Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dewitt Smith Jobe: A horrible death

Private Dewitt Smith Jobe

       Dewitt Smith Jobe was born in Rutherford County, Tennessee in 1840. In 1861, when the war began, Jobe joined Company D, 20th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. His cousin was the lieutenant colonel of the regiment, Thomas Benton Smith who would rise to the rank of brigadier general and eventually meet his own sad end. He had another cousin and namesake in the 45th Tennessee Infantry Regiment named Dewitt Smith who would become famous for avenging his cousins death. 
       Dewitt Smith Jobe was wounded in his first action at the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky and captured there. He would be exchanged in time to see action at the Battle of Murfreesboro. When Braxton Bragg began to retreat from Middle Tennessee, Dewitt Smith Jobe was chosen to serve in Coleman's Scouts along with another cousin named Samuel Davis. Davis became known as the 'Boy Hero of the Confederacy'. You can read his blog in my archives of January 7, 2011.

Sam Davis

       As a scout, Dewitt understood that he faced a more dangerous job than just serving as an infantry private in the Confederate Army. If he were captured he could be sentenced to be hanged. His cousin Sam Davis had been hanged in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1863 because he refused to provide information to the Federals when he was captured. 
       Dewitt Smith Jobe was operating behind Federal lines near Triune, Tennessee on August 29, 1864 and had just had breakfast with a relative. He was travelling by night and sleeping by day to avoid Federal patrols. He refused to stay at the house for fear his relatives would be punished if he was found sleeping there. He moved to a nearby cornfield to get some rest. Unknown to him, a Federal cavalryman had spotted him through a telescope and moved in with a squad of the 115th Ohio Cavalry. 
       As the 15 man patrol approached Dewitt, he tore up his dispatches, chewed and swallowed them. This seemed to anger the Federal patrol, who would later be reported as intoxicated. They demanded to know what the dispatch contained and who they were meant for. Like his cousin Sam Davis, a year earlier, Dewitt refused to betray his country. 
       The Ohio cavalrymen tied his hands behind his back and took a rein from one of their horses and strangled Dewitt in an attempt to get him to talk. Yet, he still refused. They then struck him over and over with a pistol, knocking out his front teeth. He was helpless and bleeding  but still refused to provide the Federal soldiers with information. 
       They screamed and yelled as they continued enjoying their torture of the young man. Neighbors nearby could hear the delight in their voices. They then decided if he wouldn't talk, they would gouge his eyes out. Still the brave young man refused to talk. They then decided to cut his tongue out. After cutting his tongue out, they decided to put the boy out of his misery. They tied a rope around his neck and attached it to a horse and dragged the young man to his death. 
       The members of the 115th Ohio Cavalry were never punished for their crimes. Legend states that the sergeant in charge of the patrol went mad after sobering up. Some members of the regiment were killed when the Sultana sank after the war returning them from Andersonville Prisoner of War Camp in Georgia.
       This wouldn't be the end of retribution for the horrible act. Dewitt's Jobe's cousin Dee Smith is said to have lost his mind in rage when he heard the news. He left Hood's Confederate Army and raised the black flag against Federal troops. He would take no prisoners. He would slit the throats of 14 Federal soldiers in their sleep near Murfreesboro, Tennessee in revenge and kill nearly 50 more before he was wounded and captured. The Federal's planned to hang the wounded prisoner the next day, but Dewitt Smith would die before the scheduled time. 

Grave of Dewitt Smith Jobe

       Dewitt Smith Jobe was 24 years old. The Federal soldiers who killed him later stated that he was the bravest man they'd ever met. His fiance found his body and placed a handkerchief over his face. Old Frank, a servant on the Jobe plantation placed Jobe's body in a wagon, tears streaming down his cheeks. He would be carried back to his home in Brookhill, Tennessee and buried there. 

Carved Sentinel at Jobe's Grave

Jobe's Confederate Medal of Honor

       Legend carried down from that time state that the place where these horrible things occurred to Dewitt Smith Jobe is haunted. People traveling by have reported having an eerie feeling at the place. Regardless, Dewitt Smith Jobe was one of the bravest men who ever lived. 


Monday, April 25, 2011

Who was the "Father of Secession"?

John C. Calhoun

       Since the 1830's, John C. Calhoun has been known as the "Father of Secession" because of his strong commitment to states rights, a limited central government, nullification of Federal laws by the state and free trade. This had not always been the case. He had been a proponent of a strong Federal government after the War of 1812. 
       The Tariff of 1828 or Tariff of Abominations began to change Calhoun's mind. The tariff was passed for no other reason than to protect northern industry and was harmful to the Southern economy. It was at this point that Calhoun stated that any state had the right to nullify any law made by the Federal government which was unconstitutional. 
       By 1832, the tariffs had become such an issue that the South Carolina legislature declared these taxes unconstitutional and refused to collect them for the Federal government. Congress quickly passed the Force Bill giving the President power to send a military force into any state who did not comply with Federal law. South Carolina quickly nullified the Force Bill. The U.S. Navy was dispatched to Charleston Harbor. 
       War was averted by the Compromise Tariff of 1833. This gradually lowered the tariff rate to just 20% on imported goods over the course of the next ten years. But, was John C. Calhoun truly the "Father of Secession"?

Timothy Pickering

       Timothy Pickering was a senator from the state of Massachusetts and a member of the Federalist Party. In 1803, he got into an argument with President John Adams because the president planned to make peace with France. He then attempted to get the New England states to secede from the Union and form a separate Confederacy. 

Josiah Quincy

       In 1811, Louisiana was applying for statehood, Massachusetts Congressman Josiah Quincy was bitterly opposed admitting another Southern state. He stated that it was his "deliberate opinion, that if this bill passes, the bonds of this Union are virtually dissolved; that the States that compose it are free from their moral obligations; and that, as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some, to prepare definitely for a separation, amicably if they can, violently if they must." He is given credit as the first person to speak of secession on the floor of congress. 
       But, what have others said about the right of a state to secede from the Federal government?

James Buchanan

       Just before the Civil War began, President James Buchanan in a message to congress said, "The fact is that our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war. If it can not live in the affections of the people, it must one day perish. Congress possesses many means of preserving it by conciliation, but the sword was not placed in their hand to preserve it by force." 

Thomas Jefferson

       President Thomas Jefferson said, "If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation...to a continuance in union... I have no hesitation in saying, 'let us separate.' " 

Did this man believe in secession?

       When the United States went to war with Mexico, most Northerners believed the South supported the war out of greed for Mexican land. Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln stood on the floor of congress and announced, "Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most sacred right — a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much territory as they inhabit”. 
       Ironically in 1861, he would change his opinion of the legality of secession. Why? When told by New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley that the Southern states should be allowed to go in peace, Lincoln replied by asking where the Federal government would get its revenue.
       Also in 1826, the United States Military Academy at West Point had a text book called Rawle's View of the Constitution. This book taught the right of a state to secede. 
       It's interesting to note that John C. Calhoun wasn't the first man to propose a state's right to secede, but he is the most famous and that is because South Carolina eventually did secede and a war resulted that cost the country over 650,000 lives.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Conspirator: Lincoln's Assassination

Mary Surratt

       Friday night was the opening of the Robert Redford movie The Conspirator. I had been looking forward to the release of this movie for some time. I was cautiously optimistic that it would be historically accurate. I was expecting the movie to cover all the characters surrounding the conspiracy and those charged with complicity in the crime. Despite the fact the movie basically just covers the trial of Mary Surratt, it was overall a good movie. 
       There were a few incidences in the movie that caught my attention of not being totally accurate or maybe not demonstrated in the way I would have hoped. In the trial, I thought they did a poor job with Louis Weichman and his testimony. The movie gave the impression that Weichman had freely given false testimony against Mary Surratt although she had treated him as a son. The truth of the trial is that Weichman worked for the war department and like everyone there, he was terrified of Edwin Stanton. Stanton had pressured Weichman to testify for the prosecution with threats that he could be implicated also if he did not. Weichman actually left the courtroom after his testimony afraid he may have said something to jeopardize the trail for Stanton. In the movie, Weichman appears cool and cold. In reality, he was extremely nervous. 

Louis J. Weichman

       The movie portrayed John Surratt, the son of Mary Surratt as the real individual that the government wanted. It would lead you to believe the government would have dropped all charges against Mary if her son would have turned himself in. I believe if the man had turned himself in, there would have been five people on the gallows that day instead of four. Leaving the theater, my wife, Todd Richardson and his wife actually made the statement that John Surratt was a coward. I had to disagree. Stanton would stop at nothing to punish everyone who was even remotely close to the assassination and this was shown when the court voted not to give Mary the death penalty only to have Stanton pressure them to reconsider. 

Edwin Stanton

       Edwin Stanton had been responsible for the imprisonment of thousands of innocent northerners during the war. He was as close to becoming a tyrant as the nation has ever gotten. He told one man that he could ring a bell on his desk and have him placed so far in prison he would never hear the dogs bark again. Some historians actually believe that Stanton was in on the plot to kill the president. If Lincoln, Johnson and Seward had of been killed, Stanton would have been the man with the power. 

Anne Surratt

       A good deal of the movie is devoted to Mary's daughter Anne and her defense attorney Frederick Aiken. These were not wasted scenes to fill time, but actually very good stuff. It shows to what lengths Anne went to help Aiken attempt to save her mother. The movie painted the picture the trial was decided before hand regardless of what Aiken proved because of Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, but in reality Stanton was the driving force behind the trial. 
       In the end, nothing was going to save Mary Surratt from the gallows. She was hanged alongside Lewis Powell (a.k.a. Louis Paine), David Herold, and George Atzerodt. The hanging scene was sad. It didn't show how the rope failed to break Powell's neck and he was watched being strangled to death as he kicked violently for almost five minutes. 

Mary hanging beside Lewis Powell

       At the end of the movie, my wife was extremely surprised to see that John Surratt had finally been captured and a verdict could not be reached and he was released. He spent the rest of his life touring and giving lectures on the conspiracy to abduct Lincoln (of which he was a part) and the innocence of his mother. John was actually in Canada on Confederate Secret Service business when Booth shot Lincoln. The origin plan had been for the group to abduct Lincoln and hold him ransom for the exchange of all Confederate prisoners. General Grant had suggested to Lincoln that the prisoner exchange system be stopped to prevent exchanged prisoners from refilling the Confederate ranks. 

John Surratt

       I wish the actual hanging scene would have been exactly as reality. The scene is made extremely sad, but her last words and the remarks of those who hung her were left out. When they bound her arms behind her back, Mary complained that the bindings were to tight and hurt her arms. The secret service agent who placed the noose around Mary's neck replied, "Well, it won't hurt long." 
       As they moved her forward to the edge of the platform to the drop, she asked them to please not let her fall. Lewis Powell's last words were, "Misses Surratt is innocent. She doesn't deserve to die with the rest of us."
       When the execution was completed and her body was cut down, Mary's body fell forward over the soldier catching her. Another soldier said, "She makes a good bow."
       All of this was left out of the movie. Another thing that was left out of the movie that I wish would have been told was the fact that President Andrew Johnson and Edwin Stanton claimed to be haunted by Mary Surratt in their sleep for the rest of their days. I find that quite fitting for the two. 


Thursday, April 14, 2011

John Gregg: The Confederate General who kept sticking his neck out

John Gregg

       John Gregg was born in Lawrence County, Alabama in 1828. He obtained a college education at Lagrange College in Franklin County (now Colbert County), Alabama. He studied law in Tuscumbia and then moved to Fairfield, Texas where he practiced law and became a district judge at the age of 28. 
       In 1858, Gregg returned to Alabama, traveling to Morgan County where he married Mary Francis Garth. Mary's father was Jesse Winston Garth, who owned hundreds of slaves and his personal property was worth 150,000 dollars. It would be equal to 3.9 million dollars in todays money. Jesse Garth was a strong Unionist and stated that he would gladly give up all his wealth to maintain the Union. 
       John Gregg returned to Texas with his new bride and continued his law practice. When the war began, Gregg was worth over 13,000 dollars. It was equal to 355,000 dollars in todays money. 
       He and his father-in-law would never agree on the secession issue. Gregg would serve as a member of the Texas secession convention and voted to take the state out of the Union. 
       Gregg would be elected to the Confederate Congress and travel to Montgomery, Alabama and later to Richmond, Virginia when the capital was moved there. Longing for active duty, he resigned his seat in congress in August of 1861 and returned to Texas. He organized the 7th Texas Infantry Regiment and was made the colonel commanding the unit. 

John Gregg's piercing eyes

       The 7th Texas was sent across the Mississippi River and stationed at Fort Donelson. Gregg and his men were surrendered there in February of 1862. He was sent to Fort Warren in Boston, Massachusetts. He was held there for six months until exchanged in August of 1862. 
       Upon his release, President Davis promoted Gregg to brigadier general. He was sent to Mississippi where he commanded a brigade consisting of his 7th Texas, 1st, 30th, 41st, and 50th Tennessee Infantry regiments. He and his brigade helped repel the assault made by Sherman at Chickasaw Bayou. Sherman lost over 1100 men compared to less than 200 Confederate casualties.
       At the Battle of Raymond, Gregg's brigade faced a Union force under McPherson that was about 12,000 strong. Gregg's brigade had 4,000 men engaged. He was then pulled back to Jackson, Mississippi by General Joseph E. Johnston where he saw action before Johnston retreated from the town. 

Raymond battlefield

        After the fall of Vicksburg his brigade was sent to Braxton Bragg's army in Georgia. At the battle of Chickamauga, Gregg's brigade was assigned to Longstreet's Corps. His men were part of the force that broke the Federal army. During the fighting there, Gregg was shot in the neck and left for dead. His body was robbed by Federal soldiers. He recovered despite the severe wound and was rewarded by Longstreet for his part of the battle. Longstreet placed Gregg in command of Hood's old Texas Brigade. 

Brigadier General John Gregg

       He was a perfect fit for this brigade. The man even favored John Bell Hood in appearance. He was repeatedly commended for his bravery under fire from the Wilderness to Petersburg. During the siege of Petersburg, General Robert E. Lee sent Gregg north of the James River to drive the Federals from in front of Richmond. On October 7, 1864, he led his men against a Federal position fortified with abatis. The Union soldiers were armed with Spencer repeating rifles. Gregg's men actually penetrated the Federal lines, but Gregg was shot in the neck again and killed. His second in command was shot in the shoulder and wounded. The attack quickly fell apart. 
       John Gregg's body lay in state in the Confederate Capital. His men loved him so much that Lee granted their request to escort his body to Hollywood Cemetery for burial. His wife traveled to Richmond to retrieve his body and upon reaching the Confederate Capital she suffered a nervous breakdown. She recovered a month later and carried her husband back to Aberdeen, Mississippi where her father owned land. He was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery there. 

Grave of John Gregg

Inscription on Gregg's Tombstone

Headstone at Gregg's Grave

       John Gregg was described as a rugged and unrelenting fighter, without personal fear. He was also called pugnacious in battle. The man was a very capable brigade commander and probably would have made a bold division commander if given the chance. He was 36 years old. Gregg County, Texas was named in his honor. 

John Gregg bust at the courthouse in Gregg County, Texas

Monday, April 11, 2011

Leroy Pope Walker and his handkerchief

Leroy Pope Walker

       Leroy Pope Walker was born in 1817 in Huntsville, Alabama. His father was a United States Senator. He attended college at the University of Alabama, but left there to study law at the University of Virginia. He then returned to Huntsville where he began his profession as an attorney at the age of 21. Six years later he began his political career in the Alabama state legislature. He was a supporter of secession. By the time the war began Walker was one of the wealthiest men in the state. 

Home of Walker in Huntsville

       Walker was a leader in taking Alabama out of the Union and then went to Tennessee to help that state prepare for secession. Davis made Walker the Confederacy's first secretary of war, although the lawyer had no military experience whatsoever. Walker truly believed there would be no war, that there would be a peaceful separation. He is famous for making the statement that all the blood shed as a result of secession could be wiped up with a handkerchief. 
       Walker was a very unpopular secretary of war. Men found him to be extremely aloof although he was a very considerate man, his quite manners caused him to be misunderstood. Davis constantly interfered with Walker's job because of his own experience as secretary of war in the United States and also because a lack of experience on the part of Walker. 
       Walker was actually attempting to accomplish something extremely important for the Confederate States when he was forced from office. He was trying to prevent Leonidas Polk from moving into Kentucky knowing that would throw Kentucky onto the Federal side of the war. He lost a lot of favor in the Confederate Congress and with Davis and his cabinet. He then resigned his seat. Polk moved into Kentucky and that state was lost forever to the Union side. 
       President Davis was happy to see Walker go, but also understood that the man had powerful friends in Alabama. The Confederate president would commission Walker a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He returned to Huntsville, Alabama where he took command of a brigade and they were sent to Mobile, Alabama under Braxton Bragg. 

Braxton Bragg

       Bragg despised Walker as a political general and openly stated that he would make the man miserable. Bragg stayed true to his word. Walker only lasted five months as a soldier before resigning his commission without seeing any action at all. 
       Following the war, Walker returned to his profession of lawyer. He would never be involved in politics again. His son once said that Walker was no politician. He wasn't much of a soldier either having never gotten the chance to be. Walker is probably more famous for being the attorney of Frank James during his trial in the state. Walker County, Alabama is named in his honor. 

Walker in his later years

       Walker died in 1884 and was buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, Huntsville, Alabama where he rests today. 

Me at the grave of Leroy Pope Walker

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Edward D. Baker: One blast upon your bugle horn

Edward Dickinson Baker

       Edward Baker was born in London, England in 1811. His parents were both Quakers and his father was a school teacher. The family immigrated to the United States when Edward was about five years old. His father opened a school in Philadelphia. Eventually, the family would migrate to Illinois. By 1831, Baker had become a lawyer. 
       Baker would see action in the Black Hawk War in 1832. He would be elected to the Illinois House of Representatives and eventually the Illinois State Congress. During his time in Illinois, he would become close friends with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln named one of his sons Edward Baker Lincoln after his friend, although the boy would die before the age of four. 
       He would leave politics briefly to fight in the Mexican War where he saw action on several battlefields serving as a colonel. In 1851, Baker would move to California where he continued with his law practice. He was famous for his elaborate speaking skill and flourish for the dramatic. In 1860 he would move again, this time to the state of Oregon where he would be elected to the United States Senate. 
       When the Civil War began, Baker began to raise a regiment to represent the state of California. Most of the regiment was recruited from Philadelphia however. Lincoln offered Baker a commission as a general, but Baker refused to accept the assignment from his longtime friend. There was a law in place that meant Baker would have to resign from the Senate if he became a general. Baker loved to stand before the Senate making speeches in favor of the war adorned in his uniform. 

Colonel and Senator Baker

       He soon was placed in command of an infantry brigade guarding a crossing of the Potomac River. His superior General Charles Stone ordered him to cross the river and push the Confederate's located on the high ground back. Baker was forced to ferry his men across the river in boats. Once across, he would be forced to fight on a bluff with his back to a river. 
     As he reached the top of the steep winding path, he greeted a fellow officer with the comment. "One blast upon your bugle horn is worth a thousand men."
       Men were falling all around him, but Baker refused to lie down. He even remarked to one soldier, "When you become a United States Senator, you'll not lie down either." 
       Baker continued to pace back in forth in front of his men. Suddenly, a group of Confederate soldiers charged from the trees. A large red-haired boy aimed a revolver at Baker and fired five or six shots. Abraham Lincoln's friend was killed instantly. The Confederate soldiers ran forward and attempted to take Baker's sword. They were all shot down, including the red-haired boy who had killed their leader. His body was then taken down the bluff and carried by boat across the river. 

Death of Edward Baker

       The battle soon turned into a disaster as the Confederates pushed the Federal troops down the bluff and to the edge of the water. There weren't enough boats to ferry the men back and soon the Federal infantry panicked. Many were pushed into the water and the Confederates began to pour fire off the bluff into the mob. It was like shooting fish in a barrel as the saying goes. (More on this in another blog.)

Spot at Ball's Bluff where Baker was killed

       Abraham Lincoln cried upon hearing of the death of his dear friend. His wife, however caused quite a scandal when she attended the funeral wearing a dress with flowers instead of the traditional black mourning dress. She asked, "Do the women of Washington expect me to adorn myself in mourning for ever soldier killed in this war?"

Grave of Edward Baker

       Edward Baker's body was carried to San Francisco and buried in the National Cemetery there. He was fifty years old. He believed himself to be a great commander, but his friends believed his talents lay in public speaking and politics.