The Battle Of Aquia Creek

Although “tactically inconclusive”, as the Wikipedia site calls it, the Battle of Aquia Creek was the first time the Confederates used naval mines.  Even though the attempt failed, later attempts did not.

But that is getting a little ahead of us right now.  Let’s start at the beginning.  The Virginia state convention voted to leave the Union on April 17, 1861, three days after the surrender of Fort Sumter.  On April 22, 1861 the governor gave the command of the state forces to Robert E. Lee.  Lee sent Captain William F. Lynch to decide where the Union navy would try to attack on the Potomac River and build defenses in those places.  Two days after Lee was appointed, it was decided to build a defense to protect Aquia Creek landing.  The landing the northernmost station that ended the Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad route.  If the Union got a hold of one of the stations, the Virgina leadership feared it would be very easy for the Union to take the train straight through Virginia.  On May 8, 1861 the fortifications started to go up.  By six days later the battery had 13 guns to protect the station.  It was on May 14, 1861 that the Union first saw the new defenses when the USS Mount Vernon saw it on patrol.  With the first defense nearing completion, the Virginia men started a second defensive position on Split Rock Bluff nearby.  That way they had a river-level defense for the train station and a higher-ground position to defend the entrance to the Potomac River.

On May 29, 1861 the USS Thomas Freeborn, a converted paddle-wheel steamer with 3 guns, fired on the defenses at Aquia Creek.  The Confederate captain reported the Union boat only fired 14 shots and wounded one man in the hand.  The next day, The Thomas Freeborn returned with two other ships and attacked the land batteries for several hours with very little damage done.  The next day, on June 1, the ships returned with another and the four Union ships attacked for about five hours, spending over 500 rounds, resulting in the death of a chicken and a horse but no Confederate soldiers.  Captain Lynch reported that the Confederates didn’t fire a lot of rounds.  The big guns in the batteries were too big to turn so they had to wait for a union ship to position itself just right or the round would have been wasted.  Even so, the Union ships did get damaged enough to need repairs while no lives were lost.

After the attack, the Confederates created two more batteries to protect the area and on July 7, the Confederates placed mines in the water.  The mines were big enough to sink a small ship but they bobbed in the water rather obviously and were sighted by the Union ships before any damage was done.  Most of the mines were picked up safely by the Union ships although on mine sunk to the bottom of the river.  While the Confederates kept the batteries operational, the Union navy soon realized that the Confederates could barely hit anything.  The technology available to the Confederacy at that time and the distance the guns had to shoot made the batteries nearly harmless but the Union leadership still kept all the civilian traffic off the Potomac River while the Confederates held the batteries in case the Aquia Creek batteries ever got a lucky hit.

When General McClellan too over command of the Union forces, President Lincoln wanted him to take the positions at Aquia Creek and up the Potomac but the general refused to move.  In March 1862 Lincoln finally officially ordered the supply-focused general to move and the Peninsula Campaign started.  On March 9, 1862 Union sailors noticed odd fires and explosions occurring at the Aquia Creek batteries.  When they investigated, it was discovered that the Confederates had been recalled to protect Richmond, leaving the batteries empty.  The Union moved in and used the area for supplies until July 1863 and again in 1864 for the Overland Campaign.

Pratt Street Riot

I just posted an article about the Pratt Street Riots on HubPages, you can check it out here for all the details.

The riot is considered the first bloodshed, as well as the first act of guerrilla or partisan warfare, in the American Civil War.  Baltimore, as well as most of Maryland, were strong Southern sympathizers, along with most of the border states.  When Union troops came in by train to get to Washington, DC they had to pass through ten blocks of city street.  Their train cars would be pulled through tracks individually by horses with the passengers still in them.  The Southern sympathizers in the city blockaded the tracks so two cars full of soldiers had to walk, leaving their larger supplies like the band equipment behind.  The mob attacked them the whole march, most with stones and anything they could throw while some had pistols they fired at the soldiers.  The frightened militia soldiers fired back with no real aim as they ran.  Four soldiers died and twelve civilians died, not all involved in the mob.  More were injured before the police got between the soldiers and the mob, threatening to fire on anyone in the mob who approached the soldiers.

Mobs continued sporadically over the next month until the state was firmly under  martial law by the Union government, where it would remain throughout the war.  As I researched this event, I was frustrated by how little is officially known.  Although the number of dead and military injuries are known, no one has an accurate account of the civilian injuries.  The panic and chaos of the day means no one knows who fired first, and it’s unknown if there was ever an order given to the soldiers to shoot back.  There was an understanding of the soldiers that if they were shot at by the civilians that they shot down the person who shot or who is aiming a gun at the soldiers, no one else.  Any shouts or other projectiles, like stones, were to get no reaction from the marching column, unless someone fell out.  Another fact I found interesting is that one of the four dead soldiers was shot with his own gun.  I found two accounts online that the mob actually walked up to the soldiers and tried to take their muskets.  I understand that these soldiers were probably militia members that weren’t trained very well but the audacity of a crowd to actually try and take a soldier’s musket as he marches by is just wrong to me.  However, I have never been in a war situation or a place with such hostilities that someone would want to do damage to a soldier to stop their cause.  I can easily understand why the government saw fit to turn the city and the whole state into martial law though.

General Halleck During The American Civil War

A black and white image of the general standing in uniform    On August 19, 1861 Henry Wagner Halleck was promoted to Major General in the United States Army, a rank he already held in the California Militia, and sent to command the Army of Missouri.  More of a scholar than a leader, Halleck was sent to clean up the mess of corruption and local vigilante groups left behind when his predecessor was removed.  Most of the Union officers in charge of various commands out west were not very aggressive.  They didn’t like to leave their cosy houses to go to battle and Halleck lacked the forcefulness needed to motivate them.  Although he reorganized the ranks and removed the corruption, the western front of the American Civil War was rather quiet with one exception: Grant.  A Brigadier General, Grant was in charge of one of the armies under Halleck.  Halleck quickly realized that Grant was the type to get promoted fast and set out to slow down Grant’s career.  Meanwhile Halleck’s administrative skills and military book smarts kept the Confederates from advancing in his command.  Grant’s surprise victory at Shiloh was attributed to General Halleck.  Grant won the battle but was at a political low point due to the amount of casualties so General Halleck took the opportunity to remove Grant from command and give him charge of the administration of Halleck’s army, which Grant viewed as a punishment.  While Grant kept the army supplied, Halleck took field command of his army for the first time and set out after the Confederates retreating from Shiloh (as had been planned before the surprise attack on Shiloh).  Halleck moved a little more each day before setting up camp for the night and having the men dig trenches to protect each new camp.  The Army moved so slow that the Confederates had given up on Corinth, Mississippi before the main part of the Halleck’s army arrived to start a proper siege.
On July 11, 1862 General Halleck was summoned to Washington, DC to be the next General-In-Chief of the Union Army.  However, the War Council that had taken over for General McClellan five months earlier was still making most of the decisions of the war.  More of a military adviser to the war council than the leader, General Halleck’s main job was to supply the Army and motivate his subordinate generals, who were in positions of rank more from popularity and winning battles than from being willing to work together or to obey orders.  It was common for Halleck to give an order and the lower generals to obey at their own leisure or to ignore the command all together.  Bickering between the generals, all with grand plans of their own of how to win the war, caused rifts that Halleck, more a politician and scholar than a military leader, could not fully control.  When it became obvious to the War Council that Halleck didn’t have an aggressive enough personality to control his generals, General Grant was summoned to Washington.
According to Grant’s orders, Halleck had resigned as General-In-Chief for personal reasons and would be the brand new job position of Chief of Staff for the Army.  Basically Grant was now in charge of the commanding of the troops and most of the decisions of the command while Halleck remained in Washington to supply the troops and act as the political function of the Army.  He was the voice that all the politicians went to understand soldiers and their needs while the generals sent him requests to work out in Washington.  The last year of the war went rather smoothly with the supplies usually getting where they were needed on time while President Lincoln and General Grant had a very good understanding of what each other wanted, thanks to General Halleck translating for them.  Because Halleck agreed with the decision to do total war on the South in the last years of the war and supplied the generals in that cause, he is one of the four generals that are considered the fathers of modern warfare.
After the war Halleck was sent to Richmond to start repairing the South with his amazing administrative and organizational skills.  He was a pallbearer at Lincoln’s funeral shortly after the war.  His lack of sympathy to the Southerners, especially the veterans, got to be a problem and he was sent out to California, basically exiled for a time from the recovery efforts.  While there he helped explore the new territory bought from Russia and is one of two men credited with naming it “Alaska”.  In 1869 he was recalled from California and put in charge of the Military Division of the South out of Louisville, Kentucky.  He died there in and was buried in New York.  He is remembered in California with a statue in Golden Gate Bridge but he never published a memoir.  He was fond of writing what he learned in his early days and he realized early the need to protect public documents in California.  However, he never published a memoir, as so many of his fellow generals did after the war, and he seemed to have burned all his correspondence.  There is no known diary nor letters to tell how he felt about working so closely with the President for so many years nor how he felt about going from General-in-Chief to Chief of Staff.  Oddly enough we know little of his feelings throughout both wars because he wished no one to know after he died or just didn’t like the clutter of keeping the letters most of his fellow generals and their families were so fond of keeping.

General Halleck Before The War

Henry Wagner Halleck was born on a farm in Westernville, New York the third child of forteen children on January 16, 1815.  His schooling was paid for by a wealthy uncle who sent Halleck to Union College before the young man joined West Point.  While there he impressed one of his teachers and was allowed to teach some classes on military theory before he graduated.  He graduated third in his class of thirty-one students in 1839 before spending two more years there as an assistant-professor.  After his time at West Point he was sent to New York where he worked on improving harbor defenses.  After a few years at New York Harbor he wrote a report for the Senate on defending the coast which caught General Scott’s eye.  Because of that report Scott chose Halleck to visit Europe to study European military forces.  When he returned he was asked to give twelve lectures at Lowell Institute in Boston.  Those lectures were put into book form and published as The Elements of Military Art and Science in 1846.  That volume became the basis of officer knowledge for years and was widely read by many during the coming American Civil War or War Between the States.
In 1846 the Mexican War broke out and Halleck was sent by the USS Lexington to California.  The seven month voyage gave him the time to translate Henri Jomini’s book on the politics and military of Napoleon into English.  It became a four volume set that would be published in 1864.  In 1847 he got his first experience on the battlefield.  He received a brevet promotion to Captain and became the Lieutenant Governor of the occupied city of Mazatlan.  Although a captain by title, he didn’t receive the pay or official promotion until 1853 as the military advancement slowed greatly after a war.
In 1849 Captain Halleck was the Military Secretary of State in California.  (Since it officially had no government yet from the previous war of independence the military officers were the established government.)  There was to be a convention in Monterey to create a constitution and the governor appointed Halleck his representative and asked him to help form the new government of the short lived country.  As a result of that order Halleck thought hard on what to include and arrived at what would be known as “the Legislature of a thousand drinks” with a very good idea of what should be in the Constitution.  As he is thought to have the most solid ideas and to have taken the legislature so seriously, Halleck is considered one of the main writers of the Constitution that stayed in use for thirty years before being replaced.
In 1854 Halleck resigned from the national army staying involved in the California militia, most notably as an adviser to the governor in designing fortifications throughout the state.  By 1861 he was a Major General in the California militia.
While he gave some of his time to the militia, he focused on business.  After joining a law firm and looked to diversify his various business ventures.  He held high, probably organizational or advisory, positions in a number of businesses such as railroads and other businesses throughout the 1850s (even before his official resignation from the regular army).  In 1853 he started work on what would be known as the Montgomery Block, the first fireproof and hopefully earthquake proof building in California.  He was also known for being the owner of the largest collection of Californicana at the time.  His collecting of original and transcribed documents from early California, even before the independence, would be praised in 1906 when a huge fire would burn all the other official documents of the time.  His collection is now the only large collection of documents from California at that time.
In 1855 he married the granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton, Elizabeth Hamilton, and they had a son a year later.
His early training and love of knowledge or writing would earn him the nickname “Old Brains” as a General during the American Civil War.  Although he is considered barely more than an adviser to the Lincoln, he was titled General-In-Chief for nearly two years before he became the first Chief of Staff and helped Grant with his command that managed to end the war in barely over a year.

Philip Kearny

Kearny gallantly leading his men from horseback in a charge on the Confederates.Philip Kearny is remembered as a gallant soldier and beloved countryman but few remember his restlessness and disregard for his superiors.
Born in 1815 in New York City, his father was one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange and his mother’s father was John Watts, a very wealthy man in New York.  Philip lived the life of a wealthy child, knowing little of want until his confidant and mother died after a long illness before he was nine years old.  He got over her death eventually and quickly learned he had a way with horses.  He loved racing his horse over the hills of New York and no amount of punishment from his father could control young Philip Kearny.  His love of wild riding and his admiration of his officer uncle made him long for the soldier way of life but his grandfather and father would not hear of it.  The choice was to go to Columbia College with a generous yearly allowance to study law or be cut off from the family and the money he was used to.  Feeling he had no choice, Kearny finished college with honors, took a quick tour through Europe, and settled down as a clerk in a law office he would slowly rise the ranks in.  Before he had the chance for promotion, Kearny’s grandfather died, leaving him a huge inheritance.  No longer dependent on family for his allowance, the twenty-one year old finally got to join the army.  His first commission was under his admired uncle at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas in 1837.  Quick to reward his troops as well as an excellent horse rider, Kearny often used his wealth to provide anything the Army didn’t have the money to provide.  Although his men couldn’t understand why such a wealthy man wanted to join the Army, they didn’t complain as they benefited from his wealth.  It was while serving in Kansas that he met Diana Bullitt.  They courted and the society in the area believed a marriage was just a matter of time but Kearny had other plans.
Everyone was shocked when he took a position overseas in France.  Since France had the best cavalry in the world, the American government decided to send three officers to learn tactics from them.  Kearny was one of the three chosen and he arrived in time to join the Duke of Orleans in his trip to Algiers.  There he fought with the Chasseurs who fought with a sword in one hand, a pistol in the other, and their reins in their teeth.  Combined with his love of wild horse back riding in his youth, this style of riding to war quickly became his own style.  He was offered the French Legion of Honor but because he was an American officer, he was forced to decline the honor.  In 1840 he returned to the states to care for his ailing father.  It wasn’t long before the father died and Philip Kearny became one of the richest men in America with his inheritance.  Kearny tried to return to active duty but the Army sent him to Washington, DC as aid to General Scott.  He soon married Diana Bullit and she settled in as one of the richest wives in the Capitol while Kearny grew less satisfied with his desk job when he wanted to fight.  Eventually Kearny gave into her persistent nagging and resigned from the Army.
In 1846 the Mexican War broke out and Kearny hurried to join again, against his wife’s desires.  Eager to fight, he raised a cavalry troop, supplied most of the horses and gear himself, and was allowed to head to Mexico.  Near Mexico City Kearny led his men on a valiant charge.  Usually the first in the fight and the last of his men to leave it, he was shot in the arm and it had to be amputated.  As a result he was promoted to Major and sent home to New York to recover.  Officially the chief of recruitment in those parts, he worked hard to recover in order to fight again.  Soon after Diana had their fourth child, she packed up and took their children back with her to her native Kentucky, causing a scandal she no longer cared about.  Her husband was soon sent to California to quell Indian uprisings there.  He did so and thought he had earned more awards although he got more.  He became increasingly hostile to his superiors, openly questioning their orders and qualifications to make the decisions.  In 1841 he submitted his resignation and was upset that no one asked him to stay or questioned the resignation.  Looking for something to take his mind from battle, he decided to travel the world, alone.  At this point he thought little of his distant family although providing for them put very little strain on his bank account.
His tour ended in his beloved Paris where he met the betrothed Agnes Maxwell, the daughter of the customs collector in the port of New York City.  She was twenty; he was thirty-six and married.  They soon forgot their previous promises and moved in together in Paris.  It caused a stir in the states and in 1854 Kearny asked his wife for a divorce.  She refused and in 1855 Agnes and Philip returned to New York anyway.  They soon moved into his mansion in what is now Kearny, New Jersey and in 1858 Diana finally agreed to a divorce as long as the paperwork said he could never remarry while she lived.  Eager to get the paperwork signed, Kearny agreed, then set his lawyers to work finding away around the stipulation.  They decided that the stipulation was only legal in New York so the couple could be married legally in New Jersey.  They married but had to avoid New York for a time in fear of being arrested for bigamy.  For a time the couple and their children were happy traveling between their various residences overseas and in the states.  Eventually Kearny heard the call to battle again and joined the French in the Italian Wars.  This time he accepted the French Legion of Honor, the first American to receive it, and stayed in Paris until 1861 when war broke out in America.
Kearny hurried back to offer his services to the war.  Not surprisingly the Confederacy offered him a position but Kearny could not give up his American citizenship so he waited for the Union to put him to use.  However, the Union remembered his bitterness and the scandal he had caused by living with a woman while married to the sister-in-law of a beloved officer and then divorcing her to marry illegally and let him wait.  He tried to enlist as a common soldier but his missing arm put him out of the running so he went back to his mansion, Bellegrove disappointed.  In July 1861 New Jersey commissioned him as a Brigadier General in the militia and stationed him near Alexandria, Virginia.  He found the volunteers under him to lack any discipline and training.  Constant drilling changed that and although he was a tough taskmaster, he still used his wealth to provide for his men and he was quick to reward good work.  McClellan‘s slow planning of the Peninsula Campaign grated on Kearny until he published some letters openly criticizing the general.  The army leadership was outraged but his men loved him they too wanted battle and in March 1862 McClellan finally started the campaign.  After a few battles Kearny decided to do something about the confusion on the battle field.  With so many men from different regiments in battle, it was easy for a leader to give orders to those not under his command.  Kearny ordered his men to sew a diamond shaped piece of red flannel on their covers so he could easily locate them in battle.  The idea of a “corps-badge” quickly spread throughout the Army and is still used today to distinguish soldiers of different commands.
The Peninsula Campaign came to an end when McClellan retreated and Kearny again protested.  Although promoted to Major General, he didn’t get the position he believed he deserved and he despised the retreat.  His disappointment wouldn’t last long as the Battle of Chantilly was coming.  By nighttime on September 1862 the rain was falling heavily and Kearny decided to do some scouting for himself as he often did.  He rode into an ambush and was told to surrender himself.  Knowing he had gotten out of similar situations before, Philip Kearny refused and whirled his horse around.  However, his luck ran out when a rifle ball struck him in the spine and he fell from his horse, dead before he hit the ground.
The next day his body was returned to the Union under a flag of truce and the body was sent to Washington, DC for embalming, then to Bellegrove for the visitation, and then paraded through New Jersey before going by ferry back to New York to be buried in the family crypt in Trinity Church.  He would be reburied in Arlington in 1912 under a huge memorial.  In 1863 a medal was created which became known as the Kearny Cross for those that distinguished themselves in battle.
He died in battle for his nation, as he always wanted and his legend was written by the men who loved him, not the officers who had to deal with him.  The scandal of his divorce and remarriage has been forgotten in history as has his restlessness for war and disrespect of his superiors, but maybe it doesn’t matter.  Does the reality of a person’s personality matter when his legend continues to inspire courage and bravery under fire for soldiers today?  Does the imperfection of humanity have a place in the inspiration of future generations?

Samuel Colt-New Jersey’s Contribution

The Colt revolver became so popular in the 1800s that many people refered to a revolver, an early pistol, as a Colt.  Many people probably think that Samuel Colt created the first revolver.  However, he never claimed to have created the revolver, he just made it easier to use and patented his idea so he held the monopoly on revolvers for years.  But who was Samuel Colt?

He was born in 1814 in Connecticut to a farmer turned businessman and the daughter of a Revolutionary War soldier.  Although his mother died when he was young, one of his first playthings was her father’s old pistol.  When he was eleven years old he was introduced to a scientific encyclopedia that changed his life.  As he read about inventors creating things that were considered impossible, he dreamed of doing the same.  He became interested in guns and gunpowder.  At fifteen years old he used the encyclopedia to create underwater explosives for a fourth of July celebration.  A few years later an accident with his explosives got him kicked out of boarding school and he returned home to work in his father’s textile plant.  After learning a little about the gears and inner makings of the machines there, he went or was sent to sea (I found conflicting stories on this).  While learning to be a sailor he discovered a way to make the revolver automatically turn to the next hole in the rotating cylinder. At that time the revolver had to be hand rotated and often the person had to work to get the hole lined up correctly.  Leaving the sea behind, Colt got a loan and worked with a gunmaker to create a prototype of his improved revolver.  In 1835 he was granted a patent for his gun in England and a year later he patented his design ideas in the United States.

He set up a corporation to get the funding to create his gun.  Few Colt-Paterson revolvers were sold due to an economic depression and the huge difference between Colt’s gun and the established revolver.  The soldiers would have had to be retrained to work on the new gun and had to partially disassemble the gun to reload it.  Although the gun was well received, a law saying that militias couldn’t use a gun not in-use somewhere in the military meant the small militias couldn’t buy the guns and there were a lot of steps to take for the military to buy the guns.  The Seminole War in Florida led to some guns being sold but the new gun needed more training and curious soldiers took the guns apart but couldn’t put them together again.  The difficulties meant that the larger army regiments and other states felt no need to buy the new and confusing guns.  Colt also had a habit of using company money to provide rich meals and drinks to potential customers believing that the extra drink would mean more contracts.

In 1843 the company went bankrupt and Colt had to stop creating guns.  He turned back to his early fascination with explosives and worked out a way to create a powerful underwater explosive remote triggered by an underwater cable he created.  Unable to sell the idea to the Navy as John Quincy Adams deemed it “not fair and honest warfare”, Samuel Colt looked for another way to use his ideas.  Samuel Morse and Colt came up with using Colts underwater cables to further the reach of Morse’s telegraph system and Morse used a battery idea Colt created for his mines to add distance to the telegraph system.

Colt’s next idea was to create gunpowder in tinfoil instead of paper that quickly spoiled the gunpowder if it got wet.  The military was unsure of how useful it would be and ordered more for testing, eventually ordering enough for Colt to look back at his gun business.  As he tried to create a better design to market, Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers met him to order a thousand guns with a few changes.  The captain wanted a gun that would fire six shots instead of the regular five shots, was easier to reload, and had to have the power to kill a horse or person in a single shot.  This new gun funded a new company for his guns and his innovative marketing ideas, combined with his ever improving design made him one of the richest men in American when he died in 1862.

Robert E. Lee After The War

After the American Civil War, Robert E Lee wanted to live a quiet life away from battle and politics and the public eye but he was too popular a person to be allowed that.  A firm believer in Reconstruction, he took his Amnesty Oath the same day he was inaugurated as president at Washington College.  He stayed the beloved college president from late 1865 to late 1870 when he died.

While at the college he did what he could to meld the two countries the war had created back into one, both politically by supporting policies and people who worked toward the Reconstruction and at the college by recruiting students from the North and expelling white students who attacked black people in the community.  By instituting an honor code similar to the one at West Point and adjusting the courses taught at the college, he turned it into a leading Southern college and they changed the name to the Washington and Lee University after his death.

Although Robert E Lee didn’t believe that blacks had the ability to vote smart at that time, he helped create a number of state run schools for blacks and believed that in a few years they would be ready to help lead this country.

On September 28, 1870 Robert E Lee suffered a stroke and died two weeks later on October 12.  He is buried at the school he died at where he affected so many lives and his children were buried with him as they died.  I was interested to learn that most of his horses were buried with him as well.  To learn more about his horses, check out my Hub on them.

Robert E. Lee worked hard to influence Southerners into a peaceful relationship with the Northerners but he was never given his citizenship back while he was alive and therefore not able to vote.  He signed his Amnesty Oath and applied for citizenship when he became president of Washington College but the politician in Washington, DC gave the application to a friend for a souvenir and the Oath was lost in the archives.  As a result, Lee was the citizen of no country until the Oath was discovered by an archivist and President Ford reinstated Lee’s citizenship in 1975, over a hundred years after his death.  The beloved face of a era, who has memorials throughout the South as well as in the North was finally accepted fully and legally into the country that would always remember the integrity and loyalty of Robert E Lee.

Robert E. Lee During The War

The white haired general standing proud with his saber on his hip.General Robert Edward Lee joined the Confederate Army to protect Virginia on April 23, 1861 as colonel and was quickly promoted to be one of the first five full generals of the Confederate Army.  His first assignment were a few small battles before he was sent to strengthen the defenses along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  His defenses stopped the Union attack on Savannah, Georgia, which would have to be taken by land in order for it to fall into Union hands, which happened late in the war.  Although unpopular with the press, he was appointed military adviser to the Confederate president for a few months.

When General Joseph Johnston was wounded on June 1, 1862, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virgina, the first command where he had the opportunity to actually command on the battlefield.  It wasn’t long before General McClellan invaded the South in what was dubbed the Peninsula Campaign and Lee sent him back North.  Although the Seven Days Battle is considered to show clumsy planning by his commanders, Lee’s aggressive action was not part of McClellan’s plan and he returned to Washington to regroup.  Lincoln then sent Pope down to invade the South and Lee sent him North again at the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Confederate Army was within miles of Washington, DC.  Lee decided to invade Maryland to get supplies and ruin the Northern morale but McClellan found some of the orders and set out to stop Lee.  What resulted was the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in the American Civil War.  Although officially a draw, it was Lee who had to withdraw and return to friendlier territory.  Lee continued to lead the army successfully until mid-1863.  While Grant was heading for Vicksburg, Lee convinced President Davis to go against everyone else’s advice and let Lee invade the North again.  The plan was to go into Pennsylvania to get much needed supplies and to get the Northerners to push harder for peace.  The result was the Battle of Gettysburg, which the Confederate Army never recovered from.  With the western border of the Confederacy moved eastward with the fall of Vicksburg and the huge number of losses at Gettysburg, the men and supplies couldn’t be replaced.  Over the next year General Grant kept attacking.  He realized that while he had a lot of young men that could replace those dying in battle or of illness, as well as supplies from the states that had yet to be touched by battle, the Southern resources were running low and the men were deserting to protect their own families.

Robert E Lee was appointed General-in-Chief of the Confederate Army on January 31, 1865 and surrendered to the Union Army on April 9, 1865.  Many people called for the war to continue by small groups of soldiers disappearing into the hills and conducting guerrilla warfare until the Federal Government surrendered but Lee disagreed and the plan was scrapped.  Lee thought that the time for war was over, it was time to heal the country.

Robert E. Lee Before The War

A close-up ofGeneral Robert E. Lee's faceRobert E Lee, possibly the most well-known name for the Confederacy side of the American Civil War.  I’ve heard or studied the war on and off for most of my life but I often forget who the Confederate President was.  The names that come to mind when I hear about the southern side of the War Between the States are Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  I know that there are a lot of people who lead the soldiers and a lot of soldiers that deserve to be remembered, but those are the two names I always think of and I think that’s how it works for a lot of Northerners.  In researching Robert E. Lee, I was surprised to know that he wasn’t the General-in-chief for the Confederacy until very late in the war.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Robert Edward Lee is thought to have been born on January 19, 1807 in Virginia to one of the first families to establish itself in that state after coming from England in the early 1600s.  However, Robert’s childhood was not that of a prominent son of a wealthy family but that of genteel poverty.  His father went to debtor’s prison because of failed investments and they moved to a small house near Robert’s mother’s still wealthy extended family when his father was released a few months later.  In 1812, when Robert was 5 years old, his father was injured in a political rally and, since the father was a Revolutionary War officer, the Secretary of State arranged for him to be sent to the West Indies.  The father never returned, dying there when Robert was 11 years old.  Meanwhile Robert’s mother tried to raise six children to be gentlemen and ladies as befitting their family, not their income.  As a result she visited relatives a lot.  Robert was educated among others living in genteel poverty and a family relative got him accepted into West Point by dwelling on Robert’s family connections more than his education, including his aptitude for math.  He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point the summer of 1825 and graduated second in his class four years later.  Since the leadership of the college at that time were from the Corp of Engineers, most of the cadets were commissioned into the Corps until they were assigned elsewhere.  Robert E Lee was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers June 1829 and remained there until he went back to West Point as its Superintendent in 1852.  In that time he married the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, by her first marriage.

Through her he would inherit the Custis Mansion which would be confiscated by the Union and its lands would become what is now Arlington Cemetery.  He also helped reinforce many forts, map the line between Ohio and Michigan, and map out parts of Florida.  He served under General Scott during the Mexican-American War and worked beside Ulysses S Grant during that war.  He gained commendations during the war and in 1852 he was ordered to West Point, a position he took reluctantly due to the politics involved.  In 1855 he was relieved to be promoted and transferred out of the Corps of Engineers into a Calvary regiment in Texas.  It was his first combat command, the others had all been engineering commands which focused on math and building or finding routes to travel.  His job was to protect the settlers from the attacking natives, but the death of his father-in-law meant he had to take a number of leaves of absences to deal with the debt and poor conditions the lands were in.

A sketch of the three minute attack that Lee used to capture John Brown and his gangIt was during one of these leaves when he was home at the Custis Mansion, which was very close to Washington, DC, that he was commanded to put down John Brown and his gang at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, which he did.  Two years later Lee was part of the Texas command that was surrendered to the Confederacy when Texas seceded.  The general who surrendered the command quickly resigned from the Union Army to become a general in the Confederate Army while Robert E Lee went back to Washington to await further orders.

He was offered a promotion in the Union Army as Washington prepared for war.  However, he feared that command would force him to invade the Southern states, specifically his home state of Virginia.  On April 20, 1861 Robert E Lee resigned from the United States Army, much to the shock of those who knew him.  Most of his immediate family, especially his wife, were strongly Unionist and Lee himself thought that seceding was an insult to the Revolutionary War that his father had fought in, but he would not fight to destroy his home state.  On April 23 Robert E Lee took over command of Virginia’s forces as one of the first five full generals of the Confederacy.  However, he intended to wear only the rank he had possessed when he left the Union Army, not any he gained while in the Confederate Army until it was a legal government.

Robert E Lee was a fascinating man who managed to raise from the son of the family embarrassment to one of the greatest names in the United States of America.  He may not have loved most of his early assignments but in each one he demonstrated his belief that it was the mark of a gentleman to follow the orders of his superiors to the best of his ability.

The First Battle Of Fort Sumter

Confederates in a nearby battery firing on Fort Sumter, image from Wikipedia    The ten inch mortar round came from Fort Johnson.  Major Anderson, the commanding officer at Fort Sumter in South Carolina had been warned an hour earlier that the shot would come.  At 4:30 on the morning of April 12, 1861 the shot that officially started the American Civil War, as history would remember it, was fired.

After months of failed negotiations, the Confederate government knew it needed to act before the ships bearing supplies and possible reinforcements for the only Union fort still in Charleston Harbor could arrive at the fort.  Fort Sumter had been waiting for supplies for months, even the food bought at the local market had been stopped for weeks, and the supplies would completely run out on the 15 of April.  The supply ships were in sight but couldn’t get to shore due to the storm nearby.  The Confederates were out of time and they decided to act.
At 4:30 am on April 12, 1861 the first shot was fired and another shot was fired every two minutes from the Confederate owned forts and batteries in the harbor.  Between Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, the floating battery, and the iron battery at Cummings Point, there were forty-three guns and mortars which could keep up the same rate of fire for forty-eight hours.  Major Anderson knew he didn’t have nearly that much ammunition.  Although he had sixty guns in the fort, he could only fire twenty-one of the guns without unnecessary risk to his small detachment of soldiers and workmen.  Those guns were in stone casements near the bottom of the fort where external threats were less than the guns at the top that were completely open to shots falling down from above but the stone made it hard to aim the guns with any real accuracy.  Due to the shortage of ammunition and soldiers inside the fort, Major Anderson decided to limit his guns to six guns aimed where he thought they would do the most damage.  He started firing the guns at Fort Sumter at 7:00 in the morning.  It wasn’t long before the Confederates realized that Fort Sumter was mainly a stone fort but it still had wooden buildings.  They decided to fire “hot shot”, which were cannonballs heated in an oven, at the wooden buildings, hoping the fires would distract the men and the smoke would make the fort surrender quicker.  By 7 pm that night some of the buildings were burning but a rain shower that started put out the flames and Major Anderson ordered his men to stop firing and get some sleep.  General Beauregard ordered the Confederates to slow their fire down to four shots an hour during the night so the Union men slept fitfully, getting very little rest.
The next morning the men at Fort Sumter woke up tired and with little more than salted pork to eat, they resumed their fire.  By noon the barracks and officer’s quarters were on fire and the flames were nearing the main ammunition magazine where three hundred barrels of gunpowder were held.  Major Anderson tried to move the barrels to safety but over half the barrels were still in the magazine when he ordered the doors shut against the flames.  Most of the barrels that had been moved were rolled into the water to prevent them from exploding but the tide kept sending them back toward the fort and the hot shot ignited quite a few of the barrels.
The Confederate soldiers couldn’t help but feel sorry for the Union men they knew to be nearly out of rations, had little sleep the night before, and were breathing in the smoke from the flames they could see from every fort in the harbor.  A cheer went up with every shot from the Union-held fort indicating that the Union men would still fight, even in those conditions.  When the main flag pole was shot down, Colonel Louis Wigfall, a Confederate observer at Morris Island, commandeered a small vessel and approached Fort Sumter under a white flag.  Wigfall respected the courage of the  Major and his men and suggested an “evacuation” of the fort rather than a “surrender”. After some debate, and agreeing to a hundred gun salute to the Union flag, Anderson agreed and raised the white flag on the makeshift flagpole in the fort.
A delegation of officers went out from Charleston expecting a surrender.  When they arrived to find out that Wigfall had agreed to an evacuation but hadn’t talked to anyone in Charleston for two days, they demanded a new agreement and Major Anderson threatened to resume firing.  Before anything could be decided, General Beauregard noticed the white flag and sent a delegation to Fort Sumter.  This delegation offered nearly the same terms Colonel Wigfall had and the peace was maintained.

The tattered from Fort SumterAt 2:30 in the afternoon of April 14, Anderson agreed to evacuate the fort, leaving it to the Confederates, after a hundred gun salute to the Union flag.  The salute was stopped at fifty rounds after a pile of gunpowder cartridges caught fire, killing one man instantly, mortally wounding another man (who died a few days later), and injuring the rest of the gun crew.  After a thirty-six hour bombardment with no fatalities, two men were killed during the ending ceremonies, the first of thousands in the war that had begun there.  Major Anderson took the Fort Sumter flag with him when he and his men were taken by boat to the Union ships sent to resupply them that instead took them to New York.
The war that both sides had hoped to avoid had begun and President Lincoln requested thousands of men to enlist for nine months.  It would be four years before the flag of the United States of American would fly over Fort Sumter again.

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