A Brief History of the 2nd Missouri Artillery

The story of the 2nd Missouri Artillery is very much atypical, when considered beside other artillery formations raised during the Civil War.  Yet, that atypical unit history is somewhat a typical for Missouri regiments.  I’ve discussed some aspects of the 2nd Missouri’s history in previous posts (see here, here, here, here, and here).  But let’s go into a few more of those particulars, just so you see how “atypical” this unit was.

The 2nd Missouri Artillery’s origins lay in those confrontational days in May 1861.  Missouri was teetering on the verge of secession and a young Army captain named Nathaniel Lyon moved to prevent such.  In order to put a force on the streets of St. Louis, Lyon acted, not with direct authority at that moment in time, to muster a force of Missouri militia into Federal service for a period of three months.  Lyon later received full backing, and a brigadier-general’s star, in these efforts.  The militia mustered by Lyon were designated the “United States Reserve Corps” and, under terms of enlistment, were limited to duty in St. Louis… though later stretched a bit to include locations in eastern Missouri.  This Reserve Corp consisted of five infantry regiments and one cavalry company.

By late July, when these units were nearing muster out, Lyon’s adjutant, Major John M. Schofield, issued Special Orders No. 19, in which allowed the three month Reserve Corps to muster out, but be replaced by units raised with three-year enlistments.  That is, provided no other “emergencies” arose that required those militia to remain in service.

But before those orders could be applied, Lyon had met his end at Wilson’s Creek and there was just such an “emergency” to deal with.  Lyon’s replacement, Major-General John C. Fremont, expanded the Reserve Corps, retaining the five regiments of infantry and adding two squadrons of cavalry and two batteries of light artillery, under orders issued on August 12, 1861.  This expansion used the authorities granted under Special Orders No. 19 to enlist men for three years.  Under Fremont’s organization, or lack thereof, several formations were raised under designations of “Home Guards” or “Reserve Corps.” By late October, Fremont expanded these reserves again to include the First Reserve Corps Artillery – twelve companies of heavy artillery and three batteries of light artillery.   And it is those fifteen “Reserve Corps” artillery companies/batteries which eventually became the 2nd Missouri Artillery.

When Fremont was relieved of command on November 2, he left behind a bureaucratic mess.  Major-General George B. McClellan charged Major-General Henry Halleck with cleaning that up.  Instructions sent on November 11 read in part:

In assigning you to command the Department of the Missouri, it is probably unnecessary for me to state that I have intrusted to you a duty which requires the utmost tact and decision.  You have not merely the ordinary duties of a military commander to perform, but the far more difficult task of reducing chaos to order.

And who better to assign to that task than Halleck? McClellan went on to instruct Halleck to examine all unit musters to identify “any illegal, unusual, or improper organizations….” And in those cases, Halleck offered legal, three-year enlistments as a means of retaining the formations.  Simple solution, right?

But Halleck had a problem for which there was no simple solution.  The men of this “Reserve Corps” and the Home Guards had enlisted with several stipulations and guarantees.  One of which was service only in the state (or in some cases within St. Louis).  Furthermore, the authority of the U.S. officers was somewhat limited over these state formations.  By mid-December, Halleck decided the best way to resolve this was simply pay off the troops for the time in service, and go about recruiting new three-year regiments.

However, hindering Halleck’s attempt to clear out this “chaos” was the paymaster’s refusal to pay troops who had not been properly mustered, and for whom rolls were incomplete. And at the same time, subordinate commanders were reluctant to simply release these able body men, as they might not reenlist.

Finally, on January 17, 1862, Halleck found a compromise and issued General Orders No. 22, which read in part:

Organizations which have been mustered into the United States service under the title of “Reserve Corps,” or other designations, are regularly in the military service of the United States, and are to be paid and supplied the same as any other troops.  It is not the intention to require the service of such troops out of this State, except in cases of emergency, but they must do the same duty as other troops, and any refusal on their part to obey orders will be punished to the full extent of the law…

Concurrent with that order, the infantry regiments (which were actually designated by numbered “Reserve Corps” on the books) were consolidated into volunteer regiments.  This led to mutinies and desertions throughout the first half of 1862.  Commanders rated the units as “useless” for the duties required.  The story of the infantry and cavalry “Reserve Corps” falls out of our scope here.  So the short version is that on September 1, 1862, Schofield (now a Brigadier-General and in charge of the District of Missouri) issued Special Orders No. 98 directing the muster out of all Reserve Corps regiments.

But the artillery of the Reserve Corps was a different story.  Under Halleck’s early attempts to bring order, the Reserve Corps artillery was redesignated the 2nd Missouri Artillery Regiment (orders dated November 20, 1861).  Colonel Henry Almstedt was appointed commander. Furthermore a mustering officer had processed the artillery troops into formal, legal, three-year terms.  Indeed, around that time some 320 men who didn’t wish to remain as three-year volunteers opted to muster out.  By January 1862, most of the regiment’s batteries were considered organized and were actually drawing in more recruits (all new three-year enlistments).

In the fall of 1862, hearing the infantry and cavalry were being mustered out, the artillerists also asked for their pay-out.  But instead of mustering out, those batteries, now the 2nd Missouri Artillery and considered a volunteer regiment, were to be retained.  In General Orders No. 21, issued on November 29 by Major-General Samuel Curtis (replacing Halleck in command of the Department of the Missouri), the Second was defined under a different enlistment status:

The Second Missouri Artillery was first enrolled as Home Guards, but with their own consent they were afterwards regularly mustered in as three-year volunteers… and the matter was fully explained in German and English.

But now, seeing how the other Reserves had been treated, all the artillerists were clamoring for their release.  General Schofield, commanding the subordinate District of Missouri, added to this:

The Second Missouri Artillery was reorganized and became volunteers soon after Major-General Halleck assumed command of the department.  Therefore it is not to be considered as belonging to the Reserve Corps.  But even were this not the case, that regiment would be retained in service, since their services are needed in the position for which they were originally enlisted, and there are no other troops which can be used to replace them.  Therefore the Second Missouri Artillery will not be mustered out of service.

The logic of this and other statements was lost on the rank and file.  The problem festered through the winter.  On March 30, 1863, Brigadier-General J. W. Davidson, commanding the St. Louis District, complained about the 2nd Missouri:

A detachment of this regiment at Pilot Knob serving with a battery is in mutiny.  Another serving with a battery at Benton Barracks was recently in mutiny.  Another serving as heavy artillery at Cape Girardeau was recently in mutiny.  A detachment serving with the Twenty-second Iowa Volunteers by department orders left that regiment and is, I am informed, in this city, thus deserting their station.  This calls for a decision upon the difference between the officers and men as to what the regiment is, whether as volunteers or Reserve Corps.

In reaction to the mutinies and other troubles, Curtis convened a board of inquiry in April.  That board concluded the regiment’s original muster, in the summer of 1861, had been illegal.  Furthermore, the change of status to three-year enlistments was invalid.  The board recommended that the regiment be reorganized, should the command deem it necessary to retain the 2nd Missouri in service.  And Curtis agreed with that suggestion.

Curtis then punted this up to his boss in Washington… who just happened to be Halleck at that time of the war.  On May 15, Halleck responded, “This regiment was remustered as volunteers for three years or the war, while I commanded the department, and under the supervision of a staff officer…. There could have been no possible misunderstanding on this subject, and General Curtis was wrong in again reviewing the question.” Halleck concluded by offering a few “hard” solutions:

Those men who were unfit for service should have been discharged and the regiment filled up or its organization reduced.  The men had no claim whatever for a discharge on the ground of improper enlistment.

And now the regiment should be filled up, if possible, and if not, its organization should be reduced.

While all this correspondence was passing between St. Louis and Washington, the war situation put another spin on the 2nd Missouri’s problems.  The spring of 1863 was full of activity on all fronts and Missouri was no exception.  In April, Brigadier-General John S. Marmaduke raided through southeast Missouri (I’ve written on Chalk Bluff, which occurred at the end of that raid).  Marmaduke threatened several points and put up a scare that St. Louis would be attacked.  And while preparing the city’s defenses, Curtis went so far as to promise the 2nd Missouri Artillery that “… if they would do their duty as soldiers till the trouble was over they should be mustered out.”

Promises made, but the bureaucracy still had to be appeased. Through the early summer the men remained in the regiment and were none too happy about it. Not until July 27 did Schofield formally request a disposition on the matter, adding the sharp assessment that the 2nd Missouri “.. is a disgrace to the service, as well as utterly useless.”  With that, official authorization came on August 3 to muster out the men from the original “Reserve Corps” enlistments.  But that was not to apply to men who’d volunteered directly into the 2nd Missouri starting in 1862.  To cover the process involved, Schofield issued Special Orders No. 219 on August 13.  After covering administrative details, the last paragraphs, dictating the unit’s disposition, read:

The Second Missouri Artillery Volunteers will be reorganized and recruited to its maximum as rapidly as practicable.

For this purpose a military board will be appointed to examine the capacity, qualifications, propriety of conduct, and efficiency of all the commissioned officers of the regiment, and to consolidate the men remaining in the regiment after the muster out hereby ordered into the proper number of full companies.  Upon the report of this board the commanding general will order the muster out of such officers as shall not be found fitted for their positions.

This order cleared the way to finally, and permanently, resolving the issues caused by Fremont’s hasty organization, Halleck’s blunt approach to reconciliation to regulations, and Curtis’s somewhat tone-def management…. if I may be so bold.

In short order, the regiment was reduced to a battalion.  Captain Nelson Cole, who was then on staff as the Artillery Chief for the district, transferred out of Battery E, 1st Missouri to accept a Lieutenant-Colonel’s position in the Second Missouri.  Cole’s date of rank was October 2, 1863.  And that date might be considered the start of the reorganization of the regiment.

Enough men remained to form five companies of heavy artillery.  The First Flying Battery, originally Pfenninghausen’s and later Landgraeber’s Battery, an independent formation, transferred in to become Battery F.  The 1st Missouri State Militia Battery (also known as Thurber’s or Waschman’s Battery) became Battery L.  And new enlistments began to fill in the rest of the ranks. Not until February was the regiment completely reorganized to full strength.  At which time, Cole was promoted to Colonel.

From that point forward to the end of the war, the 2nd Missouri Artillery had a less contentious and administratively conventional history.  In 1864, most of the heavy artillery companies were reequipped as field artillery.  These batteries would see field service in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia.  One battery served in the Atlanta Campaign.  Most of the others saw service repelling Price from Missouri in the fall months of 1864.  The field grade officers, including Cole, served in several key staff positions, providing a cadre of artillery chiefs. As many of those three-year enlistments remained at the close of the war, the regiment was only slowly mustered out.  Some batteries saw service on the Powder River Expedition of 1865, under a column commanded by Cole.

We might say that despite its unconventional origin and mutinous reputation, the 2nd Missouri matured into a very proper organization by the end of the war.

Sources: Aside from the Official Records and other common sources, material for this post comes from “Missouri troops in service during the civil war : Letter from the Secretary of war, in response to the Senate resolution passed on June 14, 1902”, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902. 

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Missouri’s Marines and their abbreviated service

Early this week I used an entry from the ordnance summaries, second quarter of 1863 to introduce the Mississippi Marine Brigade.  That unit is often associated with Missouri, if for nothing else a lack of proper place to put the records.  Though there was a recruiting focus in the river towns of Missouri, in the War Department’s view there was no connection to the state.

Before leaving the subject of marines and Missouri, I’d be remiss without mentioning there were indeed Missouri Marines raised during the Civil War.  But that organization was short lived and we don’t see them listed in official reports, returns, or organizational tables.  In 1902, the office of the Secretary of War provided a report of organizations, in response to a Senate inquiry, titled “Missouri Troops in service during the Civil War.”  After a short paragraph on the Mississippi Marine Brigade (and establishing, officially at least, that unit was not “Missouri” in parentage), the report turned to a “Marine Corps” raised in Missouri:

Among the many peculiar and illegal organizations formed by Major-General Frémont, or by his authority, during his administration of the affairs of the Western Department, was an organization designated by him as a “Marine corps.” This corps, consisting of three companies, was organized for “river transportation service,” and would have no place in a history of Missouri military organizations but for the fact that an effort has been made to give the members of the corps a military status, and that, evidently through misapprehension as to their status in the service, they were credited to the quota of the State of Missouri.

The verbiage goes a long way to distance these three companies from formal recognition – illegal, with no place, but for a mistake.  The report went on to cite Frémont’s orders:

St. Louis, August 13, 1861.

Capt. Thomas Maxwell.

Sir. You are hereby authorized to recruit a Marine Corps to serve during the war, to consist of 1 captain, 2 pilots -first and second; 4 engineers – first, second, third, and fourth, 2 mates – first and second; 1 clerk, 1 steward, 30 sailors, 8 firemen, 1 watchman, 1 cook and mate, 1 cabin boy.

When you shall have completed the organization of said corps, you will apply to these headquarters, where the necessary order will be issued.

J. C. Frémont, Major-General, Commanding.

Key point here – these were not marines in the sense that we think of.  Instead of being “leathernecks” that would provide security, landing parties, and such, this is a formation tailored to operate boats.

One day after the order, Maxwell reported the force was “enrolled.”  Five days later, Frémont sent orders to have a steam transport turned over to Captain Maxwell.  On August 20, the company was sworn in as “First Company in the First marine Corps … of Missouri Volunteers” with a three year term of service.

Following this establishment, Frémont proceeded to order two more companies.  On August 28, Captain James Abrams was authorized to form a company.   Then on September 12, Captain John Reily was likewise to form a third company, this one to include a carpenter.  The report mentioned a fourth company, under Captain John Young, but indicated no authorization documents were found.  The designation changed to “Marine Corps for River Transportation Service.”

The first three companies were assigned to transports. Reily’s operated the steamer John D. Perry, a sidewheel steamer of 382 tons (empty).   Before the war, the Perry operated on the Mississippi on a circut between Cape Girardeau, Cairo, St. Genevieve, St. Louis, and other river towns.  Under contract for the US Government, the Perry operated mostly on the Missouri River.

On October 20, 1861, the Perry was on a trip up the Missouri to Jefferson City to deliver horses and wagons.  At Portland, Missouri, about thirty miles downstream from that point, the Perry‘s pilot, John F. Smith, attempted to dock around dusk to gather wood for fuel.  Some locals immediately informed the vessel “there was a force of 150 rebels back of the town,” with intentions to capture the vessel.  The pilot quickly pulled away, tied up to an island in the river, and gathered wood.  The Perry made Jefferson City at 11 the next morning, according to a report in the Daily Missouri Democrat (reporting on October 25).  Other than that incident, there are scant reports of operations by these Missouri Marines or their boats.

The operations with contract steamers and their Missouri Marine complements ceased shortly after Major-General Henry Halleck replaced Frémont.  Determining the contracts were not proper and likewise the enlistments did not conform to regulations, Halleck moved to break up the arrangements. On December 14, Halleck directed the Missouri Marines be disbanded.  Regarding their service, Halleck wrote to Washignton:

I am discharging most of the steamers formerly in the Government employment, and mustering out of service what is called “Marine Corps,” which are nothing more than hired men on these boats. This will be a great saving of expense.

Halleck insisted the Missouri Marines were not a military organization and were thus not properly, legally mustered.  Old Brains at it again.

Captain P.T. Turnley, quartermaster, had the duty of paying off and discharging the Missouri Marines.  By working through the Quartermaster’s Department, Halleck essentially covered the matter as one of contractual obligations and not of enlistments. He reported that was complete by December 31.  Finally, under Special Orders No. 29, from the Department of Missouri, Halleck officially announced disbanding “the three Marine Corps under command of Maxwell, Abrams, and Reily….”

In 1902, the War Department put closure to the Missouri Marines:

It has always been held by the War Department, since the attention of the Department was called to the military status of the “Marine Corps,” that its muster into service was not a lawful muster into the military service of the United States, such an organization being unknown to the military establishment and not authorized by law.  The members of this force were not officers or enlisted men in the United States military service, for which reason, evidently, they were paid by the Quartermaster’s Department and not from the appropriations for pay of the Army.  They are regarded by the War Department as having been civilian employees in the Quartermaster’s Department and not having been formed a part of the military establishment of the United States.

Not stated or considered, even forty years after the war, was that the military did indeed need such services on western waters.  And such duty was eventually performed by a mix of Army and Navy personnel, along with contract labor.

(Citations from War Department, Missouri Troops in Service in During the Civil War, 57th Congress, 1st Session, Document No. 412, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902, pages 195-7; OR, Series I, Volume 8, Serial 8, page 449; Daily Missouri Democrat, October 25, 1861, Page 2, Column 2; Documents filed in the Combined Service Record of Thomas Maxwell, Missouri, Miscellaneous papers pertaining to organizations, Record Group 94, Roll 0850.)

 

 

 

April 1862… a pivotal month of the war

Today marks the 155th anniversary of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, generally called the “start” of the American Civil War.  I don’t know what to call the 155th other than just “155th.”  Likewise, I have no smart name for the 151st anniversaries of the surrender at Appomattox (last Saturday) or Lincoln’s assassination (coming Thursday).  Having just experienced the sesquicentennial years, I trust we are all aware that April 1861 and April 1865 serve as convenient bookends of the Civil War.  And thus we see a number of good, scholarly works aimed to explain the events from those months. That is, in my opinion, a focus well spent.  Yet, there is a lot of “in between” laying between those two Aprils which is also due focus.

One “in between” that has always struck my fancy is April 1862.  Just a lot of moving parts in that spring month.  Consider –

  • April 4- Major-General George McClellan lead the Army of the Potomac up the Peninsula toward Confederate defenses at Yorktown.
  • April 6 – General Albert Sidney Johnston’s army struck Major-General U.S. Grant’s force camped around Pittsburg Landing.
  • April 7- Major-General John Pope landed a force at Watson’s Landing, on the Tennessee shore below New Madrid, Missouri, and behind Island No. 10.
  • April 10 – Federal batteries directed by (then) Captain Quincy Gillmore opened fire on Fort Pulaski.
  • April 12 – James Andrews hijacked the locomotive General at Big Shanty, Georgia.
  • April 17 – Major-General Nathaniel Banks occupied New Market, Virginia, with Major-General Thomas Jackson’s command falling back to the vicinity of Harrisonburg.
  • April 18 – Federal fleet under Commodore David Farragut began bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Philip downstream from New Orleans. Days later the fleet would run past those forts.
  • April 26 – After a month long siege, Confederates surrendered Fort Macon on the North Carolina coast.

Those being, mostly, start or end points of longer campaigns or operations.  The conclusions seen were:

  • A prolonged siege at Yorktown.
  • Over 23,000 casualties and a major Confederate reverse at Shiloh.
  • Some 7,000 Confederates captured at Island No. 10 and the Mississippi laid open south nearly (Fort Pillow) to Memphis.
  • New Orleans lost to the Confederacy – both as a port and manufacturing center.
  • Savannah mostly closed as a port.
  • The coast of North Carolina, save Wilmington, under Federal control.  As were large portions of the Shenandoah Valley, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

I added the Great Locomotive Chase entry as it had some impact on the Confederate logistic system at the time.

Furthermore, in a era without the benefit (or handicap) of the 24-hour news cycle, the timing of that raid reminds us how these events were connected in time. Imagine the newspaper headlines each morning, as the events unfolded.  In learning about the war, we approached the initial study by chapters… nicely defined chapters covering specific campaigns.

But unfortunately a format that failed to give us that appreciation for how those events were experienced – real time.  Those of us who waded into the sesquicentennial gained much from “real time, 150 years after the fact” following.  And I do hope that added to the perspective of many.  However I think in general that historians have not done enough to demonstrate the connection between these events and how such factored into the course of the war.  Nor have us students done enough to bring out those connections in our studies.  Thus several logical, time-line groupings of events have not received due attention.  There were several pivotal weeks and months in which the course of the war turned.

April 1862 was one of them.  The war entered its first mature campaign season… from the plains of Kansas to the Atlantic Ocean (and beyond).  And given the victories cited above, April 1862 might have been a turning point sending the Confederacy to an early end.  As a “western theater guy” I am fond of saying the Confederates lost the war at Shiloh on the night of April 6, 1862 and the Federals won the war atop Missionary Ridge on November 24, 1863.  Easterners will disagree, but the fact is defeat at Shiloh broke the back of the Confederate army in the west.  Shiloh set-up Vicksburg.  Vicksburg set-up Chattanooga and that Missionary Ridge thing.  Missionary Ridge set-up Atlanta.  And from Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Columbia, and Fayetteville … and set-up Appomattox. The long way around, to be sure.  But that’s how my “western-centered” perspective views it… feel free to disagree.

Yet from the opposite side of the coin, April 1862 was also an important set-up for the Confederacy. Consider the closures… or results… from some of those Federal actions:

  • The Army of the Potomac invested Yorktown, not taking that place until the first days of May.
  • Major-General Henry Halleck took direct control of the advance toward Corinth, Mississippi, concentrating forces across the western theater for a slow pursuit.  The Crossroads of the Confederacy would not be in Federal hands until the end of May.
  • Major-General Samuel Curtiss, due to logistic constraints and in spite of a victory at Pea Ridge in March, fell back into Missouri.

This turn of events, again happening concurrently, gave openings and created angles which the Confederates could exploit. One of those, of course, being Jackson’s Valley Campaign.  That campaign, and actions on other fronts, setup six months in which the Confederacy would reach its zenith… and take the war onto northern soil.

Maybe April 1862 was not the turning point it could have been.  And maybe it was not the most important thirty days of the Civil War.  But I submit it was a pivotal month in the course of the war.

“Foster… was frustrated in his grand stab at Charleston.” – Separating supposition from reliable fact

Over the holiday break, I took to reading H. David Stone’s Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina.  I’d picked up the book shortly after publication.  But until last month had confined my use of the work to select passages as I “blogged” through the 150ths of the war.  It is a good study of the vital railroad link, which I’ve mentioned on no small number of occasions.  I’d recommend Stone’s book for anyone serious about study of the South Carolina-Georgia Coast theater.

While I think Stone’s study of the railroad is outstanding, as with any historical study there is always some passage or paragraph that a discerning reader will take exception.  Criticism, that is, taken to examination of the logical presentation, consideration of source material cited in support, and thence analysis of the conclusion.  I call it good critical thought… you know, critical as in the sense of “an analysis of the merits and faults” and not the street connotation of being dismissive.

The passage that raised my attention came within a chapter discussing the operations in front of Charleston in the summer of 1864.  As I’ve blogged those activities to length in earlier posts, I’ll cut to the chase here. Major-General John Foster arrived to assume command in the Department of the South in June 1864.  After assessing the situation and considering his orders from Washington, Foster promptly organized an offensive.  Before detailing Foster’s plan, Stone writes:

Well aware of the city’s vulnerability, Foster decided on a decisive assault on Charleston.  He expected at the very least to destroy the railroad connection between the Broad River and Charleston, and he hoped to find a weak point in the line of defense through which he could penetrate and gain the city itself.

That is a loose, but fair, interpretation of Foster’s intent.  A paragraph before, Stone alluded to Foster’s orders from Washington.  Those being “… to tie up any Confederate reserves that might potentially be sent to aid Lee or Johnston.”  And Foster was to remain defensive in stance, with offensive operations limited to raids.   At the end of the chapter, Stone summarizes the operation:

Foster had begun his tenure with high aspirations but was frustrated in his grand stab at Charleston. Coastal topography, oppressive midsummer heat, and inefficient subordinates had doomed the operation; however, the ability of the Confederate troops to concentrate troops from remote areas by rail could not be discounted. Toward the end of the campaign Foster unleashed what became a protracted bombardment of Fort Sumter, but it did not change the fact that his superior force failed to meet its goal….

This is where I turn on the critical eye.  Foster’s goal… what was it?

To answer that, we have to keep in context where Foster fit into the military command structure.  He was a department commander in an Army in the “big army” sense.  So he was a subordinate to Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant.  And as Grant was removed from Washington at the time in question… you know… pressing Bobby Lee in Virginia, the official correspondence between Washington and Foster came from Major-General Henry Halleck. There is a letter written on June 29 by Halleck which summarizes what Grant wanted Foster to do (and in context here, Halleck is responding to Foster’s appeal for more troops and boats to make a push on Fort Sumter and other objectives):

What I understand General Grant wishes you to do is precisely what in one of your former dispatches you proposed doing, i.e., make raids on the enemy’s lines of communication, destroy as much of them as possible, and keep as many of his troops occupied at the south as you can.  He has given no special instructions, but leaves the matter entirely to your judgement and discretion. In a recent dispatch he remarked that in your present condition of the Southern coast, stripped as it was of rebel troops, your forces might effect an important diversion.

Clearly Halleck, and Grant for good measure, did not consider Charleston to be Foster’s main objective.  The date of this letter is important, but more so is the length of time taken for this message to get into Foster’s hands.  Halleck’s letter would have arrived at Hilton Head sometime after the first week of July.   And that was after Foster had launched his offensive.  So did Foster place Charleston as an objective above those given by his superiors?  Did Foster extend the “judgement and discretion” to assume an objective beyond what Grant directed?

Evidence points to “no.”  Throughout June, Foster wrote at length to Halleck in regard to operations.  Though he did pester for more resources (particularly light-draft ships), these must be considered in context – a commander asking for additions in order to accomplish just that little bit more than possible with the existing resources.  Without those, Foster appeared content to remain within Grant’s wishes.  On June 23, Foster provided an update on planned operations, discussing his intent… and how that fit within the context of Grant’s wishes:

I shall be ready to commence operations in about one week, with a force of 5,000 men, which is all that can be collected of the reliable men.  I propose, first, to destroy the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, and then to make a sudden attack, either upon some of the defenses of Charleston or of Savannah.  If I fail in one I will try the other….

No where in that message does Foster seem fixated on Charleston.  It was an objective, to be sure.  But it was an objective reserved for follow through, after the primary goals were met.  Furthermore, Foster gave it as much importance as he did Savannah. This was further underscored in a dispatch to Halleck written on June 30 (and thus crossing, in transit, the Halleck letter of June 29).  I quoted that dispatch extensively in an earlier post, but for emphasis would mention this passage:

My definite object is to destroy the railroad, and this, I think, we shall accomplish. But, in addition, we shall worry the enemy, and may possibly find a weak spot by which we may penetrate. If so, we shall not fail to profit by it. If none are found on the west side, I may, possibly, before retiring, attempt to take Fort Johnson by boats.

Again, Foster’s focus was not specifically Charleston, rather was in line with Grant’s instructions – demonstrate and annoy with the aim to fix Confederate forces.   Foster did leave open the hope the situation might deliver some great prize.  But he confined that hope, at least in writing.

We might liken Foster’s hope to that of a quarterback throwing a pass on third down and long yardage.  The objective might be to secure a first down.  But if a touchdown was the result, he’d take that gladly.   Everyone looking from Morris Island had eyes on the prize that was Charleston.  But that is not to say Foster or anyone else in June 1864 were engineering an offensive with a focused, deliberate objective of Charleston.  What we have is Foster’s words to Halleck that confine his goals to those suggested by Grant’s guidance.  To presume more, one would need get into Foster’s head and to his personal thoughts.  Nobody has cited any of Foster’s personal papers or letters home in evidence on this particular subject, for what it is worth.

So where does this notion about Foster’s goal (of capturing Charleston in July 1864) come from?  Stone does not offer footnotes linking sources for the passages quoted above.  To be fair, the first passage is fully supported by the content mentioned earlier in the paragraph, which is sourced.  The second passage, which is his conclusion, need not be directly sourced.  Being a conclusion, it is more so the duty of the writer to lead the reader to agree with a supposition.

In his book, The Siege of Charleston 1861-1865, E. Milby Burton opens the discussion of Foster’s offensive with a quote from the 11th Maine regimental history.  “To capture Richmond would be grand, but to capture Charleston would be glorious….”   A vivid quote, but unfortunately taken out of context, as it comes from a section detailing the regiment’s initial assignment to the Department of the South in January 1863.  From that misdirected opening, Burton proceeded to explain Foster’s offensive as one aimed at Charleston, with a secondary directive, “if possible, destroy the Charleston and Savannah Railroad….”  That said, Burton concluded the Confederate defenders had rallied in the face of superior forces to save Charleston in a near-run affair.

Burton drew from several sources to support this conclusion.  Some were Federal accounts – the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery regimental history, quotes from Admiral John Dahlgren, and northern newspapers for the most part.  None of which were able to definitively pin Foster to a goal.  Not even Dahlgren who, for all his close work with the General, did not fully measure the intent from Washington in his assessment.

Burton relied heavily upon the Confederate engineer John Johnson.  We might turn to The Defense of Charleston Harbor as the furthest point back in the history of the history … er… historiography… in which we hear Foster’s goal that July was Charleston:

With abundant transportation and the powerful support of the navy, Major-General Foster had at length resolved on a very serious attempt on Charleston itself.

Later, summarizing the operations, Johnson wrote:

The land and naval forces of the attack were strong enough, but they were not pushed with the vigor that characterized the fighting on Morris Island. Had they been, they might have achieved in one week what the toilsome and bloody campaign of Morris Island failed to accomplish after twelve months – viz. the capture of Charleston. …

Thus in the progress of the war Charleston had twice driven back the forces of the Federal navy under DuPont and Dahlgren in 1863, and twice the forces of the Federal army under Benham in 1862 and Foster in 1864.

Over the years, I’ve come to rely upon Johnson’s narrative to fill in many of the particulars missing in official accounts.  In particular he provided a wealth of first-hand details about operations.  However, I think in this case, while he made a very astute observation from his own experience, it was lacking in perspective. In short, Johnson did not know, could not know, and would not know (even later) that Foster’s orders limited him to demonstrations.  With that, we really cannot use Johnson as a source to pin Charleston as Foster’s goal.  And thus we find Burton’s, and to some degree Stone’s, suppositions somewhat shaky.

Again, please don’t take this critical essay as detracting from Stone’s good work.  I just think this is a salient point in the narrative of history where historians have generally not explored with the diligence that the subject requires.  We’ve long accepted what distant observers to the event (Johnson or newspapers or regimental histories) have to say.  We’ve not wrangled properly with the direct sources.  To say that Foster, for his July 1864 operations, intended to march into Charleston, one has to discredit what he wrote to Halleck.  I’ve yet to see that done.  (And before we toss this small point of history into the “It was a backwater of the war” dust-bin, remember that in the 1864 campaigns everything was related.  Foster’s operations were a part of a larger, complicated, and inter-dependent Federal operations that season.)

In the end, I’m left with an oft-repeated lesson from the study of history.  Never accept a premise or supposition without the strength of sources – no matter how small or obvious the point might be.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 146, 156, and 157; H. David Stone, Jr. Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2008, pages 191-2 and 199; The Story of One Regiment: The Eleventh Maine Infantry Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion, New York: J.J. Little & Co, 1896, page 109; E. Milby Burton, The Siege of Charleston 1861-1865, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1970, pages 284-5;  John Johnson, The Defense of Charleston Harbor: Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863-1865, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1890, pages 215 and 223 ).

 

May 8, 1865: “I… march with my troops, and prefer we should not meet” No love lost between Sherman and Halleck

As the Armies of the Military Division of the Mississippi (the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia) neared Richmond in May 1865, they were ordered into camps at Manchester, south of the James River.  The ultimate destination for these troops was Alexandria, Virginia.  And to reach that point, the troops would need to cross the James River at some point.  Richmond was the best place to accomplish that.

The Army of the Potomac was itself just leaving Richmond, also on their way north to Alexandria.  The commander of the Military Division of the James, Major-General Henry Halleck, had kept the Army of the Potomac on a tight leash during their passing.  The last thing Halleck wanted was some uncontrolled mob running loose in Richmond.  So soldiers were restricted to camps, unless issued passes.  And when the Army of the Potomac moved, it did so along defined routes.

On May 8, 1865, Halleck had issued similar instructions to the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia.  But as Major-General William T. Sherman was somewhat a peer, based on the level of command, Halleck offered a personal invite:

General Slocum’s army will leave Richmond on the morning of the 10th and General Howard’s will soon follow.  Can’t you meet them as they pass through?

Then later:

When you arrive here come directly to my headquarters. I have a room for you, and will have rooms elsewhere for your staff.

But Sherman was not having any of this.  He was, to say the least, holding a grudge against Halleck for the events which transpired in April:

After your dispatch to the Secretary of War of April 26 I cannot have any friendly intercourse with you.  I will come to City Point to-morrow and march with my troops, and prefer we should not meet.

No love lost there.

Sherman played things cool, and strictly by the book.  He inquired to Lieutenant-General Grant on the next day in regards to changes of his command, and specifically about orders for the march to Alexandria.   Sherman was looking for that official piece of paper so as to have in hand when dealing with Halleck.  Sort of a “I’ve got my orders, so please leave me and my men alone” sort of stance.  In the meantime, Major-General Jefferson C. Davis had planned to review the Fourteenth Corps in Richmond as part of the move north.  This put Sherman in a bit of a bind, as that could escalate things with Halleck.  So he called that review off.  Writing to Halleck on May 9, from Manchester:

I have the honor to report my arrival and that I have assumed immediate command of this army and await General Grant’s orders. If you have any general orders, relating to the march of the armies northward, I will be obliged for a copy.  The review ordered by Major-General Davis in Richmond will not take place.

So Halleck responded with a strict “facts only” message, relating that no orders from Grant had arrived, but instructions were to move Sherman’s forces (with or without him) through Richmond as soon as resupply had been completed.  Nothing but dry conversation, without frivolous cordiality. In a later message (sent on May 9, or at least early on May 10), Halleck attempted to break the ice:

You have not had during this war nor have you now a warmer friend and admirer than myself. If in carrying out what I knew to be the wishes of the War Department in regard to your armistice I used language which has given you offense it was unintentional, and I deeply regret it. If fully aware of the circumstances under which I acted I am certain you would not attribute to me any improper motives. It is my wish to continue to regard and receive you as a personal friend. With this statement I leave the matter in your hands.

Well… with that, Sherman had enough.  So he responded in kind… and then some:

I received your cipher dispatch last evening, and have revolved it in my mind all night in connection with that telegraphic message of April 26 to Secretary Stanton, and by him rushed with such indecent haste before an excited public. I cannot possibly reconcile the friendly expressions of the former with the deadly malignity of the latter, and cannot consent to the renewal of a friendship I had prized so highly till I can see deeper into the diabolical plot than I now do. When you advised me of the assassin Clark being on my track I little dreamed he would turn up in the direction and guise he did, but thank God I have become so blasé to the dangers to life and reputation by the many vicissitudes of this cruel war, which some people are resolved shall never be over, that nothing surprises me. I will march my army through Richmond quietly and in good order, without attracting attention, and I beg you to keep slightly perdu, for if noticed by some of my old command I cannot undertake to maintain a model behavior, for their feelings have become aroused by what the world adjudges an insult to at least an honest commander. If loss of life or violence result from this you must attribute it to the true cause–a public insult to a brother officer when he was far away on public service, perfectly innocent of the malignant purpose and design.

Sherman was acting somewhat in a bubble.  He sensed insult and slight from many quarters.  And his reaction to Halleck was, while disturbing, somewhat understandable in that light.  Fortunately this affair did not cause any serious change in the marches or other inconvenience upon the troops.  The generals kept this between them.  Although, Halleck did, on the same day, withdraw his support for Major-General John Schofield in regard to the post of military governor of North Carolina.  In his statement to the War Department, Halleck cited Schofield’s involvement with Sherman’s surrender talks with General Joseph Johnston.  Clearly Halleck was linking Sherman’s subordinates to Sherman’s actions.

The bullets were no longer flying. But the verbal war had not ceased. Now among the leaders of the Federal Armies, “honor” was deemed more precious than all else.  Nobody wanted a tarnish, left over from the last days of the war, following them into the peace.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 435, 446, and 454-5.)

 

Thank you Samuel Cooper, Henry Halleck, and Morris Runyan. We have our Official Records!

On April 27, 1865, General Samuel Cooper was stranded in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Cooper was the highest ranking Confederate officer and served as Adjutant General and Inspector General.  Though not a field commander, Cooper was a central figure in the Confederacy throughout the war.  A long serving officer in the pre-war U.S. Army, Cooper called the Army his home. And as events unfolded in April 1865, Cooper was becoming a man without a home. When President Jefferson F. Davis rode out of Charlotte, heading south through South Carolina, Cooper remained behind.  He was not fit to make a long, cross-country journey.  Furthermore, he had far too much baggage in his charge:

 A telegram received from Brigadier-General [Thomas] Jordan by Colonel [John] Riely, of my staff, who had telegraphed, by my direction, to ascertain what had transpired from the military convention, states that it had terminated, resulting in a cessation of war by all embraced, private property respected, and transportation home given.  I was left here within the territorial limits of your command by the President, from physical dis-qualification to follow the Government any longer, and I therefore desire to know if I and the staff officer left with me can be included in the arrangement upon the same terms, as I cannot from my situation belong to any other command.  It is not practicable for me to reach Greensborough immediately.

Later Cooper elaborated on the baggage which kept him in Charlotte:

It was found impracticable to transfer the records of the War Department further than this place, and they remain here under my charge.  The President and Secretary of War impressed me with the necessity of their preservation in our own hands, if possible; if not, then by the enemy, as essential to the history of the struggle.  On account of your superior knowledge of the condition of affairs, I desire to have your advice as to the disposition that shall be made of them.

Johnston replied on April 28, informing, “You are entitled to accept the terms of the convention.  I do not know what to advise about the records.”  Later, Johnston sent word that Cooper should, if possible, travel to Greensborough.  Instead, Cooper arranged to have Colonel Riely make that trip as his representative for formal surrender.

But what of the records? On May 7, Captain Morris C. Runyan led a detachment of the 9th New Jersey into Charlotte.  There, among other stores and items, Runyan found,

… a number of boxes said to contain the records of the rebel War Department and all the archives of the so-called Southern Confederacy; also, boxes said to contain all the colors and battle-flags captured from the National forces since the beginning of the war….

(Runyan later wrote an account of the occupation of Charlotte and capture of the records.  But, I find his official report filed at the time somewhat more precise than the post war account.)

Word of this quickly passed up the chain of command to Major-General John Schofield.  On May 16, Schofield inquired to Army Chief of Staff, Major-General Henry Halleck, as to what disposition should be made in regard to the records.  Halleck responded promptly:

Box up all captured Confederate papers, flags, &c., and send them to C. A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, Washington. Preserve every paper, however unimportant it may appear. We have the key to their ciphers. Important links of testimony have thus been discovered here of the Canadian plot.

And please note here, Halleck was just as concerned about the preservation of the Confederate war records as Cooper was.  And we might say that Halleck’s motives were just as Cooper’s.  Above all, Halleck wanted the Confederate words to speak directly to their actions.

The next day, Schofield reported that the records, archives, and flags were being sent to Washington.  He included a detailed invoice for the “eighty-one boxes, weighing ten tons“:

 Invoice of the archives of the late Confederate War Department, as received from General Johnston at Charlotte, N. C., on the 13th day of May, 1865: Five boxes, marked Letters received; 3 boxes, marked Certificates of disability; 13 boxes, marked Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office; 5 boxes, marked Captured flags; 1 box, marked Books and papers, General Lee’s headquarters; 1 box, marked Official reports of battles; 1 box, marked Provost-marshal; 1 box, marked Lieutenant Blackford, C. S. Engineers; 1 box, marked Col. John Withers, C. S. Army; 3 boxes, marked Dept. Office; 7 boxes, contents unknown; 11 boxes, marked War Department, C. S. A.; 21 boxes, marked Regimental rolls; 1 box, marked Signal glasses; 6 boxes, marked Miscellaneous papers.

Thus the Federals took possession of a substantial number of official Confederate documents, if not a complete set.  Similar efforts by Federal commanders elsewhere in the south would bring in official correspondence, reports, and rolls from the scattered Confederate departments.  Of course that net missed many records, falling well short of a complete haul.  Doubtless you know well the story of records destroyed by the fires when Richmond fell.  And other records were destroyed before reaching Federal hands.

But all things considered, what was preserved included a remarkable set of artifacts.  Many of those artifacts were later included in the “Official Records of the War of the Rebellion” in the same binding with Federal accounts of the same time periods.  And those compiled records were published and made accessible to libraries around the country.  Today, those same records are just a browser window away at all times, anywhere you chose to study them.

We might recall many other “Civil Wars” in which historians lament the loss of vital accounts due to records destroyed in the end.  Such is, on whole, not the case with the American Civil War. You see, the history of the Civil War was not simply “written by the victors” as some partisans contend.  Rather it was written by those who could consult the words of the participants… thanks to the efforts by both sides to preserve those words.

So, next time you chase down a footnote and see “OR” followed by volume and serial notations, pause to thank old Samuel Cooper… and Henry Halleck… and Morris Runyan… who had a hand in preserving those.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 491, 510-1, 842, 848,

“The future of the race is a matter of serious moment”: Foster suggests conscription to fill USCT ranks

On February 2, 1865, Major-General John Foster, commanding the Department of the South, sent this letter to Major-General Henry W. Halleck, Army Chief of Staff in Washington:

Headquarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C., February 2, 1865.

Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck,  U.S. Army,
Chief of Staff, U. S. Armies:

General: The experience of the past few weeks has shown that volunteering among the colored men in this department is very slow and may not for a long time furnish the number so much needed for garrison and other duties. These men, just freed from long servitude, are, of necessity, ignorant and improvident. Their idea of liberty is exemption alike from work and care. The streets of Savannah are full of them, lying in the sun and waiting for bread without labor. Needing their services as soldiers, I respectfully ask that the Department will fix a quota for the States of South Carolina and Georgia, and allow me to fill it by conscripting the able-bodied young colored men, under such restrictions and exemptions as may be deemed most wise by the Department. Such as are imposed by the existing U.S. conscription law might be designated with an order that one-half or one-third of the number liable should be drafted. I have consulted with colored pastors on this subject and they agree with me in advising the proposed course. The future of the race is a matter of serious moment. Education is necessary to make freedom truly beneficial. The training of the army will do more to educate these men than any other scheme which can be devised; it will make them self-reliant and will develop their manhood. The camp is to-day the school-house of this race; it may be that in the future the soldierly training of these people will be their protection against local injustice, while the habits of care and economy so learned will make them self-supporting.

Alike, therefore, upon military and humane grounds, I ask the careful attention of the Department to the suggestions of this letter, and am, general,

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. G. Foster,
Major-General, Commanding.

Let me offer this letter “as is” without a lot of context for now.  Just for the reader’s consideration.  I would point out that Foster’s suggestion of conscription follows in line with a similar practice followed by Major-General David Hunter in the spring of 1863.  That is to say, the conscription was as much a means to organize an unaffiliated population that was living within Federal lines.

What do you make of it?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 210.)