A Quiet Teacher Becomes A Stone Wall (Article 67)

“God has fixed the time of my death. I do not concern myself about that…” – Thomas Jackson

“War means fighting. The business of a soldier is to fight… This will involve great destruction of life and property” – Thomas Jackson

His mother and father named him Thomas Jonathan Jackson, but both died while he was still a child. His sister Laura Ann called him Tom (or Dearest Tom). When he taught at Virginia Military Institute, the cadets called him Tom Fool, and, because of his religious fervor, some called him Old Blue Light. Later, at age 37, he was affectionately called “Old Jack” by the men who served under him in the Civil War.

Then, after July 21, 1861, he became known as “Stonewall” and that name stuck. Some question, however, whether the General who originally referred to Jackson as “a stone wall” intended the remark as a compliment or an insult. But, more on that later.

Thomas was born in 1824 and became an orphan at seven. He was separated from his sister, with whom he was very close, and was sent to live with first one relative then another; but never in a home with a loving and supportive father and mother. At age eleven, he ran away from the home where he had been placed and walked through the night back to where he had last lived with his mother; and a half-uncle took him in, but he was never close to the family. He worked as a farm hand and was permitted to receive a reasonable early education and he remained on that farm until he left for military school. As a boy, he was considered “slow” to learn, awkward in movements, shy to the extreme, and had few friends. When he was finally united with his sister in his early teens, they developed a loving bond that literally helped sustain Thomas in his darkest hours for the next twenty years. But, unfortunately, even that bond was broken.

Never a very good student, he was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy only after the first selectee dropped out. As a first-year cadet he struggled with academics, but adapted well to the harsh discipline; which, perhaps, was less severe than he had known as a displaced child. He was near the bottom of his class of sixty at the end of his first year, but, showed improvement each following year and finally graduated in seventeenth place in 1846. One instructor remarked on Jackson’s steady progress and said, “If he had one more year he would have been near first.” Jackson never quite mastered one task, at least to the satisfaction of his instructors. A critical skill for young Army officers was horsemanship, and cadets were expected to excel and conform to a classic posture in the saddle. Jackson was a good rider but, as a boy, had learned to lean forward in the saddle and he always drooped one shoulder while riding; so West Point instructors downgraded him. He could, at times, instructors noted, also be careless with his appearance; a habit that continued even as a Confederate General, when his uniforms were often described as rumpled or well worn. On the other hand, he did well enough in artillery and engineering to raise his over-all standing in his class. And, while he was not a popular cadet and made few close friends, he was respected for his hard work. Almost immediately upon graduation, Thomas left to fight in the War with Mexico, where he distinguished himself in several battles; and was personally singled out for recognition by General Winfield Scott, the commander of U.S. forces.

In those days, most Academy graduates had primarily sought an advanced education, not necessarily a military career, and only stayed in U.S. Army for a few years. Jackson was no exception, and he left the Army in 1851, but, he did not stray far-afield as he joined the staff at Virginia Military Institute (VMI). He was still without social graces, spoke little when in groups, and, by most accounts, was not a good teacher. Former students later recalled that he would stand nearly motionless and deliver his lectures in a monotone and expected his students to learn from textbooks, supplemented by his lectures; and he rarely provided any personal attention.  He was seen as unemotional, not very empathetic, and the only subject which could cause him to join a group discussion was religion; a topic he thought important enough for reflection. He did finally marry at age 29, but his first wife died within a year in childbirth, along with an infant.

Thomas was devastated; however, his religious faith, along with support from his sister, sustained him during this period. Jackson always had a connection to religion, but now, he went all in. He joined the local Presbyterian Church and gradually changed from a “believer” to a “near zealot” as described by one observer.  Another contemporary said, “Never have I seen a human being as thoroughly governed by duty. He lived only to please God. His daily life was a daily offering up of himself.”

He married again in 1857 to Mary Anna Morrison, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and she shared Thomas’s devotion to his faith. She also shared his unorthodox views on slavery. While he thought human-bondage was in accordance with God’s will, he believed mistreatment of slaves was immoral. To the consternation of neighbors, he and his wife taught slave children to read and write, in violation of Virginia law. They also held Sunday school classes for children and adult slaves, as they believed they had a duty to bring their Christian message to the slaves.

Jackson hoped that Civil War could be avoided, and although VMI was a hotbed of secessionist discussion, Jackson urged caution. He had seen the devastation that war brought to communities in Mexico and believed that, if Civil War came, the state of Virginia would become a main battlefield. He had another reason to be concerned if Virginia determined to secede; he and his beloved sister, Laura Ann, began to experience strains in their relationship as she was opposed to secession and to the formation of the Confederate States of America as a separate nation.

After the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, Jackson did not immediately leave VMI to serve in the Confederate Army; but rather, he waited to see if Virginia, which had not yet left the Union, would vote to secede.  Jackson believed secession was unnecessary and un-wise, but he vowed to follow the decision of his home state. When Virginia voted to secede and Jackson joined the Confederacy, his relationship with his sister became bitter. Laura Ann and her family were so opposed to the secessionist politics in Virginia, that they worked over the next two years to have the Union recognize West Virginia as a separate state; ripped away from the old Commonwealth of Virginia to which Thomas was so loyal.

Unfortunately, he and Laura never reconciled.

Jackson’s first assignment in the Confederate Army was as a drill instructor, directed to instill some degree of discipline in new recruits, who were often uneducated farm boys.  Jackson embraced this duty because he knew it was important to build cohesiveness within the troops in preparation for the chaos of battle. After a month, he was given command of a unit and dispatched to an area where many expected the first, and some thought possibly the last, battle of the new Civil War would occur.

The opposing armies were gathering close to Manassas Junction, Virginia, near Bull Run Creek; and Jackson would soon lead troops into battle for the first time since the Mexican War, fifteen years earlier.

His understanding of “God’s will” convinced Jackson that the Civil War was visited upon the Country as a curse by God for the nation’s many failures to follow scriptures; and, in his mind, devotion would decide the victor. That belief also gave Jackson a total lack of fear in battle. What some saw as courage, or even recklessness, Jackson saw as a belief that his death would be timed by God, not by another human being. He once said, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.”

But, religious fervor aside, during the earlier war with Mexico, Jackson had proven to possess an uncanny ability to make the right tactical moves in almost every battle situation. Other officers noted that Jackson could quickly ascertain a rapidly changing battle situation and create opportunity for victory; or, what military experts refer to as “battleground sense” or “battlefield awareness.”

Then, suddenly on July 21, 1861, he became known as Stonewall!

The circumstances of the nickname are still debated by some.  Only a few months after the war started, Jackson found himself in Northern Virginia, at Manassas Junction, between the Union Capital at Washington DC and the Confederate Capital at Richmond. Union attacks were beginning to push back Confederate positions; but Jackson’s men held their ground and were in a position to reinforce the troops of General Bernard Bee, whose men were beginning to break ranks. Bee rode through his disorganized soldiers reportedly shouting; “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here and we will conquer.” Based on an observation by a General, who did not personally hear the remarks, a few historians claim it was intended as an insult, because Jackson did not move quickly enough to provide needed support to Bee’s troops. But to most Civil War experts, and certainly all Confederate aficionados, General Bee meant that Jackson was holding his own and intended to use Jackson’s men as inspiration for a rallying cry. The debate about General Bee’s intent will go on, since the General was killed moments later. But, Jackson’s new nickname stuck, believed by most to be a compliment to his steadfastness, and General Jackson became “Stonewall” forever after. The new name was also adopted by the forces under his command, which became known as the “Stonewall Brigade.”

After that July battle, which Confederates named Manassas but the Union called Bull Run, Stonewall Jackson’s victories became the stuff of legends. While occasionally he made mistakes which caused setbacks in some battle situations, victories at places like Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, Port Republic, Fredericksburg, and then a stunning victory at Chancellorsville, are all well known to those who study the Civil War.

He was not a “background” General but was always present at the battlefield which earned him the respect of his troops. He was a harsh disciplinarian, but was consistent and fair, so morale in his units remained high, despite heavy casualties. Although, one soldier who served under him reportedly said (sarcastically) of his discipline; “I think the General has shot more of us than the Yankees.”

On May 2, 1863, Stonewall Jackson, in a brilliant tactical decision, led his men in a multi-pronged assault on a larger Union force at Chancellorsville, Virginia. It was a clear victory as Confederate troops pushed back to, and even through, the Union lines. As darkness approached, General Jackson and his aides were returning to his camp after reviewing Union emplacements, when Confederate pickets mistook the riders for enemy scouts and opened fire. Jackson was hit by first one, then a second volley; and he suffered wounds to his left arm and right hand.

Upon hearing that Jackson had been wounded, General Robert E. Lee sent a message to his most dependable General; “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the Country to be disabled in your stead.”

His wounds were serious and his arm had to be amputated. He was taken to a nearby plantation for what he expected would be a brief recovery before rejoining his men, but, after several days, he contracted pneumonia and his overall condition gradually worsened. On Sunday, May 10, 1863, eight days after being wounded, his doctor told Jackson there was nothing more to do and he would likely die that day. Jackson’s reply was; “It is the Lord’s day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on a Sunday. Well, it is a Sunday, and I would like to meet the Lord on a Sunday.”

When Jackson died, General Lee said, “I have lost my right arm” and “I am bleeding at the heart.” But, his sister, Laura, an ardent supporter of the Union, would say, “I would rather know that he is dead than to have him a leader in the rebel army.” It seems that these two disparate sentiments capture perfectly the deep divisions in the country at the time.

A minister in Richmond said; “To attempt to portray the life of Jackson while leaving out the religious element, would be like undertaking to portray Switzerland without making mention of the Alps.” And, one of his biographers, Robert L. Dabney said, “It was the fear of God which made him so fearless of all else.”

Abraham Lincoln believed that many of the Southern Generals, who had once served in the U.S. Army, were good men who had made a misguided decision when they joined the Confederate forces. After reading an obituary of Jackson in the Washington Chronicle, Lincoln, in an extraordinary gesture, wrote to the newspaper’s publisher; “I wish to lose no time in thanking you for the article on Stonewall Jackson. He was a true Christian gentleman and soldier.”

Although from an unlikely source, it was a fitting tribute!

Contact the author at  gadorris@gmail.com and see other articles at the web-site www.alincolnbygadorris.com

The Militarization of the South (Article 66)

The names are still familiar to many of us today; Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Joseph Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, John Magruder, P.G.T Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, James Longstreet, George Pickett, Benjamin Helm (Abraham Lincoln’s brother-in-law), John Bell Hood, George Washington Custis Lee (Robert E. Lee’s son), J.E.B. Stuart, and Andrew Jackson III (grandson of President Andrew Jackson). All were from Southern states, all received their education at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and all served the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Most historians agree that the significant underlying causes for which thirteen Southern states chose to secede from the Union, and form the Confederate States of America, were economics, the sovereignty of individual states, and of course, the retention of slavery. Some historians and social scientists, make the additional argument that the South was more willing to first threaten, and then be ready to fight, a Civil War because so many of its political, social, and business leaders had received their educations at various military academies and/or had military experience. The term “Militarization of the South” was used by some as a pejorative; but is it a fair and accurate term? Then, if so, did it influence the beginning of the war and, equally important, did it affect the outcome?

Since the time of the Revolutionary War, almost all Southern states had regulated militias in which male citizens could be trained and be ready for service if called upon by their state government. Then, in late 1860 and early 1861, as various states began to secede from the Union,

the ranks of those state militias began to swell with men who had received their military training at private and state military colleges and with graduates of the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy. Of the nearly 1,100 graduates of the U.S. Academies from the classes of 1830-1860, over 300 served the Confederacy, including many who were still on active duty and resigned their commissions to join the Southern military forces. And, they were joined by even more officers from the U.S. Army and Navy who were not Academy graduates.

The new Confederate government was still organizing its military forces, so most of these volunteers initially joined the militia in their home state; and, they were prepared to defend their state from potential invasion by Union forces. However, within a few months after the start of the war, most of these state units were integrated into the Confederate armed forces.

The concept of loyalty to the state of one’s birth would seem odd to recent generations, as mobility has nearly made allegiance to a particular state obsolete; but, in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was normal. And, the political leaders, who led secessionist movements, counted on that parochial loyalty to raise armies to defend against any attempt by the Federal government to force the return of the state to the Union through military action. In fact, historians estimate that 65-75 percent of eligible men in the thirteen seceded states joined either the Confederate armed forces (Army or Navy) or their state’s militia during the war. By contrast, in the North, that percentage was likely 35-40 percent. Clearly, most of the enlisted level Confederate soldiers and many of the officers were not fighting to preserve slavery or against oppressive excise taxes; they fought because Union forces were marching into their home states.

Regardless of the motives of those who chose to fight, by mid-1861, the South had built an effective fighting force, with a solid group of educated and experienced officers to lead the troops; however, to a certain extent, southern society was already “militarized” long before the threat of Civil War.

In some ways way, southern aristocratic families resembled the feudal families of Europe who identified more with their feudal land than with a governing nation; and who protected their large land holdings by passing the inheritance to the eldest son (if there was one), rather than break up the land among several siblings. In the American South, families identified with their home state, where the family’s holdings often dated back to colonial times, before the United States was even founded. Theirs was a patriarchal society and, in general, the eldest son was expected to continue family traditions and control the family’s assets; which were often centered around plantations (and the slaves to provide the labor) or large merchant and financial enterprises. Younger sons, however, were expected to use their wealth and position in some noble service. Of course, there were a few gadflies who chose to simply enjoy the benefits of being part of the wealthy leisure class; but, most of these privileged young men sought a useful career. Aristocratic Southern families encouraged contributions to the betterment of their state and their social structure, and many of their sons became politicians (a noble career at that time), judges, lawyers, educators, merchants and even clergymen. But one of the most coveted and admired occupations was that of an Army or Naval officer.

Soon after the Revolutionary War, the new United States of America (both north and south) realized a viable military would be necessary to maintain that hard fought independence; and a source of well trained and disciplined officers would be needed. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson (of Virginia) approved the formation of the United States Military Academy to be located at West Point, New York and the first class of cadets entered in 1802. Forty years later, Congress authorized the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, specifically as a training program for future officers in the Navy; and its first class graduated in 1854.

Since many Southern families valued a military education as a noble and desirable profession for young men, an appointment to either Academy was highly prized. However, there was such a demand for a formal and elite military education, which would lead to a commission in the U.S. Army or in a state’s “well regulated” militia, that several small colleges were formed throughout the Southern states with a component of military training and discipline. But, even the addition of those private schools could not meet all of the requests for a military education and several states, which already maintained militia forces, established and funded their own military schools. The very formation of the Citadel in South Carolina in 1839, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1842, and the Louisiana Military Academy (later to become LSU), were directly a result of the increasing demand in the South for a premier military education. While not all of the graduates of these in-state academies immediately joined their local militia, they were available upon notice if their state should ever issue a call to arms.  Many fought in the war with Mexico in 1846-47, in which Southern soldiers actually comprised a larger portion of the U.S. force than the much greater populated northern states.

And, they would again respond as the South prepared for war in 1860.

Those who contend that “Militarization of the South” was a factor in the Civil War believe that the large number of Southern men with a military education and/or military experience, may have given the political leaders a sense of confidence (or over-confidence) that they could quickly defeat the northern states. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who had graduated from West Point, fought with the U.S. Army in the Mexican War, and later was the U.S. Secretary of War, said just prior to the attack on Fort Sumter, “We will start, and finish, the war!” and, speaking of Union President Abraham Lincoln he said, “There is no fire in his fight.” In the end, both of his statements were proven wrong!

So, in answer to the earlier questions; is “Militarization of the South” a fair term; and if so, did it influence the start of the Civil War or affect the outcome?

The appreciation by Southern families of a military education and/or career was not so much a glorification of warfare, as simply one accepted way for young men to meet their implied duty to serve their society. And, their courage and sense of honor was extraordinary; as one General said (paraphrased) after a Confederate defeat, “If valor alone could have carried the day, we would have been the victors.” Therefore, the use of the term “Militarization of the South” as a pejorative is not appropriate; however, aside from that, the term is probably fair. It certainly gave secessionist leaders a level of confidence that, with their strong contingent of experienced officers to lead dedicated troops, they would quickly defeat the disorganized Union. And, even when victory did not come early, the militarized South was able to prolong the war in the hope (misplaced) that the Union, and Abraham Lincoln, would tire of the war and just accept the independence of the Confederate States.

On the other hand, that early advantage soon faded before the overwhelming mass of men and materiel available to the Union forces; and so, the “Militarization of the South” may have delayed, but it did not affect, the final outcome of the Civil War.

Contact the author at gadorris2@gmail.com or find additional articles at the website: www.alincolnbygadorris.com



Lincoln and Douglas – Beyond The Debates (Article 65)

On the podium, the visual contrast between the two men was striking; Abraham Lincoln was tall and thin, while Stephen A. Douglas was almost a foot shorter and portly. When they spoke, the audience immediately noted that Douglas had a deep, booming voice, while Lincoln’s voice was a bit higher pitched but still carried well. Although Douglas was nearly theatrical in his presentation, striding back and forth as he gestured with his hands; Lincoln was almost immobile, except for minor hand movements. And, while Lincoln would interject humor, Douglas was almost continually intense. But a more important difference was political. In Illinois, Lincoln was an influential leader of the Republican Party, while Douglas often singularly drove the Democrat Party.

However, the Illinois audiences at the seven “Lincoln – Douglas” debates, held across the state, did not come to just observe and be entertained by these two politicians, they came to hear their ideas on the compelling issues of the day. Those citizens would soon vote for either Democrat or Republican legislators, who would then select the state’s next Senator.

And both men wanted the appointment!

Interestingly, Lincoln and Douglas did not really debate; not in the modern sense anyway. One would first speak for no more than an hour, the second man would speak (often in rebuttal) for ninety minutes, and then the first speaker would follow up for thirty minutes. After the allotted times, when the two men had raised, and responded to, important political and social issues of the day, they would occasionally banter back and forth to the delight of the crowds.

By 1858, when the debates occurred, the men had known each other for twenty-five years and had become friendly, but were not considered best friends. Each man respected the other as honorable and well-intentioned, and they often agreed on political positions which affected the economy of Illinois; for example, state and federal support for roads, railroads and waterway improvements. However, they had been on the opposite sides of nearly every other political matter which faced the State of Illinois and/or the United States of America during that time; for example, Douglas supported the Mexican War in 1846, but Lincoln opposed it.

And they were on different sides of one of the most explosive and urgent issues in that century; whether any new state should be admitted to the Union if that state’s Constitution permitted slavery. Most northern states did not want to admit any new state in which slavery would be legal, while southern states were insisting that new states permit (or at least not prohibit) slavery to assure the political balance was maintained in Congress between slave states and non-slave states. Further, while both men agreed that the Constitution recognized slavery in states where it currently was legal, they differed on the longer-term question; whether slavery should exist at all within the United States.

Douglas, who had already served two six-year terms in the Senate, could have chosen to avoid the debates with Lincoln. He was not required to meet with his opponent and, after all, the Illinois legislature was already controlled by the Democrats who were not expected to lose many seats in the 1858 election; nearly guaranteeing Douglas the appointment. So why did the incumbent choose to give his challenger a platform with which to possibly unseat him? Douglas never fully explained his reasoning; however, there may have been at least four factors in his decision. First, almost every time Douglas gave a speech in a community, Lincoln, who was a popular speaker, would show up after Douglas had finished and give a counter-argument. Second, Douglas enjoyed political give and take and knew he and Lincoln would create an entertaining show for the public. Third, he knew the debates, which would center on the topics surrounding slavery, would receive national attention in the press; and Douglas intended to be a candidate for President in 1860. What better way to get his message across to voters in every state? Those first three reasons were personal and even a bit self-serving. But, his fourth reason was honorable and patriotic; he believed in the Constitution and the preservation of the Union, and honestly felt that he could protect both, currently as a Senator and then later as President. He intended to spend the next two years in the Senate guiding the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions toward compromise (as he had successfully done in his previous two terms) and then, as President in 1861, assure those regional differences did not turn into Civil War.

For the prior ten years, Douglas had worked to bring about compromises in Congress between the states that rejected slavery (largely northern states) and those states in which slavery was legal and thriving (primarily in the South). Douglas did not believe, as many southerners did, that slavery was morally justified; he simply did not want the issue of slavery to tear apart the United States. So, whenever and wherever that threat arose, Douglas had become a mediator; or, “The Great Compromiser”, as he became known in the national press.

Lincoln and Douglas looked at the issue of slavery differently. Lincoln abhorred slavery, condemned the institution as unjust, and did not want to see slavery expanded to new states. Douglas promoted the democratic idea of “popular sovereignty” wherein a proposed new state’s citizens would vote on the question of slavery, and the U.S. Congress would accept that state into the Union, regardless of the outcome. On the other hand, Lincoln did not want any new state admitted to the Union unless that state’s constitution prohibited slavery; and he had said the country could not endure “half-slave and half-free.”

The two men did agree, however, on one national issue which, while related to the questions surrounding slavery, was distinctly different. They were both ferocious in their belief that the United States was inviolate and that any secession by southern states would be unconstitutional and illegal!

Most Americans know at least basic information about Lincoln, but conversely, know almost nothing about Stephen Arnold Douglas. He was five years younger than Lincoln, but they both began their political careers about the same time. Douglas had moved to Illinois 1833, when he was twenty, obtained his law license within a year, and quickly became active in the Democratic Party. He became a County Attorney, then in 1836, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. Since Lincoln had earlier been elected to that legislative body, the two men certainly became acquainted that year, but perhaps a year or two before.

We do know that, in 1836, they were on opposite sides of a resolution which stated that slavery, although not permitted in Illinois, must be recognized as a legal and Constitutional institution in certain states and that Illinois would respect slave ownership rights which existed in those other states. In Lincoln’s opposition, he stated: “We protest against the passage, we believe slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy.” Douglas supported the measure and it passed in the Democrat controlled legislature.

With Lincoln’s move from New Salem to Springfield, the state’s new Capital city, Douglas and Lincoln had numerous social as well as political interactions. Both men were single and considered to be eligible bachelors by the town’s matchmakers. For a short time, they both courted Mary Todd, the daughter of a Kentucky banker and slave owner; and her family much preferred Mr. Douglas who was reasonably well-to-do. But, in 1841, Mary chose Lincoln; so, it may be said that he won that round.

Douglas would not marry for another six years.

But Douglas’s political star was rising, while Lincoln’s was not. Lincoln had served four consecutive terms in the State Legislature and decided to forgo another campaign and focus on his law practice to better provide for his family.

Douglas, on the other hand, was riding a wave of support toward higher office.  Although later known as the “Great Compromiser” by the national press, by contrast, in Illinois he was referred to in the press as the “Little Giant” because of his ability to successfully drive political issues through the Legislature. At age 27, in 1841, he persuaded the legislature to expand the Illinois Supreme Court and the new law also made each new Associate Justice a District Court Judge. Then, in a bold political move, Douglas had himself appointed as one of the new Supreme Court and District Court Judges.

In 1846, when he was only thirty-three years old, he was appointed as the new U.S. Senator from Illinois and resigned from the State Supreme Court. As a Senator, he quickly became a leader because he had an ability to work both sides of the aisle to reach consensus; whether on political or economic issues. In addition to his efforts to reach compromises on the expansion of slavery, he pushed through legislation to greatly expand the nations railway network; of course, with several main lines right through Illinois.

In 1847, Douglas married the daughter of a wealthy North Carolina plantation owner and, upon the death of his father-in-law a year later, Douglas’s wife inherited the property and over one hundred slaves. Douglas was appointed manager of the estate, which provided him with a substantial income for the rest of his life. However, Douglas wanted to protect his political career in Illinois, so he appointed a subordinate manager and never was actively involved in the plantation. Of course, political opponents in the North (but not Lincoln) were always ready to accuse Douglas of being a slave-owner.

But Douglas remained popular in Illinois and was re-appointed to the Senate for another six-year term in 1852.

While Douglas’s political career continued, Lincoln, after his last term in the Illinois legislature ended in 1841, focused on his law practice for the next fifteen years; except for a single term as a U.S. Congressman in 1847. However, he did not leave politics as some claim, but rather he actively supported other Whig (later Republican) candidates for local, state and national offices; and his influence continued to grow within his Party. Because he felt obligated to his old friends in the Whig party, Lincoln even made a half-hearted attempt to gain the state’s other Senate seat in 1854. He was not surprised, nor unhappy, when he lost.

Then, in 1857 Lincoln began a methodical march toward a run for Douglas’s Senate seat, which would next come up for appointment in 1858. It was a long shot because the Democrats continued to hold a majority in the Illinois Legislature which selected U.S. Senators; however, Lincoln was popular and he hoped, if Senator Douglas would accept his challenge to debate, that he might convince some Democrats to cross-over in support of his candidacy. Lincoln must have been pleased when Douglas agreed to a series of seven debates in different communities.

Those debates, measured by attendance, enthusiasm, and publication in newspapers around the country (and a subsequent best-selling book), were successful beyond either candidate’s expectations. And, Lincoln almost pulled it off! But, in the end, enough Democrat Legislators stuck together to appoint Douglas to another six-year term.

Perhaps, however, it could be said that Lincoln really won the debates. For the first time, Lincoln’s message denouncing slavery received national attention and, combined with his speech a few months later at Coopers Union in New York, which also was widely published, laid the groundwork for a presidential campaign in 1860.

Arguably, at least until then, Stephen A. Douglas had a more successful, and influential, political career than did Abraham Lincoln. However, when Douglas returned to Washington to begin his third term, he found that the Southern aristocracy had hardened their positions to protect the institution of slavery on which their economy was based. Douglas encountered resistance to compromise and heard more threats about secession as the Senators from Southern states openly discussed the option of forming a separate nation comprised of slave holding states. As a result, Douglas began to lose influence with many of the Southern Senators due to his position that secession was unconstitutional and illegal.

Throughout 1859 and 1860, Senator Douglas worked tirelessly to forge another compromise to avoid secession by several states, which he feared could lead to a disastrous Civil War. His health began to fail and friends noticed that he was aging rapidly. His hope to become President was fading, but he did win his Democratic Party’s nomination for President in the summer of 1860. However, the party had split into factions and Southern Democrats nominated another candidate. In December, in a four-man race, Abraham Lincoln was elected. Douglas received the second most public votes behind Lincoln, but was last in the Electoral College count. His political career was over.

The secession crisis began as soon as Abraham Lincoln was elected and, by April 1861, the nation was divided; and both sides were preparing for war.

After the Confederate attack at Fort Sumter, Stephen Douglas went to see his new President to pledge his support for Lincoln’s determination to re-unite the Country and preserve the Constitution; even if that meant all-out Civil War. Lincoln showed Douglas his executive order to raise 75,000 troops to which Douglas replied “make it 200,000.” Douglas also said in the meeting; “I have had many friends in the South who must at some level still be my friends, but we will also know we are enemies.”  One of Douglas’s most famous quotes came in a speech he gave during this period when he said; “There are only two sides to this question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in the war; only patriots and traitors.”

Over the next few months, Douglas did his best to help his President and his Country; but, he did not get very far. On June 3, 1861 he died. He was only 48 years old.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 became regarded by historians as the most famous and most effective in the history of the United States. Those debates articulated not only the crisis over slavery, but the potential for Civil War if secession by any states were to occur. Not even the Kennedy-Nixon debates over 100 years later, influenced events in this nation as did those seven debates – between two passionate and articulate politicians – in small towns – in the frontier state of Illinois.

Lincoln certainly deserves all the credit he receives for a grand political legacy. But, he may have never become President, had not Douglas, the “Little Giant” of Illinois, been willing to participate in those debates; and, as a result, helped introduce Abraham Lincoln to a national audience of voters.

So, in the long run, perhaps our Country was the real winner of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Contact the author at  gadorris2@aol.com  and read other articles at the website: www.alincolnbygadorris.com






A Nation Divided – The Cherokees (Article 64)

For over seven months in 1861, the tension was palpable within the Cherokee Tribal Council. While there was an elected Principal Chief, the position was not autocratic and was only one of about twenty Tribal leaders. On one side of the debates, Chief John Ross urged caution, and believed the Cherokee Nation could avoid conflict by remaining neutral in the “White Man’s War” that had just started. On the other side, Stand Watie, another respected leader, spoke of a new beginning for his people as he urged alignment with the Confederate States of America; although he knew that came with the risk of battle against forces of the United States. Watie argued that, after what would surely be a quick victory over the northern states, the Confederate government would recognize the Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty and provide representation in the new country’s Congress. John Ross countered that the vast resources of the North would prevent an early victory by the South. There was one additional key argument by some Cherokees who urged siding with the Confederate government; a common interest in protecting slavery. Those tribal members wanted retain the nearly 3,000 black slaves they owned, which represented their largest “asset” and most of the Native Nation’s wealth.

The discussions went on for months, and the divisions within the Nation were clear. Again!

The Cherokee Nation had been divided before. Twenty-five years earlier, in 1835, Ross and Watie led opposing factions when White merchants in Georgia persuaded the Federal Government to permit confiscation of tribal lands which held valuable gold deposits, salt mines, timber and other resources. All of the Cherokee leaders realized that they could not win a military battle against Federal forces empowered by the Indian Removal Act of 1830; and other nearby tribes had already agreed to relocation, including Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. The question was not whether they would lose some or all of their lands, but rather which leader could negotiate the best settlement with the United States Government.  Chief Ross, who headed the Union Party, believed he could negotiate an agreement for compensation, in return for giving up a large portion of their land; but would allow the Cherokee to retain some of their property and stay in Georgia. On the other hand, Watie and other Cherokee leaders, including brothers John and Major Ridge, were convinced that Federal forces, joined by Georgia militia, would willingly and readily annihilate the Cherokee to gain all of their land. Watie’s group formed an opposition party, initially called the Ridge Party, but later known as the Treaty Party, specifically to negotiate a treaty with the United States which would avoid war and obtain reasonable compensation for their Georgia lands; but would require relocation to western Indian Territory. Watie and his co-founders of the Treaty Party claimed to represent the majority of Cherokee and signed the Treaty of New Echota with the United States; which called for removal from Georgia to Indian Territory by 1838, in return for promised financial support. John Ross did not sign the treaty and argued in the U.S. Congress and in State and Federal Courts for the next three years that the document was not valid; but he was ultimately unsuccessful.  In a rare instance of political violence among the Cherokee, several founding members of the Treaty Party were found murdered, including the two Ridge brothers; but, whether by design or by luck, Watie was not attacked and no one was ever charged with the crimes.

However, the outcome for the Cherokee people was already set in motion; and, in 1838, nearly 20,000 were removed from their homes by the U.S. Army and Georgia militia and forced to march westward nearly a thousand miles to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).  The government did not bother to keep accurate records, but at least 3,000 thousand Cherokee died on the journey; which became known as “The Trail of Tears” to many Americans, but “The Trail Where They Cried” among their own people. Over time the survivors settled into the Indian Territory and re-built a functioning society; although most relocated Cherokee were now dependent on government assistance, unlike their earlier self-sustaining culture in Georgia.

Even Principal Chief John Ross had to adapt to life in Indian Territory. Born in 1790 to a Cherokee mother and a Scottish father, he was comfortable in both Native and White cultures. He served in the War of 1812, and then began a career as a merchant and lawyer in Tennessee.  Ross became interested in Cherokee politics and relocated to Georgia to participate in the Tribal Council; and, because he was bright, bi-lingual, and energetic, he soon became an influential leader within the Cherokee Nation. John Ross was first elected to his position as Principal Chief in 1828, over thirty years before the Civil War, and continued as Chief until 1866, the year following the end of the War. While he had responsibility for management of the Cherokee Nation’s affairs, he was only one voice in their representative system.

Ross had been deeply affected by the “relocation” to Indian Territory in 1838. His large farm had been confiscated and he lost his prosperous legal practice; but to him, the worst blow of all came when his wife died during the forced march. Despite his contention that the United States had colluded with Georgians to remove the Cherokee Nation from their homeland, he had no trust that the new Confederate Government (of which Georgia was a part) would be any better for his people. So, Chief Ross had argued for the Nation to remain neutral, and, for a few months, he seemed to be holding the Cherokee Nation together. At one point, he was so confident that he notified U.S. Indian Agents in their territory that the Cherokee would not choose sides in the looming civil conflict. Ross knew better than most that the war would not be easily won by either North or South and, as a pragmatist, he wanted to keep his options open. But, he also was simply tired of conflict. He was over 70 years old, had been the Chief of the tribe for thirty years, and he did not want to see the new generation of young men further decimated by war. Some historians claim his arguments for neutrality were staged and that he really supported the Confederacy because he owned slaves; however, Ross had already granted them “freedman” status. But, because the former slaves were the second or third generations connected to the Ross family with whom they had lived and worked their entire lives, they chose to remain with Ross.

Chief Ross’s primary opponent, both in the 1835 relocation debates and now in the Civil War debates, was Stand Watie who argued for the Cherokee to align with the new Confederate government. Like Ross, Watie had lived among White society in Georgia and was educated as a lawyer; but the confiscation of the Cherokee lands and re-settlement to Indian Territory caused him to despise and distrust the United States government. Although he was an astute businessman and became one of most wealthy Cherokee in Indian Territory, Watie blamed the Federal government for numerous broken promises in violation of the New Echota treaty of 1835, which he had supported; and that certainly influenced his support for a treaty with the new Confederate government. But Watie was indifferent to the “States’ Rights” position of the Southerners, or their other political and economic grievances with the United States. He had more fundamental goals in mind! He believed that, after a quick Southern victory over the North, the Cherokee Nation would be rewarded for their loyalty with civil equality and representation in the Confederate Congress, and, at least, a possibility that they might regain some of their ancestral lands in Georgia. Equally important at the time, he fully expected that a Southern government would continue to protect the rights of Cherokee slave owners.

Although a state of War existed between the United States and the Confederate States after the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, not much happened for the next few months. Then, after the decisive Confederate victory at First Manassas (Bull Run) in July, the mood within the Cherokee Nation changed as more of their people became convinced that the Confederates would win the war.

The debates intensified and every participant understood that the stakes were high. Those outsiders who knew about the earlier murders of the members of the Treaty Party, might have expected confrontation, perhaps even violence, between the differing sides; but the Cherokee were respectful people who listened to others and gave open counsel.

And, then, on August 21, 1861, they decided.

The Cherokee Nation agreed to join forces with the new Confederate States of America. As difficult as it must have been for him, Chief Ross accepted the majority’s decision and represented the Cherokee in negotiations with the Confederacy; and then he signed the new treaties. Those agreements ended any obligations between the Cherokee Nation and the United States, and established Confederate obligations to the Cherokee for more rations, farm implements, and defined borders (within Indian Territory which was basically Oklahoma). Further, an amalgamation of Tribes would be given representation in the Confederate Congress; something the United states had discussed but never formalized. In return, the Cherokee agreed to form several Confederate military units to provide protection within their lands, but they were not to be deployed to fight U.S. forces elsewhere. Each Cherokee unit was led by a Native officer, appointed by the Confederate Army. Stand Watie was designated a Colonel and agreed to form, and lead, a unit of at least 1,000 Cherokee Cavalrymen.

In the summer of 1862, Chief John Ross was captured by U.S. Army troops and taken to Washington DC, where, in exchange for a pardon and the promise of future financial considerations for his Nation, he agreed to support the Union cause. Three of his sons even joined the Union Army and one died in a Confederate prison. He came to know President Abraham Lincoln and believed that his willingness to lead those Cherokees he represented to pledge allegiance to the Union would gain favor for his Nation when the war ended. His pledge was not a hollow gesture because he was still considered to be the Principal Chief by many Cherokees and led the largest contingent of the fractured Native Nation.

However, in Ross’s absence, Stand Watie was named a separate Principal Chief. So, the Cherokee Nation was now truly divided; just like the rest of the Country.

Watie immediately called a draft of every Cherokee male from 18-50 years of age into military units of the Confederate Army. Watie was already a strong leader before the war, but his new rank of Colonel and a few early successes against Union forces within the Indian territories, also cemented his reputation as a military commander. In 1864 he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of a newly formed large unit, named the Indian Cavalry Brigade, which included men from other tribes such as Creek, Osage and Seminole. General Watie then moved out of Indian Territory into Arkansas (a Confederate state under constant attack and occupation by Union Forces), where he led his troops to several victories over the U.S. Army. General Watie was so dedicated to the Confederacy that he and his Cherokee soldiers continued skirmishes with Union troops until June 23, 1865; over two months after Generals Lee and Johnston had surrendered the two largest Confederate armies.

The Civil War divided the United States as a nation and split many families. The War also divided the Cherokee Nation and created familial chasms that would take a century to heal.

At the end of the war, John Ross resumed his duties as the Principal Chief of all Cherokee and began to negotiate with the United States for a new “reconstruction treaty” for his people. He tried for nearly a year to gain some concessions that would lead the Cherokee out of the consistent poverty which they had experienced in Indian Territory since 1838. However, with Abraham Lincoln gone and replaced by a new President, Andrew Johnson, who considered Indian matters less important than others he faced, Chief Ross made little progress. Exacerbating his dilemma, many Union Congressional leaders considered the whole Cherokee Nation traitorous because of the Confederate service by the followers of Stand Watie. Finally, in late 1865, Ross was able to meet with President Johnson, whose administration then recognized Chief Ross as the official spokesman for the Cherokee Nation and granted some assurances for financial aid and the promise of gradual return of control over Native affairs. In August 1866, John Ross was still in Washington trying to negotiate a new treaty for Native Sovereignty when, following another day of meetings with the Federal bureaucracy, he died. He was seventy-six years old.

After the War, Stand Watie formed a mercantile company (primarily trading in tobacco) within the Cherokee portion of Indian Territory. When the Federal government levied excise taxes on his business, he refused to pay believing that the U.S. Government could not tax Native businesses on Indian land.  He lost his case, and his business, in Federal Court. He died penniless in 1871.

The Cherokee Nation had divided over whether the United States of America or the Confederate States of America would most likely honor treaties and give them fair consideration after the Civil War. Neither choice, as events unfolded, would prove to be good for the Cherokee.


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Native American Dilemma – Which Side To Choose (Article 63)

“I am glad to see one real American here.”  – Said Confederate General Robert E. Lee, graciously nodding to Union Army Colonel Ely S. Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, when surrendering at Appomattox.

“We are all Americans here.” – Said Colonel Parker, in an equally courteous reply to General Lee.

There are thousands of stories about the Civil War and those who fought for either the Union or the Confederacy and the vast majority tell of the exploits of White men (and women) who chose to serve one side or the other. There are also numerous accounts of the service of Black soldiers, most of whom fought for the Union, but there were some who served Confederate forces.

On the other hand, the service of Native Americans in the Great War, whether for the Union or the Confederacy, has not been as extensively covered. It is estimated that nearly 30,000 members of various Tribes and Nations served in the war, over 20,000 for the Union. (The Union Army records were more thorough than those of the Confederate Army, but, still not very complete, so the exact numbers will never be known). Further, it is likely that over 2,500 Native Americans died in combat, or later from wounds, during the Civil War. Some of the battles in which they participated are famous and familiar, because they involved thousands of troops; such as Antietam, Pea Ridge, Cold Harbor, Second Manassas, and the Battle of the Crater. Others fought in smaller, lesser known engagements; such as Cabin Creek, the battle for Wichita Agency, and the battle of Round Mountain. However, the size of the battle meant little to those individuals who fought close to their enemy, often in hand to hand combat; for death visited the soldiers whether the engagement was large or small and whether it was historically significant or not.

Almost all Native American Tribes and Nations, especially those whose ancestral lands were in the East, had some type of parliamentary process where representatives debated before voting on significant matters involving their people. While some tribes were able to remain neutral throughout the war, many chose one side or the other. Their reasons varied and, because there were sovereignty and existing treaty issues at stake, their choices carried great risk.  Also, mirroring the dilemma faced by many other northern and southern families, several tribes had members who fought for opposite sides; a tragedy of epic proportions for societies in which familial loyalty was so important.

In any event, their choices had severe consequences. So, what factors led certain Tribes to choose to support the Union, and others to support the Confederacy; and, in the case of one major Native Nation, to split their allegiance?

In early 1861, when the Indian Tribes and Nations were deliberating whether to align with one side or the other, or remain neutral, their decisions were not made in a vacuum of information. Every Tribe had at least a few members who were English speaking and who were knowledgeable about the customs, mannerisms, governmental policies, and especially the prejudices, of the White majorities in the North and the South.

In some instances, regional loyalties and familiarities played a part, as certain northern tribes joined the Union Army and other southern tribes fought for the Confederacy.  Also, as in all wars, enlistment into an army was an alternative to poverty; but the Union Army usually offered better, and more reliable, pay. However, there were other reasons. Some tribes chose the Confederacy because that “new” government, unlike the United States, carried no negative legacy of mistreatment of Indian communities or broken treaties. Also, several former “southern” Native Nations were slave-holders, including the Cherokee who held more Black slaves than any other Tribe/Nation, and they believed a victorious Confederacy would protect their “property” after the war.

But, certainly, in all cases, each tribe initially believed that they had chosen the winning side, and if they fought valiantly, they would be rewarded with better living conditions, increased representation, and some, who had been “relocated” to Indian Territory, hoped that they could return to ancestral lands.

The Seneca Nation, still living in New England, unanimously sided with the Union and a significant number of their young men joined the U.S. Army, including the Parker brothers, Ely and Newton. Both men, who were educated as lawyers, became officers, with Ely eventually assigned to General Grant’s staff. It was in his role as Grant’s secretary/adjutant that Colonel Parker assisted with the Articles of Surrender at Appomattox and was in the right place to have his famous exchange with Robert E. Lee. Parker was subsequently promoted to Brigadier General.

Arguably the most famous Native American military unit was Company K of the 1st Michigan regiment which included members of the Ottawa, Huron, Delaware, Oneida, and Potawami tribes, and was quickly labeled the “Sharpshooters” by their officers. The unit was fearless in battle and were known for standing together and laying series after series of clustered fire at Confederate positions. Despite heavy and concentrated return fire usually directed at them, they would not break. In July, 1864, after one such engagement at the Battle of the Crater near Petersburg, Virginia, an officer observing the “Sharpshooters” wrote in his battle report; “The men did splendid work. They were nearly surrounded, receiving forceful fire from Confederates, but never wavered. Some of them were mortally wounded, and, drawing their blouses over their faces, they chanted a death song and died – four of them in a group” And in another report, wrote “Those living, maintained return fire, until too wounded or until they were out of ammunition. Their position was held. It was bravery by all.” The Michigan Sharpshooters lost so many men in that battle, that they were kept out of further combat through the war’s end.

Other tribes which sided with the Union included the Lumbee, Iroquois, Pamunkey, and the Ojibwa.

The Confederate States of America also attracted several Tribes. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, realized the potential value of Native Americans to supplement Confederate manpower west of the Mississippi River, mainly in Oklahoma, but also in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. Davis appointed an envoy to the various tribes and granted him almost unlimited authority to reach treaties, including recognition of Indian sovereignty, representation in the Confederate Congress, and even potential citizenship. These offers enticed the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole tribes to commit their allegiance to the Confederacy.

However, perhaps the Cherokee Nation, residing in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), which split into several factions over the Civil War, suffered more than any other Native American group, both during and after the War. Although once one of the largest Native Nations, the Cherokee only had about 22,000 members (and about 2,000 slaves) when the Civil War began. Many had died during the “Trail of Tears” forced relocation in the 1830s from Georgia and nearby states to Oklahoma Territory; and by the war’s end in 1865, fewer than 15,000 remained. While many non-combatants, women, children, and elderly died of malnutrition and disease in Indian Territory during the four-year Civil War, the Cherokee also lost nearly 1,000 young men as casualties of the War.

The Cherokee Nation had initially voted to side with the new Southern government, against the advice of their elected Chief and President, John Ross; however, various smaller groups, although still loyal to the Confederacy, soon divided into factions, each with their own military leaders. The largest of these break-away groups was led by Stand Watie, who was appointed as a Colonel in the Confederate Army, later promoted to Brigadier General, and who led his forces in a series of successful raids over the next four years. However, a year into the War, Chief John Ross, who had originally argued for the Cherokee Nation to remain neutral and still led the largest contingent of members, was captured by Union troops and, in exchange for a pardon, pledged his loyalty, and the loyalty of the people he represented, to the United States. Ross kept his word and worked tirelessly for the Union cause in Eastern States and in Washington DC. There, Ross became a confidant of Abraham Lincoln and had every right to expect that, after the Union won the War, the Cherokee Nation would be rewarded by the “Great President” he had come to know.

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated near the end of the war, Chief John Ross’s influence in Washington ended, as the new President, Andrew Johnson, had little interest in Indian affairs. Further, the split in loyalties between the Watie and Ross factions caused many other Northern political leaders to mistrust the Cherokee Nation; and even Chief Ross, who championed the Union cause, could not marshal any federal assistance for his impoverished people.

When tribes made their decision to serve either the Union or the Confederacy, they certainly believed that they were backing the side that would win; and they expected (or hoped) for improved conditions for their people.  Unfortunately, whether they chose the Union or the Confederacy, those hopes were not realized. In defeat, the Confederates could offer no solace to their former allies; and the treaties those tribes signed with the South were not only worthless, but the documents labeled them as traitors to most people in the North. For the Native Americans who served the victorious Union, the U.S. government gave only token recognition, and almost no tangible rewards; a tragic disappointment for those who chose the “winning” side.

That makes their sacrifices even more poignant.

Contact the author at gadorris2@gmail.com

General Lincoln? (Article 62)

“General, I have just received your dispatch about sore tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?”  –  Abraham Lincoln to General George McClellan after the General said he could not advance that day because his horses were too tired.

“If the General is not going to use his army, I wonder if I might borrow it.”  –  Abraham Lincoln in a staff meeting, talking about General George McClellan.

“Had McClellan followed his advice, he would have taken Richmond. Had Hooker acted in accordance with his suggestions, Chancellorsville would have been a victory for the nation. Had Meade obeyed his explicit commands, he would have destroyed Lee’s army before it could have re-crossed the Potomac.” And, continuing: “The War would have ended two years earlier, President Lincoln would have served his second term, and the nation would be healed.”  – William A. Croffut, Civil War soldier, journalist, and author, writing in 1875.

As the new Commander-in-Chief, Abraham Lincoln was constantly frustrated with his Generals. He had given them the largest standing Army in the history of the United States and provided them with the equipment and munitions they requested. But still, no significant progress had been made against the smaller and lesser equipped Confederate Army. But, because he had hardly any military experience himself, he was reluctant to give specific direction to the Generals who had made a career in the Army. After all, his only experience in the military was as an Illinois militia Captain in the 1832 Black Hawk War; thirty years before he became the Commander-in-Chief. He never engaged in any direct action in that short war, and even made fun of his experience saying (paraphrased), “I fought many bloody battles with mosquitoes, I was no hero.”

Later, as a young Congressman in 1847, he had argued against the war with Mexico and showed little interest in the tactics of the Generals who carried out President Polk’s invasion plans. He simply thought the war was a “land grab” by Polk’s administration and opposed the overall mission.

Now, however, as President, he was ultimately responsible for the progress, and the outcome, of the largest military engagement in United States history. And, he was not confident that the senior commanders he had appointed were leading the nation toward a victory and preservation of the Union. Even worse, one commanding General, George B. McClellan, failed to even acknowledge the Commander-in-Chief ’s requests for definitive reports on strategic plans. In fact, McClellan had such disrespect for the President, that he once refused to see Lincoln when he called at the General’s home.

On the other side, when war broke out, the Confederates had attracted about one-third of the officers who had been in the United States Army, and that included many of most experienced and able Generals. Lincoln noted after several early military set-backs, “We were out-generaled!”

In the first year of the Civil War, Lincoln usually deferred to the plans of his generals; even when he noted to others that he disagreed with some of their strategies. Lincoln was a highly intelligent man and was prone to utilize careful logic (and an occasional metaphoric yarn) when presenting his opinion, whether about political issues or military affairs. He recognized his lack of military knowledge, including lessons which might be learned from the study of historic engagements, so he read books on battlefield tactics and strategies and conferred with other Generals. As a result, over time, he gained confidence in his own ability to understand the various military situations.

Only then, did he begin to more forcefully influence the war effort.

His primary concerns were that the Generals were hesitant to take the battle to enemy forces and that they were obsessed with “place”, which meant gaining and holding territory, even if that location held little strategic importance. (The old, “take that hill” military mentality.) And often, satisfied with their occupation of a place, they would wait for long periods before moving to another engagement. Lincoln, on the other hand, felt there were only a few strategic locations worth fighting for and defending; and he wanted the Union army to focus on overcoming rebel forces wherever they were encountered and to pursue them until they were too weakened to resist. He believed that the Union forces held such numerical advantage, in both men and supplies, that a “pursue and conquer” strategy would be successful.

One of his early attempts at directing battlefield strategy was in January 1862, when he suggested that Generals Halleck and Buell merge their two armies which were both operating around Tennessee. Urging cooperation, Lincoln wrote (in part): “We have the greater numbers. We must fail, unless we can find some way of making our advantage an over-match for his; and that can only be done by menacing him with superior forces at different points at the same time. And if he weakens one to strengthen the other, seize the weakened one.” Lincoln thought his “overwhelming force strategy” could also prevent the Confederates from re-taking a place they had lost, if the Union would pursue the enemy rather than holding the place until rebels counter-attacked. The two Generals simply ignored the President’s request.

Perhaps his only excursion into a battlefield area to actually give commands, rather than to just counsel and/or observe, occurred in May 1862 when Lincoln felt that General McClellan should reduce his forces around Yorktown in order to send more troops to re-take the nearby Norfolk Naval facilities. Lincoln felt strongly that Norfolk was one on those “places” worth taking and keeping. The Confederates were using Norfolk not only to repair and supply their ships, but also as a staging area for the ironclad CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack) which endangered Union shipping. Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton went to the area and, leaving McClellan out of the discussion, directed a dual assault against Norfolk, one from gunboats sent up the James River and the other a coordinated ground attack by troops from Fort Monroe. The Confederates quickly abandoned Norfolk and scuttled the famous ironclad.  As was his style, Lincoln did not take credit for the mission’s success; but, General McClellan and his senior staff were still outraged by the interference in their battle plans.

While Lincoln readily conceded that McClellan had created and trained a great army, the President believed he had failed to lead his mass of troops consistently, and aggressively, against Confederate forces. And, eventually, he began to appoint successors.

Some were more aggressive than McClellan, but each was “out-generaled” in Lincoln’s view.

For one, there was General Joseph Hooker, who Lincoln knew would fight, but soon learned that Hooker might not choose the best battleground. When both Hooker and Lincoln realized that General Robert E. Lee was moving a large Confederate army north into Maryland and Pennsylvania, Hooker planned to circle behind and attack Richmond, the South’s Capital city. Lincoln disagreed with Hooker’s plan and gave Hooker different orders. Lincoln said, “Lee’s Army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point. Follow on his flank, shortening your (supply) lines while he lengthens his. Fight him when the opportunity offers.” Then a week later, Lincoln told Hooker, “This invasion gives you back the chance that I thought McClellan lost to cripple Lee’s army far from its base.” To Lincoln’s astonishment, Hooker replied that he would be outnumbered, which Lincoln knew to be untrue, and Hooker would not commit to attack Lee’s army. Hooker then made a devastating tactical error and chose to fight a large Confederate army at Chancellorsville; where he lost the battle and his command.

Lincoln replaced Hooker with General George Meade, and was at first elated when Meade led Union forces to the victory at Gettysburg, but then saw Meade, as had McClellan and Hooker (and others), fail to pursue and destroy Lee’s army; instead Meade allowed a retreat by Confederate forces back into Virginia. Lincoln realized that the Union forces would now be fighting in that battle-weary area between Washington and Richmond, and said, “To attempt to fight the enemy back to his entrenchments in Richmond, is an idea I have been trying to repudiate for quite a year.” While he respected General Meade, Lincoln again looked for another General who would “Chase the Rebels without let-up.”

For the first three years of the War, Lincoln was constantly either unsure if he had the right Generals in place, or absolutely certain he did not.

Until he appointed General Ulysses S. Grant! He had finally found his General.

So, with all of his earlier dissatisfaction with the various Generals before settling on Grant as the Commanding General, why did Lincoln not take an even more direct role in battlefield strategy? There were three primary reasons and all relate to Lincoln’s logical thought process, which usually included trying to anticipate options he might need if an opponent, whether legal, political or military, did the unexpected.

First, he was a master politician and knew there was an advantage to having a barrier (the Generals) between himself and the public. Lincoln did not want to be either a hero, who became Dictator/Emperor (like Napoleon) because he “won” the war, nor a scapegoat if the war were prolonged or eventually lost. But, he also believed in the Constitution’s requirement that the elected civilian President would have authority to over-see the military leadership. To Lincoln, the roles of Commander-in Chief and Commanding Generals were separate, and the Country needed both.

Second, he knew he was a persuasive leader. Lincoln realized that his lack of military credentials would always, at first, elicit skepticism so, with few exceptions, he counseled with his generals, rather than give firm orders. He did a lot of ranting to members of his cabinet, and his two dedicated secretaries, but he was usually restrained when meeting with, or writing to, his Generals.

Third, and perhaps most important, with his limited military experience, he was not always sure he was right! For example, in a telegram, Lincoln admitted to General Grant that he had been wrong to doubt Grant’s plan to invade deep into Mississippi. As usual, with Lincoln, self-doubt almost always resulted in self-control.

President Abraham Lincoln was, however, absolutely convinced that he was right to make one bold strategic military decision.

While not technically a tactical battlefield event, Lincoln’s most significant military directive may have been the inclusion of Black troops into the U.S. Army. He certainly risked the resistance of many Union military leaders, and alienation of those in the North who were opposed to making the war about freedom for slaves.  Lincoln re-enforced his decision with the Emancipation Proclamation, which he declared was a “military necessity.” He then brought thousands of willing (and soon to be proven, able) Black soldiers into the Union Army and that was, by any rationale, a direct intervention by the President in military strategy.

Throughout the Civil War, with few exceptions, Abraham Lincoln did not interfere with battlefield plans or overall military objectives; therefore, in the strictest sense of the phrase, he never really became “General Lincoln.”

But, he certainly asserted himself as “The” Commander-in-Chief.

Contact the author at  gadorris2@gmail.com



Christmas at the Lincoln White House (Article 61)

No Tree. No Cards. And, the President worked all day. Not unusual at all during the Civil War.

Some historians suggest that Abraham Lincoln was concerned with his public image and did not want to appear frivolous while a war was going on. Others have written that he lacked interest in Christmas and rejected religious rituals, and some even claim that he used work as an excuse to get away from his difficult wife. Actually, these are all unfair criticisms of the man, disguised as historical explanations, by those who want to chip away at his image.

So why then, was the Lincoln White House so stark on Christmas? Foremost, Abraham Lincoln wore the heavy duty of Presidential responsibility like a leaden cloak; it enveloped him and he could only rarely take it off. However, this was self-imposed, not due to any concerns about perceptions by his critics. To him, there was a destructive war tearing the country apart, young men were dying, and there were daily decisions to be made; and, ultimately, he was the one in charge.

However, there were also practical reasons the Lincoln White House did not have a tree, or send cards, for Christmas. First, the placement of large Christmas trees in homes and public places was not a universal custom in the United States during the mid-1800s; more likely found in the northeastern regions and in settlements with a significant German or Scandinavian presence. In fact, there had never been a Christmas tree in the White House; although some false narratives claim that Franklin Pearce had one in 1853. Even if a tree were desired by Lincoln or any of his predecessors, it would not have lasted very long. The White House was more open to the public (and relatively unguarded) in those days and a large Christmas tree in the White house would have been stripped by souvenir seekers; who were already notorious for cutting snips from curtains and carpets and stealing any small trinkets. Also, the concept of sending and receiving Christmas cards was not yet wide-spread, and any Christmas sentiment was usually in the form of personal notes to close friends and family. However, both the customs of decorated trees and pre-printed Christmas cards were already gaining favor in England; in part due to the success of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” published in 1843. Dickens’s book promoted more of a family festival to accompany the solemn religious practices which had been prominent for centuries. The European influences gradually took hold in America and decorated trees, Christmas cards, and gifts for children became the accepted norm later in the century.

But, in the 1840s and 1850s, in Illinois, there were few Christmas trees, holiday cards, or elaborate gifts for children; however, it was a day celebrated by most families, including Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary, and their sons.

Before he became President, previous Christmas holidays were happier, but still restrained, in the Lincoln family home; which, in many ways, reflected the regional customs.  Those who lived in, or were from, the New England and the southern states, celebrated a more robust Christmas season than did most of those on the frontier, which included, at the time, Illinois. Abraham and Mary Lincoln never participated in the relatively new trend of sending out Christmas cards nor did they have a decorated tree; as not very many people in Illinois followed either custom. The Lincolns did give small Christmas gifts to their children, usually fruit and nuts and possibly a book; certainly nothing excessive, but enough to satisfy young boys back then. Mrs. Lincoln, who appreciated the formalities of a prescribed religious service, insisted the family, including her husband, attend a local church. While Lincoln was a very spiritual man, who studied the Bible throughout his life, he never joined any church or espoused a specific religious creed. He once said; “If any church will inscribe over its altar, as the sole qualification for membership, the Savior’s condensed statement, ‘Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself ’– that church will I join.” However, Lincoln enjoyed Christmas activities with his family and he relished sharing time with friends. He was a popular lawyer and politician, and he and Mary participated in various social functions during the Christmas period in their home and at the homes of friends and political acquaintances. We do not know if Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln exchanged gifts, but, all in all, Christmas at the Lincoln’s Springfield home was quite normal for that period, and in that place.

During the Christmas holiday in 1860, the family was still living at their Springfield home. Lincoln had won the national election to become the sixteenth President of the United States, but would not be inaugurated until the following March. Civil War was being discussed and South Carolina had already declared secession from the Union, with several other southern states expected to follow; however, there was still hope that outright war could somehow be avoided. Mrs. Lincoln held a Christmas Eve reception and many of their friends and political acquaintances stopped by the home, including one of Lincoln’s oldest friends and confidants, Congressman Edward Baker, who Lincoln had asked to introduce him at the coming Inauguration.

Abraham Lincoln did become the President of the United States in March 1861, and about one month later, the Civil War, which he dreaded so much, began; and his Christmases would never again be the same.

December 25, 1861, was the Lincoln family’s first Christmas in the White House. Since that last Christmas in Illinois, war had indeed struck the country and his close friend, Edward Baker, the former Congressman from back home, was now dead, just one of the many casualties of the Civil War. Therefore, it was a solemn White House, even with two young boys, Willy and Tad, who would run through the halls, and engage in other rambunctiousness; and who probably longed for a happier day. Social activities were almost non-existent since Mrs. Lincoln did not have many friends in Washington, as both she and her husband were considered outsiders by the long-entrenched Senators, Representatives, Judges and career bureaucrats who comprised the Washington elite. (Some things never change).

A White House employee later wrote; “We did not have many doings in those days, there were too many grave things going on.”

December 25, 1862, was the second Christmas the Lincoln family spent in the White House, but this year may have been the saddest of all. Young Willy had died and Mrs. Lincoln could not seem to recover. Further, the war had become a stagnated mess of death and destruction, with some Union victories, but with a devastating defeat at Fredericksburg just before Christmas. Lincoln had announced the Emancipation Proclamation to be effective January first, and the public was split on the unilateral move the President had made. If there had been a presidential poll back then, his approval rating would have been very low. On Christmas afternoon, after a morning cabinet meeting, the President and Mrs. Lincoln visited wounded soldiers at several Washington hospitals.

December 25, 1863, was their third Christmas in the White House. Mrs. Lincoln was again receiving visitors and Tad had found some new friends, however, the President was still subdued. Although the war news was better, with several major victories for the Union armies, casualties continued to mount and the President still worked through the day.

December 25, 1864, was their fourth Christmas in the Presidential Mansion and the mood was different. President Lincoln knew that the war would not last much longer, that the Union would be preserved, and slavery would soon be outlawed. (The Senate had passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and he was prepared to press the House of Representatives on the issue.) Also, he had just been re-elected to a second four-year term by a wide margin of both voters and the Electoral College. He even received a welcome telegram from General William Tecumseh Sherman, announcing that Savanah, Georgia was now in Union hands, it read “Mr. President, I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah.” Tad, the President’s young son, who still lived in the White house, invited a group of newsboys who sold papers around the area to follow him home for dinner; without telling his parents. He knew his father would not mind, but he must have been at least a little concerned about his mother’s reaction; as she could be difficult at times. Over the holidays, President and Mrs. Lincoln held several receptions for Union military leaders, politicians, and foreign emissaries. This was probably the closest to a “normal” Christmas in the Lincoln White House.

Unfortunately, it would be the last. The President was assassinated less than four months later.

Abraham Lincoln had enjoyed traditional Christmas customs back home in Springfield with family and friends; but, for four years, in the White House, he could not. Instead, he put his country, and his responsibilities as President, first.

For that, he deserves our admiration and gratitude, not criticism.

Contact the author at  gadorris2@gmail.com



Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamations (Article 60)

On October 23, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation declaring the final Thursday in November as a “Day of Thanksgiving” and our nation has ever since celebrated this special day.

The country had heard calls for a day of Thanksgiving before. In 1777, while the Revolutionary War was still being waged, the members of the Continental Congress were grateful that their rebellion still held promise for independence and they issued a proclamation designating Thursday, December 18, as a Day of Solemn Thanksgiving. And, in 1789, President George Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day for Thursday, November 26.  Thereafter, a few Presidents and the Governors of several states periodically issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, however none designated a recurring November holiday.

Then Sarah Josepha Buell Hale stepped in!

A well-known editor and novelist, she was a strong proponent of women’s education and was a co-founder of Vassar College.  But few Americans are aware that, beginning in 1838 and for the next twenty-five years, she used her public visibility to lobby for a national Thanksgiving Day in November. As editor of the “Godey’s Lady Book” and “The Ladies Magazine,” which combined had the largest paid circulation of any women’s periodicals, she and her readers began an annual letter-writing campaign to “encourage” (her word) and “pester” (one recipient’s word) Governors to issue a resolution in their respective states; and they petitioned every sitting President to declare a National Thanksgiving Day. By 1858, while no President had created the special day she requested, every state except Virginia had declared a Day of Thanksgiving.

But, in 1859, two years prior to the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln and the start of the Civil War, her progress not only stalled, but began to recede. Politicians in some southern states refused to issue their annual Thanksgiving proclamations, with one referring to the holiday as a “Yankee Abolitionist holiday” and another stating that it was a “National Claptrap” started by northerners to hinder the South’s institutions (meaning slavery). But many families in the South continued to observe a day of thanksgiving, keeping the religious aspects, but eliminating the bountiful table, which was seen as a New England custom. While Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued several proclamations for a day of prayer and thanksgiving; his were not in November and were directed as a celebration of military successes over the Union armies.

Despite the setbacks in the southern states, Mrs. Hale did not give up and three times in consecutive years she petitioned President Abraham Lincoln to declare a national Thanksgiving Day. She asked that he set aside a designated day “for all Americans to put aside sectional feelings and local incidents” and “to be thankful for the blessings of life, not of war.”

She would have to wait.

Abraham Lincoln had issued two proclamations calling for a day of thanksgiving and reflection, the first in August, 1861 and another in April, 1863. Each proclamation asked the public to set aside time to reflect upon the challenges the country faced and to follow their own religious creed to express hope for peace and gratitude for the blessings bestowed on the nation.

But, neither was in response to Mrs. Hale’s letters.

In August, 1861, after four months of fighting, the awful realities of the Civil War were coming home to roost. Lincoln felt that the people might be comforted by a special day on which the nation as a whole would turn to their religious faith, in whatever forms that may take, to ask for guidance in restoring the forefathers’ vision for the United States. That Presidential proclamation was officially titled The Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day, and read (in part):

“..And, whereas our own beloved country, once by the blessing of God, united, prosperous, and happy, is now afflicted with faction and Civil War, it is particularly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our faults as a nation, and as individuals, to humble ourselves and pray for His mercy, and that the inestimable boon of civil and religious liberty earned by His blessing and the labors and sufferings of our forefathers, may be restored in all its original excellence.” The Proclamation went on to declare a day of humiliation, prayer, and fasting and urged “all ministers and teachers of religion of all denominations and the heads of all families to observe and keep that day according to their creeds and modes of worship.”

A good start, but not quite an official Thanksgiving Day. So, Mrs. Hale sent another letter!

The Emancipation Proclamation had become effective on January 1, 1863, changing forever the context of the Civil War. By April, Lincoln believed that the North would eventually prevail and the Union would be restored; but he held little hope that the War would end soon. He decided to issue another “Thanksgiving” proclamation in April, 1863; however, this one was officially titled “Proclamation for a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer” and read (in part):

“It is the duty of nations as well as men, to owe their dependence upon the ruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow. We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. But we have forgotten God. We have vainly imagined that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. I do, by this proclamation, set April 30, 1863 as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. And I do request that all the people abstain that day from their ordinary secular pursuits and to unite at their several places of public worship and in their respective homes, in keeping that day Holy. Let us rest humbly in the hope that the united cry of the nation will be heard on High, and (provide) the restoration of our now divided and suffering country.” 

So, Mrs. Hale wrote still another letter, a few months later, but this one finally gave the President pause.

By the fall of 1863, the Civil War was still being fought, but the Union was beginning to see significant victories. Sarah Hale again implored President Abraham Lincoln to designate one day, in November, throughout the entire country, which would be “set aside in perpetuity for prayerful Thanksgiving for the blessings bestowed by the Creator.” Lincoln was persuaded and issued his third “Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.” It read (in part):

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies, bounties which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come. In the midst of Civil War of unequaled magnitude and severity, laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has been preserved except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.” Lincoln went on to describe the wealth that was building in the north and advances in bringing in new states from western territories; while still keeping up an aggressive war effort against the Confederacy. But then Lincoln returned to the basic theme of gratitude and Thanksgiving. “No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the most gracious gifts of the most High God, who while dealing with us for our sins hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It seems fit and proper that they should solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledge as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens to observe the last Thursday in November as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

With this Presidential proclamation, Sarah Hale saw her vision become a treasured day, which she said, “Would be observed across all lines that, on other matters, may divide us; such as politics, geography, ethnicity, and religion.”

A year later, on October 20, 1864, and without another letter from Mrs. Hale, President Lincoln issued his fourth Thanksgiving Day Proclamation; again, declaring the last Thursday of November as the special day; which read (in part):

“It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs (and providing) to us in his mercy many and signal victories over the enemy who is of our own household. He has augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while he has opened new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. He has been pleased to inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of Civil War into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity. Therefore I set apart the last Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise (to) offer up penitence and prayers for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land.” 

Because of an assassin’s bullet a few months later, this became President Lincoln’s last Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.

After the Civil War ended, the northern bureaucrats, politicians and military leaders, who were in charge of “reconstruction” of the occupied former Confederate states, imposed Thanksgiving Day as a November federal holiday. However, it would take another generation (or two or three in some cases) before the holiday was embraced by families throughout south; and so, Mrs. Hale’s hope for national unity, symbolized in part by a Thanksgiving Day celebrated by all Americans, was deferred. But, time can heal the worst of wounds and, in 1905, a Southern minister, referring to a New England staple, said, “I knew Thanksgiving Day was again ours as well, when, after my prayer, I noticed cranberries on the table.”

Mrs. Hale would have been pleased.

The four Lincoln proclamations were all collaborative efforts with Secretary of State William Seward, who was a devout Episcopalian. Seward’s intonements tended to be more ecclesiastical and flourishing, while Lincoln, who was no less spiritual, tended to use simpler wording. But, the two men trusted each other’s ability to communicate, and their combined prose flows seamlessly as if it was the effort of only one person.  Historians still debate which phrases each man may have contributed to the proclamations. In any case, the co-authors left us with elegant, meaningful, and still pertinent, proclamations. Certainly, their calls for humility, unity, and peace seem appropriate today.

Have a wonderful, and reflective, Thanksgiving Day; courtesy of Abraham Lincoln, William Seward, and of course, Sarah Hale.

Contact the author at  gadorris2@gmail.com




Can We Defend Washington City (Article 59)

The new President, Abraham Lincoln, was worried. For good reason.

There had been wide-spread debates, and intense arguments, for and against secession by the nation’s slave-holding states. The opposing sides raised their voices in the halls of Congress, in many state legislatures, in pulpits, and in newspapers. And, many feared civil war would be the outcome if any or all of the fifteen states where slavery was legal chose to separate from the United States. For months, General Winfield Scott, commanding General of the U. S. Army, knew that war would surely result if the Federal government intervened to prevent secession.

He was forced to ponder a critical question; if war comes, can we defend Washington City from an attack by rebel forces? General Scott was not so sure, especially if the attack would come early in the conflict.

One Washington politician noted in November 1860 that, “The odor of war is in the air, and I fear it is intoxicating.” No one knew then if five, seven, eleven or even all fifteen of the slave-holding states might secede from the Union, but almost all expected that, if there was to be war, and when it came, the nation’s Capital was certain to be a target. If for no other reason, Union officials thought the rebels would want to disrupt the Federal government just when central leadership would be most needed. It could be a quick and easy capture; after all, the city was surrounded by Maryland and Virginia, both slave-holding states, and a vast majority of the city’s citizens were of southern heritage.

Washington was vulnerable.

For the months leading up to the outbreak of war, very little was actually done to prepare a defense, primarily because the responsible parties, including Congress, the preceding President, James Buchanan, General Scott, and new President, Abraham Lincoln, did not want to appear as if all hope was lost for a peaceful solution. Some thought that if Virginia and Maryland remained in the Union, in the event there was war, any rebel forces would be less likely to attack Washington. Others, like President Lincoln, thought (or hoped?) some compromise to avoid war might still be reached which protected slavery from Federal interference in those fifteen states where it remained legal. Still others, many in the South, could not fathom that the northern states would be willing to rally an army to invade any southern state which had seceded; especially because there was valuable commerce between the states as well as many personal relationships among their citizens. So, while tensions rose, only minimal defensive measures to protect Washington were being taken.

At the start of the new year, 1861, the United States Army had about 16,000 enlisted men and 1,100 officers but over the next few months, over 4,000 of the soldiers and over 300 of the officers defected to either southern state militias or to the new Confederate army. In March, General Scott reported to in-coming President Lincoln, that the force of 20,000 southern militia and Confederate troops gathered around Charleston in South Carolina was larger than his entire army. He would be forced to re-assign troops from areas further from Washington to supplement the relatively small Federal garrison in the city; however, that process would take time.  So, the issue was addressed, but not yet solved; because, before any of these troops could defend the city, they had to get there.

The primary rail lines into Washington from the north passed through Baltimore, a place already proven to be hostile. In fact, some of the first casualties of the war occurred in Baltimore as Union troops marched through the town. When a group of secessionist militia challenged troops from the 6th Massachusetts regiment, shots rang out, and before the skirmish was over, three Union soldiers and twelve civilians lay dead in the streets. President Lincoln and General Scott were surprised by the violent incident and there were some calls for retribution against the secessionists in Baltimore by the additional Union forces which were in route. But Lincoln hoped to avoid another confrontation in the city by using a route around the city, and told the mayor and police chief of Baltimore; “I must have troops for the defense of the Capital. Our men are not moles and can’t dig under the earth; they are not birds and can’t fly through the air. There is no way but to march them across, and that they must do. Keep your rowdies in Baltimore and there will be no bloodshed.”

Using secondary routes, over the next few weeks more troops filed into the Capital and defensive preparations began in earnest. But even with those added Union forces, Washington City was still in panic mode! A woman resident of the Capital, who was a Confederate sympathizer, wrote to a friend in Virginia, “We could march right in and take control of the city. Where are our men?”

In late March, General Scott directed his staff to recruit local militias to add to the few Union troops in the city, and to fortify the perimeter, especially the bridges across the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Scott’s officers formed some units from residents of Washington, however, they hardly resembled regular troops. One regiment was composed of older veterans, some in their sixties, and was appropriately called the Silver Brigade. Another regiment was formed by Kentucky native, and ardent abolitionist, Cassius Marcellus Clay, who had come to Washington to prepare for his new appointment as the Ambassador to Russia. However, he delayed his departure for two months to form a unit of irregulars, which became known as the Clay Battalion.

Washington began to look like a city preparing for war. Bridges across the Potomac and Anacostia rivers were blocked with guard gates and sufficient soldiers to check every individual going and coming, and thousands of Union soldiers were encamped nearby. Then, finally, both General Scott and President Lincoln felt that Washington could now be defended from, what they assumed would be, an assault by the Confederate Army.

So, they waited!

But the attack about which they worried, and planned to defend against, and for which they tied up so many Union troops and spent so much money, never came.  Why?

In one of those ironies of war, and unknown to Lincoln and his military advisors, the Confederate military leadership had never seriously contemplated an early (and all-out) assault on the Union Capital.  There were a variety of both military and personal reasons for the Confederate’s hesitancy to attack the city; (1) the effort would tie up thousands of their troops, (2) many of the southern generals thought attacks on cities and their citizens were not ‘honorable” war tactics, (3) some did not believe that the city had a strategic importance, and (4) they did not want to alienate those in the North who supported a compromise peace plan.  The Confederate leaders thought there were better uses for their relatively small army, including protecting their lines of supply throughout the south and keeping control of the major ports in the south-eastern seaboard, in the Gulf of Mexico, and along the Mississippi River.

However, to keep the Washington politicians and the citizens concerned and off-balance, the Confederates would occasionally penetrate the city’s outskirts, which had the desired effect; wide-spread panic!  Union military leaders, President Lincoln, and the public were alarmed at each of the nearby small raids, but remained unaware that Washington would not be one of the Confederate primary strategic targets.

The Union Army had swelled to over two hundred thousand men by early 1862; however, Lincoln’s concerns for Washington’s safety were further complicated because he was unsure if the new General of Union Armies, George McClellan, would appropriately defend the Capital City. Lincoln feared that the General might take too many of the Washington based troops for other engagements, which would again leave the city vulnerable. Therefore, in a surprise move, the President ordered a contingent of 40,000 troops to remain in Washington under the command of General Irvin McDowell, who would report directly to the War Department. This order infuriated General McClellan (not the first or last time he and Lincoln would disagree), and that same day, McClellan wrote to his wife, “rascality and traitors are in Washington.”

But, now Lincoln felt that Washington was reasonably secure from any Confederate siege.

However, in hindsight, we know now what President Lincoln did not know then. Throughout the Civil War, while his defensive steps to protect Washington from invasion seemed prudent, he had acted under an erroneous assumption. In fact, the Union’s capital was never in danger of an all-out attack!

contact the author at  gadorris2@gmail.com






They Called Her Moses (Article 58)

She was born a slave in about 1820 but the date is not certain. Her birth name was recorded by her owner as Araminta Ross, but she was known as Minty. As a young woman, she was only about five feet tall, probably never weighed more than one hundred pounds, and suffered seizures due to a childhood injury. She was illiterate until adulthood. She escaped her slave master’s plantation 1848, when she was about twenty-seven; however, legally, she was considered a fugitive slave until 1865.  For nearly twenty years, she risked capture, returning numerous times to the area around her former home in southern Maryland to guide other escaping slaves to freedom in Pennsylvania, New York and Canadian provinces. For her exploits, she was dubbed “Moses,” but at the time most slave-owners thought their nemesis was a man. During the Civil War, she was an armed scout for the Union Army and once participated in a raid to free a group of slaves from several large plantations. After the war and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, she became active in the suffrage movement; but she was never allowed to vote. She remained devoted to her life’s work, which was to improve the lives of former slaves by helping them find work and try to build a life on their own. Then, as she grew older, she formed a retirement home for those with no family to help with their care.

This is the remarkable legacy of Harriett Tubman.

Minty, as she was known then to master and family alike, endured the hardships and degradations that were common for slaves in those days. Always a feisty girl, she was frequently beaten for disobedience, and occasionally rented out to other slave-holders as a form of punishment. Those periods away from her home were especially difficult for Minty because she was very close to her large family. In 1840, her initial owner died and, under provisions of his will, her father was manumitted from slavery; but, Minty, her mother, and her siblings remained slaves; and she was able to observe first-hand the difference freedom made for her father. To drive home their status as slaves, soon after her new master took control, Minty witnessed the horrific effect on her mother and father when three of her siblings were sold, breaking up their family.  As a child, she was once innocently caught in a confrontation between a slave owner and a male slave who was attempting to flee, and suffered a severe head injury when a heavy metal object thrown by the owner at the slave, struck Minty instead. Thereafter, for the rest of her life, she would occasionally have seizures and debilitating headaches. In 1844, her owner arranged for Minty to marry a Black man who had gained his freedom, probably expecting that Minty would bear children. Under Maryland law at the time, any child born to a female slave, became a slave owned by the same master. However, Minty did not have any children and, although she never explained the matter, it is reasonable to assume that she did not want to bring a child into slavery. After her marriage, Minty changed her name to Harriett and soon, unknown to her husband, began to hope for an opportunity to escape!

Late one night, she and two of her brothers took off, with no real escape plan. They were quickly missed and identified in a wanted poster as fugitive slaves, with a reward of $100 each for their return. When the three were unable to find a route to safety and freedom, or even help with food and shelter, they turned themselves in. As they probably expected, they were returned to their owner and beaten before being re-assigned to hard labor tasks.

But Harriett had tasted freedom, if only for a short while, and again thought of escape. Although, this time she did more than just hope. She gathered information from other slaves about possible routes, developed a plan for evasion, including travel only at night through waterways; and her most critical decision was to go alone! She later wrote of her feelings during her preparations to escape: “There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”

Within weeks, Harriett was again on the run and this time for good. She found refuge in the homes of several Quakers as she travelled at night north along what was becoming known as the Underground Railroad, which was neither a railroad nor underground. She worked her way through Maryland and Delaware (also a slave state), then, finally into Pennsylvania.

When she realized that she was probably safe (for now) she wrote: “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.”

While she was now relatively “free” and had found steady work to build a new life, she missed her family. The following year she slipped back into Maryland to rescue a niece with two small children and, six months later in a return trip, guided other family members to safety. Over the next two years, she made at least ten more clandestine trips bringing over seventy slaves into her “Promised Land.” In fact, one northern newspaper editor, without naming her, or even her gender, began to refer to her as “Moses” and the name stuck. Slave-holders in Maryland who knew of “Minty” never suspected that the small, disabled, girl who had escaped earlier, could possibly be “Moses” and several thought it was really a male abolitionist conducting the group escapes while deceptively leaving the impression it was a woman.

Harriet’s true identity as a primary “conductor” in the underground railroad inexplicably remained unknown to slave-holders despite her growing recognition in the north from numerous appearances at abolitionist society meetings arranged by publisher William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, the nation’s most famous former slave. She even met with John Brown, the violent abolitionist who later led the failed raid against the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, which he had hoped would arm slaves for a rebellion. While many historians believe Harriett knew about Brown’s general plan, most know that she opposed violence, even against White slave-holders, and, therefore, probably would not have supported an attack on U.S. Army troops.

After the Civil War began, she was able to find work as a cook and nurse with various Union Army units, however, her most valuable service to the Army came as a scout. Because Harriett knew the backwoods, rivers and streams so well, she offered her services to guide Union army units on patrol in the area. Accounts written by others make it clear that she was often more than just a scout and was an adept gatherer of intelligence as she would enter Confederate held territory, dressed in the garb of a slave, pretending to be on an errand for a master. She was always armed, but later said she was grateful that she had never had to fire her weapon at another person, even an avowed enemy, because, “Killing someone would have worn on my mind as a Christian.” However, she recalled one situation in which she was prepared to use her small pistol, but the need never arose. In June, 1863, she guided a raiding party of Union troops led by Colonel James Montgomery to liberate slaves from several plantations along the Combahee River, in South Carolina. She had earlier infiltrated the nearby plantations and told the slaves to “run like wind” when they heard steam boat whistles. Then, at the first blast of the whistles, the slave-owners and the few Confederate soldiers in the area could not slow the stampede of slaves running toward the river and the waiting boats. Over 700 slaves were freed in what became known as the Combahee River Raid. Her efforts were recognized by Colonel Montgomery and he petitioned for Harriett to receive regular Army compensation.

It was denied.

In fact, numerous U.S. Army officers supported some form of compensation for Harriett, during and after the War, some even requesting that she receive a pension. All were denied, until 1899, thirty-five years after her Army service ended. However, even then, the Army still refused to recognize her service as a scout; instead, she was given $20.00 per month for her service as a nurse. She was eighty years old.

Along with almost all former slaves, on April 15, 1865, Harriett Tubman mourned the death of Abraham Lincoln and spoke of the grief she felt at his loss. She appreciated his personal beliefs that slavery must be abolished and his efforts to drive the Thirteenth Amendment through Congress; however, she was a stern critic of the President’s earlier policies toward slavery. When Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was first published in September 1862 to become effective on January 1, 1863, it did not include slaves held in the four border states of Maryland (her original home), Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri, and Harriett was dismayed. She said: “God won’t let Master Lincoln beat the South till he does the right thing. Master Lincoln, he’s a great man, and I am a poor Negro; but the Negro can tell Master Lincoln how to save the money and the young men. He can do it by setting the Negro free.”  Harriett offered to help recruit former slaves into the Army, understanding that the units would consist of only Black enlisted men, commanded by White officers; but, she considered it a start. After several months, Lincoln and Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, approved the new regiments and the first real test for Black soldiers in the regular U.S. Army, was about to occur.

In July, 1863, Harriett was providing nursing support as well as guide services to Army units in South Carolina, near Charleston, as the Union Army was mobilizing to assault Fort Wagner, the largest of the nearby installations still held by the Confederates. The unit chosen to lead the initial assault was a regiment of Black enlisted men, led by Colonel Robert G. Shaw, a White officer and avowed abolitionist. The assault was certainly a suicide mission and almost all of Shaw’s men were killed, as was the Colonel. Harriett helped care for the few survivors as some White doctors and nurses refused to aid the Black soldiers. While their assault failed to breech the walls of the fort, the 54th Massachusetts efforts, despite enormous losses, impressed other commanders and there was little hesitation afterward to forming Black units and employing them against Confederate forces.

Harriett wrote poetically of the experience, comparing the fighting to a storm; “We saw the lightening, that was the guns. Then we heard the thunder, and that was the big guns. Then we heard the rain falling, and that was the drops of blood. And when we went to get the crops, it was only dead men that we reaped.”

Throughout the rest of the war, Harriett would stay close to Army units, helping the growing number of escaping slaves pass through the lines toward safety. Most found themselves, not in northern states building a new home, but in large encampments, with meager rations and tattered tents for shelter. However, they were free and those who worked for the Army received the first wages of their lives.

Except for occasional seizures and headaches from her childhood injury, Harriett remained generally healthy and was active in causes she believed in until well into her eighties. In 1912, at age ninety, Harriett’s health began to fail and she spent the rest of her life at the Harriett Tubman Home for the Aged, the home which she had built for elderly former slaves.

She died on March 10, 1913.

But Harriett Tubman’s legacy lives on. In towns throughout Pennsylvania, New York, and in the Canadian province of Ontario, there are enclaves of families whose forefathers were saved by her many rescue missions into slave territory. Moses was an apt title for this woman who led so many to the promised land and, for over sixty years, from the most humble beginnings, she was a force to be reckoned with, as this country awakened from the era of slavery.


Contact the author at  gadorris2@gmail.com