Sherman’s March to the Sea

Posted on November 15, 2014. Filed under: History | Tags: , |

Major General William Tecumseh Sherman

Major General William Tecumseh Sherman

November 15, 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Just 7 days after the re-election of Abraham Lincoln, General William Tecumseh Sherman pulled up stakes and left Atlanta and marched on the port of Savannah, Georgia.

It was the capture of Atlanta in mid September that ensured the re-election of Lincoln. However, considering that the war had turned in favor of the Union, McClellan’s election was unlikely.

General Ulysses S. Grant had been called from the western theater to take command of the Union armies in Virginia. Grant was really not a brilliant tactician. His plan for defeating Lee was th throw the entire weight of the Federal Army against the Army of Northern Virginia, heedless of the casualties.

It was Sherman who first devised the concept of total war. Sherman was not only determined to destroy the enemy army, as well as targets of military value, he targeted civilians. He intended to make everyone, soldier and civilian alike, feel the harsh hand of war.

As Sherman made his way east from Atlanta, his men foraged off the land, taking pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down. Anything that could be eaten, burned, or even make the civilian population starve, his men took. He was going to “make Georgia howl.” And howl it did.

While Sherman did not explicitly free any slaves during the march, several thousand former slaves who had nowhere else to go began to follow his army.

Sherman’s tactics had far-reaching effects. Although the First and Second World Wars were still about 50 years away, military thinkers began to ponder how total war could help them win a war. It was the basis of the Allied strategic bombing campaign of Germany during World War II. Civilians were suddenly no longer off-limits, but a specific part of plans in order to erode civilian support for the war.

Today, we look on these kinds of tactics with horror, but in many cases, the civilian population is not necessarily innocent.

Because of his tactics, Sherman became a monster in the eyes of southerners. They could not believe that he would allow his army to take everything in its path, or burn what it could not take.

However, Sherman did not burn anything just because he could. He did not raze entire towns to the ground, as was suggested by some southerners. Atlanta was burned by Hood, not Sherman.

But by the end of 1864, everyone had grown tired of war, and Sherman determined to end it. He crippled Confederate supply lines, rail lines and other military infrastructure. He brought plantation owners low, taking their slaves, if not intentionally, then by accident.

If not for Sherman, the war may have dragged on longer than it had. The Union had been very lucky over the course of the war, with the rise of Sherman and Grant, just as they were lucky that Stonewall Jackson had been killed in 1863. Lee was never the same as a general after the death of Jackson.

How should Sherman be remembered in history? As a cold-hearted monster or a brilliant visionary tactician who saw how to end the war?

It could be argued that Sherman was more important to bringing about a successful conclusion to the war than Grant was. Because he was willing to do what needed to be done to bring a speedy end to it.

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The Battle of Gettysburg, The Final Day; July 3, 1863

Posted on July 3, 2013. Filed under: History | Tags: , , |

Pickett's Charge - Runaway Horse

Pickett’s Charge – Runaway Horse (Photo credit: ronzzo1)

After failing to take Culp’s Hill in the north, and Little Round Top in the south, General Robert E. Lee was more determined than before to take these positions.

Major General J.E.B. Stuart had finally arrived with his cavalry the day before (his role was limited), and Major General George Pickett arrived with his division of Virginians to reinforce Longstreet.

Lee attacked Culp’s Hill again, but the fight was short lived, with the Union position being intact and stronger than the previous day. General Meade had decided to reinforce his flanks, since that’s where the confederates had been attacking.

Lee then switched tactics and decided to attack the Union center, on Cemetery Ridge. Leading this assault would be Pickett’s Division. The assault would cover nearly a mile in wide open ground across a field. Longstreet was against this move, realizing that such a move would expose the men to murderous fire, not just from rifle fire, but artillery fire.

Lee gave Longstreet his orders, despite his protests, and Longstreet, being the dutiful soldier that he was, carried them out.

Pickett was eager to get into the fight, and even though Longstreet shared his misgivings, Pickett told Longstreet that they would carry the day.

Gettysburg - Approaching Union Center at "...

Gettysburg – Approaching Union Center at “Bloody Angle” (Photo credit: roger4336)

That afternoon, almost 200 confederate guns opened up on the Federal positions, perhaps the largest artillery barrage of the war. The bombardment lasted two hours, with the Federal position unaffected. Return fire by the Union artillery was limited, as they were conserving ammunition for the infantry attack they knew was coming.

After the bombardment was lifted, the Virginians stepped off. Almost immediately, they were taking cannon fire from Cemetery Ridge, and an area just north of Little Round Top. For three quarters of a mile, they marched straight towards a little jog in the Union lines that would become known as the “Bloody Angle”. Across the field and over fences under murderous fire, until they came within range of the Union rifles.

Still, the confederates reached the Bloody Angle and breached the Union lines.


Reserves were rushed into the breach, and the confederate strength ebbed. Pickett’s division began to fall back. Less than half his division made it back to confederate lines. Over 12,000 men started Pickett’s Charge; 6555 did not make it back. That number is not just from Pickett’s division, but everyone who participated in the charge; Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew’s division, and Major General Issac R. Trimble’s two brigades, both of whom were wounded during the charge.

Picket was devastated and inconsolable. He never forgave Lee for ordering the charge.

When Lee ordered Picket to rally his division, Pickett is alleged to have said “General, I have no division.”

English: Incidents of the war. A harvest of de...

A harvest of death, Gettysburg, PA. Dead Federal soldiers on battlefield. Negative by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Positive by Alexander Gardner.

As the men were returning, General Lee told all of them that the loss was all his fault. He had fallen victim to the human flaw of starting to believe his own press that he was invincible.

After the battle, bloodied and exhausted, the Army of Northern Virginia began the long retreat back to Virginia. Lee tried to keep them organized, expecting Meade to chase him back to Virginia or launch a counter offensive.

The truth is, the Army of the Potomac was just as exhausted, just as bloodied, and just as damaged as the Army of Northern Virginia. General Meade was content to just hold the field.

About 51,000 men fell that day, with at least 7000 dead. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Never again would Lee attempt to invade the Union, and the life was beginning ebb from the Confederacy. General Lee and the confederacy would fight for nearly two more years before the conflict would be resolved.

President Abraham Lincoln would visit the battlefield four months later in November to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery. There, he gave a hastily written speech that became one of the best known speeches in American history.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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The Battle of Gettysburg: Day 2; July 2, 1863

Posted on July 2, 2013. Filed under: History | Tags: , |

Overnight, General Robert E. Lee determined to take Cemetery Hill (not to be confused with Cemetery Ridge) and Culp’s Hill, both of which dominate Gettysburg, that Lieutenant General Ewell had failed to take the day before.

Lieutenant General James Longstreet, on the other hand, wanted to abandon their current positions, and swing around the Union left flank (to the south) and place the army astride Meade’s line of communication, forcing him to attack. Lee’s entire doctrine for invading Pennsylvania was to move strategically, and only fight defensive battles. Lee abandoned this plan because he did not want to hurt morale by asking his men to give up their gains from the day before, and he believed, based on their success at Chancellorsville and the first day of fighting at Gettysburg, that they had the momentum and the ability to carry this battle.

Lee ordered Ewell to make demonstrative attacks on Culp’s Hill to distract the Federals and prevent them from reinforcing the left flank near Little Round Top, where the main attack was coming from. Longstreet was worried that the division commanded by Major General John Hood had not completely arrived, and the division commanded by Major General George Pickett had not arrived at all.

Still, Lee expected Longstreet to launch an early morning attack.

So, if Lee wanted Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill, why attack to the south? If Lee could envelop the southern flank, the Union army had to budge or risk being completely surrounded.

Longstreet’s attack was late in starting, because he was waiting for Brigadier General Law’s Brigade to arrive, then had to make a long march to remain undetected by Union signalers on Little Round Top.

Hood didn’t like the plan, because the area that would become known as the Devil’s Den was uneven and strewn with boulders, and was hard to move units around in. He wanted to flank the Federals around Big Round Top. Longstreet denied him permission to make that movement, citing Lee’s orders. Hood launched the attack at 4 PM.

Gettysburg - The Second Day (click image to enlarge)

Gettysburg – The Second Day (click image to enlarge)

After a 30 minute artillery barrage that severely impacted Union troops stationed in a peach orchard, Hood signaled for the attack to start.

As Hood advanced with his troops, a shell exploded overhead, severely wounding Hood and taking him out of the fight.

The division continued to march east, no longer under central control, because Brigadier General Evander Law never knew of Hood’s injury, nor that he was now in command of the division.

Hood would survive the wound.

Law would direct his men around the Union flank, heading towards the two Round Tops. The 3rd Arkansas regiment and 1st Texas regiment pushed into the Devil’s Den. The fighting was ferocious, as both sides fought for over an hour, slugging it out. In the meantime, Law and five regiments from Alabama swept around the flank, overrunning Big Round Top and moving up the Plum Run, a creek that ran between the Round Tops and the Devil’s Den.

The pressure exerted by by Laws became so great that Union Brigadier General J.H. Hobart Ward had to move the Pennsylvanians from his right flank down to his left.

The movement of the 99th Pennsylvania regiment to the Union left opened a gap in the Union lines, one that the Confederates attempted to exploit. Union general Régis de Trobriand later wrote, “[The confederates] converged on me like an avalanche, but we piled all the dead and wounded men in our front.” Union forces put up stiff resistance, and refused to allow the rebels to exploit the gap, and eventually pushed them back.

Casualties at the Devil's Den (click image to enlarge)

Casualties at the Devil’s Den (click image to enlarge)

The fighting was so fierce that most of the regiments involved lost half their men, and many of their commanders that day.

The Union engaged 2400 men, 800 of them fell.

The Confederates engaged 5500 men. 1800 were carried out.

Ward was forced to retreat at the end of the fight, the Plum Run became known as the “Valley of Death” and “Bloody Run”, but the heaviest fighting was yet to come.

Little Round Top had been occupied only by Union signalers, and five Alabama and two Texas regiments were heading straight for it.

Union Major General Daniel Sickles was supposed to be defending the south end of Cemetery Ridge, which would have included Little Round Top, but he disobeyed orders and moved his troops to defend the Emmitsburg Road, anchoring his flank at the Devil’s Den.

Little Round Top, the Western Slope - after the Battle of Gettysburg, July, 1863 (click image to enlarge)

Little Round Top, the Western Slope – after the Battle of Gettysburg, July, 1863 (click image to enlarge)

When Meade discovered this, he sent Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren to Little Round Top to deal with the situation.

Warren found only the signal corps atop Little Round Top, and in the distance, he saw the gleam of bayonets approaching. Messages were dispatched for help from any available units. Major General George Sykes, commander of the V Corps, immediate dispatched orders to his First Division to rush to Little Round Top. However, before these messages reached Brigadier General James Barnes, commander of 1st Division, the messenger ran into Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent immediately ordered his entire brigade up to Little Round Top without waiting for orders from above. His brigade consisted of:

  • 16th Michigan regiment
  • 44th New York Regiment
  • 83rd Pennsylvania regiment
  • 20 Maine regiment

Vincent arrived only about 10 minutes before the confederates did.

The 20th Maine is famous because it was on the extreme left of the Union position. It was highlighted in the movie Gettysburg. As the confederates continued to try to find a way around his flank, Colonel Joshua Chaimberlain kept shifting positions to hold them off. He formed his line at an angle, holding off confederate charge after confederate charge. The fighting lasted for more than 90 minutes, ending with a charge down the hill, sweeping up the exhausted confederates.

While the movie shows the charge and the rebels giving up, it doesn’t tell us why they were exhausted.

On their way to Little Round Top, they had just marched 20 miles in the heat, and their canteens were empty. The order to attack came before they could refill their canteens.

Then they had to charge up a steep hillside.

Chaimberlain and the 20th Maine are the most famous, but they were not the only ones making names for themselves that day.

Further north on the hill, Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rourke, commander of the 140th New York regiment was ordered to get up the hill as quickly as possible, and not to worry about formation. O’Rourke rushed his men up the hill, but didn’t stop. His regiment crested the hill, and kept going down the other side, sweeping the rebels off the hill. O’Rourke came across his flag bearer who had fallen, and taking up the colors, he climbed onto a rock and started waving the flag, urging his men on. He was shot in the neck and killed.

First Lieutenant Charles Hazlett was an artillery officer who was ordered to get his battery up to the top of Little Round Top. Getting the ten inch guns up the rocky slope was not easy, but he did it, and while his battery was exposed to constant confederate sniper fire, his battery readied their guns and started firing. The sniper fire made it difficult to work the guns, and ultimately had little effect on the battle, but he did his duty as ordered.

Brigadier General Stephen H. Weed, commander of the brigade, was mortally wounded by a bullet to the head. His last words were reported to be “I would rather die here than that the rebels should gain an inch of this ground.” Hazlett was reportedly killed trying to hear Weed’s last words.

And Colonel Strong Vincent, the man who took the initiative to get his brigade up on Little Round Top to defend it?

He was struck fatally by a bullet early as the battle started. His last command was “Don’t give an inch.”

By the end of the day, the confederates withdrew, both sides exhausted. The quick thinking and heroic actions of General Sykes, Colonel Strong Vincent and their men saved the Union army that day, along with confederate delays and premature attacks.

But the battle was not over.

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The Battle of Gettysburg Day One: July 1, 1863

Posted on July 1, 2013. Filed under: History | Tags: , |

The battle of Gettysburg, Pa. July 3d. 1863, d...

The Battle of Gettysburg, Pa. July 3d. 1863, Hand-colored lithograph by Currier and Ives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, July 1, 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the turning point of the American Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg opened today, on a hot day in rural Pennsylvania, July 1, 1863.

The three day battle ended with General Robert E. Lee retreating back to Virginia, where he and his Army of Northern Virginia would hold out for nearly 2 more years before surrendering.

Year after year, Lincoln sent general after general to fight Lee, and his best generals, Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet. Longstreet has long, and wrongly, been blamed for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, and ultimately the war. Irvin McDowell, George B. McClellan, Joseph Hooker, and Ambrose Burnside; all sent to fight in Virginia, all defeated one by one.

The Confederate Army had been riding a wave of success. Lee attempted to invade the Union once before, but was checked by McClellan in September of 1862 at the Battle of Antietam. While the Confederates were not defeated, the Maryland campaign was forced to end, and the Army of Northern Virginia withdrew back into Virginia.

Nine months later, near Chancellorsville, Virginia, Joe Hooker intended to envelop Lee’s army, attacking from both the front and rear. Lee then did the unthinkable.

He split his army in two in the face of superior numbers.

With only about 80% of his forces at his disposal, Lee attacked Hooker, forcing Hooker to withdraw back to defensive lines in Chancellorsville.

Lee then split his army againsending Jackson to attack Hookers right flank, completely routing the Union XI Corps.

Jackson, as he was wont to do, went out on a personal scouting mission to take in the situation and dispositions. When he returned, as darkness was falling, he was mortally wounded by his own men, mistaking his group for Union cavalry.

Jackson was shot in the left arm, and it was amputated, but he died of complications due to pneumonia on May 10, 1863.

Lee, on hearing that Jackson had been wounded, immediately sent a message to Jackson:

Give General Jackson my affectionate regards, and say to him: he has lost his left arm but I my right.

Upon receiving news of Jackson’s death, Lee was devastated. He told his cook,

William, I have lost my right arm.

Lee had to move on from the loss of his right hand man, because there was still a war that needed to be fought.

It is generally said that Lee invaded Pennsylvania because he was in search of shoes. While this may be true, it was only a small part of Lee’s reasoning. Lee decided to invade the north to let his troops live off the northerners crops  for awhile, which were just coming in, and grant a reprieve to the farmers of northern Virginia. There was also a peace movement underway in the north, and he hoped to bolster that movement, if not make it stronger.

As Lee moved north, he allowed his best cavalry general, J.E.B. Stuart to take some of the cavalry and ride around the east flank of the Union Army of the Potomac. Stuart rode around southern Pennsylvania, getting his name in the papers while Lee was left virtually blind. It was Lee’s own doing, his orders left Stuart too much latitude.

Joe Hooker, commander of the Army of the Potomac, and the man who was defeated at Chancellorsville, resigned, and was replaced by George Meade.

The day before the battle began, on June 30, 1863, General John Pettigrew was sent from Cashtown, a few miles to the northwest of Gettysburg, to Gettysburg proper in search of supplies, shoes in particular. This may be where the perception that Lee was searching for shoes came from.

As Pettigrew entered the town, he ran into a Federal cavalry force, commanded by Brigadier General John Buford, moving in from the south. Pettigrew withdrew without engaging, but when he relayed the information to his superiors, Lieutenant General Ambrose P. Hill and Major General Henry Heth, neither believed that a substantial Union force was in the area, thinking it was Pennsylvania militia instead.

Hill, disregarding orders from Lee to not engage the enemy until the entire army was concentrated (it was strung out from Cashtown to Chambersburg), he mounted a reconnaissance in force to Gettysburg on the first of July.

So the Battle of Gettysburg began.

Buford had laid his defenses with the idea of fighting only a delaying action, allowing the rest of the Army of the Potomac to arrive in the area.

As the Confederates were pushing Buford’s small cavalry force off the ridges and towards the town, Major General John F. Reynolds arrived with his I Corps. He was regarded by many in Washington as the best general they had. As he was directing the placement of his men and artillery, Reynolds was fatally shot near McPherson’s Woods northwest of town.

Major General Abner Doubleday, the purported father of baseball, took command of the corps.

Gettysburg: July 1, 1863

Gettysburg: July 1, 1863 (click image to enlarge)

Major General Winfield Hancock was sent by General Meade to stabilize the situation as soon as word was received that Reynolds had been killed. Hancock, upon seeing the ground that Buford had chosen for the battlefield, determined to hold the high ground and fight the battle there. The Union generals decided that they were not going anywhere.

The Confederates continued to push the Union forces back, as more and more troops from both sides began to reach the battlefield.

Lee came forward to appraise the situation, and ordered Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell and his Second Corps to take Cemetery Ridge, just to the south of Gettysburg “if practicable”. One of Lee’s greatest weaknesses is that when he gave orders, he provided the means for them to be disobeyed. He was too much the gentleman.

Lee’s orders to Ewell were to press the advantage as the Federal forces were starting to flee in great confusion over Seminary Ridge towards Cemetery Ridge. Ewell only needed fall on them from the rear, giving the a swift kick in the ass, so to speak, and the Confederates would have ended up with possession of all the high ground in the area.

Ewell decided that taking Cemetery Ridge was “not practicable”, and never even attempted an assault on the ridge.

The Federals ended up rallying, and digging in atop Cemetery Ridge.

The Three Days at Gettysburg blog has a great analysis of why Ewell may not have found an assault practicable.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

By the end of the day, the Federals had fled through the town of Gettysburg, but rallied after the Confederates failed to press the attack, and dug into Cemetery Ridge. Over 49,000 men fought that first day, and reinforcements continued to march to the battle field, almost all had arrived by the evening of July 2.

The Confederates were still flying high, thinking themselves invincible as they were beginning to route the Federals. But the battle turned from a route into a withdrawal to the remaining ridges south of town, anchoring on Culp’s Hill to the north, and Little Round Top to the south, a name that will become synonymous with Gettysburg itself.

The battle that ultimately saved the Union, and prompted Abraham Lincoln to make his no famous Gettysburg Address.

A quick note about rank. During the Civil War, generals ranked like this (from highest to lowest):

  • General
  • Lieutenant General
  • Major General
  • Brigadier General
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