Friday, May 20, 2011

A Sad Ending To A Love Affair

Major General John F. Reynolds

       Pennsylvania General John F. Reynolds spent his entire adult life in uniform. He entered West Point at the age of seventeen and graduated 26th out of 50 cadets in the class of 1841. He would be assigned to the artillery and saw action in the Mexican War. The friendship between Confederate General Lewis Armistead and Federal General Winfield Hancock has been well documented. Most have overlooked the fact that Reynolds was also a good friend of the two men. The three met during the Mexican War. 
       Reynolds became the commandant of cadets at the Military Academy when the Civil War began. It could have been there that he met Catherine Mary "Kate" Hewitt. Kate had been born in New York in 1836. She was almost 16 years younger than John Reynolds. Her life had been full of tragedies. She had lost her mother and brother when she was young. 
       Kate moved to California in 1856 where she worked at a Catholic school. She could have met John there. She converted to Catholicism while in California. Despite this small problem, they soon fell in love and were secretly engaged. Being Catholic at the time was very unpopular and John was afraid it would hurt his chances at promotion in the army. Because of this, he also hid the information from his family. 


       Reynolds became one of the most respected and loved officers in the Federal army. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, Reynolds was a major general in command of a corps. He led his men into battle that day, calling to his men, "Forward men, forward for God's sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods."
       A bullet soon struck Reynolds behind the left ear. He fell from his horse, crashing face down on the ground. The general was dead. His effects were sent to his family and it was there that the family discovered he was romantically involved. A ring was found on a chain around his neck. "Dear Kate" was inscribed inside the ring. He also wore a cross around his neck. They also noted that his West Point ring was missing.

Kate Hewitt

       On July 3, Kate arrived at the Reynolds home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. John's sisters rushed to meet her at the door and embraced her. Kate informed the family that she had hesitated to come because she knew not one member of the family, but she couldn't bear to not see John one more time. Upon seeing his body, she broke down. Kate remained with the body during the night long vigil. 
       She gave John's West Point ring back to the family, but insisted on keeping the cross he wore. John's sisters told her how much they regretted their brother not telling them about his fiancĂ©e. They made Kate's stay as comfortable as possible. They also treated Kate as a sister and attempted to meet her at least once a year. 
       A week after the funeral, Kate kept a promise she had made to John in the event of his death. She joined a convent and decided to become a nun. Ironically, the convent she joined was only ten miles from the spot where John had been killed.

Reynolds grave in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

       Five years later, for reasons unknown, Kate Hewitt left the convent without ever having taken any vows. She returned to Albany, New York where she became a school teacher. Kate eventually gave up the Catholic faith. Mourning for her lost love, she would never marry. 

Kate's grave in Stillwater, New York

       Catherine Mary "Kate" Hewitt would die of pneumonia in 1902, almost 29 years after the death of John. She is buried in Stillwater, New York. Hopefully, the two are finally together now.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Grant vs. Hood: Who was the better commander?

John Bell Hood and Ulysses Grant

       The title of this blog may be a bit deceiving. General Grant has long been considered a military genius by some and a butcher by others. General Hood has been declared one of the worst army commanders of the Civil War. I would like to take this opportunity to look at the various strategies employed by each man and let us see if one general is truly a better commander than the other. 
       Why, you might ask would I compare two generals who never faced each other in battle. Historians have compared Grant and Lee to the extent that nothing further needs to be written on the subject. I’m interested in comparing Grant with Hood because both men seem to be vastly misunderstood as military commanders. 
       First, we’ll look at how Grant got the reputation of being a butcher. At Forts Donelson and Shiloh, he allowed his army to be surprised by the Confederate Army because he under-estimated his enemies will to fight. At Vicksburg, he was forced to settle the affair by siege only after having failed with frontal assaults. Then he made a frontal assault at Chattanooga that succeeded, mostly due to the ineptness of Braxton Bragg. 

Grant's Overland Campaign

       He then was promoted to lieutenant general and went to oversee the Army of the Potomac for the rest of the war. There he was attacked by Lee in the Wilderness. He then attempted to turn Lee and having failed, he assaulted Lee’s entrenchments at Spotsylvania. He again attempted to turn Lee and because of over-aggressiveness, he almost placed his men in a trap at the North Anna River. He then tried to turn Lee again and failing again, attacked entrenchments at Cold Harbor. The question remains, why could men like Lee and Jackson turn their enemy’s flank while Grant failed each time. 
       Many historians claim it was because Lee understood his enemy so well. There is some truth in this analysis, but I believe there is a little more to it than just that. More on that later.
       John Bell Hood didn’t begin his career as an army commander until the summer of 1864. He inherited an army that had been mismanaged the entire war. Hood faced an army almost twice as large as his own and attempted to do what Lee had done early in the war and that was to offset the enemy’s numerical advantage by maneuver. 
       The Battle of Atlanta was a near perfect copy of Lee’s flank movement at Chancellorsville, a little over a year earlier. Because of his subordinates failures and some good luck within the Federal army, he didn’t obtain the same results.



       The move he made at Columbia, Tennessee was a near copy of Lee’s move against Pope during the Second Manassas Campaign. He used two divisions to hold Schofield in place and marched around his left flank with the rest of his army. He arrived in Spring Hill, Tennessee in Schofield’s rear to only allow him to escape because of confusion within his ranks. He then made the greatest mistake of his career by attacking an entrenched Federal Army at Franklin. The result was the same as Grant’s assault at Cold Harbor, the only difference was at that point of the war, the South could ill afford to lose men. 

Hood's plan to destroy Schofield at Spring Hill

       In one sense, you can say that Hood’s move at Columbia worked. He arrived in Schfofield’s rear in time to trap his army. Grant was never able to accomplish this. How did Hood’s turning movement at Atlanta and Columbia almost succeed while Grant’s weren’t nearly as close?
       The answer lies in several factors. From the beginning of the war the Confederate’s (especially Lee) utilized their cavalry. The only time Lee was caught off guard was at Gettysburg when he allowed his cavalry to get away from him. At Chancellorsville, it was Lee’s cavalry that discovered Hooker’s right flank in the air. Hooker had sent his cavalry on a raid which accomplished nothing at a time when Hooker needed valuable information. 
       Meade and Sheridan had a serious disagreement about the use of cavalry in Virginia. Meade wanted to use his cavalry as Lee did, gathering information about the enemy. Sheridan wanted to attack Lee’s cavalry by raiding. Meade had been with the Army of the Potomac from the beginning. He had seen how a lack of cavalry impaired an army. Grant naturally sided with his friend Sheridan. While Grant was facing Lee during most of the spring Campaign of 1864, Sheridan was off making raids. 
       At Atlanta, Hood had Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry cover the advance of the flanking movement of Hardee’s Corps and then instructed him to take the Army of the Tennessee’s supply train. Wheeler bungled the latter job, claiming there was an infantry force too large for him to break when in fact he could have easily accomplished the job. (Wheeler was one of the most overrated cavalrymen of the war, but that’s for another blog.)
       There is another factor that most historians overlook when understanding why Grant’s turning movements always failed. While Lee and Hood left a portion of their armies facing the enemy to hold them in place, Grant would take his entire army out of line and march away. It didn’t take a genius to realize he was making some sort of movement when the entrenchments are empty. If Grant would have took a lesson from Lee or Hood and left men in the trenches and took a portion of his army around the flank, he may have ended the war far earlier and with a lot less losses. 
       When Grant removed his entire army from the front of Lee’s Army and moved away without cavalry, he had no idea where his enemy was. Lee with the help of cavalry could pretty much keep up with where Grant was headed. 
       The one time he did make this kind of move was in front of Richmond after Cold Harbor. He left men in the trenches facing Lee and marched a large part of his army across the James River to attack Petersburg. This movement, much like Hood’s would have succeeded if his subordinates hadn’t been so cautious. There was hardly a force available to stop the Federal Army from taking Petersburg, but because of their caution, Lee was able to move reinforcements up in time to save the town.
       If you look at the two commanders by how they used strategy, you would have to say that Hood better understood battlefield strategy than Grant. Hood was very poor at logistics, but as far as strategy, his plans looked just like his hero Robert E. Lee. By 1864, Hood was in the same shape as Lee, he had no Stonewall Jackson to help him carry out his plans. 
       Grant had a staff that was superb at logistics. He also had the will to continue hammering away at his enemy. He proved that at Vicksburg when he hammered away at Pemberton almost a year. Although the man grew frustrated, he never threw in the towel and gave  up. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Civil War was only fought for Slavery, money had nothing to do with it?

The Greatest President ever?

       I recently visited several Civil War blogs and only one have I had an argument with. Brooke Simpson has a blog called 'Crossroads' and he is one of those New England (historians you might say) who believes the South was entirely wrong and the North was entirely right. He refers to the Southerners who believe the war was a result of anything other than slavery as Neo-Confederates and we are all ignorant rednecks. 
       I attempted to discuss the war with Mr. Simpson in a polite way, but he refused to talk unless I agreed with everything he wrote. He then said that he didn't recognize me as a student of his and therefore I didn't have a clue what I was talking about. He asked me in a nice way to leave his blog by saying "thanks for stopping by" and therefore since I'm from Alabama, I'm an ignorant redneck. He is correct by assuming I'm not one of his students. I have over 400 books on the War Between the States and I'm no "ignorant redneck" as he believes. 
       He asked me to prove in my blog that the war was over something besides slavery. Mr. Simpson has led readers to believe he has a doctors degree. He even has to correct one writer with the fact that he has a masters degree. I have only three years of college and yet I can assure Mr. Simpson that I have read far more books than he has on that war. 
       Here is my side of the argument. I will not lower myself to the level of saying I don't believe slavery had anything to do with the war, yet unlike Mr. Simpson, I won't try and convince you that the war was entirely over the holy North waging a war against the South because slavery was wrong. As a Christian I believe slavery is wrong and would never own another human being. I have enough common sense to know that the war was fought over much more than slavery. If the war was fought over slavery, then someone needs to explain to me why 190,000 blacks fought in the Confederate Army.
       If money had nothing to do with the war, then someone needs to explain the tariff issue to me. The arguments over tariff's had begun in the early 1800's. In 1828, the Tariff of Abominations was passed through Congress. Things began to heat up and in 1832, Congress passed another tariff that was intended to calm South Carolina, but it was too little, too late. South Carolina declared these tariff's null and void according to the Constitution of the United States. The constitution gave the Federal government the right to regulate commerce, coin money and defend the national boundaries. 
       As soon as the Southern states left the Union (a right that had been taught at West Point in 1828), the United States Congress passed the Morrill Tariff. Passage was possible because many low-tariff Southerners had left Congress after their states declared their secession. The Morrill Tariff raised rates to protect and encourage industry and the high wages of industrial workers. Two additional tariffs sponsored by Morrill, each one higher, were passed during Abraham Lincoln's administration. The high rates of the Morrill tariff inaugurated a period of continuous trade protection in the United States that lasted until the Underwood Tariff of 1913. In its first year of operation, the Morrill Tariff increased the effective rate collected on dutiable imports by approximately 70%.
       According to Mr. Simpson the above had nothing to do with the war. It is just a coincidence that the passage of a high tariff occurred during the war while the Southern Congressmen were absent. But, let's see if slavery really ended with the defeat of the South in 1865 as Mr. Simpson would want you to believe. Here is a quote from wikipedia on slavery. "A few captives from other tribes who were used as slaves were not freed when African-American slaves were emancipated. Ute Woman, a Ute captured by the Arapaho and later sold to a Cheyenne, was one example. Used as a prostitute for sale to American soldiers at Cantonment in the Indian Territory, she lived in slavery until about 1880 when she died of a hemorrhage resulting from 'excessive sexual intercourse'."
       So, in the New England world of ignoring what really happened in this nations past the above never happened. The South, along with the American Indians deserved what they got because they did not bow down to the almighty Federal government. According to Mr. Simpson, money had nothing to do with the war and because I'm not one of his students, I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Who killed Albert Sidney Johnston

Albert Sidney Johnston

       There is a mild controversy among historians as to who actually killed Albert Sidney Johnston at Shiloh. The Kentucky born general had adopted Texas as his home state and because of his friendship with Jefferson Davis was made the highest ranking field general in the Confederate Army. Davis had once said, "If Johnston is not a general, then we have no general."
       What is known about Johnston's death is that he led a charge against the Peach Orchard sector of the battlefield. He was struck in the back of the knee, the bullet slicing his popliteal artery and he bled to death on the field. There is more to the story, however. 

Johnston led his men from the far tree line

       On February 7, 1837, Johnston fought a duel with Texas General Felix Huston. He was struck in the hip by a pistol ball. The wound damaged a nerve in Johnston's right leg and he lost a good bit of sensation as a result. When he was struck by the bullet at Shiloh, he had no idea that he'd been wounded. 

Popliteal Artery located behind the knee

       Johnston wore high riding boots and the blood poured into his boot and as a result was unnoticed by members of his staff. It wasn't until moments later that he was observed under a tree slumping in the saddle. His staff took him off his horse and carried him into a nearby ravine and searched for the wound. When they removed his boot, they found it filled with blood. Ironically, Johnston carried a tourniquet with him, but none of his staff understood how to use it. Johnston soon lapsed into unconsciousness and died. 

Site where Johnston was noticed to be wounded

Ravine where Johnston died

       The story gets even murkier at this point. A surgeon dug the bullet out of the back of Johnston's leg and announced that it was an Enfield bullet. Federal soldiers in that section of the battlefield weren't carrying Enfield's. The Confederate soldiers that Johnston was leading in the charge were carrying Enfield Rifles. That would mean in all probability that Johnston was shot by his own men by accident. 
       One account states that Johnston, Harris and Breckinridge placed themselves about forty paces in front of the line of about 5,000 men and led the charge. It was the highest ranking charge in American history. Johnston was the ranking field general in the Confederate Army, Breckinridge was the ex-vice president of the United States, and Harris was the current governor of Tennessee. As a side note, the Confederate governor of Kentucky George Johnson was killed at Shiloh on another part of the field while serving as a volunteer private on line with men from his state.

Albert Sidney Johnston in C.S. Uniform

       It can be argued that Johnston was hit in the back of the knee by a Confederate bullet during the charge. It could also be argued that his surgeon misidentified the bullet. One could also argue that Johnston was killed by Felix Huston in the duel 25 years before that fateful day. Had he not had the nerve damage in his leg, he would have felt the wound when it occurred. Regardless, Sidney Johnston remains one of the great what-ifs of the war. I plan on doing another blog on his generalship in the future. 
       It is a strong possibility that Johnston was the first Confederate general to be shot by his own men, but he certainly would not be the last. Stonewall Jackson (Chancellorsville), Micah Jenkins (The Wilderness) and James Longstreet (The Wilderness, but survived) would be other Confederate's hit by friendly fire. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

An excerpt from my upcoming book 'Die Like Men'

Captain Samuel D. Stewart

       Civilians had gathered along the roadside to cheer on the advancing army. It made the men feel good. A beautiful girl standing beside the road shouted, “Keep moving. You’ll capture every one of the Yanks; they’re running for their lives.”
          The regiment raised a cheer to her. Joe Thompson shouted back at her. “We’ll catch those rascals and skin 'em, ma’am. Will you cook 'em up for us?”
          Everyone broke into laughter. The girl blushed and then managed a smile.
       They had already passed at least thirty broken-down wagons that had been abandoned by the Union army. Their spirits were beginning to soar. The weather had turned off warm. It was a beautiful Indian summer day. They were actually working up a sweat as they marched.
          They marched on up the road, their pace beginning to pick up. Mack Keenum knew they were getting close to the Union army. He could feel the tension building. Soon, they arrived at a beautiful brick home on the left side of the road.
          Joe Thompson pointed toward the house and asked, “You boys know whose house that is?”
          “Before this war, I ain’t never been outside Tuscumbia,” Tom Barrett gave a toothy grin. “How you think I’m a gonna know who lives way up here?”
          “It’s William Harrison’s home,” Joe said. He looked at Tom’s blank face, and then asked, “You do know William Henry Harrison, don’t you?”
          “Never heard of him,” Tom shook his head. “Should I know 'im?”
          “He was just the president of the United States once,” Joe chuckled.
          Mack looked amazed. He asked, “Is he home now?”
          Joe laughed. “No, he’s been dead for years. That’s where he used to live.”
       Mack shrugged and looked at Tom. They both smiled at each other. They loved the way they got on Joe’s nerves with their ignorance. Not everyone had the opportunity to go to school and get an education like Joe had. Most of them had to stay home and work on the farm. Mack still remembered what his dad had told the teacher who had tried to get him to send his children to school. “Those boys don’t need no schooling. They gettin’ all the schooling they need from me on this here farm,” he’d said.
          Up ahead, they could see the Union rearguard on the hills. Before they got within range of their guns, the line made a sharp turn to the right. They were moving east.
          Joe said, “Boys, looks like we’re flanking 'em again.”

          They marched east a ways and hit another road running north. Someone said it was the Lewisburg Pike. They turned north there and started toward the hill just north of them. There were no Union soldiers on the hill over here. It’s a good thing someone’s using  their head today, Mack thought.