Remembering Gen. Lovell Rousseau at Cave Hill Cemetery

On a recent trip that took me through Kentucky, I stopped to visit Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery. A student of Victorian death ways, I had long wanted to visit this unique garden cemetery. What had been a 300 acre rural cemetery is now an oasis within the city with several lakes and a fascinating cave with a spring that emerges from it to feed a nearby lake.


But Cave Hill is also a National Cemetery with hundreds of Civil War vets buried there. A special section of Confederate burials can be found in section “O” where a Confederate flag waves above.

While there is a number of Civil War generals buried at Cave Hill – and famously Revolutionary War Brigadier General George Rogers Clark too – it was the monument to Gen. Lovell Rousseau that caught my eye. While not particularly notable for its artistic value, it is a large monument that dominates the area.

Born in Stanford, Kentucky, August 4th, 1818, Rousseau would migrate to the Lexington area as a young adult to study law. Later he would make his way to Indiana to further his law career. There he was elected to the Indiana legislature in 1844.


Rousseau Monument at Cave Hill Cemetery

As captain of the 2nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Rousseau served with distinction during the Mexican War. Following the War he moved back to Kentucky.  But, like many Mexican War veterans, Rousseau returned to military service with the outbreak of the Civil War.

A dedicated Unionist, Rousseau was frustrated by Kentucky’s avowed early neutrality in the war.  He sought to recruit a regiment of Union-loyal Kentucky boys – the 3rd Kentucky Infantry.  By October 1862, Rousseau has risen to the rank of Major General.

Lovell Rousseau

Rousseau would serve with the Army of the Ohio and later with the Army of the Cumberland. He saw combat leading a brigade at Shiloh and a division at Murfreesboro. From the fall of 1863, he was made commander of the District of Nashville, where he served until resigning in 1865 to accept a seat in Congress.

After a two- year tumultuous political career, Rousseau would return to the military in 1867 after President Johnson made him a brigadier general in the regular army. He was serving in that capacity when he died in New Orleans in January 1869.

Rousseau is not buried at Cave Hill. His remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC.

Grave of Lovell Rousseau at Arlington

Grave of Gen. Lovell Rousseau at Arlington National Cemetery

Artillery: General Davis Tillson

Six men who suffered the loss of a limb before the American Civil War—Joseph A. Haskin (U), Philip Kearny (U), William W. Loring (C), James G. Martin (C), Thomas W. Sweeny (U), and Davis Tillson (U)—overcame their handicaps and rose to the rank of brigadier general or major general during the war. Of these six generals, Davis Tillson was the youngest and the only one not to have had a limb amputated as a result of being wounded during the U.S.-Mexican War. He also made the greatest climb in rank of his fellow invalids, beginning the war as a lowly captain of artillery, and ending it as a brevet major general and commander of the District of East Tennessee.

The son of William and Jane Tillson, Davis Tillson was born in Rockland, Maine, on April 17, 1830. In July 1849, Davis received an appointment to United States Military Academy (the same year as John B. Hood, John M. Schofield, and James B. McPherson).

Cadet Tillson suffered a puncture wound to his leg during an accident the same month he arrived at West Point. He continued to have problems with his leg during the summer and into the winter of 1849. When his condition grew worse, the surgeon decided it was necessary to amputate the infected portion of his leg. The procedure was conducted at the U.S. Hospital at Governors Island on March 23, 1850.

CDV of Davis Tillson (Courtesy of Steve Meadows,

Tillson returned to the academy at the end of April but was never the same. He could only walk with the aid of crutches, making it nearly impossible for him to march, drill, or ride a horse. He must have felt embarrassed and humiliated. He resigned from the academy by September 1851.

Tillson returned home to Maine after his resignation. But he did not wallow in despair. He served as a civil engineer for a while before turning to politics. He was elected to the Maine legislature on the Republican ticket in 1857. The next year, he was appointed as adjutant general of the state. President Abraham Lincoln appointed him as the collector of customs of Waldoboro, Maine, in July 1861, the same month as the Union defeat at Bull Run.

Tillson did not intend to sit back in a comfy desk job while his fellow Mainers fought and died on the battlefield. He could have (and probably should have) remained at home. He earned a reputation in the community as a “gentleman of military taste and culture” and helped to drill Captain (later general) Hiram G. Berry’s Rockland City Guards (a local military unit) in the years before the war. He knew a thing or two about soldiering, and despite his disability, Tillson resigned his position as a collector of customs and organized the 2nd Maine Battery.

He feared that he would be rejected when he showed up to be mustered into service. The famed prohibitionist, Neal Dow, then serving as colonel of the 13th Maine Volunteers, said that Tillson had anxiously come to him before going to the mustering station. “I am afraid I cannot pass muster with that officer,” Tillson said to Dow. “He was a classmate of mine at West Point and knows my defect, which no stranger would suspect.”

But Dow tried to reassure his friend that his handicap wouldn’t be detected. “He had been so admirably fitted with a cork substitute and had become so wonted to its use,” Dow wrote, “that no one unacquainted with the facts would have suspected his ‘unsoundness.’” Tillson had been wearing an artificial leg under his slacks since 1852.

Neal Dow (Courtesy of Heritage Auctions).

Dow accompanied him to the mustering station in case he needed to intervene on Tillson’s behalf. He soon discovered it wasn’t necessary. “I found that no word from me was needed,” Dow recalled. “They recognized each other instantly, and upon Captain Tillson expressing his fear of rejection his old classmate replied: ‘Tillson, I know you. I would pass you if you had lost both legs and arms.’” Tillson was mustered into service as a captain of the 2nd Maine Battery in November 1861.

During the winter of 1861-62, the regiment was stationed at Fort Preble in Portland, Maine, during the Trent Affair. Tillson took the opportunity to drill his green command and transformed it into an effective artillery unit. In April 1862, the battery was assigned to the Department of the Rappahannock under General Irvin McDowell.

In May, Tillson was promoted to major and made chief of artillery of General Edward O.C. Ord’s division (later under the command of General Ricketts) and served in this capacity until August. He fought in the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862. McDowell must have been impressed with his performance because the day after the battle he made Tillson the chief of artillery of the III Corps. He served as McDowell’s chief of artillery for the remainder of the campaign culminating in the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Union battery in action at Cedar Mountain (Library of Congress).

After the Union defeat, Tillson applied for thirty days’ leave due to his poor health and to have his damaged artificial limb repaired. After the war in 1888, Tillson would write to A. A. Marks, a manufacturer of artificial limbs, praising his design. “For the past ten years I have worn constantly one of your rubber feet,” Tillson wrote, “It very far surpasses all others in durability, absence of disagreeable noise, and freedom from unpleasant concussion in walking.” But in 1862, Tillson did not possess Marks’ model and likely had to endure the annoyance and discomfort he described in the field with an unserviceable limb.

Tillson returned to the army in October and reported to Lt. Colonel Joseph A. Haskin (a fellow invalid and future general), in charge of the capital’s defenses north of the Potomac River. He was made inspector of artillery at Washington, D.C. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in January and was commissioned a brigadier general in March. But unlike Haskin, who remained in Washington’s defenses for the remainder of the war, Tillson was assigned to a more active command. He was ordered to report to General Ambrose E. Burnside, commander of the Department of Ohio, in Cincinnati.

Burnside put General Tillson in charge of inspecting the defenses at Covington and Newport (Kentucky) and appointed him chief of artillery of the department. During the summer and fall of 1863, Tillson supervised the repair of the defenses of Cincinnati and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. He was made chief of artillery to General John G. Foster, who had replaced Burnside in December 1863, and was ordered to report to Knoxville following General Longstreet’s unsuccessful campaign. He was given command of the defenses of Knoxville, Loudon, and Kingston and was ordered to supervise the improvement of their fortifications.

General Davis Tillson (Gould, Edward K. Major-General Hiram G. Berry: His Career as a Contractor, Bank President, Politician and Major-General of Volunteers in the Civil War, 1899). 

When General Ulysses S. Grant visited Knoxville during the winter of 1863, Tillson requested permission to raise a regiment of colored heavy artillerymen. General Foster issued an order on January 6, 1864, granting Tillson’s request to recruit a colored unit to defend Knoxville: “All able-bodied colored men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five within our lines, except those employed in the several staff departments, officers’ servants, and those servants of loyal citizens who prefer remaining with their masters, will be sent forthwith to Knoxville, Loudon, or Kingston, Tenn., to be enrolled, under the direction of Brig. Gen. Davis Tillson, chief of artillery, with a view to be the formation of a regiment of artillery, to be composed of troops of African descent.” The unit was designated as the 1st U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery and remained under Tillson’s command for the remainder of the war.

He wrote to the adjutant general of Maine, John L. Hodsdon (he had replaced Tillson when he accepted Lincoln’s appointment), from Knoxville on April 2, 1864, expressing his confidence in the improvements that he had made since Longstreet’s campaign. He also spoke of General William T. Sherman’s approval of his work and his devotion to his new assignment:

Since my arrival here, I have been very busy in constructing the fortifications about this city. It is not too much to say that I have made them at least one hundred fold stronger than they were at the time Longstreet made his attack. A few days since Major Gen. Sherman, commanding Military Division Mississippi, accompanied by his Chief of Artillery, Gen. Barry, examined the works, and both expressed themselves highly gratified with the plan and execution of the line. Have some 4,000 troops of all kinds under my command, and work some 1,000 every day…I take some little pride in the works here, and mean to make this the best fortified town in this country.

View of Knoxville from the south bank of the Tennessee River (Library of Congress).

In January 1865, Tillson assumed command of the District of East Tennessee (Department of Cumberland) from General Jacob Ammen. He led Ammen’s old Fourth Division of the XXIII Corps during General George Stoneman’s raid from March to April 1865. His two brigades played a crucial role during these operations, protecting Stoneman’s rear during his advance into North Carolina and Virginia.

Receiving intelligence in April that President Jefferson Davis fled from Goldsboro and was headed west with his treasury wagons, General Stoneman gave Tillson orders to push on to Asheville and hold the pass in the Blue Ridge in order to cut-off Davis. “If you can hear of Davis,” Stoneman wrote to Tillson, “follow him to the end of the earth, if possible, and never give him up.” Davis was finally captured by Union cavalrymen on May 10, 1865. Tillson was brevetted major general at the close of the war.

Tillson submitted his resignation when the war ended but it was not accepted. Instead, he was appointed to serve as acting assistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Georgia, with his headquarters in Augusta. General Oliver Otis Howard, the Freedmen’s Bureau commissioner, praised Tillson for his “faithful work” and “great purity of administration” during the time he filled this role. Howard wrote to President Andrew Johnson telling him that Tillson was a man of “highly commended by the inspectors, and is known to be a man of integrity and good judgment.” He remained on duty with the Freedmen’s Bureau until December 1866.

Tillson’s grave in Achorn Cemetery,
Rockland, Maine (Find A Grave).

Tillson’s service as an administrator translated well to his business career after the war. He purchased Rockland’s Hurricane Island for $1,000 in January 1870 and organized the Hurricane Island Granite Co. to develop its granite quarries, employing an army of 1,400 European workers. He invested in a handful of other business ventures, including a lime quarry and orange groves in Florida (where he liked to vacation). He took a risk and built what became known as the Tillson Wharf in 1881—it cost him $200,000 to construct—but it turned out to be his greatest financial success. Tillson died in Rockland from heart complications on April 30, 1895, at the age of 65 years old.

He may not be as well-known as his fellow generals from Maine, but Davis Tillson quickly rose through the ranks and held a number of important commands during the war. By the age of 35 years old, he commanded a district. He was an excellent artilleryman, administrator, and builder of fortifications. While he would have been justified staying home, Tillson chose to volunteer his services despite his handicap and admirably served his country.


Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine, for the Year Ending December 31, 1861. Augusta, ME: Stevens & Sayward, 1862.

Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine, for the Year Ending December 31, 1863. Augusta, ME: Stevens & Sayward, 1863.

A Treatise on Mark’s Patent Artificial Limbs With Rubber Hands and Feet. New York: A.A. Marks, 1888.

Dow, Neal. The Reminiscences of Neal Dow. Recollection of Eighty Years. Portland, ME: Evening Express, 1898.

Executive Documents Printed by the Order The House of Representatives During the Second Session of the Thirty-Ninth Congress, 1865-66. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1866.

Executive Documents Printed by the Order The House of Representatives During the Second Session of the Thirty-Ninth Congress, 1866-67. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1867.

Gould, Edward K. Major-General Hiram G. Berry: His Career as a Contractor, Bank President, Politician and Major-General of Volunteers in the Civil War. Rockland, ME: Press of the Courier-Gazette,1899.

Hartley, Chris J. “Major General George Stoneman Led the Last American Civil War Cavalry Raid.” America’s Civil War (May 1998). Accessed June 2, 2018.

Howard, Oliver O. Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, Major General U.S. Army. Vol. II. New York: Baker and Taylor Company, 1908.

“In Memoriam: Davis Tillson.” The Maine Bugle (Rockland, ME), October 1895.

“Island History.” Hurricane Island Foundation. Accessed June 2, 2018.

Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America From December 6, 1858, to August 6, 1861, Inclusive. Vol. XI. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. XLIX, Part II (Correspondence, Etc.) Washington: Government Printing Office, 1897.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series III, Vol. IV. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900.

Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.

Welsh, Jack D. Medical Histories of Union Generals. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1996.

I Am Proud To Be Associated With Such Brave Men: Wesley Merritt, the 2nd U.S. Cavalry and the Brandy Station

Wesley Merritt as a general officer

Introduction to a series

One of the things I enjoy the most as a historian is the process. Searching for the pieces and putting the puzzle together through constant analysis, discussion and refinement. Interpretation can turn on a dime. It can seem like a chase that will never end.

Recently, through the efforts of an ECW colleague on the West Coast, I was able to procure a copy of Capt. Wesley Merritt’s report of the Battle of Brandy Station. At the time, Merritt commanded the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Maj. Charles Whiting’s Reserve Brigade. It was an incredible surprise to see the file when I opened it in Dropbox.

Merritt’s report was not included in the volumes of the Official Records compiled in the post-bellum years. The document was written one day after the battle, on June 10, 1863, which means that Merritt’s memory was exceptionally fresh. Upon examination, the details in the report are fairly consistent with the Recollections Merritt provided to Theophilus Rodenbaugh for inclusion in From Everglade to Canyon, the Second’s regimental history. Most importantly it provides insight on a pivotal engagement that took place 155 years ago. Using the report, this series will trace Merritt and the 2nd U.S. through the course of the battle. Unless indicated, all quotations from Merritt are from his official report.

The fourth child in the marriage of John Willis Merritt and Julia Anne de Forest, Wesley Merritt was born in New York City on June 16, 1836. A lawyer affected by financial issues, John moved his family to Lebanon, Illinois in 1840 to take up farming. He eventually became a newspaper editor in the village of Salem. Young Wesley initially prepared to follow in his father’s first profession, however in 1855 he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He finished twenty second in a class of forty-one cadets in 1860. Upon graduation, Merritt was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons in Utah. From July 1, 1861 to January 1, 1862, Merritt served as the regiment’s Adjutant. In February, 1862, he became an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke. Promoted to Captain on April 5, 1862, Merritt fought in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days’ battles. That fall Merritt was assigned to the defenses of Washington. On April 1, 1863, Merritt accepted the position of Ordnance Officer on the staff of Brig. Gen. George Stoneman, the commander of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry corps. When Stoneman took a leave of absence shortly after the end of the Chancellorsville Campaign, Merritt briefly joined the staff of his successor, Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. Growing tired of administrative work, Merritt longed to be back in the saddle with his troopers. He returned to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry on June 1.

Formed in the spring of 1836, the 2nd U.S. Dragoons served in Florida, Mexico and on the Great Plains in the ante-bellum years. During the Mexican War at Resaca de la Palma on May 9, 1846, Capt. Charles May’s squadron assaulted an enemy artillery position. Before the assault, May famously implored his men to “remember your regiment and follow your officers.” The subsequent attack captured several batteries and a Mexican general. On August 3, 1861, Congress reorganized the mounted regiments of the United States Army. The 2nd Dragoons became the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. As the senior officer present, Merritt assumed command. He would not have to wait long until he led his men into action.

Shortly after his victory at Chancellorsville, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart to consolidate his cavalry in Culpeper County, west of Fredericksburg. This concentration was soon discovered by the Union horsemen. Concerned that Stuart was about to turn his right flank and launch a raid toward Washington, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, ordered Pleasonton to launch an expedition to destroy Stuart’s force.

On the evening of June 8, Merritt’s regiment, along with the 1st U.S. Cavalry, 5th U.S. Cavalry, 6th U.S. Cavalry and 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which made up the Reserve Brigade in Brig. Gen. John Buford’s Right Wing, bedded down opposite Beverly Ford on the north bank of the Rappahannock. Pleasonton planned to send Buford over the river early the following morning and head for a nearby stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Brandy Station. There Buford was to rendezvous with Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s division, which was to cross the Rappahannock several miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford. With Col. Alfred Duffié’s division covering their left, Buford and Gregg were to move on to Culpeper and engage Stuart. The next day, Merritt would lead his Regulars into battle.



Harry Heth Meets Richard Francis Burton

When I think of Confederate General Henry Heth, I can’t help but imagine actor Warren Burton’s portrayal of him in the 1993 film Gettysburg. I can just picture Heth now trying to explain to General Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) why he brought on an engagement at Gettysburg. I can clearly see the dissatisfaction on General Lee’s (Sheen’s) face. Regrettably, this is how Heth has been remembered.

While browsing Heth’s memoirs, I came across some fascinating accounts of his life before the American Civil War. One of these was a chance meeting with one of the Victorian era’s most famous explorers, Richard Francis Burton.

Antebellum Photograph of Heth. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

The Virginian graduated last in his class from the United States Military Academy in 1847 (just like his cousin, George E. Pickett). He goofed off most of the time with his pal and roommate, Ambrose E. Burnside. “I was not good,” Heth stated. “I was happy, and had a good time.” He piled up demerits, admitting, “My four year career at West Point as a student was abominable.”

Shortly after graduating from West Point, Lieutenant Heth sailed for Veracruz with four other green army officers. The U.S.-Mexican War had officially ended but he joined a company of the Sixth Infantry in garrison duty. He became messmates with Lieutenants Lewis A. Armistead and Winfield Scott Hancock and was reunited with Burnside. “Heth, old fellow, I want to caution you about having anything to do with these Mexican girls,” Burnside warned his friend, “they are she-devils, the most jealous beings on earth; when angry they would not hesitate to knife you, or to cut your throat.” But Burnside’s advice didn’t stop Heth, who acted as a wingman to Hancock while he chased after the local señoritas.

Heth remained in the army after the war and saw extensive service against Indians on the frontier. He took part in the Battle of Blue Water on September 3, 1855, when Colonel William S. Harney attacked and destroyed a Lakota village in Nebraska in revenge for the murder of Lt. John Lawrence Grattan and thirty of his men. In 1857, he was stationed in Utah under General Albert S. Johnston (followed by Lt. Colonel Charles F. Smith) at Camp Floyd, forty miles south of Salt Lake City. When Captain Richard Francis Burton arrived at Camp Floyd in September 1860, the thirty-five-year-old Heth offered Burton a spare bed in his quarters.

Burton was already an international celebrity when he arrived to the United States. He was a brilliant linguist, prolific author, and enthusiastically studied native customs. In 1853, the British army officer had disguised himself as a pilgrim and braved death to make the Hajj to Mecca. While searching for the source of the Nile in 1858, he discovered Lake Tanganyika in East Africa (and nearly died). He decided to visit the United States soon after.

Richard Francis Burton.

Burton left England in April 1860. When he arrived to the United States, he met with Secretary of War John B. Floyd, who gave him letters of introduction so that he could travel to different frontier posts. He had a fascination for the Mormons and planned to write a book about them. Burton stayed liquored up during most of his travels and was obsessed with the desire to be ambushed by a party of Indians.

Burton got along wonderfully with Heth during the five days at Camp Floyd. “My host was a son of that Old Dominion of Queen Elizabeth,” Burton recalled, “where still linger traces of the glorious Cavalier and the noble feudal spirit, which (alas!) have almost disappeared from the mother country.” Burton was impressed with Heth’s ability to hunt buffalo with a bow (He also mastered killing them with a revolver). “I have met but one officer, Captain Heth, of the 10th Regiment, who ever [sic] acquired the art,” Burton declared.

Heth became a favorite source for answering Burton’s questions about Indians, Mormons, frontier life, animals and the geography. He took pages of notes that he later published in a book titled, The City of Saints, and Across the Rocky Mountains to California (1862). The book mentions Heth’s name in several instances. Heth apparently didn’t mind being interrogated or acting as chaperon to the Englishman, and found him to be “a most enjoyable companion.”

Burton picked Heth’s brain on the subject of scalping. He gained a reputation for covering taboo subjects in his other books. “He was anxious to secure some Indian trinkets, and especially an Indian scalp,” Heth wrote, “I happened to have what he wanted, and gave him my collection. He said he promised his sweetheart in England to bring her an Indian scalp.” It is doubtful that his fiancé at the time, Isabel Arundell, cared for a scalp. She instead considered entering the nunnery after Burton failed to inform her of his premature departure to the United States (she also had heard rumors that he had been killed during his trip).

Burton returned to England after his tour of the United States. Heth and Burton stayed in contact until the outbreak of the American Civil War. Their correspondence ended soon after and never resumed. Heth wrote his memoirs in 1897 (later published in 1974). The Memoirs of Henry Heth provide insight into Heth’s experiences and thoughts before the American Civil War—including his chance meeting with the famed British explorer—and it is essential reading for any student of the American Civil War. It helps to give us a comprehensive view of Heth, freeing him from the narrative of the hapless general who started the Battle of Gettysburg in search of shoes.

Further Reading

Burton, Richard F. The City of Saints, and Across the Rocky Mountains to California. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1862.

Farwell, Byron. Burton: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963.

Heth, Henry. The Memoirs of Henry Heth, ed. James L. Morrison. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974.

Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Symposium Spotlight: Grant Takes Command


Grant and Meade in the Wildernessby ECW Correspondent Sean Lynch

While there are various moments that serve as turning points for both the Union and Confederate Armies, no moment had as much magnitude on President Abraham Lincoln’s future in office as Ulysses S. Grant taking control of the Union Army in 1864.

As a part of the 2018 Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge, Chris Kolakowski will speak on the topic of “Turning Points of the Civil War,” with his subject of “Grant Takes Command.”

“Author H.P. Wilmott said ‘A turning point is a signpost that points in the parting of the ways. It’s a noticeable course change,’” Kolakowski said. “So, the promotion of Grant to three stars and his appointment as General in Chief certainly qualifies.” 

Kolakowski’s expertise stretches past the Civil War. As a military expert from events 1775 to present. He’s worked as the director of the General George Patton Museum and Center for Leadership and currently is the director of The General Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia.

Kolakowski spent time around Fredericksburg, Virginia, which led to his interest in Grant.

“I’ve been interested in Grant for a very long time. Ever since I’ve studied the Civil War I think he’s one of the major figures in American military history, not just in the Civil War,” Kolakowski said.

Kolakowski received his B.A. in History and Mass Communication from Emory & Henry College in 1999 and his M.A. in Public History from SUNY Albany in 2004.

“I also spent eight years as a ranger at the Fredericksburg-area battlefields, including the Wilderness and Spotsylvania where the first two battles of Grant’s campaign against Lee were in 1864, so I’ve spent a lot of time pondering General Grant, the year 1864, what it means, and how it goes,” Kolakowski said.

During the Civil War, the rank of lieutenant general was an important position within the military, with two people holding the position before the Civil War, one by brevet.

“By creating the rank of lieutenant general, looking back, we forget that was a big deal at the time. There had only been one other lieutenant general overall, which was George Washington,” he said.

Putting Grant into the position of power served as one of the major turning point of the war because of his command over the army.

“Giving Grant that power, you look at the effects of that turning point. Maneuvering the federal armies all in a coordinated fashion. Grant’s command decisions, key command decisions at the Wilderness in Spotsylvania really are the beginning to the end of the Confederacy.”

Before his insertion into the position of lieutenant general, Grant’s work and success on campaigns beforehand helped put him into position for the rank.

“If you look at his campaigns, they build on each other,” he said. “Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, they all build on each other.”

A few months before his appointment on March 2, 1864, questions began to arise as to what the Union were going to do within the Western Theater encompassing Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“He’s now in command of the entire Western Theater at that point and he gets to this discussion of ‘What do we do in the West, what’s the strategy for the West, and how does the West fit into the bigger picture?’” By the time of the battles for Chattanooga in November 1863, he’s the first U.S. officer to maneuver multiple independent armies on a field of battle.”

President Abraham Lincoln also had a lot to prove when he decided to promote Grant to lieutenant general. 1864 was an election year, so Lincoln needed results from Grant on the battlefield in order for Lincoln to have a chance to defeat Democratic nominee George B. McClellan at the ballot box.

“At this point, Lincoln is feeling Grant out,” he’s said. “’I know this guy can win battles. I know this guy can win complex campaigns like Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Donelson. Does he have the strategic brain that I need as a general in chief?’”

Kolakowski hopes that people understand the magnitude of Grant’s appointment and the events that it affected over the course of the Civil War.

“We forget what it was like to have Grant be just the third lieutenant general in the history of the U.S. Army. It is just trying to get people to understand that perspective,” he said. “We know that Grant is going to win the war within 13-14 months of his appointment, but they did not know that at the time.”

While history played out and Lincoln ended up getting re-elected, hindsight has reduced the magnitude of making this move.

“We know that Lincoln is going to get re-elected partly because of the successful strategy Grant pursues; they didn’t know that in 1864. This is a big, big deal.”


The Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge will be held Aug. 3-5, 2018. Tickets are still available for $155/each: order here.

Civil War Echoes: Manila Bay 1898

Today in 1898, 120 years ago, the Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey entered Manila Bay seeking to destroy the Spanish flotilla anchored inside near Cavite. Dewey’s ships sailed past Corregidor, an island that would mean much more in U.S. military history later. Shortly after dawn, the Americans opened fire and by lunchtime had wrecked the Spanish ships. Spain’s power in the Far East was broken, and Dewey had scored the first American victory in the War With Spain. (An excellent overview of the battle can be found here.) USS_Olympia_art_NH_91881-KN

Dewey’s victory carries two significant Civil War Echoes. 

The first is Dewey himself. As a young officer, he was second-in-command of USS Mississippi during David G. Farragut’s expedition to New Orleans and up the Mississippi River in 1862. Farragut’s planning and leadership impressed Dewey, and ever after Dewey took Farragut as his role model – even at points of decision asking himself “What would Farragut do?”

Dewey later admitted that passing Corregidor evoked similar feelings as the lead-up to the night battle for Forts Jackson and St. Philip in 1862.

To open the battle, Dewey gave a famous order to Charles Gridley, the captain of his flagship USS Olympia: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Captain Gridley was a young officer about USS Oneida in 1864; distinguishing himself during the Battle of Mobile Bay. That ship had run a passage of Confederate forts and then helped subdue a Confederate squadron in the bay itself. His and Dewey’s experience running forts helped steel their nerves for the passage into Manila Bay past Corregidor and neighboring islands.

These two officers, who cut their teeth in Farragut’s greatest victories, combined to produce another of the great victories in the history of the U.S. Navy.

Image: a U.S. Navy print showing Dewey’s ships engaging the Spanish. USS Olympia is in foreground.