Saturday, September 23, 2006

John Brown & The Nation's Soul

The old United States Armory Firehouse
now called John Brown's Fort

When visiting Harpers Ferry West Virginia, you notice with little effort the portrayal of competing images of the abolitionist John Brown. In 1859, John Brown led a band of men into Harper’s Ferry with the design to take weapons from the United States Armory and distribute them to the slaves he felt would flock to his side. With his newly formed army, he would then sweep through Virginia and free the slaves. His plans almost immediately went awry and, after mortally wounding a free black man, he tried to shelter in the armory’s firehouse. Colonel Robert E. Lee and a detachment of US Marines captured Brown who would eventually hang for his crimes.

The Heyward Shepherd Monument

At the corner of Shenandoah and Potomac Street in downtown Harpers Ferry stands a tall boulder placed near the original location of the armory’s firehouse, now commonly called John Brown’s Fort. Far from presenting John Brown as a hero, it mentions his name only in identifying the men who shot and killed the man now memorialized. The inscription reads:


Tablet on the side of John Brown's Fort
The reflection is of the monument across the street
marking the Fort's original location.

Just across the street, on one side of John Brown’s Fort, another marker tells the story with a different twist. It’s inscription reads:


These markers, placed by the descendants of those who saw our country torn apart, remind us of the sanguinary struggle for the nature of our Nation's soul.



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A Surprise Guest at Pickett's Charge

When discussing the conspicuous feats of courageous gallantry during Longstreet's Assault on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, we often describe with rhetorical flourishes the actions of the countless men who faced death without flinching. Some ten thousand would die on those fields while three times that number would suffer non-mortal wounds. Two weeks after the battle, Union Brigadier General Alexander Hays, who commanded the portion of Cemetery Ridge just above The Angle, would submit a report on those dead that his command buried in the wake of the slaughter. On July 3, 1863, General Hays' men resolutely held their ground, withstanding the potentially crushing wave of Generals Pettigrew and Trimble's portion of Pickett's Charge. General Hays’ report served as a simple yet grim statement of the work death had done on that day. It would include one unexpected casualty.


Sandy Hook, Md., July 17, 1863.

Brigadier General S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant-General, army of the Potomac:

SIR: I have the honor to report the following number of dead buried at Gettysburg, Pa., by my command, from July 2 to 5, inclusive:

Forces.Officers.Enlisted men.Total.

Remarks. - One female (private), in rebel uniform.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, Commanding Corps."

General Hays' uncomplicated summary gently reminds us all that, along with those who suffered on the home front, some women faced the horrors of battle, bled, and died as our country fought itself to determine the kind of nation it would become.



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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What Has Become of Us

I want to take a second to move away from what I typically do here and speak to you personally, US citizen to US citizen. When I write a blog entry, I usually take great care to try and post something that I feel is worthy of your time. I write something, set it aside, re-read it and write some more, set it aside again, and so on...until I'm satisfied. But tonight, I can't do that.

I received a very simple e-mail just about an hour ago. It said "Hi. I have a question. What is going to happen at Gettysburg? Are they building the casino or not? I certainly hope that the answer is no."

Now I have written perhaps 10 articles against the proposed casino. I have researched the dangers a casino represents to the Battlefield. I have spoken to many who are in opposition and some who are not. I have posted the e-mail addresses of those who will impact or make the decision to allow the casino, asking that people write to voice their opposition. I have testified at one of the hearings against the casino. I have written several times to the Governor, the Gaming Control Board, and my local representatives. I have posted on other blogs and discussion groups. But tonight, when I read this e-mail, I didn't know what to say. So instead, I e-mailed a good friend and expressed my exasperation. After venting to him, I re-read my e-mail and knew that what I wrote would be my answer to the young lady who e-mailed me. It wasn't eloquent. I didn't take my time making sure that I expressed myself exactly as I wanted. I just wrote.

I said to my friend, "Gettysburg is a good thing. It’s a symbol of what we were and could yet again become, in both a negative and positive aspect. Most importantly though, tens of thousands bled there to make our country what it is. What else need be said? Tens of thousands."

I can’t tell you of my frustration when I think that this casino may see the light of day and the battlefield where our ancestors fought will be forever scarred. If we can forget the men who shaped our country like very few others have, what does that say of us? Damn it what has become of us?



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Monday, September 11, 2006

In Memory of the Fallen



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Sunday, September 10, 2006

One Other Note on General McClellan

Along with his shaky rapport with President Lincoln, Major General George McClellan also had a testy relationship with his immediate commander. This exchange (below) between General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck and General McClellan clearly shows the tension which existed between the two men. General McClellan received the correspondence noted from General Halleck three days after the Battle of Antietam.

WASHINGTON, September 20, 1862 2 p.m.


We are still left entirely in the dark in regard to your own movements and those of the enemy. This should not be so. You should keep me advised of both, so far as you know them.


General McClellan responded:

Near Sharpsburg, September 20, 1862 8 p.m.

Major-General HALLECK
General-in- Chief, Washington:

Your telegram of to-day is received. I telegraphed you yesterday all I knew, and had nothing more to inform you of until this evening. Williams' corps (Banks') occupied Maryland Heights at 1 p.m. to-day. The rest of the army is near here, except Couch's division, which is at this moment, engaged with the enemy in front of Williamsport. The enemy is retiring via Charlestown and Martinsburg on Winchester. He last night reoccupied Williamsport by a small force, but will be out of it by morning. I think he has a force of infantry near Shepherdstown.

I regret that you find it necessary to couch every dispatch I have the honor to receive from you in a spirit of fault-finding, and that you have not yet found leisure to say one word in commendation of the recent achievements of this army, or even to allude to them.

I have abstained from giving the number of guns, colors, small-arms, prisoners, &c., captured until I could do so with some accuracy. I hope by to-morrow evening to be able to give at least an approximate statement.

Major-General, Commanding.



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Official Records – Ohio State University

Saturday, September 09, 2006

General McClellan's Horses

In the interest of openly stating my biases, I thought I should mention the following before I continue. Neither have I heard nor read a discussion of Union Major General George Brinton McClellan without encountering an almost immediate treatise on his perceived faults. While not believing in his perfection as a field commander, I have always felt that his shortcomings received more emphasis than perhaps his service merited. I offer the following in that spirit.

Major General George B. McClellan

In late October 1862, President Lincoln continued to urge Major General George B. General McClellan to cross the Potomac and move on the enemy. Over a month had passed since the Battle of Antietam and Washington again grew impatient as the Army of the Potomac sat on the opposite side of its namesake’s river from the Confederate forces. To one of General McClellan’s reasons for not yet advancing, President Lincoln famously replied, "I have read your dispatch about sore-tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?"

In early October 1862, after Antietam and before the President sent his somewhat rhetorically flavored question, Confederate Cavalry Commander JEB Stuart had again ridden around the Army of the Potomac, as he had once previously on the Peninsula. Aware of this movement, McClellan sent the Union Cavalry in pursuit. Although unsuccessful in stopping Stuart, the bluecoats rode up into Pennsylvania through Hanover Junction and Gettysburg. On October 14, 1862, while reporting to General McClellan, Major General John E. Wool stated, "General Pleasonton, who was in pursuit of the rebel cavalry reports that they have been driven back, into Virginia, crossing the Potomac near the mouth of the Monocacy, and having marched 90 miles in the previous twenty-four hours, while Pleasonton, in pursuit, marched 78 miles in the same time." General McClellan wrote of this incident, " General Pleasonton ascertained, after his arrival at Mechanicstown, that the enemy were only about an hour ahead of him, beating a hasty retreat toward the mouth of the Monocacy. He pushed on vigorously, and near its mouth overtook them with a part of his force, having marched 78 miles in twenty-four hours, and having left many of his horses broken down upon the road." The Confederates, while at Chambersburg, also reportedly "supplied themselves on their route with 1,000 fresh horses" now unavailable to the Union Army.

General McClellan kept Washington informed of Stuart's raid and their pursuit. On October 12, he reported to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, "The rebel cavalry under Stuart, which left Chambersburg yesterday morning in the direction of Gettysburg, reached the Potomac, near the mouth of the Monocacy, at about 9 a.m. to-day, having marched about 100 miles in twenty-four hours. General Stoneman, who was at Poolesville, near where the rebels passed, was ordered by telegraph, at 1 o'clock p.m. yesterday, to keep his cavalry well out on all the different approaches from the direction of Frederick, so as to give him time to mass his forces to resist their crossing into Virginia..." He would also report, "Six regiments of my cavalry had been sent to Cumberland to prevent the rebel depredations upon the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which left us very deficient in cavalry here. As soon as Stuart's approach was known, however, one of these regiments was ordered back, but has not yet arrived."

On October 13, McClellan’s Chief-of-Staff (and Father-in-law) stated, "Governor Curtin reports that he has been informed that a force of rebels were within 8 miles of Concord, in Franklin Country, this morning, and that they stole 1,500 horses last night." Confederate General JEB Stuart would mention in his report to General Lee after the raid into Pennsylvania, " During the day a large number of horses of citizens were seized and brought along." and " We seized and brought over a large number of horses."

Given the above, the Government in Washington knew of the capture of horses available to the Union Army and of the activity of the Union Cavalry in pursuit of the Confederate forces. Multiple sources had also reported to Washington the concerns both with supplying remounts for the Army of the Potomac and with delivering supplies for their horses and mules. In mid-October, Union Quartermaster General Mongomery Meigs would write, "All the power of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and of the Cumberland Valley Railroad has been used, under the direction of Brig.-Gen. Haupt, invested by the Secretary with special and full powers to do anything necessary to expedite the forwarding of supplies to the army under Gen. McClellan. It is nearly impossible to supply such an army, having over 30,000 animals to feed, by means limited to two railroads. The canal will be repaired and ready for use in a few days. It was hoped that water could have been admitted to it to-day. This, if boats can be found to navigate it, will increase the power of this department to forward supplies considerably. I understand, however, that everything called for has gone forward. What has been intercepted and destroyed by the rebel cavalry in rear of the army at Chambersburg and on the railroad I have not yet learned."

General Meigs would later in the month relay other concerns. "A case is reported in which horses remained fifty hours on the (railroad) cars without food or water, were taken out, issued, and put to immediate service. The horses were good when shipped, and a few days' rest and food would have recruited them, but the exigencies of the service, or perhaps carelessness and ignorance, put them to a test which no horses could bear."

After the Battle of Antietam, General McClellan would write, " This overwork had broken down the greater part of the horses; disease had appeared among them, and but a very small portion of our original cavalry force was fit for service. To such an extent had this arm become reduced, that when General Stuart made his raid into Pennsylvania on the 11th of October with 2,000 men, I could only mount 800 men to follow him."

Although not written until February 17, 1863, Chief Quartermaster Colonel Rufus Ingalls also discussed the condition of the army's horses after the Battle of Antietam in his official report.
    "Immediately after the battle of Antietam, efforts were made to supply deficiencies in clothing and horses. Large requisitions were prepared and sent in. The artillery and cavalry required large numbers to cover losses sustained in battle, on the march, and by diseases. Both of these arms were deficient when they left Washington. A most violent and destructive disease made its appearance at this time, which put nearly 4,000 animals out of service. Horses reported perfectly well one day would be dead lame the next, and it was difficult to foresee where it would end or what number would cover the loss. They were attacked in the hoof and tongue. No one seemed able to account for the appearance of this disease. Animals kept at rest would recover in time, but could not be worked. I made application to send West and purchase horses at once, but it was refused on the ground that the outstanding contracts provided for enough; but they were not delivered sufficiently fast nor in sufficient numbers until late in October and early in November. I was authorized to buy 2,500 late in October, but the delivery was not completed until in November, after we had reached Warrenton."

The above by no means represents a comprehensive literature search concerning this one seemingly small issue. My intent in posting this includes noting that, although frequently quoted, the statement from President Lincoln questioning the condition of McClellan’s horses, and by inference the General himself, could include a brief statement or two concerning at least the partial legitimacy of his concerns. We may then view the oft-maligned General in perhaps a somewhat more sympathetic and debatably more accurate light.



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Official Records – Ohio State University
US National Park Service
Virginia Center for Digital History

Photographs from the National Archives & Records Administration and the Library of Congress respectively.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Slavery in a Free State

While reading "Struggle for a Vast Future" one of the collection of articles noted that a few New Jersey citizens held slaves up until just shy of the beginning of the Civil War. A quick internet search found the quote below on the Slavery in the North web site.
    "In 1830, of the 3,568 Northern blacks who remained slaves, more than two-thirds were in New Jersey. The institution was rapidly declining in the 1830s, but not until 1846 was slavery permanently abolished. At the start of the Civil War, New Jersey citizens owned 18 "apprentices for life" (the federal census listed them as "slaves") -- legal slaves by any name."

    "New Jersey's emancipation law carefully protected existing property rights. No one lost a single slave, and the right to the services of young Negroes was fully protected. Moreover, the courts ruled that the right was a 'species of property,' transferable 'from one citizen to another like other personal property.' "

    Thus "New Jersey retained slaveholding without technically remaining a slave state."
For the entire text of the decision from which the web site authors took these excerpts can be found at the New Jersey Digital Legal Library.



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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Commentary: The Malevolent Dark Shadow

When I was young and found myself with extra change, I often scurried downtown to visit Grants 5 & 10 Cent Store. Although a frequent visitor, a renewed joy always accompanied each jaunt into the old store, sustained by the oddly comforting creaks of the worn, uneven wooden floors. My eyes darted in constant search of some small treasure hidden inside an old ragged box somewhere on those magical shelves. Eventually emerging from the store and heading home, I passed a small unremarkable, seemingly abandoned, stone building. The dirty façade held a curious sign with initials whose meaning remained foreign to me. Despite the familiarity of its simple lettering, with each passing, I re-read the sign and wondered.

Decades later, long after Grant’s store lived only in memory, I would learn the significance of the three letters on that nearby building that told of the structure’s past importance. At the time, “GAR Post” only lent a vague sense that this building and those who entered under that banner held an importance that had long since, perhaps unjustly, faded. Each glance at the timeworn façade evoked a curious feeling of mournful loss, a sense whose validity I never doubted but whose origins I could not discern. The dirty windows, chipped paint, and worn door handle whispered yet of a past glory increasingly suppressed by present decay.

Not many years ago, when touched by a passion for the American Civil War, I would learn what I should have known then. Union veterans of the War of the Rebellion had joined the popular fraternal organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, and met in this place or countless other like it. The men of so many terrible campaigns past, and later their successive generations, would speak of the conflict, politics, the fallen, and of how to honor those taken by the war.

As a youth, I had seen those three letters elsewhere during my many exploratory excursions around my then small world. In the local church cemeteries, intermittent gravesites had as an added adornment a small bronze star with the letters GAR hovering above the numbers 1861 and 1865. On occasions progressively less frequent, that star also held a small American flag. Like the old building, most of these modestly sized stars had succumbed to the relentless effects of weather and neglect as the decades inevitably marched past. Few if any held any remnant of their original luster. Like many of the old cannons in surrounding town squares, oxidation had painted the markers with splashes of discoloring green, the remaining bronze now a deep brown.

A new sadness accompanies the full understanding of the significance of these stars and of that old building now gone. Sprinkled throughout northern cemeteries, each tiny shield silently marks the grave of a man who fought in the war that most defined our country. Each man had given a piece of himself, sometimes literally, to shape this nation. The piece the nation gave in return now struggles against decay. The realization that these men drift further into obscurity, all but forgotten, sustains the sadness.

Alongside the remaining stars, many gravestones lay broken or covered with weeds, their letters worn into illegibility. These men gave of themselves to build what we now have. They earned in return indifference and neglect.

"Not true!" some may indignantly protest. "We have beautiful grand memorials such as Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Manassas, Harpers Ferry, and other parks serving as permanent reminders of brave deeds past." However, as we have left many a veteran’s grave to decay, so now this preventable tragedy spreads as we ignore the fate of even our most majestic monuments and battlefields. The Chancellorsville Battlefield and those who love their grounds continue their battle against disfiguring, explosive development. Harpers Ferry has joined this fight struggling to hold an encroaching 3,400-unit development at bay. Manassas Battlefield suffers from ever-expanding traffic and the constant threat of the loss of park grounds to widened highways. Perhaps as tragic as any of these, Gettysburg now rests in the malevolent dark shadow of a looming casino, positioned to exploit the deeds of the men North and South who died in unheard of numbers on those scarred, threatened grounds.

Much of Fredericksburg Battlefield is gone. The same fate has befallen Franklin Tennessee and many other fields. The Civil War Preservation Trust, the largest and perhaps most respected American Civil War preservation organization, lists Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and the Shenandoah Valley in the top 10 of the most endangered battlefields in the country. They also mention continuing serious threats to Chancellorsville, Manassas, Kennesaw Mountain, and Cedar Mountain, among others.

The 620,000 men who died during this war, and the hundreds of thousands more who emerged from battle no longer whole, deserve a better fate. So do the men who gathered in the GAR hall whose door I can never again pass. I ask with all possible respect that each person do what they can to preserve these historic grounds and not allow the continued indifference displayed towards the deaths and sacrifices of so many of our country’s veterans to threaten that which we must preserve.

In a cemetery near to my home, local people have volunteered their time to restore some of the former luster and dignity to the old stones and GAR markers. New flags ripple in the breeze that gently caresses the old soldiers’ graves. Placards note the names of the deceased where gravestone lettering has surrendered to time. In that same northern cemetery, a Confederate veteran’s grave now bears a new star revealing a shared respect for all life lost. So too can we work to preserve and maintain the fields where our ancestors fought, bled, and died, while laying the stones in the foundation upon which we now live. So too can we preserve and honor their contributions and their memory. Perhaps by doing as much, one less youngster walking through town will wonder at the mysterious meaning of the lives now past and the sacrifices all too often forgotten.



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For more information concerning the proposed Gettysburg casino:

More Opposition to Proposed Casino

A Casino in Gettysburg - The Danger, The Truth

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Good Word for Longstreet

During the last few weeks, while listening to some of Dr. Gary Gallagher's recorded lectures, I was reminded of a few quotes concerning Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Lee's Old Warhorse.

Both address only a small fraction of the events during Day Three of the Battle of Gettysburg. The first describes General Longstreet's behavior during the massive cannonade early afternoon on July 3, 1863.

"Longstreet rode slowly and alone immediately in front of our entire line. He sat his large charger with a magnificent grace and composure I never before beheld. His bearing was to me the grandest moral spectacle of the war. I expected to see him fall every instant. Still he moved on, slowly and majestically, with an inspiring confidence, composure, self-possession and repressed power in every movement and look, that fascinated me."

- Brigadier General James Kemper, Pickett's Division. [1]

The second is somewhat controversial but no less interesting. This appeared in Longstreet's memoirs.

"I was present, however, just after Pickett's repulse, when General Lee so magnanimously took all the blame of the disaster upon himself. Another important circumstance, which I distinctly remember, was in the winter of 1863--64, when you sent me from East Tennessee to Orange Court-House with some dispatches to General Lee. Upon my arrival there, General Lee asked me into his tent, where he was alone, with two or three Northern papers on the table. He remarked that he had just been reading the Northern reports of the battle of Gettysburg; that he had become satisfied from reading those reports that if he had permitted you to carry out your plan, instead of making the attack on Cemetery Hill, he would have been successful."

- Colonel T. J. Goree, Aide to Longstreet, in a post-war letter
   as noted in the General's memoirs. [2]



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[1] The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America's Greatest Battle. Larry Tagg, DaCapo Press; July 1998

[2] Longstreet at Gettysburg: The Third Day