Friday, October 31, 2014

How Stonewall Jackson Fought War

"Stonewall" Jackson

     On July 21, 1861, Federal artillery sent shells showering over raw Confederate troops at Manassas that burst in their ranks, creating terrible slaughter. The seventh Georgia and fourth Alabama regiments were very badly cut up. At length, despite all of their valiant efforts, Brigadier General Barnard Bee was compelled to give the order to fall back. 
     Attempting to rally the retreating men, Bee used General Thomas J. Jackson’s newly arrived brigade as an anchor. Pointing to Jackson, Bee shouted, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”
     “The enemy are driving us,” Bee exclaimed to Jackson.

     Jackson replied, “Then, Sir, we will give them the bayonet.”

General Jackson's Philosophy of War

A brief look at the impact of war on civilians living around Manassas based on first person narratives and family histories.

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How Ulysses S. Grant Fought War

     Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign began with the Battle of the Wilderness and continued through Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and on to Petersburg.  Unlike other Union commander’s, Grant refused to allow heavy casualties to deter him from his mission, the destruction of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
     At Cold Harbor, the Confederates blocked Grant’s path to Richmond by building six miles of strong entrenchments.  Grant assaulted the entrenchments head on.  One June 3, 1864 some six thousand Union troops were killed or wounded in the space of one hour.
     Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Herald Tribune, who had thundered, "On to Richmond!", in 1861, was appalled by the losses incurred during Grant’s Overland Campaign and now wrote President Lincoln demanding negotiations, "Our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country longs for peace, shudders at the prospect of fresh conscription, or further wholesale devastation, and of new rivers of human blood."

     Grant persevered despite casualties and criticism, beating the life out of the Confederacy and ending the war.

U.S. Grant: A Fighting General

A brief look at the impact of war on civilians living around Manassas based on first person narratives and family histories.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blackbeard the Pirate: Lost Treasure

     THE NEW YORK TIMES reported the following incident in October, 1926 concerning treasure in Burlington, New Jersey:

      "A century old legend, telling how the pirate Blackbeard buried his plunder beneath an old black walnut tree as a marker, has gained so much credence that Miss Florence E. Steward…directed a group of laborers in digging for treasure on her property....
     According to tradition, Blackbeard buried a Spaniard upright over the treasure chest, then sailed away never to return.  In the course of time, the walnut tree on Miss Steward's property became known as 'The Pirate Tree'.

     A human skull unearthed by school children today gave renewed zest to the hunt for buried treasure.  Believing the skull might be that of the Spaniard whom Blackbeard is supposed to have buried over the treasure, Miss Steward asked police to guard her property against further digging by volunteers until she can personally supervise the work of her own excavators."

     No treasure was found at this excavation but the legend lingers on.

More Legends of Blackbeard's Treasure

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The Legend of Mosby’s Treasure

     When famed Confederate raider John S. Mosby rode out of Fairfax Court House in March 1863 he took with him a captured Union general, two captains, thirty privates, fifty eight horses, and legend says, $350,000 (now valued at several million) worth of gold plate, jewelry, silver tableware and gold coins that Union troops had looted from neighboring southern homes.  Mosby marched his prisoners to Culpepper, Virginia where they were turned over to General J.E.B. Stuart.
     About midway between Haymarket and New Baltimore, Mosby, accompanied by only one sergeant, James F. Ames (who was captured and hanged by Union General George Custer a short time later), buried the loot between two pine trees, marking the trees with carved crosses.
      Mosby continued his activities unabated right to the end of the war when he gathered his men one last time and disbanded, never officially surrendering to Federal forces.  Mosby went on to become a distinguished railway lawyer (and attorney to the father of George S. Patton).  Shortly before his death in 1916, at the age of eighty three, he told some of his close friends:

     "I've always meant to look for that cache we buried…. Some of the most precious heirlooms of old Virginia are in that sack.  I guess that one of these days someone will find it."

Mosby's Greatest Raid
Treasure Legends of the Civil War

A lively history of the Civil War sprinkled with tales of over 60 buried treasure in sixteen states. History buffs and adventure seekers will enjoy this work.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Burning of Richmond in 1865

     April 2, 1865 was a Sunday, and in Richmond Jefferson Davis was at church.  In the midst of the services a courier arrived with a message from the War Department: "General Lee telegraphs he can hold his position no longer."  Davis quietly left the church and set about removing his government from Richmond.
  By late afternoon it seemed that all who could leave the city were stampeding.  Commissary stores were thrown open, and their hoarded contents distributed to eager crowds.  As the day wore on the scenes at the various government stores changed from the fairly orderly distribution of supplies to rank plundering.  Whiskey stocks were broken into and the streets ran with liquor.

     Factories, arsenals and mills were ordered destroyed, some were blown up, others were burned.  The fires were soon out of control.  There was absolute panic in the city.  Men, women, and children hurried to and fro.  Commissary stores were destroyed.  The streets were blocked with men and beasts.  Fierce crowds of skulking men and coarse, half drunken women gathered, breaking into shops and fighting among themselves over the spoils they seized.  Through the night, drunken mobs of civilians and Army deserters roamed the city, looting and burning.

The main reasons given for the South’s decision to secede from the Union, thus provoking the American Civil War, are often given as slavery and state’s rights. Both answers are correct in so far as they go. But underlying both are economic self-interest. Economic self-interest was the key motive in the South’s virulent embrace of both slavery and state’s rights.

Part I provides background information on the reasons for Southern secession. Part II provides key Southern documents, which speak for themselves.

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Monday, October 06, 2014

America’s Worst General: William Hull and the Surrender of Detroit (War of 1812)

On August 13, 1812 Major General Isaac Brock and a British force of 400 regular and militia troops supported by 700 lightly armed Native American auxiliaries arrived before the American stronghold at Detroit.  Brock intended to subdue Detroit, garrisoned by 2,500 men securely situated behind 22-foot ramparts and a palisade of 10-foot hardwood spikes all defended by 33 cannons and an 8-foot moat.  How was he to do this?

Brock attacked the American “center of gravity”, which in this case was the mind of the American commander, Brigadier General William Hull, whom contemporaries described as, “a short, silver-haired, pleasant, old gentleman, who bore the marks of good eating and drinking.”
Having captured some of Hull’s dispatches, Brock knew that American morale was low, and that Hull was discouraged.  Playing on Hull’s almost hysterical fear of Indians, Brock began a campaign of psychological intimidation.  The British played on Hull's fear of the Indians by arranging for a letter to fall into American hands which asked that no more Indians be allowed to proceed as there were already no less than 5,000 at Amherstburg and supplies were running low. Brock sent a demand for surrender to Hull, stating:

“The force at my disposal authorizes me to require of you the immediate surrender of Fort Detroit. It is far from my intention to join in a war of extermination, but you must be aware, that the numerous body of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops, will be beyond control the moment the contest commences…”

Additionally, to trick the Americans into believing there were more British troops than there actually were, troops marched to take up positions in plain sight of the Americans then quickly ducked behind entrenchments, and marched back out of sight to repeat the same procedure.

Brock’s demand for surrender was rejected.  The British began bombarding Fort Detroit.  The Americans returned fire.  Seven Americans were killed and two British gunners wounded in the exchange.  On the night of August 15, some five hundred Native American warriors paddled across the unguarded river and landed below Detroit.  The British infantry and militia followed at daylight.

Hull, who had led a heroic bayonet charge at the Battle of Stony Point in 1778, was totally out of his depth in overall command and began to crack, seemingly besieged by overwhelming British forces and Indians “numerous beyond example.” At 10:00 A.M. a white flag appeared over the fort.  Despite the vehement protests of his officers and men, William Hull surrendered his command without a fight. The British captured an American army of 2,500, some thirty-three cannon, four hundred rounds of 24-pound shot, one hundred thousand cartridges, 2,500 rifles and bayonets, and a newly built 16-gun brig Adams.

Success leaves clues. So does failure. Some of history’s best known commanders are remembered not for their brilliant victories but for their catastrophic blunders.

Throughout the centuries countless armies have gone down to defeat, succumbing to greater numbers, more advanced technology, or more skilled opponents. A few armies have been defeated because of the blundering incompetence of their own commanders. What are the elements of leadership failure? A recurrent pattern emerges over the last two thousand plus years.

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

“Bundling” in New England courtship

Despite the best efforts of the clergy, European travelers during the second half of the eighteenth century often commented on the widespread custom of “bundling” in the northern and middle colonies among the rural and “lower people”. Andrew Burnaby, a young Englishman who toured Massachusetts in 1759, wrote about the custom, “At their usual time the old couple retire to bed, leaving the young ones to settle matters as they can, who, after having sat up as long as they think proper, get into bed together also, but without pulling off their undergarments, in order to prevent scandal.”

Johann Schoepf, who toured the region in 1783, assured his readers that “the young woman’s good name is in no ways impaired.” Visits took place neither “by stealth” nor only after the young couple was “actually betrothed”: “on the contrary, the parents are advised, and these meetings happen when the pair is enamored and merely wish to know each other better.”

European visitors were amazed by the openness with which young men and women spent the night together. “I have entered several bedchambers,” wrote Alexander Berthier, “where I have found bundling couples, who are not disturbed and continue to give each other all the honest tokens of their love.”  The degree of intimacy enjoyed during these nocturnal meetings must have varied from one couple to the next.  Although couples were supposed to keep their clothes on and to abstain from sex, the record indicates a significant number of early babies among the firstborn children of these couples after marriage. Often a couple was forced to confess their sin publicly in church before their baby could be baptized.

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in colonial America and the early republic.

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