Archive for February, 2012

Brigadier General Winfield Scott

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General Winfield Scott of the US Army


With so many people involved in the American Civil War on both the Union and Confederate sides, it was hard to choose who to start this chronological category on Union men important to the war.  Most people already know about the famous president that led the political side of the war and had little patience for generals he felt were too cautious.  Most people also know about his vice-president who took over for Lincoln when he was assassinated.  The next in the chain of command then would be the generals of the Union Army.

The first overall general of the Union Army was Winfield Scott, a 74 year old general who was suffering from health issues and was so overweight that he couldn’t ride a horse.  A popular man with a successful military career, Scott had been a general for 47 years and served thirteen different presidents.  McClellan and his supporters in Washington pressured Scott to retire and McClellan was happily given the post as overall General-in-Chief on November 1, 1861, about seven months into the War Between the States.  Although he had little effect on the war as it happened, he tried to prepare for it as best he could with leaders who refused to acknowledge the coming troubles.  As succession talks grew louder, Scott tried to get permission to reinforce the forts in the South but his requests were denied.  He also created what was nicknamed the “Anaconda Plan” by papers that planned on a war lasting at most three months.  When he finally resigned, the plan was scrapped but when Grant became the main general, he used the basic parts of the Anaconda Plan and slowly squeezed the resistance out of the Confederate army and people.

Although General Scott had a short time in charge of the Army during the American Civil War, he had already fought in three major wars before that, was forced to lead what would be called the Trail of Tears, ran for President in 1852, and was promoted to lieutenant general in 1855, making him the first to hold that rank since George Washington.  He was called “Old Fuss and Feathers” due to his belief that an army that had to keep their uniforms pristine would be more likely to behave properly.  As I read through his biography on Wikipedia I was surprised to see how well he treated his men and those under him.  What struck me was how determined President Jackson portrayed as being in the article that the Trail of Tears occurred without any kindness for the Cherokee while Brigadier General Scott tried to force his men to be kind to the Cherokees.  No amount of orders from a distant general could prevent the mistreatment of those most of the militia men Scott was forced to use considered worthless animals in the way of personal profits.  He is also noted as being fair while military governor of Mexico and treating both the Americans and Mexicans the same.

Winfield Scott died in 1866 and is buried at West Point.  Called “the greatest living general” by the Duke of Wellington, Scott is remembered as a great general and was still sought out by Lincoln for advice throughout the war.  His popularity led to a number of counties and towns being named for him as well as boats and he was featured on a postage stamp in 1861 as well as another stamp in 1937.  A popular and fair leader, the war would probably have been different if he had been a younger man able to defeat his protégé, General Robert E. Lee, who served under Scott in the Mexican War.  As it was, many of the leaders in the American Civil War were taught or influenced by the general that stood General-in-Chief of the army they all served in for 20 years.

Delaware’s Contribution

Delaware is considered a border state during the American Civil War and chose to stay in the Union on January 3, 1861.  As the governor at that time said, Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution and would be the last state to leave the country formed by that document.  I was interested to learn that Delaware had already basically removed slavery from the state by 1860.  Over 90% of the African-American population was already free.  When the 13 Amendment was ratified after the American Civil War, Delaware only had about a thousand slaves to free.  Due mostly to a change in economic preferences in the state, slavery was no longer necessary there and it was slowly dying out, as it was in much of the southern states.  In fact, the diehard slave owners that claimed life couldn’t exist without slavery were a minority in the Confederacy.  Most people believed that the technical improvements would soon remove the need for slaves and slavery would die out over the next few decades.  What most soldiers of the War Between the States fought for was not the necessity of slaves, but the ability to dispose of the institution in their own time and without federal intervention.

No major battles were fought on Delaware soil but the state is known as the only slave state not to send any regiments or militia groups to fight for the Confederacy.  Many individuals snuck into nearby states like Virginia and Maryland but nothing was officially formed to fight for the state in the Confederate Army.  However, the Union regiments from the state fought in most of the major battles of the Civil War with honor.

Thomas Hines: Confederate Spy

Profile of Thomas Hines, Confederate Spy

H. G. Mattern, Kentucky Constitutional Convention Delegates Photo & Autograph Album, 1890–91

Thomas Hines was a scout turned spy in the War Between the States.  Raised in Warren County, Kentucky, he joined the Confederate Army in 1861 and switched to John Hunt Morgan‘s command in April 1862 after his original group left Kentucky.  Morgan quickly saw the potential of the unimposing appearance and quick wit of this man and used him as a scout.  Working mostly in Kentucky, Hines was usually dressed in civilian clothes and visited relatives and friends, especially his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Sproule.

In mid 1863, Hines was chosen by Morgan to lead a scouting mission into Indiana and discover if the local Southern sympathizers would be helpful in Morgan’s planned invasion.  After riding through Kentucky to gather supplies, Hines told his men they would pose as a Union patrol searching for deserters.  They robbed a Union sutler, or store owner, to get Union uniforms and a Union train to get money.  After that the group met with a local leader of the Indiana sympathizers but they were forced to flee when Union forces came for them.  As a result no support came from the Southern sympathizers in Indiana and many of Hines men were captured covering while he swam to safety with some of his men.

The Great Raid Morgan planned, which Hines had set up on his trip through Indiana, was a failure and Morgan’s men were captured along with all the leaders.  However, Hines had been reading the book Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and was inspired by the escape through the tunnels of Paris that was described in the book.  Hines’ plan allowed seven of Morgan’s leaders, including Morgan and Hines, to escape through tunnels and climb the prison walls during a storm to escape.  In all, five of the seven men got to freedom while two were recaptured.  Hines and Morgan got back to Confederate lines safely.

Thinking about how the war was going and all the Confederate soldiers in prison or those that had escaped into neutral Canada, Thomas Hines had an idea and took it to Confederate President Davis.  Although worried how European governments would view the rather sneaky plan, the Confederate government agreed to back him and the Northwest Conspiracy was created.  Hines sailed into Canada and established a small group of Confederate escapees into a guerrilla fighting force aimed at releasing Confederate prisoners and creating a panic in the northern states virtually untouched by the civil war happening below them.  The plan had little success due largely to the fact that Hines depended on the aid of locals that were Confederate sympathizers in theory but not soldiers.  Through counter intelligence and alertness, the Union in the area stopped all plans and the Northwest Conspiracy has been mostly ignored in history classes below college.

While in hiding at a friend’s house during the time of the Northwest Conspiracy, Thomas Hines learned his beloved Nancy Sproule was being kept in a convent and decided to rescue and marry her.  After a week long honeymoon, he returned to his work and left her with their family in Kentucky.  When the war was over he sent for his wife to join him in Canada as Hines assumed he would not be welcome in the now Union state of Kentucky.

While in Canada, Hines studied law and moved to Tennessee to pass the bar after being pardoned by President Johnson along with most of the other low level officers in the Confederate Army.  In 1867, Hines finally returned to Kentucky and set up a law office.  He was elected to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1878 and served as Chief Justice or two years before returning to his own private practice.  He died a month after his wife in 1898.