The Last Surrender

Sketch of the CSS Shenandoah from Capt. Waddell's own notebook.

Sketch of the CSS Shenandoah from Capt. Waddell’s own notebook.

As every fool knows—or every fool of a Civil War buff should know—the Confederacy did not end with General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox; nor did it end when Uncle Joe surrendered to Uncle Billie in North Carolina. No, nor did it end with the surrender of the Rebel forces in Texas. In fact, the last Confederate troops did not even surrender when Stand Waitie ordered his Confederate Cherokees to stand down in Oklahoma. No sir; the last Confederates to officially called it quits did not do so until November of 1865, and it was not anywhere in the continental United States, but in Liverpool, England to the captain of a British man o’ war. And therein hangs the tale.

Captain James Iredell Waddell, skipper of the CSS Shenandoah.  Born in North Carolina and served in the US Navy, but when war broke out resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy.

Captain James Iredell Waddell, skipper of the CSS Shenandoah. Born in North Carolina and served in the US Navy, but when war broke out resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She began life as the good ship Sea King, a three masted, steel hulled sailing ship. She had an auxiliary power of steam, but her main means of cutting the waves was by wind power. She was built sturdy and she was built true, with solid teak planking for her decks. She was, as they say, yar, easy to handle, responding to the wheel as sprightly as a young maid dancing about the Maypole in spring. She was built Clyde side in Scotland by Alexander Stephan and Sons, launched in August of 1863. It wasn’t until the next year, however that the Confederate agents in Britain managed to get hold of her. On October 8, 1864 she set sail, ostensibly headed for Bombay to pick up a load of tea. Coincidently, that same day the supply steamer Laurel set out from Liverpool; by the oddest of chances, the two vessels met at the Madeira Islands off of Portugal. As it turned out, instead of black tea, the Sea King took on a load of black gunpowder and heavy guns. There Captain James I. Waddell and his officers and crew came aboard and began the conversion of the sleek clipper ship into the commerce raider the CSS Shenandoah. She was outfitted with four eight inch smoothbore cannon, two twelve pounder Whitworth rifled guns and two thirty-two pounders. Like the Germans against the Brits in both world wars, the Confederates knew they were no match for the might of the US Navy on the open seas, but where they could hurt the US the most was by attacking her merchant fleet, and in a little over a year the Shenandoah did its best to inflict as much pain on Yankee commerce as possible.

The Shenandoah in drydock in Australia, where she also picked up 40 more crew.

The Shenandoah in drydock in Australia, where she also picked up 40 more crewmen.

Captain Waddell first sailed his ship around the horn of Africa and into the Indian Ocean. En route to Melbourne, Australia, she managed to take six prizes. After a spell in drydock and resupplying in Melbourne, including taking on forty new recruits, the Shenandoah head northwards, in search of the American whaling fleet. Cruising first to the Carolines and thence to the Aleutians, the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean, the Shenandoah made of clean sweep of the whalers, netting some sixteen ships; the white whale itself could not have done a better job of revenge on the Yankee whalers.

Painting by B. Russell showing the Shenandoah destroying Yankee whalers.

Painting by B. Russell showing the Shenandoah destroying Yankee whalers.

Then, on June 27, 1865, Captain Waddell and his crew learned from one prize that Richmond had fallen and General Lee had surrendered in Virginia. However, reading the newspaper report, Waddell noted that President Davis had vowed that the “war would be carried on with re-newed vigor.” So the Shenandoah kept on its mission, sweeping up more whalers and then began heading for San Francisco, believing the west coast port was poorly defended and vulnerable to attack.

The CSS Shenandoah cruising the Arctic Ocean.  Via US Naval History Center

The CSS Shenandoah cruising the Arctic Ocean. Via US Naval History Center

However, on the way, Captain Waddell learned that not only had Joe Johnston and Kirby Smith’s armies surrendered, but that President Jefferson Davis was also a prisoner. Realizing that the war was at last over, the Shenandoah hauled down her flag, dismounted her guns and received a new coat of paint to make it look like an ordinary clipper ship. Waddell, however, resolved not to surrender to the Yankees, lest he and his men end up dangling from the yardarm of a Yankee warship. They set sail down the coast of South America and headed back towards England, finally arriving in Liverpool Harbor in the early fall. Entering the Mersey, she took on a pilot to guide her into port, but the pilot, going by the books, refused to guide the Shenandoah in unless she was flying her national colors, so the Captain Waddell again raised the Confederate Ensign and came sailing into Liverpool still under the Rebel flag. Here the CSS Shenandoah officially surrendered to the HMS Donegal on November 6, 1865, the last surrender of the war. Captain Waddell personally walked up the steps of the Liverpool Town Hall where he presented a note, addressed to Lord Russell, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, formally surrendering his vessel to the British nation.

The Shenandoah in its brief naval career managed to sink or capture 38 vessels and capture a thousand prisoners and the Shenandoah was the only Confederate ship to ever circumnavigate the globe. Many of the crew, though claiming to be Confederates, were actually British, but by claiming to be Rebels avoided imprisonment in England, since Her Majesty’s government paroled all former Confederates straighaway. Those among the crew who actually were Americans eventually returned to the States when it was safe to do so, although a few had various adventures in Latin America in the meantime. As for the Shenandoah itself, it was sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar, who rechristened it after himself, calling it the El Majidi.

Scrimshaw of the CSS Shenandoah, carved on whalebone sometime in the 1860's.

Scrimshaw of the CSS Shenandoah, carved on whalebone sometime in the 1860’s.

Alas, its career with the sultan was less than steller. Details are a bit fuzzy; she was either a cruiser in the Zanzibar Navy, a slave ship or a legitimate passenger liner—my guess is, probably a bit of all three. She was damaged in a hurricane at Zanzibar in 1872 and then given a half-hearted patch job. She then set sail with a full load of 130 passengers and crew for Bombay and, still leaking from her previous injuries, sank en route.

For more strange tales and unusual events of the Civil War, read The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham LincolnThe Paranormal Presidency and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil WarGhosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Posted in Civil War History, Confederate Navy, CSS Shenandoah, The American Civil War, The Last Surrender | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Odyssey of the CSS Stonewall

Some friends and I were discussing the Civil War the other day—a common topic.  The subject came up, when did the war end?  “On April 9, 1865, of course, when Lee surrendered to Grant,” said one.  “No,” said another, “when Jo Johnston surrendered to Sherman in North Carolina.”  “No, No, you’re both wrong,” said a third, “it was in Texas in May.”

The CSS Stonewall in drydock, probably in France during construction.  Millers Photographic History of the War vol. 6.

The CSS Stonewall in drydock, probably in France during construction. Millers Photographic History of the War vol. 6.

“You’re all wrong,” said I.  “The last Confederate troops to lay down their arms weren’t any of those.  It was the Confederate Navy that was the last to surrender, or at least two of their ships.”  And therein hangs a curious little tale or two.

Close up view of the Stonewall in drydock.  Millers Photographic History of the War, Vol. 6

Close up view of the Stonewall in drydock. Millers Photographic History of the War, Vol. 6

There was the CSS Stonewall, for example, a steam powered ironclad, built in France for the Confederacy.  Napoleon III, who was eager to support the Confederacy and have access to their cotton crops, secretly authorized the construction of this powerful warship.

The U.S. government found out, however, so the ship was quietly transferred to Denmark where the ironclad finished being fitted out.  It was there where Captain T. J. Page was made skipper of the new ironclad.  It was a formidable warship, built in the style of the French “Ocean Class” warships and was one of the most powerful for its time: it boasted one 300 pounder plus two 70 pounder guns in a revolving turret, plus thick steel armor proof to just about any cannon fire and had a powerful steel ram attached to the bow of the ship.  The main gun fired forward, while the 70 pounders were in the revolving turret, with at least two Gatling guns on top.  The turret was handicapped, however, by being located behind the aft mast instead of amidships, where the mast’s rigging interfered with its line of fire.

The Stonewall off the coast of Spain in early 1865.

The Stonewall off the coast of Spain in early 1865.

Upon commissioning, it traveled down the European coastline, first to Brittany, thence to Spain and Portugal, with Yankee ships following at a respectful distance.

The CSS Stonewall leaving Lisbon Harbor for America.  Source: Illustrated London News.

The CSS Stonewall leaving Lisbon Harbor for America. Source: Illustrated London News.

This powerful warship next cruised across the Atlantic and plied about the Caribbean for a bit, perhaps contemplating a raid or two against Union shipping.

Then one day in May, 1865, the CSS Stonewall showed up in Havana harbor, its solid steel sides and big guns looking quite intimidating.  The US Consul in Havana nearly had a fit; he knew the Stonewall was impervious to anything the US Navy could throw at it; the Navy’s low-lying ironclad monitors were no match for it: the ram-equipped Stonewall could simply crush them beneath its armored prow.  The commander of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, Admiral C. K. Stribling, dispatched a detachment of warships to deal with the Rebel dreadnaught—although if the Confederates decided to make a fight of it, the Navy’s ships were likely doomed.  However, Stribling sent a personal note to the captain offering generous terms of surrender.  Captain Page, knowing that the Lost Cause was indeed lost, sold the ship to the Spanish governor of Cuba, paid off his crew with the money and he and his crew quietly made their exit from the scene.  The Spanish then re-sold the vessel to the U. S. government for what he’d paid the Confederate captain.

Now the USS Stonewall, sitting at anchor in the Washington Navy Yard, ca. 1865.  courtesy US Navy

Now the USS Stonewall, sitting at anchor in the Washington Navy Yard, ca. 1865. courtesy US Navy

The Stonewall could lay fair claim to being the first modern battleship to see combat—but not with the Confederate Navy.  After languishing in a Navy yard for a few years, the Stonewall was sold to the Japanese government in 1868, then busily modernizing its armed forces and in a hurry to catch up with the European powers.  Initially, it was to be sold to the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan’s last vestige of its Feudal heritage.

The Stonewall, rechristened the  Kotetsu, sitting in a harbor somewhere in Japan.  via US Navy

The Stonewall, rechristened the Kotetsu, sitting in a harbor somewhere in Japan. via US Navy

However, factions in Japan pushing hard for modernization sought to revive Imperial rule and overturn the old feudal order and instituted a coup, of sorts, called the Meiji Restoration.  But old ways die hard in Japan and their restoration of Imperial rule sparked a brief Civil War, The Boshin War.  Remaining neutral, the US refused to hand over the Stonewall, now called the Kotetsu, which was briefly reflagged as an American vessel again.

the Kotetsu at the Battle of Hakudate.  (via US Navy).

the Kotetsu at the Battle of Hakudate. (via US Navy).

Finally, in February, 1869, she was handed over to the new Meiji government, who named her the Kotetsu and promptly sent her north to Hokkaido to stamp out the last of Shogun resistance to the new regime.  The Kotetsu participated in the Battle of Miyako Bay, repulsing a rebel boarding party with its Gatling guns.  The Kotetsu would go on to also fight in the Battle of Hakudate  before the last remnants of the old regime on Hakkaido were finally defeated.  In 1871, the Stonewall was again renamed, this time the Azuma, under which she remained in service until 1888 and was finally scrapped in 1908.

The Kotetsu flying Japanese colors. (via US NAVY)

The Kotetsu flying Japanese colors. (via US NAVY)

The Stonewall/Kotetsu was not the Rebel Navy’s last ship to lower its flag; but more about that next time.

 

  1. For hobbyists, there is in fact a model available of the Kotetsu, although it is a paper model—a modeling specialty popular in Japan and Europe, not so much here; one enterprising Italian hobbyist used the scale plans from that kit to make a 1/75 scale wooden model.

 

Posted in Azuma, Civil War at Sea, Civil War History, Confederate Navy, CSS Stonewall, Kotetsu, Stonewall Jackson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ambrose Bierce and the Other Flag Debate

Fight for the Colors by Don Troiani

Fight for the Colors by Don Troiani

 

I have already declaimed on the current debate about the Confederate Flag and the ensuing spate political correctness–which I feel is more an exercise in bait and switch than dealing with the real issues–but the Confederate Battle Flag has been a bone of contention before, under different circumstances.  Ambrose Bierce, whom regular readers of my blog may be aware I have spent several years researching and writing about, weighed in on the previous flag dispute.  At that time, it had little to do with the issue of racism–since whites north and south were all on the same page–racist–but rather with the return of the actual battle flags to the South.  After the war, northern politicians could be assured of getting votes if they “waved the bloody shirt”–reminded voters of the loss of northern lives in the Civil War; that this was as self-serving bloviating as the sudden rush of political correctness now is perhaps goes without saying.  Then, as now, there were any number of “chicken-hawks” –politicians who had not fought in the war but acted as though they had–who raged against returning the battle standards to the Southern states.

Among those who argued for conciliation and return of these symbols–not of Secession per se, but of the many men on the other side who also suffered and died–was Ambrose Bierce.  It is in this context that Bierce’s poem should be understood:

The Confederate Flags

Tut-tut! give back the flags – how can you care,

You veterans and heroes?

Why should you at a kind intention swear

Like twenty Neros?

Suppose the act was not so overwise –

Suppose it was illegal;

Is’t well on such a question to arise

And punch the Eagle?

Nay, let’s economize his breath to scold

And terrify the alien

Who tackles him, as Hercules of old

The bird Stymphalian.

Among the rebels when we made a breach

Was it to get the banners?

That was but incidental – ’twas to teach

Them better manners.

They know the lessons well enough to-day;

Now, let us try to show them

That we’re not only stronger far than they,

(How we did mow them!)

But more magnanimous. My lads, ’tis plain

‘Twas an uncommon riot;

The warlike tribes of Europe fight for gain;

We fought for quiet.

If we were victors, then we all must live

With the same flag above us;

‘Twas all in vain unless we now forgive

And make them love us.

Let kings keep trophies to display above

Their doors like any savage;

The freeman’s trophy is the foeman’s love,

Despite war’s ravage.

‘Make treason odious?’ My friends, you’ll find

You can’t, in right and reason,

While ‘Washington’ and ‘treason’ are combined –

‘Hugo’ and ‘treason.’

All human governments must take the chance

And hazard of sedition.

O wretch! to pledge your manhood in advance

To blind submission.

It may be wrong, it may be right, to rise

In warlike insurrection:

The loyalty that fools so dearly prize

May mean subjection.

Be loyal to your country, yes – but how

If tyrants hold dominion?

The South believed they did; can’t you allow

For that opinion?

He who will never rise though rulers plot,

His liberties despising –

He is he manlier than the sans-culottes

Who’s always rising?

Give back the foolish flags whose bearers fell,

Too valiant to forsake them.

Is it presumptuous, this counsel? Well,

I helped to take them.

Lieutenant Ambrose Bierce, pre-war idealist and postwar cynic--about some things.

Lieutenant Ambrose Bierce, pre-war idealist and postwar cynic–about some things.

Posted in 9th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Ambrose Bierce, Civil War History, Confederate Flag as symbol, Don Troiani, Flag Controversy, The American Civil War, The Confederate Flags poem | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nathan Bedford Forrest: The Symbol and the Reality

                   Friends, Politically Correct Republicans, Lend Me your Ears!                                                      I come to bury Nathan Bedford Forrest, not to praise him (sort of).

General Nathan Bedford Forrest:

General Nathan Bedford Forrest:

     Enough of the bad Shakespeare. I normally do not mix current political discussions with my history, but it seems we cannot talk about the events of 150 years ago without inevitably being dragged into debates about present issues.  We are all aware by now of the brutal and senseless murder of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina and the ensuing controversy regarding the Confederate flag—or more properly, the Confederate battle standard.  While I personally feel that it is improper to wave that symbol of rebellion over any state building or government grounds other than historic sites, and its removal from the South Carolina state capitol  long overdue, the subsequent jihad against the Rebel flag and banning it from all public venues—including the Dukes of Hazard car and Walmart—not only borders on the hysterical, but entirely misses the  point.

     Racism and rampant gun violence are the real problems, not the Confederate battle standard, which was not even the national flag of the Confederacy.  Banning the Rebel flag does nothing to fight racism, still less to control the ability of mentally unstable persons and criminals to have unfettered access to weapons.  The American public has, in my view, been hoodwinked by a neat little bait and switch ploy on the part of politicians who are unwilling to deal with the real issues.

To be sure, the battle standard has been used by hate groups as a symbol, but then so too has the Christian cross; so are we also going to ban the use of the cross in any public display?  Some Jews may regard the Crescent and Star as a hate symbol; some Arabs may likewise view the Star of David in a similar vein; but neither is inherently a symbol of hatred or bigotry.  While I wouldn’t feel comfortable displaying the Confederate battle flag on my person or property I recognize that there are many folks who may display it as a symbol of either regional pride, Southern heritage or just plain as a symbol that they’re a redneck good ol’ boy who likes to drink Jack Daniels and go yee-ha at music concerts.  The same symbol can mean different things to different people, especially so the Rebel flag.  By all means let us deal with racism; and there are many, many things that can be done to regulate and control guns that would save many lives without adversely affecting responsible hunters and sportsmen.

Also caught up in this tidal wave of political correctness (or a shuck and jive avoidance of dealing with the real issues) is the issue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, or more precisely, his likeness in the Tennessee State Capital.  Swept up in their fervor for erasing history, local Democrat and Republican politicians and various pundits among the general public have called for its removal from the august halls of the state capitol.  Please note: no one is calling for the repeal of the drunks-with-guns-in-bars law they passed, or the guns in playgrounds law, or the take your gun to work law, much less rolling back the patently discriminatory voter id laws Tennessee and other states have passed to make it as difficult as possible to vote.  Nope: just remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from Capitol Hill.

Now, in all fairness, General Forrest has always been something of a controversial figure, even during his lifetime.  He never quite made it into the pantheon of the Lost Cause; he was not a Virginia Swan, he did not graduate from West Point and while he was an officer, he was sometimes less than a gentleman.  Before the Civil War he had been a slave trader, an odious occupation even in the South; yet starting as a common soldier his native genius for war led to his rapid promotion.  In battle after battle he was “fustest with the mostest” (as he is often misquoted as saying) defeating the Yankees on numerous occasions.  While military historians tend to denigrate his generalship, his record of success in battle speaks for itself.  As a great captain of war, he is due recognition on that count alone.

His war career did have one black mark, however; at Fort Pillow he was accused of conducting a massacre of Black Union soldiers.  That a massacre of surrendering soldiers did occur there is generally accepted by historians; but Forrest always denied giving any explicit orders in that regard.  After the war he testified before Congress on that score and pointed out that the terms of surrender he offered the Union garrison at Fort Pillow was more generous than Grant’s terms to Lee at Appomattox.

At the end of the war, in his farewell address to his troops he told them

“I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.”

In the chaos of the postwar era, the Klu Klux Klan came into being.  Begun in Pulaski, Tennessee, initially as a fraternal group by bored Confederate veterans, it soon morphed into a vigilante organization and after a time General Forrest was asked to head the “secret empire.”  Before Congress, however, Forrest denied membership.  After serving for about two years (allegedly as head of it) he publicly called for the Klan’s disbandment because of its growing use of violence.

Today, many look upon General Forrest as a symbol of racism and violence.  The historical reality, however, was far more nuanced.  If he did have strong racial feelings, it is clear that in the postwar era he had a sincere change of heart.  At one point he was credited with single-handedly preventing a white race riot.  Then, in 1875, he was asked to speak before a meeting of Black Southerners seeking racial reconciliation and agreed.  His said, in part, this:

“We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers? I will say that when the war broke out I felt it my duty to stand by my people. When the time came I did the best I could, and I don’t believe I flickered. I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe that I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to bring about peace. It has always been my motto to elevate every man- to depress none. I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going.”

This doesn’t much sound like the rantings of a rabid racist, does it?  There is another bust of another former Confederate soldier in the state legislature as well, maybe they should remove his statue as well: Sampson Keeble, placed there in 2010.  By the way, Keeble was born a slave and in 1873 became the first Black elected to the Tennessee state legislature.  Oh, yes, and then there is the little matter of Andrew Jackson and the Cherokee Indians’ Trail of Tears.  His equestrian statue is very prominent on Capitol Hill in downtown Nashville; how about removing him too while we’re at it?

Sampson Keebles, first Black Tennessee legislator and Confederate veteran

Sampson Keebles, first Black Tennessee legislator and Confederate veteran

 

Nathan Bedford Forrest may have had his faults; he may have been guilty of committing wrongs; but he was also a man capable of growth and change and, all in all, a better man than those who would turn him into an icon of hate and bigotry give him credit for.

Well, I think you get the point.  Let me inflict a little more Shakespeare on you in closing:

 

“The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones.”

 

 

Posted in Charleston Church Shooting, Civil Rights, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, Confederate Flag as symbol, Flag Controversy, Gun Violence, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Tennessee State Capitol | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

MEMENTO MORI

ON THIS MEMORIAL DAY WE WILL TAKE A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT APPROACH TO THE LATE UNPLEASANTNESS. INSTEAD OF A NARRATIVE ESSAY WE WILL INSTEAD COMMEMORATE THE WAR DEAD IN PICTURES AND QUOTES. LET ME KNOW IF YOU FIND THIS OF ANY WORTH.

Abraham Lincoln, in dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg not only commemorated a graveyard but consecrated all American war dead forever.

Abraham Lincoln, in dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg not only commemorated a graveyard but consecrated all American war dead forever.

“From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  —-Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address.

Gettysburg dead taken by Brady's photographers

Gettysburg dead taken by Brady’s photographers

“War loses a great deal of romance after a soldier has seen his first battle. I have a more vivid recollection of the first than the last one I was in. It is a classical maxim that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country; but whoever has seen the horrors of a battle-field feels that it is far sweeter to live for it.”                                                                                   — Colonel John Singleton Mosby

Looking for wounded among the dead after a battle.

Looking for wounded among the dead after a battle.

“Is it not strange that the phantoms of a blood-stained period have so airy a grace and look with so tender eyes?—that I recall with difficulty the danger and death and horrors of the time, and without effort all that was gracious and picturesque?”                                                                                                                       —Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

Lt. Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, who fought in nearly all the major battles of the western theatre and lived to write about them.

Lt. Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, who fought in nearly all the major battles of the western theatre and lived to write about them

“Throughout the broad extent of country over which you have marched, by your respect for the rights and the property of citizens, you have shown that you were soldiers—not only to defend, but able and willing both to defend and protect.”                                                       —Stonewall Jackson’s farewell to the First Brigade

Stonewall Jackson, a soldier of exceptional ability, honored and respected even by his enemies.

Stonewall Jackson, a soldier of exceptional ability, honored and respected even by his enemies.

“They were honest and courageous foemen, having little in common with the political madmen who persuaded them to their doom and the literary bearers of false witness in the aftertime.  They did not live through the period of honorable strife into the period of vilification—did not pass from the iron age to the brazen—from the era of the sword to that of the tongue and pen.  Among them is no member of the Southern Historical Society.  Their valor was not the fury of the non-combatant; they have no voice in the thunder of the civilians and the shouting.  Not by them are impaired the dignity and infinite pathos of the Lost Cause.  Give them, these blameless gentlemen, their rightful part in all the pomp that fills the circuit of the summer hills.”

—Ambrose Bierce, A Bivouac of the Dead (1903)

Carnton Cemetary in Franklin where many of the Confederate dead still bivouac.

Carnton Cemetary in Franklin where many of the Confederate dead still bivouac.

 

 

 

Posted in Abraham Lincoln, Ambrose Bierce, Battle of Franklin, Bivouac of the Dead, Carnton Cemetery, Civil War History, Civil War Leaders, Col. John Singleton Moseby, Gettysburg, Memorial Day, Phantoms of a Blood-Stained Period, Stonewall Jackson, The American Civil War, The Gettysburg Address | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maybe, Maybe Not: The Tao of History

Christopher Coleman:

I don’t normally re-blog others’ posts but I found this thought piece about the Tao of History as it relates to the Civil War interesting. For a change of pace, see if you agree.

Originally posted on The Gettysburg Compiler:

by Kevin Lavery ’16

Many years ago, I read an old Chinese parable in one of my brother’s books. I haven’t been able to determine its precise origins, but it goes something like this:

One day, a farmer’s only horse broke loose and ran away from his stable. “What bad luck,” the farmer’s neighbors said to him. But the farmer merely replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

On the next day, the farmer’s horse returned with three wild horses and all were brought back to the farmer’s stables. “What good luck,” the farmer’s neighbors remarked. But the farmer merely replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

On the third day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses, but fell off and broke his arm. “What bad luck,” the farmer’s neighbors said to him. But the farmer merely replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

On the fourth day, a band of soldiers arrived to…

View original 922 more words

Posted in The American Civil War | Leave a comment

The Booth Conspiracy: How Wide Was It?

Booth the great Thespian and chief Conspirator; how high up in the Lincoln Administration did his connections go?

Booth the great Thespian and chief Conspirator; how high up in the Lincoln Administration did his connections go?

On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth; that much is not in dispute.  Twelve days later, Booth was tracked down and fatally wounded in a burning barn on the Garrett farm in northern Virginia; that, at least, is the official version of this tragic finale to the Civil War.

 

Lincoln's Assassination on Good Friday of 1865.  Where was his bodyguard when Booth entered the box?

Lincoln’s Assassination on Good Friday of 1865. Where was his bodyguard when Booth entered the box?

Of all the conspiracy theories that continue to circulate, none is more fascinating—or more debated—than John Wilkes Booth’s successful plot to assassinate the President.  Of course, the fact of the conspiracy itself has never been in debate: no one doubts that Booth conspired to murder Abraham Lincoln and some of his cabinet, and succeeded in that goal.  But unlike presidential assassinations since, Booth has never been characterized as a lone assassin.  We know he had a large group in on the plot.  Where the various theories conflict with the official version of the assassination is exactly how wide the Booth Conspiracy really was.  In this regard, the debate about the Booth Conspiracy has long raged and remains hotly debated to this day.

 

General and Mrs. Grant were also being stalked by assassins on April 14; yet those conspirators were never caught.

General and Mrs. Grant were also being stalked by assassins on April 14; yet those conspirators were never caught.

What sparked this latest entry in the debate is the publication of a new book on the assassination and the mysteries which surround it: John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave, by W. C. Jameson (Rowan & Littlefield, 2014).  In all honesty, I have yet to read it; the book review in Civil War News, however, gives it generally positive reviews.  It lacks footnotes documenting its assertions (a big no-no among both scholars and Civil War enthusiasts), but apparently does contain a substantial bibliography.  Since I have delved deeply into aspects of the Lincoln assassination in both Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (not footnoted) and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (extensively footnoted) needless to say the topic interests me very much and I have this new title on my to-read list—a list which grows longer by the day.

 

Apparently Jameson—a Booth descendent—gives first the “official” version of the assassination then dissects all the inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in government version.  There is nothing new in that—researchers have long pointed out the many holes in the accepted accounts of the assassination, Booth’s escape and his alleged death.  Brad Meltzer produced a television documentary delving into the issue on his History Channel series and there are several other documentaries which have also investigated this issue.  But no matter how much the Federal government at the time, or modern historians today, assert the orthodox line about the limits of Booth’s conspiracy and of his death, there have always been dissenting voices that 1) the conspiracy was far wider and deeper than the succeeding administration was willing to concede, and 2) that in fact John Wilkes Booth did not die on the Garrett farm after being shot by Federal cavalry.

 

How soon after the murder of Lincoln did these alternate scenarios of his assassination take shape?  Would you believe within days of Lincoln’s death?  In Ghosts and Haunts of The Civil War, for example, in chronicling Mrs. Grant’s own premonitions about going to the theater that Good Friday, I cite her own words to the effect that she and her husband were being stalked by suspicious characters that afternoon and that the general’s wife always believed that a team of assassinations had been detailed to murder her husband who were never apprehended.  You may read that chapter in GHCW for more details about the Grant’s very real dangers and premonitions; suffice it to say that, while I did not footnote it in that book, the chapter is based on primary sources relating those events.

 

Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln as President, yet knew Booth from his days as Military Governor of Tennessee.  Was he involved in the plot?

Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln as President, yet knew Booth from his days as Military Governor of Tennessee. Was he involved in the plot?

Even more telling than the facts surrounding the General and Mrs. Grant’s close brush with death on April 14, 1865, we have the testimony of the first person to make accusations of a wider conspiracy: Mrs. Lincoln herself.  Bear in mind that the backstage personnel of Ford’s Theatre were all friends and close associates of John Wilkes Booth and while they all denied any complicity in the crime, it remains a moot point how involved they may have actually been in the plot, denials after the fact not withstanding.  More importantly, the body guard that had been detailed to stand watch just outside the door to the box seats where the Lincolns were watching the play that night was conveniently missing at the very moment when Booth entered the balcony box to murder Lincoln.  Mary Todd Lincoln did not mince words and she directly accused the body-guard of being in on the plot.  Moreover, Mary went on to accuse Andrew Johnson of complicity in the plot to murder her husband.  Much of this is detailed in the sections on the assassination in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

 

Of course, Mary Todd Lincoln has always been given a bad rap by historians: “crazy Mary” has always been the refrain when it comes to her actions and words.  Yet Mary Todd Lincoln was a highly educated, cultured lady—far more so than many of her male contemporaries in Washington—a fact which only increased their resentment for the Kentucky blue blood who had relatives in the Confederate army and she neither crazy nor stupid and, moreover, well aware of the danger her husband was in.  Granted, that after watching her husband being murdered before her very eyes, she was a mite upset and lashed out at all those she thought responsible; yet there is a strong ring of truth in her accusations.

 

Andrew Johnson "kicking out" the Freedman's Bureau.  Although a Unionist Southerner during the war, as President he took land away from blacks and gave it back to the planters.

Andrew Johnson “kicking out” the Freedman’s Bureau. Although a Unionist Southerner during the war, as President he took land away from blacks and gave it back to the planters.

Where was the body-guard that night and why was he not at his post?  Certainly there were many others willing to die defending the President had they known he was not adequately protected.  Moreover, Mary Todd Lincoln’s accusations aimed at Vice-President—now President—Johnson also have a ring of truth about them.  We have one curious fact: some seven hours before the murder, John Wilkes Booth paid a visit to the hotel where Johnson was staying and left a note for the VP: “Don’t wish to disturb you. Are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth” read the note.  What business did the leader of the plot have with the prospective new President?  How deeply was Johnson involved in the plot?

 

Although Andrew Johnson was considered a loyalist Southerner, with political connections to Unionist East Tennessee, he was hardly a paragon of virtue and in fact had many suspicious connections.  He was a man fond of strong drink and loose women—a fact not lost on the more straight-laced members of the Republican Party.  Moreover, when he was Military Governor of Tennessee, he was known to be a close associate of none other than John Wilkes Booth.  In “Right or Wrong, God Judge Me” The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper (1997), evidence is presented that Booth knew Johnson dating back at least to February of 1864, when Booth performed at the newly opened Wood’s Theatre in Nashville.  According to Hamilton Howard in Civil War Echoes (1907), whenever Booth visited Nashville in his guise as actor (although he probably was already in the employ of the Confederate Secret Service) he and Governor Johnson went boozing and wenching together, sharing the sexual favors of two sisters on more than one occasion.

How deep Andrew Johnson was in the Booth Conspiracy shall never be known—but clearly Mary Lincoln was neither hysterical nor “crazy” when she lashed out against him after her husband’s death:

“..that, that miserable inebriate Johnson, had cognizance of my husband’s death – Why, was that card of Booth’s, found in his box, some acquaintance certainly existed – I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought, that he, had an understanding with the conspirators & they knew their man… As sure, as you & I live, Johnson, had some hand, in all this…”  Mary Todd Lincoln to her friend, Sally Orne, in a letter dated March 15, 1866

 

John Wilkes Booth's death as presented to the American public.  Does this version of Booth tell the truth?

John Wilkes Booth’s death as presented to the American public. Does this version of Booth tell the truth?

We come to the person of Booth himself: actor, lover, spy, assassin; as Shakespeare once observed, a man may play many roles in his life and we know that Booth played more than a few.  It has never been proven, but many believe that Booth was not the mastermind behind the plot to kill Lincoln; certainly he had connections to the Confederate spy ring operating in Canada and residing in Washington, DC, just across the Potomac from Richmond, he could not help but have been in easy contact with the Rebel spy masters in that capital.  Unfortunately, when Richmond fell to Union troops in April of 1865, most of the Confederate Secret Service’s records disappeared—whether by accident or to purpose remains a moot point.  We shall never know exactly what secrets of the Booth Conspiracy disappeared with the loss of those files, but the suspicion remains that the loss was great.

 

One thing we know for sure: John Wilkes Booth was not on a suicide mission.  He had escape routes clearly planned out for himself and his co-conspirators.  What remains under debate is how successful Booth really was in making good his escape.  The accepted consensus is that he ultimately paid the price for his treachery and treason; but there are dissenters, his descendent Mr. Jameson among them. In the years following the war, various researchers have followed the convoluted trail of evidence indicating that booth did indeed live a long life after the assassination.  Newspaper reports days after the assassination had Booth in various cities around the country—none of them seemingly true.  In the years following however, there were various accounts of Booth sightings in foreign lands in newspapers, some of which may have had some credence. The reports placed Booth in India and Ceylon, in China, in Mexico, and even in the South Seas. Common to these all these accounts was the figure of Booth as an honorable gentleman with no remorse for his deed.  Interestingly enough, most of the locations where he was sighted also coincided with locations where émigré Confederates actually did establish colonies during Reconstruction.

 

Abraham Lincoln guided the nation through four years of war only to die as it neared its end.  We still don't know the whole truth.

Abraham Lincoln guided the nation through four years of war only to die as it neared its end. We still don’t know the whole truth.

Some serious researchers believe Booth did make good his escape and, like Jameson, have presented their evidence; but positive proof remains elusive 150 years later.

 

For more on the Lincoln assassins and the mysterious life and death of Abraham Lincoln, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

 

Posted in Abraham Lincoln, Assasinations, Good Friday, Great American Presidents, John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln Assasination, Mary Todd Lincoln, Prophecy and the Civil War, The American Civil War, The Paranoral Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THRILLED AT RESACA: An Old Masterpiece of the Civil War Restored

The Battle of Resaca by James Walker

The Battle of Resaca by James Walker

Having devoted several years working on a book about Ambrose Bierce and the Civil War and spending the last several months wrapping things up on that project–which has included combing archives and other resources for appropriate illustrations–it caught my attention when I read in the news about a newly restored mural of the Battle of Resaca by noted Civil War artist James Walker.  Lt. Bierce fought at Resaca and wrote about it in a short story, so the mural is of more than passing interest to me.

James Walker is probably best known for the giant mural The Battle of Lookout Mountain (1874) which, if you have read any pictorial history of the war, you have undoubtedly seen it printed in one version or another.  James Walker was actually English by birth but his family emigrated to the United States and settled in upstate New York when he was five.  During the Mexican American War he was trapped in Mexico City during the siege and escaped to American lines.  He was the only artist present in Mexico to witness the war, so his painting The Battle of Chapultepec is thus unique in being based on personal experience of that war.  In the 1870’s he opened a studio in California where he did western paintings and paintings of the Mexican culture of old California, but he is best know for several paintings famous Civil War events.

artists James Walker and Theodore Davis on Lookout Mountain at work on military art.

artists James Walker and Theodore Davis on Lookout Mountain at work on military art.

As a military artist, Walker was known to spend long hours at the sites of Civil War battles and to interview survivors, so his work is renown for its detail and accuracy.  The Battle of Lookout Mountain was a commission from General Hooker to publicize the general’s victory there.  Now we have word from the New York State Military Museum that a long forgotten gem in their possession, Walker’s The Battle of Resaca, has undergone cleaning and restoration and is ready for display.  Unfortunately, they have no place to display it, the museum wall space being already chock full and the painting is a large scale mural measuring 12 by 5 feet.

The Resaca mural has itself had a long strange journey.  It originally hung in the Columbus Avenue Armory in Manhattan, home to the 12th New York Regiment, which was part of Hooker’s command during the Late Unpleasantness.  When that became a victim of NYC’s incessant destruction of its architectural heritage it was shunted first to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, then to West Point, then to the state capitol and then to a few regional armories in upstate New York and finally ending up at the state’s Military Museum in Saratoga, New York.  Along the way it was misidentified as portraying the Battle of Gettysburg (Walker did paint that battle as well).  Now the Resaca mural is all dolled up with no place to go.  I daresay the folks near Resaca in Georgia could easily find some wall space to display it, especially now that the battlefield has been dedicated as a state historic site.

 

The Battle of Lookout Mountain by James Walker, measuring 13x30 feet.  Presently on display at Chickamauga  National Battlefield

The Battle of Lookout Mountain by James Walker, measuring 13×30 feet. Presently on display at Chickamauga National Battlefield

For more on the Civil War, see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.  My newest book, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, should be out later this year.

Posted in 12 th New York Regiment, Ambrose Bierce, Atlanta, Battle of Lookout Mountain, Battle of Resaca, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Civil War History, General Hooker, Hazen's Brigade, James Walker military artist, New York State Military Museum, Sherman's Atlanta Campaign | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Minnesota at Shy’s Hill Honored

Four Minnesota regiments fought at Shy's Hill, the decisive engagement of the battle of Nashville.

For the full story, see:

http://www.civilwarnews.com/archive/articles/2015/jan/mnmonument-011501.htm?utm_source=Campaigner&utm_campaign=Jan_15_CWN_Newsletter&campaigner=1&utm_medium=HTMLEmail.

Posted in The American Civil War | Leave a comment

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