By Mel Maurer, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008-2009, All Rights Reserved
Editor’s note: From 2007 to 2011, Mel Maurer filled the position of Roundtable historian. During Mel’s tenure as historian, each Roundtable meeting opened with a ‘history brief’ presented by Mel, each ‘brief’ providing a small glimpse into a less-explored corner of the story of the Civil War. This page collects the history briefs from the 2008-2009 Roundtable season. Following Mel’s tenure as historian, his successors likewise presented history briefs at the beginning of each Roundtable meeting. The history briefs that were written by Mel’s successors are also on the Roundtable’s website, each of those history briefs on a separate web page.
In this election year, I thought it might be interesting if my history briefs for summer and fall were taken from the election year of 1864 – a year that many historians consider to be the most important in our history. Would Lee ever falter? Was Grant a butcher? Could Sherman take Atlanta? Would the North lose its patience with the war? Could Lincoln be reelected?
The reelection of Lincoln, as we know, was anything but certain and, although in Grant he had the leader he always needed, Lee still held the winning hand that spring and early summer, causing unprecedented Union casualties in the Wilderness and at Cold Harbor. The war was not yet going well, and as it went so would Lincoln go.
By late August, Lincoln believed he would not be reelected and even had his cabinet sign an unseen memo he wrote to that effect, pledging that they would have to do all they could to win the war before the opposing party, led by George McClellan as their presidential candidate, took office. Lincoln believed the Democrats would negotiate an end to the war (as they said they would in their platform), leaving the nation divided.
In researching those times I came to believe that it would be a good idea to let the people involved tell the story of those deciding days for themselves – through their letters, memos and diary entries. I hope you agree.
Their words represent snippets of what was happening, and the feelings about those events as they took place. They take us back there to see, through their eyes and words, the hope, despair, joy, and sorrow of that election year. Although it’s always tempting to find parallels between those times and these, none was intended in selecting the words used in the briefs. I’ll leave any comparisons to the reader.
My source for the history briefs is an excellent book: Eyewitness History of the Civil War edited by Joe Kirchberger.
“This advance by General Grant, inaugurated the seventh attack in the ‘On to Richmond’ drama played by the armies of the Union. The first advance, led by General McDowell, had been repelled by Beauregard and Johnston at Bull Run; the next five, under the leadership respectively of McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker and Meade, had been repelled by Lee.”
General John B. Gordon
before the Battle of the Wilderness, May 1864
from Reminiscences of the Civil War
“Whether you shall remain at the head of the Treasury Department is a question which I do not allow myself to consider from any standpoint other than my judgment of the public service, in that view, I do not perceive occasion for change.”
to Secretary Salmon P. Chase, who had appeared
as a potential rival candidate for the presidency
“We reached Chancellorsville and bivouacked near the blackened ruins of the old Chancellor House. Weather stained remnants of clothing, rusty gun barrels and bayonets, tarnished brasses and equipments with bleaching bones and grinning skulls, marked this memorable field. In the cavity of one of the skulls was a nest with three speckled eggs of a field bird. In yet another was a wasp nest. Life in embryo in the skull of death.”
Union soldier Warren Lee Goss
on the Battle of the Wilderness, May 4 1864
from Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac
“What awful, what sickening scenes! No, we have ceased to get sick at such sights. Here, a friend struck dead by a ball through the head or heart. Another dropping his gun quickly clapping his hands upon his breast, stomach or bowels, through which a Minnie has passed and walking slowly to the rear to lie down and die…many more with bullet holes from which the blood is freely flowing, walking back and remarking, with a laugh somewhat distorted with pain, ‘See the rascals have hit me.’”
Chaplin A. M. Stewart
on the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5 1864
from Camp, March and Battlefield
“’This is a crisis that cannot be looked upon too seriously. I know Lee’s methods well by past experience; he will throw his whole army between us and the Rapidan and cut us off completely from our communications.’ The general (Grant) rose to his feet, took his cigar out of his mouth, turned to the officer and replied, with a degree of animation, which he seldom manifested: ‘Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do….Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what he is going to do.’”
General Horace Porter
on the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5 1864
from Campaigning with Grant
“Grant’s military standing with the enlisted men this day hung on the direction we turned to the Chancellorsville House. If to the left (Northward) in retreat, he was to be rated with Meade and Hooker and Burnside and Pope. At the Chancellorsville House we turned to the right (towards Spotsylvania.) Our spirits rose. The enlisted men understood the flanking movement. That night we were happy.”
Union soldier Frank Wilkeson
on the Battle of the Wilderness, May 7 1864
from Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac
“Your order for an attack is received. I have endeavored to represent you my condition. In the present position of my line an attack by me would be simply preposterous. Not only that – an attack on the part of the enemy of any vigor, would probably carry my lines more than half their length.”
General W. F. Smith
to George G. Meade
at the Battle of Cold Harbor, June 2, 1864
“I noticed that the men were calmly writing their names and home addresses on slips of paper and pinning them on the backs of their coats, so that their dead bodies might be recognized upon the field, and their fate made known to their families at home. Such courage is more than heroic – it is sublime.”
General Horace Porter
aide to U.S. Grant
at the Battle of Cold Harbor, June 2, 1864
“Grant was determined to fight the decisive battle of the war and amassed his troops and rushed them on our works amidst a storm of shot and shell that it seemed no man could stand, but they were repulsed with great slaughter. The battle, at least the main part of it, did not last more than an hour. It was the most destructive that had been fought during the war considering the length of time the engagement lasted.”
Confederate soldier John O. Casler
on the Battle of Cold Harbor, June 3 1864,
from his book Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade
“In the opinion of a majority of its survivors, the Battle of Cold Harbor should never have been fought. There was no military reason to justify it. It was a dreary, dismal, bloody, ineffective close of a lieutenant general’s first campaign with the Army of the Potomac, and corresponded in all its essential features with what had preceded it.”
Lieutenant Colonel Martin T. McMahon
on the Battle of Cold Harbor, June 1-3, 1864
“I do not allow myself to suppose that either the Convention or the League have concluded to decide that I am either the greatest or the best man in America, but rather they have concluded it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river, and have further concluded that I am not so poor a horse that they might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.”
addressing a delegation of the National Union League
following his renomination at Baltimore, June 1864
“Of Andrew Johnson it is enough to say that there is no man in the country unless it be Mr. Lincoln himself whom the rebels more cordially hate.”
after the Republican Convention in Baltimore, June 23, 1864
“Here is the Potomac Army at a seemingly dead stand. No more flank movements practicable. Richmond is not yet captured, nor soon likely to be. General Grant finds it a far different matter, pushing aside Western armies and capturing Vicksburg to conquering Lee and entering Richmond.”
Union Chaplin A. M. Stewart
July 1, 1864
from Camp, March and Battlefield
“Forming the brigade on Pennsylvania Avenue, we marched through Georgetown with bands playing and colors flying. The streets being thronged with people to see us off. Reaching Fort Reno, soon after orders were given to keep awake and have an eye on the supposed rebels in front. Had the rebels made an attempt on Washington that night, nothing could have saved it as there were no troops around the city, but our brigade, and we were supposed to be unfit for active service. The morning of the 11th, guns were heard in our front and long lines of dust could be seen rising above the tree tops showing that large bodies of troops were on the march. Reinforcements now commenced to arrive, both white and black. Several large houses that stood in our front, and would have afforded protection to rebel sharpshooters, were burnt down.”
Union soldier Alford Bellard
on defending Washington against Jubal Early’s approaching army, July 1864
from Gone for a Soldier
“General Halleck will not give orders, except as he receives them; the President will give none, and until you positively and explicitly direct what is to be done, everything will go on in the deplorable and fatal way in which it has gone on in the past week.”
Charles Anderson Dana
assistant secretary of war to U.S. Grant
following Jubal Early’s retreat from Washington, July 12, 1864
“It was the saddest affair I have ever witnessed in the war. Such opportunity for carrying fortifications I have never seen and do not expect again to have.”
General Ulysses S. Grant
on the great mine explosion east of Petersburg, July 30, 1864
“Except for what Farragut had already accomplished on the Mississippi, it would have been considered a foolhardy experiment for wooden vessels to attempt to pass so close to one of the strongest forts (Morgan) on the coast, but when the forts were added the knowledge of the strength of the (enemy’s) ram and the supposedly dead character of the torpedoes, it may be imagined that the coming event impressed the person taking his first glimpse of naval warfare as decidedly hazardous and unpleasant.”
Union Lieutenant John C. Kinney
assistant to Admiral David G. Farragut before
the attack at Mobile Bay, Alabama, August 4, 1864
“The (Federal) Monongahela, going at full speed, struck the Tennessee (the Confederate flagship) amidships, a blow that would have sunk almost any vessel of the Union Navy, but which inflicted not the slightest damage on the solid iron hull of the ram….The two flagships (then) approached each other bow to bow, iron against the oak (Hartford)….The other vessels of the fleets were unable to do anything for the defense of the Admiral. It was a thrilling moment for the fleet, for it was evident that if the ram struck the Hartford, the latter must sink. But for the two vessels to strike fairly, bows on, would probably have involved the destruction of both. The Tennessee slightly changed her course; the port bow of the Hartford met the port bow of the ram and the ships grated against each other. The Hartford poured her whole port broadside against the ram, but the solid shot merely dented the side and bounded into the air.”
Union Lieutenant John C. Kinney
assistant to Admiral David G. Farragut
on the Battle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864
as quoted in Richard Wheeler’s Voices of the Civil War
“Realizing the impossibility of directing the firing of the guns without the use of the rudder, and that the ship (Confederate Tennessee) had been rendered utterly helpless, I went to the lower deck and informed the wounded admiral (Buchanan) of her condition, and that I had not been able to bring a gun to bear upon any of our antagonists for nearly half an hour, to which he replied. “Well, Johnston, if you cannot do them any further damage. You had better surrender.”
Confederate Captain James T. Johnston
second-in-command of the CSS Tennessee
during the Battle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864
as quoted in Richard Wheeler’s Voices of the Civil War
“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re=elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration, as he will have secured his selection on such grounds that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”
in a memo presented to his Cabinet that he asked
members to sign without reading, August 23, 1864
“Our ranks are constantly diminished by battle and disease, and few recruits are received; the consequences are inevitable.”
General Robert E. Lee
in a letter to President Jefferson Davis, September 2, 1864
“Hood was unquestionably a brave, gallant soldier and not destitute of ability; but unfortunately his policy was to fight the enemy where ever he saw him, without thinking much of the consequences of defeat.”
Ulysses S. Grant
about the fall of Atlanta, September 2, 1864
from his Memoirs
“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it. And those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out….I know I will make more sacrifices today than any of you to secure peace….You cannot have peace and a division of our country. You might as well appeal against a thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war.”
General William T. Sherman
in reply to the protest of the citizens of Atlanta, September 1864
“The platform of the Chicago (Democratic Party) Convention will satisfy every foreign and domestic enemy of American Union and Liberty. It has no word of righteous wrath against the recreant citizens who have plunged the country into the blood of civil war, but lavishes its fury upon the constituted authorities which have steadfastly defended the Union.”
September 10, 1864
“With respectable talents, a pure character, and patriotic purposes, he is wanting in that high moral sense that perceives the truest truth, and that high moral courage that does and dares in its behalf. He waits, he hesitates in the presence of great opportunities; he compromises with time and with truth.”
on Democratic nominee George B. McClellan, September 18, 1864
“The judge brought home a clever caricature of McClellan in the character of Hamlet, the gravedigger a jolly Irish soldier. Hamlet holds Lincoln’s head in his hand and says, ‘A fellow of infinite jests, where be thy jibes now?’”
Maria L. Daly
in her diary, September 19, 1864
It’s clear in October of 1864, with the fall of Atlanta in September, that the Lincoln-Johnson ticket will prevail in November – and with their election, that the war will not end without the surrender of the South. Clear, that is, except to some in the South, such as John Bell Hood and his Army of Tennessee as it prepares to invade Tennessee to threaten Nashville. Here are some October 1864 words.
October 3, 1864 Jefferson Davis in a speech at Columbia, South Carolina talks about General John Bell Hood:
“His eye is now fixed upon a point, far beyond that, where he was assailed by the enemy….And if – but a half, nay, one fourth, of the men to whom the service has a right, will give him their strength, I see no chance for Sherman to escape from a defeat or a disgraceful retreat.”
Jefferson Davis, still dreaming, in a speech at Augusta, Georgia on October 5, 1864:
“Never before was I so confident that energy, harmony and determination would rid the country of its enemy and give to the women of the land that peace, their good deeds have so well deserved. We must beat Sherman, we must march into Tennessee…we must push the enemy back to the banks of the Ohio.
The Richmond Enquirer, October 6, 1864:
“The question of making soldiers of Negroes, of regularly enlisting them, for their own safety as well as our own, must have presented itself to every reflecting mind. Because the Yankees have not been able to make soldiers out of their drafted Negroes, it does not follow that we cannot train our saves to make very efficient troops. We believe that they can be, by drill and discipline, molded into steady and reliable soldiers.”
Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Henry W. Hoffman, Maryland political leader, on October 10, 1864:
“I wish all men to be free. I wish the material prosperity of the already free, which I feel sure the extinction of slavery will bring. I wish to see, in process of disappearing, the only thing which ever could bring this nation to civil war.”
Maria Daley, Southern diarist, somewhat cynically in an entry on October 30, 1864:
“Andy Johnson, who boasts that he was taught to read by his wife, is to be vice president. It seems that statesmanship is much less of a trade than rail splitting, shoemaking or tailoring. The last two can be learned by practice only, but statesmanship comes by itself.”
Maria Daly, in her diary, November 7, 1864:
“Tomorrow is Election Day and all good citizens, must wish it over. To the great discomfort of the public, General Butler has been put in command here and no one can tell, what may not be done to secure Lincoln’s election. Republicans are now most unscrupulous. I shall order my doors shut.”
General Grant in a message to General Sherman, November 2 and 7, 1864, before the latter’s March to the Sea:
“With the force, however, you have left with General Thomas, he must be able to take care of Hood and destroy him. I really do not see that you can withdraw from where you are to follow Hood without giving up all we have gained in territory. I say, then, go as you propose.”
Abraham Lincoln, in a victory speech on November 10, 1864, shortly after his reelection:
“It has long been a great question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies. We cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion would force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”
George W. Nichols, November 24, 1864, in the story of the great march:
“General Sherman is at the executive mansion of Milledgeville, Georgia, its former occupant, having, with extremely bad grace, fled from his distinguished visitor, taking with him the entire furniture of the building. As General Sherman travels with a roll of blankets and a haversack full of hard tack, which is as complete for a life in the open air as in a palace, this discourtesy was not a serious inconvenience.”
Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby on the loss of her sons, November 21, 1864:
“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the beloved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
Maria Daly, in her diary, November 28, 1864:
“On Friday last I saw Edwin Booth, and his two brothers, Julius Brutus and John Wilkes, in ‘Julius Caesar.’ In the midst of the performance, there was a cry of fire. The performance was interrupted, but the tumult was soon appeased. When we read the papers the next day, we read of the plot to burn the city, and of the many fires which have been discovered. This is the work, it is suspected, of rebel emissaries, alas, some of those, perhaps whose houses have been burned in the Shenandoah Valley or in Georgia. War! How horrible are its consequences, how brutalizing its effects!”
It’s December of 1864. As Lincoln prepares for his second term, the news is mostly good on the war. Grant has Lee pinned down at Petersburg, Sherman is almost to Savannah, and John Bell Hood has been bloodied at Franklin. However, Hood now threatens Nashville. Here are some voices from that month.
General George Thomas to U.S. Grant on December 9, 1864 before the Battle of Nashville:
“I had nearly completed my preparations to attack the enemy tomorrow, but a terrible storm of freezing rain has come on today, which will make it impossible for our men to fight to any advantage. I am therefore compelled to wait….Major General Halleck informs me that you are very dissatisfied with my delay in attacking. I can only say I have done all in my power to prepare, and if you deem it necessary to relieve me, I shall submit without a murmur.”
U.S. Grant in a telegram to General Thomas on December 11, 1864:
“If you delay attack longer the mortifying spectacle will be witnessed of a rebel army moving for the Ohio River, and you will be forced to act, accepting such weather as you find. Let there be no further delay….I am in hopes of receiving a dispatch from you today that you have moved. Delay no longer for weather or reinforcements.”
William T. Sherman, December 1864, from his Memoirs:
“…on the 15th and 16th of December were fought, in front of Nashville, the great battles in which General Thomas so nobly fulfilled his promise to ruin Confederate General John Bell Hood….His official report came in on the 24th. I wrote at once to General Thomas, complimenting him in the highest terms. His brilliant victory at Nashville was necessary to mine at Savannah to make a complete whole.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, December 22, 1864:
“Like the tribes of Israel – fed on quails and manna – Sherman and his glorious band – journeyed through the rebel land – fed from Heaven’s all bounteous hand. Marching on Savannah!”
Charles C. Coffin as aid from the north arrives in Savannah, near the end of the month:
“The fire of Secession had died out….At a meeting of the citizens of Savannah, resolutions, expressive of gratitude for the charity bestowed by Boston, New York and Philadelphia were passed – also of the desire for future fellowship and amity. A store at the corner of Beatty and Barnard streets was taken for a depot….I passed a morning among the people who came for food….Well-dressed women wearing crape for their husbands and sons who had fallen while fighting against the old flag – all stood patiently waiting their turn to enter the building, where through the open doors, they could see barrels of flour, pork, beans, and piles of bacon, hogsheads of sugar, molasses and vinegar.”
Abraham Lincoln, near the end of the month, to a group of Kentuckians who wanted the controversial General Benjamin Butler assigned to their state:
“You howled when Butler went to New Orleans. Others howled when he was removed from the command. Somebody has been howling ever since at his assignment to military command. How long will it be before you, who are howling for his assignment to rule Kentucky, will be howling to me to remove him?”
One hundred and forty-eight years ago tonight – February 11, 1861 – President-elect Abraham Lincoln stood on the rear platform of the train that would take him to Washington DC for his inauguration as president and said good-bye to his friends and neighbors in Springfield, Illinois.
These were his words:
“My friends, no one not in my situation can appreciate my feelings of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of this people, I owe everything.
Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care, commending you as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was born on St. Patrick’s Day in County Cork Ireland in 1828. He became the only son of the old green sod to become a Confederate Major General. Cleburne, after serving with the British army, came to America in 1849, becoming a druggist and then a successful lawyer and a naturalized citizen – in Arkansas.
He joined the Confederate army in 1861, advancing through the ranks and many battles including Perrysville, Shiloh, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Atlanta, becoming a division leader under General John Bell Hood. He was with Hood’s Army of Tennessee when it reached the outskirts of Franklin on November 30, 1864.
Cleburne that fall had proposed his own version of an emancipation plan to the Confederacy, which included recruiting Blacks into the army. Arriving south of town before his division, he passed time by playing a game of checkers on a dirt-drawn “board.” The game was interrupted when Hood called a meeting of officers. Hood had decided to “make the fight” with a frontal assault against the entrenched, well-fortified Union army in a misguided effort to destroy enemy forces before they could reinforce Nashville.
As Cleburne walked out to his horse after the meeting, Hood followed, giving final specific instructions, telling him not to fire until engaged by the Yankee skirmish line south of the main lines, “Shoot them as they run, and then charge their main lines.” Cleburne replied, in a slight Irish brogue, “I will either take the enemy’s works or fall in the attempt.”
Riding a borrowed brown horse, Cleburne moved forward in the center of his advancing columns. A hundred battle flags decorated the attacking troops, arrayed across two miles.
The Union soldiers manning the skirmish line opened fire as soon as the rebels came into range, tearing some holes in their line. Cleburne called a halt and redeployed his men in a line to make the charge. As the rebels advanced, the Yankees began to run toward the still open section of the main Union lines – immediately followed by charging men in gray – with Cleburne calling out, “Go into their works with them.”
Some of his men made it through the lines while Cleburne led others toward the breach, but his horse was shot out from under him. A lieutenant rode up and offered Cleburne his horse, but it too was shot as he tried to mount it. Cleburne then drew his sword, waved it over his head, and charged toward the break in the Yankee line.
But then, some 50 yards from his goal, a bullet entered his chest, hitting him in the heart and killing him instantly. As the Union fought back, Cleburne’s men briefly rested flat against their side of the earthworks, waiting for the order to go over the top. “We waited and waited,” said one man, “and when the order didn’t come we knew Pat Cleburne was dead.”
After several burials and reburials, the general was laid in his final resting place in his American hometown of Helena, Arkansas on April 30, 1870. General George Gordon used these words that day in his memorial address:
“A truer patriot or knightlier soldier never fought and never died….He was a patriot by instinct and a soldier by nature. He loved his country, its banners, its battle flags, its sovereignty, its independence. For those he fought, for those he fell.”
Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds
Note: While Cleburne, Texas is pronounced “Clee-burn,” the name “Cleburne” is pronounced “Clay-burn” in Ireland, so that is how Patrick would have pronounced it (Craig Symonds).
April – the bookend month of the Civil War. The month the war started and the month Lee surrendered to effectively end it. The month Abraham Lincoln died from an assassin’s bullet.
The following is taken from a report by 24-year-old war correspondent, New York World reporter George Alfred Townsend of the events of April 19, 1865.
Townsend takes us into the East Room of the White House early on the evening of the last day that the body of the president lies in state in these words:
“Deeply ensconced in the white stuffing of his coffin, the President lies like one asleep. The lid is drawn back to show the face and bosom.
“This coffin, set upon a platform and canopied, has around it a sufficient space of Brussels carpet, and on three sides of this are raised steps, covered with black, on which the honored visitors are to stand.
“All is rich, simple, and spacious. Approach and look at the dead man.
“Death has fastened into his frozen face all the character and idiosyncrasy of life. He has not changed one line of his grave, grotesque countenance, nor smoothed out a single feature.
“The hue is rather bloodless and leaden; but he was always sallow. The dark eyebrows seem abruptly arched; the beard, which will grow no more, is shaved close save the tuft at the short small chin. The mouth is shut, like that of one who had put his foot down firm, and so are the eyes, which look as calm as slumber.
“The collar is short and awkward, turned over the stiff elastic cravat, and whatever energy or humor or tender gravity marked the living face is hardened into its pulse-less outline.
“No corpse in the world is better prepared according to appearances. All that we see of Abraham Lincoln, so cunningly contemplated in this splendid coffin, is a mere shell, an effigy, a sculpture.
“He lies in sleep, but it is the sleep of marble. All that made this flesh vital, sentient, and affectionate is gone forever.
“The funeral guns are heard indistinctly booming from the far forts, with the tap of drums in the serried street without, where troops and citizens are forming for the grand procession.
“We see through the window in the beautiful spring day that the grass is brightly green; and all the trees in blossom.”
As printed in When Lincoln Died by Ralph Borreson
It’s the night of May 2, 1863, just after 9:00 p.m. The Battle of Chancellorsville has nearly ended. It was a great day for General Stonewall Jackson. He had led his men in one of the great moves of the Civil War – a surprise maneuver around Hooker’s army to attack it from the west – setting Lee up for an eventual victory.
Now, in the moonlight, Jackson rides with some of his staff in woods along a turnpike, just in front of A. P. Hill’s brigades. They look for a route by which they might block Hooker’s retreat. Jackson tells his men, “The danger is all over; the enemy is routed. Go back and tell A. P. Hill to press on.”
Hill was not far behind. He shouts to his men, telling them to cease firing – that the men in the front ranks were firing into their own men. “It’s a lie! Pour it into them boys!” shouts Major John D. Barry of the 18th North Carolina Infantry. A line of his infantrymen then opens fire with several volleys into the approaching horsemen, cutting them apart, sending horses reeling and men bleeding – including Jackson.
The general, riding his horse, Little Sorrel, is hit three times; his left arm, nearly destroyed, hung limp. Little Sorrel bolts, dragging Jackson through the rough branches of a tree, which scrapes his face, knocks off his cap, and nearly pulls him off the horse. An aide assists the general at first and then sends urgent word to Jackson’s medical director.
Stonewall had been shot at close range, two bullets hitting his left arm, one splintering the upper arm to the elbow and the other striking the forearm an inch below the elbow. The third bullet lodged in his right hand. The wounds bled profusely. Shortly after he is placed on a stretcher, it’s dropped causing a chest contusion.
Jackson is taken to an aid station west of the shooting on the turnpike, where his left arm is amputated. The arm was buried nearby at Ellwood, the J. Horace Lacy House in the Wilderness. He is then moved by ambulance to recuperate in Richmond – but is too weak to go that far – so is put up at the Thomas C. Chandler House at Guinea Station.
General Lee sends him a note on May 3. It reads, “Could I have directed events, I should have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.”
Lee achieves victory at Chancellorsville on May 4 with Hooker in full retreat on May 5. It’s a very costly engagement for both sides, even more so for the South when on May 10, Stonewall Jackson, with his wife and members of his staff around him, dies from pneumonia.
His last words are, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”
The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War by David J. Eicher
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