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Shenandoah Surrenders and National Saxophone Day

Remember, remember the Sixth of November…no, that rhyme is the fifth of November…Guy Fawkes Day was yesterday…sorry.

But the first week in November is when US elections are held every two years (four years for the chief executive).  Lincoln was elected the first time on 6 November in 1860; Jefferson Davis was also elected, ironically, a year later in 1861. The Japanese Emperor Tsuchimikado died in exile in Japan in 1231, the second emperor to abdicate in a row (it was a troubled time in Japan). Gustavus Adolphus was killed at Lutzen on this day in 1632, even as his Swedes won their last battle in the first phase of the Thirty Years’ War.  William McKinley won reelection as president in 1900; the Bolshevik phase of the Russian Revolution started in Petrograd in 1917; in 1950, the Chinese First Phase Offensive stopped at the Chongchon River in Korea; and in a final irony, on 6 November 1992, Boris Yeltsin outlawed the Communist Party in Russia.  But today, we’re going to talk about the last combat unit to surrender in the American Civil War, and about saxophones.

She should have had 109 officers and men, but left the Azores with barely half that.

Sea King was a British 1,018 ton iron-framed, teak-planked, full-rigged merchant sailing ship with auxiliary steam power launched in August 1863. After a year plying the Glasgow to Auckland route, she was sold to the Confederate States Navy in October 1864, renamed Shenandoah en route to Madeira, and was commissioned a 1,160 ton cruiser of eight guns on 19 October 1864 under the command of James Waddell, who had never had an independent command before.  She should have had 109 officers and men, but left the Azores with barely half that.

…at least three of the whalers that Waddell would destroy had been out since before Gettysburg, and were not going to be ready to return until after Appomattox: their economic value in war terms was zero.

Shenandoah’s mission was to attack Union shipping in waters that had yet to have been exploited, which to Waddell meant the Pacific.  On the way to the other side of the world, she took six ships in the Atlantic, burning six and bonding the last into Bahia with captives.  Well aware of the Confederacy’s diminishing fortunes, Waddell’s mission reflected Confederate strategy in 1864: to make the Union believe that continuing the war would not be worth the cost. But even if he were following that policy, he also had to be aware that it was not working, making his wanton destruction of the New England whaling fleet militarily pointless.  More than that, since the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, it was also economically useless: the whalers wouldn’t have made much more for New England after their current voyage.  At least three of the whalers that Waddell would destroy had been out since before Gettysburg, and were not going to be ready to return until after Appomattox: their economic value in war terms was zero.  Finally, after Lincoln’s reelection in November 1864, Confederate leaders began to wonder if the war could be won on their terms: they had put much store in the potential of negotiating a European (territory-neutral) peace with McClellan.

Shenandoah took sixteen whalers before June, when Waddell learned that Lee had surrendered in April.

In January 1865 Shenandoah reached Melbourne in Australia in January 1865, where she had her bottom scraped, her larder filled with provisions, and signed on forty more men, while nineteen deserted. Proceeding north, Shenandoah took sixteen whalers before June, when Waddell learned that Lee had surrendered in April.  Undeterred, Shenandoah kept burning whalers until August, when a British ship showed Waddell newspapers announcing that both Joe Johnston and Edmund Smith had surrendered, and that Davis and his whole cabinet had been captured.

From the western coast of Mexico ten thousand miles to the river Mersey, Waddell and Shenandoah flew no flags, all the while being pursued by Union warships.

Waddell had something of a problem, in that much of his crew wasn’t even American-born.  After the death of Lincoln, he felt that any court in the United States would hang him and his men as pirates; his calculations about the minimal military value of his cruise was also probably on his mind.  Consequently, he decided to transform his vessel into an innocuous merchantman, store his guns belowdecks, and surrender to a third party. From the western coast of Mexico ten thousand miles to the river Mersey, Waddell and Shenandoah flew no flags, all the while being pursued by Union warships.  On 6 November 1865, Waddell surrendered his command to a British warship. Somewhat to Waddell’s surprise, he, his officers and crew were unconditionally paroled.  Shenandoah was eventually sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar, and she was wrecked in a storm in April 1872.

A decade later Sax patented what he is now best known for: the saxophone.

Today, 6 November, we also celebrate the birth of Adolphe Sax in Belgium in 1814 to a family of musical instrument makers. The younger Sax began experimenting with wind instrument designs at an early age, parenting a style of bass clarinet known as the saxhorn in 1836.  A decade later Sax patented what he is now best known for: the saxophone. While this signature instrument was a tremendous success it was also, like most instruments, a derivative of others. Sax spent the rest of his life defending his patents, and was eventually driven into penury, dying penniless in Paris in 1894.  On 6 November we honor Sax and his signature instruments, perhaps with a little Steely Dan:

Learn to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues–Walter Becker, Donald Fagen  

 

 

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Gettysburg, a Smorgasbord of National Days, and the Consequences of Belief

Huh, you say…what is he up to now?  Well, as it happens, I just want to put some stuff out there so you, my dear readers, can argue about lots of different things that have nothing to do with anything, like our current Fearless Leader in the White House duking it out with the Mass Media into all sorts of nothing sandwiches while he quietly gets the regulatory swamp drained.  Such is life.  Misdirection, you see.

Just like Lee was snookered into Gettysburg.  Sure, he wanted a fight outside Virginia…but then what?  The Confederacy was already losing half its food supply when US Grant finished clearing the Mississippi Valley with the capture of .  The Richmond/Washington corridor was, in comparison, as sideshow.  But the history books, driven by the Lost Cause Mythology (LCM) that demands that All Things Lee must be Earth-shatteringly vital, says that Gettysburg was the battle of the Civil War.  Some American history textbooks mention Bull Run, Gettysburg and Appomattox, foregoing all other actions  as unimportant.  Lee is mentioned, of course, and Lincoln, but Grant?  Meade? Even Halleck?  Not on a bet.

But…you moan.  Lee was snookered into Gettysburg?  Tricked?  Well, in a way, yes, he was.  Though the “strategy” that he outlined to Jefferson Davis demanded a fight with the Army of the Potomac, but he didn’t say just where or how.  So he split up his army to join it up somewhere in Pennsylvania so he could thrash “those people” (the term that LCM insists Lee always used when referring to the Union Army…except when he didn’t) once and for all.  Trouble with that was that, without a definite plan, the various pieces of his army were just going to be out foraging as he looked for a place to get together.  Lee wasn’t expecting to get it together in southern Adams County, but that was where Buford’s cavalry encountered Ewell’s corps.  Then there was Howard’s and Reynold’s corps, and Ewell had a real fight on his hands.

Suddenly Lee’s army had to come together, and he had no idea that Meade’s whole army was on hand because Stuart’s cavalry was off on another “ride around” the AoP and thus out of communications, but unlike 1862, the propaganda value to the Bold Cavalier’s exploits was nil.  However, the military value of bruising Stuart’s ego in June at Brandy Station was tremendous, and to salvage his sinking reputation he took his horsemen off on another wild ride.

So Lee was blinded by Stuart’s absence…or at least that’s what LCM claims.  You see, it just isn’t possible that Lee had so little control over his subordinates that such things could happen, so it has to be Stuart’s fault.  Just as on 3 July 1863 it was Longstreet who failed against Meade’s center because Lee cannot fail…ever.  And Lee, the ever-stainless Marse Robert Edward Lee, cannot be faulted for fighting at a severe terrain disadvantage in Pennsylvania.  It had to have been his subordinates who failed him. And so it goes.

But too, today is National Chocolate Wafer Day, National Eat Your Beans Day, and National Fried Clams Day.  Now, only Fried Clams Day has a known origin–3 July 1916 was the first time anyone suggested deep-frying clams–but the other two are mysteries.  A snack stand in Essex, Massachusetts battered and fried a batch after a customer suggested it, and first served them during Fourth of July festivities.  It sort of took off.  I have some rather fond memories of fried clams at Howard Johnson’s restaurants, which dates me.  The national day started in 2015.

Now, the consequences of belief.  There are, you know.  As Lee found out in Pennsylvania, believing that he could steal a march on Meade was, in his case, catastrophic. Similarly, German belief in their capacity to knock France out of the war before having to deal with the Russians in 1914 was similarly disastrous.  Germany did it again in 1939, taking on the whole world by 1941.  But that was a consequence in Hitler’s “unshakeable belief” in so many things that were just–demonstrably–wrong.

But no one can escape the consequences of belief, because what you believe guides what you do.  And if what you believe is accurate, all is well until someone decides that what you believe is simply wrong.  If that disagreement is a simple “I don’t think so,” there it  ends.  But if someone believes–and has the power to enforce–that you must change your belief and behavior or face a fatal consequence…that’s different.

But that’s where “free speech” and “censorship” and “hate speech” and “blasphemy” and “sedition” get all tangled up.  Opinions (personal, not legal) can’t be “wrong” if they don’t deny facts–they’re just beliefs.  Today is Monday.  If you say that it’s Wednesday, you would be wrong, incontrovertibly.  That is not an opinion, but a fact.  If you believe that persons of another faith or skin color are all evil, or want to destroy those of your faith or skin color, that is an opinion because it’s simply too broad a spread.  But if you act on that belief, it stops being an opinion and starts being a motive for whatever it is you wish to do.

The painting that heads this little missive is a good example.  It was painted to meet a commercial need, and to satisfy an audience that would find “Hancock at Gettysburg” to be inspiring. It’s not a photograph, and abounds with historical inaccuracy.  But it was commercially successful despite all that. Point at it as say “Pickett’s Charge” if you want; no one will kill you for it, but it’s “Hancock at Gettysburg.”  But say that a TV personality is wrong, or ugly, or–horrors–unworthy of your time, and you may be in for a fight.  Attractiveness is unquantifiable, and thus not a matter of “fact.”

What anyone says about anyone’s looks or appearance is, long run, irrelevant to living, or governing, or ruling.  The accuracy of paintings, too, is pretty irrelevant.  And so is this blog.  I write it because I want to; you read it for the same reason.  No harm no foul if you don’t or I don’t.  But it’s not “censorship” if you don’t follow me, just as my not watching the endless reruns of the same twisted plots of TV sitcoms isn’t “censorship,” or my not caring what your sexual proclivity is or your gender identity or your personal pronouns isn’t “anti-gay,” and it is not yet illegal to not care.  That may come, but not yet.

 

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Chickamauga, Garfield and Talking like a Pirate

As unlikely as it seems, the battle of Chickamauga, the death of James A Garfield, and an inane, made-up holiday all share 19 September.  Apologies for this one…Well, I’ll be blowed: this hearty’s pirate name , according to http://www.piratequiz.com/result.php, is Dirty John Read.  Sure an’ he’s been called worse things.

In the summer of 1863, William Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland managed to winkle  Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee out of a fairly strong position at Chattanooga, Tennessee, a rail hub of great importance on the road to Atlanta, the Deep South’s most important industrial center.  Proceeding south out of Chattanooga, Rosecrans issued contradictory and confusing orders to the two opposite wings of his army.  Just as they separated near the Chickamauga Creek in northwestern Georgia, James Longstreet and a small detachment from the Army of Northern Virginia walked into the gap on 19 September, 1863, severing the Army of the Cumberland in two.  A third of it, the part that Rosecrans was with at the time, scrambled back the fifteen miles to Chattanooga, convinced that the army was destroyed.  About half of the Federal force rallied around Horseshoe Ridge and a corps commander named George Thomas, who would forever after be known as “the Rock of Chickamauga.”  Chief of Staff to Rosecrans was James Garfield, who, suspecting that a large part of the army was still engaged with the Confederates, rode up Missionary Ridge overseeing the battlefield on the night of the 19th and saw that he was right.  This fueled the critics of Rosecrans’ leadership (he was not well liked, even though he had won all but one of his battles, and most with minimal casualties).  Chickamauga is considered by most to be the last major Confederate victory (even though the Confederates lost more than the Federals), and it shut up the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga for two months until reinforcements and the duo of WIlliam Sherman and Ulysses Grant broke the siege.  Chickamauga also made James Garfield’s reputation.

Chickamauga is considered by most to be the last major Confederate victory

Garfield rode that reputation all the way to the White House in 1880. First elected to the House in 1862, Garfield finally took his seat in December 1863.  In 1880, after serving in both the House and Senate, Garfield was elected president against another Civil War hero, Winfield Hancock.  He had barely made his cabinet and gotten started with his administration when, on  2 July, 1881, Charles Guiteau, upset after not being appointed to a civil service job, shot Garfield on a railway platform in Washington.  Garfield lingered for eleven weeks, eventually dying on 19 September 1881, exactly eighteen years after the event that made him famous.

…after serving in both the House and Senate, Garfield was elected president

Now, much of what is known about International Talk Like a Pirate Day derives from WIkipedia and the Talklikeapirate.com, two sources of unimpeachable information about the…holiday.  According to these, a couple of guys known as Ol’Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy in Albany, Oregon started the tradition in 1995, when one of them responded to an injury with an “arrr.”  While this may have sounded like a pirate to an American who knew nothing of the Old English dialect usually gracing the stage and screen whenever pirates are depicted in popular fiction, it was enough for humor columnist Dave Barry to popularize the date, for his own reasons, of course.  The date (19 September) is the birthday of Cap’n Slappy’s ex-wife.  The “historical significance” of this event (which didn’t even take place on 19 September, but 6 June, which is famous for its own reasons) is nil, but these things take on a life of their own.  Two states, Michigan and California (which one would hope would have bigger fish to fry) have recognized the day; two fast-food chains (Krispy Kreme and Long John Silver’s) offer discounts; the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has declared it a holiday for those of their…faith.

…a couple of guys known as Ol’Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy in Albany, Oregon started the tradition in 1995, when one of them responded to an injury with an “arrr.”

OK…whatever.  Chickamauga and Garfield, anyway, have some serious bent.  And I can say that the “pirate flag” above is an invention of the entertainment industry, and that the “pirate dialect” is nothing more than an affectation from 18th Century English popularized by Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island and a couple hundred movies, TV series, and other popular entertainments.   Let’s hold onto that.

Now, you be likin’ this here post or I’ll be havin’ yer liver fer lunch, ya lubber!

 

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Winchelsea, Hatteras Inlet and Copenhagen

Three naval battles share 29 August, roughly seven centuries apart.  However, they do have a common thread: The influence of maritime traffic and navies on national affairs.  Though the Hundred Year’s War, the American Civil War, and WWII in Europe are usually viewed as predominantly land wars, their naval aspects were crucial to the course of the land wars.

In the Edwardian phase  (1337-1360) of the Hundred Year’s War, piracy along the Breton coast was costing English merchants dearly.  Today we think of “piracy” as a private enterprise between civilians, but until the mid-19th century commerce raiding by ostensible civilians was often sanctioned if not actively supported by states and monarchs.  Castilian ships regularly captured English cargo ships and murdered their crews.  When a Castilian/Genoese fleet loaded with Flemish cargoes was headed to the Basque ports in August, 1350, Edward III and a fleet of English and Genoese ships struck the Castilians as they sailed south just off French coast, but the battle got its name from the old Kentish town of Winchelsea that the English fleet departed from.  While not much is known for certain about the battle itself except that the English ships were generally larger but were likely outnumbered. It was all-day affair in an age when naval battles were essentially land battles fought on ships.  The English flagship was sunk, but Edward managed to escape to a captured Spanish ship.  By the end of the day the English had captured more Castilian vessels (14 according to most sources) than they lost (two for certain, but perhaps more).  Winchelsea, also known as Les Espagnols sur Mer (“the Spaniards on the Sea”) was followed a year later by a peace treaty with Castile, which set the conditions for a treaty with Portugal in 1353 and the isolation of France in the century-long conflict over who ruled what part of France.  The treaty with Portugal was the foundation of English diplomacy for centuries.

[Winchelsea] was all-day affair in an age when naval battles were essentially land battles fought on ships

At the beginning of the American Civil War a small group of naval officers met in Washington as what became known as the Blockade Board.  After a week of discussions, they laid a long-term plan for beginning the longest and largest blockade that had been conducted since the Declaration of Paris in 1856.  How they planned to do it with fewer than fifty warships in commission was anyone’s guess.  But, soon, it became clear that the Union wouldn’t have to blockade every port to have a maximum effect, just those served by railroads.  This simple conclusion reduced the number of seceded state ports to be covered–immediately, anyway–from fifty to less than twenty.  The first target was not a port directly but a place where blockading ships could seek refuge and resupply: the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The Outer Banks had also been harboring a number of Confederate raiders and privateers.  The battle of the Hatteras Inlet Batteries on 28-29 August 1861–also known as Forts Clark and Hatteras–pitted seven ships of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron under Silas Stringham that was carrying parts of volunteer regiments and a handful of Regulars under Benjamin Butler against less than a thousand Confederates under WIlliam Martin and Samuel Barron manning two incomplete earthwork forts.  Landing the troops under bombardment on 28 August, there was little initial progress in part owing to bad weather which kept the largest Union ships far out to sea.  On 29 August the seas moderated and the big guns started blasting the beleaguered Confederates who, as so often was the case in the 1861-65 conflict, stood no chance of being reinforced.  At about 11 AM Barron surrendered, and just short of 700 men went into captivity.  The victory buoyed Union morale shortly after the disaster at Bull Run just a month before, and ended a threat to Union shipping that had already begun to be felt.

…the Union wouldn’t have to blockade every port, just those served by railroads.  This reduced the number of ports to be covered from fifty to less than twenty.

After April 1940, when Denmark was overrun in a nearly bloodless campaign by Germany, Denmark lived a primarily twilight existence as a “protectorate,” where most Danish institutions continued unchanged (including the monarchy). Danes even joined in the war against the Soviet Union. Most of the Danish Navy was in Copenhagen, though some units had been caught in Iceland, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands when the country surrendered, and had been working with the Allies. More Danes were killed in merchant marine service and in the Danish “Free Corps” fighting in Russia than as a result of the invasion and the occupation.  But, by 1943, Danish semi-neutrality was wearing thin. Niels Bohr had scattered Denmark’s best scientists all over the world before the invasion, and was profoundly uninterested in helping Germany’s nuclear ambitions.  Allied saboteurs and agents found easy egress into Europe through Denmark’s porous border with Sweden. King Christian was accused of disrespecting Hitler because of his brief response to one of Hitler’s overlong personal communications. Refusal to institute capital punishment for sabotage, failure to turn over Danish Jews, and a host of other perceived slights and offenses, aggravated by  the imminent fall of the Italian government and the Allied success in Sicily, moved the Germans to close down the Danish government and seize the ships in the Copenhagen dockyards in late August. On 29 August, 1943, scuttling charges destroyed thirty-two of them, leaving just fourteen small  vessels to the Germans.  Germany’s navy was small to begin with, and built on commerce raiding.  Denmark’s even smaller fleet included nine submarines, but even more minecraft–important commodities when the Germans and Russian between them had sewn more than a million sea mines in the eastern Baltic by then.

More Danes were killed in merchant marine service and in the Danish “Free Corps” fighting in Russia than as a result of the invasion and the occupation.

The English naval response to the Castilian nautical depredations could have been said to set the pace for the rest of the first half of the Hundred Year’s War, if there was a pace to that disjointed conflict. While the blockade that the Union Navy envisioned would take nearly two years to be emplaced, it would still be somewhat porous even to the end.  Still, no blockade could or should ever be perfect.  Winchelsea and Cape Hatteras had a great deal to do with trade, while the mass suicide of the Danish Navy, like that of the German High Seas Fleet in 1919, was at least in part to do with spite.  Sometimes, that is all that’s needed.  In capital-intensive naval warfare, where a single fleet unit can cost as much  to build, supply and operate for a month as a thousand land soldiers might cost in a year, the cost and pace of naval activity can rarely be judged by three actions.  But by destroying a Castilian fleet, grabbing a blockade base, and denying an important small-ship asset to a resource-starved enemy, England, the Union, and Denmark demonstrated, even if in a small way, how important navies can be to larger conflicts.

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Five Essays on the American Civil War

JDB Communications, LLC, is proud to announce another essay collection by John D. Beatty.  Five Essays on the American Civil War is a foray into the complexities of Civil War scholarship as much as it is into the conflict itself.

The American Civil War (even the way it is written: always capital “C,” capital “W”) sits isolated in a pristine crystal dome of American history, separate from all other events.  There are certain ways to write about it that make it acceptable to Civil War scholars and their audiences, and these rules must be observed else the offending material will be relegated to the isle of broken essays.  My own foray into Civil War book writing, The Devil’s Own Day, has been met with institutional silence, in part, I believe, because it challenges the doctrines of AS Johnston’s unrealized genius that ended in his death at Shiloh, and because it directly refutes the generally accepted narratives about Buell saving Grant at that savage battle in the Tennessee pine barrens.

The distinct and contrarian position in these essays is unacceptable to “mainstream” Civil War scholarship: Civil War battlefield presentation isn’t what it’s cracked up to be as “Of Parks and Excuses” explains; the Southern Confederacy, always a “Forlorn Hope,” could not have gotten what she wanted by military means; Grant’s military legacy is much deeper and longer lasting than Lee’s, as “Bigger than History” and “Grant, the Army and the World” explain.

These essays were written over the course of perhaps ten years, a period of my academic harrying of long-suffering professors, Civil War Round Table members, and other unfortunates who tolerated my distinctly odd view of the 1861-65 conflict.

Enjoy these essays because they should challenge what you may think of the American Civil War, its place in world history, and how it is indeed tied to the rest of the world.

Five Essays on the American Civil War and other works by John D. Beatty are available on Amazon.

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The Turning Point

For generations, schools have taught that the turning point of the American Civil War was the battle of Gettysburg, that titanic clash in southeastern Pennsylvania where the Army of the Potomac under Meade and the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee fought for three days to decide the fate of a continent.

Sounds romantic, don’t it?  Too bad it just isn’t true.

Turning points are handy for teaching history because they give a certain sense of being somewhere in what may otherwise be a dreary time line.  Unfortunately, outside of a teaching environment or some dramatic exposition, they don’t make a lot of sense because there just aren’t that many of them that are that distinct.

By the 19th century, war had become a very complex matter, where events on the battlefield were often eclipsed by events in the halls of government, the trading floors or in the hearts and minds of the populace (yes, it did matter, ‘60s cynicism aside).

In the case of the Civil War, what happened in Pennsylvania in the first three days in July of 1863 was indeed a large battle, but it was pretty irrelevant to the war as a whole.  For two years the two principle armies of the Union and the Confederacy had been glaring at each other between Washington and Richmond, fighting occasionally, maneuvering up to Maryland and down into the Wilderness, but mostly just glaring and camping.  In the 90 miles of space between the two capitals there was a marked dearth of real activity for months at a time.

However, in the West (which was anywhere west of the Appalachians) a typical army (there were four principal hosts and several others in the theater) covered 90 miles every quarter and fought at least one major battle every third month.  One reason for this was that there was so much more war to fight out there, with more critical objectives and three times the space.  One fact that most people don’t appreciate is that it is a greater distance between Chicago and New Orleans than it is between Berlin and Moscow.

While most of the population and a large percentage of the manufacturing and dairy production were in the east, most of the grain, cotton, lumber, niter, salt, mules and horses, not to mention specie, were not.  Armies by the 19th century traveled not just on guns and butter, but on wood and iron, on fodder and wheat that had to be paid for with gold and silver, not IOUs as they are today.  And, in the west was the great Mississippi River, which made nearly all the other rivers on the continent pale in comparison not only for sheer size, but for its value as a transportation axis.

The fighting for control of the Mississippi River was far more crucial for the success and failure of the war than was who controlled the capitals.  The free flow from the grain silos, lumber yards and steel mills of the Midwest to the markets of Europe and Latin America was crucial to the success or failure of both causes.  Further, the flow of gold and silver from California, which the South could never affect and seemingly never seriously tried, ensured that, baring disaster, the North could buy an army if it needed to.

The blockade of the Southern coasts, dreary and relatively uneventful as it was, had global importance few nations appreciated at the time.  After the Declaration of Paris in 1858, the ability for a nation to control its own ports determined who could recognize them as a political entity, and thus whether or not they were a country at all.  As long as the South couldn’t permanently open their ports,  their legitimacy as a country was doomed by international law.  The South would have had to have open-water warships capable of consistent operation in all weathers to break the Union blockade, something they never came close to having.

On top of all this, there was the slavery issue.  Chattel slavery had largely vanished from the major powers of Europe, where all the money and manufactured goods were, and when Russia freed the serfs in 1862 all the Great Powers were, theoretically, free societies.  As the Confederacy insisted that their “peculiar institution” was critical to their existence, so too would most of Europe insist that slavery was an abomination that was anathema to the rising trade union movement, let alone the waves of liberal social reforms that were transforming the industrialized world.

You could make convincing arguments for Champion’s Hill that slammed the door on Vicksburg and was the penultimate battle for control of the Mississippi as being the turning point of the Civil War .  You could also, given the nature of war in the Industrial Age, argue that Fort Sumter was the turning point for, as soon as the South started the war, they started to lose, because they never had a chance for a military, diplomatic, or economic victory.

So, if you’re looking for a single event that changed the destiny of the Civil War,  Gettysburg surely isn’t it.  I’m not quite sure that there was one.

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The Butcher’s Bill: Casualty Creation in the American Civil War

By the 1860’s the mass armies of the industrial age had devised new ways to destroy human beings in large numbers and with alarming speed, but the most common casualties came from causes other than combat.  This article will address primarily the Union figures for the simple reason that they were better documented, even if the figures given here are still in dispute.  Numbers for the “housewives” attached to the regiments (three for every hundred privates) and the numerous camp followers uncertain at the best of times, are to this day unknown.  Since these essentially undocumented people (which included not only the expected ladies of negotiable virtue but also soldier’s wives and other family members and the numerous vendors from unlicensed sutlers to cutlers to embalmers, scriveners and laundresses) were uncounted at the time and the armies never seemed to care about them enough to document them, their casualties shall be forever unknown. However, it could be assumed that they were killed at similar rates and by similar causes, albeit with somewhat smaller numbers for combat.

The biggest single killer of soldiers on both sides by far was disease, killing over 149,000 (of 294,000 total fatalities) in the Union army alone.[1]  Throughout the conflict, the primary killer on both sides was diarrhea, which could dehydrate a victim to death in a day and a half.  Disease struck the armies in two separate waves, each with its distinct causality.  The first wave was primarily the diseases of exposure, which included modern childhood maladies such as measles, mumps, chicken pox, and whooping cough, mostly accompanied by pneumonia.[2]  These diseases started to appear at the initial camps of instruction as early as April 1861, where large populations of unrelated men first gathered together.  Those who were immune to these diseases, or had already been exposed, were sometimes carriers. This wave lasted until late in 1862.[3]

The second wave was more insidious, and actually caused more casualties over a longer period.  Beginning in the winter of 1862-63, most of maladies in this wave were known as “camp” or “prison” diseases, so called because they were common in dense populations with poor sanitation and food.  They included typhus, typhoid, yellow fever, tuberculosis and malaria.  The second wave also included nutritional deficiencies (which took some time to show up) including scurvy, which weakened the immune system, making the victims more susceptible to whatever opportunistic affliction came by.  Since the cause of most disease was still a mystery to medical science of the time, treatments (other than anti-ascorbics for scurvy and rickets, and the palliative care provided by various opiates) ranged in efficacy from harmless to deadly.  This second wave lasted until the end of the war.[4]

The second biggest casualty creator in the Civil War was desertion, which claimed over 190,000 in the Union.[5]  The Confederate figures for desertion are almost certainly higher, especially in the winter of 1864-65.  Men deserted for a number of reasons, and some even had to do with combat.  Simple fear was one reason, but privation, hunger, loneliness or needing to take care of loved ones at home were the most common.  There was also a large number (probably some 15% of the totals) of men who accepted a bounty in one unit, deserted, and joined another for another bounty.  These “bounty jumpers” were almost unique to the North, though they existed in small numbers in the South where substitutes could be purchased.[6]  In the winter of 1864-65, all of these and a certain sense of inevitable defeat drove many Confederates to just give up and go home.[7]

The third highest killer, combat, claimed just over 61,000 men in the Union army killed outright.[8]  Most combat casualties (about 51%) came from small-arms fire, and 40% from artillery (primary and secondary projectiles).[9]  Bayonets accounted for less than 100 casualties treated in the Army of the Potomac,[10] and cooking implements (a fry pan) for one known.[11]  Numbers for swords and other edged weapons are unknown.

As the war progressed the location of the wounds on the body moved upwards.  In 1861-2, most wounds from small arms and artillery were in the abdomen and chest.  By 1865, the predominance of wounds were in the head and shoulders.  This phenomenon is probably attributable to the development of entrenchments as the war went on.[12]

The fourth largest category of casualties was died of wounds, or sometimes of treatment.  Civil War medicine knew little of antiseptics, nothing of antibiotics, and practically nothing of sanitation. Though anesthesia was known not all practitioners were trained in its use, and supplies frequently ran out, especially on the Confederate side. A soldier brought to the surgeons for treatment was often better off (and usually survived longer) waiting for the surgeons to get to him.  Amputation was a common treatment for wounds in the extremities (infection and shattered bones being just two reasons why).  Severe wounds in the chest and abdomen were usually not treated at all.  The best that could be said about Civil War medicine was that they kept fairly good records, and were able to provide their successors with valuable insights into the development of medicine after the war.[13] “Died of wounds” is also one of the most aggravating cause of death in Civil War studies because there is and was no agreed-upon time limit for it.  Since it sometimes took decades for some wounds to finally be fatal, and some (not all) chroniclers faithfully adjusted numbers when it suited them, the casualty figures for some battles can vary widely from source to source, or from decade to decade.

Suicide accounted for just over three hundred Union soldiers, the most common being hanging.  There were just over a hundred homicides, often by gunshot or knife, but beatings were not unusual.  One hundred and twenty one Union soldiers were executed for crimes committed (rape and looting being the most common offenses); most of these were shot, a few were hanged.  The totals on the missing are elusive, as most of those “missing” may have been maimed beyond recognition in battle, or changed names and left the field (or not) or some other cause or another that could confound researchers for centuries.[14]

The remaining casualties fall under the heading of mysteries, though some are probably part of the other totals.  About 800 were killed by accident, but that number is almost certainly low (in July 1945, accidental casualties in the US services were about 1,400 a week), and some must have been homicides or suicides.  There are about 3,200 “unknown” causes, though many may have been natural causes of which Civil War doctors knew nothing.  But the usual ways for people to die—heart attacks, heat exhaustion—account for some 4,100 deaths, which also seems low.[15]

Making casualties in war is always a primary tool behind victory, but in the 19th Century just the threat of war forced mobilization and that was all that was needed to create a bulk of the casualties of the age.  Combat just added to the butcher’s bill.

 

NOTES

 

 

[1]. Frederick. Phisterer, Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2002), 67.

[2]. Russell Frank. Weigley, A Great Civil War a Military and Political History, 1861–1865 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 135.

[3]. Ibid., 140.

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Phisterer, op. cit., 69.

[6]. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom : The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 210.

[7]. Ibid., 412; Weigley, A Great Civil War a Military and Political History, 1861–1865, 311.

[8]. Phisterer, op. cit., 67, 68.

[9]. Paddy. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War (Mansfield, England: Fieldbooks, 1986), 39.

[10]. Francis Alfred Lord, They Fought for the Union (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1960), 108.

[11]. Gordon C. Rhea, The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5–6, 1864 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994), 310.

[12]. Russell Frank. Weigley, History of the United States Army, Wars of the United States. (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 312.

[13]. Patricia L. (Editor) Faust, “Medicine,” in Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), 484.

[14]. Phisterer, op. cit., 68–70.

[15]. Phisterer, op. cit., 68–72.

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13 November: An Admiral and a General and a Civil War

On this day in 1809 and 1814, important leaders in the American Civil War were born in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.  One would be known more for the artillery he made possible, the other for more ignominious things.

On 13 November 1809, John A. Dahlgren was born in Philadelphia to a Swedish merchant and diplomat.  From a very early age he dreamed of a life at sea, and when his father died in 1824 he was free to pursue his goal of joining the US Navy.  In 1826, at age 17 he joined as a midshipman.  At the time this was not unusual, as youngsters had been going to sea at much earlier ages since time immemorial.  He must have shown some knack for mathematics for he was assigned to the coast survey department in 1834.

For centuries ordnance design and its ancillary equipment had been a matter of experimentation, disaster and repeat.  In 1844, an explosion on USS Princeton of the new 12-inch bore banded wrought iron gun dubbed “Peacemaker” said to have been the largest naval gun in the world at the time, only proved that axiom.  The explosion killed six people, including the Secretaries of the Navy and of State.  Congress was aghast, and demanded new quality controls and inspection protocols.  By 1847, Dahlgren was in the Washington Navy Yard organizing the Navy’s first Ordnance Department.  It was there that Dahlgren found his niche, designing a boat howitzer, a percussion lock, and finally the process that manufactured the highly successful smooth bore naval gun that bore his name.  The method of water-cooling the mold while the metal was cast was highly controversial at the time, but it produced weapons of prodigious power: power enough for the Royal Navy to question whether or not they could defeat warships armed with them.  During the Civil War the Dahlgren was the standard broadside gun in the US Navy.  In 1862 he was promoted to rear admiral and sent to command a blockading squadron.  He continued his service in the Navy until his death in 1870.

On 14 November 1814, Joseph Hooker was born in Hadley, Massachusetts to an entirely English-ancestry family.  He graduated from West Point in 1837, branched to the artillery.  He fought Seminoles in Florida, was in staff jobs in Mexico (where he nonetheless won three brevets), but left the Army in 1853 and settled in California.  After the war broke out he finally wrangled a commission a brigadier general of volunteers after the first Bull Run battle, commanding a brigade then a division while training troops around Washington, DC at the Army of the Potomac was building.

In 1862 Hooker was promoted to major general and the command of a corps, then a “grand division” after Antietam, where he was wounded.  After McClellan was sacked and Ambrose Burnside took command of the Army of the Potomac, Hooker’s troops bore the brunt of the bloodletting at Fredricksburg and Hooker was vocal about the tragic and pointless sacrifices made there.  When Burnside told President Lincoln that he wanted to fire several of his generals, including Hooker, Lincoln fired Burnside instead and appointed Hooker to command the Army of the Potomac.  While he was an able administrator who restored the confidence of the troops he lost his nerve at Chancellorsville and nearly had his army destroyed.  Lincoln, desperate to find a general who could fight, fired Hooker three days before the army met Robert E Lee at Gettysburg.

But the Union was still short of reliable generals so Hooker was sent with two corps to meet Grant at Chattanooga, where he performed admirably until a personal dispute got him sent out of the theater after the fall of Atlanta.  Rumors of his wild living, heavy drinking and lax discipline leading to the proliferation of the ladies of negotiable virtue that came to be called “hookers” because of him are unfounded: he was not known to drink heavily, and the term “hooker” was common during the Revolution.  He left the Army in 1868 and died in 1879.

Two Civil War notables sharing a birthday.  Not unusual, but worth noting.

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10 November: Three Beginnings and an Ending

As the shadows draw long and the days get cooler, we recall not the end of the waning fall but the beginnings of momentous things…and not so momentous.

First we must say “happy birthday” to our sister service, the United States Marine Corps, born on this day in 1775.  Two battalions were authorized but only one of what were called “Continental Marines” of about 500 was ever established.  The intent was that they be sent on an invasion of Halifax, the logistical base in Canada, but the British reinforced it before the enterprise could be undertaken.  They operated in a raiding capacity while establishing reputation for their global reach, attacking Nassau in 1776, joining the Continentals and militia at Princeton in 1777, then participating in the Penobscot expedition in 1779.  Smaller groups struck inland as far as the Mississippi and down to the Gulf of Mexico.  Though this force was disbanded in 1783, the Marines take this organization to be their origin, and their day to get noisily drunk as long as they aren’t otherwise engaged.

In 1864, this is the date William T Sherman’s memoirs uses for the beginning of his movement from Atlanta to Savanna: most sources start it on 14 November, but Atlanta was torched on 12 November, so Sherman’s date makes more sense.  Moving an army group of that size on a chevauchee (in this context, a strategic raid) of that scale would take a few days on the road network of the time.  Six weeks later the force would reach the Atlantic coast, none the worse for wear.

Exactly a year later, Henry Wirz, a one-armed, Swiss-born physician was hanged in Washington DC for the new offence of “war crimes.”  As commandant of a prison camp that the prisoners dubbed Andersonville (the proper name was Camp Sumner) for its entire 14 month existence, he was found guilty of criminally conspiring to kill the nearly 13,000 prisoners who died in the camp, in addition to eleven counts of murder that he almost certainly did commit.  Though he had tried to get more resources for his charges the murders were rather blatant and witnessed, so he was hanged at the Old Capitol Prison on 10 November 1865.  To this day the Wirz matter is controversial in some circles as it could be argued in the abstract that all war is a crime, and that as one of very few Confederates executed (and conveniently a non-American national) he was scapegoated as a cover for the deaths in Union camps.

A century later, on 10 November 1983, the general public got its first glimpse of a weird little program called “Windows 1.0” at an electronics trade show.  It was first pushed as a driver for OS/2 applications, and was not released to production for a little over two years.  But it was an easier interface for the operators of the fledgling PCs to use, even if it was once described as “pouring molasses in the Arctic.”  As older computer users recall, its first function was as a sales tool for mice.  Would that it were that simple now…

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5 November: Hanson Hired, McClellan Fired, Heroes Sunk At Sea

Early November is a heady time, as the leaves are mostly gone, the American elections are over, and the northern hemisphere prepares for a long winter.  In 1781, 1862 and 1940, these events had very little to do with the year, or the weather, or the elections.

In 1781, the American Congress. still under the Articles of Confederation, elected John Hanson of Maryland as President of the United States Assembled, or President of the Continental Congress, or President of the Congress of the Confederacy, or President of Congress on 5 November.  This has confused people ever since, because “everyone knows” that George Washington of Virginia was the first President of the United States.  Not to be contrarian, but that’s…true and not true.  Hanson was elected by the Congress to a one year term under the Articles of Confederation; Washington was elected by Congress operating under the Constitution for a four-year term.  Hanson’s job was mostly ceremonial: Washington’s was as the head of the newly-create executive branch of the government.  Finally, and perhaps irrelevantly, the colonies had declared independence but had not yet won it (Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown less than a month before),  Peace talks, which would signal diplomatic recognition, were months away from even beginning when Hanson (presumably) took the oath.

On 5 November 1862, the day after the mid-term elections put Congress firmly in Republican control, President Abraham Lincoln relieved George B. McClellan of the command of the Army of the Potomac.  This was a generally unpopular move, but after McClellan’s disappointing performance as a commander, and despite his excellent service as an organizer and logician, Lincoln felt he had little choice.  Lincoln had removed “Little Mac” from the post of General in Chief the previous March so that he could concentrate on his brain child, the Peninsula campaign.  This led not to a march on Richmond but a scramble to save Washington and McClellan’s army.  McClellan was so enraged by Lincoln’s action that he went gunning for Lincoln’s job two years later, and lost badly.  Most of his beloved soldiers didn’t even vote for him.

But far away from the mid-Atlantic states, on 5 November 1940 and act of heroism indescribably removed from McClellan’s conduct took place.  On that date seven hundred-odd miles south south west of Reykjavik, HMS Jervis Bay, an Armed Merchant Cruiser (in other words, an ocean liner with a few guns) took on the German “pocket battleship” (a large cruiser with eleven inch guns) Admiral Scheer. Jervis Bay was the only escort protecting a 37 ship Halifax-to-Britain convoy.  The captain of Jervis Bay, Edward Fegen, ordered the convoy to scatter at about 12:50 in the afternoon and charged at Scheer with 6-inch guns blazing.  In a “battle” that probably lasted no more than two hours much of the convoy managed to escape behind smoke candles and darkness while their brave escort was shot to pieces.  While Scheer managed to get five of the merchantmen the rest made it to port.  Fegen was awarded the Victoria Cross on 22 November 1940…posthumously, having gone down with his ship (by one account he was already dead by the time his ship was abandoned).

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4 November: Futile Victories at the Wabash and Johnsonville

In 1791 and 1864, victories as decisive as they could be did little to change the course of their conflicts, and at the Wabash one might argue that the Native American success merely brought forth their downfall that much quicker.

In the wilds of Indiana a two thousand man American army sought to remove the Miami tribe so that the area could be colonized by land-hungry Europeans and Americans who were taking advantage of the Treaty of Paris provisions that ceded control of the Ohio River country to the United States.  But the Western Confederacy of American Indians who lived there were not consulted about any of this, were not signatory to the Treaty of Paris that ended the American War of Independence, and were not inclined to move anywhere.  They had already defeated a 400-man force under Josiah Harmar a year before near modern Churubusco, Indiana.

But Arthur St Clair was determined to have his way, and under increasing pressure from Washington and from would-be settlers and their investors, St Clair moved into the area fully expecting to be successful, but on the morning of 4 November the unruly, largely militia force had been reduced to about a thousand, and these remnants were attacked at their breakfast by a thousand Miami and Potawatomi under Little Turtle and Blue Jacket.  While the militia broke and the regulars volleyed, the Indian numbers were simply too great: the artillery battalion was reduced by sniping and forced to spike and the regulars were flanked.  In three hours on 4 November 1791, a quarter of the US Army was wiped out.  St Clair and less than thirty men made it out alive.  Some two hundred civilians–including wives and children–were also massacred.

Seventy years later, while William Sherman was getting ready to make Georgia howl, Nathan B Forrest led his cavalry raiders into the Tennessee River country to disrupt Union supply lines supporting George H Thomas’ pursuit of John B Hood’s invasion of the north.  Attacking the Union supply base at Johnsonville, Tennessee on 4 November 1864, Forrest destroyed gunboats, transports, artillery and supplies valued at anywhere between two and six million dollars–in a time when good wages were considered two dollars a week.  It also had a chilling effect–or so it was thought–on Sherman’s plan to march to Savannah.

But in the end, neither success meant much.  The outrage over St Clair’s disaster triggered a Congressional investigation, but did not slow the flow of immigration.  The British, who sought to create a Native American buffer state between them and the Americans in the area, eventually realized that such a buffer would be difficult to maintain, even if created, as the Western Confederacy was only an alliance of tribes in the loosest sense.  While the Indians whooped over their triumph, the Americans authorized the enlargement of their army, and would eventually destroy the Western Confederacy at Fallen Timbers in modern Ohio,

As for Forrest and the southern Confederacy, Johnsonville was disruptive and concerning, but not dismaying and delayed Thomas not a hour because he had depots in Atlanta and Chattanooga, as well as a somewhat twisted route from east Tennessee.  Sherman had already decided to cut loose of his supply lines for his chevauchee into Georgia’s interior, so anything Forrest did was not relevant to him or his plans.

As Bernard L Montgomery once said, “you can lose every battle but the last one.”

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Objective History, Part I

Most readers (all eight of you) should be familiar with the oft-told story of Grant and Sherman on the night after the first day of Shiloh.  On that night–so the story goes–General WIlliam Tecumseh Sherman found General Ulysses Simpson Grant on that bloody field during that long night.  Grant was dejected and long faced, smoking a cigar.  Sherman, carrying a lantern, is trying to be cheerful.  “Well, Grant,” says Sherman, “we’ve had the devil’s own day.”

“Yes,” Grant replies. “We’ll whip them tomorrow, though.”

What an exchange between two titans of American Civil War history.  Grant mumbling defiance in the midst of the greatest carnage of the war–indeed, of American history–so far, reassuring his principal lieutenant that everything would be all right.

What courage. What fortitude in the face of such great adversity.

What a load of bunk…probably

Yes, the tale has been told often enough, so often that it is no longer questioned.  Every history of the battle, from macro to micro, and nearly every biography and examination of the generalship of Grant and Sherman speaks of it.  But, if we look at this tableau objectively, it starts to come apart.

First, the scene.  It was raining, and by most accounts pretty steadily, from about 9 PM to just before 4 AM; it had been raining nearly every day around Pittsburg Landing for nearly a week.  But Sunday 6 April 1862 was dry, and fairly hot by most accounts, with small fires breaking out in several places in the piney woods and the clearings.  The woods and bottoms, especially around the creeks that split the area and along the Tennessee River behind the battlefield, were filled with smoke and fog.  Lost and wounded men, dying and frightened men, and the camp followers and assorted other civilians were scattered through the woods and every source of water in the area.  Travel around these areas would have been treacherous at best and dangerous at worst.

Sherman had had three horses shot out from under him that day.  He himself was grazed by at least three somethings hard enough to draw blood or cut uniform parts, lost a bodyguard/escort next to him by decapitation just as soon as he realized he was really, really being attacked, as he had admonished several officers before the battle (one hours before) was simply not possible.  He had lost a good portion of his division (dead, wounded, missing and captured) over the course of about 11 hours of intensive movement and combat.  A horrible insomniac who suffered from allergies most of his life, Sherman was by most accounts tirelessly working all that night to get his division ready for the next morning, and to tie in with Lew Wallace’s arriving division.

Grant, for his part, had greeted WIlliam Nelson’s arriving division at about 4:30 PM, had met with his Chief of Staff WIlliam Webster at about dusk (6:15 or so) and scribbled a note to be sent to Henry Halleck, his boss in St. Louis, by way of the nearest telegraph key (probably at Ft Henry, about three hours downstream), which likely went via Grant’s headquarters steamboat Tigress.  He had been hobbling around on a crude Army crutch for nearly three weeks after hurting himself in an incident with his normally surefooted horse.  At least one other officer reports Grant saying he was evicted from the cabin he was using for a headquarters at the Landing because the sight of the wounded sickened him, as did the sight of any blood. By his own account, he caught a few minutes of sleep under a tree somewhere.

The relationship between Grant and Sherman up to that point in the war had been cordial, but this was their first real battle together.  Sherman was three years Grant’s senior in service, but had agreed to serve under Grant because it meant getting him away from administrative duties.  He was terrified of being set on a shelf, as was Grant, though for different reasons.  Halleck trusted neither officer, and the press had had a merry time just months before ridiculing Sherman’s predictions for the requirements to win the war (hundreds of thousands of men and several years) as being the ravings of a madman.

The area around the Landing must have seemed like a Chinese fire drill that night.  Steamboats were coming in about every few minutes, with more and more of Don. C Buell’s men marching up the muddy ramp.  Initially, by most accounts, they had to work their way through thousands of stragglers that clustered by the river, but that was probably over by 9 that night: no one spoke of this after Nelson’s division had fully arrived.  The two Navy gunboats out in the river fired a round into the Confederate rear about every fifteen minutes from dark until just after sunrise (about 6 AM).  All the while, men were repairing cannons, finding ammunition, and sorting discarded weapons into compatible calibers for the hundreds who lost theirs in their hasty withdrawal to the Landing.  The wounded were legion; the officers and NCOs sorting out the men under the bluffs, who were frustrated by the cold rain but helped by the occasional coffee urn and cookpot, hearing their limits of endurance, many having been on their feet since before daybreak.  More, at least one battery of six guns made its way into the Landing and up the bluffs after dark, which would have required a monumental effort and several hundred horses.

Grant was never much of a detail-dictating general; his idol Zachary Taylor infrequently met with his juniors and Grant usually followed his example.  Grant met with Lew Wallace near dawn, but only because Wallace sought him out.  Grant met with Sherman twice during the battle, but being satisfied with his performance, not after 10:30 in the morning.  He met with Benjamin Prentiss, William HL Wallace and Stephen A Hurlbut at least three times (they were the hardest pressed), and with John A McClernand only once (they disliked each other).  Grant met with his fellow army commander Buell only once, and that only briefly (Buell hated Grant).

Give all the above, much of which is verified by multiple sources, when and where would Grant and Sherman have gotten together that night?  What’s more, why?  There was no council of war convened (Grant would do this only rarely throughout the war).  Both men were busy.  Further, and most crucial, who would have recorded such an exchange?  Neither man mentioned the meeting in their memoirs or in any correspondence known.  None of the several versions (which often exchange Grant’s “whip” with “beat” and Sherman’s “we’ve had” with “it’s been”) say anything beyond those few words.  Would these two very busy and weary men have gotten together for just that?  And, obviously, there were no recording devices at the time.  How could we know who said what?  There’s more holes here than there is story.

But why does this legend exist?  If most legends have some grounding in fact, what are the facts here?  The answer, I believe, is that this Grant/Sherman meeting with a sound bite is a parable, set on a horrid battlefield under miserable conditions: a oft-told tale repeated until it became the stuff of history, repeated in every book because everyone else does.  It may or may not have taken place; it may have been short; it may have been longer and had many witnesses, but there is no real evidence for it.

This is a somewhat long-winded introduction to what I’m calling “objective history,” a point-of-view, not a discipline, that examines the record and the sources (primary and secondary, physical and documentary and passed from mouth to mouth) of these oft-told stories.  Think about the long-winded Shakespearean oratories of worthies, malcontents and blowhards before even mechanical recording was available (like Pericles before a battle), and their shorter-version cousins: how plausible are they?  Every source, every artifact, every note and letter and report, compared to every other of their kind, tells a story.  Do all these stories add up?

Objective history takes a skeptical view of the historical record (when it’s there) and the evidence (especially, as in this case, it isn’t there and does not seem likely to have happened) and at the histories that are accepted as “true” and wonders how we think we know that.  It looks at pleasant and popular parks and sites and presidential libraries and museums and says “wait a minute: something doesn’t add up,“ especially when it does not.  It also says “traditionally” a great deal, and “according to one source” in excess.  What it does not say is “this is what really happened,” because such a statement is not possible without a time machine.

So: how objective is your view of the sources?  What oft-told tales are you suspicious of?

Next time, we’ll look at another famous (supposed) meeting, just before Shiloh.  If you want an objective view of Shiloh, I’d suggest The Devil’s Own Day by yours truly.