as wavering Republicans on the issue of emancipation:

“But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done.” More than 100,000 black soldiers were fighting for the Union and their efforts were crucial to northern victory. They would not continue fighting if they thought the North intended to betray them….If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive…the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept…There have been men who proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors. “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will.”  [80]

The importance of African Americans cannot be minimized, without them the war could have dragged on much longer or even ended in stalemate, which would have been a Confederate victory. Lincoln wrote about the importance of the African American contribution to the war effort in 1864:

“Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or hundred and fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it.” [81]

Despite this, even in the North during and after the war, blacks, including former soldiers faced discrimination, sometimes that of the white men that they served alongside, but more often from those who did not support the war effort. Lincoln wisely took note of this fact, and wrote that after the war:

“there will there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, the clenched teeth, the steady eye, the well poised bayonet, they have helped  mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.” [82]


Lt Stephen Swails, First African American Officer of 54th Massachusetts 

Those rights would be fought for another century and what began in 1863 with the brave service and sacrifice of these African American soldiers began a process of increased civil rights that is still going on today. It would not be until after the war that some blacks were commissioned as officers in the Army. When Governor John Andrew, the man who had raised the 54th Massachusetts attempted to “issue a state commission to Sergeant Stephen Swails of the 54th…the Bureau of Colored Troops obstinately refused to issue Swails a discharge from his sergeant’s rank, and Swails promotion was held up until after the end of the war. “How can we hope for success to our arms or God’s blessing,” raged the white colonel of the 54th, Edward Hallowell, “while we as a people are so blind to justice?” [83]

The families of the free blacks who volunteered also suffered, especially those who still had families enslaved in Confederate occupied areas or Union States which still allowed slavery. One women in Missouri wrote her husband begging him to come home “I have had nothing but trouble since you left….They abuse me because you went & say they will not take care of our children & do nothing but quarrel with me all the time and beat me scandalously the day before yesterday.”  [84]

However, the Emancipation Proclamation transformed the war, and even jaded White Union soldiers who had been against emancipation and who were deeply prejudiced against blacks began to change their outlook as the armies marched into the South and saw the horrors of slavery, Russell Weigley wrote that Union soldiers: “confronting the scarred bodies and crippled souls of African Americans as they marched into the South experienced a strong motivation to become anti-slavery men…Men do not need to play a role long, furthermore, until the role grows to seem natural and customary to them. That of liberators was sufficiently fulfilling to their pride that soldiers found themselves growing more accustomed to it all the more readily.” [85]

A sergeant of the 19th Michigan who had already lost a stepson in the war wrote to his wife from Georgia before being killed in action during the Atlanta campaign; “the more I learn of the cursed institution of Slavery, the more I feel willing to endure, for its final destruction…. After this war is over, this whole country will undergo a change for the better…. Abolishing slavery will dignify labor; that fact will revolutionize everything…. Let Christians use all their influence to have justice done to the black man.” [86]

But even more importantly for the cause of liberty, the sight of regiments of free African Americans, marching “through the slave states wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army and carrying rifles on their shoulders was perhaps the most revolutionary event of a war turned into revolution.” [87]


At peak one in eight Union troops were African American, and Black troops made an immense contribution to the Union victory. “Black troops fought on 41 major battlefields and in 449 minor engagements. Sixteen soldiers and seven sailors received Medals of Honor for valor. 37,000 blacks in army uniform gave their lives and untold sailors did, too.” [88] To fully appreciate the measure as to the importance and significance of the numbers of African American troops serving in the Union ranks has to compare that number with the number of active Confederate troops serving toward the end of the war. The approximately 180,000 African Americans serving in Union ranks at the end of the war outnumbered the “aggregate present” in Confederate ranks on January 1st 1865 by over 20,000 men. Of these troops “134,111 were recruited in states that had stars in the Confederate battle flag, and the latter figure in turn was several thousand greater than the total of 135,994 gray-clad soldiers “present for duty” that same day.” [89]

Of the African American soldiers who faced the Confederates in combat, “deep pride was their compensation. Two black patients in an army hospital began a conversation. One of them looked at the stump of an arm he had once had and remarked: “Oh I should like to have it, but I don’t begrudge it.” His ward mate, minus a leg, replied: “Well, ‘twas [lost] in a glorious cause, and if I’d lost my life I should have been satisfied. I knew what I was fighting for.” [90]


Flags of the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops 

After the war many of the African American soldiers became leaders in the African American community and no less than 130 of these former soldiers held elected office including in the U.S. Congress and various state legislatures. The liberating aspect of “the black military experience radiated from black soldiers and their families into the larger black community, so it spread into white society as well.” [91]  Many abolitionists who had served as officers, and officers who were assigned to the USCT or volunteered to serve with state raised African American regiments became leaders continued to be voices for expanding civil rights in the years following the war.

Following war’s end, the demobilized African American troops became the target of racial discrimination and violence, but even so, “black veterans continued to play a central role in black communities, North and South. The skills and experience black men gained during the war not only propelled many of them into positions of leaders and sustained the prominence of others, but it also shaped the expectations and aspirations of all black people. The achievements and pride engendered by military service helped to make a new world of freedom.” [92]

Sadly, much of the nation has forgotten the efforts of the Free Black Soldiers and Sailors who fought for freedom, but even so their legacy remains in the “contribution of black soldiers to Union victory remained a point of pride in black communities. “They say,” an Alabama planter reported in 1867, “the Yankees never could have whipped the South without the aid of the Negroes.” Well into the twentieth century, black families throughout the United States would recall with pride that their fathers and grandfathers had fought for freedom.” [93]


[1] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

[2] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.435

[3] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[4] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[5] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.369

[6] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.109

[7] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.531

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.503

[9] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.101

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[11] Foner, Eric Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.45

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[13] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.313

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[15] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.465

[16] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.318

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.48

[18] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.159

[19] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.159

[20] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.381

[22] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.10

[23] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[24] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[25] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.11

[26] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[27] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011 p.103

[28] Welton, Chauncey B. A Union Soldier’s Changing Views on Emancipation in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William Gienapp, W.W. Norton Company, New York and London 2001 pp.242 and 245

[29] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[30] Glatthaar, Joseph T. Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[32] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[33] Jones, Terry L. The Free Men of Color Go to War 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.403

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.398

[36] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War p.44

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[39] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.101

[40] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[41] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp. 380-381

[42] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.686-687

[43] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.697

[44] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[45] Welch, Isaiah H. Letter in the Christian Recorder 24 October 1863 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.225-226

[46] Trudeau, Noah Andre, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York and London, 1998 p.262

[47] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 381

[48] Douglass, Frederick Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 recorded in the Liberator in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.220-221

[49] Ibid. Douglass Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 p.221

[50] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.634

[51] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 p.58

[52] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.97

[53] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 p.59

[54] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.92

[55] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.89 p.

[56] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 p.227

[57] Berlin, Ira, Riedy, Joseph P. and Rowland, Leslie S. editors, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York 1998 pp.133-134

[58] Ibid. Catton A Stillness at Appomattox p.249

[59] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.537

[60] Ibid.Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac pp.384-385

[61] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.537

[62] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[63] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.135

[64] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[65] Ibid. McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom p.566

[66] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p. 280

[67] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.188

[68] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[69] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[70] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.281

[71] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[72] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[73] Grant, Ulysses S. Preparing for the Campaigns of ’64 in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume IV, Retreat With Honor Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ pp.107-108

[74] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.111

[75] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 378

[76] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.112

[77] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[78] Eakin, John R. The Slave Soldiers, June 8, 1864  in Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. editors, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about “The Lost Cause” University of Mississippi Press, Jackson 2010 pp.210 and 212

[79] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[80] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.89

[81] Ibid. Glatthaar Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory p.138

[82] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 113

[83] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 376

[84] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[85] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.192

[86] Ibid. McPherson For Cause and Comrades p.130

[87] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.191

[88] Gallagher, Gary, Engle, Stephen, Krick, Robert K. and Glatthaar editors The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK 2003 p.296

[89] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.756

[90] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.36

[91] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[92] Ibid. Berlin et al. Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War pp.49-50

[93] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55



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Slavery and National Expansion: the Compromise of 1850 or “The Privilege of Belonging to the Superior Race…” Part 2


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today the second of a three installment bit of my work dealing with American Slavery in the ante-bellum period. These next articles deal with the subject of what happens when laws are made that further restrict the liberty of already despised, or enslaved people. In this case the subject is the Compromise of 1850 and its associated laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

This is an uncomfortable period of history for Americans with either a sense of conscience, or those who believe the racist myths surrounding the “Noble South” and “The Lost Cause.”  I hope that you find them interesting, especially in light of current events in the United States.


Padre Steve+

Economic Effects of the Compromise of 1850

The interregional slave trade guaranteed slave owners of a source of slaves even if they were cut off from the international trade and it was an immense part of not just the Southern economy but the American economy. Slave owners “hitched their future to slavery; a single cash crop and fresh land,” [1] and refused to take an interest in manufacturing or diversifying their agricultural production outside of King Cotton. Slave prices tripled between 1800 and 1860 making human property one of the most lucrative markets for investment. The price of a “prime male field hand in New Orleans began at around $500 in 1800 and rose as high as $1,800 by the time of the Civil War.” [2] The result was that slave owners and those who benefited from the interregional slave trade had a vested interest in not only seeing slavery preserved, but expanded.

This resulted in two significant trends in the South, first was that slave owners grew significantly richer as the value of the slave population increased. Using even a conservative number of $750 dollars as the value of a single slave in 1860 the amount of value in this human property was significantly more than almost any other investment in the nation.  It was enormous. Steven Deyle notes that:

“It was roughly three times greater than the total amount of all capital invested in manufacturing in the North and in the South combined, three times the amount invested in railroads, and seven times the amount invested in banks. It was about equal to about seven times the value of all currency in circulation in the country three times the value of the entire livestock population, twelve times the value of the entire U.S. cotton crop, and forty-eight times the expenditures of the federal government that year. ….”by 1860, in fact in the slaveowning states alone, slave property had surpassed the assessed value of real estate.” [3]

The rise in slave values and the increasing wealth of slave owners had a depreciating effect on poor southern whites by ensuring that there was no middle class, which “blocked any hope of social advancement for the mass of poor whites, for it was all but impossible for a non-slaveholder to rise in the southern aristocracy.” [4] The impoverishment of southern whites created some worry for those astute enough to take an interest in such matters. “In 1850, about 40 percent of the South’s white farmers owned real estate at all. There was thus, worried the Southern Cultivator in 1856, “a large number at the South who have no legal right or interest in the soil [and] no homes of their own.” The editor of a South Carolina newspaper that year framed the matter in less sympathetic terms: “There is in this State,” he wrote, “as impoverished and ignorant as white population as can be found in any other in the Union.” [5]

Some Southerners recognized the growing issue that the south was falling behind the north in terms of real economic advancement and that slavery was the culprit. Hinton Helper, a non-slave owning North Carolinian who had made his fortune in the California Gold Rush of 1849 and returned home to become disillusioned with what he saw wrote a book that had a major impact in the North among Republican politicians, but which was either banned or restricted in much of the South. That book “The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It (1857) was “a book on the debilitating impact of slavery on the South in general and on southern whites in particular.” [6] Helper’s attack on the slavery system was as devastating as that of any abolitionist, and since he was a southerner the effects of his words helped further anti-slavery sentiment in the North and would be used by the Republican party in an abridged form as a campaign tool that they printed and distributed during the build up to the election n of 1860. Helper wrote that:

“Slavery lies at the root of all the shame, poverty, tyranny and imbecility of the South.” Echoing the free-soil argument Helper maintained that slavery degraded all labor to the level of bond labor. Planters looked down their noses at nonslaveholders and refused to tax themselves to provide a decent school system. “Slavery is hostile to general education…Its very life, is in the ignorance and stolidity of the masses.”  [7]

Many southern leaders saw Helper’s book as a danger and worried that should Helper and others like him speak freely long enough “that they will have an Abolition party in the South, of Southern men.” When that happened, “the contest for slavery will no longer be one between the North and the South. It will be in the South between the people of the South.” [8] That was something that the landed gentry of the slave owning oligarchy could never tolerate for if the non-slave holding whites rejected slavery, the institution would die. Thus, Helper, who was no fan of black people and held many violently racist attitudes, was denounced “as a traitor, a renegade, an apostate, a “dishonest, degraded and disgraced man.” [9]

Men like Helper were an anomaly in the South, other leaders were much more like Jefferson Davis who urged the creation of a “Southern “system,” internal improvements, building factories, even reforming education to eliminate all textbooks at odds with his notion of the blessings of slavery.” [10]

In the years the before the war, the North embraced the Industrial Revolution leading to advances which gave it a marked economic advantage over the South in which through  its “commitment to the use of slave labor inhibited economic diversification and industrialization and strengthened the tyranny of King Cotton.” [11] The population of the North also expanded at a clip that far outpaced the South as European immigrants swelled the population.

The divide was not helped by the various compromises worked out between northern and southern legislators. After the Missouri Compromise Thomas Jefferson wrote these words of warning:

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” [12]

The trigger for the increase in tensions that eventually ignited the powder keg was the war with Mexico in which the United States annexed nearly half of Mexico. The new territories were viewed by those who advocated the expansion of slavery as fresh and fertile ground for its spread. Ulysses S Grant, who served in the war, noted the effects of the war with Mexico in his memoirs:

“In taking military possession of Texas after annexation, the army of occupation, under General [Zachary] Taylor, was directed to occupy the disputed territory.  The army did not stop at the Nueces and offer to negotiate for a settlement of the boundary question, but went beyond, apparently in order to force Mexico to initiate war….To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means.  The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war.” [13]

To be continued…


[1] Ibid. Egnal  Clash of Extremes p.10

[2] Ibid. Deyle The Domestic Slave Trade p.53 Deyle’s numbers come from the 1860 census.

[3] Ibid. Egnal  Clash of Extremes p.54

[4] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.48

[5] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.37

[6] Ibid. Goldfield  America Aflame  p.177

[7] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.199

[8] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.235

[9] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.397

[10] Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour Harper Collins Publishers New York 1991 p.258

[11] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[12] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to John Holmes dated April 22nd 1824 retrieved from www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/159.html  24 March 2014

[13] Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant New York 1885 pp.243-245

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American Artillery in the Civil War: The Wilderness Campaign and Reorganization


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another in my series of rather geek-like articles on Civil War artillery.

Have a great day.


Padre Steve+

The American Civil War was a transitional time for artillery technology, organization and tactics. The organization of the artillery service of the Army of the Potomac remained as it was up until the Overland or Wilderness Campaign, although “Corps brigades were increased to eight or nine batteries.” However, “having created a sound artillery organization and proven it at Gettysburg, the Union would have little immediate use for it” [1] as the changing conditions of war in the Wilderness changed how Grant and Meade organized the artillery.

The Artillery Reserve, a throwback to Napoleonic times, which had along with the rest of the Union artillery at Gettysburg performed so brilliantly in a defensive stand with wide open fields of interlocking fire would never again have such an opportunity to wreak destruction on advancing Confederate infantry in the open. Instead it was forced into the offensive in terrain that was seldom conducive to employing massed numbers of guns. During the campaign the Artillery Reserve consisted of “two field artillery brigades of twelve batteries each, one heavy brigade, which was largely employed as a guard and construction unit, and two brigades of horse artillery, which were on duty with Major Phil Sheridan’s cavalry corps.” [2] By the time of the Wilderness Campaign the size of the Army of the Potomac’s artillery numbered 274 cannon. [3] In terms of artillery types Hunt had 154 rifled guns and 120 Napoleons in the organic components of his army, of the rifled guns the majority were the 3” Ordnance rifles as Hunt had sent most of his Parrot batteries away due to their tendency to burst and their unpopularity with their gun crews. [4] The artillery was bolster with a battery of eight 24 pound brass Coehorn mortars. These were light weapons which weighed only 164 pounds and could be carried by two men. They “were fired at an angle of 45 degrees which permitted them to hurl a shell in a very high arch to a distance of 1,200 yards at full charge.” [5]

The campaigns of 1864 forced Union army commanders to change how they employed their artillery. This came first during the Wilderness campaign where the heavily wooded terrain, poor visibility, and an enemy dug in behind earthen walls and abattis limited the artillery’s effectiveness. The fighting between enemies that could barely see what they were shooting at resulted in close range firefights between infantry with few artillery pieces in direct support. When engaged, the artillery of both sides dealt death at close range in support of infantry, on the defensive the guns were dug in to protect them and their crews from the close range fire of enemy artillery and infantry. The heavy brush limited the ability of the artillery to move off the main roads as one artilleryman noted that they could do nothing “because no horses could have pulled a gun through the brush in which the infantry were fighting.” [6] One officer described the conditions of the Wilderness as “a wrestle as blind as midnight, a gloom that made manoeuvers impractical, a jungle where regiments stumbled on each other and the enemy by turns, firing sometimes into their own ranks, and guided only by the crackling of bushes or the cheers and cries that rose from the depths around.” [7]

With his guns finding little employment “Grant order that the Artillery Reserve be returned to Washington.” [8] To achieve the reduction in the number of guns without undoing his organization, Hunt recommended that the batteries be reduced from six guns to four. This was done but Hunt lost his Artillery Reserve as Meade had those reduced batteries reassigned to each of the infantry corps and the Reserve’s commander, Colonel Henry Burton, “appointed Inspector of Artillery.” [9] However, “most of the pieces ordered away were returned for the siege of Petersburg.” [10] Grant wrote:

“The Wilderness and Spotsylvania battles convinced me that we had more artillery than could ever be brought to action at any one time. It occupied much of the road marching, and taxed the trains in bringing up forage. Artillery is very useful when it can be brought into action, but it is a burdensome where it cannot be used. Before leaving Spotsylvania, therefore, I sent back to the defenses of Washington over one hundred pieces of artillery, with horses and caissons… and still left us with more artillery than could be advantageously used.” [11]


During the Wilderness Campaign the Confederate artillery suffered under similar conditions to Grant’s armies. Porter Alexander noted that when his artillery arrived that Lee, “directed me to send back all the artillery with our column to Parker’s Store, as there was no possibility of using it in the woods where we would be fighting, & it would be in the way.” [12] Where they were employed on the defensive the Confederate guns gave good account of themselves. Where they were not deployed attacking Union forces found their task easier, as when Winfield Scott Hancock’s massed attack at Spotsylvania succeeded, However, when the Confederates were able to deploy their artillery Union losses could be dreadful. This was the case at Cold Harbor where Grant ordered a frontal assault on well prepared Confederate defenders who had their artillery in positions where it had advancing Union forces in a crossfire.

The siege of Petersburg changed the way artillery was employed in the east yet again. “After Petersburg, field tactics were scarcely relevant, although concentrations of fire remained essential.” [13]

Many commentators after the war decried the effectiveness of the artillery by claiming that less than ten percent of casualties were caused by it. As J.B.A. Bailey notes, “This figure seems highly improbable, since the wound inflicted by a canister ball, which was the artillery’s most lethal projectile, would have been impossible to distinguish from that inflicted by a musket ball.” [14] However, even more important than the number of casualties inflicted on the enemy, but it was the shock power and deterrent effect that artillery had on the enemy, especially on the defensive. Colonel Jennings Wise, who chronicled the history of Lee’s artillery wrote:

“We often hear the sneering criticism that at such and such a battle but 1 or 2 per cent of the enemy’s loss was due to fire of the artillery. Any such test entirely erroneous. Not only do the guns exert a tremendous moral effect in support of their infantry, and adverse to the enemy, but they do far more. They often preclude heavy damage from the enemy by preventing him from essaying an assault against the positions the guns occupy. Then, again, by forcing them to seek cover, they eliminate their antagonisms to that extent… Let us hear no more of artillery efficiency as measured by the number of its victims.” [15]

Descriptions of the effect of the Union artillery on Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg bear this out. “The Confederate losses mounted at an alarming rate. The psychological impact of artillery casualties was great, for the big guns not only killed but mangled bodies, tore them apart, or disintegrated them.” [16] A survivor wrote his wife days later: “If the crash of worlds and all things combustible had been coming in collision with each other, it could not have surpassed it seemingly. To me it was like the “Magazine of Vengeance” blown up.” [17] A soldier of Kemper’s brigade recalled that “The atmosphere was rent and broken by the rust and crash of projectiles…The sun, but a few minutes before so brilliant, was now darkened. Through this smoky darkness came the missiles of death…the scene beggars description…Many a fellow thought his time had come…Great big, stout hearted men prayed, loudly too….” [18] Colonel Joseph Mayo of the 3rd Virginia regiment was heavily hit. One of its survivors wrote: “when the line rose up to charge…it appeared that as many were left dead and wounded as got up.” [19]


[1] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.203

[2] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.35

[3] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.68

[4] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac pp.190-191

[5] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.36

[6] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.194

[7] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship  p.214

[8] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.36

[9] Lyman, Theodore, Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David W. Lowe, The Kent State University Press, Kent, Oho 2007 p.162

[10] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.67

[11] Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant Volume 2 Charles L. Webster and Company, New York 1886 p.241

[12] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.359

[13] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.204

[14] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower pp.196-197

[15] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.167

[16]Hess, Earl J. Picketts Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.153

[17] Wert, Jeffery D. Gettysburg Day Three A Touchstone Book, New York 2001 p.181

[18] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.294

[19] Ibid. Wert Gettysburg Day Three p.179

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American Artillery, Doctrine, and Tactics from the Mexican War to the Wilderness

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I continue to work on my Civil War books. Today an excerpt dealing with American artillery during the Civil War. This is the follow-on article to the one that I posted last week,

Have a great day,


Padre Steve+


American artillery doctrine subordinated the artillery to the infantry. Doctrine dictated that on the offensive “was for about one-third of the guns to occupy the enemy’s artillery and two-thirds to fire on the infantry and cavalry. Jomini liked the concentrated offensive cannonade where a breach of the line was to be attempted.” [1] But being such a small service, it was difficult for Americans to actually implement Napoleonic practices, or organization as the organization itself “was rooted in pre-Napoleonic practice, operating as uncoordinated batteries.” [2]

American artillerymen of the Mexican War could not match the massive firepower and concentration of Napoleon’s army. Instead it utilized mobile tactics, which gave it “the opportunity to maneuver in open country to support the infantry.” [3] During the war the actions of the highly mobile light batteries proved decisive, as did the spirit of their officers and soldiers. The Americans may not have had the organization of Napoleon, but “the audacious spirit was there.[4] In a number of engagements American batteries employed the artillery rush, even gaining the admiration of Mahan, a noted exponent of the defensive. Among the leaders of the artillery at the Battle of Buena Vista were Captain Braxton Bragg, and Lieutenants John Reynolds and George Thomas, all of who would go on to fame in the Civil War. During a moment when Mexican forces threatened to overwhelm the American line, Bragg’s battery arrived:

“Without support, Bragg whirled his guns into battery only a few rods from the enemy…. The Mississippi Rifles and Lane’s Hoosiers also double-quicked from the rear of the plateau. From then on it was a storybook finish for the Americans, and artillery made the difference. Seventeen guns swept the Mexicans with grape and canister…. Reynolds, Thomas, and the others stood to the work with their captains until 5 o’clock. Santa Ana was through…” [5]

At Casa Mata outside of Mexico City, Americans found their flank threatened by Mexican cavalry. Captain James Hunter and Lieutenant Henry Hunt observed the situation and “Without awaiting orders they rushed their guns to the threatened sector…  With Duncan directing them, all stood their posts long enough to spray the front ranks of mounted Mexicans with canister, the shotgun effect of which shredded the half-formed attack columns, dissolving all alignment and sending the lancers scrambling rearward in chaos…” [6] As a result these and other similar instances the artillery came out of the war with a sterling reputation and recognition of their gallant spirit. John Gibbon reflected such a spirit when he wrote: “Batteries derive all their value from the courage and skill of the gunners; from their constancy and devotion on difficult marches; from the quickness and capacity of the officers; and especially from the good condition and vigor of the teams, without which nothing can be undertaken.” [7]

At the beginning of the war U.S. Army doctrine recommended placing batteries equally across the line and concentrating them as needed. The last manual on artillery tactics Instruction for Field Artillery, published in 1859 retained much of its pre-Mexican War content and the doctrine in it provided that artillery was to “be organized at the regiment and brigade level with no reserve.” [8] Nonetheless some artillery officers discussed the possibilities of concentration, Grand Batteries, and the artillery reserve, no changes in organization occurred before the war. However, these discussions were all theoretical, as practical experience of these officers was limited to the small number of weapons employed in the Mexican War, and the “immediate problem was the organization of an unaccustomed mass of artillery.” [9] The Artillerist’s Manual, a highly technical treatise on gunnery was written by Captain John Gibbon in 1859 while he was serving at West Point and used by artillerymen of both sides during the war.  In  Gibbon described the principle object of the artillery was to, “sustain the troops in the attack and defense, to facilitate their movements and to oppose the enemy’s; to destroy his forces as well as the obstacles that protect them; and to keep up the combat until the opportunity for a decisive blow.”  [10]

Since the United States Army traditionally drawn their doctrine from the French this meant going back to the Napoleonic model the foundational unit of which was the battery. The field artillery batteries were classed as either foot artillery or horse artillery. The horse artillery accompanied the cavalry and all gun crews went into battle mounted as cavalrymen. The soldiers of the foot artillery either rode with the guns or walked. The battery was the basic unit for American artillery and at the “start of the war the artillery of both sides was split into self-contained batteries, and each battery allocated to a particular brigade, regiment or even battalion of infantry.” [11]

At the battery level Union artillery was organized by type into six-gun batteries. Confederate artillery units were organized into four or six-gun batteries in which the guns were often of mixed type. This often led to supply problems for Confederate gunners and inconsistent rates of fire and or range. Confederate gunners also had to deal with poor quality power and explosive shells, a condition that only worsened as the war continued. The well-trained Union gunners had better quality ammunition and gunpowder as well as what seemed to the Confederates to have limitless ammunition.

Each gun was manned by a seven-man crew and transported by a team of horses that towed a limber, which transported the cannon and a caisson, which transported the ammunition. The caissons would normally be stocked with four chests of ammunition. For a Napoleon “a standard chest consisted of twelve shot, twelve spherical case, four shells, and four canister rounds for a total of 112 rounds of long range ammunition.” [12] In addition to the ammunition carried in the caissons of each gun, more ammunition was carried in the corps and division supply trains.

As the war progressed the both the Union and Confederate armies reorganized their field artillery. In the North this was a particular problem due to the lack of flexibility and politics in the Army which were prejudiced against large artillery formations, despite the great numbers of batteries and artillerymen now in the army. However the Federal army had good artillerymen. The Regular Army batteries were the foundation of the artillery service. Unlike the infantry units which were overwhelmingly composed of volunteer soldiers, the artillerymen were regulars, many who had served for years in the ante-bellum army.

Since there were few billets for senior artillerymen many artillery officers volunteered or were selected to serve in the infantry to get promoted or to take advantage of their experience and seniority. One of those chose was John Reynolds who promote to Lieutenant Colonel and given orders to form an infantry regiment. Before he could get started in that work he was made a Brigadier General of Volunteers. He wrote: “I would, of course, have preferred the Artillery arm of service, but could not refuse the promotion offered me under any circumstance, much less at this time, when the Government has a right to my services in any capacity.” [13] Other artillerymen who rose to prominence outside of the branch during the war included William Tecumseh Sherman, George Meade, John Gibbon, George Thomas, Ambrose Burnside, and Abner Doubleday, and Confederates Stonewall Jackson, Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, and A.P. Hill.

However, General Winfield Scott took action to keep a core of experienced artillery officers with the artillery. At Scott’s behest, “the War Department limited the resignations of artillerymen to accept higher rank in infantry regiments, resulting in a core of capable and experienced officers.” [14]  This allowed George McClellan to select two exceptional artillery veterans, William Barry and Harry Hunt to “organize the branch and to oversee training.” [15] McClellan appointed Barry, who had been commissioned in 1836 as the head of his artillery. After the defeat at Bull Run, Barry “prepared as set of guidelines or principles for the artillery service. He prescribed a uniform caliber of guns in each battery, four to six cannon in each battery, and that four batteries – one Regular Army and three volunteer – be attached to each division.” [16]  In this organization, McClellan and Barry “called for the Regular Army battery commander to take charge of those batteries assigned to the division. This was in addition to his responsibilities to his own battery.” The practical effect of this was that “with the exception of the Artillery Reserve, the highest artillery command remained that of a Captain.” [17]

Hunt was responsible for the organization of the Artillery Reserve and the siege train. The Artillery Reserve was given eighteen batteries, about 100 guns or about one-third of the army’s artillery. It would be a source from which to replace and reinforce batteries on the line, but Hunt also understood its tactical employment. He explained:

‘In marches near the enemy it is often desirable to occupy positions with guns for special purposes: the command fords, to cover the throwing and taking up bridges, and for other purposes for which it would be inconvenient and unadvisable to withdraw their batteries from the troops. Hence the necessary reserve of artillery.” [18]

Hunt’s Artillery Reserve would be of great value in the early battles of maneuver. “The primary advantage of the army artillery reserve was the flexibility it gave the commander, making it unnecessary to go through the division or corps commanders. The reserve batteries could be used whenever or wherever needed.” [19] But this would not be in the offense role that Napoleon used his artillery to smash his opponents, for technology and terrain would seldom allow it; but rather in the defense; especially at the battles of Malvern Hill and Gettysburg. However, “Gettysburg was the last battle of the Civil War in which field artillery fire was paramount…” but “By the end of 1863, the tide of war had changed in the eastern theater, with both sides making more use of field fortifications to cover themselves from the murderous fire of the infantry rifle.” [20]

Even so, lack of promotion opportunity for artillerymen was a problem for both sides during the war, and artillerymen who showed great promise were sometimes promoted and sent to other branches of service. A prime example of such a policy was Captain Stephen Weed “who fought his guns brilliantly in the first two years of the war, and a Chancellorsville even commanded the artillery of a whole army corps.” Henry Hunt “singled him out as having a particular flair for handling large masses of cannon, and wanted to see him promoted.” [21] He was promoted to Brigadier General but in the infantry where he would lead a brigade and die helping to defend Little Round Top. In all “twenty-one field-grade artillery officers in the Regular Army became generals in the Volunteers, but only two remained with the artillery branch.” [22]

Both Barry and Hunt sought to rectify this issue. Barry insisted that a “battery of artillery was the equivalent of a battalion of infantry” [23] and pressed for a higher grade structure for the artillery. Colonel Charles Wainwright wrote of their efforts: “Many officers of the regular artillery have long been trying to get a recognition of their arm of the service, doing away with the regiments and making a corps of it, the same as the engineers and ordnance. McClellan and Hunt drew up a plan soon after Antietam, which by Stanton and Halleck, but nothing more has been hear of it.” [24]

However, Barry and Hunt were opposed by War Department insiders. General Lorenzo Thomas, the Adjutant General used law and regulation to prevent promotions in the artillery beyond Captain and as to General Officers as well. Thomas insisted that the battery was equivalent of an infantry company or cavalry troop. He noted “that laws long in force stipulated that only one general officer could be appointed per each for each forty infantry companies or cavalry troops.” [25] He applied this logic to the artillery as well, which meant in the case of the Army of the Potomac which had over sixty batteries that only one general could be appointed. The result could be seen in the organization of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, the artillery component, “which included approximately 8,000 men with 372 pieces – almost the manpower (and certainly the firepower) of a complete army corps. It included only two general officers… then there were three colonels and no other high ranks at all. One army corps had its guns commanded by a lieutenant.” [26] Over time the situation would improve and the artillery given some autonomy within the Army, at Gettysburg Meade gave Hunt command authority to employ the artillery as he deemed necessary, even over the objections of the corps commanders.

General Henry Hunt was probably the most instrumental officer when it came to reorganizing Union artillery organizations in the Army of the Potomac. Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hunt prevailed upon the army commander, Joseph Hooker to create “artillery brigades assigned to each corps. This overcame a problem at Chancellorsville, where the batteries of uncommitted divisions had gone unused. The reorganization also made a practical adjustment to the situation where the attrition of divisions was making the corps the basic tactical unit.” [27] In the reorganization the infantry brigades retained their assigned batteries for direct support, but the guns of the divisions were organized into brigades at the corps level. The artillery brigades of the infantry corps had “from four to eight batteries, depending on the size of the corps.” [28] Despite being reflagged as brigades the command structure was not increased. This was often due to the fact “that for much of the war commanding officers persisted in regarding artillery as merely a subsidiary technical branch, an auxiliary which might add a little extra vitality to a firing line if conditions were favourable – but more typically would not.” [29] Dr. Vardell Nesmith noted:

“Resistance within the Army to formalizing tactical organizations for field artillery above the level of the battery was a complex phenomenon. Certainly there was some hesitance on the part of the Army establishment to create new organizations that would come between infantry and cavalry commanders and their fire support assets. Also one cannot discount the institutionalized tendency to keep everyone in their proper place – in other words, to keep a new power group from organizing.” [30]

Organized into brigades the Artillery Reserve became the instrument of the Army commander and served as what we would now call “general support” artillery where they were invaluable to Union army commanders to be available to augment other batteries and to replace batteries which had suffered casualties while on line. The organization of the artillery into brigades, even if they were field expedient organizations did much to increase the effectiveness of the arm. They supplanted “the battery in tactics and to considerable degree in administration. Supply and maintenance were improved, and more efficient employment and promptness and facility of movement resulted. In addition, the concentration of batteries was favorable for instruction, discipline, and firepower. Fewer guns were needed, and in 1864, the number of recommended field pieces per 1,000 men was reduced from 3 to 2.5.” [31]


General Henry Hunt

Hunt lobbied the War Department to provide a staff for each brigade, but since the new units were improvised formations no staffs were created and no promotions authorized for their commanders. Colonel Wainwright proposed a congressional bill to organizer volunteer artillery units into a corps of artillery, but lamented:

“Both Barry and General Hunt while commanding the artillery of this army have frequently complained in their reports of the great want of field officers. Were the light batteries of each state organized as a corps, and provided with field officers in the proportion proposed in the bill referred to above, this want would be provided for. The officers of light batteries also have a claim demanding some such change. No class of officers in our volunteer service stand as high as high as those of our light batteries. I say without hesitation that they are very far superior as a class in all respects to the officers of the infantry or cavalry. Yet for them there is not a chance at this time any chance of promotion above a simple captaincy, except in the few light regiments spoken of. I can point to several cases of captains of light batteries who, from this want of field officers, have for the past year exercised all the authority and borne all the responsibility of a brigadier-general.” [32]

But change did come, however slowly and with great resistance from the War Department bureaucracy, and the artillery service “did succeed in winning some measure of recognition for its independent status and tactics. After Gettysburg the army’s artillery commander was accept as having overriding authority in gunnery matters, with the infantry relegated to a merely consulting role, although in practice the change brought little improvement.” [33] The beginning of this came in August 1863 when George Meade promulgated an order that “defined Hunt’s authority in matters of control of the artillery in the Army of the Potomac. The order “definitely stated that Hunt was empowered to supervise and inspect every battery in the army, and in battle to employ them “under the supervision of the major-general commanding.” [34] The order was important but still did not go far enough to remedy the problem of a lack of field officers in the artillery, a problem that was not completely remedied during the war although Ulysses Grant did allow a limited number of promotions to provide more field grade officers in the artillery service of the Army of the Potomac and other armies under his command in the Eastern Theater. Likewise some additional billets were created in the brigades as brigade commanders “were authorized a staff consisting of an adjutant, quartermaster, commissary officer, ordnance officer (an artillery officer on ordnance duty), medical officer, and artillery inspector, with each staff officer having one or more assistants…” However the staff officers had to be detailed from the batteries, thereby reducing the number of officers present with those units” [35] However, in most cases the brigade commanders remained Captains or First Lieutenants.

In the Western theater there was a trend toward the centralization of the artillery in the various armies depending on the commander and the terrain and the size of the operation. As the war progressed in the west commanders began to group their artillery under brigades, divisions, and finally under the various army corps. At Shiloh Grant concentrated about 50 guns “in the notorious “Hornet’s Nest,” perhaps saving him from defeat.” [36] Artillery tactics shifted away from the offense to the defense and even during offensive operations western commanders were quick to entrench both their infantry and artillery. During the Atlanta campaign and march to the sea William Tecumseh Sherman successfully reduced his artillery complement first to 2 guns per 1,000 men then to 1 per 1,000. [37] This was in large part because he was conducting a campaign of maneuver and was far from his logistics base. Since supplies had to be carried with the army itself with a heavy reliance on forage, Sherman recognized that his army had to be trimmed down. Likewise, “the terrain and concept of operations must have been very important in his decision.” His “rapid, almost unopposed raid through Georgia gave no opportunities for the massing of large batteries in grand manner.” [38] During the campaign Sherman marched without a siege train and reinforced his cavalry division with light artillery batteries.


[1] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.21

[2] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.195

[3] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.194

[4] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.6

[5] Nichols, Edward J. Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of General John Reynolds, The Pennsylvania State University Press 1958, reprinted by Old Soldier Book Gaithersburg MD 1987 p.43

[6] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac pp.53-54.

[7] Gibbon, John. Artillerist’s Manual: Compiled from Various Sources and Adapted to the Service of the United States. 1859 retrieved from http://www.artilleryreserve.org/Artillerists%20Mannual.pdf 19 January 2017 pp.345-346

[8] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.22

[9] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.19

[10] Ibid. Gibbon  Artillerist’s Manual: Compiled from Various Sources and Adapted to the Service of the United States. p.343

[11] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.165

[12] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.15

[13] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of General John Reynolds p.75

[14] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.39

[15] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac p.39

[16] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac p.40

[17] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example pp.21-22

[18] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.98

[19] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.65

[20] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.74

[21] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[22] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.60

[23] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.22

[24] Wainwright, Charles S. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins, Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.336

[25] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.100

[26] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[27] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.94

[28] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.94

[29] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[30] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example pp.22-23

[31] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.62

[32] Ibid. Wainwright. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 p.337

[33] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.166

[34] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.181

[35] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.61

[36] Ibid, Bailey Field Artillery and Firepower p.198

[37] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.284

[38] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.178


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The Friend in My Adversity…


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today just a short thought. I spent most of this holiday weekend down with a nasty cold which allowed me to do some reading and working on my book A Great War in a Revolutionary Age of Change: The Foundations of the American Civil War and Why it Still Matters Today. What I was working on was more on the technical “wonk” side of the development and use of artillery that preceded the war and how artillery was used in it. Lots of analysis, and delving through obscure books which I found absolutely fascinating, but anyway I digress and someday soon you’ll get to read that as well.

Last night a got a wonderful phone call from an old friend, a priest from my former denomination who remarkably hasn’t cast me off. We had a wonderful time, he’s a brilliant man, a combat veteran of Iraq and suffers from some of the same issues that plague me, but with added medical issues from inhaling so many toxins during his two combat tours. He’s gone through a lot, but he and his family are doing well. He is now in medical school and doing very well, but like I said he’s brilliant.

After we returned from Iraq we suffered and commiserated a lot, sometimes over a lot of alcoholic beverages. Last night our talk went on for quite a while and it was great just to do that, so relaxing, good memories, thoughtful discussion of what is going on in the country and in our lives. One thing he said that meant the world to me was the difference I had made as a mentor, encourager, and friend and how important I was to him. He said I was like the character that Kevin Costner played in Bull Durham, Crash Davis, the old catcher sent down to help out the rising star. In a way he is right, and I love the comparison.

As we talked he noted it was so seldom that people take the time to listen, care, encourage, and mentor others. In fact its something that is mentioned quite often in the New Testament. I mentioned to him that one of the people who recently expressed a similar thought to me was a former Navy doctor who I knew when he was an intern; he’s an atheist, but we truly appreciate and value each other.

Sadly, as a culture we have lost that connection and ability to care and learn from each other, even when we disagree on certain points, even important ones. Additionally, we often tend to discard those who are broken in some way, or who color too far outside the lines. There is a creeping Ayn Rand, survival of the fittest style of Social Darwinism that has infiltrated our culture, and especially the church. It has become part of our politics as well and I am sure under the new administration we will see it bloom as we have never seen it before, but I digress again…

Being friends means to let each other know how much we appreciate each other and encourage one another.

Ulysses S. Grant, who is one of my heroes with feet of clay remarked, The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.” Grant’s ever mindful friend and subordinate William Tecumseh Sherman noted, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk. Now we stand together.” 

With that I wish you a good day,


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, Loose thoughts and musings, Pastoral Care, PTSD, remembering friends

Now More than Ever: The Importance of Dr. King’s Dream

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has always been one of my heroes. This time of year I always ponder the importance of his life and work for civil rights, and I wonder what might have been had this man of peace not been cut down in cold blood at the young age of 39 by James Earl Ray on April 4th 1968. He was an amazing and courageous man whose memory should not be let to one day a year.

We live in a world where a minority of voters elected a man as President who through his words and actions demonstrates daily that he cares not for anything that Dr.King stood for. Thus, we have to ensure, though our words and actions that it is not allowed to die. Doing that may involve a high cost as the President-Elect is not known for playing nice with his opponents and now that he will have the police power of the state and a compliant Congress at his back you can expect that opponents will be harassed, intimidated, and maybe worse.

Dr. King was a man of courage, a man of honor, a man of conviction. But he came of age in a time when many people were willing to maintain the status quo and play things safe, like many clergy, even African-American clergy. Many pastors of the era, remained quiet about the conditions of segregation, and the racism of the day. Their lack of action did not mean they were bad people, they just understood that if they spoke up, their lives, and the lives of their families and congregations could be in danger. As such many pastors just hoped to see things slowly improve, without rocking the boat, and without endangering themselves or their families. They had seen what happened to blacks who spoke up or confronted the evil, lynching’s, cross burnings, threats and murder. They had contented themselves with just trying to get along. At the beginning of the movement, many pastors did not support or gave only lukewarm support to Dr. King, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy going into that critical year of 1963.


King did not start out to become a Civil Rights leader. However, he was inspired to actively join the movement through the example of Rosa Parks, who defiance of the law for blacks to sit “in the back of the bus” in 1955. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 385 days. The reaction among segregationists to King and his protest was against violent. King’s house was bombed, and his life threatened. But he refused to stand down.

King’s leadership of the boycott brought the young pastor to national prominence. However, by 1963 much of the Civil Rights movement and the African American community was despairing of the lack of progress. Many people had become disenchanted with King, not considering him bold enough despite his rhetorical abilities.

But in April 1963, working with other Civil Rights leaders in Birmingham Alabama King relit the fires of the movement. Montgomery Police Chief “Bull” Conner used his police force to violently attack the demonstrators. Conner ordered his men to unleash their police dogs on the protestors, and used high pressure water cannon against them, including women, children and the elderly. The violent reaction to the protests shocked much of America and the world.

King was arrested and in the Birmingham jail composed one of his most famous works, the Letter from the Birmingham Jail.  The letter was a social, political and theological masterpiece. It was some of his harshest criticism was of white liberals, as well as black moderates:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season”

King continued his activism until his assassination. In August 1963 he led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where before a crowd of an estimated 200,000-300,000 he gave his I Have a Dream Speech.


The crescendo of the speech was remarkable and is perhaps one of the most remembered speeches in American history.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

King knew the dangers and the risks of appealing to a strategy of non-violence based on love of his enemies. King spoke to the world when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:

“Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.”  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-lecture.html 

Dr. King understood how easy hatred could consume people and movements and urged  people not to follow the course of hate, he wrote:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

The day before his assassination in Memphis, Dr. King still recognized what he might face. His “I have been to the Mountaintop” speech http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm recounted many of the things that he had encountered, including an assassination attempt in 1958 which had come close to killing him. It was an amazing speech and one wonders if having lived under threat so long that he almost had a premonition of his death the next day.

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

Dr. King’s dream is not dead and we who live today cannot allow it to die. There is still much work to see justice done for all Americans as well as those suffering from violence, persecution, discrimination and poverty around the world.

It is 2016. It has been 54 years since Dr. King sat in the Birmingham jail. Sadly, there are some who long for a return to the day of Jim Crow. In some states there have been and there are ongoing attempts to return it by stealth, especially through restrictions on voting that predominantly impact African Americans and the poor. Racism is not dead, nor are so many other “isms.” As Dr. King told us, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,” and “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”

Dr. King and many of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement have passed on. Likewise, many people today are complacent about the injustices present in our society, injustices experienced by many people. We need a generation of new men and women with hearts like Dr. King’s, who will be the conscience of the nation and confront these injustices.


Likewise we cannot ghettoize Dr. King’s accomplishments as being something that only helped African Americans. They have helped all of us. Dr. King’s courage in standing for Constitutional Amendments that many of his opponents despised, the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th Amendments, as well as the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Acts is of fundamental importance to all Americans, even those that think they don’t matter.

President Ulysses Grant was absolutely correct when he pointed out the plight of white Southerners in the ante-bellum South. They were people so bound to the slavery system and their place in it that they could not see how badly it hurt them so long as they had a group, in this case African American slaves who were below them. Grant wrote:

“The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre–what there was, if they had been capable of seeing it, was with the North; they too needed emancipation. Under the old regime they were looked down upon by those who controlled all the affairs in the interest of slave-owners, as poor white trash who were allowed the ballot so long as they cast it according to direction.”

That my friends is descriptive of how President Elect Trump and the Republican Congress view those who put them in office. Trump supporters do not seem to realize that they will be hurt the most by the incoming administration and congresses policies. They too need emancipation and deliverance, thus we have to remain strong, for they too are our brothers and sisters.

Representative John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders was beaten numerous times during those protests. When leading the march across the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Lewis had his skull fractured by a State Trooper when he stopped to pray.  Lewis’s words call us to action today:

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” 

Representative Lewis is still speaking out, and enduring the attacks of the President-Elect, and we must join him. We cannot let Dr. King’s dream die.


Padre Steve+

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Tragic Heroes: Gouverneur Warren Part Five

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The last installment of my work on Gouverneur Warren.


Padre Steve+


A Martyr to no Cause at All: Disgrace and Restoration

Among the people that Warren made enemies with during the campaign was his mentor and friend George Gordon Meade. The issue with Meade was particularly serious as Meade seriously considered relieving Warren due to his insubordinate attitude. Meade wrote a letter which he never sent to Grant’s chief of staff Colonel John Rawlins where he acknowledged Warren’s fine traits but also his problems. Meade wrote:

“No officer in the army exceeds Genl Warren in personal gallantry, in activity, in zeal and in sleepless nights, or in devotion to his duties,” Meade wrote- he suffered from a serious “defect” in which he often questioned orders rather than obey them. Such a serious defect Meade wrote, “strikes at the root of all Military subordination, and is entirely out of question that I can command this Army, if each Corps Commander is to exercise a similar independence of action.” [1]

Another enemy made by Warren was Phillip Sheridan, the new commander of the army’s cavalry. The two men were seemingly destined to clash; they had already clashed at Spotsylvania where Warren complained about Sheridan’s performance.  Sheridan never forgave or ever forgot Warren’s justified criticism of him during that battle, and

But the issue really came down to personality and leadership style. Joshua Chamberlain who testified at his board of inquiry testified at it that “Warren gave the impression of a slow, quiet contemplative sort who could not be rushed into decision making. Whether on the march or in battle, he moved at a deliberate pace, refusing to commit himself or his troops until he had time to analyze the situation.” [2]

Chamberlain observed that to someone who did not know Warren, as Sheridan did not that “General Warren’s temperament is such that he, instead of showing excitement, generally shows an intense concentration in what I call important movements…and those who do not know him might take it for apathy when it is deep, concentrated thought and purpose” [3] much of which was rooted in Warren’s strong desire not to sacrifice his men needlessly taking care “to ensure that they were not thrown in to suicidal situations” and he “looked out for their welfare.” [4]

Warren and Sheridan were different types of people and commanders. Warren was an exceptionally intelligent man, one of the brightest in the army and highly regarded in many ways. He was excellent leader of men and he was beloved by his troops, but that being said the traits that were his strengths hindered him in command. He did command from the front, but “his real interest was in the science of command. Warren believed that leading a corps gave him discretion and leeway in carrying out his duties – which often he performed with the smugness of the righteous. It developed that not everyone would be tolerant of either his manner or his philosophy of command – particularly not U.S. Grant.” [5] Nor did Warren have the kind of single minded vision and killer instinct that made Grant, Sherman and Sheridan such brutally effective battlefield commanders. He was “handicapped by the breadth of his vision,” [6] the trait that made him such an effective staff officer which at Little Round Top served the army so well.

After the war Grant praised Warren’s intelligence, earnestness and perceptiveness, but he found in Warren, what he called a “defect which was beyond his control, that which was very prejudicial to his usefulness…” What was the defect? Grant wrote: “could see every danger at a glance before he encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.” [7]

Grant had been apprised of the battlefield by a false report of Warren and his troop’s actual location, news that was hours old “told Sheridan to relieve Warren if he judged the Fifth Corps would “do better” under another commander.” Staff officers of Fifth Corps were shocked, and one wrote “General Grant knew that General Sheridan was not a person to be intrusted with such a weapon and not use it.” [8]


Major General Phillip Sheridan

Sheridan did use the power Grant had given. Sheridan was still smarting from a setback incurred the previous day where one of Warren’s infantry divisions had to “extricate Little Phil from difficulties with George Pickett’s Confederates at Dinwiddie Court House on March 31”  [9]  relieved Warren while the latter was in the midst of actual combat. However, neither Sheridan nor Grant wanted to admit was that “Warren did about as well as anyone could have that night getting three divisions of the Fifth Corps to Sheridan’s position.” [10]

Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. Sheridan’s actions to relieve Warren at the moment of a great victory “would reverberate for the better part of two decades.” [11] Sheridan’s staff had given Warren wrong information about the positions of the Confederate troops and Warren’s own orders to his division commanders were conflicting. Warren had been working to get Crawford’s division into the fight as it had strayed too far north before turning westward and hit the wrong Confederate units and Warren went to rectify the situation and to get Crawford’s troops into the fight.

Since Sheridan did not see Warren at the front he ordered him relieved of command, even though Warren had personally taken over the direction of one of the brigades, led it into action “and under the setting sun, he snatched up his corps flag, shouted to his men – “Now, boys, follow me, this will be the last fight of the war!” – and rode straight toward the rebel line. His horse was shot and killed, and Colonel Hollon Richardson of the Seventh Wisconsin was wounded as he tried to shield his corps commander when he toppled to the ground….”  [12] Not long after this “official orders relieved Warren of his command.” [13] Sadly, had Warren died that day he might have been eulogized as a hero; instead he suffered terribly at the hands of the leaders of the army that he had served so well.

The relief was brutal, Sheridan wrote that “General Warren did not exert himself to get up his corps as rapidly as he might have done, and his manner gave me the impression that he wished the sun to go down before dispositions for the attack could be completed.” [14] This ruined Warren’s career and even hinted at a possible lack of courage on the part of Warren. This Sheridan refused to reconsider, something that “Chamberlain and the officers and men of the Fifth Corps ever forgave him for what they considered an unjust act made cruel by his refusal to reconsider it.” [15] Many, including men who had little love for Warren and who were often critical of him were appalled at the relief. Colonel Charles Wainwright, the commander of Warren’s corps artillery who once wrote to his wife that Warren was “a very loathsome, profane ungentlemanly & disgusting puppy in power” [16] felt that Warren’s “removal at this time, and after the victory had been won, appears to be wrong and cruel.” [17] Porter Alexander wrote after the war of Warren that “no Federal corps commander had a higher personal reputation for courage, enterprise and good judgment.” [18]

Warren was a professional soldier, but he was not perfect. He “possessed all the attributes of a capable, if not excellent corps commander- intelligence, executive ability, training, and personal bravery. But he was a difficult subordinate, whose arrogance and bouts with depression fueled his temper.” [19] Warren took the relief hard. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan, who in their haste at Five Forks not only destroyed his career but did nothing to rectify their decision even after others protested. Despite the problems in their relationship Meade “on two occasions suggested to Grant that he reinstate Warren as commander of the V Corps, Grant did not respond.” [20]

William Henry Powell wrote in his history of Fifth Corps:

“With the flush of victory on his brow, with the end of the struggle so near, with the faint Rays of the dawn of peace already gleaming in the sanguinary sky, this noble warrior was brushed aside like a fly from a map and sent into what was an undeniable, if not apparently dishonorable, seclusion.” [21]

After the war Warren resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineering duty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. The previously noted letter to his wife Emily where Warren stated that “I wish I did not dream so much…” and described symptoms that we might now attribute to some sort of combat stress injury was written during that assignment.

Warren sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but Warren died three months before the results were published. He reportedly told his wife Emily as he lay dying “Convey me to my grave without pageant or show…I die a disgraced soldier.” [22] His last words reportedly were “The Flag! The Flag!” [23] Embittered by the treatment he had received by the army that he had served so well, Warren was buried “as he directed in his will, in civilian clothes and without military ceremony.” [24] In 1888, veterans of the 5th New York, Duryee Zouaves; Warren’s first command placed a bronze statue of Warren standing on the boulder on Little Round Top, where Warren reportedly stood during the battle.

Warren’s funeral was attended by his friends Winfield Scott Hancock and Samuel Crawford, his oldest army friend and mentor Andrew Humphreys was called away before the service due to the sudden illness of his son. [25] The Washington Post noted that Warren “had gone “where neither the malevolence nor the justice of this world can reach him. He had enough of the former; and denial of the latter not only embittered his closing months of his life, but undoubtedly hastened his end.”  [26]

Despite the later events which ended up in his relief by Sheridan, Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd 1863 exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive to achieve. From a leadership perspective Warren’s actions at Little Round Top demonstrate how the Chairman’s Desired Leader Attributes and the principles of Mission Command: “the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding” should work in a relationship between seniors and subordinates.

However with that being said, during the 1864 campaign in Virginia, Warren was often disconnected from his senior commanders.  During the campaign acted in a manner that did not always contribute to successful mission command, even when events proved him to be correct. During the campaign there were times that his temper, angry outbursts and depression severely hampered his ability to operate on intent, through trust, empowerment and understanding.

In a way the harsh actions of Grant and Sheridan at Five Forks to send a message to the senior leaders of the Army of the Potomac was correct. Unfortunately they directed that action at the wrong man at the wrong time. What Grant and Sheridan did to Warren was without doubt as grave injustice as ever done to any American commander during the prosecution of any war. However, though they were wrong in what they did to Warren “had the same fate been visited upon one or two of the Army of the Potomac’s less-than-stellar corps commanders back in 1862 or 1863, to serve as an indelible lesson to that army’s high command…” [27] much good might have been accomplished and the war in the East brought to an end sooner.  But through their unjust actions General Gouverneur K. Warren “became a martyr to no cause at all.” [28]

Warren’s life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession, that it is possible for good officers, even excellent officers and leaders to do things that hinder or even hurt the ability to maintain the sense of trust required by their command or staff position. The conflicting personalities of Warren and Sheridan demonstrate this lack of trust which culminated in Warren’s relief.

Warren was a tragic hero, brilliant, courageous and caring. He was also was likely suffering from psychological wounds of war. It was probably these unseen wounds that caused him to be misunderstood in the moment of perceived crisis by men that neither knew him nor appreciated him. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry which exonerated Warren after his death wrote:

“I had never met General Warren till he came before his Court of Inquiry…I learned to value his good opinion – and while I admired him for his great patience, his wonderful energy, habit of concentration, his vast learning and untiring application, I loved him for his tenderness, gentleness and charity, even to those whom he believed had combined to do him a cruel wrong; and I admired him for his nobleness of character and his courage and unselfish patriotism.” [29]

It is easy for military professionals to become totally focused in our profession, especially the details of planning and process to forget the humanity of those that we serve alongside. Warren is one of those complex figures who are not easy to categorize.  His biographer Jordan wrote that:

“Warren was a man with fine intellect, widely read, and of keen sensibilities. He was also an excellent engineer, mapmaker, and scientist. He was a soldier who cared much for the safety and welfare of the men under him, and he was sickened by the appalling carnage of the war in which he took such a prominent part. He was arrogant and proud, and he hesitated hardly at all in putting down those of his colleagues he regarded as inferiors. His mind’s eye took in much beyond what was his immediate concern, but this gift worked against him in the hierarchical realm of military life. Warren was prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him morose and unsmiling…” [30]

In reading military history is far too easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives. In the case of Warren where there is so much controversy, this is particularly important. We have to honestly evaluate his strengths and weaknesses and not fall into the trap that many do by isolating a particular event or personality trait, be it good or bad, and using and then using it to turn the person into an icon, or to destroy the subject of our work.

Those that commit this error render a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war nearly everyone who serves in combat, gives up something of themselves and sometimes the effects last long after the war is over. Sadly there are times when the lives and reputations of heroes like Gouverneur Warren can be destroyed, not only by their personality failings or weaknesses; by the affliction of Combat Stress injuries as well as the actions of people in the institutions that they serve.

This is the challenge for current military leaders, for within the ranks of our military, including those of the officer corps there are men and women who are very much like the troubled hero of Little Round Top, Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren.


[1] ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.305

[2] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p176

[3] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 pp.278

[4] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.316

[5] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.257

[6] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.317

[7] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.262

[8] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders pp.275-276

[9] Inid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.328

[10] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.272

[11] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.255

[12] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.232

[13] Nesbitt, Mark Through Blood and Fire: Selected Civil War Paper of Major General Joshua Chamberlain Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1996 Amazon Kindle edition location 2113 of 2800

[14] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.278

[15] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.175

[16] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York 2005 p.374

[17] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.236

[18] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.514

[19] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.402

[20] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[21] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[22] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.307

[23] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.244

[24] Foote Shelby The Civil War, a Narrative, Volume Three: Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.874  

[25] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[26] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.308

[27] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[28] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[29] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[30] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren preface pp.x-xi

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