A quick look at the two major Civil War events that took place in early July 155 years ago and some characters who played key roles. The man who initiated the battle of Gettysburg, one of the most controversial generals who took part in it and the General who could have saved Vicksburg for the Confederacy. (Above photo: Henry Heth)
In this episode, Mark takes a look at some significant events that took place in May from the Civil War era, even considering these events in light of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous (yet unrelated) quote “What potent blood hath modest May” which Mark will show is an applicable description when considering the outcome of some such events from this time in history.
Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an outspoken abolitionist, gave an oration attacking not only the institution of slavery, but two Senators personally, Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina for supporting it in his “Crime Against Kansas” speech. Three days later, South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks, Butler’s cousin, entered the chamber and severely beat Sumner with a cane. The bleeding and unconscious Sumner had to be carried from the floor, while Brooks walked away unscathed. The “Caning” incident made Sumner a martyr in the North, while many Southerners proclaimed Brooks a champion for defending the honor of his relative.
On 2 May in the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, General Stonewall Jackson executed a brilliant flanking attack on the Union right. In a surprise attack, his Confederates smashed into and routed the Union XI Corps under General Oliver O. Howard. That night, while leading a group of officers on a night reconnaissance ride, Jackson was mistakenly wounded by friendly fire.
After the wounding, the ambulance wagon took him some twenty miles away to a home at Guinea Station. The surgeons amputated his left arm, but the bed-ridden Jackson subsequently contracted pneumonia and died on 10 May.
Dr. Ken Rettig and Mark discuss medical practices during the Civil War. From bullet wounds and amputations to respiratory diseases they explore how army surgeons treated patients during that period.
An excerpt from the medical report after Antietam:
Gross misrepresentations of the conduct of medical officers have been made and scattered broadcast over the country, causing deep and heart-rending anxiety to those who had friends or relatives in the army, who might at any moment require the services of a surgeon. It is not to be supposed that there were no incompetent surgeons in the army. It is certainly true that there were; but these sweeping denunciations against a class of men who will favorably compare with the military surgeons of any country, because of the incompetency and short-comings of a few, are wrong, and do injustice to a body of men who have labored faithfully and well. It is easy to magnify an existing evil until it is beyond the bounds of truth. It is equally easy to pass by the good that has been done on the other side. Some medical officers lost their lives in their devotion to duty in the battle of Antietam, and others sickened from excessive labor which they conscientiously and skillfully performed.
Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac
Mark discusses the Union bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Philip by David Dixon Porter’s mortar boats. The rest of the Union fleet under David Farragut is able to steam past the forts. After a duel with the few effective Confederate gunboats in action, they reach New Orleans and demand the city’s surrender on April 26, 1862.
Mark takes a look at some significant events that took place in April during the Civil War and WWII. “April is the cruelest month” according to T.S. Eliot, but how accurate is that historically? You decide. Here are some major happenings and a few occurrences that are not so well known: Fort Sumter, Shiloh, Eel Creek, California, Norway, Murmansk and Iraq.
11-14 April – Charleston, SC -Thursday to Sunday. A South Carolina delegation of three men delivered a demand for surrender to Major Robert Anderson at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The message was from Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and stated that they intended to take “possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors . . . necessary to its defense and security.” They let Anderson know that they would not fire upon his position if he advised them of the time of the evacuation of the Union troops stationed there.
Anderson replied that he also would not fire except in response, but that he would evacuate on 15 April if he did not receive supplies coming from the Federal government.The Confederates were aware that a supply ship was en route and deemed the answer unsatisfactory. At 0430 on Friday a signal shot opened a barrage from the other batteries in rotation. Anderson had a garrison of 85 officers and men as well as over forty laborers who worked in the fort. They began to return fire at 0700. More to come on Edmund Ruffin in a future episode.
On Saturday, after thirty-four hours of bombardment, a rash of fires and destruction, and some minor injuries, Fort Sumter capitulated. The formal surrender ceremony occurred on Sunday at which time was the only fatality. When the colors changed and the fifty-gun salute concluded, there was an accidental explosion in a pile of ammunition that killed a Union private and injured several others.
Major Anderson, a Kentuckian, remarked that “Our Southern brethren have done grievously wrong. . . . They must be punished and brought back, but this necessity breaks my heart.”
South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens addressed a crowd, “We have met them and we have conquered.”
4-5 April – Union General George B. McClellan had moved most of his massive army of 120,000 men plus horses, mules, artillery, wagons and supplies from Alexandria, VA down the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay to land at Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. His aim was to march his horde northwest and take Richmond. His first obstacle was Yorktown, where his army attacked 15,000 Confederates under General John Bankhead Magruder. General Joseph E. Johnston, in command of the Confederate Army in Virginia was sending reinforcements while McClellan’s men prepared to conduct a siege. After a minor battle, the Confederates withdrew toward Williamsburg.
6-7 April – Battle of Shiloh. In southwest Tennessee, General Ulysses S. Grant had brought his army to Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. At the same time, General Albert Sidney Johnston was leading his Confederate force northward from Mississippi. Johnston would suffer a mortal wound that caused him to bleed to death in minutes on the first day of battle. Beauregard, who just a year earlier had been in command on the war’s opening day at Fort Sumter, took the reins. On the first day, he pushed the Union forces back nearly two miles. By nightfall, Gen. Grant’s camp was almost back at the landing at the Tennessee River—an important position to retain. That night reinforcements arrived and Grant launched a counterattack. The fighting raged for six hours until Beauregard decided to withdraw. The Federals did not pursue and the Confederates returned to Corinth, Mississippi.
WORLD WAR II
19 April – Lofoten Islands, Norway. Three convoys departed Scotland, from the mainland and Scapa Flow: destination Norway. British and French forces were planning to take control of Norwegian ports but in a seemingly uncoordinated effort, the army and navy command staffs travelled separately. With a disjointed embarkation schedule, units did not know the whereabouts of the artillery nor munitions in many cases. While some of the transports tarried off the coast, hesitant to make an amphibious assault, German Stukas dived and strafed. Once on shore, the Allies would face the German 169thcrack mountain division. With the exception of the French Chasseurs Alpins, none of the other units had trained for mountain fighting.
3 April – Rashid Ali al-Gaylani took over the government of Iraq in a coup backed by Nazi Germany. He deposed the British backed monarchical administration of six-year old King Faisal II. Gaylani refused to allow any Allied transports through his country. Baghdad became an HQ for Nazi intelligence operations in the Middle East.
1 April – Murmansk, USSR- Convoy PQ-13 reached its destination with munitions and war supplies for the Soviet Union. The convoy began with 19 merchant ships, and reached the harbor after losing five vessels. German U-boats destroyed two, the Luftwaffe accounted for another two sinkings and a destroy took out the fifth. A violent storm had separated the convoy from its destroyer escort and German scout planes located the ships and called in the attack. The convoy departed northern Scotland before stopping in Iceland on the voyage through the Arctic Sea. This was the first Arctic convoy to reach Murmansk, the world’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle. Because of the Gulf Stream currents, the harbor in Murmansk remains ice-free for a good part of the year.
Author Sally M. Walker joins Mark to discuss the tragic disaster of the explosion and sinking of the Sultana in 1865. It was America’s greatest maritime disaster that occurred on the Mississippi River at the end of the Civil War—but so few people know about it. Her book, Sinking the Sultana, tells the intriguing story.
Mark and Professor Gerry Prokopowicz wrap up last week’s Lincoln discussion with some points about the assassination in April 1865. Mark gives background and the basic story of the Sultana tragedy, America’s greatest maritime disaster that occurred that same month.
Mark talks with Professor Gerald J. Prokopowicz about Abraham Lincoln, his youth, early career, presidency and the Civil War. Professor Prokopowicz addresses some of the popular questions readers ask about the sixteenth president as well as some that may be more obscure.
Mark talks about New Orleans during the Civil War. General Mansfield Lovell assumes military command of New Orleans and begins to shore up the defenses. He affirms that the threat will come upriver from the Gulf of Mexico, despite Richmond’s insistence that he transfer men and boats north. Construction begins on two super CSA gunboats, the Louisiana and Mississippi, said to surpass anything the Union had.
Union Threat Looms Before New Orleans
In the fall of 1861 morale was good in New Orleans and it spirits remained good into the start of 1862. The Confederates had won a decisive victory near Manassas, Virginia at the end of July where Louisiana’s native son, P.G.T. Beauregard had been the victorious commander and Louisiana boys had done well in the battle. At the end of that September, the citizens were treated to the spectacle of a trainload of captured Yankee prisoners marching under guard through the streets en route to the Orleans Parish prison. The local newspapers played it up to The New Orleans Crescent described the unfortunate captured, ushered through the streets under the curious stares of the local citizens who “behaved with their accustomed order and good breeding.” The Yankees were “a hard looking set.”
And they made reference to the notion that the prisoners might be foreign mercenaries, the Daily Crescent warned citizens and military guard alike to be aware of the arrival of “Hessian prisoners” that were on their way to the city by train. As so often in the South, there was a fear of being overrun by foreigners.
There also was a revival of community service in the area. There were festivals and fairs to raise money for families whose breadwinners were away in military service as well as for the less fortunate citizens. The city also began a free market. Public-spirited civilians made donations, the city provided operating funds and the market distributed food and other necessities to all eligible. The city regulated the system and issued tickets to “families and dependents of volunteers” who currently were in Confederate service or those whose had providers had died in service.
New Orleans was functioning and making things work as well as possible, but the diaphanous demon that festered in the minds of merchants, business people as well as everyday citizens was the blockade. In the country’s major port a chokehold on trade stifled the normal spirit, the joie de vivre for which New Orleans was so well known. The hard fact was that the U.S. fleet was maintaining a close watch on the Head of the Passes at the mouth of the Mississippi.
An enterprising group of businessmen, sparked by a former river captain raised the funds to purchase and convert a large, powerful tugboat into a warship. They had the boat covered with what took on the appearance of an armored turtle shell made of iron “T” train track rails. The locals readily applied the moniker, “The Turtle,” which immediately stuck. Its armor rendered it virtually impregnable and certain northern news organizations noted that it was going to be a terrible scourge once let loose on the American fleet.
This was not to be. In command of the Confederate naval defenses was the elderly, but spirited, Commodore George N. Hollins. The Marylander had a distinguished career with the U.S. Navy beginning with his enlistment as a teenager during the War of 1812, and spanning a series of actions and promotions from the Barbary Coast of Africa to Central America. Hollins commandeered the Manassas, staffed the crew with volunteers from within his fleet and steamed downriver.
Hollins had his squadron assembled and moving toward the passes and the Federal ships at midnight. The Union ships, commanded by Captain John Pope, who had served almost as long as Hollins, had the Confederates outgunned by more than double, fifty-five to little more than twenty. But Hollins did have the advantage of range and was able to surprise Pope.
The surprise was a crash as the Manassas rammed the USS Richmond and left a five-inch hole in the hull below the water line. Before sunrise, Pope had his squadron in a retreat, withdrawing downriver toward the Southwest Pass.
Hollins sent a dispatch that in those pre-dawn hours of 12 October he had “attacked” the blockaders and had been successful with “his little fleet.” He was able to achieve “a complete success,” he said. Hollins gave the people of New Orleans hope when he affirmed, “after a very short struggle, [I was able] to drive them all aground on the southwest bar, except the Preble, which I sunk. I have captured a prize from them, and after I got them fast on the sand I peppered them well. No casualties on our side.”
Mark and guest Susannah J. Ural, a professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi and co-director of the University’s Dale Center for the Study of War and Society, discuss her recent book, Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit.