Sunday, March 04, 2007

Things you didn't know about the Civil War, Part 1

  1. You probably knew that the First Battle of Bull Run had a lot of spectators from nearby Wasington D.C. expecting a humorous spectacle of minor battle. Wht you may not have known is that many of the soldiers on the Union side simply walked off the field in the middle of the battle. According to the slightly biased ass-covering version of then-colonel William Tecumseh Sherman

    [W]e began our retreat toward the same ford of Bull Run by which we had approached the field of battle. There was no positive order to retreat, although for an hour it had been going on by operation of the men themselves.

    In other words, they fled. According to Captain James B. Fry "The men quietly walked off." In The Civil War: A History Harry Hansen describes the episode thusly.

    "To the trained men no episode of the war was so baffling, so mortifying to their pride, as the general movement among the Federal troops on the Henry plateau to head for home. It seemed as catching as an insidiuous disease. When officers tried to stop them with appeals and harangues, the enlisted men moved past them as if they had not heard or seen, and had other business to perform. Evidently convinced they had done all that could be expected of them, individuals and groups turned around and walked off the field. It was what civilians would have done and these men in blue uiforms were still civilians, not yet made over into automatons who obeyed orders, even orders that sent them against musketry and cannon shot."

    The same thing happened at the Battle of Shiloh. The battle was basically the Confederate troops trying to push the Union troops into the Tenessee River. The third brigade of Sherman's division "melted away", and the Confederates overran General Benjamin M. Prentiss's camp. but the officers held their ground, and Prentiss and a core group of 1,000 soldiers drove back awesomely named General Braxton Bragg's forces.
  2. 1,600 men were killed at Shiloh, but 16,000 were injured, with festering wounds and amputated limbs. Confederate doctors' estimates place the mortality rate for amputees at eight in ten.
  3. The Merrimack was originally a Union ship, taken from Harper's Ferry when Virginia went over to the Confederacy. It was 275 feet long, but in bad disrepair. It looked like a big barn roof. It was repaired and renamed the Virginia, although historians use its original name as a bit of a dis to the Confederates. It wasn't the first ironclad ship, but it was involved in the first ironclad-on-ironclad action with the Monitor. The Monitor was 122 feet and looked like "a tin can on a shingle" They both had exceedingly short lives. The Merrimack was lurking in the Elizabeth River building a name for itself but not really doing anything. When word came down the pipe that the Monitor had finally been completed and was headed South, it was decided that the Virginia had better get some action to counter the hit to Southern morale that the Monitor was sure to be. It came down the river to Hampton Roads looking for a fight on March 8, 1862. First reactions from the thousands of spectators on the shore was that the ship was really slow, taking between 30 and 40 minutes to turn around. It immediately rammed the Congress, then rammed the Cumberland and sank it, breaking its plow in the process. The upshot of the day was that no major damage could be done to the Virginia. The next day the Monitor arriveed by a sea route and defended the rest of the Union's wooden ships successfully all day. The concensus was that the Monitor was really small. The Virginia was unable to do any serious damage and eventually quit. The first clash of the ironclads ended in a draw, with both sides claiming victory. The Virginia/Merrimack was refitted after the encounter but wound up being trapped when the Union took the York peninsula. Unable to risk either passing the Union batteries or heading onto the open seas, the ship was burned on May 10 off Craney Island and blew up the next day. The Monitor didn't last too long either. While being towed to Charleston Harbor on open seas in December of the same year it took on water and sunk. So 1862 was the year for these two ships, neither of them outlived it.
  4. Some interesting facts about the capture of New Orleans by the Union. It was effected by going up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico. The problem with this is that the Confederates were sending flaming barges downstream trying to hit the Union ships. The closest they came was scorching the paint on the Hartford's hull.
  5. Once they took control of the city, command of it went to Massachusetts-born Democrat Benjamin F. Butler, who was hated in the South as much as William Tecumseh "slash-and-burn" Sherman was. The main reason was that he had a New Orleans man hanged for desecrating the U.S. flag. After taking the city a star spangled banner was flown from the U.S. Mint. A mob took it down and brought it to City Hall where a William Mumford ripped it up. Butler had him hanged. The populace of New Orleans despised him for this. He banned firearms for citizens. He removed the mayor and replaced him with a general from Maine. Most famously, he and his soldiers faced oposition from the women of New Orleans. They refused to face the soldiers, turning their backs on them and their noses up at at them on the streets. They were known to spit on them. On one occasion, a group of women on a balcony saw Butler coming and whirled around, turning their backs to him. He was heard to remark "Those women evidently know which end of theirs looks best." But the last straw came when a woman emptied her slop jar over an officer in full dress uniform. Buter issued the following order.

    "[W]hen any female shall by word, gesture or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her vocation"

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