The Battle of Nashville: A Commemoration

The assault on Shy's Hill, during the Battle of Nashville, broke the back of the Confederate left and spelled doom for the Rebel army.

The assault on Shy’s Hill, during the Battle of Nashville, broke the back of the Confederate left and spelled doom for the Rebel army.

   “Six men are on a hill—a general and his staff.  Below, in the gray fog of a winter morning, an army, which has left its entrenchments, is moving upon those of the enemy—creeping silently into position.  In an hour the whole wide valley for miles to left and right will be all aroar with musketry stricken to seeming silence now and again by thunder claps of big guns.  In the meantime the risen sun has burned a way through the fog, splendoring a part of the beleaguered city.”  –Lt. Ambrose Bierce

Today, December 15, 2014 was a foggy morning in Nashville, much like it was that cold December morning in 1864.  Of the six men Bierce was with that morning, when he wrote his memoir of the battle, he was already the sole survivor.  Today there are none; even their children’s children are few and far between.  That fifteenth of December the hills surrounding what is now downtown Nashville erupted in a massive bombardment as the big guns of Fort Negley and the other Union hilltop forts burst forth against the starving and shoeless troops of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

Outnumbered and lacking the abundance of munitions and supplies the Federals enjoyed, the Rebels initially resisted the massive blue onslaught.  On the far right flank of Hood’s army, the Confederates repulsed an attack by regiments of the United States Colored Volunteers.

Elsewhere, the Rebels were not so successful.  General Thomas, the Federal commander launched a massive assault against the Confederate left flank, throwing all of Wilson’s Cavalry Corps, backed by large numbers of infantry.  The Army of Tennessee was overwhelmed and where yuppie suburbanites now throng Green Hills Mall, masses of blue and gray fought that day to the death.  One by one the Confederate redoubts fell to the Union tide, relentlessly driving the Rebels back.

The following day, the sixteenth, Johnnies continued to resist, but as the day wore on the weight of numbers began to tell and finally the once proud Army of Tennessee broke–shattered is more like it.  Confederate units that had gone toe to toe with the Yankees at Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga and Atlanta now fled helter skelter or surrendered.  For the one time in the entire four years of war, a Confederate army was thoroughly and completely defeated.  Stanley Horn, a pioneering historian of the war in the western theatre, described the Battle of Nashville as the “Decisive Battle of the Rebellion.”  While later historians have not always been in agreement with Horn, there is no denying the magnitude of its success.  Contrary to what one recent scholar said of Gettysburg, it was Hood’s Autumn Campaign and the Battle of Nashville which were in fact “the Last Invasion” by the Confederacy.

Fort Negley, the strongpoint of Union defenses, fired the opening salvoes of the battle.  The fort was notable for being the largest stone fort constructed by the North during the war.

Fort Negley, the strongpoint of Union defenses, fired the opening salvoes of the battle. The fort was notable for being the largest stone fort constructed by the North during the war.

Most modern historians have regarded Hoods invasion as doomed from the start; certainly it was a desperate gamble.  John Bell Hood himself described it as a “Forlorn Hope.”  But despite all the mistakes by Hood, the broken promises made to him by Jefferson Davis and General Beauregard, the fact is that he and his men came very close to destroying at least part of General Thomas’ army at both Spring Hill and Franklin.  Moreover, if historians regard the Battle of Nashville as a forgone conclusion, the Lincoln administration–and in particular General Grant–did not.  The prospect of taking Nashville and its treasure trove of munitions and supplies, would have emboldened the entire South and enabled Hood to march on the Ohio Valley and beyond–a prospect that sent shivers down the Federal’s collective spine.

Belmont Mansion, the humble abode of Adelicia Acklen, was headquarters of the IV Union Corps during the Battle of Nashville.

Belmont Mansion, the humble abode of Adelicia Acklen, was headquarters of the IV Union Corps during the Battle of Nashville.

It is true that the Civil War was won in the East, when General Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox in April of 1865; but it is also true that the Civil War was lost the winter before, in the West, at the Battle of Nashville on December 15 and 16, 1864.

 

 

For more on the Civil War in Tennessee, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, both published by HarperCollins.

 

 

Posted in Ambrose Bierce, Battle of Franklin, Battle of Springhill, Chickamauga, Civil War Historians, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, General George Thomas, General John Bell Hood, Robert E. Lee, The American Civil War, The Army of Cumberland, The Army of Tennessee, The Battle of Nashville, Ulysses S. Grant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Long Shadows in Franklin, Tennessee

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Originally posted on Dixie Spirits blog:
“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays.  Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls….And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall…

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Of Maps and Men: Lieutenant Ambrose Bierce and Captain Levi T. Scofield

Hood's men assaulting the main Union line after Levi T Scofield

Hood’s men assaulting the main Union line after Levi T Scofield

As I noted in my previous blog, right now in Middle Tennessee we are commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Autumn Campaign, which included actions at Columbia, Springhill (or Spring Hill as they put during the War), Franklin and Nashville.  Having spent several years following the career of Ambrose Bierce, especially as Topographical Engineer, with the Army of the Cumberland, I made a particular study of this campaign, since Bierce wrote extensively about it, both as non-fiction essays and also in his short fiction pieces.

Pen and kink sketch General Adams (CSA) and his horse falling at the barricades before Franklin, after Levi T. Scofield

Pen and kink sketch General Adams (CSA) and his horse falling at the barricades before Franklin, after Levi T. Scofield

It was therefore with some interest when I came across a short book by another “engineer” who, like Bierce, was with General Schofield’s little army on the road to Franklin and Nashville.  While Ambrose Bierce was with Wood’s division in the IV Corps of the Army of the Cumberland, Levi T. Scofield was on the staff of General Cox’s division, with the 23rd Corps.  Both corps were part of General Schofield’s force on the “retreat” (actually more a holding action, ordered by Thomas) from Pulaski, Tennessee all the way to Nashville.  While technically part of Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland for this campaign, Schofield, in his official report on the campaign pointedly still lists his 23rd Corps as part of the Army of the Tennessee.  Although not given an official designation, Schofield’s little army was de facto the reconstituted Army of the Ohio, which had fought during the Atlanta Campaign that summer.  Levi Scofield, as a nod to that unofficial fact, put the Army of the Ohio logo on the cover of his little book.

Federal commander Casement rallying his troops at Franklin after Levi T. Scofield

Federal commander Casement rallying his troops at Franklin after Levi T. Scofield

As a side note, both General Schofield, commanding the Union troops during the march north, and General Hood, in charge of the Rebel forces, have both generally received strong criticisms from historians over the years and for similar reasons.  Before being appointed commander of the Army of Tennessee, Hood has been accused of going behind his superior, General Joe Johnston, and criticizing him to superiors in Richmond, with a view to getting himself appointed in Johnston’s stead.  Similarly, Schofield has been accused of much the same thing with regard to General Thomas to Washington.  To what degree either Hood or Schofield were guilty of these accusations I will defer to others, save to note that recently Stephen Hood has argued vehemently in Hood’s defense and done much to rehabilitate “the Gallant Hood.”  No one has yet argued similarly on behalf of Schofield.

 

After exposing them to certain destruction, General Wagner tries to rally his broken brigades.  After Scofield

After exposing them to certain destruction, General Wagner tries to rally his broken brigades. After Scofield

One thing that has become clear to me, however, is that both general’s actions during this campaign have been underappreciated.  To be more precise, one could argue that what previous historians have viewed as Hood’s failures as a general are better understood as Schofield’s skills as a field commander.  Hood should have won at Springhill and captured Schofield’s army; likewise, because of a fatal blunder on the part of one of Schofield’s subordinates, Hood came very close to triumphing at the very start of the Battle of Franklin.  Luck and Brigadier Opdycke prevented an unqualified Confederate success there.—but it was a very close thing nonetheless.  The fact of the matter is that General Hood’s army came closer to success at Franklin than General Lee’s did at Gettysburg—and were more exposed to enemy fire for a longer duration during the charge.

 

Rebel drummer boy just before he  "explodes like a tomato."   After  Captain Scofield

Rebel drummer boy just before he
“explodes like a tomato.” After Captain Scofield

For those unfamiliar with the role of topographical engineers during the Civil War, perhaps I should clarify their position in the War.  Officially they were surveyors and map-makers, which today would be classed as a rear echelon staff position—hardly the stuff of daring-do and danger.  During the Late Unpleasantness, however, their duties and responsibilities were far different.  From the very start of the war, the lack of accurate maps of the South bedeviled Union commanders.  During Ambrose Bierce’s tour of duty in western Virginia (today West Virginia), the lack of maps and bad guides cost the Federals several lost opportunities.  They would have fared far worse save that the Confederates were as green and as ignorant as they.  Over the course of the next several campaigns in the Western Theatre, however, Union commanders sought to rectify this deficiency and this is where the role of the topographical engineers came in.

 

Knowing what roads led where, where and of what quality were the bridges, fords, road junctions and other features of the terrain became something of the highest priority.  Far from working in the rear, the topographical engineers went out ahead of the army, often working behind enemy lines, gathering tactical intelligence of the countryside and of the enemy dispositions in it.  It was extremely hazardous work and there was always the danger that, if captured, they would be treated as spies and executed.  It was a far cry from being a rear echelon “red tab” (to borrow a British term).

 

During the Battle of Franklin, Bierce and the IV Corps were north of the Harpeth, guarding the river crossing and the supply train, a position from which Lt. Bierce had a bird’s eye view of the start of the battle.  Captain Scofield, by contrast, was with General Cox’s rear guard and in the front line of the battle, so his memoir of that fight is quite vivid and detailed, with a number of anecdotes about the engagement not mentioned elsewhere.  Being a topographical engineer, Scofield also had a good eye for where things happened and recorded them on the maps that accompany his book.  As near as I can tell, he rendered these maps in watercolor or wash; there are also a number of pen and ink sketches that accompany his narrative and as no artist is listed, I am assuming that Scofield also rendered these himself.  This is important because there were no combat artists accompanying either army during this campaign, much less photographers, so the Autumn Campaign is very poorly documented in comparison to other campaigns of the war.

George Bernard photographed Nashville during the December battle using both a stereo and a panoramic camera.

George Bernard photographed Nashville during the December battle using both a stereo and a panoramic camera.

In Nashville, Federal photographer George N. Bernard did photograph the Union defenses about the time of the Battle of Nashville, but he apparently did not get too close to the action during the battle.  I also recently discovered that Bernard’s well known photos of Nashville during the battle were originally taken with a stereo camera, although I have only discovered two so mounted on stereo cards.  Perhaps the others of this series are squirreled away in some archive or collection.

Although Captain Scofield wrote many years later and his sketches and maps are presumably also of that vintage, the fact that he was an eyewitness to those events gives much weight to their veracity as historical documents.  A number of the anecdotes of the Battle of Franklin which he narrates he also illustrates with his sketches.  While they were not of particular value for use in my upcoming book on Lt. Bierce, they are quite important in documenting the Battle of Franklin and I believe have hitherto been poorly known.  With November 30 having been the 150th anniversary, I thought this would be an opportune time to publish a few of them as they relate to the battle.  Enjoy.

Carnton Cemetery in Franklin where many of the Confederate lie.  According to Captain Scofield, the Union dead were dumped in a section of trench where they still may lay.

Carnton Cemetary in Franklin where many of the Confederate lie. According to Captain Scofield, the Union dead were dumped in a section of trench where they still may be.

For more about the Battle of Franklin, see the appropriate chapters of Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, as well as the Williamson County chapter in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Posted in Ambrose Bierce, Atlanta, Battle of Franklin, Battle of Springhill, Civil War Leaders, Civil War on film, General George Thomas, General John Bell Hood, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Nashville, The American Civil War, The Army of Cumberland, The Army of Tennessee, The Battle of Nashville, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Show and Tell: the Franklin Civil War Show

Opdycke's Brigade (US) repulses the Confederate Breakthrough near the Carter House.  The Battle of Franklin, (Don Troiani).

Opdycke’s Brigade (US) repulses the Confederate Breakthrough near the Carter House. The Battle of Franklin, (Don Troiani).

Normally I don’t blog about current events and prefer to focus on subjects directly related to the Civil War, especially the more esoteric or unusual aspects of the Late Unpleasantness.  Since there is so much going on in Middle Tennessee regarding the Sesquicentennial, however, I am going to digress a bit this go round.  Hopefully I will be able to get back on track with blog entries before the big Battle of Nashville celebrations coming up next week.

While there has been a number of interesting 150th events going on in the Mid South since September, this author has been distracted putting his latest book “to bed,” dealing with Ambrose Bierce and his Civil War experiences (more of that at another time), so I have been very remiss of late.  However, this weekend I did have a booth at Mike Kent’s venerable Mid South Civil War Show, now named (I think) the Franklin Civil War Show, ever since the powers that be in Music City decided turning their state fair grounds into a quick profit for developers would be a good idea.  That the voters in Nashville did not agree with the politicians and their developer friends has only temporarily delayed them, unfortunately.

The Battle of Nashville has been called "Decisive" by historian  Stanley Horn.   Next week is the 150th Anniversary of it.  Howard Pyle, artist

The Battle of Nashville has been called “Decisive” by historian
Stanley Horn. Next week is the 150th Anniversary of it. Howard Pyle, artist

 

As an aside, any travelers to Nashville for the anniversary of the battle should be aware that the state fairground itself is smack dab in the middle of battlefield.  There is a Confederate “lunette” just down the road on a hill overlooking Nolensville Pike on a small road that leads over a railroad cut and over to Murfreesboro Road.  This is the same part of the Nashville battlefield I blogged about in “Captain Aldrich and the Dance of Death” (July, 2014).

In any case, only fifteen minutes south of Nashville by interstate sits Franklin, which, while it too loves its developers and their bulldozers, has done a great deal to not only preserve its historic heritage, but in recent years been highly pro-active in reclaiming parts of the Battle of Franklin battlefield.  Yes, you can have prosperity and history side by side and the city of Franklin is proving it–which is one good reason why one of the largest Civil War shows in the South moved down the road to Franklin a few years back.

As usual, Mike Kent’s show had an army of people attending, many in mufti, and there were excellent booths of all descriptions lining both levels of the Williamson County Agricultural Center.  In between selling and jabbering about my Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln books, I talked with a number of nice folks on various topics of the War, (many of which are still in dispute) and learned a thing or three I didn’t know about before.  Besides the two main Civil War books, I also had Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground on sale, as well as Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, which also cover a number of Civil War topics and I sold a few of those as well.  I also did a bit of jawboning about my upcoming Bierce book and ran into one Civil War enthusiast from Indiana was quite knowledgeable about the Ninth Indiana Infantry regiment.  Apropos of Civil War ghosts, several of the visitors to my booth told me about their family’s encounters with the supernatural at Civil War sites, which I will relate in a later blog or two.

When time allowed, I also went to the other booths to take a look see at what they had available.  While I did buy one or two items, I wish my budget had been as big as my eyes, as there were quite a few collector’s gems on display there.  Of course, by gems I mean uniforms, bayonets, swords, muskets and the like.  Military Images magazine, a gold mine of pictorial information about the war, also had a booth there and I got to meet Ron Coddington there.  In case you are not familiar with him and his work, he is the go-to expert for Civil War photography, especially cartes de visites and the like, and has written extensively, not only for MI for Civil War News and the New York Times.  If ya’ll have never seen Military Images, I recommend it highly.

An officer orders his men to attention, but their attention is elsewhere.  Civil War "patriotic" envelope.

An officer orders his men to attention, but their attention is elsewhere. Civil War “patriotic” envelope

 

There were some unusual booths as well.  I have blogged about sex and single soldier before and I still have hopes of convincing some publisher to let me do a book just on real romances of the Civil War (yes, folks, grandpa and grandma somehow managed to meet and reproduce, even during the Civil War), but one lady had a booth which was a revelation even to me.  It had a wealth of documents, photos and other memorabilia about the distaff side of the Civil War, especially with regard to the armies of “shady ladies” who served their country in way not often written about.  All of her displays were interesting and some surprisingly risqué for the 1860’s.  Almost all of what her booth on exhibit has never been published before—which goes to show that there is quite a lot still out there about the war all of which have yet to see their way into print.

All in all, the 26th annual show was a success, both for my own books, but for Civil War enthusiasts attending in general.  This year in particular the show occurred at an ideal time, bracketing as it does the sesquicentennials of both the Battle of Franklin and the Battle of Nashville.  Not to be down on my home town, but compared to little Franklin, one would expect Nashville to have done more over the years regarding its Civil War heritage and preservation.  In fairness, there have been some very active people interested in promoting Nashville’s Civil War sites and their preservation; and coming up in mid month there will be a lot going on in Nashville to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the battle one historian called  “decisive.” If anyone out there reading this happens to be traveling through the city for the holidays on their way towards other destinations, be sure to take a day or two to linger and take in one or another of the special events happening for the Battle of Nashville anniversary.  You’ll be glad you did.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

 

Posted in Ambrose Bierce, Battle of Franklin, Battle of Springhill, Christmas, Civil War ghosts, Civil War Historians, Civil War History, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Nashville, Nashville Ghosts and Haunts, Prostitution, SEX and the Civil War, The American Civil War, The Army of Cumberland, The Army of Tennessee, The Battle of Nashville | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JEFF DAVIS’ FAVORITE HAUNTS

Jefferson Davis, the embattled president of the Confederacy is still thought to haunt many of the places he stayed.

Jefferson Davis, the embattled president of the Confederacy is still thought to haunt many of the places he stayed.

 

In the pantheon of the Lost Cause myth, Jefferson Davis has never figured very large. Lord knows his small but loyal following has tried, but the truth is, compared to Lee, Stuart and Stonewall, old Jeffie has never been a terribly sympathetic figure.  Suspicious of his generals, opinionated, prone to cronyism, holder of grudges and a whole host of other less than noble traits, Confederate sainthood has always been a hard sell for him.  Not that one can’t make a case for Davis as a leader: Jeff Davis had to contend with egotistical generals, petty politicians and innumerable problems with shortages of military supplies, manpower and money, and given the many limitations he faced, one could argue he handled them better than any other Southern leader would have.

Fort Monroe as it looked during the war.  After the war it became Jefferson Davis' Bastille.

Fort Monroe as it looked during the war. After the war it became Jefferson Davis’ Bastille

Then, when the end came for the Confederacy, virtually alone among all Southern leaders—including many who had fomented Secession far more aggressively than he—Davis was thrown in a dungeon to rot for several years, ostensibly to await trial for treason. Davis probably would have loved to have been put on trial; it would have given him a forum to argue that secession was legal and constitutional and that he had done nothing wrong.  This was exactly why the Federal authorities did not bring Davis to trial—not even under a military tribunal.  After spending four years and hundreds of thousands of lives to suppress the rebellion, the last thing anyone in the North wanted was to reopen the whole issue of states rights and secession, even in a show trial.

Jefferson Davis in durance vile.  Casemate No. 2.  Note the shackles.

Jefferson Davis in durance vile. Casemate No. 2. Note the shackles.

Davis remained in a casemate cell in Fort Monroe for several years after his capture.  His devoted wife Lavinia pleaded her husband’s case to whoever would listen, even to the Pope in Rome.  Eventually old Jeffie was set free and he retired to the Gulf Coast to write his memoirs and argue to the world that he was right all along and everyone else wrong.  If he weren’t so unsympathetic a character, one could well regard him as a tragic figure.

As it is, however, while Jefferson Davis was less than successful in life, in death he has succeeded admirably as a first class ghost. Moreover, a number of places where he once resided are widely known to be haunted.

Fort Monroe is technically in Virginia, but all through the war it was securely in Union hands and in fact is still an active army base.  It was here that Davis was confined after his capture, kept in shackles twenty-four hours a day in Casemate No.2.  Oddly, Jefferson Davis’ ghost has not been reported there but on the citadel’s ramparts, called the Terraplain.  On a moonlit night one may see the gaunt figure wandering beneath the flagpole that sits atop the walls, pacing to and fro, wishing to be free.  His wife, Varina, also haunts the old fort, in an apartment provided for her on the fortresses grounds.  The windows in that apartment have been known to rattle all of their own, the spectre of Varina expressing her frustration at her husband’s incarceration no doubt.

The "Confederate White House" in Richmond, where the Davis family resided during the War.  It too is haunted.

The “Confederate White House” in Richmond, where the Davis family resided during the War. It too is haunted.

The Davis’ previous residence in Richmond, sometimes called “The Confederate White House,” has also been reported haunted.  While one can never be entirely sure about these things, the haunting is thought to relate to the death of one of their children, who died in an accident during the war.

Yet another favorite haunt of the Rebel President is Beauvoir, overlooking Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.  It was here he and his wife retreated to after Davis was let loose in 1867 and where he wrote his lengthy and tendentious memoirs of his years heading the Secessionist government.  While some have seen apparitions here, the ghosts are mostly unseen, with occasional manifestations, such as a bust crying tears, or the eerie sense someone is following behind you as you tour the house.  There are also some ghosts in gray, who may be the shades of Confederate veterans who lived here in the years after Davis died.  Whatever one may say about Jefferson Davis, he has one virtue which a few more modern residents of his state may profitably emulate; at least he eventually stopped fighting the war.

Beauvoir, where Jefferson lived out his remaining years and where his spirit still abides.

Beauvoir, where Jefferson lived out his remaining years and where his spirit still abides.

Although it suffered greatly from Hurricane Katrina, Beauvoir has been restored and is again open to visitors and even if one has little sympathy for the Lost Cause, one should visit this token of another era, for here resided the last prisoner of the Late Unpleasantness. May he rest in peace—but I doubt it.

For more about the hauntings of Jefferson Davis and his wife, as well as other true supernatural doings regarding the Civil War, go to Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; for documented paranormal phenomena regarding Lincoln, see The Paranormal Presidency.  For authentic accounts of Civil War ghosts in the Mid South, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

 

 

Posted in Beauvoir, Civil War ghosts, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, Fort Monroe, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Great American Presidents, Jefferson Davis, Varina Davis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to the Future: George Washington’s Prophetic Vision

Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge, where Washington foresaw the Civil War.

Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge, where Washington foresaw the Civil War.

At first blush, anything to do with George Washington may seem to have little connection with the Civil War. Yet there is more than one incident in which Washington, or some spectral entity resembling him, influenced the outcome of events relating to the Late Unpleasantness.  In this first entry about George Washington and the Civil War, we will look at an obscure incident from the American Revolution which uncannily fore- shadows, not only the Civil War, but perhaps both world wars as well.  For a fuller account about Washington and the Civil War, however, I refer you to Chapter 16 of Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

One of he early publications of Washington's Vision.

One of he early publications of Washington’s Vision.

Let us go back to the winter of 1777, the “year of the three sevens” and the time when the Revolution almost collapsed. It was a starving time for Washington’s army at Valley Forge: the troops were ill fed, ill clothed and freezing in their hovels.  The Continental Congress, as Congress does today, did nothing to help.  The troops were not being paid and on the verge of mutiny.  It against this background that Washington’s prophetic vision at Valley Forge should be understood.

Our sole source for this incident was a soldier named Anthony Sherman. His account was first published in the 1840’s in an obscure journal now unobtainable.  Fortunately, his account was reprinted after the Civil War in the National Tribune, a newspaper published for the benefit of Union veterans, mainly to enable them to get pensions from the Federal Government.  As with the VA today, veterans were often frustrated dealing with the government they had defended and fought, died or were disabled protecting.  His account, having been told well before the Civil War, gains additional credibility thereby.

Sherman (no relation to the general) was an ordinary soldier, posted to Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge at the time.  One day, General Washington emerged from his private quarters, where he had been alone for some time.  Emerging visibly shaken, he began to relate what he had experienced to a trusted aide (Sherman does not say whom, but it was likely Alexander Hamilton). Sherman was close enough to the two to hear what Washington said, and what the general had to say remained seared in Sherman’s memory.

What he allegedly heard (he was in his nineties when related it to a reporter, who apparently embellished on the tale a bit) was that Washington, alone at the time, was in his office praying.  Washington was not an overly religious, being a product of the enlightenment, when most educated gentlemen regarded God (if they regarded him at all) as a sort of divine “clock-maker” who wound up the universe and then stood back and watched it move on its own.  However, the winter of 1777-78 was “the time that tries men’s souls” and that winter Washington if fact prayed quite a bit for divine guidance.  On this occasion, it seems, his prayers were answered–perhaps.

Washington's office at Valley Forge, where a "singularly beautiful being" appeared to him.

Washington’s office at Valley Forge, where a “singularly beautiful being” appeared to him.

 

Washington was in his office, alone, when he became aware of a presence in the room.  It was, “a singularly beautiful being,” with whom the general tried to communicate.  After he addressed the figure several times, she finally responded.  The room’s walls seemed to disappear and his surroundings became luminous.

      ‘Son of the Republic, look and learn,’ she said to Washington, and then spread out her hand in a sweeping gesture several times.  Each time an angelic being dipped water from the ocean and cast it over the continents of Europe, America, Asia and Africa.  On the third such cast “from Africa I saw an ill-omened specter approach our land,” Sherman heard Washington say.  There followed visions of war and destruction, the blasting of trumpets and other scenes which seemed to presage war and ultimate victory.  Clearly, at least part of this version related to the Civil War.  This was, at least, how the reporter interpreted it.

Not surprisingly, ever since this account was first published, there have been professional debunkers ever eager to disprove its veracity. One industrious researcher located the records of a young officer of the Revolution and triumphantly announced the story a fake, because the Anthony Sherman in question had been at Saratoga and not at Valley Forge.  Of course, debunkers always go for pat answers and the fact that there very well may have been more than one soldier named Sherman in service during the American Revolution never entered his closed mind.

When dealing with prophecy of any sort, we are always dealing with a two edged sword; they are generally committed to paper years after the events have come true and when based on only one reporter’s account it is easy enough to discount. Moreover, prophecies are rarely clear declarative statements: they are more often clothed in vivid imagery and language capable of multiple meanings.  In this case, while another version of the prophecy seems to have been previously published well before the war, that original publication, like many early American periodicals, has not survived.  The earliest extant publication is by the erstwhile Philadelphia journalist and dates to the eve of the Civil War, when many such prophecies about the onset of war were in the air.

This is as far as most previous researchers are willing to relate of Washington’s vision.  But in fact, the account as published on the eve of war related far more than just the onset of the Civil War.  For one thing, “the singularly beautiful being” also says to Washington, ‘Son of the Republic, the end of the century cometh; look and learn.’ If this were just propaganda meant for the northern public on the eve of Civil War, why would it refer to future generations?

Moreover, this beatific being also interprets the visions he has seen thusly: ‘Son of the Republic, what you have seen is thus interpreted. Three great perils will come upon the Republic. The most fearful is the third, but in this greatest conflict the whole world united shall not prevail against her.’

While the first conflict she mentions is easily dismissed as the Civil War, the second and third are not. While one can put whatever spin on them one wants, it takes no Nostradamus to interpret the second and third “perils” as the two world wars, and the third conflict in particular as World War II, which was indeed the “greatest conflict” and where indeed for a time it seemed the Axis Powers would take over the “whole world.”  The professional debunkers of this prophecy conveniently leave out these parts of the prophecy, which clearly do not fit their smug theories and which, if they do not “prove” it, certainly give the story greater credibility to the modern reader.

As to the “singularly beautiful being,” several theories have been proposed as to who she was: some say the apparition was the Virgin Mary, who has been known to appear and deliver prophecies in that manner; more recently, the show Ancient Aliens theorized that she was an Alien (of course). The 1859 version makes no such assertions, so the reader is left to add their speculations to the others.

Of course, as with any prophecy, one is free to believe or disbelieve, or to interpret it as one wishes. As for me, I believe.

For more uncanny tales of the Civil War and the South, see Dixie Spirits and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Posted in George Washington, Great American Presidents, Prophecy and the Civil War, The American Civil War, The American Revolution, Valley Forge, Washington's Prophetic Vision | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BEHOLD A PALE RIDER: A CIVIL WAR GHOST TALE

TRUE OR NOT?  BIERCE’S TALE OF A “BAFFLED” AMBUSH

"Near the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away, stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he."

“Near the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away, stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he.”

Having just spent several years researching the wartime career of Ambrose Bierce, famous short story writer, Civil War soldier and aficionado of the bizarre and supernatural, readers will forgive me if, from time to time I discuss one or another of his tales as they relate to the Civil War.  A number more such posts will be forthcoming when my biography of Bierce’s wartime career actually comes close to appearing in print.  For now, however, let me just discuss one story that I believe actually happened.

As with many of Bierce’s pieces it is short—or more properly, as long as it needs to be. One reason perhaps why Ambrose Bierce is less appreciated today than formerly is that he did not like to write rambling, pointless character pieces drawn out into hundreds of pages—what passes for “literary fiction” these days—and the novel format of writing in general left him cold.  That he often compressed a book’s worth of writing into a short story has not been generally been appreciated by modern critics, although it was by the likes of H. L. Mencken and Earnest Hemingway.

This particular story, “A Baffled Ambuscade,” is generally classed as a short story and feel free to appreciate it as such. But the details in it are factual: at the time this story takes place–after Stones River but before the Tullahoma Campaign–the Third Ohio Volunteer Cavalry was indeed posted to Readyville, Tennessee.  The Official Records contain numerous reports of patrol actions by the regiment, especially along the Readyvill-Woodbury turnpike; even the commander mentioned in the story, Major Seidel, was a real person.  This much can be verified.  Did the ghost of Trooper Dunning actually perform as described?  Here the official record falls silent and we must rely solely on the word on one who was there.

For more true Civil War ghost stories, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; for the best and most complete anthology of Bierce’s short stories, I recommend, S. T. Joshi’s The Short Fiction of Ambrose Bierce, (three volume set) put out by the University of Tennessee Press.  Joshi et al, have done much primary research on Bierce and his writings, and S. T. Joshi is currently busy compiling a definite collection of H. P. Lovecraft’s writings.

 

A Baffled Ambuscade

Ambrose Gwinnet Bierce

 

Connecting Readyville and Woodbury was a good, hard turnpike nine or ten miles long. Readyville was an outpost of the Federal army at Murfreesboro; Woodbury had the same relation to the Confederate army at Tullahoma. For months after the big battle at Stone River these outposts were in constant quarrel, most of the trouble occurring, naturally, on the turnpike mentioned, between detachments of cavalry. Sometimes the infantry and artillery took a hand in the game by way of showing their goodwill.

One night a squadron of Federal horse commanded by Major Seidel, a gallant and skillful officer, moved out from Readyville on an uncommonly hazardous enterprise requiring secrecy, caution and silence.

Passing the infantry pickets, the detachment soon afterward approached two cavalry videttes staring hard into the darkness ahead. There should have been three.

“Where is your other man?” said the major. “I ordered Dunning to be here tonight.”

“He rode forward, sir,” the man replied. “There was a little firing afterward, but it was a long way to the front.”

“It was against orders and against sense for Dunning to do that,” said the officer, obviously vexed. “Why did he ride forward?”

“Don’t know, sir; he seemed mighty restless. Guess he was skeered.”

When this remarkable reasoner and his companion had been absorbed into the expeditionary force, it resumed its advance. Conversation was forbidden; arms and accoutrements were denied the right to rattle. The horses tramping was all that could be heard and the movement was slow in order to have as little as possible of that. It was after midnight and pretty dark, although there was a bit of moon somewhere behind the masses of cloud.

Two or three miles along, the head of the column approached a dense forest of cedars bordering the road on both sides. The major commanded a halt by merely halting, and, evidently himself a bit “skeered,” rode on alone to reconnoiter. He was followed, however, by his adjutant and three troopers, who remained a little distance behind and, unseen by him, saw all that occurred.

After riding about a hundred yards toward the forest, the major suddenly and sharply reined in his horse and sat motionless in the saddle. Near the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away, stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he. The major’s first feeling was that of satisfaction in having left his cavalcade behind; if this were an enemy and should escape he would have little to report. The expedition was as yet undetected.

Some dark object was dimly discernible at the man’s feet; the officer could not make it out. With the instinct of the true cavalryman and a particular indisposition to the discharge of firearms, he drew his saber. The man on foot made no movement in answer to the challenge. The situation was tense and a bit dramatic. Suddenly the moon burst through a rift in the clouds and, himself in the shadow of a group of great oaks, the horseman saw the footman clearly, in a patch of white light. It was Trooper Dunning, unarmed and bareheaded. The object at his feet resolved itself into a dead horse, and at a right angle across the animal’s neck lay a dead man, face upward in the moonlight.

“Dunning has had the fight of his life,” thought the major, and was about to ride forward. Dunning raised his hand, motioning him back with a gesture of warning; then, lowering the arm, he pointed to the place where the road lost itself in the blackness of the cedar forest.

The major understood, and turning his horse rode back to the little group that had followed him and was already moving to the rear in fear of his displeasure, and so returned to the head of his command.

“Dunning is just ahead there,” he said to the captain of his leading company. “He has killed his man and will have something to report.”

Right patiently they waited, sabers drawn, but Dunning did not come. In an hour the day broke and the whole force moved cautiously forward, its commander not altogether satisfied with his faith in Private Dunning. The expedition had failed, but something remained to be done.

In the little open space off the road they found the fallen horse. At a right angle across the animal’s neck face upward, a bullet in the brain, lay the body of Trooper Dunning, stiff as a statue, hours dead.

Examination disclosed abundant evidence that within a half hour the cedar forest had been occupied by a strong force of Confederate infantry–an ambuscade.

 

Library of Congress original source

Equine casualty of war, dead on battlefield

Posted in Ambrose Bierce, Battle of Stone's River, Chickamauga, Civil War ghosts, Civil War History, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Third Ohio Cavalry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE JINGLING HOLE: Uncivil War in Appalachia

Confederates hunting down Union men with bloodhounds.  Torture and death was often the fate of Southerners loyal to the Union.

Confederates hunting down Union men with bloodhounds. Torture and death was often the fate of Southerners loyal to the Union.

 

With Halloween fast approaching, our Civil War tales will be leaning more heavily to the supernatural side than normal, not that any time of the year isn’t a good time for a ghost story. Some years back, I published the tale of the Jingling Hole and now seems a good time to renew our acquaintance with that offering.  The full story, of course, you can read in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Those readers from “up nawth” may be unfamiliar with the fact that there was actually a civil war within the Civil War in the South.  After the Late Unpleasantness, the former Confederates who became spinners of the Lost Cause myth managed to bury the fact that there were many Southerners vehemently opposed to Secession in 1861 and that they resisted it, often at extreme peril to themselves and their families.

This was true, not only in East Tennessee, but western Virginia, North Carolina, and in several pockets of Unionism in West Tennessee, northern Alabama and Mississippi.  While most of these Southern Unionists had no love for Abolitionism, they did have a strong patriotic devotion to the nation.  For example, during the second vote on secession Johnson County in East Tennessee was 787 to 111 against. Their stories have largely been overlooked, although in recent years some have finally been coming to light.

This civil war within the Civil War was often vicious; both sides often gave no quarter in fighting and contrary to the fallacy of the Chivalrous South, the Confederate government also made war on women and children in its efforts to suppress the Loyalists who resisted them.  In fairness, the Unionist often retaliated in kind.  It was a very, very ugly time, especially in Appalachia, where this particular ghost story occurs.

In one district of East Tennessee, the guerilla war by Unionists against the Confederates became so bitter that the district became known as “The Bloody Third.”  The killing didn’t stop with the end of the war either; the memory of wartime atrocities led to enduring feuds between neighbors for decades after the war.

There was a particular spot in this district that had a vertical cave opening, a “bottomless pit” as it were.  Whether it was the Unionist guerillas or their Confederate opponents who first thought of putting an iron bar across the opening isn’t known; apparently both sides used the pit—called the Jingling Hole.

A captured enemy would be taken to the hole and then at gunpoint forced into it, with only the iron bar to hold onto until his strength gave out and he fell to his death.  As time went on, the combatants improved on the sport and would stomp or shoot at the condemned man’s hands, forcing him to shift back and forth to avoid the attacker.  In the process the prisoner’s spurs would make a jingling sound as he squirmed to avoid the assault—hence the nickname “The Jingling Hole.”

After the war, the use of this pit as a place of torture and execution stopped; the jingling didn’t.  For years afterwards, anyone passing by on a dark night might hear an uncanny sound, like jingling spurs, coming from the direction of the pit.  If you were brave enough to go investigate, there was inevitably nothing to see.

To the best of my knowledge, the Jingling Hole is still there near Mountain City and maybe some locals could take you to the exact spot.  But I doubt you will convince them to go.

For more Civil War stories, go to Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, while for more tales of Tennessee haints and hauntings read Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground or Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

A sketch by A W Waud of a Southern Guerilla.  Presumably it is of a Rebel Guerilla but it could equally be a Unionist one as well.

A sketch by A W Waud of a Southern Guerilla. Presumably it is of a Rebel Guerilla but it could equally be a Unionist one as well.

Posted in "The Bloody Third" in East Tennessee, Civil War ghosts, Civil War in East Tennessee, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Halloween, The American Civil War, The Jingling Hole, the Paranormal, Unionist Guerillas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Medium and the Message: the Evidence for Lincoln’s Encounters with Psychics.

Originally posted on Dixie Spirits blog:

Abraham Lincoln visited mediums and attended séances with and without his wife, dating to before the war.

Abraham Lincoln visited mediums and attended séances with and without his wife, dating to before the war.

 

I must first apologize for being remiss of late in updating the Late Unpleasantness.  I’m afraid like many, the summer heat has made me lax–that and having the house torn up with a major renovation–so my various files and notes are every which way for now.  Of course I am not solely guilty of this venial sin: August is traditionally a month when nothing gets done in publishing.  I am still awaiting final approval from one publisher n one book and I have been querying agents left and right (or write) for my latest manuscript.  With summer waning into fall, however, it is time to get caught up.  Halloween is just around the corner after all.

This outing let us delve a little into a much neglected aspect of Abraham Lincoln: his…

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Captain Aldrich and the “Dance of Death”

Statue to USCT troops in the Battle of Nashville by sculptor Roy Butler

Statue to USCT troops in the Battle of Nashville by sculptor Roy Butler

The 17th Infantry, United States Colored Troops, was initially organized in the city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in the fall of 1863, soon after the Battle of Chickamauga. It began by recruiting a combination of local “contrabands,” some 300 like minded Blacks from Alabama, plus additional free Negro volunteers from Ohio. Despite the need for fresh troops at the front, however, the 17th remained in the Middle Tennessee region, serving as garrison troops and then on duty with the quartermaster in Nashville. Throughout most of 1864 they were mostly on rear echelon duty, guarding the commissary warehouses in Nashville and likely also used for manual labor by the Federal Quartermaster. Despite being assigned minor duties, everything indicates that the regiment was well trained and was both willing and able to perform combat duties.
As autumn edged towards winter, the need for combat troops to defend Nashville grew. As Sherman embarked on his pillaging expedition through Georgia, he left General George Thomas to fend off the Confederate Army of Tennessee with whatever troops Uncle Billy deemed unfit for the march. The 17th was soon brigaded with other Negro troops into the 1st Colored Brigade under Colonel Thomas J. Morgan, who described the regiment as “an excellent regiment…under a brave and gallant officer.”
The regimental commander in question was Colonel Shafter, who was described as, “cool, brave, and a good disciplinarian.” One of the regiment’s company commanders was Captain Job Aldrich and Colonel Shafter’s brother-in-law. Although the Confederates had besieged Nashville for nearly two weeks, everyone in The Army of the Cumberland knew it was merely a matter of time before General Thomas would give the order to attack and raise the siege. That moment came on December 14, 1864. At last the Negro Volunteers, long relegated to backwater assignments and menial jobs, would be given their chance to fight for freedom.

Negro troops during the Battle of Nashville

Negro troops during the Battle of Nashville

While many faced the coming fight with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, Captain Aldrich’s mood was entirely different from the rest. Something had come over him: a realization that in the coming fight he would most certainly die. His feeling was not unique. During the war, many men on both sides experienced what they called a presentiment—an intuitive awareness of their forthcoming death. Comrades could argue till they were blue in the face, but when a man had such a presentiment, nothing could be done—and such intuitions inevitably proved true.
So it was with Captain Aldrich on the eve of the Battle of Nashville. His sister in law happened to be in the city at the time, and to her he gave his personal effects, to give to his wife after his death. Then Job sat down and wrote a farewell letter to his beloved wife Ann. Colonel Shafter, on reading it was both disturbed and moved; “it was the most affecting I ever read.” Colonel Shafter, on reading it was both disturbed and moved; “it was the most affecting I ever read.” After expressing his love and reflecting on the happiness they had shared, Aldrich closed, saying:
“The clock strikes one, goodnight. At five the dance of death begins around Nashville. Who shall be partners in the dance? God only knows. Echo alone answers who? Farewell.”
General Thomas planned to launch what today would be called in football a “Hail Mary” strategy: he put overwhelming force into an attack on the Confederate’s left flank, an attack which would steamroller the enemy and roll up their entire line of fortifications. In the coming battle, the 17th USCT was given an important but hazardous assignment. They and their fellow regiments of the 1st Colored Brigade were placed on the far right flank of the Confederate line to launch a diversionary attack. If all went as planned, the Rebels would draw off their best troops from the left to deal with this threat to their right.
On December 15, 1864, despite an early morning fog, the big guns of Fort Negley and the other Union emplacements boomed out, signaling the beginning of the battle. The brigade began from a point close to the river, advancing across a cornfield towards the Rebel lines. The night before Colonel Morgan had scouted the area and believed they faced nothing more serious than a line of rifle pits.
They swept over the Rebel rifle pits with little trouble, but as they moved south of the Murfreesboro Pike and approached the railroad cut of the Nashville & Chattanooga RR, they suddenly encountered heavy resistance. Morgan and his men did not know it, but they had come up against Cleburne’s Division, one of the most experienced and toughest units of the Confederate army. General Cleburne had died at the Battle of Franklin, but his men were still full of fight. Screened by a line of woods, parts of several brigades of the division were lying in ambush, supported by a battery of four cannon protected by a lunette emplacement.
The well disciplined men of the 17th advanced in broad lines, as if on parade. They began crossing the tracks of the cut, thinking the enemy had fled. The Rebs opened up when the Federals were only 30 yards from them. The Johnnies poured round after round of canister from Granbury’s Lunette into the Colored Volunteers at virtually point blank range, while withering volleys exploded in the Federals faces. In a matter of minutes, 825 Union soldiers lay dead in or near the railroad cut. They had succeeded in diverting the enemy right, but at a terrible price.
Captain Aldrich was leading his men across the tracks when Cleburne’s elite troops opened fire. A bullet struck Aldrich in the head and he fell dead. As Aldrich had forewarned, the Dance of Death had found its chosen partner.

Rick Reeves painting, Pride  Over Prejudice, showing USCT troops guarding captured Rebels after the Battle of Nashville

Rick Reeves painting, Pride Over Prejudice, showing USCT troops guarding captured Rebels after the Battle of Nashville

For more uncanny events of the Civil War, read Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln

Posted in Civil War Christmas, Civil War ghosts, Civil War Historians, Civil War History, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Nashville, Nashville Ghosts and Haunts, Presentiments, The American Civil War, The Army of Cumberland, The Army of Tennessee, The Battle of Nashville, the Paranormal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment