Symposium Spotlight: Edward Alexander

One of our afternoon speakers for the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium is Edward Alexander. Our Symposium Spotlight introduces us to this presenter as well as his topic, Grant Crosses the James.Certainly there were turning points during the war that occurred off the battlefield. Returning to a political turning point, this week’s Symposium Spotlight features Rea Andrew Redd and his preview of the 1864 election. If you still have not purchased your tickets for this year’s Symposium, Aug. 3-5, 2018, they are available to order here. They include Friday night’s reception, speakers, keynote address, and historians’ roundtable; Saturday’s line-up of talks; coffee service and lunch on Saturday; and Sunday’s tour of Stonewall Jackson’s final days.

Confederate resistance brought the Union army’s promising Overland campaign to a bloody stalemate at Cold Harbor in the first week of June 1864. Ulysses S. Grant nevertheless decided to continue his offensive and crossed the mighty James River to focus on Petersburg, even though that meant the unpopular reality of turning his back on the Confederate capital at Richmond. Grant’s stubborn determination forced Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia into a defensive posture where the audacious Confederate commander was stuck. Though poor leadership doomed the initial assaults on Petersburg, Grant’s logistical advantage placed northern forces into positions from which they would ultimately win the war.

Edward Alexander

Edward Alexander is author of Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg, March 25-April 2, 1865. He has worked at as park ranger and historian at Richmond National Battlefield Park and Pamplin Historical Park and is on the board of the Petersburg Battlefields Foundation. He is a contributor and former board member of Emerging Civil War and is editor and cartographer of the Emerging Civil War Digital Shorts. Edward has a bachelor of arts degree in history from the University of Illinois and currently resides in Richmond, Virginia.

Symposium Spotlight: Doug Crenshaw

There is little question of Robert E. Lee’s impact on the Confederate war effort. As we welcome you back to yet another installment of the 2018 Emerging Civil War Symposium Spotlight, preview Doug Crenshaw’s talk The Rise of Lee: Richmond 1862. If you have not purchased your tickets for the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium, you can find them, and all information about the symposium, here.

In late May 1862 the Confederacy seemed on the brink of defeat. Numerous strategic setbacks in the West were combined with the loss of most of the North Carolina coast and a significant portion of Virginia. George McClellan’s massive Army of the Potomac was at the very gates of Richmond, and he planned to bring up heavy siege artillery to drive the Confederates from the capital. This would be a catastrophic loss, as Richmond was not only the seat of government, but was also a major manufacturing center. However, in a short span of time McClellan would retreat to the James River and the Confederates would be on the offensive. While this was a major turning point in the war, it was not the only one resulting from the Seven Days Campaign. Come and join Doug Crenshaw as we walk through this amazing period.  

Doug Crenshaw

Doug Crenshaw studied history at Randolph-Macon College and the University of Richmond. A volunteer for the Richmond National Battlefield Park, he is a member of the Richmond Civil War Roundtable, and is a speaker, presenter and tour leader. His book, Fort Harrison and The Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, was nominated in the nonfiction category for a Library of Virginia Literary award. Doug has also written The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee’s Lost Opportunity, and It Shall Not Be Given Up!  a survey and tour of the Seven Days campaign. He is currently working with Drew Gruber on a similar book on the Peninsula Campaign for the Emerging Civil War series.

Symposium Spotlight: Bert Dunkerly

Over the next several weeks we’ll be introducing you to the 2018 ECW Symposium full line-up of speakers. You’ll not only be able to learn a little bit more about the outstanding historians and speakers that will presenting at the symposium, but we have also asked each of them to give us a little preview of their presentation. We begin this week with Robert Dunkerly. He will be exploring our theme for this year’s symposium, Turning Points, as our first speaker Friday evening.

A sweeping presentation on an overview of turning points during the war, Bert writes, “The generation that experienced the Civil War lived though complex and ever-shifting events and trends.  Social, economic, political, and military events were intertwined and each affected the other.  The concept of turning points is appealing as it makes events easy to define and provides clear cut boundaries, the reality is that events unfolded with either gradual changes or lighting fast jolts.  I intend to explore these concepts and suggest ways to interpret the events of the war.”

Robert Dunkerly

Robert M. Dunkerly is a historian, award-winning author, and speaker who is actively involved in historic preservation and research.  He holds a degree in History from St. Vincent College and a Masters in Historic Preservation from Middle Tennessee State University.  He has worked at nine historic sites, written seven books and over twenty articles.  His research includes archaeology, colonial life, military history, and historic commemoration.  Dunkerly is currently a Park Ranger at Richmond National Battlefield Park.  He has visited over 400 battlefields and over 1,000 historic sites worldwide.  When not reading or writing, he enjoys hiking, camping, and photography.

 

If you have not purchased your tickets for the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium, you can find them, and all information about the symposium, here.


Chattanooga: More Than Just Another Victory for Grant

TurningPoints-logoIn the late summer and early days of fall of 1863, it seemed that all eyes were on the small railroad town of Chattanooga, TN. The disastrous defeat at Chickamauga and the huge casualties it reaped turned what had nearly been for Union commander Major General William S. Rosecrans a victory almost as significant as the fall of Vicksburg into an embarrassing defeat of epic proportions. Yet in the defeat, Rosecrans still held onto Chattanooga, the objective of his campaign, although his army, the Army of the Cumberland, soon found itself under siege in the town.

Rosecrans managed to hold on thanks to a 60-mile supply line to their forward supply base of Bridgeport, Alabama, only 25 miles away, but due to the placement of the Confederate army’s best cannon on Lookout Mountain and sharpshooters along the banks of the Tennessee River, direct access was impossible. Rosecrans continued to work on the defense of the town and planned a move to open up another, shorter route of supply, although word of this was not making it to the ears of the War Department. The assistant secretary of war, feeding a growing panic about Rosecrans, sent false reports of an eminent withdrawal. Already reinforcements were on the way to aid Rosecrans, though: Joe Hooker was dispatched with the XI and XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac from Virginia, and William T. Sherman was coming with a portion of the Army of the Tennessee from Mississippi. But suddenly another move was made that would have tremendous impact on the rest of the war and one that proved fatal to Rosecrans’s career. 

Major General Ulysses S. Grant had steadily grown into the hero of the Union cause. From the first so-needed victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, the snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat at Shiloh, and the hard road to capture Vicksburg, Grant seemed to provide the victories that the Union cause desperately needed. Grant proved himself to be a tough-as-nails commander, and his maxim of “when I started to go anywhere, or to do anything, not to turn back or stop until the thing intended was accomplished” served him well.

However, Grant also displayed some very human flaws. He was sometimes jealous of the attention the press gave other officers and displayed some misplaced paranoia. This resulted in a bitter rift with Rosecrans, destroying a decades-long friendship in the wake of the battles of Iuka and Corinth the previous fall.

Grant’s accomplishments, though, shined brightly now that the Mississippi once more, through his efforts, ran “unvexed to the sea,” severing the Confederacy. With this latest accomplishment, Grant received notification of his promotion to command the newly created Military Division of the West, which covered a massive expanse of ground: the three military departments between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, including his old command, the Army of the Tennessee, now commanded by his good friend and loyal subordinate, William T. Sherman, and also that of the now seemingly collapsing Rosecrans, the Army of the Cumberland.

Grant was tasked with insuring that Chattanooga remained in Union hands. The War Department gave him two sets of orders related to the fate of his old friend, Rosecrans. He literally held Rosecrans’s fate in his hand. One set of orders retained him, and the other removed him from command and replaced him with Major General George H. Thomas.

There never was any doubt: Rosecrans was done.

Grant arrived at the Union supply depot at Stevenson, Alabama, approximately 45 miles west of Chattanooga, on October 22 to be met by the departing Rosecrans. In what could only have been a very tense meeting, Rosecrans briefed Grant on the situation at the front and also about his plans for opening a supply line. Grant, for his part, falsely told Rosecrans that he didn’t have anything to do with his removal before sending him on his way.

The following day, Grant made his way through a pouring rain to Chattanooga, where he met with General Thomas and heard more about Rosecrans’s plan—though the army’s chief engineer, General William F. Smith, claimed it was his own. Grant now turned his energies to getting the much-needed supplies into Chattanooga. Taking Rosecrans’s plan and making it happen, Grant launched one of the war’s few night-time assault—and an amphibious one, at that—the battle of Brown’s Ferry, which broke the Confederate siege of Chattanooga. What became known as “the Cracker Line” was now open, and a steady stream of supplies moved unvexed into Chattanooga.

Along with the supplies, a path was open for the reinforcements that had begun arriving. Hooker’s men had arrived only eleven days after they were dispatched, played a big part in opening the “Cracker Line” and then defending it in a series of fights that are collectively called the battle of Wauhatchie. Grant now waited for Sherman to arrive.

In the interlude, the Confederate commander, Braxton Bragg, dispatched part of his army to deal with the third army under Grant’s command, Major General Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Ohio, which captured Knoxville, TN, after the city’s garrison had rushed to reinforce Bragg just before the battle of Chickamauga. Now wanting to eliminate Burnside as a threat and retake Knoxville, Bragg sent Lt. Gen. James Longstreet with his corps for this mission. When Sherman finally arrived at Chattanooga in mid November, Bragg initially discounted him as a local threat, thinking Sherman’s men were on the way to Knoxville—which, in turn, prompted him to order more of his army to that front. Ironically that move compelled Grant, now growing worried about Burnside, to act against Bragg.

Receiving a report that the Confederates were leaving his front, Grant ordered a reconnaissance in force on November 23 against the Confederate picket lines near Orchard Knob, a prominent hill between Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge, along whose base a long portion of the Confederate defenses ran. That reconnaissance soon turned into the first of what would be three days of fighting. The Confederates were still in their lines, and a short fight ensued, with the Union forces capturing Orchard Knob.

Grant now saw that it was time to act. He sent orders for the main assault to occur the following day. Sherman would attack the Confederate right and roll up the line, sweeping the Confederates away from Chattanooga and into North Georgia, while Hooker would attack Lookout Mountain in diversionary action.

However, November 24 proved to be a day of frustrating success and failure. Hooker’s attack was a success, forcing the Confederates to abandon the seemingly impregnable Lookout Mountain, while Sherman, due to a poor reconnaissance and even poorer maps, attacked what proved to be an undefended set of hills slightly in front of Missionary Ridge. Grant now had to draw up a new set of plans for November 25 even as Bragg pulled all of his men back to defend Missionary Ridge. The following day, Sherman was to attack what he now knew was the Confederate right on the portion of the ridge known as Tunnel Hill, while Hooker would move off Lookout Mountain, cross Chattanooga Valley, and attack the Confederate left, crushing the Confederates between the two forces as the Army of the Cumberland loomed as a diversion in their front.

Once again luck seemed not to be with the Union forces, though. Flooded creeks and a burned bridge delayed Hooker as he moved eastward, while Sherman was handed several humiliating repulses in his attacks on the north end of the line.

Finally, late in the day, having received erroneous reports that Bragg had reinforced his right. Grant decided that it was time to commit Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland. Late in the afternoon of November 25, the Cumberlanders moved forward with orders to attack the Confederate defenses at the foot of the ridge, a move they made easily enough—but finding themselves under heavy fire from the Confederate main line on top of the ridge, the men surged forward without orders. Clambering up the side of the ridge, they shouted over and over again, “Chickamauga!” Using the name of their defeat as their battle cry, they soon had the summit and, in short order, broke the Confederate line and sent the Rebels into full retreat. Grant had his victory.

In the aftermath of the battle, Grant was once again hailed as the great victor, this time having opened the gateway into the heart of the Deep South. In the space of four months, Grant had delivered two of the most important victories of the war—and he was destined for even greater things. Grant, in short order, was promoted again, this time to take command of all of the Union Armies. He, in turn, promoted Sherman—despite Sherman’s failures—to take command of the Military Division of the West. The team was now being assembled to win the war.

The following spring, Grant traveled to Virginia to try his luck against Robert E. Lee, and Sherman moved through the gateway into Georgia, beginning a campaign that would lead to both his fame and infamy—but all of it leading to the death of the Confederacy.

Chattanooga wasn’t just another victory for Grant, it was the event that enabled him to assemble his winning team—a team that won the war.

————

[For more on the relationship between Grant, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, read Dan Davis’s essay “Vicksburg: The Victory That Unleashed Ulysses S. Grant” in Turning Points of the American Civil Warpart of the “Engaging the Civil War” Series.]


Lee and Guerrilla Warfare

TurningPoints-logoTwo days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, a council of officers in what was left of the bedraggled Army of Northern Virginia hashed out three possible options for Robert E. Lee to consider. General John Brown Gordon, who was not present at the meeting but who heard about it later, said that the first option was “To disband and allow the troops to get away as best they could, and reform at some designated point.” In other words, Lee could later rendezvous with the remains of his army and then try to drag out the conflict indefinitely, perhaps through guerilla warfare, with the aim of wearing down the Northern will to carry on. In fact, this would be the very strategy Southern resistance would adopt during Reconstruction, eventually wearing down the will of the North to support continued occupation of the South. 

According to Gordon, though, in early April 1865, “This was abandoned because a dispersion over the country would be a dreadful infliction upon our impoverished people, and because it was most improbable that all the men would reach the rallying-point.”

Apparently no one from the weary group of officers dared bring the idea forward to Lee, but artillerist Edward Porter Alexander gave voice to the same idea on the morning of April 9. “We must either surrender,” Alexander told Lee, “or the army may be ordered to scatter in the woods & bushes & either to rally upon Gen. Johnston in North Carolina, or to make their own way, each man to his own state, with his arms, & to report to his governor. This last course is the one which seems to me to offer us much the best chances.”

“Well, what would you hope to accomplish by that?” Lee asked.

“If there is any hope for the Confederacy it is in delay,” Alexander replied, hoping for foreign recognition or northern frustration to somehow end the hostilities.

Lee demurred. His men, with no rations and under no discipline, “would have to plunder & rob to procure subsistence,” he said. “The country would be full of lawless bands in every part, & a state of society would ensue from which it would take the country years to recover.

As a soldier and an officer, Lee had determined to win or lose the question of independence not just through armed conflict but, specifically, on the battlefield. “[A]s for myself,” Lee told Alexander, “while you young men might afford to go to bushwacking, the only proper & dignified course for me would be to surrender myself & take the consequences of my actions.”

These exchanges have given birth, over the past 150 years, to the idea that Lee considered the possibility of a guerrilla war of some sort rather than outright surrender. To read Alexander’s account—which can be found on pp. 530-533 of his memoir Fighting for the Confederacy—Lee doesn’t seem to consider the idea at all, dismissing it casually and instantly.

Does that make his decision a kind of turning point—one nearly invisible to us because his choice really seemed like no choice at all? And because it led so quickly to the ending so well known to us?

As it happens, two of Emerging Civil War’s historians formerly worked at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, so I posed the question to them. Was Lee’s dismissal of guerrilla warfare a turning point of sorts?

Bert Dunkerly:

Lee the soldier knew that a guerrilla war was not sustainable. If his army moved west to fight unconventionally, how would he sustain it? With no base of supply or an infrastructure supporting it, how would they obtain food, medicine, and ammunition? Successful guerrilla operations often depend on outside support, as Washington knew well from the Revolution with his army’s invaluable support from the French. The North Vietnamese support from China is another, more recent example.

More importantly, however, a guerrilla war would not obtain the result Lee or anyone in the Confederacy wanted: independence. Washington certainly knew this very well. Without any of the trappings of an independent nation: a capital, a currency, a government, an established military, and most importantly, territory, such a struggle would not deliver independence. A guerrilla force fighting without those elements, without “Respectability,” as George Washington once wrote, would lack legitimacy.

Dan Davis:

On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union armies under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. Questions still abound regarding Lee breaking up the army to engage in guerrilla warfare and continue the conflict. To a certain degree, this option was certainly feasible for Lee; however, it was not likely to be sustainable.

Despite the fact that his army was surrounded the morning of its capitulation, elements from Lee’s cavalry corps had successfully slipped through the Federal vice and headed for the city of Lynchburg. This movement showed that small pockets of Confederate soldiers could evade capture to rendezvous at a pre-determined location. Elements from other Confederate armies were able to accomplish similar feats in the following weeks and months.

Should Lee haven taken this route and been successful, though, he would have other factors to consider—chiefly that of logistics.

One of Lee’s main concerns during the retreat from Richmond and Petersburg was the ability to supply his army. Had Lee ordered his small force to disperse, the issue of supply would have remained. Much of Virginia, and the Confederacy for that matter, had been devastated by the Union war effort. The means of subsistence for an army, even one relatively small in number, was difficult to procure.

Another element necessary for the successful operation of a guerilla effort is the support of the local population. It is difficult to determine if the Southern people, after four years of death and destruction, would have been willing to support such an endeavor.

Perhaps, however, asking such questions are moot. Guerrilla warfare simply was not in Lee’s DNA.

Lee was a strong admirer of and follower of the precepts of George Washington. Like Washington, Lee was bound by his honor and duty to do the right thing for the men in his charge. Two days prior to the surrender, in correspondence with Grant, Lee had expressed his “desire to avoid the useless effusion of blood.” Lee understood that any further combat, especially guerrilla-type warfare, would be devastating not only to the soldiers, but to the civilians as well. The morning that Lee met Grant in the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s house, he commented to his aide, Walter Taylor, that such actions would be “cruel.”

Much to Lee’s credit, he made a decision that set in motion a series of events that brought about the end of one of the worst conflicts in the history of the United States.


Was Lee’s “Lost Order” a Turning Point? (part three)

TurningPoints-logo(part three of three)

What exactly the Lost Order told McClellan has been the subject of much heated debate and controversy almost from the moment he glanced its contents.

From an intelligence standpoint, the Lost Order was important to McClellan, but not as much as has often been portrayed. As stated in the previous installment of this series, the most perplexing part about the campaign thus far to McClellan had been what Lee’s movements, heading in two different directions, meant. Now, the Lost Order simply solidified in McClellan’s mind exactly what Lee’s odd movements were all about. “I obtained reliable information of the movements and intentions of the enemy, which made it clear that it was necessary to force the passage of the South Mountain range and gain possession of Boonsborough and Rohrersville before any relief could be afforded to Harper’s Ferry.”[1]

Despite the clarification, the Lost Order was four days old when McClellan read it, and the wording called for the various parts of Lee’s plan to be achieved by Friday, September 12—the day before Union soldiers found the order. 

Naturally, the first thing to be done was to get his cavalry chief Pleasonton to verify the days old order. At 3:00 pm, Chief of Staff Randolph B. Marcy updated Pleasonton’s mission.[2] While time faded away as Pleasonton’s horsemen went about their business determining the veracity of the order, McClellan, now very aware of the possibility that Lee’s army may be divided in his front, pushed more of his army in that direction almost instantaneously.[3]

While setting the van of his army in motion, McClellan continued to browse through the order. It did seem that the discovery was a great find, but for as much as it told McClellan of Lee’s thus far undetermined intentions, the fog of war did not dissipate away like an early morning’s blanket of haze.

First, the order—which had been addressed to Gen. D.H. Hill, dropped by someone in the Confederate army, and then scooped up by three Indiana soldiers—began with Paragraph III. Either the Confederate high command proved unable to perform a simple arithmetic function (a highly unlikely proposition) or there was more to the order than what McClellan held in his hands. What did the first two paragraphs say further about Lee’s intentions?

A simple glance in the Official Records reveals that Paragraphs I and II state nothing about Confederate plans in Maryland. For McClellan to have known that was an utter impossibility. Certainly, the unanswerable question hung over his head throughout all of this: what was missing from the Lost Order?[4]

The wayward copy of Special Orders No. 191 also did McClellan no favors in the numbers department, already not one of the general’s best attributes. Earlier reports flooding into headquarters told McClellan of an enemy force numbering as high as 200,000 strong.[5] By the end of September 13, McClellan lowered this estimate not quite by half, concluding the enemy in his front “amounts to 120,000 men or more.”[6] The Lost Order does not mention anything of troop strength, but clearly designates five separate enemy columns before dropping in two vague references to the main body. Was the main body another column or one of the columns already mentioned, just by a different name? In addition, the very essence of Lee’s plan outlined in Special Orders No. 191 suggested a large number of Confederate soldiers in Maryland. Would the enemy divide itself into such disparate columns in a foreign land if it was such a small force? The Lost Order could not answer that question either.

Despite all of this, McClellan did plan an attack for September 14, armed with the solid information he did glean from Lee’s campaign plan. He began moving his forces into position on September 13 to carry the next series of ridges cutting north-south across the landscape of western Maryland.[7] So if the Lost Order did not provide McClellan with all of the information that he might have sought from such a fortuitous find, what then did it do?

As September 12 ended, the Army of the Potomac’s goals were to push west from Frederick and gain possession of Catoctin Mountain, a natural defensive barrier buttressed even more by the Confederate cavalry guarding the mountain passes. McClellan hoped that by carrying this mountain, Pleasonton’s cavalry could be in position the next day to go up and over the next barrier facing him—South Mountain.

The battle of South Mountain occurred on Sunday, September 14, and probably would have happened anyway, though perhaps on a smaller scale, as a natural extension of the Federals’ westward movement from Frederick whether the Lost Order was discovered or not. In McClellan’s first written report of the campaign, dated October 15, 1862, he also rightly recalled that the first place he received “reliable information that the enemy’s object was to move upon Harper’s Ferry and the Cumberland Valley, and not upon Baltimore, Washington, or Gettysburg” was while in Urbana on September 12.[8]

This is not to pronounce that the Lost Order had no significance whatsoever. Until that document came into McClellan’s hands, he was peering through the smoke screen attempting to derive the intentions of his opponent mostly unsuccessfully. Where the Lost Order proved crucial to McClellan’s intelligence reports was in its clear indication of what Confederate movements towards Harpers Ferry and the Maryland-Pennsylvania line meant. There were many other questions Special Orders No. 191 presented to the commanding Union general, but Lee’s intention no longer remained one of them.

The discovery of the Lost Order truly is an incredible story. Who could not indulge in a story like it? Its mysterious loss, the seemingly impossible find by three soldiers in a field, and its path up the chain of command right into George B. McClellan’s grasp accord the story a legendary status that few novelists could have framed better. Unfortunately, its import to the outcome of the campaign—and the war, say some—has been whisked into the legend of the Civil War.

Again, to say that the Lost Order’s odyssey is insignificant misses the point. To say that everything that subsequently happened in the Maryland Campaign hinged on this amazing story likewise does not stick to the track of the historical record. It is a story worthy of the ink spilled over its discovery, but does not accord it with the title of a major turning point of the Civil War.


[1] Report of George B. McClellan, OR, vol. 19, pt. 1, 26.

[2] Randolph B. Marcy to Alfred Pleasonton, September 13, 1862, 3:00 pm, OR, vol. 51, pt. 1, 829.

[3] Randolph B. Marcy to Jacob D. Cox, September 13, 1862, 3:35 pm, ibid., 827; Edward M. Neill to Orlando B. Willcox, September 13, 1862, ibid., 827-28.

[4] The full text of Special Orders No. 191 is found in OR, vol. 19, pt. 2, 603. The text of the Lost Order can be found in McClellan’s Report, OR, vol. 19, pt. 1, 42-43. The Lost Order reproduced in McClellan’s report omits the paragraph numbers, but the original copy of the Lost Order found in McClellan’s papers in the Library of Congress show the oddly numbered order, GBM Papers, LOC, reel 31.

[5] Andrew G. Curtin to George B. McClellan, September 10, 1862, 10:00 am, OR, vol. 19, pt. 2, 248.

[6] McClellan to Halleck, September 13, 1862, 11:00 pm, ibid., 281.

[7] In addition to the references previously cited in this work, George B. McClellan to William B. Franklin, September 13, 1862, 6:20 pm, OR, vol. 19, pt. 1, 45-46, also provides information about the Army of the Potomac moving into positions to strike at South Mountain and relieve Harpers Ferry on September 13.

[8] McClellan’s Report, ibid., 26-27.