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 , , , , | Leave a 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

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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

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