Tuesday, July 29, 2014

150 Years Ago Yesterday - Ezra Church

Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood was nothing if not committed to his belief in offensive attacks. Rather than attempting to out maneuver the enemy or picking places for fighting defensively with the benefit of cover to protect his rapidly dwindling men, he bleed his army in the engagements around Atlanta.

On July 28, 1864, fighting broke out on the west side of Atlanta as Hood attempted to block Sherman yet again. Trying to strike first Hood slammed into Gen. John "Black Jack" Logan's XV Corps near Ezra Church.

There, away for his unit, who was guarding army communications, was Union army chaplain George W. Pepper. Pepper belonged to the 80th Ohio Infantry of Green Berry Raum's (pictured) Brigade.

Chaplain Pepper witnessed the deadly damaged caused by the the severe fighting:

"Here in the woods where Logan's corps was first engaged (on the 28th), there is not a rock or tree, or leaf, but shows the desperate strife. One section of woods is literally cut off, torn down, scattered. Acres of this forest are topped by canister and grape-shot and shell almost as completely as our farmers top their cornfields with a sickle.

At the corner of the cornfield where the corps was engaged, there is a piece of oak rail fence and part of a stone wall. In one length of that fence behind which the rebels were concealed, I count 100 bullet holes. And along that field, and within the distance of 80 rods, we count 1,600 dead rebels, most of them lying on their backs, eyes open, faces black, hands folded on their breasts.

Here lies one upon his side, eyes closed, feet slightly drawn up, his head resting easily upon his knapsack. He looks a weary soldier, sound asleep. I speak to him, he stirs not; put my hand upon him, he will not wake. Dead.

Here is a soldier, a rebel captain, sitting against this tree. His limbs are crossed, and his cap hangs naturally upon his knee. One hand in the breast of his coat, the other hangs by his side. Dead.

Here, leaning against this wall, is a rebel soldier with his leg broken below the knee, and a Union surgeon lying dead across his feet. They are both dead. The surgeon was evidently dressing his wound when he received his death shot, for there is the bandage wound twice around the limb, the other end of which is still in the dead surgeon's hand. The rebel soldier evidently bled to death."

More fighting would be needed before Atlanta finally fell on September 1. But the Union army's morale was excellent following the fight at Ezra Church and they as well as their Confederate enemies knew it was only a matter of how much more time and how many more casualties before the inevitable.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bully Civil War Photograph


A colleague at work shared this interesting photograph he recently located of Frank Lane Wolford. Wolford was colonel of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry (US) until he spoke out against African American recruitment in the state. More can be learned about Wolford here

Friday, July 25, 2014

Local Evils

A couple of months back I posted on antebellum white Kentuckians' perceptions of free people of color. I recently read a scholarly article that included an extended quote from a newspaper article titled "Local Evils," which ran in the Louisville Public Advertiser in 1835.  This excerpt corroborated much of the information shared in my aforementioned post that focused largely on examples the late antebellum period. The quote reads:

"We are overrun with free negroes. In certain parts of our town throngs of them may be seen at any time - and most of them have no ostensible means of obtaining a living. They lounge about through the day, and most subsist by stealing, or receiving stolen articles from slaves at night. Frequently, they are so bold as to occupy the side-walks in groups, and compel passengers to turn out and walk round them. Their impudence naturally attracts the attention of slaves, and necessarily becomes contagious. In addition to this, free negroes are teaching night schools. Slaves are their pupils and, to the extent of their tuition fees, are induced, in most instances, to rob their masters or employers."

The mention of free people of color occupying the city's sidewalks and being impudent provide a glimpse into why whites detested their presence. Free blacks occupied in a "limbo." They were black and thus view as inferior, but they were legally free, so they could not be ordered like a slave could be. Free people of color disrupted the neatly ordered society that white Kentuckians wish to continue. As their numbers continued to grow during the antebellum period, whites looked more and more for ways to curtail their freedoms and limit their liberty.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - The Battle of Atlanta

In my recent posts I have focused on the soldiers' stories, and rightly so, they after all put it all on the line whether in combat in camp or on the march. But, I think it is also important not to forget that soldiers were not the only ones affected by the war's course.

Civilians, too, felt the hard hand of war, especially Southerners who lived in the army's paths and or had family members fighting as soldiers.

One such civilian caught up in the waves of war was Sarah Huff, a young girl, who had fled with her family from nearby Marietta. Sarah remembered:

"It was on July 22, the day after we left home because the fighting was so near, that my younger brother John's keen ears caught the sound of distant fighting.

Before that fiery July sun had set, thousands of as brave men as ever joined battle, were numbered among the dead. And I saw thousands more brought into the city in ominous black-covered ambulances which made their slow, pain-laden way up Decatur Street to several improvised hospitals where Dr. Noe D'Alvigny and Dr. Logan, as well as many of Atlanta's most prominent ladies, waited to try to ease their suffering.

As the battle, raging to the east and southeast of us, grew more fierce, the line of ambulances creeping up Decatur street increased. The dismal-looking vehicles had their side curtains lifted to let in the air, for the heat was intense.

We could see from our viewpoint, in front of the old-time residence of Charles Shearer, Sr., the blood trickling down from the wounds of the poor helpless victims of one of the war's most terrible battles.

Men were clinging to sides of the hospital vans trying to fan away the terrible swarms of flies which hovered over the wounded. My young brother John went into action, as he usually did when he saw a chance to be helpful. Noticing that a fly brush had just fallen from the hands of a man on one of the ambulances, and had been crushed the heavy wheels, he grabbed the slit-paper fly brush that mother handed him, and leaping to the side of the slow-moving ambulance, became one of the most efficient fly-fanners in the procession. He was less than 12 years old."

Hood's desperate attacks continued that July 22, 1864 day that Sarah Huff remembered. Like at Peachtree Creek two days before, the Battle of Atlanta cost the Confederates dearly and added to their already growing lists of killed, wounded, and captured since Hood had assumed command. On July 22, the determined Confederate attacks proved damaging to Sherman's troops (about 4,000), but hurt the Southerners more (about 5,000).  Unfortunately for all, more was to come.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Peachtree Creek

Gen. John Bell Hood wasted little time once in command of the Army of Tennessee. He immediately went to work on offensive plans. Hood desired to make an attack near Peachtree Creek, just north of Atlanta, in attempt to throw back Sherman's Union forces.

Originally planned for 1:00 p.m. on July 20, 1864, the Confederate attacks actually began about 4:00 p.m. The Southerners met rough terrain, uncoordinated organization, and a stubborn enemy, and were forced to withdraw late in the day. They lost about 2,500 in killed, wounded, and missing.

One of those making the attacks was Lt. Robert M. Collins of the 15th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) of Gen. Hiram Bronson Granbury's (pictured) Brigade, Cleburne's Division. Most of Cleburne's men were held in reserve during the Peachtree Creek attacks, but some units, such as Collins's, were sent forward. Collin wrote:

"In front of our brigade was an open field about 400 yards across. About 4:30 o'clock the command was given, 'Forward, march!' We quit the [earth]works and moved out into the field. The Federals greeted us with terrific fire of shot and shells, but as we were moving down the hill they passed over our heads, doing no damage except that of making a fellow feel like he was very small game to be shot with such game.

On we go, now the lines come to the fence of a farm, the line halts and the men take hold of it and just bodily lift it and throw it down. Just at this moment a blinding flash right in our front and shell explodes. It seemed to be filled with powder and ounce balls. It laid a good many of the boys out, and among the number was Capt. Ben Tyus and myself.

Capt. Tyus was wounded in the ankle while I received an ounce ball in the upper third of my left thigh. As I fell I noticed that about two inches of my gray Georgia jeans pants had gone in with the shot; this was conclusive that a piece of shell had passed through my thigh and had necessarily cut the femoral artery, and that therefore I would be a dead Confederate in just three minutes, as my understanding was that the femoral artery cut would let all the blood in a man out in that time.

However, I made a grip on the wound with my right hand, intending to stop the blood as much as possible, and thereby hold on to life long enough to give my past history a hasty going over and to repeat all the prayers I knew. Four big stout fellows picked me up on a litter and started back to the line of breastworks. We had to pass through a galling fire of minies, shot and shell; I was not alaramed at all at this, because my mind was made up to quit the earth and I was now only waiting, as the saying goes, for death to strike me square in the face.

I finally ventured to inquire of one of the men carrying me if I were bleeding much. He was a witty Irishman, and replied, ' Not a drap of rudy current to be seen, Lieutenant.'

These words brought back my hope that had already gone over the hills out of sight, and made me remark that an improvement in gait would soon land us out of reach of these Yankee bullets. Then I chuckled in my sleeve when the thought occurred that maybe this wound will win a good furlough, and if it does won't I have fun with those Georgia girls. This may all sound like a strange line of thoughts to run through one's mind in so short a time and under such circumstances, but all this is sound common sense compared to some things we are guilty of doing during our natural lives."

Collins received immediate medical attention, and fortunately his wound had indeed missed his femoral artery. He recuperated in Georgia hospitals for about four months, returning to his regiment in November.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A 'Stampede' for Freedom

Since I spend a great deal of time sharing various Kentucky Civil War stories here on Random Thoughts, I thought I'd share a great piece written by Dr. Aaron Astor of Maryville College (Tennessee), which was written for the New York Times and their "Disunion" series. It is titled "A 'Stampede' for Freedom," and tells the intriguing story of Kentucky's African American enlistments in the Union army in the the spring of 1864, a story I have referenced often in past posts.

You may remember a couple of years back that I high recommended Dr. Astor's book, Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri. If you have not yet read Rebels on the Border, find a copy, you will not be disappointed.

Along with being an excellent writer, Dr. Astor is a great speaker as well. Last summer he assisted in the National Endowment for Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Grant that was hosted by the Kentucky Historical Society, which examined Kentucky and the border states in the Civil War. His ability to make a sometimes confusing and contentious topic like Reconstruction understandable to an audience is a true talent.

Dr. Astor's Disunion piece will surely bring additional national interest to Kentucky's often overlooked emancipation story and inspire those both inside and outside of the state to learn more.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bully Civil War Photograph


Unidentified Union soldier with enlisted man's dress hat (Hardee hat) and frock coat.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Monocacy

On July 9, 1864, a Union force under the command of Gen. Lew Wallace and Confederate force led by Gen. Jubal Early clashed on the Monocacy River near Frederick, Maryland.

One of the combatants that day was Private George W. Nichols, a member of the 61st Georgia Infantry, which belonged to the brigade of Gen. Clement A. Evans (pictured).

Writing his memoirs, which was published in 1898, Nichols wrote of that day:

"It made our hearts ache to look over the battle-field and see so many of our dear friends, comrades and  beloved officers, killed and wounded. Our loss was terrible, while the Yankees lost but few. I only saw three dead Union soldiers and I did not see one that was wounded, though I did not go over the field. We could not see a Yankee on our part of the line during the whole advance. All that we could shoot at was the smoke of their guns, they were so well posted. It was called our victory, but it was a costly one, for it cost Evans' Brigade over five hundred men, in wounded and killed. It was said that it was raw troops that we were fighting, but I never saw old soldiers shoot better. The Sixty-first Georgia Regiment went into battle with nearly one hundred and fifty men, and after the battle was over  we could not stack but fifty-two guns by actual count. . . .

It looked like half of the Twelfth Georgia Battalion were killed or wounded. Company D had the sad misfortune of getting Lieutenant James Mincy severely wounded. He was carrying our battle flag. He had picked it up after the fifth man had been shot down while carrying it in this battle and he was likewise shot down at once. He had already been wounded at Manassas and severely wounded at Gettysburg. Here he was shot through the left lung, the ball just missing his back bone. Bloody froth from his lungs would come out of his mouth an nose, and in the front and back where the ball passed through. He has since told me that the Yankee doctors drew a silk handkerchief through him and treated him very kindly. . . .

Here I saw one of Company A of our regiment, Thomas Nichols, (though no relative of mine) with his brains shot out. When I saw him he was sitting up and wiping brains from his temple wit his hand. I went to try to render him some assistance and did so by giving him some water. He seemed to have some mind, for he said that he wanted to go back to Virginia and get a horse and try to get home and never to cross the Potomac again. He lived twelve hours before death came to his relief."

While Wallace retreated from Monocacy, Early continued on toward Washington D.C., leaving his dead and wounded behind. Wallace's delay allowed troops from the Army of the Potomac to strengthen the capital's defenses, and thereby making Early's attempt virtually moot.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Yankee on Hood

Steven Vincent Benet once wrote that General John Bell Hood was "All lion, none of the fox." Indeed, Hood was a fighter of the most gallant stripe, but as the quote indicates, not the most tactically sharp knife in the drawer. He again and again demonstrated his preference for offensive action. At Gaines' Mill in 1862, it had succeeded. At Antietam in the "bloody cornfield" he drove the Yankees. However, at Kolb's Farm, at the battles around Atlanta, and dreadfully at Franklin, Hood's dash proved disastrous.

When Hood was given command of the Army of Tennessee in July 1864, not only his charges took notice, the enemy did as well. Sergeant Fenwick Y. Hedley of the 32nd Illinois Infantry wrote about the Northerners reaction to the Confederate change in command:

"There was a camp story to the effect that, on receiving the news of Hood superseding Johnston, General Sherman called a council of officers, who had known the new Confederate commander personally, in order to learn something of his character. Several officers, who had been classmates with General Hood at West Point, expressed themselves in various ways, pertinent and otherwise; but the climax was reached when an old Kentucky colonel remarked that he 'Seed Hood bet twenty-five hundred dollars, with nary a p'ar in his hand!' This anecdote convinced all that such an exhibition of nerve was good evidence of the fighting qualities of the new commander. However this may be, Sherman was satisfied that the change of commanders betokened more vigorous measures, and made his dispositions accordingly, sending notice of the fact to every part of the army, and notifying his subordinates to be prepared, at all times, for sharp and unexpected battle. The troops grasped the import of Hood's appointment with as quick intelligence as the officers, and expressed great satisfaction with the assignment, regarding Hood as a hot-headed fellow, who would butt his brains out against their entrenchments, thus shortening the campaign and the war."

Sunday, July 6, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Inching on Atlanta

As the guns fell silent at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27th, 1864, Sherman was already looking for ways around the Confederate defenses. Federal generals Schofield and McPherson began to move around the Confederate left, which once again forced Johnston to withdraw and move south toward the Chattahoochee River, only about six miles from Atlanta.

During these movements Lt. Hamilton Branch took time to write home to his mother. Branch was a member of the 54th Georgia Infantry, which was part of Gen. Hugh Weedon Mercer's Brigade in William Henry Talbot Walker's (pictured) Division.

"In Reserve of Walker's Division
1/2 Miles of Chattahoochee River
July 6th 1864
My Very Dear Mother
After writing to you on yesterday we were moved one mile to the left and placed in position behind a portion of the stockade erected by Genl Shoop Genl Johnston's chief of Artillery this was the strangest sight we have seen since we have been here, it put me in mind of the fortifications I have read of in the account of the first American settlers lives, it was made thus on every little rise and commanding every little valey there were built redouts and block houses and all between these there were rails and logs about 12 feet in length stuck up in the ground close together, the whole forming (as some of the men remarked) a wall between the cornfeds and wheatfeds, and I would have liked it better if the wall had been 1/2 mile in height and had been built farther north, we remained at that place doing nothing until dark when Bill arrived and we went to work with good will, after eating we were ordered to pull down the stockade and build a breastwork instead, this we did working all night and until 9 oclock this morning when we were ordered to stop work and fall in this we did and were moved back into the woods about 200 yds where we dined immediately after dinner (or in fact before Capt. Anderson had finished for he had to eat as he was marching) we were ordered off an marched about 1 mile to this place and were put in reserve of our division, as soon as we stopped I put for the river and took a nice bath and put on my clean clothes. I then went back and just as I had arrived and was sitting down writing to you, we were ordered off again and are now (after having marched 1/2 mile to the left) in the trenches, and ready for a fight, we do not know how long we will stay here, and would not be at all surprised if we were moved in five minutes--thus it is we work all night and march all day and rest all the other time therefore we soldiers have plenty of rest and time to spare. We have not had a gun fired at us now for thirty-six hours in fact there is very little firing along the lines now, the enemy are shelling our pontoon bridges both on the right and left, and we are now putting some in the center. I do not know whether we will cross the river or not. Old Joe [Gen. Johnston] knows what he is at and will take care of us and do what is best. Praying for Gods blessings on you I remain your devoted son
Hammie"

President Jefferson Davis quickly grew tired of Johnston's continued retreats and on July 17 replaced him with battle-battered and amputated Gen. John Bell Hood. The highly offensive-minded Hood would strike at Sherman's legions time after time around Atlanta to great destruction of his army and to little to no gain. Regardless of defending commanders, Atlanta fell in the opening days of September, which was yet another body blow to the Confederacy, and a massive boost for Lincoln's reelection chances.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

150 Years Ago This Week - The Valley

Often overlooked due to actions going on at the same time in the Petersburg/Richmond region and over in northern Georgia, the Shenandoah Valley was also the scene of army movements and deadly fighting in the summer of 1864.

One of the men in Confederate General Jubal Early's army, and in William Terry's brigade (pictured) was Lt. John H. Worsham. A member of the 21st Virginia Infantry, Worsham had fought in the Valley two year earlier under Stonewall Jackson. Now, in 1864, he once again found himself in familiar confines as Early pushed on north toward Washington D.C. Worsham wrote the following about this week 150 years ago:

"On the 28th [June 1864] we resumed our march down the valley [northward] and felt perfectly at home, since nearly all of the valley from Staunton to the Potomac river was familiar to us, and many of its inhabitants old acquaintances. We stopped regularly at night and continued the march each day. On the afternoon of July 3d we reached Martinsburg, running in on the Yankees who were there, so suddenly, that they did not have time to move any of their stores. They were making big preparations to celebrate the Fourth, and many of the men had received boxes of good things from home and friends. The depot and express office were filled with articles of this kind. A guard was placed around these buildings and their storehouses. The express office was put in charge of a quartermaster who was an old friend of mine. At night I went there and inquired of the guard for him and and he let me into the building. He was very glad to see me, as he had only one man to help him get these articles in shape, and asked me to help him; this I consented to do, if he would give me a barrel of cakes. He said 'all right.' I found one and carried it out and turned it over to my company . . . who were profuse in their thanks for the cakes, and soon fell asleep,--dreaming of little cakes, big cakes, and a mountain made of cakes.

The next morning was the Fourth of July, 1864! Gen. Early did not move us at the usual early hour, but issued to the men the good things captured the evening before. They were divided among the men as fairly as possible, F Company getting a few oranges, lemons, cakes and candy, and a keg of lager beer. We certainly enjoyed the treat, and celebrated the day as well as we could for our hosts, and regretted they did not stay to preside for us. We drank their health with the wish that they would not do the like again. This was the biggest Fourth of July picnic celebration we enjoyed during the war. We took up our march and crossed the Potomac river at Shepherdstown."

Less than a week later Worsham and the rest of Early's army clashed with Gen. Lew Wallace's Federals at Monocacy, Maryland (July 9), then pushed on to the outskirts of Washington D.C.