High Water Mark

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gett...

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg National Battlefield, Gettysburg, PA, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Four score and seven years (minus one day) after these United Colonies declared their independence from the greatest empire of the age, two conceptions of that heritage met upon the greatest of American battlefields. This is part of that story, the story of men (and women) who cared enough for their freedom to kill, and to die for it, in wholesale lots. This battle was the most costly ever fought by American arms until the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two. At Gettysburg 55, 000 American Soldiers died in 3 days combat, and created a legend for us to try to live up to. 

This afternoon, a scant 150 years ago, the most costly battle ever fought in North America raged. For today is the day that the Confederacy reached its high water mark. It did so in the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Since the armies found each other there on the 1st of July, the Federals had been driven out of town, on the first, had held on the left and right flanks on the second, and now, today, would come the climax, of many things.

As I write this the cannons are speaking, mostly without effect, because of the smoke, and defective fuses in the Confederate shells. But 150-170 Confederate guns are speaking, the most ever, and soon about 80 federal guns will reply.

And so, at about 3 pm local time, General Longstreet, commanding Pickett’s Division of Virginians, plus six brigades from Hill’s Corps this day, will mount the charge that will forever be known as Pickett’s Charge.

Link here  embedding disabled but do watch.

And so for the very last time in history, a charge was mounted in the style known by Winfield Scott, and Washington, and Gage, and Wellington, Marlborough, and Cromwell, Caesar and the Spartans, and Alexander, himself.

The high water mark of the Confederacy was right there when you saw General Armistead ask about his friend General Hancock. Around 12,000 men were in that charge, roughly half of them survived. When General Lee told General Longstreet to put his division in order for defense after the charge, he is reputed to have replied.

“General Lee, I have no division.”

But the Rebels weren’t the only brave men there. On the other side was the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, another one of the fairly rare western regiments in the Potomac army. From the Mankato Free Press and quoted by the Power Line Blog

“There was a mystique to the Minnesota men — the character they had compared to what I call the ‘city boys’ out east. The ones who came out here in the 1860s, they were farming, logging, surviving, shooting guns. All these pioneering traits made them stronger and better soldiers.”

Jorgenson said the 1st quickly attracted attention from the generals, who often dealt with high rates of desertion and panic during battle. The unit’s actions at Bull Run, which deteriorated into a haphazard retreat, particularly caught attention.

“It was how they carried themselves. At Bull Run they were one of the last ones pulled out of battle and they retreated orderly, not running off pell-mell. That impressed the generals. They never once lost their flag and they never broke and ran.”

That reputation for toughness was put to bloody use at Gettysburg. The 1st Minnesota was being held in reserve to fill gaps if trouble arose. When Confederate soldiers threatened to take Cemetery Ridge and break the Union line — perhaps turning the tide of the battle — some 260 1st Minnesota soldiers were sent into a force of 1,500 to 1,800 Confederates. The unit was decimated, but the time they bought allowed the Union to hold its lines.

Continue reading Last Full Measure

Actually the paper is using the sloppy modern definition of decimated, which actually means to lose 1 in 10 or to take 10% casualties. At Gettysburg, the 1st Minnesota took 82% casualties, far worse than being decimated, nor were they alone, it was not all that uncommon on either side of the lines, and is part of the reason Americans hold both armies very close indeed to their hearts.

Something else happened a 150 years ago today as well, a few hundred miles from Gettysburg. Down in Mississippi, General Pemberton was deciding that he must surrender the city to General Grant. Today he sent a note through the lines to General Grant who was at first inclined to demand unconditional surrender, but who realized that he didn’t really want to feed 30, 000 PWs and agreed to accept their parole, because the Confederate government did not handle this honorably, it was the last general prisoner exchange for the duration.

The official surrender was on the 4th, and practically, and as has been typical for a long time in American war making, there was no victory celebration and nearly the first thing into town were the commissary trains, to feed the starving inhabitants.

Civil War Train (at Petersburg)

Civil War Train
(at Petersburg)

Never again would the Confederacy look viable, we are now entering on the part of the war that was fought, and fought very hard for honors sake.

The Parke-Custis Mansion

Do you recognize this house?

The mansion was built on the orders of George Washington Parke Custis, a step-grandson and “adopted” son of George Washington and only grandson of Martha Washington. Custis was a prominent resident of what was then known as Alexandria County, at the time a part of the District of Columbia. George Hadfield, an English architect who also worked on the design of the United States Capitol, designed the mansion. Construction began eleven years after L’Enfant’s Plan for the future city of Washington, D.C., had designated an area directly across the Potomac River to be the site of the “President’s house” (now the White House) and the “Congress house” (now the United States Capitol).

It still stands, one of only two houses with a direct connection to George Washington himself, it may also be the second most famous house in the United States (after the White House).

It was stolen from the last owner by the US Government (because the owners wife failed to pay her property taxes, in person) in wartime. The owner’s son won it back about ten years later and sold it back to the government. You see it was no longer a particularly nice place to live, the government had used the lawn and even the rose garden as a cemetery. In fact, the government, in its vindictiveness buried the first soldiers, members of a colored Infantry unit, in the châtelaine’s prized rose garden. It did this while the owner, a soldier, who loved it above all material things, was on active duty. As you would surmise from looking at the house, the owner, was in fact, a general. He was, perhaps, the most famous American general in history.

Who was he?

He was the son of a Revolutionary hero, nicknamed Light-Horse Harry for his skill with the cavalry. He married the Step-Granddaughter of George Washington. He was one of the most intrepid of officers in the Mexican War, the first group of officers to have the stars fall on them.

He was Robert Edward Lee, General, Confederate States Army, The house is now called Arlington House, here is a reasonably current picture.

The cemetery is Arlington National Cemetery. And so although it was started with some of the basest motives of revenge and rancor, it has become most meet and fit. Now America’s best and bravest sleep around the house of America’s best general. The very man who once said that:

Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.

Those resting around his house have certainly done their duty, beyond compare.
And so as we celebrate Memorial/ Decoration Day let us remember all those who have done their duty, even unto the last full measure of devotion.
In a related matter, General Lee’s citizenship was restored by Public Law 94-67 signed by President Ford on 5 August 1975 thus restoring him to citizenship in the country he loved second only to Virginia, itself.

Appomattox: And Sumter

Yesterday, in 1861 Confederate batteries opened on Fort Sumter, leading to a poignant scene showing the honor of the American Army.

And so, the president called for volunteers, and all the officers made their choices and soon their was a war on. The war would be the end of the old United States and would show the outlines of what we would become. As we made that course change many a legend was created, for change on this order doesn’t happen cheaply or easily. If you know anything about American history the names echo in your heart: Longstreet, Pickett, Stuart, and always Stonewall, and Chamberlain, Meade, Sheridan, and Custer, and so many more.

And the places they had been: Bull Run, the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and now Appomattox Court House. Almost all have been preserved and on all of them if you listen carefully, you can still here the cries of the wounded, the orders of the officers, and always the guns and the rattle of musketry, for in these places, at the cost of 600,000 dead Americans, the future was forged.

It’s fascinated everybody ever since because of something unique in history. The two main armies, The Federal Army of the Potomac, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, fought each other up and down the eastern theater, fighting battles as hard fought as anything in history for four years and neither one could defeat the other.

There have been and still are two strains in American war-fighting, they first became evident in the Mexican War, and they are still part of our heritage.

The first is superb leadership, especially in small units but extending up to army leadership. This was the forte of the Army of Northern Virginia, especially the combination of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. One of Lee’s staff officers said that Lee’s middle name was actually Audacity, never has there been an officer who was better at taking a reasoned chance and having it work out, especially with Jackson as his strong right arm. In any other conflict they would have defeated nearly any enemy easily but they had the misfortune to be fighting the very first of the moderns.

Because once he came east as the Lieutenant General, America has only rarely had a better general than US Grant. He was never loved like Lee and he wasn’t as daring, although he could be witness his campaign leading up to Vicksburg. But when he came east, he realized that while he could lose the war with the Army of the Potomac, he could not win it, that would be up to Sherman. His task as Patton would have put it was to hold the Confederacy by the nose, so Sherman could kick it in the rear. But Grant, like Sherman, and Sheridan, was a modern general, really more of a manager than a leader. Grant wrote superbly clear and succinct orders, that were easily transmitted by telegraph. If you doubt this you need to read his autobiography which he finished as he was dying of throat cancer, and he wrote the last few chapters in longhand, and they are almost perfect copy. He also was a master of logistics, and concentration of force.

And these are the two thrusts of the United States military ever since. Overwhelming force applied at the point of decision and an incredible ability to move around and surprise enemies. With the leadership skills down to the squad level to make it work.

But, today we are met to commemorate another day in April for on 9 April 1865 the fabled Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to the Army of the Potomac. It was trying to break through Sheridan’s cavalry and had just discovered that there were two fresh infantry corps behind the cavalry. There was nowhere left to go, and so, on Palm Sunday would come this scene.

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[Much of what follows is from Joshuapundits’ haunting account of the day. I strongly recommend that you read it all]

Lee and Grant and their staffs didn’t meet in an actual courthouse. Instead, they met in a private home, that of Wilmer McLean, at 1:30 PM on a balmy spring afternoon.

For two and a half hours they sat and talked. After pitting every muscle and sinew, every ounce of intelligence, every iota of courage and will the two of them and their armies possessed against each other, the two adversaries finally met face to face.They had not seen each other since the Mexican War two decades earlier.

Here’s how General Horace Porter, one of Lee’s staff described what happened next:

“We entered, and found General Grant sitting at a marble-topped table in the center of the room, and Lee sitting beside a small oval table near the front window, in the corner opposite to the door by which we entered, and facing General Grant. We walked in softly and ranged ourselves quietly about the sides of the room, very much as people enter a sick-chamber when they expect to find the patient dangerously ill.

The contrast between the two commanders was striking, and could not fail to attract marked attention they sat ten feet apart facing each other. General Grant, then nearly forty-three years of age, was five feet eight inches in height, with shoulders slightly stooped. His hair and full beard were a nut-brown, without a trace of gray in them. He had on a single-breasted blouse, made of dark-blue flannel, unbuttoned in front, and showing a waistcoat underneath. He wore an ordinary pair of top-boots, with his trousers inside, and was without spurs. The boots and portions of his clothes were spattered with mud. He had no sword, and a pair of shoulder-straps was all there was about him to designate his rank. In fact, aside from these, his uniform was that of a private soldier.

Lee, on the other hand, was fully six feet in height, and quite erect for one of his age, for he was Grant’s senior by sixteen years. His hair and full beard were silver-gray, and quite thick, except that the hair had become a little thin in the front. He wore a new uniform of Confederate gray, buttoned up to the throat, and at his side he carried a long sword of exceedingly fine workmanship, the hilt studded with jewels. His top-boots were comparatively new, and seemed to have on them some ornamental stitching of red silk. Like his uniform, they were singularly clean, and but little travel-stained. On the boots were handsome spurs, with large rowels. A felt hat, which in color matched pretty closely that of his uniform, and a pair of long buckskin gauntlets lay beside him on the table.” 

The two men talked briefly of their experiences in Mexico, including the one time the two men had met as young officers near Vera Cruz. Then Lee, with an emotion that can only be imagined, asked Grant to write out his terms for surrender.

Grant took out his order book, and began to write: 

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them.”



At that point, according to the men who were there, General Grant gazed at General’s Lee and at his sword for almost a full minute. And then continued writing:

“This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

Grant said later that after looking at Lee and thinking about the matter for a moment, he realized that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to require officers to surrender their swords,and that requiring members of the Confederate Army to lose their privately owned horses and mules would be a great hardship, because those animals would be badly needed to carry out the spring plowing and planting and to help rebuild the devastated South.So in the end, all officers and men were allowed to take their privately owned horses and mules home with them.

Lee read over the terms, which were as generous as he could have possibly wanted. He had fully expected that senior officers like himself might be arrested and prosecuted for treason on the spot, with Grant demanding unconditional surrender. 

So Lee took up a pen and wrote out a short note agreeing to the terms, which was officially recorded at 4 PM that same afternoon.

Grant immediately issued orders to send food rations to Lee’s starving army, and then Lee took his leave. From the account of General Porter:

“At a little before 4 o’clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond where his army lay – now an army of prisoners. He smote his hands together a number of times in an absent sort of way; seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unconscious of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.”

As Lee rode away and the news of the surrender spread, the Union soldiers broke out in wild cheering. But as Grant recounted later, he ordered an immediate halt. “I at once sent word, however, to have it stopped,” he said. “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

[…]

Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia, 10th April 1865.

General Order
No. 9

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

— R. E. Lee, General, General Order No. 9

On April 12, the rain had stopped and the sun broke out, almost as if the heavens had allowed the southern officers and men an appropriate background to mourn over their dead and the Lost Cause, and then signaled that it was time to move on. Something like 28,000 Confederate soldiers passed by and stacked their arms on that day as the victorious Union Armies held a ceremony of surrender.

The Union officer chosen to lead the ceremony was not General Grant or any of the professional soldiers. Instead, it was Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, the former Maine college professor who could justifiably be said to have won the Battle of Gettysburg, holding the left flank of Little Round Top at Gettysburg against all hope by leading the survivors of the 20th Maine in a successful bayonet charge down the south slope when they were almost out of ammunition to push the enemy troops out.

Chamberlain did an unusual thing for a victor in a hard won war, something that showed he was a man of rare courage and insight both on and off the battlefield. As the Confederate Army trooped by to stack arms, Chamberlain ordered his men to present arms in salute to their defeated enemies. As he recounted later in his book:

The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!


The passing of the dead..an interesting and moving phrase.

General Chamberlain, like many others who stood on the grounds of Appomattox that bright spring day day was undoubtedly thinking of the men left behind, and it is to his credit that he had the depth of empathy and understanding to see it from both sides. But that was then. At Appomattox today, you don’t find the ghosts you find in other civil war sites. No matter how bulldozed,cleaned up and changed the landscape is, the spirits of the dead remain in easy reach at those other places. But not at Appomattox.

Even the furnishings at the McLean House are mere replicas with no real history of their own.

http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5035/7061262379_d41dc74257_z.jpg

Appomattox today is a shrine to something else entirely.Not to the dead, but to the living, the ones who survived that great conflict that ran like a livid scar across the American landscape.

Just as there was a time of war, there came a time of peace. Just as there was a time of bitter divide and conflict,there came a time of healing, a time when men who had fought each other with an uncommon ferocity for four years remembered again that they were all still members of one American family with more in common than they realized.

That should give us hope in our own times, when morally bankrupt charlatans and their willing stooges seek to manipulate us, divide us and turn us against ourselves for their own power, enrichment and aggrandizement. 

Take a moment today, if you will, to remember what occurred that long ago, almost forgotten April day, what happened there. It’s something worth thinking about.

Appomattox: The Fire Is Quenched ~ J O S H U A P U N D I T.

I am going to add a bit more to this already too long article but realize that Grant (and later Sherman) as well as Chamberlain took their cue from President Lincoln, who shortly before had told Grant and Sherman to “let ‘em up easy’. In fact very soon as word spread and a celebration was taking place in the evening in Washington, he came out and requested a tune from the band, it was this one

And so the Confederacy dissolved into the Lost Cause to be forever revered by Americans, not because of any of its beliefs but because brave Americans, so many of them, revered their freedom enough, on both sides to sell their lives at a very high price. And in the remembrance of glory we move forward to the point that by 1898 this could happen

Johnny Reb and Billy Yank; the twin images of America

 

Duty And Honor; Part 3

English: Poster with reprint of General Robert...

English: Poster with reprint of General Robert E. Lee’s Farewell Address to the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 10, 1865. The Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We left General Lee yesterday as he watched General Pickett’s Charge reel back from the Union line. The first two parts of this story are here and here. This was the bloodiest battle in American history with about 50,000 casualties.

 

A word is in order about weapons and tactics here because it is crucial to understand what is happening here.

 

The small arms carried by both sides were very similar and the Federals were more consistent so I’ll describe them. The standard weapon was the Model 1861 Springfield rifled musket, it had a percussion lock and fired a 58 caliber lead projectile, which was referred to as a Minié ball. it was an elongated (bullet shaped) and hollow which was to make it expand into the rifling of the musket. The effective fire range for this weapon was approximately 500 yards. (what the military sometimes refers to as “the beaten zone”. This weapon made catastrophic wounds, it tended to shatter the long bones in arms and legs which meant being wounded carried a high risk of losing an arm or leg.

 

This was the first general issue rifled weapon used in combat, during the Mexican War US troops had used the Model 1842 Springfield which was a .69 caliber smoothbore percussion musket, which had an effective range of about 100 yards at best. This is why in the Civil War, the traditional close order infantry assault, like Pickett’s Charge so rarely worked, they were usually shot to pieces long before bayonet range. British experience in the Napoleonic Wars, using the somewhat slower flintlock Brown Bess indicated that the defenders could only get off one volley before the assault closed to bayonet range but this was no longer even close to true.

 

But the tactics manuals and the high commands’ experience took time to catch up with this, all through the war both armies suffered from needless casualties from close order assaults across open ground. Lee was an offensive minded officer and was not immune to this. In fact some of his corp commanders at Gettysburg wanted to fight on the tactical defense and let the Federals do the assaulting. While not as glorious, this could have been a battle winner, remember Lee was North of the Union troops and threatening both Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

 

Anyway, as Lee was leading his shattered army away from Gettysburg followed by G.G. Meade with the nearly as badly beaten up Army of the Potomac back to Virginia word came in that on 4 July General Pemberton had surrendered Vicksburg to General Grant, thus prompting the telegram to Lincoln “The Father of Waters rolls unvexed to the sea”. Now the trans-Mississippi part of the Confederacy was cut off forever.

 

Soon General Grant would be promoted Lieutenant General and as such would command the entire US Army, he would co-locate with the Army of the Potomac because he believed that Lee had the eastern army overawed. General Sherman would replace Grant in the West and Sheridan would command in the Shenandoah. It was time for the moderns to take over and the rest of the war would foreshadow quite clearly what the wars of the twentieth century would look like.

 

The battles are interesting but not really for the strategic value. The main takeaway is that when Grant advanced in the spring of 1864 he met Lee in the Wilderness on the same ground as Chancellorsville was fought over. A hard battle was fought amongst the unburied skeleton, and fires licked through the underbrush burning some of the wounded to death. But after the battle the Federals marched to the fork of the road that went back to their camp or on to the southeast. Always before they had gone back to camp, no longer. Never again would the Army of the Potomac or the Army of Northern Virginia have a day without battle casualties. Horrid names lay ahead: Cold Harbor, the Mule shoe, and may others, and finally there would be the Siege of Petersburg, and still Grant kept sidestepping to the left flank until he cut the last railroad to Richmond from the south.

 

In the meantime the President had been reelected, a large share of his vote came from those serving in the army, even though he was running against McClellan.  Sherman had taken Atlanta, which formed the basis for that major book and movie, “Gone with the Wind”. and then gone marching through Georgia tearing a 60 mile wide swath out of the breadbasket of the Confederacy and then up through the Carolinas.

 

Lincoln came down to the camp to confer with Grant and Sherman and gave them the advice to “let ‘em up easy”. which both generals would do. While Lincoln was there Alexander Stephans, the Confederate Vice-President came out to parley for the end of the war. Since it still called for the survival of the Confederacy nothing came of it. It did give the troops on both sides a break from the siege though. Apparently a group of ladies followed the Vice President out and were sightseeing on the walls during the truce. A rebel soldier jumped out of the trenches and led the Confederates in three cheers for the Yankee Army, after which a Yankee picket jumped up and led the Union army in three cheers for the Rebels, after which both armies joined in three cheers for the ladies of Richmond.

 

And that was a characteristic of the war as well, the armies fought their hearts out, doing everything possible to win, but between battles they were nearly friends, often trading Yankee coffee for Rebel tobacco, and in general doing little to hurt each other when it wouldn’t help the war effort. They understood each other, and knew perfectly well that when the war ended they would have to get along together, and acted accordingly.

 

But that railroad was cut, and Lee sent word to President Davis that he would have to abandon Richmond. That April of 1865, and the Rebels marched out and the Federals marched in, and helped put out the fires that had spread from the army warehouses that had been torched. And soon here came Abraham Lincoln, nearly alone just looking around.

 

And so the storied Army of Northern Virginia attempted to escape the noose and march to unite with the rest of the army, but they ran headlong into Sheridan’s troops and everybody knew it was over. One of Lee’s staff officers suggested that they disband and go bushwacking as they termed guerrilla war but Lee vetoed the idea saying was too old and he would have to go see General Grant. And so it was arranged. These two men who had known each other slightly in Mexico, met in Wilmer McLean’s front parlor.

 

The McLean’s had moved here to Appomattox Court House in 1861 to get away from the war, their former home was on the battlefield at Bull Run clean back in 1861.

 

And so the Generals met, Lee in his best uniform, and Grant in a private’s fatigue blouse with the stars of the Lieutenant General on his shoulder straps. Grant made small talk about the campaign in Mexico (he was bad at it) in an attempt to put Lee at his ease until Lee brought them back to business. Asking the general known as Unconditional Surrender Grant what terms he would offer.

 

He was surprised at their generosity but mentioned that in his army the horses and mules were not government property, and Grant said they should keep them then, they would be needed for the spring plowing.

 

And so the proud battle flags were cased as that army, the fabled Army of Northern Virginia surrendered, and soon the bolder spirits of the Army of the Potomac filtered down to visit and then the armies mingled and chatted about the places they’d been and what they’d done, and soon the commissary wagons came in from the Union depots and fed everybody, the Confederates had been living on acorns and marching barefoot for a while. And so it ended.

 

And there were only a few hangings, people who had it coming, like the commandant of the Andersonville prisoner of war camp, not that the Union ones were much better, really. And the Army of Northern Virginia disappeared into legend, never forgotten North or South, one of the greatest and without doubt the most romantic of American armies.

 

What they did was remarkable, two of the greatest armies in the history of the world, maneuvering and fighting for 4 years, neither able to finally defeat each other. Why?

 

There are two predominant strains in American warmaking, both came from Winfield Scott and were perfected in the Civil War.

 

The first is overwhelming firepower, especially in artillery, the artillery came into its own in the Civil war as rifled guns, aerial spotting and Fitz-Hugh Porters Rebel corps artillery, but other things as well, the machine gun made its début, in the form of the Gatling Gun, as we mentioned breechloading magazine fed rifles had their combat début as well. They were mostly Henries, the father of the Winchester of western fame. This was the Army of the Potomac’s specialty.

 

The second strain was brilliant and daring leadership, this was epitomized by General Lee but there many others both North and South. Their legacy is the Pattons, the MacArthurs, the Swartzkopfs, and all the others. This war is when America’s Army entered the modern world, years before even the Prussians, who used some of the lessons against the French, especially in railroad mobility. And the Germans, who studied British Captain Sir Basil Liddel-Hart’s study of Jackson and Sherman while planning how their Blitzkrieg would work.

 

Lee was a reluctant warrior (from Wikipedia)

 

Lee privately ridiculed the Confederacy in letters in early 1861, denouncing secession as “revolution” and a betrayal of the efforts of the founders. Writing to his son William Fitzhugh, Lee stated, “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union.” While he was not opposed in principle to secession, Lee wanted all peaceful ways of resolving the differences between North and South—such as the Crittenden Compromise—to be tried first, and was one of the few to foresee a long and difficult war.

 

After the war he was not arrested or punished although he did lose his right to vote, to attempt any more would have violated Grant’s word, and that was not going to happen.

 

After the armies had surrendered there was a great celebration in the streets of Washington. President Lincoln came out on the balcony, and the crowd asked him to speak. Instead he asked the band to play this song.

 

 

Saying that now it belonged to the nation.

 

Lincoln was of course, assassinated, with him the South lost the last man who could have made it an easy peace. But Johnson couldn’t control the Radicals (he did try) and the South went through the horrors and corruption of Reconstruction.

 

Lee became the President of Washington College, now Washington and Lee College, where he was much-loved and idolized. He also lost the home he loved, across from Washington in Virginia, a vengeful government used its lawn as a cemetery, first for black soldiers in his wife’s pride, her rose garden. The house is still there, it is Arlington House and overlooks Arlington National Cemetery. I like to think that General Lee would approve of his home being the resting place of the nations bravest soldiers.

 

He died of a stroke in 1870, and was mourned both North and South.

 

Above all his legacy to us is one of Duty and Honor, many of you know my favorite quote of the General

 

Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things.

 

You can never do more. You should never wish to do less.

 

 

Duty and Honor: Part 2

Robert E. Lee IMG_2662

Robert E. Lee IMG_2662 (Photo credit: OZinOH)

When we left General Lee, the other day [here], he had just contained McClellan and the Army of the Potomac at White House on the James river after the Seven Days Battles.

A couple of notes are in order, this was the series of battles where Colonel Dan Butterfield wrote a piece of music which has become iconic to Americans, it’s called “Taps”, I also want to note that McClellan was actually a pretty fair officer, he had a failing in that he had trouble keeping in mind that his mission was more important than his men, a trait that endeared him to his men till the end of their lives but was detrimental (as it always is) to the war effort. He was also very badly served by his intelligence officer, Allen Pinkerton, who had him convinced that he was badly outnumbered when he in fact outnumbered the Confederates nearly 2 to 1.  That water is far and away under the bridge by now but the intelligence failure would haunt the Army for quite a while.

While Lee was finishing up the Peninsula Campaign, John Pope was maneuvering around, trying to reinforce McClellan with his Army of the James. Lee apparently didn’t have a lot of respect for Pope since the orders he sent to Stonewall Jackson were to suppress him. Jackson didn’t quite accomplish that feat although he did rather thoroughly beat him. As McClellan evacuated his base and shipped back to Washington, Lee moved and joined Jackson.

Moving on they invaded Maryland. Lee separated his forces to accomplish several tasks, Jackson was sent to Harper’s Ferry, to grab whatever he could at the Arsenal there, while the rest of the troops scattered out some for ease of movement and to live off the land. In a stroke of bad luck that should have doomed his army, a copy of Lee’s campaign orders (wrapped around three cigars) were found by a union sergeant, and were soon in McClellan’s hand. Nobody knows what happened to the cigars but, McClellan now had the complete order of battle and timing for the Army of Northern Virginia.

If he could move fast enough he had a very good chance to get between the elements of Lee’s Army before they could reunite. But it was not to be. McClellan was still operating under the impression that he was outnumbered, and he always had what was often called the slows. The result was the Battle of Antietam, this was a costly battle in casualties that has come down to us as Artillery Hell because of the havoc wreaked by the Union artillery. The battle was a draw but Lee had to retreat into Virginia. This was the cue for Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. It also cost McClellan his job. He was replaced by Ambrose Burnside, whose main claim to fame is that his name (reversed) became the name for sideburns. He led the army to the horror of Fredericksburg where Union troops gallantly attacked the Confederates, entrenched on Marye’s Heights with absolutely no chance to carry the day, they were completely exposed for most of a half mile to Confederate rifle fire. It was upon this occasion that General Lee declared, “It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow to fond of it.”

This bloody fiasco cost Burnside his job being replaced by Joseph Hooker who didn’t want the command, feeling he wasn’t well suited to it. He was right. By the way, Hooker is the reason that prostitutes became known as hookers. Early in 1863 he tried to get started early on the fighting season, and got just about the entire army stuck in the mud. Once they got out they went back to camp. When they got going a few weeks later, he demonstrated in front of Mary’s heights again, while he moved the rest of the army across the Rappahannock to Chancellorsville.

This move went well, he was on Lee’s flank. But his luck ran out, not least because of Lee’s daring. Lee sent Jackson’s corps marching across (pretty much within hearing) the entire front of the Union army, and got away with that. He then attacked the XI Corp (which was a known weak corp, that’s why it was there) on Hooker’s right flank. It was while reconnoitering this battlefield that Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire. Lee’s comment was that he had lost his right arm was not far wrong. To give him the benefit of the doubt, it is said that Hooker was stunned by a cannonball that hit a pillar of the house he was using as headquarters but, in any case the Federals retreated.

And so now we come to it. The penultimate campaign of the Civil War. For Lee determines to bet the fate of his country on the next campaign, and he again invades the north, through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. The Confederates hear a rumor that there are shoes in a little Pennsylvania town that is the junction of several roads. Shoes are something they are short of, so they gravitate there.

Incidentally this is about the time that American ingenuity was revolutionizing shoe manufacturing with an unheard of innovation. Shoes were beginning to be factory made, and something else; they were being made in pairs, one for the left foot and one for the right. It was an idea that caught on.

That town was and is Gettysburg, of course. When the first Confederates reached it, they ran into Yankee Cavalry, under  John Buford, armed with another innovation, repeating carbines. This was not enough although they inflicted heavy casualties while sending for help from two nearby corps, before retreating through the town. Jubal Early‘s corp had come into town through Pennsylvania militia until they ran into the Iron Brigade, leading to the cry “Taint no militia boys, it’s those damned Black Hat Boys”, The brigade was known for their Kossuth hats. Over night the armies concentrated, thus setting up what may be the most famous of American battles.

On the second day Lee launched attacks first on the right and then on the left, which were repulsed. And so now on 3 July 1863, we get down to it, the high point of the Confederacy, the very last chance for it to survive. And so.

Shortly after noon, the Confederate guns fell silent. In that silence was heard the sound of Confederate bugles and then the regimental drums. And so for the very last time is displayed the awesome pomp and terrible circumstance of war. Lee has ordered General Pickett to assault the center of the Union line. Soon will be seen the mile and a half wide line of Pickett’s Division, in close order with bayonets fixed, across the valley. For the very last time in history, here in the rolling Pennsylvania hills will be seen that spectacle of war going back through Waterloo, the Plains of Abraham, Blenheim, and all the others all the way to Gaugamela and Thermopylae as the disciplined ranks of infantry, led by their mounted officers with naked sabers, mount the assault.

If this charge succeeds, Washington and Philadelphia will be cut off, and perhaps occupied, most likely recognition will be obtained from Britain and France, and the Confederate States of America will take its place amongst the nations of the world, if it fails, the cause, always barring a miracle, is lost. Those are the stakes that General Lee was facing on this day, as he ordered the charge. As the serried ranks of the Confederates emerged from the treeline the Federals paused in awe at the spectacle, knowing even then that they were witnessing history on this July day. But soon the new-fangled rifled guns started firing, soon after the rest of the artillery, and not long after the rifled muskets of the infantry, which doomed the charge. But all was done that courage could do. The charge reached the guns, with General Armistead of Texas mortally wounded shortly after placing his hand on a Federal gun.

Watch the video here

And so in a few months an American President would say a few words on perhaps the most famous of American battlefields.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

We’ll finish tomorrow.

 

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Saturday, again, huh? Well we all know what that means here, don’t we? Time to unwind a bit, it’s been a stressful week.

But it’s also the 1st of December, an that’s an important day for me. My Dad would have been 105 today. He’s been gone for over 25 years now but, every time I have a problem one of my key questions is, “What would Dad do (or say)?. If I listen closely, he often tells me, still.

“I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.”
― Robert E. Lee

The last couple weeks he has seemed especially close, reminding me of a man’s duty. So, I thought maybe we should look at some of the things he loved.

One thing he dearly loved was music, his father did two things: ran the town light plant, and directed the town band, in truth it was the family band practically, of the 10 of them 6 of them were my uncles plus Dad. In his opinion, this was the last great American composer.

I have some problem disagreeing!

I can’t remembering him ever going to a movie, I suspect he got it out of his system when he moonlighted as a projectionist. He’d watch on TV though, usually something like this.

He liked technology a lot too, he had the first TV in town, and when color TV’s started coming out, he didn’t think he could afford one, so he bought a kit and built one. What was on? Good shows, like these.

And for all his insistence that their were no composers after Sousa, he never seemed to have much trouble watching this.

or this

In fact, even the commercials were neat.

But for all that he was a serious man, devoted to keeping the lights on, while keeping his people safe, and he would brook no compromise. He was one of the people who made our lives in the field both easier and safer

Dan Miller ran this song this week, in another context, and in truth he and I both saw it over at the Mad Jewess’es shortly after the election as well. It’s considerably too new a song for Dad to have heard but, it’s a pretty good summary of this article.

It seems a sad song on first listening doesn’t it? But, it’s not really, it speaks to us of the eternal dreams and battles we fight for what we believe in. And those dreams live as long as we are remembered.

A perfect man? Nope, he surely wasn’t, but he was the best I’ve ever known.

“Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”
― Robert E. Lee

That would have made a good epithet for him

Happy Birthday, Dad, and Thanks.

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