Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Civil War ego's: Grant and Banks

Nathaniel Prentiss Banks

       Ever wonder why certain generals of the Civil War were more loved by their men than others? I have a theory. First, let me set the stage.
       When Nathaniel Prentiss Banks ordered his second assault on Port Hudson against Franklin Gardner's entrenched Confederate troops, he suffered over 1500 casualties in a very short time. His wounded lay suffering in the hot July sun and when the Southern troops attempted to go assist these poor men, they were fired on by the Federals on Banks' orders. Gardner sent a flag of truce to Banks asking for a truce that his men may go out and bury Banks' dead, Banks replied that he had no dead on the field. 
       One of Banks' subordinates, General William Dwight had several Confederate officers send him messages asking for a truce to bury the dead and tend the wounded. Dwight replied, "No, sir, it is a strategem of the enemy to get the dead carcasses carried away from their works. No sir. I'll stink the rebels out of the citadel with the dead bodies of these damned volunteers. If I cannot make the cowards take it by storm, as I have ordered them to do." Surprisingly, Dwight wasn't very loved by his troops either. The bodies of his troops lay on the field as the bones were picked clean by vultures until the siege ended. 

Ulysses Grant

       Many present day historians have attempted to re-write history by attempting to show what everyone during Civil War times knew about the man. Grant was nicknamed the "butcher" and apparently for good reason. More importantly, it wasn't the people of the southern states who gave Grant this nickname, but his own people. 
       After Grant's assault at Vicksburg, hundreds of dead and wounded lay between the lines in the Mississippi sun. The cries of the wounded caused Confederate troops to venture out in the night to give these poor men water. Confederate General James Pemberton asked Grant for a truce so Grant could bury his dead and recover the wounded. Pemberton even told Grant the southern troops would do this for Grant if he didn't want to care for his own men. Grant refused citing that it would appear a weakness on his part to call a truce. The Confederate soldiers complained that Grant was attempting to stink them out of Vicksburg because he couldn't take it. Finally, Grant's own medical staff warned Grant that the bodies were bound to cause health and sanitation problems if not buried. Grant then relented. 
       After the bloody assaults at Cold Harbor which inflicted 9000 casualties on Grant's army, he found himself again with hundreds of dead and wounded between the lines. Lee's men had been entrenched and therefore had no bodies between the lines. Hancock asked his commander to ask for a truce to care for the wounded and bury the dead. 
       Grant understood that to ask Lee for a truce was the same as admitting he had been defeated in the climactic battle of his first campaign in the east. Therefore, he wrote Lee saying it has been reported to me there are wounded between the lines of both armies. If it was alright with Lee, anyone along the line could call a truce to attend these men. The wording of the note to Lee made it appear that Grant had been too busy to notice there were wounded men between the lines.
       Lee worried about misunderstandings with anyone along the line calling temporary truces replied to Grant that he would agree to a truce if Grant desired one, but it should be done by the commanders, not individual soldiers. Grant decided to pretend he misunderstood Lee. He wrote Lee saying he understood Lee wanted a flag of truce and would send the men out at noon the next day. 
       Lee was forced to write Grant again apologizing that he had not made himself clear. He stated that for a truce to be made it should be sent from one army commander to another in the proper military way. Grant finally conceded and requested the truce, but by the time he did so it was too late and the wounded lay between the lines another night. 
       It is interesting to note, that while Lee was eventually defeated by Grant, it is Lee who was more respected by his men. Although, some modern historians want us to think Grant was not what history labeled him, one can understand how he earned his nickname. His ego certainly ruled his decision making at times, where a commander who loved his men would have realized his mistake and asked for a truce right away. Of course there were commanders who cared too much for their men. Two such generals were McClellan and Joe Johnston who often refused to fight for fear of losing any men. These type men are poor commanders also. There is a fine line between a general who cares for his men and yet is able to send them to their deaths. Lee is an example of just that type commander. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Whistling Dick

18 pound Confederate Cannon called 'Whistling Dick'

       There are several artillery pieces used during the Civil War that have famous nicknames. There is the famed Federal siege gun called the 'Swamp Angel' at Charleston, South Carolina. Brigadier General William Pendleton who was a pre-war preacher named his four cannons after the four gospels of the Bible. There is also the famed 'Widow Blakely' of Vicksburg fame. There was another artillery piece at Vicksburg with a nickname and that piece was called 'Whistling Dick'. 
       'Whistling Dick' wasn't that large of a piece, it was small in comparison with the 150 pound Armstrong and other siege guns. It was too heavy to be used in field service. Although there were 20 pound field pieces and even 32 pound field guns, 'Whistling Dick' was heavy for an 18 pounder. The iron cannon was rifled and had reinforced bands on the back to prevent the tube from exploding when fired. It had been built at Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond. 
       The gun would gain fame because of a whistling sound the oddly rifled weapon caused the shells to make in flight. The weapon was originally a model 1839 smoothbore cannon that was later rifled. It became a legend when Union veterans at post-war reunions would claim to have been narrowly missed by fire from 'Whistling Dick'. There have been many theories on why the shells made a whistling sound after the gun was rifled, but no one today can be sure what caused this phenomenon. 
       'Whistling Dick' served more as a psychological weapon than a true threat to Federal forces. It interrupted Ulysses Grant's canal digging operation when he tried to bypass Vicksburg. Although the chances of 'Whistling Dick' hitting someone was minute, it caused slaves and soldiers Grant used for digging to run for cover. It is also rumored to have caused severe damage on Federal dredging machines. 
       The ironic part about the famous Confederate artillery piece is the fact that it was served by a company of Louisiana Cavalry. These cavalrymen were well disciplined and learned to handle 'Whistling Dick' rather well. They have been credited with sinking the Federal ironclad U.S.S. Cincinnati. The most amazing part about this particular cannon is the fact that it served well throughout the siege of Vicksburg and following the surrender of that river fortress it disappeared. There is no evidence today of what happened to this famed Confederate artillery piece that earned the nickname 'Whistling Dick'. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Another Civil War Gasm

       I was very lucky to go on two Civil War Gasms in one week, this time while babysitting.  Jerry and I planned a trip that would add another ten Generals graves to our collection.  The only problem with this trip was the fact that it was pouring down rain here at home.  Jerry swore up and down that his intuition (women's intuition is what I think it is)  told him that it wasn't raining south of us.  We'll come back to this part later.  

Me and Timmy at the grave of William F. Tucker

       Our first stop was in Okolona, Mississippi at a cemetery called Odd Fellows.  I told Jerry that he should be buried in a cemetery by this name.  Luckily for us General Tuckers grave was easy to find.  We had just gotten our pictures made at the grave site when the bottom fell out.  We were forced to run to the car and while running Timmy announced "that old man got us wet!"  Brigadier General William Feimster Tucker lead Mississippi infantry in the  Army of Tennessee.  He was severely wounded at Resaca only two months after his promotion, disabling him from service for the rest of the war.  This resulted in him not being one of the well known Confederate Generals.  

More Mississippi road signs

       Again Jerry found road signs that made no sense in the state of Mississippi.  He insisted I stand out in the rain to take a picture of this phenomenon.  We are driving down the road and approach a 'do not enter' sign and just 50 yards beyond is a stop sign.  Jerry's question is, "if you're not supposed to enter, why do you need a stop sign?"  Jerry is always on the lookout for such things.  Between Okolona and Aberdeen he found  a county road that went into a cotton field and ended.  I talked him out of stopping and forcing me to take a picture of this, thank goodness because we were running behind.  

Timmy and I at the grave of Samuel Gholson

       We left Okolona and the dark cloud that follows Jerry everywhere he goes and went south to Aberdeen.  At another cemetery where Jerry should be buried, also called Odd Fellows, we found the grave of Brigadier General Samuel A. Gholson.  General Gholson lost an arm in a cavalry skirmish in Egypt, Mississippi.  We passed through Egypt on the way to Aberdeen and I had to talk Jerry out of stopping and asking where the pyramids were.  

Jerry and I at the grave of John Gregg

       About 20 yards from Gholson we found the grave of one of my favorite generals.  Brigadier General John Gregg was born in Lawrence County, Al and attended college at LaGrange which was considered the West Point of the South.  LaGrange is less than 10 miles from my house.  He fought in the Vicksburg campaign, was wounded in the neck at Chickamauga, and transferred to Lee's army in Virginia where he was shot in the neck again just outside of Richmond and killed. For more on General Gregg please see my John Gregg blog April 2011.   I never thought I would get a four year old to take a good picture, but the picture of Jerry and I was taken by Timmy.  As soon as he took the picture he announced,  "I got you and that old man with the white mustache."  

Confederate New Jersey Cavalry?

       In the confederate section of the Aberdeen cemetery we found a private John Wallace company B 2nd regiment, CSA.  Jerry was amazed to find that New Jersey provided regiments for the confederate army.  I told him that I thought the J should have been a C and it had to be North Carolina cavalry, but I learned Jerry was right this time.  There was a sign at the cemetery entrance that told the story of John Wallace.  Apparently John Wallace was a deserter from the 2nd New Jersey Cavalry, U.S. He burned the house of an elderly southern gentleman which resulted in the mans death.  The mans son then killed John Wallace.  There was still no explanation why this criminal was buried beneath a confederate marker.  

Me and Timmy at William Baldwin's grave

       We then traveled on southward to Columbus, Mississippi and to Friendship Cemetery where three confederate generals rest.  The first grave we found was of another one of my favorite generals, Brigadier General William Edwin Baldwin.  The first words out of Jerry's mouth was, "There is no drain hole in the bowl on top of the stone.  I wonder what keeps the water from freezing and bursting this bowl?"  

       I replied sarcastically, "Jerry, that is just the question I was about to ask after I finished paying tribute to one of my Confederate heroes."  You can read more about William Baldwin in my blog, 'Confederate General Killed by DUI?'  August 2011.

Photo taken by Timmy of Tim and the Old Man with General SD Lee

       The next general was one of Jerry's heroes, General SD Lee.  Jerry's ancestor served under Forrest who in turn served under Lieutenant General SD Lee at times.  Following the war, Lee was the first president of Mississippi State University.  

Timmy with General Sharp

       Brigadier General Jacob Hunter Sharp is also buried in this cemetery.  General Sharp led a brigade in the Army of Tennessee from Chickamauga to Bentonville.  

Me and Timmy with Phillip Roddey

       We arrived in Tuscaloosa only 30 minutes before sunset.  While I was frantically hunting the graves of Brigadier Generals George D. Johnston and Phillip D. Roddey Jerry was being entertained by two police officers attempting to arrest a man in a house next to the cemetery.  General Roddey was called 'the defender of the Tennessee Valley'.  

Timmy and I with Josiah Gorgas

       It was almost dark when we found the graves of Josiah Gorgas and S.A.M. Wood.  Wood was a native of Florence, Alabama.  He saw action from Shiloh to Chickamauga where he lost control of his brigade during a night fight and resigned.  One could throw a stone from these two officers graves and hit Bryant Denny Stadium.  It had been a great trip. We had gotten ten generals grave photos.  Any trip with Jerry that doesn't end with an arrest is a good trip.

Timmy in the cemetery with Bryant Denny Stadium in the back

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Mississippi Civil War Gasm

Me at the grave of Brigadier General Joseph L. Hogg

       Well, I finally had a day off without kids to baby sit and went on a mini-Civil War Gasm with my buddy Jerry in Mississippi. If you know Jerry, you know we had a blast. We have begun a hobby of visiting as many Confederate generals graves as possible and having our pictures taken with them. Our first stop was in Corinth, Mississippi at the museum located on the site of Battery Robinette where Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Lewis Hogg is buried. He didn't die in battle here, but from dysentery about three months after his promotion to brigadier general and without seeing any action whatsoever. Colonel William Peleg Rogers is also buried there, killed in the charge that overran the small earthen fort. He commanded a brigade in the action there and by all rights should have been a general officer. Despite the fact that a petition was signed begging President Davis to promote the man, he remained a colonel. The reason being that he and Davis had an argument during the Mexican War and Davis being the type person who held grudges would never forgive Rogers. 
       This brings us to the funny part of the story. Jerry and I wore our shell jackets on this trip. We were in a hurry because after all it was a Civil War Gasm. (Civil War Gasm definition is where you hit as many places as quickly as possible and we had places to go before dark.) We entered the museum to find the park ranger talking to a group of people. The entire group paused to watch us pass right by and out the back door of the museum at a high rate of speed. We exited the museum and walked around to the gate to find it locked. We then re-entered the museum by a side door and exited through another door out of sight of the ranger and group. We made each others picture beside General Hogg and Colonel Rogers graves, walked back around the building to Jerry's truck and left. It was only later that we decided that this is how ghost stories begin. We can just imagine someday reading about ourselves as the park ranger writes a book about the first sergeant and private that passed right through the museum and beyond a locked gate to be seen no more. 

Me at the grave of Colonel William Rogers one of my personal hero's.

       We left Corinth and headed southwest toward Ripley, Mississippi. About six miles beyond Ripley is a small town called Blue Mountain. Here in Blue Mountain Cemetery is the resting place of Brigadier General Mark Perrin Lowrey. His grave was easy enough to find, the cemetery not much more than an acre and his being the only one with an obelisk. General Lowrey was one of Patrick Cleburne's brigade commanders. He had fought in the Mexican War and returned home determined to become a preacher. Despite the fact that he couldn't read or write, he proceeded to accomplish his goal. His wife taught him reading and writing and he became a Baptist minister. He rose to the rank of general during the Civil War and following the war returned to the ministry and also founded a female college in Blue Mountain which later became Blue Mountain College. He died in the railroad depot in Middleton, Tennessee while awaiting a passenger train. 

Grave of Mark Perrin Lowrey

       Leaving Blue Mountain, Mississippi, Jerry called my attention to something I had never realized before. It seems the laws of mathematics cease to exist in this old southern state. We arrived at a sign that declared the intersection a four way stop. The problem was, we only counted three roads. One might think this was a simple accident, but we'll come back to this later. 
       We then drove west to Holly Springs, Mississippi where there are four generals buried in one cemetery. We arrived and entered the first cemetery entrance we came to. There on the right within twenty feet of the entrance we found the grave of Major General Edward Cary Walthall. If you know my luck, you'll know this was a complete accident. Walthall was the little known Confederate general that Forrest chose to help him fight the rear-guard for Hood during the retreat from Nashville. It would prove to be Walthall's best performance of the war. 

Major General Edward Cary Walthall

       We then got lucky and found the graves of Samuel Benton and Winfield Scott Featherston. Benton was only a colonel leading a brigade at the Battle of Atlanta when artillery shrapnel nearly tore his foot off and a piece lodged just inches from his heart. His foot would be amputated and his promotion to brigadier general would arrive from Richmond just two days before his death. The authorities in Richmond had not known he'd been wounded. 

Brigadier General Samuel Benton

       Brigadier General Winfield Scott Featherston began the war in the Virginia army and made a name for himself at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. From that point on he would serve as a capable officer but made no special name for himself. He would be shipped to the west where he would finish the war with the Army of Tennessee. His grave was as easy to find as Walthall's which was a good thing because it was about a ten degree windchill factor and I told Jerry that if a limb was to hit my ear, it would shatter like glass. 

Brigadier General Winfield Scott Featherston

       This brought us to the most difficult part of finding Brigadier General Daniel Chevilette Govan's grave. His marker is relatively flat without the enormous obelisks to mark the position. Jerry has a sixth sense or so he claims, sometimes it gets a bit off on him. He told me to check some markers about forty yards from the truck. I almost left my camera in the car because I don't trust Jerry's sixth sense, but I carried it along just in case. Lucky for me because, it did indeed turn out to be General Govan. This was truly our lucky day, my ears having lost all feeling along with my fingers, toes, and nose. Govan is the Arkansas brigadier who stood next to his close friend Patrick Cleburne at Franklin and said, "General, there won't be many of us to return home to Arkansas after this battle." Cleburne simply replied, "Well, Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men."

Brigadier General Daniel Govan

       It was at this point that Jerry's sixth sense began to get goofy or at least I think it did. He still claims he was right, but on that point I still remain dubious. He claimed he had an intuition that there was someone buried beneath a cedar tree he could see across the cemetery. He refused to leave the cemetery without investigating this mystery person. We drove across the cemetery to the cedar tree in question and sure enough, there was someone buried beneath the tree. I simply shook my head. Of course there was someone buried beneath the tree, it is a cemetery. He argues that he never said it was anyone buried there that had anything to do with the Civil War, he simply said there was someone buried there. 
       Leaving Holly Springs headed back home we again encountered a four way stop sign with only three roads. Jerry wanted to stop and take a picture of the intersection, but luckily he chose to pass on by this time. It was a typical Civil War Gasm for me. Out prowling the country with a fellow Civil War nut and we got photographs of us by six Confederate generals graves. I only wish I could do this everyday. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Vicksburg 1863 and Winston Groom

       I'm currently reading Vicksburg 1863 by Winston Groom and so far it has been an excellent read. I also have a copy of Shrouds of Glory by the same author. Shrouds of Glory deals with the Nashville Campaign and is also a descent read although I'm not in total agreement. Groom seems to agree with Hood's attack at Franklin. I can see Groom's point as well as Hood's reasoning behind the attack, but in hindsight one can't help but admit it was a horrible mistake. 
       At one point in Vicksburg 1863, Groom mentioned a rumor that a local potter had made chamber pots with pictures of notorious Federal General Benjamin Butler in the bottom. He goes on to admit that he hasn't found any evidence to support this. That is the reason I decided to post this blog. We'll get to that part later. 

Benjamin "Beast" or "Spoons" Butler

       Next to Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Butler was possibly the most hated man in the Confederacy. When he arrived in New Orleans, a crippled veteran of the Mexican War named William Munford had torn the United States flag from the Federal mint. Butler charged Munford with treason and hanged him. Citizens who refused to sign the loyalty oath had their homes confiscated and used by his officers. His brother got rich off of steeling from the citizens of New Orleans which earned Butler the nickname "Spoons" for all the silverware he had stolen. 
       The most infamous thing Butler ever did was to issue an order that stated if any woman insulted or showed contempt toward a Union officer, she will be regarded as a woman of the town. Shock waves would be heard across the Atlantic from this proclamation. The way the order read, it sounded as if he was giving his men permission to rape southern women. Jefferson Davis branded Butler an outlaw and ordered if the man was captured to have him hanged on the spot. British prime minister Lord Palmerston declared that any Englishman should blush that Benjamin Butler was a member of the Anglo-Saxon race.

William Munford

       This brings us back to the statement Groom makes about the chamber pots. My wife noticed me smiling and asked me what I was reading. I told my wife I have actually seen these chamber pots. 

One of the chamber pots Mr. Groom can't find any evidence of.