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Inside the Vaults: Discover the Civil War

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I’m always on the hunt for something new in Civil War exhibitions. The good folks at the National Archives and Records Administration have produced a brief video about their exhibition, “Discovering the Civil War” which you can view by clicking the image below.

Inside the Vaults

Inside_the_Vaults_National_Archives

In the exhibition, they “share little-known facts and extraordinary discoveries found in the incomparable Civil War holdings at the National Archives.” Many stories and documents “are shared for the first time in this exhibition, the most extensive display ever assembled from these records.” A highlight is “rarely-seen original footage from Civil War reunions in 1917 in Vicksburg, MS, and 1938 in Gettysburg, PA.”

The exhibit invites visitors to consider and ask questions about the evidence found in the records, listen to a wide variety of voices from the Civil War era, and make up their own minds about the struggle that tore apart these United States.

The exhibit will feature fascinating environments and compelling interactives, but what makes the exhibit extraordinary is surprising records. Displayed alongside famous milestone documents will be hundreds of less well-known ones, such as the unratified 1861 version of the 13th amendment, a message from a Southern governor rejecting Lincoln’s call for troops to put down the rebellion, and the Constitution of the Confederacy.

Shown in two parts in Washington D.C., Discovering the Civil War” Part One, “Beginnings,” ran from April 30, 2010, through September 6, 2010. Part Two, “Consequences,” opened November 10, 2010, at the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

After the Washington venue closes on April 17, 2011, the two parts of “Discovering the Civil War” will be combined and travel to seven additional venues around the country beginning in June 2011. I’m hopeful that Kansas City will be one of them!

The exhibition’s very fine website is accessible here.

The National Archives Discovering the Civil War

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Civil War Naval History Thesis Topic and New Book Acquisition: Union Jacks

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I’m narrowing down my thesis topic. I plan to examine the Civil War experience of those who enlisted in the navy under the rank of “Boy” including 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class who were under the age of eighteen. From what I’ve seen to date, this is an area not extensively researched. As is always true with the beginning of a research project, I’m gathering a list of sources. If you have any recommendations, PLEASE don’t hesitate to let me know

Union Jacks

I’ve acquired several books in support of the topic above, some directly related, some peripherally so. I’ll be highlighting these in individual posts. First up, Union Jacks: Yankee sailors in the Civil War by Michael J. Bennett. This book is extremely good. Bennett’s bibliography is excellent as is his use of primary resources including several diaries of “Boy” ranked sailors. It is clear that Bennett did a superb job of researching this topic which resulted in a doctoral dissertation from Saint Louis University.

The book won several awards including the 2004 John Lyman Book Award in United States Naval History, North American Society for Oceanic History and the 2004 Fletcher Pratt Literary Award, Civil War Round Table of New York.  The latter puts him in the company of historians like Bruce Catton (1956 for This Hallowed Ground: The Story of the Union Side of the Civil War and 1969 for Grant Takes Command, Shelby Foote (1963 for The Civil War: A Narrative – Vol. 2 and 1974 for The Civil War: A Narrative – Vol. 3) and Steven E. Woodworth (1995 for Davis and Lee at War). Good company.

Union Jacks

I am quite confident that a trip to the National Archives will become a necessity so that I can examine the muster roles and rendezvous (naval recruiting station) reports.

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Military History Carnival – May 2010

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Welcome to the May 2010 edition of the Military History Carnival featuring some of the best recent military history from around the web. This is the first time that Wig-Wags has hosted and it’s been a pleasure to do. I’ve picked up some great information and hope you will as well.

Today’s edition covers a broad range of topics including: camouflaged RAF biplanes (brink of WWII), the state of strategy,  examination of the war college model, the role of the Navy in the recapture of Attu (Aleutian Islands) in 1943 (WWII), the Battle of Waxhaws (American Revolution), the Chicamauga Campaign (American Civil War), The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 (American Civil War), the digitization of Grant’s Papers (American Civil War),  the engagement at Wilson’s Wharf at Fort Pocahontas (American Civil War), vexillology and the “real Confederate flag” (American Civil War), the lure of the Civil War, and horse-on-horse impact of cavalry charges.

furys 1939

Military History – Air Power

Site: Airminded
Post: Aeroretronautics
Author: Brett Holman
Date: 22 MAY 2010
Highlights: Brett provides a fascinating post about a photograph taken in 1939 showing Hawker Fury RAF biplanes (43 Squadron) and faux anachronisms.

Military History – Naval

Site: Naval History Blog
Post: May 30, 1943 Attu Recaptured
Author: HistoryGuy
Date: 30 MAY 2010
Highlights: Excerpts from the narrative of the campaign preserved by the crew of the Zeilin describing the hardships endured during the amphibious operations required to land American troops on the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.

American Revolution

Site: Kennedy’s Military History Blog
Post: American Revolution: Battle of Waxhaws
Author: Kennedy Hickman
Date: 29 MAY 2010
Highlights: Good summary of the battle along with the role played by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.

American Civil War

Site: Bull Runnings
Post: “The” Confederate Flag
Author: Harry Smeltzer / Tom Clemens
Date: 13 MAY 2010
Highlights: Tom Clemens provides a history of the Confederate Flag. Learn why the “wind” played such an important role in the development of several versions of the flag of the Confederate government and the difference between those flags and the Confederate “military” flag. New word for me… Vexillology, the scholarly study of flags. Speaking of which, Tom has started a new blog highlighting his recently published book. See next site for details.

Site: ELEKTRATIG.
Post: Chicamauga, Stereos and Boris Godunov
Author: ELEKTRATIG
Date: 30 MAY 2010
Highlights: Reflections on Steven E. Woodworth’s (ed.)  The Chickamauga Campaign.

Site: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862
Post: Book Released
Author: Tom Clemens
Date: 13 MAY 2010
Highlights: Tom announces availability of his new book, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Volume 1: South Mountain. Clemens has edited the writing of Ezra A. Carman. This from his site:

“One of the campaign’s par­tic­i­pants was Ezra A. Car­man, the colonel of the 13th New Jer­sey Infantry. After the hor­rific fight­ing of Sep­tem­ber 17, 1862, he recorded in his diary that he was prepar­ing “a good map of the Anti­etam bat­tle and a full account of the action.” The project became the most sig­nif­i­cant work of his life.”

Site: Battlefield Wandering
Post: Grant’s Papers
Author: Nick Kurtz
Date: 20 MAY 2010
Highlights: Nick reports that the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant are now online courtesy of Mississippi State University. They can be viewed here.  Nick demonstrates why having this important resource available to researchers is immediately beneficial. All 31 volumes of Ulysses S. Grant’s collected papers were digitized. Beware the digital library site has been offline for the past several days or is experiencing so much traffic that it appears so.

Site: The American Legion’s Burn Pit
Post: Battle of New Market: “Died on the Field of Honor, Sir”
Author: Siggurdsson
Date: 14 MAY 2010
Highlights:

  • Participation of the Corps of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) of Lexington, Virginia including a listing of cadets killed in action during the battle
  • Background of the battle
  • Quick bios of the “Antagonists,” commanders on both sides
  • Orders of Battle

Site: The Edge of the American West
Post: When and (to an extent) why did the parties switch places?
Author: Eric
Date:20 May 2010
Highlights:

  • Reviews the opposing political views of the Republican and Democratic parties that contributed to the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1860
  • Particular focus on Republican support of the expansion of federal powers and the passing of the law set known as “the Second American System” which kicked in federal funding for expansion projects including the transcontinental railroad and homesteading west.

Site: of Battlefields and Bibliophiles
Post: Making the Civil War Strange Again
Author: David Woodbury
Date:12 MAY 2010
Highlights: David muses on the fact that even those of us obsessed with the American Civil War will always be drawn to the discovery of something new.

“Some passing thought, or dawning realization, or new-found perspective gives you pause and fills you with awe, causing you to fleetingly grasp—in a moment of clarity—that it’s not just a familiar narrative to dissect and critique or challenge or substantiate, but something that actually happened, a strange and amazing story about who we are and where we came from.”

Site: The Sable Arm
Post: Fort Pocahontas
Author: Jimmy Price
Date: 17 MAY 2010
Highlights: Discussion of the re-enactment of the engagement at Wilson’s Wharf at Fort Pocahontas in Charles City County.

Military History – Cavalry

Site: Investigations of a Dog
Post: The Crash of Horseflesh
Author:Gavin Robinson
Date:10 MAY 2010
Highlights: Gavin provides rather gruesome evidence of the effects of horse-on-horse impact like the kind that would have occurred in cavalry charges.

Military Strategy

Site: Blog Them Out of the Stone Age
Post: Mark Grimsley on Senior Service College Reform
Author: Mark Grimsley
Date: 28 MAY 2010
Highlights:

  • Professor Grimsley provides a response to the question “Is the senior Service College Approach in Need of Radical Reform in Order to Serve Effectively in the Post-9/11 Environment?” as a part of the workshop on teaching strategy in a professional military education environment conducted at the U.S. Army War College on April 9. His comments are made richer by his personal observations of serving as visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College. Both You Tube video and text versions are provided.

Site: Kings of War
Post: The State of Strategy
Author: Thomas Rid
Date: 23 MAY 2010
Highlights:

  • Rid tees up this question…”Who produced the greatest strategist of all time, dead and alive? America or Europe?
  • Conclusions:
    • America is surprisingly thin in strategic heavyweights whereas  Europe has done quite well.
    • There is a “dearth of strategic writing in recent years.” Mere description of events in historic or journalistic terms doesn’t count nor does number crunching.
  • The 105 comments the post generated are worth a read.

Featured Military History Museums

Just for fun, I’ve listed several Military History Museum sites you may not have been aware of.
Kodiak Alaska Military History: The official web site of the Kodiak Military History Museum. The focus is on World War II.

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New Webcast Series on Civil War – AMU and Weider History Group

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AMU Civil War Webcasts

The American Military University (AMU) and the Weider History Group will be presenting a series of live webcasts on the Civil War that look promising. I’m excited to see this line up and think it a terrific educational venue made accessible to anyone. Here’s a quick run down. Oh and HEADS UP! The first webinar is tomorrow so be sure to register! The last one was terrific.

Civil War Soldier

The Common Soldier of the Civil War – Live Webcast
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 – 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ET

There is a renewed and growing interest in the common soldier of the Civil War. From battling in muddy trenches to charging through fields of enemy fire, the common soldier also combated the equally-deadly diseases that plagued the theater of war. But what motivated him to fight? This live webcast will bring light to what it must have been like for these men to “see the elephant” and how they spent their time both on active campaigning and winter camp.

The Battle of Shiloh – Live Webcast
Thursday, May 6, 2010 – 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ET

Could a decisive victory at Shiloh have changed the outcome of the war? This webcast will highlight the importance of the Battle of Shiloh and the effect it had on the outcome of the Civil War. Our speakers will also discuss what would have happened in case of a decisive Confederate victory at Shiloh.

The Battle of Gettysburg – Live Webcast
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 – 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ET

How important is the Battle of Gettysburg to the study, discussion and portrayal of the Civil War today? How do historians interpret a single battle that changed the way Lincoln viewed the Civil War? This live webcast event will bring to light aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg ranging from the importance of the battle, to our memory of the Civil War, to how the battle is still being fought as Americans debate various interpretations of the battlefield.

The Best Civil War Photos on LIFE.com

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Mary Walker

"Mary Walker (1832 – 1919) was the Army's first female surgeon during the Civil War, but led an altogether storied life as an early American abolitionist, feminist, and doctor. In 1864, she was captured by Confederate troops and charged as a spy, but was eventually released in a prisoner exchange. After the ordeal, the government awarded Walker the Medal of Honor for her bravery, the only woman to ever given such an honor. Here, Walker pictured circa 1865." Source: Life.com

The good folks at LIFE.com have published some of the most compelling photographs of the American Civil War in recognition of the Confederate surrender on April 9, 1865.  At their invitation, I’ve grabbed a few including the photo above of Mary Walker, timely given the soon to be released Civil War era historical novel My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. (See “New Arrivals from Publishers” on the center nav bar of Wig-Wags.com).

The picture below of a young sailor I ran across in my reading on the Battle of Mobile Bay.

Civil War Navy Powder Monkey

A young "powder monkey" -- one who filled canon cartridges below a ship's deck -- on the USS New Hampshire in Charleston, South Carolina, circa 1864. Source: LIFE.com

You can link to the full gallery on LIFE.com here.

Death and Injury on the Civil War Battlefield Part 2

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Continuing from the post Death and Injury on the Battlefield Part I here, this post deals with battlefield injuries.

Civil War Wounded on Field

Civil War Wounded on Field

Confederate Wounded at Smith’s Barn with Dr Anson Hurd 14th Indiana Volunteers in Attendance after the Battle of Antietam – Near Keedysville, MD, September 1862

Those who were injured on the battlefield first had to either remove themselves or hope they would be helped to a field hospital, usually a tent, house, barn or shed marked by a red flag and located as close to the line of battle as possible.[i] There they might find a surgeon and one assistant surgeon, although there was only one of each per regiment. Getting the large number of wounded to the field hospital was challenging. “Three days after the second battle of Manassas, in August 1862, 3,000 men still lay where they had fallen. The first casualties were not moved until September 9th.”[ii] It wasn’t until after the Battle of Antietam that the Union Army established an ambulance corps for removing the wounded from the field.[iii]

If shot by a Minie ball, a soft lead bullet fired from a rifle musket, a soldier’s wound was likely to be large because these .58 [caliber] bullets would deform and tunnel on impact.[iv] “Dr. E. I. Howard of the Army of Northern Virginia described the effects of Minie Ball on bone: ‘… wounds of bony structure inflicted by this missile are characterized by extensive fissuring and comminution such as was rarely, if ever, seen when the old smooth Bore musket was the weapon of the soldier.”[v] Amputation was the rule for gunshot or shrapnel wounds that involved major blood vessels or large bones. “Roughly 50,000 amputations were performed by both sides during the Civil War, compared to around 4,000 in the First World War.”[vi] Men shot or severely injured in the abdomen or chest wounds almost always died and so were rarely treated.

Amputation by Civil War Doctors

Cropped image of Amputation Being Performed in a Hospital Tent – Gettysburg, PA, July 1863. LOC.

Erysipelas, pyaemia (clots in the veins) septicemia and hospital gangrene were the four major hospital diseases. Erysipelas, or St Anthony’s Fire, was a common problem. This was several years before Lister’s discovery of germ theory. Surgeons operated in unsanitary and unsterile conditions. The lower incidence of wound suppuration in destitute Confederate hospitals has been attributed to the fact that they closed wounds with horse-tail hair which was first boiled, whereas the Northern Army used surgical silk which, although a better product, was not sterile.[vii]

Those who worked in military hospitals did so at great personal risk. Many of them contracted diseases themselves and perished. Common in the literature is record of the absolute despair that existed there. This would, no doubt, make for a great story in and of itself at some point in the future.

Further reading:

  • For more on weapons carried during the American Civil War, see the previous post Civil War Weapons Carried by Soldiers here.
  • For good coverage of how amputations were performed during the Civil War, click here.

© 2010 L. Rene Tyree
[i] Penny Johnston, “A Healing History of North and South,” History Today, January 1997 [database on-line]; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000399106; Internet; accessed 29 September 2007. [ii] Ibid., [iii] Ibid., [iv] Ibid., [v] Ibid., [vi] Ibid., [vii] Ibid.

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Partners in Command, American Civil War Book Review

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JOSEPH T. GLATTHAAR. Partners In Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War New York: The Free Press . 1994. Pp. xi, 286. $16.95.

Warriors are at their core human beings who succeed or fail in their endeavors in some part because of the their ability to relate with others, whether peers, subordinates, or superiors. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the interplay between commanders during the American Civil War. The forging of successful working relationships is foundational to success on the battlefield and signals compatibility on some level between the personalities or natures of respective commanders. What does “compatibility” mean when applied to military commanders? What evidence is there that this really matters? What happens when commanders, civilian or military, lack compatibility at senior levels?

Joseph Glatthaar tackles these questions in an insightful and important addition to the study of the American Civil War that focuses on the relationships between several senior commanders. Foundational to his monogram is research conducted from primary sources and used to develop course lectures. Glatthaar  first examines Lee and Jackson and their brilliant performance in the eastern theater. He then explores the complicated interplay between McClellan and Lincoln that ultimately resulted in failures at both strategic and tactical execution in the East. Thirdly, Glatthaar examines the relationship between Joseph E. Johnson and Jefferson Davis set against the struggles of the Confederate defense of the West. In a chapter on Grant and Sherman Glatthaar explores how two very different personalities can complement one another and still work together superbly. A chapter dedicated to army-navy collaborations reveals the special bond  (soul-mates is used to describe it) that developed between Sherman and Admiral David Dixon Porter. The mutual respect between the two extends to Grant and results in unprecedented cooperation between the army and navy. The book’s final chapter is excellent overview of the command relationships on both sides of the war and his conclusion could inform organizational leaders both inside and outside the military. Compatibility and intimacy are not required. Professional attitudes are key.

Glatthaar provides a solid academic notes section and index as well as a bibliographic essay that is quite informative. Most interesting in the “after“ sections of the book, however, is an appendix in which the author argues that George McClellan’s interpersonal relationships were handicapped by a condition known in today’s psychiatric parlance as  “paranoid personality disorder.” He makes a strong case that the disorder undermined McClellan’s ability to successfully lead and manage men in wartime and that the only person with whom he could interact effectively was his wife.

JOSEPH T. GLATTHAAR

JOSEPH T. GLATTHAAR

Glatthaar brings to the work the credentials of a historian who has paid his dues. He received his Ph.D. in 1983 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, specializing in American Military History. He received his B.A. from Ohio Wesleyan University and M.A. in history from Rice University. At the time of the book’s publication in 1994, he taught history at the University of Houston. Glatthaar is now the Stephenson Distinguished Professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill where he specializes in the American Civil War and American military history. Glatthaar has twice taught at the nation’s military colleges, once in 1984-85 as a visiting professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and again in 1991-1992 as the Harold K. Johnson Distinguished Visiting Professor, U.S. Army Military History Institute. He has published extensively with some considerable emphasis on the experience of black soldiers during the Civil War. His has won numerous awards for his work most notably for the 1989 work, Forged in Battle and an earlier work, The March to the Sea and Beyond.

Partners In Command stands out among studies of command and leadership during the Civil War because of a focus not on the tactical execution on the battlefield but rather in the interplay among senior commanders. It complements major General J. F. C. Fuller’s 1982 monograph, Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality (Indiana University Press). Glatthaar’s work is both highly readable and academically rich. Of note, the publishers have made the book available in digital format on the Amazon Kindle platform as well as traditional print.

See more Civil War book reviews here.

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The American Civil War Experience: Lice, Disease and Quinine

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William Fletcher

Hood

The statistics of those who died during the Civil War, not from injury but from disease, are shocking. Of the 360,222 men known to have died on the Union side, a quarter of a million were lost due to disease rather than the enemy. While the Confederates didn’t keep records, it is estimated that seventy-five percent of the 258,000 Southern deaths could be attributed to disease.

For many, the cycle of illness started soon after joining up. Those from the less populated countryside found themselves in large groups after mustering in – perhaps for the first time in their lives – and were exposed to childhood maladies like the measles, mumps and smallpox. Confederate soldier William A. Fletcher’s experience appears to be not uncommon. A young man from Texas who first signed on in 1861 as a member of the 5th Texas Infantry of Hood’s brigade, he wrote in his memoirs that in the first large camp he was assigned to after signing up, he contracted the measles. While in the hospital recovering from an associated extremely high fever, he became infested with lice and before being released, he contracted the mumps.

Civil War soldiers encampedIn this camp we suffered a good deal with sickness—the most fatal I guess was measles. I had an attack of measles and was sent to the hospital in Richmond and remained there a few days and got tired of hospital life, so I tried to be a good boy and please the woman who had charge of the ward in which I was. I soon persuaded her to get me a discharge, and I returned to camp one cold, frosty morning; the next day I was hauled back a very sick man; was put in a small room that had a coal grate and was instructed to stay in bed and keep well covered up. I lay there a few days with a burning fever, taking such medicine as was prescribed. I had learned the “itch” [from lice] was getting to be a common complaint in the hospital, and after the fever had somewhat abated, I found I had it, so when the doctor made his next visit I drew my arms from under the covers and showed him the whelps or long red marks of itch, and he said he would send me some medicine that would cure it. [i]

FredericksburgWhile encamped near Fredericksburg, Fletcher suffered from a severe attack of jaundiceEmbattled Courage and was given a permit of sick leave. Rather than moving with his unit, he took a room in a Fredericksburg hotel where he received no medical care and almost died of food poisoning. [ii]  Cases like this – and worse – were common due to a lack of sanitary conditions, adequate food, clean water and trained medical care. Gerald Linderman confirms that “each army suffered two waves of disease,” the first being “acute infections of childhood.” [iii] Because those who survived the first wave developed immunities, the incidence abated over time. But it was followed by a second wave that decimated the ranks in ever increasing numbers. Considered “camp” diseases, dysentery, malaria, and diarrhea, took men in their tents and in hospitals by the thousands, reducing the effective fighting force of many units dramatically. [iv]

John D. Billings, in his memoir Hard Tack and Coffee, brought up two important points about health in army camps. The first was that many men Hard Tack and Coffee by John Billingscame to the army already ill. This was particularly true of the recruits in 1864 and 1865, “for those who have occasion to remember will agree that a sufficient number of men too old or diseased came to the front in those years – no, they did not all get as far as the front – to fairly stock all the hospitals in the country.” [v] Billings attributed this to both the incompetence of some of the doctors providing physical examinations for enlisting recruits and the desperation of the government willing to use marginal physicians and accept men clearly unfit for duty.

Billings also spoke of the presence in every company of men who feigned illness to escape duty. As might be expected, these men were seen as shirkers who burdened others in the company with the work they did not perform. These “beats on the government” showed up routinely at the sick tent to receive the care and, in some cases, medicine administered by the doctor. Quinine was the drug du jour “whether for stomach or bowels, headache or toothache, for a cough or for lameness, rheumatism or fever and ague.” [vi]  Some who feigned illness went so far as to refuse food and so created a real health crisis for themselves with varying consequences ranging from transfer to a hospital and eventual release from the service, to susceptibility to more severe and long term conditions. [vii]

The fact remains that many, many men died of very real and unwanted maladies. Diseases flourished in camp because of poor nutrition, inadequate sewage disposal, dirty water and infrequent bathing. Typhoid, measles, cholera and dysentery killed hundreds. Even General Lee contracted dysentery on his way to Gettysburg.  Billings spoke eloquently of his many friends who suffered and died of wasting illnesses, either in the field or in hospitals, away from the families who could have unquestionably cared for them better at home. [viii]

As James I. Robertson, Jr. pointed out in his book, Soldiers Blue and Gray, “more confederates died of illness during the seven week aftermath at Corinth than fell in the two days of intense fighting at Shiloh,” an aftermath not at all uncommon during the war and certainly after every battle. [ix]

Disease was – without question – the war’s biggest killer.

Copyright © 2010 Rene Tyree

i.  William A. Fletcher and Richard S. Wheeler, Rebel Private: Front and Rear: Memoirs of a Confederate Soldier, (Meridian: New York, 1995), 7.
ii. Ibid.
iii. Gerald Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War,  (The Free Press: New York, 1987), 115.
iv. Ibid.
v. John D. Billings, Hard Tack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life (originally published in 1887 by George M. Smith and Company, Boston.), 173.
vi. Ibid., 175-176.
vii. Ibid., 175.
viii. Ibid.
ix. James I. Robertson, Jr., Soldiers Blue and Gray, (University of South Carolina Press: Columbia, South Carolina ), 145.
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Why Men Fought in the Civil War

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Men who hurried to sign up for the armies of the North and South in the early years of the American Civil War, joined – to varying degrees – for the follow reasons: out of a sense of duty and honor to country (whether North or South), to feel and prove oneself “manly,” a trait tied closely to notions of courage, and in search of adventure and the glory and excitement of battle. Historian James McPherson’s readings of thousands of letters written by soldiers revealed that duty and honor were closely linked to “masculinity” in Victorian America and war presented an opportunity to prove one’s self a man. [i]

Troops

D.W.C. Arnold, a private in the Union Army

Photo of D.W.C. Arnold, a private in the Union Army. The National Archives Ref. 111-B-5435

In the South, the ideas of duty and honor were most prevalent in the upper classes while such notions were less class specific in the North. Some men from both sides shared a sense of shame in “not” serving and this need to carry one’s self well remained a motivating factor for many of the men who actually “did” the fighting.

Money was not an apparent motivation for joining the military. Most men – and their families – sacrificed economically as a result of their service. Many gave up the best years of their lives, if not life itself. Later in the war, when recruits were harder to find, motivations broadened. Money may have become more of a factor and was certainly such for those who scammed the system to obtain more than one signing bonus.

Regardless of what brought men to war, their performance as soldiers varied. A good many served well. Others discovered within themselves a lack of courage and joined the ranks of men who shrank into the shadows during battles, assuring themselves safety from injury or death but not from the stigma of “coward” and “shirker.” As the war dragged on, survivors began to change their perspectives on what constituted courage and cowardice as well as their notions of the proper conduct of war.
__________________________

Copyright © 2010 Rene Tyree
[i] James M. McPherson. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 25.
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On Lincoln as Commander of Commanders

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Abraham LincolnMackubin Thomas Owen, a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, provides one of the best descriptions I’ve found of Lincoln’s approach as a commander of a military at war. He called Lincoln “an activist commander-in-chief who frequently ‘interfered’ with his generals. [Lincoln] intuitively understood that civilian leaders cannot simply leave the military to its own devices, because war is an iterative process involving the interplay of active wills. He realized that what appears to be the case at the outset of the war may change as the war continues, modifying the relationship between political goals and military means.” (1)

Grant

This was the essence of Lincoln’s genius and ultimate success. He was above all intensely engaged. With that engagement came openness to learning and adaptation. Lincoln also brought objectivity and with it the ability to make fact-based decisions. His capacity for overlooking personal affronts was not only a strength, but a clear differentiator between himself and Jefferson Davis. Owen said well that “Lincoln never let sentiment or his personal opinion of an officer get in the way of his assessment of the officer’s military potential.” (2)

In management vernacular, Lincoln was a “facilitative manager;” that is to say a man who treated his senior commanders somewhat differently based on their respective personalities and the circumstances at hand. If micromanagement was required, as was the case with McClellan, this he did.

Lincoln and McClellan

U.S. Grant

Grant

If he had confidence in a general’s ability to execute a strategy, as was more the case with Grant in the latter half of the war, Lincoln stepped back, never completely but back non-the-less. His skill at facilitative management did not mean that his expectations were not high. Lincoln’s demonstrated decisiveness in releasing generals who did not perform reflected his high standards along with an ability to make tough calls. In my view, he was more than generous in allowing a man time to show his command abilities. The nation needed and Lincoln demanded action and victories and those who delivered rose to the top.
—–

(1) Mackubin Thomas Owen, “Abraham Lincoln: Leadership in Wartime,” Accessed online, December 28, 2009, http://www.fpri.org/enotes/200902.owens.lincolnleadershipwartime.html.
(2) Michael Korda, Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero, (New York: Eminent Lives, 2004) ), 154.

Causes of the American Civil War – 5: The Rise of Sectional Disputes

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This post continues the series on Exploring Causes of the Civil War.
___________________

Anthony burns

Declaration of the Anti-Slavery Convention

Sectional disputes rose and ebbed numerous times in the years before the war. Modernization created social tensions because, as pointed out by James McPherson, “not all groups in American society participated equally in the modernizing process or accepted the values that promoted it. The most important dissenters were found in the South.”[i] The South’s failure to modernize was perceived by many of her citizens as actually desirable.

Sectional arguments expanded to include topics like internal improvements, tariffs, and whether expansion west and south would upset the parity between free and slave states. Foundational to the latter was the belief on the part of the slaveholder in their right to a slave-based social order and a need for assurances of its continuity. Equal representation in government was perceived as critical to that goal.

The rise of abolitionism – largely in the North – put the proponents of slavery on the defensive. The formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society marked the beginning of militant abolitionism and an unprecedented crusade that would rival any modern national marketing campaign. Barbed attacks against slave-holding southerners were launched. They were called the great enemies of democracy and flagrant sinners.[ii] The anti-slavery crusade thus became both a moral one and imperative for the preservation of democracy. Abolitionists created in a section’s consciousness the belief in a “Slave Power.”[iii] Historian Avery Craven suggests that when politicians successfully linked expansion and slavery, the Christian masses accepted as de facto the Abolition attitudes toward both the South and slavery.[iv] Civil war, he contends, “was then in the making.”[v]

Anthony burns

"Anthony Burns" Boston: R.M. Edwards, 1855 Broadside Prints and Photographs Division

The pro-slavery faction fought back with their own “sweeping ideological counterattack that took the form of an assertion that slavery, far from being a necessary evil, was in fact a ‘positive good.’”[vi] “The section developed a siege mentality; unity in the face of external attack and vigilance against the internal threat of slave insurrections became mandatory.”[vii] To insulate itself from the influence of the anti-slavery North, some in the South called for its citizens to shun Northern magazines and books and refrain from sending young men to northern colleges.

The debate over slavery thus infiltrated politics, economics, religion and social policy. Not surprisingly, those who felt most threatened began to speak more loudly of secession.

Next post: The Contribution of Constitutional Ambiguity

© 2010 Rene Tyree

Images:
Library of Congress: The African-American Mosaic.
“Declaration of the Anti-Slavery Convention Assembled in Philadelphia, December 4, 1833″ R[ueben] S. Gilbert, Illustrator Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1833 Broadside Rare Book and Special Collections Division
“Anthony Burns” Boston: R.M. Edwards, 1855 Broadside Prints and Photographs Division

[i] James. M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2001), 22.The Civil War and Reconstruction
[ii] Avery Craven. The Coming of the Civil War. 2nd Ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 150.The Coming of the Civil War (Phoenix Books)
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] James. M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2001), 51-52.
[vii] Ibid., 52.

Causes of the American Civil War – 2: Antebellum America

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The ConstitutionIn the last post, I kicked off a series looking at the causes of the American Civil War. Study of 19th century Antebellum America reveals a young country experiencing incredible change. Its rate of growth in almost all measures was unrivaled in the world. Its population was exploding through both immigration and birth rate. The push for land drove expansion of its boundaries to the south and west. Technological development enabled modernization and industrialization. The “American System of Manufactures” created the factory system.[i] People became “consumers” rather than “producers” of goods and this changed many social aspects of society.

Image of escaping slaves

Geneva Bible

Geneva Bible

The majority of Americans held a Calvinist belief structure. Puritan influence was strongest in New England. Immigration of large numbers of Catholic Irish created new cultural and ethnic tension. Irish Catholics tended to oppose reform and clustered in the lower classes of the North while native Yankee Protestants predominated in the upper and middle-classes.[ii] The century was marked by enthusiastic evangelical reformation movements. [Note: Jonathan D. Sassi has a concise description of the antebellum evangelical reformation movement in America here.]

A two-party political system had emerged by 1830. “Issues associated with modernizing developments in the first half of the century helped to define the ideological position of the two parties and the constituencies to which they appealed.”[iii] Democrats inherited the Jeffersonian commitment to states’ rights, limited government, traditional economic arrangements, and religious pluralism; Whigs inherited the Federalist belief in nationalism, a strong government, economic innovation, and cultural homogeneity under the auspices of established Protestant denominations.[iv]

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

The fight for democracy and the fight for morality became one and the same.[v] “The kingdom of heaven on earth was a part of the American political purpose. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Scriptures were all in accord.”[vi]

Distinct Northern and Southern cultures began to emerge early in the country’s history. These differences became more marked as the pressures that accompanied the nation’s incredible growth, territorial expansion and social change manifested themselves. Sectional identities and allegiances became increasingly important.

Next post – the Antebellum South.

American Scripture: Making of the Declaration of IndependenceFor further reading:

[i] Historian James. M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2001), 10, [ii] Ibid., 23, [iii] Ibid., 25, [iv] Ibid., [v] Ibid., 13, [vi] Ibid.

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Causes of the American Civil War – 1

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Dred Scott Image

Photo of Dred Scott. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-5092CE

Image of slaves on Smith's Plantation

To celebrate the opening of Wig-Wags.com, I’m republishing a  series of posts on the much debated topic of the causes of the American Civil war. Let today’s post serve as its introduction. I’ll attempt in the series to address two questions. The first is whether economic interests, political agitation, and the cultural differences between North and South did more to bring about the Civil War than the issue of slavery. The second is whether the American Civil War could have been avoided. Was it inevitable? Underlying both questions is the matter of causation of the war. If there was a singular, definitive reason for it the task would be easier. But deliberation over its cause has continued for almost a century and a half and will no doubt carry on into the future with little hope of achieving clear answers. Scholar Kenneth M. Stampp summarized the challenges of the quest well. [Image of Dred Scott .]

As one reflects upon the problem of causation one is driven to the conclusion that historians will never know, objectively and with mathematical precision, what caused the Civil War. Working with fragmentary evidence, possessing less than a perfect understanding of human behavior, viewing the past from the perspective of their own times, finding it impossible to isolate one historical event to test its significance apart from all others, historians must necessarily be somewhat tentative and conjectural in offering their interpretations.[i]

He concluded, and with this, I whole heartedly agree, that even though the ongoing debate over the causes of the war remains inconclusive, the effort of examination brings increased clarity.[ii]

More in the next post.

Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

Kenneth Stampp

Kenneth Stampp

[i] Kenneth M. Stampp, ed. The Causes of the Civil War, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991), 17-18.The Causes of the Civil War
[ii] Ibid., 18.
Photo of Dred Scott. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-5092CE

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On Braxton Bragg – 1

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Braxton Bragg

Braxton Bragg

W. J. Wood called Braxton Bragg the “most complicated of all the Confederacy’s generals.”(1) A graduate of the academy, where he excelled, he displayed skills as an administrator and adept trainer of troops. He had seen action in the Mexican War and was heralded as a war hero for his actions commanding artillery during the Battle of Buena Vista. Bragg was a stern disciplinarian, which Wood attributes to his experiences in Mexico where volunteer units ran when under fire from the enemy. He could be brusque even to the point of being rude.(2) He also shared his opinions freely, often too freely.

Library of Congress: Battle of Buena Vista, fought Feb. 23rd, 1847. Lithograph by N. Currier, 1847. Reproduction number: LC-USZC4-2957

(1) W. J. Wood, Civil War Generalship: The Art of Command [book on-line] (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1997, accessed 29 November 2009), 118; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=30549970; Internet.

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Lincoln’s Impact on Military Operations

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Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, a color lithograph by Currier & Ives; (SCALA/Art Resource)

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln and McClellan

In class, we’ve been discussing how the decisions of the two commanders-in-chief during the American Civil War impacted events at the operational level. Modern scholars have challenged the notion that Lincoln simply stayed involved in military details until he found the right general (Grant). Eliot Cohen posits that’s “Lincoln exercised a constant oversight of the war effort from beginning to end.”(1) This intense interest in providing direction can be seen as early as the events surrounding the attack on Fort Sumter. Lincoln’s order of the nonviolent resupply of the fort, which caused the Confederates to fire the first shot and thus initiate the war, demonstrates Lincoln’s willingness to go against the advice of senior commanders. Equally important, it showed his considerable ability at playing the game of strategy. Cohen summed it up well by calling Lincoln’s move “characteristically cunning” and revealing of “a steely willingness to accept the hazards of war.”(2)

Lincoln continued to immerse himself in operational details, stepping back only to a degree when General Grant became General-in-chief but certainly not completely. Lincoln carefully reviewed dispatches and, as has been well documented, literally camped in the telegraph office during battles. In fact, he qualified as a micro-manager to some degree. As such, one of the ways in which his leadership impacted operation was by his dismissal of generals who didn’t perform. “By comparison with our recent presidents, Lincoln was an exceptionally unforgiving boss.”(3) He also took considerable personal interest in the technological advancements that took place prior to and during the war. His personal influence could make things happen as it did with the development of river canon, which helped to win control by the Union of the Mississippi River and southern ports.

General Grant

C. A. Dana

Lincoln was so intent upon staying informed of field activities that he installed journalist Charles Dana as, effectively, a spy in Grant’s camp while he was assigned in the west. Dana, who even had his own cipher for sending reports back to Stanton, was also dispatched to observe and report back on the command abilities of General Rosecrans. Lincoln put Dana back in Grant’s camp later in the war even after Grant had demonstrated success and earned Lincoln’s trust. This fact further dispels the notion that Lincoln simply turned over the war’s higher direction to Grant.(4) In fact, Cohen posits that “Lincoln did not merely find his generals; he controlled them. He molded the war to its last days, and he intended to dominate the making of peace at its end.” (5)

(1)  Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime, (London: Free Press, 2002), 19.
(2)  Ibid., 20.
(3)  Ibid., 24.
(4)  Ibid., 51.
(5)  Ibid., 21.

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