Civil War Institute 2014 Day Three

Day Three was held on Sunday, June 22.  We started off with a lecture from Keith Bohannon of the University of West Georgia speaking on “Atlanta Is Ours and Fairly Won:  William T. Sherman in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.”

[Audio from Joe Cook]

In 1864, Grant told Sherman to move against the Army of Tennessee and break it up, then get into the enemy’s interior.  Sherman was to also prevent Joseph E. Johnston from reinforcing Lee.  Keith told us that Sherman’s battlefield performance was not impressive.  His reputation today rests on what he did in 1864 and 1865.  In Georgia, Sherman targeted both the Army of Tennessee and the confederacy’s ability to wage war.  He sought to demoralize the southern civilians and their soldiers.  Largely avoiding frontal attacks, he relied mostly on flanking maneuvers.  Also key was his mastery of logistics.  He had over 100,000 men, 28,000 horses, and 33,000 mules, all of which he was able to keep fed.  To do this he had hundred of trains stockpiling supplies in Nashville and Chattanooga.  145 cars per day delivered supplies to Nashville alone.  5,000 wagons were constantly on the move.

Sherman had some advantages over Joseph Johnston.  He had the command of a vast department, whereas Johnston had a smaller department.  This meant Sherman had authority over all the soldiers he needed, whereas Johnston had to depend on the cooperation of other commanders of other departments.  Johnston had, for example, no authority over troops in Alabama and Mississippi.  Sherman had the strong support of his superiors, whereas Jefferson Davis and Braxton Bragg despised Johnston.  Sherman had about 40% more troops than Johnston.  The Army of the Cumberland, his largest army, had close to 73,000 men, commanded by George H. Thomas.  The Army of the Tennessee, Sherman’s old command, was commanded by James B. McPherson.  The Army of the Ohio, his smallest army, had close to 13,000  men under John M. Schofield.  In addition, Sherman had three divisions of cavalry, about 8900 men, even though he used the cavalry poorly.  Sherman’s close relationship with his superiors stood in stark contrast with Johnston and Jefferson Davis.  Davis repeatedly asked Johnston to go on the offensive, but Johnston kept claiming he was outnumbered and didn’t have the logistics to go on the offensive.  Davis, however, was being told differently by Johnston’s corps commanders who were reporting that the Army of Tennessee could go on the offensive at any time.  This points to Johnston’s chief weakness–his continued failure to provide Davis detailed, daily reports on what’s going on.  Johnston had 70,000 men under his corps commanders Hardee, Hood, and Polk, and 7,000 to 8,000 cavalry under Joseph Wheeler.

The campaign began in the first week of May, 1864, using a plan originated by George Thomas.  Sherman modified the plan and his final orders had the Army of the Ohio and the Army of the Cumberland demonstrate north of Dalton while the Army of the Tennessee marched south and west of Rocky Face Ridge and cross through Snake Creek Gap, which Wheeler had failed to cover with videttes.  The Western and Atlantic Railroad was in front of him, but McPherson had no cavalry with him and was worried he didn’t know how many confederates were in the area.  Instead of pushing forward, McPherson pulled back to Snake Creek Gap.  While McPherson failed, Johnston still retreated.  The 14th and 15th of May saw the first major battle, Resaca.  Sherman crossed the Oustanaula River and forced Johnston to retreat.  Johnston laid a trap for Sherman at Cassville, but Hood doesn’t attack as ordered.  Hood and Polk then argue that the army should retreat again.  By the third week in May, Johnston is in the Allatoona Mountains.  Sherman performs another flank march, moving 15 miles away from the Western & Atlantic to Dallas.  Johnston’s cavalry informed him of that movement and Johnston shifted to counter it.  We next come to a series of battles called The Hell Hole with intense fighting.  Both sides shift toward the railroad.  There are heavy rains for the first few weeks of June, immobilizing both armies.  Day after day there is constant skirmishing.  Sherman gets frustrated and decides to deviate from flanking.  Besides, he felt that fighting behind earthworks made the men timid.  This resulted in the costly defeat at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864 in a bloody repulse costing 3,000 casualties.  The only success was a flanking maneuver by Schofield that forced Johnston to fall back to the Chattahoochee River.  Sherman crossed his troops north of Johnston’s position, and in the second week of July Johnston fell back on the outskirts of Atlanta.  By this time, Davis had enough of Johnston.  He had lost faith in Johnston’s ability to hold Atlanta.  Johnston had wanted Forrest to come east to attack Sherman’s supply lines, but that involved stripping Alabama and Mississippi of their defenders.  On July 17, Davis replaced Johnston with Hood.  Hood has a clear mandate to fight for the city of Atlanta.  Johnston had lacked the ability to shape campaigns.  Hood orders attacks.  The first was at Peachtree Creek, where the attacks were uncoordinated and not well managed by the corps commanders.  Hood next tried to move his exhausted troops on a flank attack, resulting in the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, the largest battle of the campaign.  The rebels had temporary success, but the Federals counterattacked and repulsed the rebels.  Sherman next reoriented to try to take Atlanta from the west and launches cavalry raids.  Hood sends Stephen D. Lee to block the movement.  At Ezra Church on July 28, Lee rashly launched frontal attacks on his own against the Army of the Tennessee, resulting in a Kennesaw Mountain in reverse.  Lee suffered heavy losses.  Meanwhile, Sherman’s cavalry was smashed by Wheeler.  Lee’s loss led to a semi-siege of Atlanta.  Sherman next abandoned his siege lines east and north of Atlanta, leaving one corps to guard the supply line, taking the rest of his force on a wide flank march west and south of Atlanta to cut the Macon & Western Railroad south of the city.  This resulted in the Battle of Jonesboro, the last battle of the campaign.  Wheeler was sent on a raid to North Georgia to try to cut Sherman’s supply lines, but this was a spectacular failure.  Hood abandoned the city the night of September 1.  Atlanta’s fall and the results of Sheridan’s campaign in the Shenandoah boosted the confidence of the Northern voters.  Lincoln would win an electoral victory because they believed he deserved a second term, and this gave him a mandate to continue the war and helped ensure Grant remained as General-in-Chief.

Next up was Emmanuel Dabney, a historian at the Petersburg National Battlefield, speaking on “Catching Us Like Sheep in a Slaughter Pen:  The United States Colored Troops at the Battle of the Crater.”  By July 17, the tunnel being dug by the 48th Pennsylvania was 518 feet long.  Two galleries were dug, and gunpowder was packed in.  Three weeks ahead of time, Edward Ferraro was told that his troops [a division of African-American soldiers] would lead the way.  They would move forward in double columns with the lead regiment perpendicular to the confederate line.  The white troops of the IX Corps would follow.  Ferraro was directed to drill his troops, but sources show only one drill conducted, and nothing specific about the drill dealt with the assault.  Edward Porter Alexander suspected the Federals were mining and he dug countermines; however, Alexander’s shafts were too shallow.  On July 27, Meade’s chief engineer decided to provide only 8,000 pounds of gunpowder instead of the requested 12,000 pounds.  He also provided only a single fuse, which required multiple splicing.  Finally, Meade changed the plans, informing Meade only on July 29, the day before the assault.  Meade objected to the planned maneuvers during the assault.  He wanted the troops to just go up and promptly take the crest of Cemetery Hill beyond the confederate defensive line.  Meade also objected to the use of the African-American troops and told Burnside to select another division.  At 4:44 AM on July 30, 1864 the mine explodes, resulting in a crater 170 feet long, 30 feet deep, and 60 feet wide.  Confederate casualties were approximately 278-350 men from the infantry and 19 from the artillery.  110 Federal cannon and 54 Federal mortars open fire.  When it came time for the African-American troops to charge, the first USCT regiment in was the 30th USCT, shouting “Remember Fort Pillow” and “No Quarter.”  The 43rd USCT was the second regiment in, followed by the 27th and 39th USCT.  Soon there was a great mingling of black and white troops in and around the Crater.  The confederates mounted a counterattack under Mahone.  Accounts from confederate soldiers show black troops being murdered when they tried to surrender and absolute rage on the part of the confederate soldiers.  At one point, afraid for their lives, white Federal soldiers killed black Federal soldiers.  At some point the killing stopped and a number of black and white prisoners were taken.  Most of the black prisoners were returned to slavery.

Next came our concurrent sessions.  Eric Leonard’s presentation, “My Sufferings Were For a Good Cause:  Exploring the Civil War POW Story,” was taped by C-SPAN.  Therefore, I chose another session, Eric Mink’s “The First Encounter Between Lee’s Veterans & Black Troops:  The 23rd USCT and the Fight at Alrich Farm, May 16, 1864.”  This was a small action between confederate cavalry and the USCT with likely a couple of wounded USCT resulting.  The confederate reports of the action don’t mention USCT, but they were involved.  This action took place during the Spotsylvania Court House battles.  In the journey of a slave from the plantation to the battlefield, an enslaved person had to make several decisions.  They had to decide to leave the plantation.  They had to decide to leave their family.  If they lost, that separation would become permanent.  They knew they faced re-enslavement if captured.  And they faced racism as well.  The nearness of the Union army meant freedom for enslaved people.  At Fredericksburg, slaves in the surrounding area began to come through Union lines.  The occupation of Fredericksburg opened a highway for slaves to escape.  Their presence began to soften views among white Union soldiers.  Many escaped slaves stayed with the Union army as servants.  Upwards of 10,000 slaves gained freedom through Fredericksburg.  Many enlisted in the USCT.  The pressure of black refugees put pressure on the Lincoln administration to do something.  The First Confiscation Act was passed in August, 1861.  In 1862 Congress passed an act prohibiting the return of slaves.  In July of 1862 Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, authorizing the use of the USCT, and in January of 1863 Lincoln issued the Final Emancipation Proclamation, which when combined with the July 1862 Militia Act authorized the military to begin using black soldiers.  In June of 1863 the 1st USCT was mustered into Federal service in Washington, DC.  By October of 1863 there were 58 regiments of USCT with 58,000 soldiers in US service.  At first it wasn’t popular among white soldiers, though there were also white soldiers who welcomed them.  The USCT began organizing at Camp Casey outside Washington.  They were recruited in Washington and Baltimore, with about 8 men named George Washington in the 23rd USCT.  A lot of the USCT were escaped slaves, but many had been free.  The Freedmen’s Camps were another source of recruitment.  There were at least thirty soldiers from Central Virginia in the 23rd USCT.  The officers of the USCT were, as a body, generally superior to the officers of white regiments.  They had battlefield experience, and they had to pass tests before they were accepted as officers of USCT regiments.  USCT regiments were placed in Edward Ferraro’s Fourth Division of Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps.  On April 23, 1864 they departed for Manassas.  Confederate cavalry roamed in Culpeper County, picking up Union stragglers.  They captured three black soldiers, who were then taken out and shot.  The USCTs understood their predicament.  They frequently mentioned Fort Pillow.  Grant shifted his army to the east and on May 14 Lee ordered his cavalry to investigate the flank.  On May 15 they were put in motion up the Catharpin Road toward Alrich Farm south of Chancellorsville under the command of Thomas Rosser.  They had heard Union wagons at Alrich Farm had camped the previous night at Todd’s Tavern.  The 2nd Ohio Cavalry was camped near Piny Branch Church.  Rosser completely surprised them and pushed them back toward Alrich Farm.  The 2nd Ohio Cavalry requested assistance.  The 23rd USCT double quicked to the Alrich Farm, and the white soldiers cheered their arrival.  The action probably lasted no longer than fifteen minutes, but the position held and Rosser was forced back.  On May 19, the 30th USCT also had a clash against confederate cavalry, after which they continued to guard the wagon trains.

You can hear another Concurrent Session, Jonathan Noyalas of Lord Fairfax Community College speaking on “Victory From the Jaws of Defeat:  The Battle of Cedar Creek” here:

[Audio from Joe Cook]

Our next presenter was Crystal Feimster of Yale University, speaking on “Rape & Mutiny at Fort Jackson, Louisiana.”

[Audio from Joe Cook]

Fort Jackson was located on the Mississippi River, below New Orleans.  It had been rumored that in a mutiny there, 27 white officers were murdered and the fort was in the hands of the black soldiers stationed there.  Those initial reports were greatly exaggerated.  On December 9, 1863 Lt. Col. Augustus Benedict beat two soldiers with whips, even though whipping had been outlawed by the US Congress.  The soldiers, in their uprising, beat some white officers and fired their muskets in the air.  It was found that the mutiny wasn’t due to the soldiers, but rather due to poor administration and leadership from their officers.  There was a gap between the Negro’s idea of freedom and the white officers’ conception of how black soldiers should be treated.  The officers believed they were making men of slaves and that only the harshest treatment could instill discipline.  Benedict had a reputation for brutality against his men.  His men tolerated this treatment for almost a year, but the last straw was when Benedict flogged Henry Williams and Monroe Miller with a leather whip.  The soldiers knew flogging was illegal and had been constantly assured they wouldn’t be flogged and were told that any officer who brutalized them would be dismissed.  During their mutiny they permitted Benedict to leave unmolested provided he not return.  In the trials afterward, testimony was given only by white officers.  Twelve enlisted black men were court-martialed for mutiny.  Benedict was court-martialed for cruelty.  Two soldiers were sentenced to death, one to twenty years confinement, five to 1-5 years confinement, and one to 1 month confinement.  Benedict was dishonorably discharged.  General Nathaniel Banks suspended the death sentences and confirmed the prison terms.  But there is a larger context that may have played a role in this mutiny.  On January 25, 1864, four white officers, two captains and two lieutenants, attempted to sexually assault laundresses.  The officers were arrested and placed in the guard house.  It turns out that scenes like that were frequent occurrences involving many of the officers at the fort.  There is a good chance that the way the officers treated the laundresses, some of whom were related to the black soldiers, was a contributing factor to the mutiny.  This episode speaks to how black women’s sexuality was seen in different ways by white men and by black men.

Another round of concurrent sessions followed, and I chose to attend the session by K. Stephen Prince of the University of South Florida, speaking about “The Burnt District:  Southern Ruins and the Problem of Reconstruction.”  He told us the transition from war to Reconstruction was a drawn-out process.  George Bernard published a book of photographs of Sherman’s campaign.  He began with scenes of secession in Charleston and ended with scenes of destruction in Charleston.  The message was southern secession led to southern destruction.  These images were also the opening shots of Reconstruction.  Representations of ruin were popular in the North.  Northerners glimpsed both challenges and opportunities through these views.  The devastation war brought presented intellectual challenges.  The ruins were also helpful in understanding possibilities, challenges, and the failure of Reconstruction.  Northerners engaged in “Ruin talk,” i.e., talking about the ruins.  Ruins carried the promise of a new and reformed South, a chance for a new South built from the ground up.  Northern journalists tried to make the condition of the South understandable to northern audiences.  Northern civilians vicariously experienced the destruction and began the work of assigning meaning to southern ruination.  Northern journalists flocked to report what they found in the ruined cities of the South.  Photographs and illustrated newspapers spread images of southern ruins in the North.  Northern travelers were interested in the metaphoric value of the ruins.  To them, the ruins spoke to much larger concerns and helped conceptualize the character of the beaten South and the challenges of Reconstruction.  One category was The Guilty South, which gave a justification of the northern cause.  It was evidence of the superiority of the northern political system.  Another category was The End of the South.  This was emblematic of an entire civilization’s destruction.  Another was The South as an Empty Vessel, viewing the South as a blank slate.  The final category was The South Reborn, which spelled northern opportunity to rebuild and reinvest in order to rebuild the South in the image of the North.  Northern engagement with the ruined South was fleeting, though.  The reasons for this included overexposure, the fact that the literal Reconstruction made the ruins less visible, and the fact that self-congratulations appeared untenable in the face of white on black violence and the election of former confederates.  In the end it made good rhetoric but bad policy.

After dinner, Barton Myers of Washington & Lee University spoke to us about “Controlling Chaos:  The Guerrilla War in 1864.”

[Audio from Joe Cook]

The greatest challenge of irregular troops was identified by Thomas Rosser:  It kept men out of service with the army on the battle line, it caused dissatisfaction in the ranks because irregulars had privileges regular troops didn’t have.  Finally, it rendered other troops dissatisfied and increased desertion due to that.  The confederates eventually repealed the Partisan Guerrilla Act, and this led to their keeping only Mosby and McNeil retained for service.  Guerrillas raged in every state of the confederacy by 1864.  There were four types of irregulars.  The first of these were self-constituted groups or bands.  The second was partisan rangers, who were authorized guerrillas formed in accordance with the Partisan Guerrilla Act of 1862.  The third was regular confederate cavalry.  The last type consisted of individuals using assassination and sabotage.  The origin stories of irregulars varied and included opposition to policies, revenge, greed, and vendettas, and partisan military operations.  John Hunt Morgan inspired many to guerrilla warfare.  He was the inspiration for the Partisan Guerrilla Act.  Captured in Ohio, he eventually escaped.  He conducted the farthest raid north by any confederate force raiding from the South.  Morgan’s Ohio Raid was his high water mark, but he lost a number of irreplaceable, veteran cavalrymen on that raid.  Confederate guerrilla policy, though, was never well thought-out.  Irregulars were often able to see and perhaps even live at home.  Mosby in many ways was the exception to the rule when it came to guerrillas and other irregulars.  He was the most effective practitioner of guerrilla warfare and was the rare exception when it came to benefits of guerrilla warfare.  He claimed legal status under the Partisan Ranger Act, he claimed seizures under the same authority as naval prizes, and his men couldn’t get rich because they had to supply themselves.  Mosby was also more responsible to the chain of command than any others.  For the most part, though, obscurity, death, infamy, and criminality were left in the wake of the guerrilla conflict.  The Missouri/Arkansas Border War of Quantrill and Anderson was motivated by revenge, local protection, and brutality.  These bands rarely cooperated with any confederate forces.  The Union army was flummoxed by guerrillas and could only rarely aid unionists.  Missouri was center stage for guerrilla brutality.  The enemies of the confederacy also waged guerrilla warfare.  In North Carolina 1/3 of the state’s counties were involved in some form of guerrilla warfare by early 1864.  Tens of thousands of confederate soldiers were needed to quell anti-confederate guerrillas.  The confederates didn’t view the guerrillas as legitimate combatants and didn’t grant them status as POWs.  By the end of 1864 there were few real rewards for those who fought the guerrilla war.  Guerrillas paid a heavy price.  Guerrilla warfare was more of a problem than a benefit.  It led to a dark war.  Atrocity lay at the end of the guerrilla path.  And it didn’t work.  Ultimately it harmed the population it was supposed to protect.  Its costs far outweighed its benefits, though the anti-confederate guerrilla war helped shorten the war by weakening the confederacy.

Our last activity of the evening was watching a special viewing of Episode Five of the documentary airing on PBS, Civil War:  The Untold Story.  The show’s producer, Chris Wheeler was present to introduce the segment and to take questions at the end.  The documentary is really terrific, and I’m looking forward to getting the DVDs for it.

This was yet another fantastic day at CWI.


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