Where does the money go?

August 29, 2016

Last March, the Chickamauga Study Group raised $900 towards Civil War preservation. Every  year, at some point, I ask those present where they would like to see the money go. Truth be told, there are always more causes than cash.

In 2015, we donated approximately $900 to the Civil War Trust’s appeal for Brown’s Ferry.

This year, many of us were aware of a similar appeal being readied for land purchase at Rocky Face Ridge, outside of Dalton Georgia. That appeal was made public a couple of months ago.

http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/shiloh/shiloh-2016/a-message-from-jim-lighthizer.html

But some on the bus raised a good point – that money raised by the Chickamauga Study Group should be going to efforts to help Chickamauga, as well. I agree with this. Also, I am increasingly concerned with the growing maintenance backlog at our National Parks – we save lots of land, but who will interpret it, preserve it, repair the monuments, and the like?

In order to support both causes, I have decided to split the donations.

$450 went to the Civil War Trust, for their Rocky Face Ridge appeal; that money will be leveraged with a 15 to 1 match. Great news.

$450 also went to the Jewell Memorial Restoration Fund, managed by the Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, for the purpose of repairing and restoring monuments.

Here is the Friends website:

http://www.friendsofchch.org/

and the link directly to the Jewell fund information

http://www.friendsofchch.org/support-the-friends/preservation-restoration/jewell-memorial-restoration-fund/

Thanks to everyone who contributed.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

August 25, 2016

Some of you probably know that I am a member of Emerging Civil War, the group of historians who both blog and write on all aspects of the war. Sometimes deciding where to post something is a bit of a toss-up: should it go here, or there?

Recently I have begun a series of posts over on ECW that ties in well with this readership and subject, as well.

In order to keep current without too much spamming, I thought I would link posts between the two sites.

Here is the first of those, over on Emerging Civil War:

Longstreet goes West, Part One: Machiavellian or Misunderstood?

Bad news from Chattanooga

August 19, 2016

Another excerpt from Volume 3: Barren Victory; detailing the reaction of various members of the administration in Washington upon learning the details of Rosecrans’s defeat:

 

Lincoln standingThrough the night and into the early morning hours of September 21, telegraph wires across the North hummed with constant activity. In Washington DC, President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck waited for news, pouncing on every morsel, and firing off wire after wire in response. To Rosecrans, Lincoln wrote at 12:35 a.m.: “Be of good cheer. We have unabated confidence in you and in your soldiers and officers. . . . I would say save your army by taking strong positions until [Maj. Gen. Ambrose] Burnside joins you, when I hope you can turn the tide. . . . We shall do our utmost to assist you.” Burnside, whose forces in East Tennessee were the closest possible source of reinforcements for the Army of the Cumberland, now figured prominently in Lincoln’s thoughts. At 2:00 a.m., the President wired a terse, unequivocal order to Burnside: “Go to Rosecrans with your force without a moment’s delay.”

To those around him, the President clearly appeared downbeat. He had been so for several days, fearing the worst. Those fears were now confirmed. In the small hours of Monday morning he visited his private secretary, John Hay, barging into Hay’s bedroom while the latter was still abed. “Well, R[osecrans] has been whipped as I feared. I have feared it for several days. I believe I feel trouble in the air before it comes,” blurted the frustrated commander-in-chief. On the subject of Burnside, Lincoln vented his spleen. “Instead of obeying the orders . . . and going to R[osecrans],” he exploded in clear disgust, “[he] has gone up on a foolish affair to Jonesboro to capture a party of guerrillas.”[1]

Halleck StandingEspecially vexing was the discovery that Robert E. Lee sent Longstreet’s entire corps to reinforce Bragg, all done directly under the nose of a curiously passive Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Meade and the Army of the Potomac sat quietly at Culpepper, Virginia, while Lee coolly reduced his own forces by a third. “I asked what Meade was doing with his immense army,” noted Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles in his diary, given “Lee’s skeleton and depleted show . . .” Again Lincoln gave voice to his dismay. “It is . . . the same old story of this Army of the Potomac. Imbecility, inefficiency – don’t want to do – is defending the capital. . . . Oh, it is terrible, terrible, this weakness, this indifference, of our Potomac generals.” Welles felt Halleck should share equally in the blame. “General Halleck has earnestly and constantly smoked cigars and rubbed his elbows,” snorted a derisive Welles, “while the rebels have been vigorously concentrating their forces to overwhelm Rosecrans.”

[1] Martin Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay (Southern Illinois University Press, 1997), 85. Prior to the fight at Chickamauga, Burnside and Rosecrans had been in regular communication. With the capture of Chattanooga on September 9, it looked to both men as if Bragg were retreating, leaving Burnside nothing to fear from that quarter. Accordingly, Burnside took that part of his force not tied down occupying Knoxville towards Jonesboro Tennessee, near the Virginia-Tennessee border, to try and secure his northern flank. A small force of Confederates under Major General Samuel Jones still controlled southwest Virginia and, if reinforced, could pose a threat to Burnside’s control of East Tennessee. At Jonesboro, Burnside was about 100 miles northwest of Knoxville, and more than 200 miles from Chattanooga.

Bragg vs. Longstreet

August 16, 2016

braxton-bragg-corrLongstreet

Sometime on the morning of September 21, Braxton Bragg and James Longstreet had their first post-victory meeting. Bragg conferred with Longstreet twice before: near midnight on the 19th, when Longstreet reached Bragg’s headquarters after an circuitous journey from the Catoosa Platform; and about mid-afternoon on September 20, after Longstreet’s breaking of the Union line at Brotherton cabin, but while the fight for Horseshoe Ridge still raged.

In that first meeting, Bragg outlined his plans after a day of frustration, probably hoping that Longstreet could change the dynamic. In the second, Bragg seemed entirely pessimistic, borne down by the failures on the Confederate Right, while Longstreet was ebullient, energized by his tremendous success. The contrasting attitudes of this last meeting could not help but weigh on Longstreet’s mind.

They met again when Bragg rode up to Longstreet’s headquarters, now somewhere near the Dyer House, at about 8:00 a.m. This proved to be a fateful encounter.

[Ecerpted from Volume 3]

Bragg left no record of their exact conversation. Longstreet described it variously, outlining the same basic course each time. It was clear to both men the Federals had disengaged successfully, and now held Rossville in sufficient strength to make a frontal attack there unpalatable. Accordingly, Longstreet advocated a solution that would have been right at home in Virginia: a turning movement. The Army of Tennessee, he argued, should move northeast, cross the Tennessee River upstream from Chattanooga, and operate either against Ambrose Burnside at Knoxville, Rosecrans’s supply line back to Bridgeport, or more daringly, march back into Middle Tennessee. Longstreet’s accounts are vague on details, offering up different versions of the discussion in his multiple descriptions of the encounter, but they all follow the same general course.

Longstreet recorded his first account of the meeting just four days later on September 25 in a confidential wire to Secretary of War James Seddon. In it, Longstreet “suggested at once to strike at Burnside, and if he made his escape, to march upon Rosecrans’ communications upon rear of Nashville.” The next version came in his official report, written sometime in October. Here Longstreet said he advocated “crossing the river above Chattanooga, so as to make ourselves sufficiently felt on the enemy’s rear as to force his evacuation of Chattanooga, and indeed, force him back upon Nashville, and if we should find our transportation inadequate for a continuance of this movement, to follow up the railroad to Knoxville, destroy Burnside, and from there threaten the enemy’s railroad communications in rear of Nashville.” In an 1884 letter to D. H. Hill, Longstreet explained that he was “laying a plan by which we might overhaul the enemy at Chattanooga, or between that point and Nashville.” In 1904 memoirs, the Georgian reiterated the version of the plan found in his official report: Cross the Tennessee, force Rosecrans out of Chattanooga, and then move on either Knoxville or Nashville.

Far from being fully formed, Longstreet’s concept was really only a broad strategic outline. The variations in objective (the destruction of Burnside, flanking Rosecrans out of Chattanooga, or moving into Middle Tennessee) were simply the possibilities that suggested themselves to Longstreet as he contemplated what should come next, and should not be regarded as anything more definite. All three options were equally feasible and strategically sound, supposing the army could move with alacrity. His thinking foundered, however, on the shoals of logistical reality.

Longstreet had only recently arrived in North Georgia, and so had no way of knowing that the Army of Tennessee was crippled by a lack of transportation. Bragg’s army may have recently doubled in size in terms of combat power, but all those reinforcements greatly complicated his army’s logistical problems. None of Longstreet’s nor W. H. T. Walker’s men brought with them their own wagons from, respectively, Virginia or Mississippi. This lack only exacerbated a problem Bragg already faced. When he was operating in Tennessee, Bragg couldn’t fully feed the men he had because, as historian Thomas Connelly observed, “Bragg’s own transportation system had been on the verge of collapse since early 1863.”

Unless the army’s supply trains could be vastly and rapidly augmented, the Rebels could not venture more than a few miles from a secure rail-head. Longstreet’s men were already feeling the effects of that limitation. Just that morning, Longstreet “complained to Bragg that many of his men needed provisions, and as his staff officers had not been provided with the means of supplying the troops, he [Longstreet] could do nothing” about the problem.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, neither could Bragg. The Western & Atlantic Railroad, over which all of this logistical traffic must flow, was stressed to the breaking point. The rail line had spent the past week shuttling Longstreet’s infantry to the front—a high priority for Bragg’s army. The result was that the army was much stronger, and had won a decisive tactical victory, but the men were now short on rations. Catoosa Platform, where the rail line terminated, was 12 miles distant from the McDonald farmstead, which now marked the center of mass for Bragg’s army. Ideally, Bragg wanted to advance the army’s rail depot northward to Chickamauga Station, about 15 miles beyond Catoosa and just a couple of miles from McDonald’s, but to do so the intervening line through Ringgold would have to be put back into service. Most significantly, four bridges destroyed by Forrest’s men would have to be repaired before the rail-head could be advanced. Bragg had already begun that job, ordering at least one company of the newly formed 3rd Confederate Engineers onto the task on September 17, but the work was nowhere close to complete by the morning of the 21st.

Another huge obstacle to Longstreet’s plans was the Tennessee River itself. The drought had made the Tennessee fordable in many places, at least by infantry and cavalry. Even some artillery might be rafted across. Crossing an entire army and keeping it supplied indefinitely, of course, required bridges. And bridging materials Bragg had in sufficient supply. In fact, he probably had more bridging assets than did Rosecrans. Back in July, during the retreat to Chattanooga, the Rebels had sufficient pontoons to span the Tennessee twice, once at Battle Creek and again at Kelly’s Ferry. In August, these same pontoons were towed to Chattanooga, where later that month some of them formed the swinging bridge that occupied John T. Wilder’s attention while Eli Lilly’s guns shelled the city. A couple of weeks later, while he was preparing to abandon Chattanooga, Bragg ordered the bridges taken up and shipped south.

On the 21st of September, Bragg’s pontoon train was all the way back at Cartersville Georgia, more than 60 miles to the south. Moving the boats back north would also require the use of the railroad—once again at the expense of other supplies like rations and ammunition. Once at Catoosa, more horses and mules would have to be assigned to pull those pontoons, a further drain on the army’s already limited supply of livestock. However feasible that task might be in the long term, it certainly could not be accomplished quickly.

The final problem with this solution, as Bragg saw it, was that Longstreet’s proposed movement would mean exposing the Army of Tennessee’s supply line to a direct thrust by Rosecrans. Despite all the new Confederate reinforcements, Bragg still harbored the misapprehension that the Union army was “now more than double our numbers.” Who would defend Ringgold and/or Chickamauga Station once the army was on the far side of the Tennessee? To Bragg, the risks seemed too great. Moving the Army of Tennessee back into its namesake state exposed the Rebels to the very real danger of being isolated and destroyed in turn, more so than such a move threatened Rosecrans’s Federals. It was far more likely that Union reinforcements could be quickly sent to defend Stevenson and Bridgeport than could more Rebels be stripped from other departments to defend Ringgold.

For all of these reasons, Bragg understood that Longstreet’s concept was simply impractical. However, he failed to make that point clear to Old Pete. According to Longstreet, Bragg told him just the opposite. “He stated that he would follow that course,” claimed the Georgian in his memoirs. Whether Bragg did a poor job of updating Longstreet, or Longstreet simply ignored the facts in order to further his own idea, this fundamental divide would produce no end of difficulties between these two men in the days to come.

This fundamental misunderstanding between the men would vastly complicate Bragg’s future tenure in command. Longstreet did not instigate the mutiny which was to soon ravage the Army of Tennessee’s command structure – the seeds of that “revolt of the generals” lay elsewhere. But when the time came to choose sides, Longstreet chose unhesitatingly: in opposition to Braxton Bragg.

How would you choose?

Barren Victory, Volume 3 of the Chickamauga Campaign, at the Printer

August 12, 2016

Volume 3 is at the printer. That means that in a few short weeks, I will have copies in my hands. We finished proofing last week, and I have seen a pdf of the whole thing: at about 450 pages, it won’t be as lengthy a tome as the previous volumes, but it is still a large chunk of paper and ink.

For those of you who wish to have signed copies, now is the time to order. You can get them direct from Savas Beatie, or come visit me at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park over the battle’s anniversary weekend – September 16-18 – where I expect to be doing signings. That weekend will mark the book’s official debut.

Volume 3 covers the battle’s aftermath, with discussion of each side’s options (did Bragg bungle away the CSA’s best shot at victory?) and includes extensive order of battle detail.

Now is the time to get all three volumes in hardcover, if you don’t have the first two, or complete the set.

Onward!

Layout 1

A Visit to the Rock

August 4, 2016

Yesterday I had the chance to swing by Troy, NY, where I could at last pay my respects to a man central to the Chickamauga story

IMG_1407

Here is the text of the  nearby tablet

IMG_1408

Local Connections

July 10, 2016

Do you like road trips?

Now, to me, road trips mean a week of open running, usually stuffed with obscure historical sites, good food, and fine (or at least decent) wine. Oh, and bookstores. I brake for bookstores.

I don’t often get a full week to do exactly what I want, when I want.  I know, I know. Suck it up.

But if I go too long between trips, I scratch my itch with local history. And here’s the deal: everywhere has history. I can sniff out the Civil War connections to almost any place.

This week has been a case in point. I visited several local connections over the past few days. Each time, I got that visceral little thrill that tells me that the beast is feeding.

First up: Des Plaines Illinois. More Specifically, Camp Slemmer.

You’ve never heard of Camp Slemmer? What about Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer? He is the guy who defended Fort Pickens in early 1861, while Sumter was drawing all that attention over on the Atlantic Coast.  In the summer of 1861, the newly promoted Captain Slemmer was sent to Chicago to recruit a new regiment of US Army regulars, the 16th Infantry. In September, he established the aforementioned camp, on the east bank of the Des Plaines River, just south of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bridge. Camp Slemmer operated for several months until the 1at Battalion of the 16th departed for the Army of the Cumberland that fall. The 16th, then led by Maj. Phillip Sidney Coolidge, would be virtually destroyed at Chickamauga two years hence. More on Maj. Coolidge – a fascinating character in his own right – another day.

 

 

Today, no vestige of Camp Slemmer remains, but it is still a campground – the Methodist Campground, part of the Cook County Forest Preserve System. Here is the historical marker.

Camp Slemmer marker 2Camp Slemmer marker

 

In Barrington Illinois – one of our ritzier Chicago suburbs – I make a point of visiting this monument every few years.

Barrington Gun 1Barrington MonumentBarrington gun 2

 

Note the two artillery tubes. Those guns, according to the plaque, were Union fieldpieces lost at Chickamauga, and then recaptured at Missionary Ridge. Their provenance, I admit, is doubtful.  I ran the idea past the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park some years ago, and they – shall we say – expressed some skepticism. But to that, I don’t really care. I like the connection, and I like the fact that it is 20 minutes from my home even more.

Barrington text

On Saturday I felt the need to wander a bit farther afield. Pat McCormick was willing to ride along. We visited a couple more Chickamauga connections.

Next up: the flag of the 100th Illinois Infantry, newly conserved and proudly displayed at the historical museum in Joliet Illinois. Here is an image of that flag:

100 Illinois Flag

The 100th was commanded by Col. Frederic A. Bartelson, who lost an arm at Shiloh, returned to raise the 100th, and was captured at Chickamauga. He kept a fascinating diary of his time in Libby Prison, including careful documentation of the famous 1864 escape, until he was exchanged in time to return to the front later that summer. He was killed at Kennesaw.

Some of you might be more familiar with Joliet because of a certain film extravaganza. Jake! Elwood!

Joliet State Prison - now closed

Joliet State Prison – now closed

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1353

Next stop was the grave of Col. Silas Miller, who commanded the 36th Illinois at Chickamauga. He was also mortally wounded at Kennesaw. His grave and marker can now be found in Spring Grove Cemetery, Aurora Illinois, on a gentle rise above the Fox River. His funeral was the largest seen in Aurora to that date.

 

GAR Hall insideGAR Hall outside

Then it was off to downtown Aurora, to a place almost unique in modern America; a restored Grand Army of the Republic Hall. Here veterans of (among others) the 36th Illinois Infantry, 8th Illinois Cavalry, and 127th Illinois Infantry all met in fellowship, ice cream, cigars and whiskey. A fine body of men, no doubt.

There are but few GAR Halls remaining. Kudos to the City of Aurora for fighting so hard to save this one.

 

Bottom line: If you can’t be with the history you love, love the history you’re with.

 

(apologies to Mr. Stills.)

July 1, 1916.

June 30, 2016

July 1, 1916 was one of the darkest days in a dark war. The British summer offensive in Flanders began. For the United Kingdom, it was the largest action of the war to date, and marked the entry of what amounted to a new army into the fray.

Realizing that the European war was going to require an army larger than any yet fielded by an English speaking people, in 1915 Lord Kitchener began advocating for a dramatic increase in the troops fielded. By the summer of 1916, that army was ready for its first real effort in France.

On July 1, 1916, 13 British and 5 French divisions attacked the German 2nd army.

On that day alone, the United Kingdom lost 57,500 men, 19,000 of them killed. That staggering loss has largely overshadowed the fact that the Germans suffered no less a body blow.

Chickamauga?

I see one important connection to the American Civil War, one that always gives me pause.

A critical motivating factor in Kitchener’s recruitment drive was the concept of the “Pals” – battalions that were recruited locally, from communities, and sent to war together. Dockworkers, stockbrokers, even coal-miners, despite how badly men were needed in the mines for the war effort. “Pals” spurred recruitment, morale, and motivation.

Sound familiar?

One bad day could devastate a community. And July 1, 1916, was, for many of the men that went over t he top, most definitely a bad day. Many communities paid the price for sending “Pals” to war.

At Chickamauga, regiment after regiment of men in blue and gray understood that price. The 36th Illinois, with 2 companies raised in Elgin and two raised in Aurora, understood that price. They took 358 men into action, and suffered 141 casualties in less than one hour’s fighting.

The Somme lasted 141 days, and cost nearly 1.1 million casualties – 625,000 Allies and 465,000 Germans. It was war on a massive scale.

By November, as the Battle of the Somme drew to a fitful close, the British quietly discarded the “Pals” concept.

I think we can understand why.

A bit of Bragg

May 22, 2016

I present to you part of a letter from Lt. Col. Bolling Hall, Jr, of the 59th Alabama Infantry. It was written on December 6, 1863, addressed to Hall’s father. I find it very interesting.

Speaking of the battle of Missionary Ridge, notes Hall, “All blame Hardee with it that I have seen. Every body says Bragg is not at all to blame. You would be, I can almost say, astoundeBolling Halld were you to go into the army to see what a calamity all without exception regard the removal of Bragg.

I have talked to many from different commands & the confidence is universal in him. Of course I do not refer to general officers. I talked to none of them about it. Col. Sawyer [of the 24th Alabama Infantry] told me he always knew that Btagg was popular with a majority but he has been astonished to find how strong & universal the feeling is for Bragg and how great the confidence in him.

I heard several say the defeat at Missionary ridge was not as great a calamity as the removal of Genl Bragg & the latter has demoralized the army more than the former. What are we to come to if newspapers and politicians too cowardly themselves to go into danger are thus to break down our best & bravest Generals.

I have seen but one man who thinks Hardee can replace Bragg, i.e. is competent to take his place.”

 

Not the usual sort of commentary.

 

 

A day at Perryville

May 6, 2016

Last Saturday I spent a (soggy) day at Perryville, Kentucky’s state battlefield park commemorating the engagement of October 8, 1862. I was there because I was coming home from Chattanooga, and the Western Theater Civil War Historians’ conference, an annual event I try and attend every spring.

Good friends Andy Papen and Darryl Smith, both of whom have often joined me at Chickamauga for the March Study Group, were at Perryville – Darryl acting as guide for Andy’s CWRT, out of Missouri.They invited me to tag along.

I have been to Perryville several times, and once designed a game on it. The park has grown exponentially over the years – when I first visited, the entire park encompassed something like 98 acres. Now, it boasts of over a thousand acres. Heady stuff, for preservationists.

We spent the day on the field, despite the morning’s light rain. The park is now amazingly well interpreted, and Darryl delivered a solid interpretation. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
We ended the day discussing the fighting at Starkweather’s Hill, where one of my favorite stories to emerge out of the battle of Perryville was played out. At Perryville, the 1st Wisconsin Infantry supported and helped defend the 4th Indiana Battery. The 4th Indiana did not forget that service. In the summer of 1863, the men of the 4th took up a collection to help purchase a new set of colors for the 1st Wisconsin – which were presented with all due ceremony.

1st Wisc flag

On September 20, 1863, the men of the 1st Wisconsin were carrying this same flag when they were in support of the same 4th Indiana Battery.

If you are interested in exploiring Perryville with Darryl, I suggest his new venture, Walking with History; or follow his own musings about the battle on his blog, Ohio at Perryville.


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