The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter 5, Part 4

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

General Lee's defense of the confederate capital was brilliant, his Virginia campaigns brought him into outstanding place as a general, no other military officer of either South or North showing equal skill; yet it is doubtful whether he would have selected Virginia as a battle area had the capital continued at Montgomery, Alabama, instead of at Richmond, Virginia. Virginia had natural advantages which made it excellent ground for defensive manoeuvres, yet it was so far from the supply bases

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that it was only with difficulty that large armies could be maintained in it. Lee had to rely on only one trunk line of railway, and congestion of traffic often placed his armies in desperate straits. On the other hand, the North had supply centres comparatively near, and good transportation means by land and sea. However, political considerations had decided the battle area, so lee had to accept the situation as it was, and be glad that natural advantages, at least, lay with him in Virginia.

The low-lying land near Chesapeake Bay was not favorable for military manoeuvres; and the four main rivers of the Virginia region--the Potomac, the Rappahannock, the York and the James--were all serious obstacles in the way of the North, all crossing the route that the invaders must take in an overland march to Richmond; and the fordable spots could be defended by small numbers. Roads north and south were almost non-existent; and the invaders could profit little by foraging in a region which produced little of no foodstuffs, tobacco being the main crop. So the Northern armies also found supply problems that were difficult to solve south of the Potomac. This difficulty, in the main, accounts for the apparent tardiness of McClellan's movements. To organize a system of supply commensurate with the needs of the immense Northern armies necessary for successful Virginia operations took time.

The same geographical difficulties gave both sides natural advantages which enabled them to recover quickly, preventing reverses from becoming routs. In this respect, the advantage was oftener with the defense, with the confederates, than with the invaders. Having control of Chesapeake Bay and the rivers flowing into it, the Federals had ready access to the interior, enabling the Union generals to penetrate eastern Virginia almost at will, and to maintain their armies by water transport. And having early forced Maryland from its rebellious attitude, Washington was no longer cut off from the North and West. An important advantage was thus quickly taken from the Confederates.

In the Shenandoah Valley, however, the confederates possessed natural advantages which were worth many army corps. The swampy low-lying area of eastern Virginia restricted the theatre of military operations from about the meridian of Fredericksburg northwestward to the Blue ridge Mountains. The Blue Ridge Mountains formed on side of the area for manoeuvres in the Shenandoah Valley; its numerous gaps afforded reay means to exit or entrance. On the north, the Blue Ridge Mountains reaching into Pennsylvania, gave protection to Confederates for invasion of the North; from its centre a Confederate force might menace Washington, by way of Manassas or Centreville and Bull Run; and in case of reverse it would not be difficult to evade enveloping movements, for an army might slip in at one gap and out another, knowing that the enemy would hardly be able to close them all or decide which of the many gaps the pursued would emerge from. In this way, Confederate

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generals were able to keep Washington at high tension and always in danger, and also threaten the rear of the Union armies until almost the end of the war. Through the Shenandoah Valley lee twice tried to evade the North; and in this difficult country, which he knew so well, he was twice able to elude armies that lay between him and the confederate lines at Richmond. The Valley also enabled him to threaten the communications of the North with the West, by way of the Potomac River Valley and at Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which crossed the river and the Valley roads at Harper's Ferry. The main strategic points in the triangular Virginia field of war were Harper's Ferry, Manassas and Centreville, commanding the direct roads from the Valley to Washington; and Fort Monroe at the mouth of the James River. hence, we find that "the long campaigns were a series of attempts by the Union armies to reach Richmond by passing a few miles east or west of the point of the last rebuff, or, on the part of the confederates, to try once more a dash on Washington or on Philadelphia through the Shenandoah Valley." As Sherman early saw, the war was not won by the Virginia campaign, but by the operations of the western armies, even though the Virginia field drew the principal armies of both North and South.

Control of the interior waters was vital to the success of the North. The Mississippi Valley in Confederate hands might have given the South the victory. The deep and almost fordless Ohio River would have been an excellent barrier, and have also given the south convenient bases for raids into Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Missouri was one of the most vital States for both North and South; therefore the fighting to possess it was desperate. In Missouri alone, between June, 1861, and February, 1862, no less than sixty battles and skirmishes were fought. If Missouri had swung to the confederacy, the South would have commanded all the navigable waterways of the Middle West, for Missouri controlled the confluences of the Ohio and the Missouri and the Illinois rivers with the Mississippi. Possessing Missouri, the South would have been able to strike at the very heart of the anti-slavery territory. With the loss of Missouri by the South early in the war, went the control of the upper Mississippi, Missouri, and the mouth of the Ohio. With the loss of Kentucky, West Virginia and Missouri went the chance of diverting the weight of war from the heart of the Confederacy. And just as the Alleghenies split the Northern armies, so the wide Mississippi divided the western part of the Confederacy in two, making it hard for Confederate forces east of the river to cooperate with troops west of it. Arkansas had as much as it could do to watch its neighbor, Missouri; Texas and Louisiana were sparsely populated and unable to maintain armies; so the field of war in the West was limited to the land east of the Mississippi, west of the mountains and south of central Kentucky.

To control the lines of communication north and south and east and

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west were the chief strategic aims. Possession of the Mississippi by the Federals would prevent the Confederates from drawing man-power and the just as necessary supplies from the West. It would also give the North an easier means of feeding the Western armies of the Union than by railroads, which were already congested. Northern generals also saw that an advance along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers would strike most decisively against the east and west connections of the Confederacy. Southern railroads were few. From Virginia there was no trunk line south to Charleston and Atlanta, and only one trunk line of any importance that ran east and west--the Danville and Ohio railroad, which connected Richmond with Charleston, Atlanta, and Memphis, by way of Cumberland Gap. The roads from Memphis, Charleston and Atlantic worked into the Memphis line to Chattanooga at Corinth. Therefore, the Virginia armies of the Confederacy had to depend only upon what supplies they could obtain locally or get through Cumberland Gap. Through the Gap also must pass the only line of communication between the Virginia and western armies of the Confederacy. To maintain the connection, therefore, the South must hold both Corinth and Chattanooga

the West having been made comparatively safe for the Union by the campaign of 1861, Grant and Sherman planned to move down the Tennessee River, seize the vital railroad points, Chattanooga and Corinth, and take the Virginia armies of the Confederacy in the rear through Cumberland Gap. At the same time a gunboat flotilla of the North began to move down the Mississippi, and Farragut, with the deep-sea fleet, began to ascend the river from New Orleans. By May, 1862, the river north of Memphis was in Union hands, Grant has taken the forts commanding the passage of the Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers and had fought the battle of Shiloh, preparatory to an attack upon the railroad points. Farragut and Butler had gained their objective, capturing New Orleans, Grant and Sherman now moved against Corinth and Memphis; after taking these places they were to cooperate with Porter and his gunboats in attacking Vicksburg. Farragut and Butler were to ascend the river to join in the Vicksburg movement, and at the same time Rosecrans was to besiege Chattanooga. Everything went as planned during the first half of the year, but the second half of 1862 did not go so well for the Union; indeed, everywhere the Northern plans were checkmated. McClellan was outmanoeuvred along the James river, was nearly overcome at Antietam, was outgeneraled by lee in the retreat of the latter, and the Army of the Potomac, under Burnside, sustained appalling losses at Fredericksburg. In the West, all the aims of the Union were countered. Another six months were to pass before Grant and Sherman could seize Vicksburg and gain full control of the river. Some months later

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the massing of troops under Grant, Sherman and Thomas, at Chattanooga, gave the North what they thought they might have secured a year earlier. The all-important Cumberland Gap was now blocked however, so Virginia was cut off from communication with the South. Still, by this time, the predicament of the Virginian armies of the South was not so desperate as it would have been a year before had the Gap then been taken, for in the meantime a direct line of railroad had been laid through North Carolina. So, notwithstanding Vicksburg and Chattanooga, and despite the calamity that befell Lee at Gettysburg in early July, 1863, when he made his second attempt to invade the North, the Union armies are still not appreciably nearer their main objective--and the confederacy was not without hope of recovering from the Mississippi disasters.

There was still very difficult problems before the armies of the North, though it was now possible to bring about a degree of coordination of all movements. The plan decided upon was that Grant should advance on Richmond from the North; Sheridan should lay waste the Shenandoah Valley; Sherman should prove that the Confederacy was vulnerable, as he had so confidently asserted, by marching through Georgia to the sea after taking Atlanta. Sherman was then to turn northward, take possession of the Carolinas, and finally reach Lee's rear. To protect Sherman's sweeping operations from danger by Hood's army, General Thomas was to remain in Tennessee. All the campaigns were successful except those in the main theatre of war. Again and again Grant was thrown back by the veterans of Lee's desperate armies. So the year 1864 passed.

However, the field of war was inexorably narrowing. Victorious columns of the North had trampled over vast tracks of the once prosperous South, leaving nothing but starvation and ruin in their wake. And these columns of destruction were fast converging upon the last battle area of the South. The signs of inevitable defeat were daily before the disconsolate men of the South. But they were of the type that would fight on long after all hope of success had faded. However, not even that grim quality availed the South much, faced as they were by the stronger and equally determined North, who would not be denied the victory they had almost won. In the Spring of 1865, Grant, with his base now on the James river, was closing in on Richmond from the east and south; Sherman was advancing through North Carolina, driving Johnson before him; and Thomas had sealed the Cumberland Gap.

When Lee realized that he was completely surrounded, he tried to reach the mountain fastnesses from which it would be hard to dislodge him; but Grant has anticipated this move, and pointed Lee to Appomatox Court House. There, on April 9, 1865, the two commanders at last met in peace conference. Assured of honorable terms, lee gave up the struggle, and his army of 28,805 surrendered their arms, and, according to the terms of surrender, were paroled to their homes.

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This virtually ended the war--a war which, according to Lincoln, grew out of a misunderstanding. Industry for four years had been centered in producing what would destroy, and the toll of destruction included the lives of more than a half-million soldiers. Among the debris of the war were hundreds of thousands of maimed bodies hundreds of thousands of ill-nourished people whose emaciated frames would never again recover their form robustness, hundreds of thousands of ruined families that once had been prosperous and happy, and hundreds of thousands of disappointed Southerners, whose bitterness of heart against the North would pass only with death. Rebellion had cost the South its happiness. In proportion to the population, the south lost about three men to one of the North, though in actual numbers, the casualties of the Union armies, being larger, were heavier. Sixty thousand soldiers died in prisons. In proportion to its wealth, the south spend four times as much as the North, and at the end found themselves deprived of what they deemed to be the very means of life--slave labor. In fighting for the liberty of 4,000,000 slaves, the North had risked its life; almost 500,000 New Yorkers had gone to war, ten of thousands never to return. The population of New York State was 48,958 less in 1865 than it had been in 1860. Among the soldiers from New York there were many acts of heroism. Consider, as an instance, the act of a heroic young new Yorker, Lieut. William B. Cushing, who volunteered, in 1864, to destroy the confederate iron-clad "Albemarle," which had been sinking Federal warships almost at will in Albemarle Sound. Cushing, in his little torpedo launch, found the great, well-nigh invulnerable "Albemarle" in Pamlico Sound, but so protected by logs that he could not approach near enough to launch his torpedo. To make matters worse, dark though the night was, Cushing has been detected, and his way to his objective lay through a withering hail of shot. But he had set out to destroy the iron-clad, and he would do so, if God would only let him live long enough in that shower of death. Backing off about 100 yards, he turned full steam ahead, and jumped the logs. As he reached the side of the "Albemarle," canister-shot from a hundred-pound gun burst over his head, but not until he knew that the pole of his launch touched the hull of the great ship did he pull the lines, discharging the torpedo. Simultaneously he, and the few brave men who were with him, jumped or were thrown overboard. He swam down-stream, hid all next day in a swamp, but eventually found his way back to his squadron. But the "Albemarle" had found its way tot he bottom of the sea, so his supreme effort had not been in vain. Some of the other exploits--earlier and later--of young Cushing, who was still in the early "twenties," add glorious pages to the history of the United States Navy, and emphasize the fact that, in going to war, he had effaced from his mind all considerations but one--his duty to his country.

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Just as heroic an instance of self-effacement, in doing to the uttermost what he saw to be his duty to his country, in that which brought a cloud over one courageous soldier of New York. Gen. Fitz-John Porter was a native of New Hampshire, but he lived in New York both before and after the Civil War. As a brigadier he distinguished himself in 1861, but in 1862, at a critical moment, he did something that called for greater courage and grit--he refused to fight. He refused to act on the orders of his corps commander, and retreated when ordered to attack. He did so, because in his own judgment, to attack would harm instead of help the Union. So he, a brave man, risked suspicion of cowardice by running away--or retreating, which means the same. He was tried, and was driven our of the army, disgraced. For many years he suffered the galling ignominy of being thought a coward. Eventually, however, General Grant, in reviewing the case, admitted to President Arthur that Porter had been right--that Porter in acting as he did, really saved his corps from a defeat which would have seriously imperiled the Union Army. Grant was now, at this late day, convinced that "if Porter had been in command of our forces (instead of Pope) on that field of operations, there would have been no Antietam, no Chancellorsville, no Gettysburg, no Appomatox--the fighting would have ended then and there." Patriotism, we see, does not always head for glory. Porter was not restored to his military rank until 1886, so this staunch patriot, who had sacrificed himself for this country, had had to bear fro more then twenty years the hardest of crosses-- the finger of public scorn, the charge of cowardice. What test of patriotism could be harder than that asked of the brave and capable porter?

Another New York General who risked censure and acted in an emergency without orders was the veteran John Ellis Wool, whose record in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War of 1846-47 was so distinguished. General wool, in 1861, was in command of the Eastern Department of the United States Army, with his headquarters at troy, New York. In the first week of the war, Washington was surrounded by rebels. Troops from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts had only managed to force their way through Baltimore by fighting, and the Governor of Maryland had informed president Lincoln that no more could pass that way. "No United States soldiers should tread the soil of Maryland," he said. But Washington had appealed to new York for help. The situation was extremely critical. The capital was swarming with spies. The enemy almost with sight. Secessionists, in Maryland, had cut the railway, and burned the bridges. The telegraph wires were silent. General Scott, in Washington, could send no orders anywhere. What was to be done? The old Veteran, General Wool, hastened from Troy to New York City, conferred with the Governor and with the leaders of the hastily-formed Union defense Committee of new York, and acted at

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once, assuming the responsibility of sending troops at once by water to Fortress Monroe, one of the key positions, and others to relieve the menaced capital. The capital was saved, though the old General risked censure from his always testy superior, General Scott, who in earlier days had been known as "Old Fuss and Feathers," because of his rigid enforcement of discipline and military etiquette.

However, nothing untoward happened to General Wool, who, indeed, was destined to continue longer in the service during the Civil War then his illustrious superior. General Wool came prominently into Civil War history, serving in Virginia, Maryland and new York until 1863, when, in his eightieth year, he retired. A seventy-five foot monument was erected in his honor by the people of troy, New York, eventually . His venerable superior, Gen. Winfield Scott, however, passed out of active service in the first year of the war. As the summer of 1861 went disappointedly by, with military perplexities every increasing, the aged commander-in-chief realized that by remaining in office, he was hindering, instead of helping, his Nation.

General Scott's military career had been a distinguished one. For almost fifty years the people of the United States has looked up to him as one of their foremost soldiers. His military record had spanned three major wars, and much Indian warfare. He had served the nation from what seemed like certain war with Britain in 1838, when American sympathizers with the Upper Canadian rebels would have got out of hand on the Niagara frontier, and involved their Nation, had not the commanding personality of Gen. Winfield Scott allayed the excitement that followed the burning of the "Caroline." And he was destined to have an important part in diplomatic action which, as we shall see, was to save the Nation again from war with European powers. But for Gen Winfield Scott's efforts, and those of his eminent fellow-commissioners, in 1861, the United States might have found herself drawn into war with England and France at a time when she was fighting for her life against the rebellious South. General Scott had been general-in-chief of the armies of the Untied States for almost two decades. Now, the weight of age was beginning to tell. His body, seventy-five years old, was not able to keep pace with his will. Perhaps he saw that the ponderous military operations of the Federal armies during the summer of 1861 reflected to some extent his own sluggishness of initiative and weariness of body. Whatever this thoughts maybe have been, this eminent general, who had proved his heroism fifty years before, in command of New York troops, and who, by long residence if not by birth, might be claimed as a New Yorker, now showed supreme patriotism by resigning his military office. That his action was appreciated by his fellow-citizens of New York is testified to by a memorial delivered to him soon afterwards by a New York deputation, at a reception given in his honor at the Brevoort. "The

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advents of true patriots and great men," reads the resolution, "are always separated by long intervals of years; but few have ever appeared ; and in the whole circuit of the sun, scarce one who had the courage to resign his power until death called for his crown, his sceptre, or his sword. It will be the crowing glory of your honored life that, after remaining at the soldiers post until all imminent danger was over. . . you had the wisdom from on high to retire at the fitting hour, and thus to make the glory of your setting sun ineffably more bright for the radiant lustre which it shed upon the young and dawning hope of your beloved land. . . . . " In this noble closing act of his military career, Gen. Winfield Scott amply atoned for certain seemingly selfish and arrogant acts that somewhat dimmed the lustre of his otherwise glorious Mexican War record. He now takes his place as one of the outstanding military generals of American History.

On November 1, 1861, the day after General Scott resigned, General McClellan was appointed in his place. He was not happy in the responsibility, and, as is commonly known, his movements were of the procrastinating type.

Gen. Winfield Scott soon went to Europe, and there, with the other eminent citizens of New York--Archbishop John Hughes and Thurlow Weed--and a prelate of Ohio, Bishop Charles P. McIlvaine, was able to render inestimable service to his embarrassed country. The South, from the beginning, had striven to alienate the sympathies of European nations with the United States. To further this plan of embarrassing the North, the Confederate Government in the fall of 1861 sent to commissioners, John Slidell and J. M. Mason, to Europe, accredited to France and England, respectively. They ran the blockade to Havana and thence took passage on the British merchant ship "Trent." On November 8, this British ship was stopped on the high seas by a warship of the United States. The two commissioners were taken off, and brought as prisoners to Boston. Neutral rights had been transgressed by this breach of international law, and Secretary of State William H. Seward was unable to appease either France or England. Indeed, England had actually decided to send troops to Canada, and France was also likely to resort to war against the North. It was in this emergency that Lincoln and Seward asked General Scott and the other three named above to intercede. They formed "an ideal embassy." "These wise men," write James Grant Wilson, "established themselves alternately at London and Paris, mingled with the leaders of the people, and cultivated the society of the royal and imperial premiers. They happened to be in the right place when the irritating episode of the "Trent" occurred, and war between England, France and America seemed imminent. It was averted by only a hair's-breadth, and in the light of later developments as to the inside history of the rebellion, it would seem that the American people owe President

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Lincoln's peace commissioners a heavy debt of gratitude." The releaser of Slidell and Mason with permission to depart for England and France atoned for the affront to the English flag. And, in thinking more calmly over the episode, the English and French statesmen became convinced that sane and steady statesmen were at the head of the United States Government. The reaction brought them to see that the South was only a rebellious faction, without resources, and with little chance of ever becoming a responsible government. The South had hoped that the controlling factor of European relations with America would be cotton, but, as a matter of fact, England stood more in need of America's foodstuffs, and so could endure uncomplainingly the Untied States blockade which denied them the cotton of the South, if only the North could send across the seas grain they so desperately needed. This, because of her railways that now reached the West, the United States could do. thus we see that the South was entirely cut off from trade relations with Europe and thrown entirely upon her own slender resources while the North was fattening on export trade and ever strengthening herself, diplomatically, with the European governments. This was one of the deciding factors of the war, for had England and France recognized the Confederate States, they would have demanded the right to trade with her. Either the United States and England would have gone to war, or the United States would have been forced to lift her very effective blockade of Southern ports, and permit to pass into the latter the supplies which the South so sorely needed to maintain herself in war. It was poverty that eventually brought the brave Southerners to their knees, after a struggle which, for long-sustained military activity under the most hampering and distressing poverty, had hardly its parallel in history.

But before victory lay certainly with the North, the National Government had to pass through many periods when, thorough political dissentions in State and National legislative halls and disappointing military operations, it seemed that the United States was perilously tottering. Fortunate for the Nation was it that at its head during these crises was a man who never for a moment could forget that, when inaugurated, he had "registered in heaven," a "solemn oath" to "preserve, protect and defend" the government.

In scanning military records, the conviction seems to grow that New York provided the Nation with more general officers during the Civil War than nay other State of the North. And, in studying their military records one may find inspiration enough to satisfy the most hungry searcher for the elements of patriotism. If one wishes to measure the limit of patriotism, where can one find it reaching farther than in the military service of Maj.-Gen. Henry a. Barnum, a native of Onondaga county, New York? When the Twelfth New York Regiment was being formed at the beginning of the war, young Barnum dropped the practice

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of law. He led Company I of that regiment into action at the first Battle of Bull Run. General Tyler complimented him for gallantry in that action. Later in that year he served on the staff of General Wadsworth, of New York. During the Peninsular Campaign of 1862 he was attached to the staff of General Butterfield, but asked to be permitted to lead his own regiment into battle at Malvern Hill. He was dangerously wounded, a musket-ball passing through his body. As dead, he was left on the battlefield, and the official report showed his name among the killed. A body identified as his was soon after buried on the field of action; but at that time he was hovering between life and death in Libby prison, at Richmond. A few weeks later, he was exchanged, and arrived at new York City on a hospital ship. His wound would not heal, but he was impatient to return to the battlefront. After a while he left, as colonel of the 149th New York Regiment, at the head of which he served at the Battle of Gettysburg, and later with Hooker's forces in Tennessee. At the battle of Lookout Mountain, his regiment captured five of the eleven flags taken in this battle, but he was no longer able to lead them into action with uplifted sword; a shot had passed through his sword-arm. And his first wound was again troubling him. In Washington, Dr. Sayre, of New York, passed an oakum rope entirely through Colonel Barnum's body, following the course of the bullet. Later, Barnum always had to wear a seton through this body, and his wound was regarded as one of the most remarkable of the war. Nevertheless, he again went in the field. In 1864, he had command of a brigade of the Twentieth Army Corps, marched with Sherman through Georgia, and was the first Union officer to enter Savannah, a daring exploit which he began with only ten men. This brought him a major-generalship and the coveted Medal of Honor. Thus we see patriotism urging a man onto great deeds in a second life as it were. A wound such as Barnum's would have forever ended the military life of the average soldier. However, God had given him a second life--another chance to serve his country to the uttermost, and Barnum asked for no greater favor. While life lasted, and his country was in danger, his days were wholly hers. He was destined to serve her well in peace also, for General Barnum's useful life did not end until almost thirty more years had passed.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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