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8-08-2015, 23:58

Trampling Out the Vintage . . .

THE INTIMATE relationship between the military course of the war and the contemporaneous political situation was well understood by all parties. President Lincoln, Generals Grant and Sherman, and all the other senior Union commanders knew that somehow they must achieve some success sufficient to convince voters, less of the justice of the Union's cause—they already believed in that — than of the fact that the cause was winnable. On the other side, President Davis and his generals and supporters knew that if they could only hang on until after the election, and while doing so deny the Union that significant success, then they might well triumph in the end. For the Confederacy, the Northern election was the last bulwark of their hopes, the last of those fallback positions from which they might still persevere. It all came down, then, to those tired thousands in blue and gray, and their willingness to buy time or ground with their lives, their willingness to suffer for their friends or their families or their principles or whatever motivated them to risk their lives. But then, that was what it had always been anyway. General Grant's shift of operations south to the Petersburg area was conducted with skill approaching brilliance, but once the Army oi the Potomac was facing the entrenchments of this little southern city, things rapidly fell apart. The initial assaults on the town were bungled, and the very real opportunity of taking it in rrfid-June was frittered away, by poor planning, poor coordination, poor staff work, and simple carelessness and stupidity. It was a pity that having fought so hard and come so far, at such a heavy price, the Union forces fell just short of success. But that seemed of a piece with the history of this army: it was fated to deserve more than it ever achieved. The Army of Northern Virginia, on the other hand, deserved everything it did achieve, and achieved far more than anyone had any right to expect of it. It was not only a great army—they both were—but it was a lucky army as well, while its opponent was not. The student seeking rational explanations for history may decry the role of luck, but most soldiers believe in it. Napoleon certainly did, and he was a man of some considerable experience in this area. Robert E. Lee arrived at Petersburg on the morning ofJune 18, and that afternoon the first elements of A. P. Hill's corps started filing into the trenches around the town. That was the end of Grant's opportunities for carrying the city by a coup de main; he was now stuck with the necessity of besieging the place, with no real prospect of a quick end to the struggle. Few men could see that the fight for the town would last nine months, a blindness which was undoubtedly a blessing. The simple truth was that both armies were sadly run down, exhausted by the marching and fighting of May and June, and significantly losing tone as they went. Casualties among the officers had been heavy, and among the men frightful, about 55,000 for the Army of the Potomac and something close to perhaps 40,000 for the Army of Northern Virginia. The Union army was shedding veterans and replacing them with regiments that were new to combat, or indeed even new to soldiering. The veterans resented the new men, and the conscripts, and contradictorily, the fact that they themselves were still in the war and that there were not more of the very men they resented. Clear logic should not be expected of men who had been marching and fighting and seeing their friends die for three years. On the Confederate side, there was no relief for old soldiers; they stayed until they were killed, wounded, or gave up and deserted; theirs was a Hobson's choice indeed. The Confederacy, which had already run out of almost everything else, was running out of bodies as well. Operations went on, a bewildering, bungling sequence of battles and misery as one side or the other sought to break the stalemate. The numbers, and the initiative, lay with the Army of the Potomac; that very fact was a measure of Grant's success against Lee, ever the most aggressive and offensive-minded of generals. But the fortifications and the interior lines were with the Confederates, and try as he might, Grant could not find a way through or around the impasse. The geographical situation was as complex as the sequence of battles. Petersburg is twenty miles south of Richmond, and its major importance derived from the fact that of the five railroads which fed the capital from the south and west, three funneled through this city. Thus if the Union could capture the town, or so seriously interdict those railroads as to make them useless, Richmond might well become untenable. There was a second geographical factor of great significance, and that was the lie of the rivers in the area. Richmond is on the James, and from that city the river flows south in a straight line for five miles to Drewry's Bluff; it then goes into a series of lazy bends for several miles, passing New Market and Malvern Hill of 1862 fame, before becoming a substantial estuary at Bermuda Hundred, where Ben Butler let himself get shut up at the start of this campaign. Petersburg itself is on the Appomattox River, about seven miles west of where the Appomattox joins the James estuary. The Confederates developed a long system of defenses that traced the James, then jumped overland from its bends to the Appomattox and on around south of Petersburg. They could not of course hold the entire line from Richmond past Petersburg, a distance of perhaps thirty miles, but they did not have to do that. They had to hold Petersburg itself, keeping the Union forces away from the railroads, and a line north of the city until the James River did their work for them. Grant and Meade operated against this system in three locations. There were some efforts to force the Confederate lines north of the James River, but these were largely secondary to the more serious assaults south of it, directed against Petersburg itself. And thirdly, Grant attempted to develop cavalry raids that ranged farther afield than the immediate Petersburg area, with the thought of cutting those vital railroads at a greater distance than the Confederates could counter. The Civil War has often been called the first railroad war, and the siege of Petersburg graphically illustrates how important rail traffic had become in a few short years. On the larger scale of the entire eastern theater, Lee, deprived locally of the initiative as he was by Grant's grip, sought to regain it by having recourse to the old strategy of 1862. Then, the Confederates had been forced to fight McClellan on the Peninsula, and distracted their enemies by unleashing General Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, providing a distant threat to the security of Washington. Now Lee tried the same thing, with Jubal Early playing Jackson's part. The results were quite catastrophically different from anything anyone, especially the Confederates, might have expected. The raiding portion of Grant's strategy developed even before the siege of Petersburg was fully engaged. As he was moving across from Cold Harbor to the James, Grant set Sheridan in motion with two full divisions of his cavalry corps. These were ordered in a long arc north and west of Richmond, their ultimate aim to join in with General David Hunter, supposed to be advancing east out of the Shenandoah Valley. The two forces were to meet at Charlottesville, fifty miles from the Confederate capital, and from there tear up portions of the important Virginia Central Railroad, another of those crucial lines feeding Richmond. This did not work. Not only did Hunter get himself beat at Lynchburg, but Sheridan's troopers, after a leisurely ride, got caught by Wade Hampton's and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry divisions, and in a confused melee around Trevilian Station on the 1 1th and 12th ofJune, the Federals definitely got the worst of it. Sheridan gave up his assigned mission and headed back the way he had come. By the time he rejoined the Army of the Potomac, Grant had shifted bases from Cold Harbor to the James, and failed in his opening moves to get Petersburg on the run. Grant now began his strategy of inching out to the west and south, trying to extend beyond the area the Confederates could cover. In the third week of June he sent Birney's II Corps—Hancock, never really recovered from Gettysburg, had given up the command—to cut the Weldon Railroad, and Horatio Wright's VI Corps beyond it toward the Jerusalem Plank Road. These two units moved out independently. Lee countered with A. P. Hill's corps, and Hill managed to find the uncovered gap between the two Federal outfits, slammed into their flank, took about 1,600 prisoners, and inflicted another 1,300 casualties. Though the Federals did manage to hold positions along the plank road, they had received a nasty little shock; obviously the Army of Northern Virginia was a long way from done yet. So it went. When Grant sent James Wilson and two cavalry divisions south and west to tear up railroad, Lee countered with four cavalry and one infantry divisions. The discomfited blue troopers lost 1,500 men, their wagon trains, and a dozen guns, and all they got in return was a few days' interruption of the Southside Railroad. By early July the armies were settling in to the siege of Petersburg. Next came one of the oddest incidents of the war. Both sides now agreed that to send men against prepared field positions was virtually suicidal; the odds so heavily favored the defenders, fighting from behind breastworks, catching the attackers in the open in a crossfire, that relatively few men could hold off many times their number. There was no way through, and judging by events so far, no way around either. But maybe there was a way under. Mining is one of the standard scenarios in siege warfare, and it happened that in the Union army there was a regiment of coal miners, the 48th Pennsylvania. When Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants, himself a mining engineer in civilian life, heard one of his sergeants say, "We ought to dig a mine under them," he took the suggestion up the line. Burnside, his corps commander, was keen, Grant less so, but for lack of any better alternative, he agreed to the idea. Pleasants's men set to work with an ingenuity and enthusiasm that amazed those who preferred to live their lives above ground. Eager little moles, they dug and planned, took sights and measurements, squinted and figured; for the month of July the front in Burnsides's area looked like a deranged anthill. Eventually they produced a tunnel more than 500 feet long, with a gallery at the end that ran perpendicular to it, seventy-five feet long, and twenty feet deep under the Confederate trenches. Into this they carried 320 kegs of powder, four tons in all, and by the end of July they were ready to blow the whole thing sky high. So far so good. From here on everything went wrong. Burnside had one division of black troops in his corps, commanded by Brigadier General Edward Fererro; he selected it for the assault, and the troops were carefully rehearsed for their attack. Then Meade said it would be politically unwise to use blacks in this unconventional way, because it would look, should the attack fail, as if they were being sacrificed. Burnside saw the matter falling apart, lost interest in it, and had his other division commanders draw straws to see who got the nod. General James Ledlie drew the short straw. He did nothing in the way of preparation. Thus when the mine went off with a spectacular roar early on the morning ofJuly 30, the Federals totally failed to exploit their stunning surprise. The mine created a crater 170 feet long, sixty or seventy feet wide, and thirty feet deep, and killed several hundred Confederates who were in the wrong place. But when the assaulting Union regiments finally cleared their own entrenchments, instead of charging across the open spaces on either side of the crater, they charged into it. With the crater clogged with bluecoats, Burnside then ordered forward Fererro's division in support, and by mid-morning there were several thousand men packed into the crater and trying to claw their way up the crumbling, smoking sides to get out. The Confederates reacted with admirable speed, and were soon lining the crater shooting down into the clogged mass of Federals, who could go neither forward nor back. In spite of some attempts to exploit on either side of the hole, the affair turned into a straightforward butchery. While Fererro and Ledlie sat behind their own lines sharing a companionable bottle of rum, their divisions were cut to pieces, and by the late afternoon, the entire sorry mess was over, at a cost of almost 4,000 casualties, a full quarter of the men engaged. Ledlie was dismissed in disgrace, Fererro managed to get off, and Burnside was allowed to resign, none of which was of any import to all those poor dead soldiers. The little battles, and the constant wastage, kept on. At the end of July, as The Crater battle was being fought, Grant attacked north of the James at Deep Bottom Run; no gain. He tried again two weeks later; no gain. In late August there were further attempts to extend to the south and west, and the armies fought at Globe Tavern, and a few days later at Reams' Station. In September Lee riposted with a raid by Wade Hampton against, of all things, a Federal cattle pen; Hampton's cowboys came back into their own lines herding 2,500 beef cattle, a welcome addition to the short rations of the Confederate troops. At the end of September they fought at New Market Heights, north of the James, and a day later at Poplar Spring Church back on the south side, a week later at Darbytown, and three weeks after that at Hatcher's Run, all just names now, forgotten little hamlets and dusty crossroads where good young men died, a steady dripping of lives and blood, a wearing away of the flesh of both armies. The men got dirty, and tired, and raw, and drunk when they could manage it, and cursed their sergeants, and their officers, and their fate, and day after day, week after weary week, the armies ground away at each other while the leaves turned orange and the days rolled inexorably on toward the election. Meanwhile, Lee tried to work the old magic; he played the Valley card again. It was two long years now since the glory days of the first Valley campaign, and Stonewall Jackson lying in his grave for one of them. But it might still work. He gave the task to Jubal Early, a blackbrowed, profane, bitter fighter, and Early set off with his corps in mid- June, a measure both of Lee's confidence in his ability to hold Grant with few men, and of his unconquerable determination to regain the initiative in the campaign. Early arrived in the Shenandoah Valley just in time to assist in the defeat of General David Hunter's force at Lynchburg, and as Hunter fell back to the westward, into the mountains, Early assumed command of all the Valley forces, about 14,000 men, reorganized them into two infantry corps of two divisions each, and a cavalry division of four brigades, and set out northward down the Valley. Simply put, his mission was to raise hell, and Old Jube thought he was just the man for it. He intended to do nothing less than strike at Washington itself. By the first of July the Rebels were swarming around Winchester, twenty miles from the Potomac. An alarmed Franz Sigel began concentrating his forces at Maryland Heights, on the south side of the river across from Harpers Ferry. He was too strong for Early to take on, so the wily Confederate slipped around him, crossed the river, and swooped into Maryland. By July 9 he was in Frederick, levying a requisition of $200,000 on the town. Meanwhile his cavalry troopers swept over the country, taking contributions and scaring Maryland silly. Grant and Meade had not paid a great deal of attention to this problem, until they got word that the Confederates were across the Potomac; then they had to react. In the second week of July, while Early moved toward the capital, Grant detached Horatio Wright and VI Corps and sent them north to bolster Washington's defenses. While they were on the way, Early brushed aside a scratch force of Federal troops commanded by Lew Wallace, threatened Baltimore with his cavalry, and moved closer to Washington. Garrison troops and hastily mustered civil servants dug trenches and manned the city's fortifications, and a near panic spread throughout the North. Early camped in Silver Spring on the night of July 10-1 1, but even as he did so, Wright's veteran troops were filing off the steamers at the city docks, and marching through the town to take up their positions. Here were men long past scaring, and they were alternately determined to chase off the Rebs, and amused by all the silly civilians in the capital. As they took up their positions, President Lincoln himself went out to have a look at the enemy; he stood, conspicuously tall, by one of the earthworks, only to be told by a regimental officer, "Get down from there! You'll get your head shot off, you damned fool!" The president obediently got down; the whole episode made the kind of story he loved to tell on himself. The Confederates actually considered an assault, but upon learning of the arrival of heavy Federal reinforcements, they decided to retreat. By the 14th they were back across the Potomac and heading up the Valley again. Wright pursued for some distance, but then Grant decided the crisis was over, and recalled him to the Petersburg front. Early, however, was not yet finished. Just because he had been chased did not mean he had been caught, and for a couple of weeks he led a merry dance around the Valley, while Federal troops from four separate departments tried ineffectually to coordinate their movements and get him in a trap. For Grant it was all a bother; he and Washington got into a squabble about what should be done. Grant wanted to give the area command to General Franklin, but President Lincoln demurred: Franklin had not supported Burnside away back at Fredericksburg, and he was still paying for it. Grant then suggested Meade himself. While the War Department chewed this over, Early came out of his hole, rampaged around Maryland, and sent his troopers north over the Pennsylvania line. There they burned Chambersburg, when the town could not raise a ransom, in retaliation for Federal ravages in the Valley. Lincoln then put Henry Halleck in charge of coordinating the Federal forces, and Halleck managed to get as tangled up as he usually did when faced with field operations. Finally Grant bit the bullet. All right, he said, I will send up Phil Sheridan, and we shall put a stop to this once and for all. After a slow start in the war, Philip Henry Sheridan had proved the epitome of Aristophanes' "bandy-legged little captain full of guts." Short, stocky, graceless, fiery, he had proved a peerless combat leader. Now he was given a new area command, styled the Middle Department, and told to destroy Early. For a good five weeks the two sides eyed each other warily and maneuvered back and forth without much result. Then, when Early became overconfident, Sheridan caught him in a poor position at Winchester on September 19 and slammed into him front and flank. As the Federals enjoyed a superiority of at least two to one, they had everything in their favor. The Confederates were pushed back fighting through the town, and then collapsed when hit again on their flank. Sheridan lost 5,000 casualties to Early's 4,000, but the Rebel army could not afford the losses, and the Federals could. Early never really recovered from this rude shock. He retreated south, and got beat again at Fisher's Hill on the 22nd, and was then chased right out of the Valley. Sheridan now fell back toward Winchester, ravaging the territory as he went. But Early came back yet again, reinforced, and on October 19 he caught the Federal army at Cedar Creek; he was pushing it back from position to position when Sheridan, who had been twenty miles away at Winchester, arrived on his lathered horse, gave new direction to the troops, who were already rallying, and completely turned the tide for the day. "Sheridan's Ride" was written into the schoolbooks, and his horse, Rienzi, was eventually stuffed and placed in the Smithsonian Institution. Even so, it was not the famous ride for which Sheridan in the Valley was best remembered. It was the destruction of what many considered, or still consider, the most beautiful territory in the entire continent. There was one way to stop the Confederate threats from the Shenandoah Valley, and that was to destroy the Valley itself. Here again we see at work the peculiar military balances of this war, or of warfare at this stage. Sherman could not completely, permanently, destroy the army ranged against him, so he would have to deprive it of its sustenance, by making war upon the infrastructure that supported that army. Grant could not beat Lee in the open field, nor Lee Grant; therefore the field maneuvers descended into a war of posts, a war against supplies and supply lines. Sheridan might beat Early, but he could never catch him and wipe him out, so the next best thing was to deny him the possibility of rapid movement and resupply by wasting the country through which he moved. There was in fact good historical precedent for this; it was actually warfare as practiced in the late seventeenth century, typified by such things as Turenne's ravaging of the Palatinate during Louis XIV's wars. The eighteenth century, with its more cosmopolitan and urbane—and generally less destructive—ideas, would have been shocked by this, and the twentieth century, which gassed soldiers and bombed civilians, would have shrugged it off. In the nineteenth century, it seemed a necessity to its Union practitioners, and a shame and outrage to those Southerners upon whom it was visited. But as Sherman wrote to Halleck, "If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking. If they want peace, they and their relatives must stop the war." Phil Sheridan could burn a barn and turn a phrase with the best of them. Told by Grant to clean out the Valley, he replied, "I shall leave them only their eyes to weep with," and his troopers set to work with a will. They ran off the stock, they burned the barns, they trampled the standing crops; they broke down bridges and girdled fruit trees; they carried off wagons and burned farm implements. At first there was some little attempt to provide sustenance for civilians, and to leave dwellings alone, but this sort of violence inevitably begat more of it. When Confederate guerrillas caught and hanged some Union soldiers, the bluecoats responded by burning ever more, and hanging Rebels whom they earlier might have imprisoned. The Federal passage through the Valley was marked by the trails of smoke rising up lazily into the sky, in an orgy of destruction that eventually became known simply as "The Burning." Sheridan wrote Halleck, "I will soon commence on Loudoun County, and let them know there is a God in Israel." When he was finished, he wrote to Grant that "a crow would need to carry rations to cross the Shenandoah Valley." The ravaging of the Valley may arguably have shortened the war; it unarguably embittered the peace. That summer there was another turn of the screw in a different quarter. For some time little had been heard from the navy, which might well, as in Britain, be considered "the silent service." Yet the blockade had continued doing its slow, insidious, and deadly work. There has been considerable argument among historians as to the effectiveness of this policy, and its contribution to the overall victory, and opinion has swayed back and forth. At one time it was thought that the blockade had virtually won the war; then scholars, who after all make their reputations by attacking established views rather than supporting them, decided that the blockade had actually accomplished relatively little. They pointed out that it was not wholly effective, and that the Confederacy never did run out of supplies and necessary imports. In other words, in a sort of all-or-nothing argument, since the blockade alone did not win the war, it must have made no significant contribution to it. In fact, the impact was enormous, and it grew steadily worse for the Confederacy, until by 1864, shortages were really beginning to hurt. The South had, as noted earlier, about 3,500 miles of coastline and some 180 ports and points of access, so stopping them up was extraordinarily difficult. In 1861 only one vessel out of every nine sailing to or from Confederate ports was intercepted. But by 1862 it was one in seven, and by 1864 it was one in three. In itself, that might mean only a one-third cut in imports or exports, but in actuality it meant a great deal more than that. For even if some foreign merchants, notably British and a few French, were attracted to the profits of blockade-running, far more sober and legitimate merchants were deterred by the risks. About eight hundred ships ran the blockade in 1861, but in I860 there had been six thousand ships entering or clearing Southern ports, so the very fact of the blockade, let alone its real effectiveness, diminished Confederate trade by about four fifths. If one adds to that the further losses of items that would have been sold or traded in the southern states by the northern ones, the diminution becomes ever greater. Between the blockade itself, and Union diplomatic efforts in France and especially in Britain, Confederate foreign trade and assistance was practically cut off. The blockade was a slow, grinding business of Union soldiers occupying the sea islands and coastal barriers of Georgia and the Carolinas, of raids and boat expeditions and fevers and little sudden ambushes. For example, New Bern, in North Carolina, is thirty miles from the open ocean, but it was occupied by Ambrose Burnside's troops in March of 1862, and was in Federal hands for the rest of the war. On shipboard it was a stultifying routine of coaling, standing watches in all kinds of weathers, heat prostration in the boiler rooms and sunstroke on deck, of the pitch bubbling out of the deck seams or the rain coming down in sheets, while the ships steered back and forth, back and forth, across the entrances to Charleston or Wilmington or Mobile. Week after weary week went by in the ugly monitors or the stripped-down steam frigates and sloops. Occasionally a blockade-runner was caught, or a ship burst into flame, or ran aground, or the Rebels came out and traded shots. The Federals tried to take Charleston and failed, and they besieged it for several months, tried again, and failed again. The ships' officers took to drink, or reading classical history, and the war went on in a dull, soul-destroying routine, under which nothing ever seemed to happen but no one could ever dare relax. It was a thankless, apparently unrewarding task. All it was doing was strangling the Confederacy. There were women in Carolina sewing with needles carved from bone, and coffee was a luxury drink available only to the privileged few. And always, off the few remaining ports, there were those hated topmasts just visible over the horizon, the despised enemy, the dirty Yankee, and where now was King Cotton, and who dared make war on him? In the summer of 1864, Admiral Farragut finally closed down Mobile Bay, the Confederacy's last major port in the Gulf of Mexico. This had been a thorn in the Federal side ever since the war began. Alabama has of course only a short coastline, about forty miles of it, and most of that taken up by the large indentation of Mobile Bay. In Confederate hands the area was a standing affront to the U.S. Navy, and it was only fifty miles from Pensacola, never surrendered and the headquarters of the West Gulf blockading squadron. Before the war, Mobile had been the chief cotton-shipping port of the South; after the fall of New Orleans, its importance increased dramatically. Yet the Union was slow to do anything about it; other matters kept getting in the way; the Mississippi River campaign took up most of 1862 and 1863, by the time Port Hudson was finally captured; then in early 1864 there were the Red River expedition and the attack on Charleston over in South Carolina, both of them failures. So it took Admiral Farragut a long time to get Mobile to the top of the list of priorities. The local terrain and defenses were peculiar. Mobile itself sits at the top of a twenty-five-mile-long shallow bay. The bay is protected by sandbars, and there was only one deepwater entrance. This was guarded by two forts, Morgan and Gaines, the former on a long sandbar extending from the eastern shore of the mainland, the latter on the end of Dauphin Island, basically another low bar. Into the channel from Fort Gaines the Confederates had strung a line of underwater obstacles to which they had fixed mines, known in those days as "torpedoes," constructed with contact fuses so they would explode if a ship bumped into them. There was only about 150 yards of clear water between the end of this line and the guns of Fort Morgan. Beyond that, the Confederates had constructed a small fleet of local vessels for inshore work, and were also building, away up the Alabama River at Selma, a large iron ram, the Tennessee. They hoped the Tennessee would have the same effect the Virginia had had in Hampton Roads when it first appeared: any Union ship that got past the torpedoes and the forts should be rammed and sunk by the new monster warship. Farragut knew about this, and he raced to get his squadron ready before the Tennessee was completed and sent downriver. But he had to have ironclad monitors himself; he could not do the job with wooden oceangoing ships alone. In July he got four of the ugly ironclads, and he got troops to mount a land attack once he was inside the bay. He decided to take his wooden ships in, two by two, lashed alongside each other so one could carry the other through if either was disabled; they would go in past the torpedoes. His monitors would take on Fort Morgan, their heavy guns and small silhouettes the best counter he had to the fort's guns. The attack took place on August 5, the fleet coming in on a rising tide. The steam frigate Brooklyn led the port column, as it had a heavier bow armament than Farragut's flagship, the Hartford, which came next in line. Stripped of their topgallants and all padded and armored, the ships were a far cry from the delicate, balanced beauty of a sailing vessel at sea, but they were all business. The monitor Tecumseh led the other line in. As the line swept past Fort Morgan, the Tennessee appeared ahead, and the Tecumseh steered straight for the Confederate ship. Before the two could engage, the Federal monitor ran across a torpedo, which exploded under the keel and tore out the bottom; the Tecumseh went down in seconds, taking most of her crew with her. Meanwhile the Brooklyn too ran into trouble. As she neared the channel entrance, lookouts reported objects in the water ahead; the captain ordered the engines into reverse, swinging the ship across the entrance channel and fouling the whole line. Astern, in the Hartford, old Farragut, lashed to the rigging and looking like some ancient mariner, demanded to know what was going on. "Torpedoes! torpedoes!" came the answer, and Farragut roared out, "Damn the torpedoes—full speed ahead!" The Hartford surged into the lead, and the rest of the line, including the Brooklyn, followed in her wake. Down in the boiler room they heard the primers snap off the water-rotted mines as the ship ran over them. The Tennessee ran down the Union line, firing clumsily as she went but doing little damage. Three hours after they had weighed anchor, the Union fleet stopped, well up the bay, and Farragut sent the hands to breakfast. The Confederates then played into his hands. Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan, the same who had commanded the Virginia, might have kept the Tennessee safe under the guns of Fort Morgan, a semiperpetual threat to the Federal ships. Instead he chose to come out and fight to a finish. Informed of his coming, Farragut chortled, "I didn't think old Buck was such a fool." For a while the Tennessee did well. Several times rammed by the Union frigates, she was so heavily constructed that she did more damage to them than they to her; in the confusion the Hartford was rammed by another Union ship, and for a while there was a wild melee. But Union gunnery took its toll, and the Tennessee slowly had her gunports jammed and her stack riddled, so there was no draft for her engines; the rudder was struck, and after about an hour the Tennessee was little more than a stationary hulk. Her captain climbed out in the open and waved a white flag, and that was the end of her. It was the end of Mobile as well, for the last of the forts, Morgan, surrendered to the army by the end of the month. The city itself was not occupied until the war was virtually over—and then only with considerable loss—but with the forts gone, and the approaches blocked, it was no longer of any utility to the Rebels, or anyone else. The Confederacy no longer had a major port on the Gulf of Mexico. Not only was the Confederacy deprived of one of its last major ports; by now it had almost nothing left of its navy either. Southern shipbuilding efforts during the war were quite remarkable, considering what they had to work with, but they were usually ineffective, and a substantial number of warships never managed to get launched, or were destroyed or broke down almost immediately after being put into service. That bald statement dismisses a great deal of effort and heartbreaking work on the part of the Confederacy's navy and its able head, Stephen R. Mallory; during the war they produced some sixty warships, ironclads and rams, as well as a host of improvised vessels from gunboats to tugs to premature attempts at a couple of submarines. More exciting, if in the long run no more significant, were the Confederate efforts in the direction of oceangoing commerce raiders and cruisers, as well as a few privateers. There were a mere seven of the former, and only one of them was homegrown. Early in 1861 Captain Raphael Semmes converted a New Orleans-to-Cuba packet into the commerce raider Sumter, and got past the blockading squadron at the mouth of the Mississippi. He took several prizes before he was trapped in Gibraltar in January of 1862, where he sold the ship for lack of anything better to do. It turned out that it was easier to buy ships in Britain than to build them in the Confederacy; British shipbuilders and agents were delighted to be of service. At one time they even began building armored rams for the Confederacy, and gave it up only when the American minister, Charles Francis Adams, threatened the British government with a declaration of war. He did so, of course, in the most polite way: "I am ignorant of the precise legal niceties, but it is superfluous of me to point out to your lordship that if those ships are allowed to sail, it means war." Those, however, were purpose-designed warships, and easy to spot. It was harder to prevent the sailing of ostensibly commercial vessels that once at sea might readily be converted into armed commerceraiders; it was especially difficult to prevent that when Her Majesty's government shrugged off protests, and appeared much more favorably disposed to the Confederacy than to the Union. In this way, a number of ships did get to sea, and became a major nuisance. Wisely, the Federal navy refused to be distracted from the primary mission of blockade, but Rebel commerce-destroyers did a great deal of damage around the edges. Three cruisers particularly achieved fame or notoriety. In the spring of 1862 a British steamer named the Oreto emerged from her cocoon as the CSS Florida. She made several cruises, taking a great number of prizes, before she was finally cornered in Bahia in Brazil. There the USS Wachusett, under Commander Napoleon Collins, rammed her and opened fire in a blatant disregard of Brazilian sovereignty and international law. The Florida was taken by a prize crew to Hampton Roads, and when a court awarded her to Brazil, to be returned to the Confederacy, she was rammed again and sunk—accidentally, of course—by an army transport steamer. Collins was court-martialed and dismissed from the service, but Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles set the verdict aside and reinstated him. The most famous of these cruisers was the Alabama, built by John Lairds at Liverpool and allowed to sail with the open connivance of British authorities. She lasted almost two years, under the command of the aforementioned Raphael Semmes, and took a great many prizes all over the Atlantic and Caribbean before she was finally trapped in Cherbourg by the USS Kearsarge. Semmes might have waited it out, or tried to flee in heavy weather, but instead he chose to fight, and on June 19, 1864, in full if distant view of crowds of spectators on the French coast as well as a sight-seeing British yacht, the Alabama was sunk in a little more than an hour. It was one of the most famous, and just about the last, single-ship engagements of the century. None of the other cruisers, the Georgia, the Tallahassee, or the Rappahannock, was as successful as the last of them, the infamous Shenandoah. Commissioned late in 1864, she rounded the Cape of Good Hope, visited Australia, and then sailed for the North Pacific and the Arctic, where in the space of a few weeks she virtually destroyed the American whaling fleet. It was especially tragic, for almost all of her work was done after the war had already ended. When her commander finally heard the news, in August of 1865, he disguised the ship and got her back to Liverpool, where the British virtuously seized her and turned her over to the Americans. These cruisers had little effect on the overall course of the war, but they did make one enormous contribution: they assisted in the demise of the American merchant fleet. Shipowners fled to foreign flags and cheaper crews, and the war, plus concurrent technological change, struck American merchant shipping a blow from which it never really recovered. There was one other footnote. In 1872 an international tribunal found the British government culpable in the matter of allowing the Confederacy to obtain ships, and awarded the United States government a settlement of fifteen and a half million dollars in gold. With Farragut in Mobile Bay, Grant down around Petersburg, Sheridan containing Jubal Early in the Shenandoah, and Sherman closing in on Atlanta, an objective observer might have concluded that the Union was definitely gaining the upper hand, and that the war was at last beginning to proceed satisfactorily. Objective observers were few and far between, however, and the Democratic papers still trumpeted their cry of the war as failure. They were full of Grant the drunken butcher, Sherman the insane, Early as a new Stonewall, and Lee as invincible as ever. In spite of all that had been accomplished at such great cost since the turn of the year, that decisive success still eluded the Union leaders, and by late August, it still looked as though the election, and therefore the war, would be lost. Down around Atlanta, John Bell Hood had done his considerable best to fend off Sherman's grab for the city. After the sharp little fight at Ezra Church, west of Atlanta, on July 28, the two armies had sat sullenly eyeing each other. Each was now dug in firmly, and daring, inviting, hoping, for an attack by the other. Sherman's raids had failed to dislodge the Confederates, and resulted only in loss to his own cavalry. An attempt to rescue the prisoners held under inhuman conditions at Andersonville had collapsed ignominiously. And Hood's efforts at breaking the Union supply line up along the railroad to Tennessee had also failed. With a company of Federal infantry at every bridge and trestle, and gangs of soldiers who could rebuild rail line faster than the Confederates could tear it up, Sherman's logistics were about as secure as they were likely to get. So it appeared as if they were at an impasse, and for a month they were. But Sherman was always impatient when tied to a rail line. After a month he decided to replay the gambit Grant had used at Vicksburg. Atlanta was fed by two rail lines, the Montgomery and Atlanta from the southwest, and the Macon from the south. The two joined at Eastpoint, about five miles south of the city. If Sherman could break those lines, Atlanta must fall. Come what may, he decided he was going to do it. For three weeks, his three armies had sat around Ezra Church, facing off the Confederates. Now, with their rations on their backs, and otherwise stripped down for action, they started to move again. On the night of August 26th the Federals slipped westwards, out past the Confederate lines, and began stretching out again. Thomas's big Army of the Cumberland crossed the Sandtown Road on the 27th, heading for Mount Gilead Church. Schofield and Howard fanned out to either side, a broad front of blue soldiers heading generally south. When Confederate pickets reported the lines in front of them emptying out, Hood was at a loss. He could not figure out just what was going on, so he assumed it must be what he wanted it to be. He reported to Richmond that Sherman had given up his attempt on Atlanta, and was retreating northward. He then scheduled a great victory ball in Atlanta itself. The momentary taste of sweet victory turned to bile when the tel- egraph line from Montgomery went dead. On the 28th the Federals were across the first rail line, tearing up the track and destroying everything they could get their hands on, parties ranging up and down the line making a mess of it. That was bad enough, but three days later they had swung east and hit the Macon Railroad. Schofield, the inner element of the wheeling movement, broke it at Rough and Ready, below Eastpoint, then Thomas was across it, then Howard. By now, of course, Hood knew he was in trouble. When the first rail line went on the 28th, he had canceled the big victory ball and instead sent Hardee's corps hustling south to protect the Macon line. Then he himself followed with the rest of his field force. Hardee and Stephen D. Lee attacked Sherman at Jonesboro on the 31st, and failed to dislodge Howard's men. Stephen Lee then managed to evade the rest of the Federals and get his troops back into Atlanta, where they could do no good, and while he did that, Sherman attacked and failed to bag Hardee. Hood finally pulled the scattered elements of his command together around Lovejoy's Station, a bit farther south on the Macon Railroad. There he took up a very strong position and hoped Sherman would attack him. Sherman was too smart this time to take the bait. Besides, he had other, more important, prizes to attend to. Early on the morning of September 2, troops of Henry Slocum's XX Corps of the Army of the Cumberland marched into the city of Atlanta and raised the Stars and Stripes. Sherman immediately telegraphed the good news to Washington, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won." The country went wild. Before Petersburg, the Army of the Potomac fired a hundred-gun salute. All over the North, salutes were fired, bands paraded, towns burned bonfires, and windows were illuminated for the great news. But the most important victories, said Clausewitz, are those won over the mind of your adversaries. Here is George B. McClellan, erstwhile commander of the Army of the Potomac, and now in the fall of 1864 accepting the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States: If I agreed to peace before reunion, "I could not look in the face of my gallant comrades of the Army and Navy, who have survived so many bloody battles, and tell them that their labors, and the sacrifice of so many of our slain and wounded brethren had been in vain." Now the whole war, and the election along with it, looked different.

 

 

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