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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Civil War hero and admiral David Farragut literally grew up at sea. In the U.S. Navy since the age of ten, he served under David Porter as a midshipman beginning in 1811 on the USS Essex. A surrogate father, “Porter supervised his education and training while seizing every opportunity to throw responsibility on the boy.”His first command, at the age of twelve, was of a prize ship, the recaptured American whaler Barclay.  Success in this command required that the young Farragut deal with the Barclay’s disgruntled captain, and he accomplished this by threatening to throw the man overboard if he came up on deck. The tactic worked and earned him early respect. 
David Farragut saw action against the H.M.S. Phoebe while serving on the USS Essex in 1813.  During the USS Essex’s losing battle with the HMS Phoebe, “Farragut served as captain’s aide, quarter gunner, and powder boy. He witnessed the evisceration of a boatswain’s mate by one shot, the amputation of a quartermaster’s leg by another, and the killing of four men by a third shot that splattered him with the last man’s brains. He narrowly escaped death himself when a shot struck a man beside him full in the face. The man fell back on him, and the two tumbled down an open hatch, with the man landing on top of him” sans head.  So Farragut was intimately familiar with both the fog of war and its horrors.
See an excellent summary of the sea battle between USS Essex and the HMS Phoebe here.
David Glasgow Farragut, the man who would become the first Admiral in the U.S. Navy and a Civil War naval hero, was born on the fifth of July 1801 “in a log cabin on a 640-acre tract of land on the north bank of the Holston River about fifteen miles southwest of Knoxville,” Tennessee.” (1) His father, George Anthony Magin Farragut, (a fascinating character deserving of a biography of his own), was born on the island of Minorca. He went to sea at a young age and found his way to America in 1776. He served in the American Revolution under Francis Marion, the famed guerrilla leader and American officer who earned the nickname “Swamp Fox.” According to family lore, as captured by David’s son Loyall, George Farragut fought in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812 and is said to have “saved the life of Colonel Washington in the battle of Cowpens.” (2) “By the end of th war, he had risen to the rank of major of horse.” (3)
In 1795, at the age of forty, he married Elizabeth Shine. They moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and began to raise a family. A first son, William, was born in 1797. The family moved to their homestead near Stony Point in 1800 and it was here that David Glasgow was born followed by a sister and brother. The future admiral was called Glasgow by family and friends. (4)
George made what would be a fateful decision to return to the sea. He received an appointment as sailing master with the U.S. Navy on March 2, 1807. Ordered to duty on a gunboat in New Orleans, he decided to move his family to the city by flatboat. In the late summer of 1807, they embarked on a two month journey that began on the Holston River and traveled to the Tennessee, then the Ohio, and finally the Mississippi. (5)
Within a year of settling in New Orleans, Elizabeth would be dead of yellow fever and the family’s lives changed forever.
“George Farragut was descended from the renowned Don Pedro Ferragut, who served under James I., King of Aragon, styled in history El Conquistador, in the campaigns which resulted in the expulsion of the Moors from Majorca in 1229, and from Valencia in 1238. In Majorca Don Pedro was Sergeant before the King—an office of high honor and importance, held only by those of noble blood. James bestowed estates upon the knights who accompanied him in these enterprises, and directed the troubadour Mossen Jaime Febrer to celebrate them in verse. The following is the stanza devoted to Pedro Ferragut:
Sobre camp bermell una ferradura
De finisim or, ab nn elau daurat,
Pere Ferragut pinta, e en tal figura
Esplica lo agnom. La historia asegnra
Ser aragones, de Jaca baixat.
Apres que en Mallorca servi de sargent,
Venint a Valencia, hon gran renotn guanya
De expert capita per lo dilitgent;
Los anys, e sucesos lo feren prudent.
Te en lo pelear gran cordura e inanya,
Pergue a totes armes facilment se apanya.
Henry Howard Brownell, extemporized the following translation, which is sufficiently literal:
A charger’s shoe is borne on his shield,
Of purest gold, on a blood-red field,
Set thereon with a nail of the same:
Thus we know him, device and name.
From Jaca, in Aragon, he came.
At Mallorca and Valencia both,
Well he quitted his knightly troth,
Serving as Sergeant before his liege,
Through the conquest, in field and siege:
Strong in battle, by plain or hold,
Great his fame as a warrior bold,
And a prudent captain to shun surprise;
For -years and victories made him wise.
At every manner of arms expert,
He did on the foe great spoil and hurt.”
Continuing from the post Death and Injury on the Battlefield Part I here, this post deals with battlefield injuries.
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.
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.
For more on weapons carried during the American Civil War, see the previous post Civil War Weapons Carried by Soldiershere.
For good coverage of how amputations were performed during the Civil War, click here.
I previously posted a piece on the impact of disease on soldiers in the Civil War [see “The American Civil War Experience: Lice, Disease and Quinine” ]. The following discusses the other side of death during the war, the experience on the battlefield. Please be aware the the following is very graphic.
Battle injuries in the civil war were horrific and many led to death. The journals of soldiers and photographs of the dead tell of injury and death caused by cannon balls, grapeshot, canister, musket balls, bayonets, clubbing and more. Men were decapitated, cut in two, blown apart, shot in head, body, and/or extremities, bashed in the face or skull, disemboweled, burned, dragged, drowned, and/or suffered broken bones. John Beatty provided a glimpse of the carnage typical on most Civil War battlefields in a journal entry describing his pass through the battlefield of Stone River in Tennessee, early in 1863.
I ride over the battle-field. In one place a caisson and five horses are lying, the latter killed in harness, and all fallen together. Nationals and Confederates, young, middle-aged, and old, are scattered over the woods and fields for miles. Poor Wright, of my old company, lay at the barricade in the woods which we stormed on the night of the last day. Many others lay about him. Further on we find men with their legs shot off; one with brains scooped out with a cannon ball; another with half a face gone; another with entrails protruding; young Winnegard, of the Third, has one foot off and both legs pierced by grape at the thighs; another boy lies with his hands clasped above his head, indicating that his last words were a prayer. Many Confederate sharpshooters lay behind stumps, rails, and logs, shot in the head. A young boy, dressed in the Confederate uniform, lies with his face turned to the sky, and looks as if he might be sleeping. Poor boy! what thoughts of home, mother, death, and eternity, commingled in his brain as the life-blood ebbed away! Many wounded horses are limping over the field. One mule, I heard of, had a leg blown off on the first day’s battle; next morning it was on the spot where first wounded; at night it was still standing there, not having moved an inch all day, patiently suffering, it knew not why nor for what. How many poor men moaned through the cold nights in the thick woods, where the first day’s battle occurred, calling in vain to man for help, and finally making their last solemn petition to God!
Linderman posits that, even though the men fighting in the Civil War should have been more used to gore and death than those fighting in the next century, “when young soldiers first saw bullets, cannonballs, grapeshot, and canister strike others, their shock was profound. The first surprise was death’s suddenness,” a man alive and animated next to them one moment, and the next, lifeless and shattered. Men splattered with the insides of the man next to them were even more impacted. Also shocking was the magnitude of death. It was not uncommon to see thousands of bodies after a single battle.
Many men died agonizing deaths after lying injured on the field for hours or days. Contributing to this were standing orders that prevented a man from stopping his forward motion to help a fallen comrade. Some men were also fearful that doing so would imply cowardice on their part. Also, rarely could a truce be made to remove the injured and dead from the battlefield. The resulting experience for the injured was atrocious. Methods and procedures that would allow for application of first aid and then rapid transport to field hospitals were simply non-existent.
Disposal of bodies was often done carelessly and with little decorum if at all. Given the magnitude and ghastliness of the task, it is little wonder. Depending on the season, bodies awaiting burial, or even after careless burial, bloated and decayed in the heat and could be eaten by animals and insects. Next installment… “Injuries on the Battlefield.”
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]
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.
A review of the literature reveals – not surprisingly – a lack of agreement over whether the American Civil War was inevitable. Given the fact that it did occur, the question under consideration might be better stated as “at what point in time” did the American Civil War became unavoidable.
Some would argue that war became predestined at the point when the slave trade was first introduced to the colonies. Others have suggested that civil war became preordained when the founding fathers created a Constitution that professed freedom for all but failed to deal with the country’s practice of chattel slavery (image left of slave auction at Richmond). But portions of the country had demonstrated a willingness to move away slavery. And there was some indication that even slave owners in the south did not expect the practice to go on indefinitely. Certainly the rise of King Cotton, made feasible by the invention of the cotton gin and cotton varieties more suited to the southern climate, slowed the inclination to move away from slavery. Even so, the country had opportunity and demonstrated an ability to find compromise on the issues surrounding slavery time and again and could have conceivably continued to do so had other factors not pushed the country to war.
Sectional differences, well evident even in colonial days, had the potential to make civil war predestined but historian Avery Craven suggests otherwise. “Physical and social differences between North and South did not in themselves necessarily imply an irrepressible conflict. They did not mean that civil war had been decreed from the beginning by Fate.”[i] He points out that the federal system created by the founding fathers had room for differences and that England herself adopted the model of American federalism and used it to manage widely disparate regions.[ii]
Kenneth Stampp in his work, Americain 1857: A Nation on the Brink, suggests that “…1857 was probably the year when the North and South reached the political point of no return — when it became well nigh impossible to head off a violent resolution of the differences between them.”[iii] Stampp identified three primary factors that catapulted the country toward disunion within that twelve month period.
The first was the increase in sectional conflict centered on Kansas.
The second was President Buchanan’s fall from grace among most of the Northerners who had voted for him after he supported the Lecompton Constitution and thus broke his pre-election promises. This sparked one of the most vicious debates in Congress and led to…
the third happening which was the crisis that occurred in the national Democratic Party from which “it did not recover until after the Civil War.”[iv] That schism in the party opened the way for Abraham Lincoln’s candidacy for the presidency which in turn raised sectional tensions between North and South to new heights.
Civil War historiographer Gobar Boritt suggests that the American Civil War only became inevitable after the attack on Fort Sumter (pictured right after surrender) and with this I agree. “The popular uprising, North and South, that followed the fight over Sumter, combined with willing leadership on both sides, made the Civil War inevitable. It was not that before.”[v] Boritt acknowledges that “the probability of war” continued to grow in the 1850s, but that “the country’s fate was not sealed until the ides of April, 1861.”[vi]
My conclusion is that the American Civil War was not inevitable but was, rather, the result of a confluence of factors which – taken in aggregate and flared by extremists – resulted in a war unwanted by the majority of Americans. Contributory to the war was the influence of specific individuals – not the least of which was Abraham Lincoln himself. Other politicians, by their action or inaction at critical moments, also had part to play in the circumstances that led to war. Debate over the war’s inevitability has been and will continue to be rigorous.
Slave Auction, Richmond, Virginia, 1830. [Source: University of Virginia]. George Bourne.
Cotton – England’s God [Pictorial envelope] [LOC CALL NUMBER PR-022-3-14-19]
Fort Sumter after evacuation, flagpole shot away twice. 1861. LOC CALL NUMBER PR-065-798-22 Endnotes:
[i] Avery Craven.The Coming of the Civil War. 2nd Ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 1.
[iii] Stampp, Kenneth M. America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink. Vers. [book on-line] Internet. Questia.com.New York: Oxford University Press. 1990. available from questia.com, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?action=openPageViewer&docId=24268497 (accessed September 1, 2007), viii.
[v] ” ‘And the War Came’? Abraham Lincoln and the Question of Individual Responsibility” in Why the Civil War Came., ed. Gabor S. Boritt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 6.
Continuing the series on the causes of the American Civil War, this post looks at the Antebellum North. The North evolved from its Puritan roots into a culture driven by a strong work ethic. A man was valued by what he could earn and accomplish. The capital of the north was invested in the engines of modernization. Labor moved from agriculture and artisan to factory as modern farming tools improved productivity. Individuals became more dependent on wages. Material wealth was seen as evidence of good, productive, hard work.
As the country expanded, northeastern populations migrated almost directly west. Foreign immigration increased. With modernization came an extensive transportation system including both impressive roadways and railroads.
New levels of wealth were attained by the leaders of the industrial revolution. A new poor working class emerged but so did a middle class that no longer had to produce large families to work the land. Urban centers developed particularly in the northeast.
Modernization drove social reform including the creation of public education systems in the North and associated high literacy rates. Enlightenment crusades flourished, touching literature and religion. Suffrage and temperance movements formed. Abolitionism became tied with humanitarian reforms driven by Christian crusades.
The North became more and more distinct from the South on many levels, not the least of which was its distaste for slavery. Even so, like white populations in most of western society, northerners considered blacks to be inferior in the antebellum North.
In 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.
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]
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.
For further reading:
Jonathan D. Sassi has a concise description of the antebellum evangelical reformation movement in America here.]
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]
I live on the borders of Missouri and Kansas so confess some considerable fascination with both Jim Lane and the evolution of war in the towns and farmlands of this part of the Western theater. Lane, a Kansas senator and strong advocate of Lincoln, was a player. Benedict identifies Lincoln himself as having given Lane authority “to raise and command two volunteer regiments.” Lane used them to harass Missourians with violence, theft, and destruction of property in a manner foreshadowing that of Sherman. Benedict posits that Lane thus embraced the notion of “total war” as a means of disabling the enemy’s war machine before it became more widely adopted as a strategy of the Union.
The photo of Lane on the cover (above) was a brilliant choice. After perusing the Library of Congress and finding his carte d’visite (left), it becomes clear that the look of the man fit his personality. In the words of Milton W. Reynolds, Lane was “weird, mysterious, partially insane, partially inspired, and poetic.” He described him as having lived a “…wayward, fitful life of passion and strife, of storm and sunshine a mysterious existence that now dwelt on the mountain-tops of expectation and the very summit of highest realization, and anon in the valley of despondency and deepest gloom.”  Lane committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a pistol in 1866.
Author Bryce Benedict has produced a well researched work with notes for each chapter and three appendices including considerable information about fate of the casualties of Lane’s brigade, most of whom died from disease.
For further reading, check out these books digitized for online reading at the Library of Congress.
A battle guidon carried by members of the California Hundred – cavalry volunteers who served in the Massachusetts 2nd. The only surviving California flag from any Civil War engagement, these colors
witnessed action in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864.
See more on this flag at the Fort Tejon Historical Society here.
I’m reading about a fall that Robert E. Lee took prior to Antietam. He injured his hands to the extent that he couldn’t hold the reins of his horse let alone write a dispatch. I’m on the hunt for more information about this and any other injuries he sustained while campaigning.