Floodwaters and Ghost Fog at Catharine Furnace

When the weather’s been good enough, I’ve been jogging on the Chancellorsville battlefield (or, when I have my 10-month-old with me, walking him in his stroller). The past two days have drenched us with monsoonal rain, but the temperatures have been warm. When the rain finally let up this afternoon, the thermometer was just shy of kissing 70 degrees.

For my run, I decided to park down across from Catharine Furnace and run eastward toward the Lee-Jackson bivouac site. But when I descended the long hill from the Matthew Maury homestead to the bottomlands around the Furnace, I found myself entering a primordial world. 

Lewis Run flooded

Lewis Run, which winds across the bottomlands, had flooded because of the heavy rains, turning a stark, leafless landscape into something that looked more like a bayou.  A ghostly fog hovered over the water.

In just the time it took me to cross the bridge, park, and jog back to the bridge for a photo, though, much of the fog had evaporated.

Lewis Run bridge

Stonewall Jackson’s flanking column marched down this road on the morning of May 2. The road then was dirt, of course, and the current bridge didn’t come along until the CCC built it in the 1930s. On just the other side of the bridge, the 23rd Georgia Infantry peeled off to the right and fanned out to form a protective shield for the rest of the column, which veered to the left, past the Catharine Furnace complex, and on toward its meeting with destiny.



Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Due to our recent site migration, we were unable to present this piece on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The 170th Anniversary of the final day of the treaty’s negotiations occurred on February 2, 1848.

It had been 635 days since the Mexican War’s first set battle at Palo Alto. Now the time had come to end it. Since Winfield Scott’s forces captured Mexico City the previous September, negotiators had met to discuss the treaty that would end the war. While Scott’s men continued to garrison the city, the peace-makers met just outside of it in the smaller village of Guadalupe Hidalgo. On February 2, 1848, the negotiators would meet one final time in the old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to sign their names to a treaty that would bring peace to the two nations.

The Basilica had been finished in 1709, dedicated to the spot where, Mexicans claimed, the Virgin Mother made four appearances in 1531. Its importance to the Mexican people was tantamount and Nicholas P. Trist, negotiating for the United States, knew that. He wrote that the site for the treaty was “the most sacred on earth, as being the scene of the miraculous appearance of the Virgin, for the purpose of declaring that Mexico was taken under her special protection.”[1]

Through January of 1848 Trist and the Mexican contingent met in Guadalupe Hidalgo, debating through the issues. The Mexican envoys “insisted on a host of demands fundamentally at odds” with Trist’s position, as historian Robert Merry writes.[2] Trist stuck to his position and knew his future depended on his negotiating the treaty; Polk had recalled the ambassador the previous October but Trist, upon hearing of his recall, simply ignored the order.

Eventually, the two sides came to an agreement they could each sign. As the Mexican delegates made their way into the Basilica, one of them said to Trist, “This must be a proud moment for you; no less proud for you than it is humiliating for us.” The American simply responded, “We are making peace, let that be our only thought.” Though Trist did not show his emotions, he “viewed the war as a shameful display of naked American power,” and later wrote to his family, “Could those Mexicans have seen into my heart at that moment, they would have known that my feelings of shame as an American was far stronger than theirs could be as Mexicans.”[3]

With the signatures on the parchment, the officially designated Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic was all but finalized pending ratification by both countries. It soon became known as the far quicker to say Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

At the end of all the negotiations, the treaty had twenty-three articles, with one of them being eventually stricken out. Arguably though, the most important article for the Polk Administration was Article V, which finally and resolutely set the boundary between the United States and Mexico as the Rio Grande River. No longer would there be disputes about the Rio Grande or the Nueces Strip. Furthermore, Article V continued with the boundary line, stripping from Mexico and giving to the U.S. all or part of what would become the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and firmly establishing Texas’ boundary. At the end of it all, the entire land mass came to 525,000 square miles, nearly doubling the size of the United States and shrinking Mexico to half of its antebellum mass.[4]

For all of that land, Trist agreed to conditions that would have the United States pay $15 million, plus interest, in yearly installments of $3 million. In addition, the U.S. also agreed to pay off claims of American citizens against Mexico dating to before the war. This figure of $18 million, as historian John D. Eisenhower points out, approaches the initial $25 million that ambassador John Slidell was permitted to offer for purchase in 1845. Slidell had been denied as an ambassador, however, and instead war came. In that two-year war, from 1846-1848, the United States spent about $100 million on the Mexican War.[5]

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made its way to Washington. President Polk, furious as he was with Nicholas Trist for the ambassador ignoring his recall orders, was nonetheless pleased with the end result. Polk got his land, and his boundary, and the expansion he had promised during his election campaign in 1844. The treaty passed through the Congress quickly, ratified along political lines—pro-war Democrats and expansionists overpowered anti-war Whigs and those who saw the war as little more than a way to spread an American slave empire. (More on that later.)

Similarly ratified by Mexico’s government, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo became effective on May 30, 1848. That meant, per Article IV, the United States had three months for “The final evacuation of the territory of the Mexican Republic, by the forces of the United States.” After two years, the war was over. People like Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and Thomas J. Jackson would be going home.

But with that completion, the question became: Now what?

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. (Wikipedia)

Land acquisitions for the United States following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Wikipedia)


Land acquisitions for the United States following the Treaty of the Guadalupe Hidalgo. (Wikipedia)

[1] Message from Nicholas Trist to Sec. of State James Buchanan.

[2] Robert W. Merry, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), 424.

[3] Merry, 426; Amy Greenberg, A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 259.

[4] Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

[5] John S.D. Eisenhower, So Far From God: The U.S. War With Mexico, 1846-1848 (New York: Random House, Inc., 1989),369-370; Justin Smith, The War with Mexico, Vol. II, (New York: MacMillan, 1919), 267.






Steve Bartman and the Battle of Chancellorsville

In the past few weeks ESPN has been re-running the Alex Gibney film Catching Hell. The film focuses on Chicago and it’s reaction to Steve Bartman in 2003 after the Cubs lost that year’s National League Championship Series (NLCS). There is also a discussion of Boston and Bill Buckner after his error in the 1986 World Series.

Watching the film, I was struck by the group reaction to the Bartman play among the Cub fans and certain players, which led directly to the team’s collapse in Game 6. As I thought about it, I realized the Bartman story can help people understand the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville in 1863. 

For those who may not be familiar with the story: In 2003 the Cubs had enjoyed a magical regular season that raised hopes in Chicago. They entered the playoffs looking for the first World Series appearance since 1945 and their first title since 1908 (95 years at the time), and led the NLCS 3 games to 2 over the Florida Marlins (now Miami Marlins), having lost Game 5 in Miami. Game 6 occurred in Chicago on October 14, and the Cubs led 3-0 going into the top of the 8th inning. A foul ball along the third base line was deflected by a fan (later identified as Steve Bartman), and the Cub outfielder, Moises Alou, reacted in frustration. The Marlins started a flurry of hits, helped by a flubbed shortstop play by Alex Gonzalez that would have ended the inning with the Cubs up 3-1 or 3-2; instead, Florida buried the Cubs with 8 runs in the 8th, and the Cubs could score no more. Game 7 the next night went back and forth, but the Marlins again (for the third straight game) beat the Cubs and went on to their second World Series in franchise history, eventually defeating the New York Yankees. Steve Bartman, meanwhile, became the scapegoat in Chicago, blamed for the defeat.

In the film, Cub fans going to Game 6 are seen admitting their nervousness, and one stated “I’ve never been so nervous before a game.” Steve Lyons, who called the game for Fox Sports, said the whole stadium was “waiting for something crazy to happen.” Some people felt it in the 7th Inning Stretch, when Bernie Mac sang “champs” in Take Me Out to the Ballgame. But the Bartman play in the 8th (in the words of Cubs 1st Baseman Eric Karros) “took the air out of the stadium.” The team seemed to tense up, and that explains both Gonzalez’ error and the meltdown of Chicago pitching. After Game 6 many in Chicago felt it was already over; some Cubs players even booked flights home after Game 7, expecting not to go to the World Series.

This, in broad parallel, is the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville. After an energetic winter and spring during which Major General Joseph Hooker reformed, rebuilt, and re-energized the army, in late April 1863 it set off for its next contest against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The last clear-cut offensive victory the Army of the Potomac had won over the Confederates was at Williamsburg, almost exactly a year earlier. A year is a long time to an army in combat, and that record weighed on the Federals as much as the 95-year drought weighed on the Cubs in 2003. Indeed, a sense of nervous energy emanates from some of Hooker’s statements before the battle and the way some of his commanders strained to get into the fight.

Lee’s unexpected strong reaction on May 1 caused Hooker to pull back, and a strange lethargy set in among the Federals. Seizing the opening created by this passivity, Lee flanked the Army of the Potomac, launching Stonewall Jackson’s famed flank attack on the evening of May 2. Jackson’s corps routed the Union XI Corps on the army’s western flank, driving it back over 2 miles before darkness ended the fighting. The attack did not win the battle, but left the Confederates threatening to win. A strong Federal defense, and/or a resolute counterattack, would recover the Army of the Potomac’s fortunes.

Yet the Army of the Potomac was like the Cubs after Bartman – the air had gone out of them. The troops themselves fought well on May 3, but the leadership was defeated and steadily pulled back. Hooker also ordered the 20% of his army at Fredericksburg to save the other 80% at Chancellorsville – a panicked order which shows how far he had melted down mentally.

Even thought the fighting on May 3 ended with the Federals in a strong position south of U.S. Ford, the battle was all but over in the mind of Hooker and many of his commanders. After some skirmishing on May 4 and 5, the Army of the Potomac quit the field. After the battle the XI Corps became the scapegoat for the army because of its failure to hold Jackson – much like Steve Bartman became the scapegoat for the foul ball play in 2003.  In both cases, the overall group saw these events as the turning points where it all went wrong and spiraled into the inevitable defeat.

The next time Catching Hell is on, take the time to watch it, as the group dynamics among the Chicago Cubs fans and players echo those of the Army of the Potomac leadership 140 years before.

Top: Steve Bartman and Moises Alou go for a foul ball in Game 6, with one out in the Top of the 8th. 

Bottom: Jackson’s flank attack on May 2.

Notice the reorientation of the Union line and the isolated position of the XI Corps “behind” the new Union position.

Did You Hear It?

Today (Monday, January 15) on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, I heard Princeton professor Eddie Glaude Jr. comment on “a culture war Donald Trump is waging as if he was Sherman marching through the South.”
Here In Georgia, we have heard Sherman’s march equated with lots of things, but likening it to a Trumpian modern-day culture war is a new twist, indeed.
Did anyone else hear this?

“The Valhalla of the South”

I found this text from an undated tourism brochure in my archives, which I thought was appropriate to share for Virginia’s Lee-Jackson Day, commemorated each year on the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day:

Historic Lexington
“The Valhalla of the South”
is only 13 miles North of the beautiful Natural Bridge 

Here are the tomb of General Lee, the grave of General Jackson, and the grave of the New Market Cadets.

Here, too, are the Virginia Military Institute, with its Museum and colorful military parades, Washington & Lee University, the Lee Museum and Chapel, and General Lee’s Office.

The Shrines of Lexington are devoted to education and history and no admission is charged.

January 10, 1861 in Florida

On this date in Tallahassee, Florida, the delegates to the state’s secession convention voted 62-7, in favor of secession. With that vote, after seven days of deliberation, Florida became the third state to formally declare itself out of the United States, following South Carolina and Mississippi. The outgoing governor, Madison Starke Perry and the governor-elect John Milton were both avid secessionists and were on hand to witness the outcome. The Ordinance of Secession would eventually be signed by 65-men, including two future Confederate generals; J. Patton Anderson and Joseph Finegan.

Richard Keith Call

Yet, a former governor, was certainly not in favor of that vote. Richard Keith Call, who had served two times as governor of the territory of Florida in the 1830s and 1840s, was a staunch Unionist. Although he was not a staunch Republican Call decried secession as “high treason against our constitutional government.”

Call found out about the vote when he was approached on the street by a jubilant pro-secessionist individual, who informed him;“Well governor…we have done it [meaning the vote in favor of seceding].” 

The 68-year old former governor responded;

“And what have you done?… You have opened the gates of Hell, from which shall flow
the curses of the damned which shall sink you to perdition!”

Unfortunately for the pro-secessionists and the future Confederacy, Call was right.

Unfortunately for Call, he would not live to see his prophesy come to fruition. He died on September 14, 1862, approximately a month shy of his 70th birthday.