A Close for 2010 – A Start for 2011

Looking back, 2010 was a busy year on my end of things:

  • Escaped a blizzard during a day trip to Gettysburg.  Then visited Manassas for sledding.
  • Attended the Appomattox Court House sponsored Longwood University Civil War Seminar in February, meeting many e-acquaintances and collecting many writing topics (some still in the cultivation stage).
  • Joined the Brandy Station Foundation board.  (Unfortunately commitments at work will pull me away from that position in 2011.)
  • My Aide-de-Camp’s first camp trip, coupled with a tour through the Appomattox area.
  • Our May trip through the Carolinas and Georgia, visiting Forts Macon, Sumter, Moultrie, Pulaski, and McAllister along with dozens of other places of interest (reports here and here).
  • I gave a tour of Edwards Ferry for Gettysburg Daily, which they published in series (I’m on film!  Where’s my IMDB page?)
  • A memorable visit to the USS Olympia, hoping she won’t close for good.
  • Several other summer-time trips to include Fort McHenry, forays into West Virginia, and the Fredericksburg battlefields.
  • Aide-de-Camp and I out on the road again before the summer closed for a tour through several Tennessee and Trans-Mississippi battlefields.
  • And closed out the “campaign season” with a couple of weekend camping trips in the Shenandoah.

I’ve managed to retain your attention, or bore you to tears, with many posts about Civil War artillery ranging in sizes from boat howitzers to the largest Parrott rifles.  And along the way highlighted the excellent work done by the park staff at battlefields such as Manassas, Pea Ridge, Wilson’s Creek, and Fort Sumter.  Lots of traveling, pictures, writing, and markers.  All translating to lots of memories.

Looking into next year, I plan to parallel the sesquicentennial somewhat.  Look for posts focused on Fort Sumter and other early war events. And as always, stuff on artillery.

Lastly, let me thank you the readers for what has been a very successful year, in terms of visitation, here on this blog.  Your participation, particularly those who interact via email, comments, or other means, is appreciated greatly on this end of the keyboard.   I wish you all a very prosperous New Year!

And YOU, you know who you are …. lurker…. my offer still stands to help you start your own blog.    So make it a resolution!


Next We’ll Exhume Elvis….

To what lengths must we go to disprove lore and myth?

Booth descendants agree to DNA tests.

“If the preponderance of evidence is that this is a myth, then should we be investing scarce historic resources?”


HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of December 27

Just sixteen additions this week, and the majority from the Chickamauga battlefield.  The remainder represent other Civil War sites in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Tennessee, and Virginia.

– In May 1863, John H. Wisdom traveled 67 miles from Gadsden, Alabama to Rome, Georgia with a warning about Colonel Abel Streight’s Federal raiders.  A marker in Gadsden considers this act “unsurpassed in history.”

Ten additions to our collection from the Chickamauga battlefield, most around the Snodgrass Hill area.

– A Chickamauga Campaign Heritage Trail marker at Rossville, Georgia notes the location of the McFarland House, discussing the activity that occurred around the house during the battle.

– Near Williamsport, Maryland, a Civil War Trails marker discusses the Confederate advance into Maryland in June 1863.

– One more addition to Shiloh Battlefield this week – the cannon ball pyramid for McClernand’s headquarters.

– Two entries from the Second Manassas battlefield.  Markers for the 15th Alabama and the 6th Wisconsin discuss fighting on August 28, 1862 near Groveton.

Lesson learned this week for all “marker hunters” out there – there are plenty of markers out there even in the most “picked over” places.   Robert Moore located a previously overlooked marker outside Williamsport, near the National Road in a county with over 500 documented markers.  And I located a couple of markers in a less frequented section of the otherwise well covered Manassas battlefield.  In the marker hunting hobby, one is often rewarded with second or third looks.

Anderson at Charleston: Retreat the Best Option?

The Washington Post’s A House Divided asks its panelists today, “Was Major Anderson’s decision to abandon Fort Moultrie and move his troops to Fort Sumter his best option?”

I wrote briefly on Christmas Day about the situation that Anderson faced.  I do agree with Scott Hartwig’s assessment of the tactical situation.  Any defense of Moultrie against a belligerent foe was doomed to fail.   But was withdrawal the best option?  From the tactical perspective, yes.

But what about from a higher perspective?   Operational.  Strategic.  Political.

Consider the-rock-and-a-hard place which President James Buchanan  kept warm for incoming President Abraham Lincoln.   At that moment in late December, South Carolina stood alone.  Other states had out motions and calls for conventions.   But none committed to South Carolina’s course.   Far from a done-deal, there was still some vacillation among leaders in the other deep south states.  For a few moments in historical terms, maybe a couple of weeks on the calendar, the matter balanced on a fine point.

If Buchanan responded to the Ordnance of Secession with a strong counter proclamation, such might drive more states to secede (as did Lincoln’s call for troops in April 1861).   However, surrendering the Charleston forts might be seen as recognition of the sovereignty of the seceding state, and perhaps encourage others.    Any message, movement, or action by the President had to hit exactly the right tone.   A fine point requires a precise touch, after all.

Out there on Sullivan’s Island, Anderson received very little direct guidance.   Defense of the fort was impractical.  But would the sacrifice of the fort’s garrison have changed events?

Moultrie was a garrisoned post, unlike the Charleston Arsenal and Castle Pinckney with mostly caretakers and overseers.  To secure it, the South Carolina militia had to directly confront uniformed regulars of the US Army.  Such confrontation, even if bloodless, would be a direct act of aggression by South Carolina.  Such action might chill secessionist sentiment in other states.

Unlike Fort Sumter in the bay, Fort Moultrie stood on South Carolina soil proper.   Ownership of Fort Sumter on its artificial island could make an interesting court case, but Fort Moultrie sat within the undisputed state boundaries of South Carolina.  And consider the symbolic value of that ground – South Carolinians need only look to the palmetto tree on the state flag.   Fort Moultrie in Federal government hands was a sign South Carolina’s secession was not completely successful.  (A Pusan harbor on the end of a Korean Peninsula; a Gibraltar on the southern tip of Spain; or more aptly, a Fort Monroe at the mouth of the James.)

The threat, in December 1860, was not P.G.T. Beauregard and his massed batteries (those would not arrive until months later), but rather the South Carolina militia.  A military force with a lot of spirit, but a paucity of heavy weapons.  Until the Arsenal and Castle Pinckney were taken (and even then, without leaders experienced with siege operations).  Yes, the South Carolina militia may have just “walked into” Fort Moultrie.  But they also may have sat idle as state leaders contemplated escalating the situation.

Could Anderson draw a line in the sand?  He was an old army officer.  His orders afforded some room to maneuver, and preserve his command.  He would not draw line, unless orders were explicit.  And even then, I don’t think he would sacrifice the command.  On the other hand, a brash and bold Nathaniel Lyon might have drawn the line, and not batted an eye, even without orders.

Would Buchanan have issued such directives?  Certainly not.  The situation demanded a statesman like Otto von Bismark to exercise some “Realpolitik” or a diplomat like Henry Kissinger to work a “peace with honor” solution behind the scenes.  Buchanan had access to none of that caliber.

But would Lincoln?  He did “draw a line,” if you will, at Fort Pickens.  But that was after the “secession bug” was in the air, and with the crisis fully developed. Lincoln scholars would better answer the question with regard to Moultrie.

I find myself playing with counter-factual scenarios here.  Scenarios which generally I consider one step removed from fiction, and more farcical than useful.  So I would offer instead that a lack of political or strategic direction left Anderson with one realistic option – a withdrawal to Fort Sumter.

Wasn’t the first time, nor the last time, that political indecision limited the options available at the tactical level.

Christmas Day – 1860

On Christmas Day 1860, Major Robert Anderson, commanding Fort Moutrie probably glanced a few times across the channel entering Charleston Harbor toward Fort Sumter.

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View of Fort Sumter from Fort Moultrie

That early winter day, Anderson’s view of the channel would have been cold and forbidding (unlike my mild South Carolina spring view above).  But the channel offered perhaps more promise than the fiery political storm raging at that time.

Positioned at the south-west end of Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, Fort Moultrie was the only U.S. Army post in the state with a garrison worth mentioning.  And at that only around 75 men.  When South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860, Anderson and his command were, from the strategic perspective, isolated.  Tactically, what made Anderson’s position most tenuous was the condition of Fort Moultrie.

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Sea Face of Fort Moultrie and Location of Caponnieres

Sand dunes banked up against the walls of the fort on the sea-facing sides.  Early in December, Captain J. G. Foster, engineer assigned to the fort, cut out passages in the walls to build a set of bastions or caponnieres.  Armed with flanking howitzers, these strengthened the defenses but were not enough.

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Barbette Gun on the Fort Moultrie Parapet

Foster and others complained that civilian dwellings near the fort dominated the fort.  (Note the overlook balcony on the modern house to the left of the gun’s muzzle.) But without orders, even with a direct threat, the garrison could not destroy civilian property.   There wasn’t a war going on… yet.

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Barbette Gun with Stella Maris Church

The civilians living nearby were familiar to the garrison.  Many of the work crews working on the fort lived nearby.  Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church, used by many of the Irish immigrants working on the fort, stood just west of Fort Moultrie.  (The church in the photo is a post-war structure, built between the original wood structure and the fort.)  Anderson could not afford a confrontation which might involve the work crew, or families of the fort’s garrison.

Looking Across Fort Moultrie Today - Wikipedia Commons

Anderson faced a bleak situation, which could easily spin out of control.  What he needed was time.  Time for his leaders to negotiate away from confrontation.  So Anderson traded space….

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Fort Sumter Today

… for time.

And Anderson would buy some time by moving his garrison on the day after Christmas, 1860.

Reasons and Results

Back on Monday, on the anniversary of South Carolina’s secession proclamation, John Hoptak posted one of the best, and certainly among the most compelling I’ve read, discussion of the reasons that the state’s leaders took the first steps towards war.   If you have not done so, I encourage you to read it through.

Really, please read it through. I won’t steal John’s thunder, but this part stands out –  “The leaders of the South Carolina secession movement made it known the reasons for secession and it had everything to do with slavery.

In all my years studying war from ancient times up to modern, there are some constants I’ve seen that transcend any strategy, tactics, or technology.

First, as with the collective activities of any collective group, the leaders of any society must provide their people some reasons to start a war.  Leaders address those reasons to society, be that in the form of a speech, proclamation, or painting on a cave wall.  As such, so long as the historian can cite the relative document, the reasons for war are traceable to a high degree of specificity.  In this case, I agree with John’s (and most other scholar’s) conclusion – the reason for South Carolina’s and other states’ secession in 1860-61, which precipitated the Civil War, was the preservation of slavery.   The documents don’t lie.

Second, there is a thing called motivation.  Once a society’s leaders have offered the reasons for an action, individuals have personal motivations to follow those leaders.  Those motivations vary from person to person. Historians may capture some of these looking through sources, but much of an individual’s motivation remains within the mind of said individual.  I would submit, in all due respect for “soldier studies” and the like, that historians will sooner count all the stars in the sky before finding the true, deep motivation of a solider going to war.

Lastly, wars end when one side or the other is able to impose all, or at least the most important, war aims on the other side.  These are results of war, or you may say the outcome of war.  Of all aspects war, perhaps these are the most quantifiable.  We can review treaty provisions, surrender terms, or similar arrangements with a degree of precision.  We can cite square miles, overtaken resources, population displacement, or other state changes in numbers. In short we can enumerate what one side gain and the other side lost.

For South Carolina, the proclamation of December 20, 1860 put the state on a path that lead to war – no matter how we want to categorize Lincoln’s actions or who we might blame for the first shots.  Entering the war, according to the 1860 census, the state had a population of 703,708, including 291,300 whites, 9914 free blacks, 402,406 slaves, and 88 native Americans.  Yes, fifty-seven percent of the state’s population was in bondage.

Ten years later the state population recorded in the 1870 census was 705,606.  By race, South Carolinians numbered 289,667 whites, 415,814 blacks, 124 native Americans, and 1 “Chinese”.   AND NO SLAVES.

The 1870s census provided some other indicators which are derivative examples of the war’s results.  Overall property value in the state dropped from an assessed value of about $489 million to about $183 million in 1870.  Wasn’t the land value.  As aggregate real estate value in South Carolina dropped only about $10 million (in spite of the fact that average value of farm acreage dropped by 50% in those same ten years).  No, the decline was mostly within personal property – from $359 million to $64 million.

While some would like to discuss the liberal use of matches by blue coated soldiers, I would point out that by 1870 the state had five years to recover from a few months of activity by Sherman’s bummers. Is there not a more logical reason for the decline in personal property?  Consider $259 million (difference in value between 1860 and 1870).   Divide that by the 402,406 slaves.  That works out to about $733 per slave.

Consult your sources or browse around the internet for the value of a slave in the antebellum South.  The Economic History Association offers some on their web site.

Price of Male Slave by Age in 1850

Is $733 a reasonable figure for the average value of a slave in South Carolina circa 1860?  Would, by extension, $259 million be a good figure for the total value of just over 400,000 slaves in South Carolina in 1860?  (And I am not suggesting that the slaves accounted for all the difference in personal property values but rather a significant portion.)

There’s a lot of ways to run the numbers.  And I’m sure someone intimately familiar with the census numbers could point out a step or two I’ve skipped, or even dismiss the figures outright.

Yet, I offer there is an undeniable cause and effect.  In December 1860, leaders in South Carolina gave the defense of slavery as the reason to secede from the Union.   That secession lead to a war.  The major, measurable result of the war was the freedom of the slaves in South Carolina.

Thanks, John, for the inspiration for this post.

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of December 20

Fifty-one additions to the Civil War category of the Historical Marker Database this week.  New entries come from Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.   Continuing the trend from recent weeks, the majority of entries come from the Tennessee battlefields.

– A memorial and a marker in Gadsen, Alabama tell the story of Emma Sansom, a girl who aided General N.B. Forrest during his pursuit of Colonel A.B. Streight’s raiders in May 1862.

– A marker in Smyrna, Delaware note the grave of Sergeant John Maberry, of the 1st Delaware Infantry.  Maberry captured the 7th North Carolina’s flag on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

– Four entries from the Chickamauga Battlefield this week:  40th Ohio Infantry monument, 89th Ohio Infantry monument, Reserve Corps Headquarters pyramid, and a marker for the route of Thomas’ Corps on their approach to the battle.

– A marker in Grovetown, Georgia discusses Paul Hamilton Hayne, noted poet, editor, and lecturer, who also served briefly in the Confederate army.   Hayne edited many influential magazines in the post-war effort, promoting Southern literature in that time period.

– Three entries from the Chattanooga Battlefield this week:  the Illinois Memorial, 111th Pennsylvania marker, and Ireland’s Brigade monument.

Thirty-eight entries from the Shiloh battlefield this week.  Most additions are along the Hamburg-Purdy and the Savannah roads.  In the near future I will publish a “cheat sheet” of our Shiloh entries, to aid “marker hunters” documenting the battlefield, and provide a reference to you “virtual battlefield stompers.”

– A Park Service marker notes the location of Sudley Springs Ford on the 1st Manassas battlefield.

– In Darien, Wisconsin a memorial honors the Civil War soldiers from the community.

I close with a Merry Christmas to you readers and to fellow marker hunters out there.