A New Home for Independence Day

A New Home for Independence Day

By the end of May 1862, Ambrose Burnside and his expeditionary force had spent five difficult, but rewarding months conducting operations against the Confederates on the North Carolina coast. Combat success at Roanoke Island, Newbern and Fort Macon had battle hardened Burnside’s troops who now turned their attention to occupation duty as the Union high command contemplated their next mission. Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut where given various missions in and around the city of Newbern. In late June 1862, after enjoying an extended stay in what Oliver called “one of the pleasantest cities I ever saw for its streets are shaded by large trees which meet overhead which makes the streets pleasant,” the expeditionary force commander received an urgent telegram from the Secretary of War.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.
Major-General BURNSIDE,
New Berne, via Fort Monroe:

We have intelligence that General McClellan has been attacked in large force and compelled to fall back toward the James River. We are not advised of his exact condition; but the President directs that you shall send him all the re-enforcements from your command to the James River that you can safely do without abandoning your own position. Let it be infantry entirely, as he said yesterday that he had cavalry enough.

EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.

Ambrose Burnside was now forced to change his focus from future offensive operations toward the inland of North Carolina and the monotony of occupation duty. His force had a new mission that would eventually bring them to northern Virginia to support the embattled forces of Union commander George B. McClellan. During the past four months, McClellan had deliberately marched his army from Fortress Monroe up the Virginia peninsula to the gates of the Confederate capital city. The Union army stalled outside of Richmond as its commander prepared for a long siege against an enemy force that he believed to be 2 to 3 times its actual size.

After the Confederate commander, Joseph Johnston was wounded by an artillery shell on June 1, 1862 during the fighting outside of Richmond, he was replaced by the more aggressive Robert E. Lee. Lee began to reinforce the defensive positions surrounding Richmond during a long lull in the fighting for most of the month of June. On June 25, 1862, Lee began a series of bold attacks that caught McClellan’s divided forces by surprise and began a series of events that would lead to a change of mission for the Burnside expedition. Known as the Seven Days Battles, this series of engagements caused McClellan to panic and he soon began the withdrawal of his army back down the peninsula toward Fort Monroe. The “large force” referred to in Secretary Stanton’s telegraph message to Burnside was a Confederate force of about 50,000 troops attacking a total Union force of over 100,000. McClellan’s proclivity for overestimating the enemy troop numbers and calling for reinforcements caused the Lincoln administration to recall Burnside from the coast of North Carolina.

The previous evening, McClellan had sent an urgent message to the Secretary of War creating the urgency to act on the part of the administration.

McCLELLAN’S HEADQUARTERS,
June 27, 1862-8 p.m.

Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:

Have had a terrible contest. Attacked by greatly superior number in all directions on this side; we still hold our own, though a very heavy fire is still kept up on the left bank of Chickahominy. The odds have been immense. We hold our own very nearly. I may be forced to give up my position during the night, but will not if it is possible to avoid it. Had I 20,000 fresh and good troops we would be sure of a splendid victory to-morrow.
My men have fought magnificently.

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General.

Unknown to “Little Mac,” the President sent a personal message to General Burnside the following morning to warn him that his forces were needed in Virginia.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.

General BURNSIDE:
I think you had better go with any re-enforcements you can spare to General McClellan.
A. LINCOLN.

A few days earlier, McClellan had issued conflicting guidance to Burnside with the warning that “every minute is a great crisis” while simultaneously prescribing an overland route that could take up to two weeks for the troops of Burnside to cover. McClellan’s suggested route of march would take the three divisions initially to the northwest and then to the north crossing into Virginia approaching Petersburg from the south. It’s certainly possible that McClellan believed that Confederate intelligence reports of Burnside’s movement from the south could cause Lee to suspend offensive operations and focus on defending Richmond and Petersburg against this new threat.

Whatever McClellan’s logic, Burnside would not use the overland route. Within the week, the expeditionary force would begin loading ships for a trip to Virginia. On the 2nd of July, the 8th Connecticut and other regiments of Burnside’s Expeditionary Force were transported by rail to Morehead City, NC where they boarded the steamer “Admiral” and travel to Newport News, VA.

Croffut and Morris, historians of the Connecticut regiments described the movement and the soldiers’ new home at Newport News:

On July 2, the Eighth moved to Morehead City, and thence on the transport Admiral to Newport News, where a camp was set on an exposed sandy plain. The Eleventh followed closely. The beach of Hampton Roads, near at hand, protracted the delight of bathing. A few oysters were scattered along the clean bottom; and the boys felt out with their bare feet, dived down, and captured enough of the toothsome bivalves to break the monotony of salt pork and hard-tack.[1]

Another regimental historian of Burnside’s force offered a detailed view of Newport News:

At first view, Newport News had the appearance of a place where nothing new ever occurred or was likely to happen. A sandy plain, fifteen or twenty feet above the river, with a few old barracks, and some earthworks and ditches, constructed by General Butler’s troops; a gray sky, with spits of rain, made up the desolate picture. Beyond the plain was a swamp, with immense southern pitch-pines…[2]

Newport News 1861

View of Civil War Newport News from the James River

 

Oliver Case and all of Burnside’s Expedition would now have a new home from which to celebrate the 86th year of the Nation’s independence. For the next month, Burnside’s troops would sit at Newport News and wait for the call that would never come to assist the embattled Army of the Potomac.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868

[2] History of the Thirty-Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, 1862-1865; Mills, Knight and Company, Boston, 1884.

 

Advertisements

Thoughts on the Gettysburg Address

20131118-114209.jpg

A Gettysburg Address article in this morning’s Frederick News Post caught my attention.

It’s written by an AP writer, Hillel Italie, who appears to be a somewhat partisan political writer for AP and other publications. That said, he does a decent job of covering some of the issues surrounding the speech and I believe the article is worth consideration.

One part that I focused on right away is concerning Lincoln’s evolving views on the war:

Lincoln’s reasons for fighting the Civil War were steadily evolving. By Gettysburg, the original goal of preserving the union had been displaced by the profound and politically risky statement that democracy itself rested upon “the proposition that all men are created equal.” Slavery and the doctrine of states’ rights would not hold in the “more perfect union” of Lincoln’s vision.

Rather than evolving reasons, I would say Lincoln was simply pragmatic in his approach to winning the war. As he clearly articulated early on in his presidency, he was willing to do whatever was necessary to win the war thus preserving the Union. He said he would free the slaves if it that will preserve the Union and he would not free the slaves if that will preserve the Union.

What had happened by September 1862 (the time of the battle of Antietam) is that Lincoln had come to the realization that he must consolidate his political power among the factions in the northern states which included those opposed to the war (Copperheads), abolitionists and supporters of Lincoln’s approach to the war. The first year of the war had gone very badly for the Union. In the eastern theater (Northern Virginia), the Union Army had lost almost every major battle. Support for the war was quickly eroding and the Copperheads were gaining momentum heading toward the mid-term elections of 1862. Abolitionists were angry that Lincoln did not move to free the slaves and make abolition one of the major war aims. Lincoln knew his only hope for breaking the growing power of the Copperheads was to bring the abolitionists into his camp.

Thus, by the summer of 1862, Lincoln already started a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. He then waited for a Union battlefield victory to issue the proclamation so it would not seem an act of desperation but a deliberate action to further clarify his war aims. The Emancipation Proclamation which became effective on January 1, 1863, only freed slaves in the states currently in rebellion and it would take the 13thAmendment, passed near the end of war, to totally abolish slavery in the United States. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3.1863), freeing the slaves had become a conduit to winning the war and preserving the Union.

The larger point that emerges in this article is “the doctrine of states’ rights” which Italie clearly identifies as a casualty of Lincoln’s war. While the Constitution never codified or endorsed slavery, it does, in a very purposeful manner, enshrine the concept of the limit power of the federal government. In my opinion, the most significant impact of Lincoln’s approach to the war was the manner in which he set aside parts of the Constitution in order to prosecute the war. Ironically, there is no mention in the Constitution of a method for a state to exit the Union, but there is also no prohibition for state to leave. Italie’s article addresses this issue:

“Up to the Civil War ‘the United States’ was invariably a plural noun: ‘The United States are a free country.’ After Gettysburg it became a singular: ‘The United States is a free country,'” Wills wrote. “This was a result of the whole mode of thinking that Lincoln expressed in his acts as well as his words, making union not a mystical hope but a constitutional reality.”
[Quoted from Garry Wills, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg”]

At the beginning of his presidency, Lincoln approached the problem of states leaving the Union by declaring a constitutional prohibition against it. Yet, this was nothing more than a “mystical hope” ungrounded in the reality of the Constitution. Returning to the Gettysburg Address itself, the singular nature of the “United States” is clearly laid out in the last line of the speech.

… this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

The freeing of the slaves (…the proposition that all men are created equal.) was only a means to an end for Lincoln. This is not a commentary on Lincoln’s view of slavery as a moral issue but more of an ordering of priorities driven by the realities of secession. By the time of the Gettysburg Address in November of 1863, Lincoln plainly knew that he was guiding the United States toward a “new birth” that would forever change the governmental construct. The federal government had been created by the states which pre-existed the national government and remained supreme less those powers specifically given to the federal government by the Constitution. Only by changing this view of the United States as a nation, thus changing that balance of power, could Lincoln justify the war and make it, first and foremost, a struggle to preserve the Union.

In my opinion, the address remains an amazing literary example of taking a complex set of issues and weaving them into a concise and coherent message that would stand the test of time. Italie cities Willis again as an example of this:

Wills noted that the Gettysburg Address came at a time of great technological change, when communication was hastened by the rise of the telegraph, an innovation that demanded concise language…

Rather than being a dumb rail splitter as many of his opponents often dubbed him, Lincoln knew that the public would “little note nor long remember what we say here” if it was delivered as a two-hour speech such as the key note address given that day by Edward Everett. I believe he was a man ahead of his time with respect to the packaging and delivery of his message. Sadly, political leaders today run away from this style using either sound bites which fail to deliver a coherent message or long, boring policy speeches that ignore the need to be concise.

Just my thoughts on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address..

…and, with consideration to his writing style, I think Oliver Case would have been pleased with Mr. Lincoln’s speech!

20131118-113435.jpg

Lincoln to Burnside: “…any re-enforcements you can spare to General McClellan.”

A change in mission for the Burnside Expeditionary Force

By the end of May 1862, Ambrose Burnside and his expeditionary force had spent five difficult, but rewarding months conducting operations against the Confederates on the North Carolina coast. Combat success at Roanoke Island, Newbern and Fort Macon had battle hardened Burnside’s troops who now turned their attention to occupation duty as the Union high command contemplated their next mission. Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut where given various missions in and around the city of Newbern. In late June 1862, after enjoying an extended stay in what Oliver called “one of the pleasantest cities I ever saw for its streets are shaded by large trees which meet overhead which makes the streets pleasant,” the expeditionary force commander received an urgent telegram from the Secretary of War.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.

Major-General BURNSIDE,

New Berne, via Fort Monroe:

We have intelligence that General McClellan has been attacked in large force and compelled to fall back toward the James River. We are not advised of his exact condition; but the President directs that you shall send him all the re-enforcements from your command to the James River that you can safely do without abandoning your own position. Let it be infantry entirely, as he said yesterday that he had cavalry enough.

EDWIN M. STANTON,

Secretary of War.

newbern cw

View of the City of Newbern from across the Neuces River, 1862

Ambrose Burnside was now forced to change his focus from future offensive operations toward the inland of North Carolina and the monotony of occupation duty. His force had a new mission that would eventually bring them to northern Virginia to support the embattled forces of Union commander George B. McClellan. During the past four months, McClellan had deliberately marched his army from Fortress Monroe up the Virginia peninsula to the gates of the Confederate capital city. The Union army stalled outside of Richmond as its commander prepared for a long siege against an enemy force that he believed to be 2 to 3 times its actual size.

After the Confederate commander, Joseph Johnston was wounded by an artillery shell on June 1, 1862 during the fighting outside of Richmond, he was replaced by the more aggressive Robert E. Lee. Lee began to reinforce the defensive positions surrounding Richmond during a long lull in the fighting for most of the month of June. On June 25, 1862, Lee began a series of bold attacks known as the Seven Days Battles that caused McClellan to panic and began the withdrawal of his army back down the peninsula. The “large force” referred to in Secretary Stanton’s telegraph message to Burnside was a Confederate force of about 50,000 troops attacking a total Union force of over 100,000. McClellan’s proclivity for overestimating the enemy troop numbers and calling for reinforcements caused the Lincoln administration to recall Burnside from the coast of North Carolina.

The previous evening, McClellan had sent an urgent message to the Secretary of War creating the urgency to act on the part of the administration.

McCLELLAN’S HEADQUARTERS,

June 27, 1862-8 p.m.

Honorable E. M. STANTON,

Secretary of War:

Have had a terrible contest. Attacked by greatly superior number in all directions on this side; we still hold our own, though a very heavy fire is still kept up on the left bank of Chickahominy. The odds have been immense. We hold our own very nearly. I may be forced to give up my position during the night, but will not if it is possible to avoid it. Had I 20,000 fresh and good troops we would be sure of a splendid victory to-morrow.

My men have fought magnificently.

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,

Major-General.

However, Secretary Stanton and President Lincoln were unaware at the time of their first dispatch to Burnside that the overcautious McClellan had already contacted his friend and subordinate commander. Upon learning of McClellan’s earlier telegraph message to Burnside, Stanton quickly deferred the decision about moving Burnside’s forces to McClellan in a message that same evening.

WASHINGTON CITY,

June 28, 1862-6 p.m.

Major-General BURNSIDE, New Berne:

Since the dispatches of the President and myself to you of to-day we have seen a copy of one sent to you by General McClellan on the 25th, of which we were not aware.

Our directions were not designed to interfere with any instructions given you by General McClellan, but only to authorize you to render him any aid in your power.

EDWIN M. STANTON,

Secretary of War.

Interestingly, on the same day, President Lincoln had also sent a personal message to Burnside directing him to assist McClellan.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.

General BURNSIDE:

I think you had better go with any re-enforcements you can spare to General McClellan.

A. LINCOLN.

StantonLincolnMcClellan

Stanton, Lincoln and McClellan traded a flurry of messages regarding the situation of the Army of the Potomac in late June 1862

Lincoln and Stanton obviously believed the reports of the desperate situation that McClellan claimed to find himself trapped in. The commanding general of the Army of the Potomac was now constantly calling for reinforcements and his pleas even convinced President Lincoln to ask commanders in the western theater of operations about providing troops to McClellan. From contemporary communications, it is evident that Stanton (and likely Lincoln) envisioned a very rapid movement of at least part of Burnside’s force by water to the James River to relive McClellan. McClellan’s vision for Burnside was a bit different as expressed in the dispatch sent three days before Lincoln and Stanton communicated with him.

GENERAL McCLELLAN’S HEADQUARTERS,

June 25, 1862-7 p.m.

Major General AMBROSE E. BURNSIDE,

New Berne, N. C.:

Reports from contrabands and deserters to-day make it probable that Jackson’s forces are coming to Richmond and that a part of Beauregard’s force have arrived at Richmond. You will please advance on Goldsborough with all your available forces at the earliest practicable moment. I wish you to understand that every minute in this crisis is of great importance. You will therefore reach Goldsborough as soon as possible, destroying all the railroad communication in the direction of Richmond in your power.

If possible, destroy some of the bridges on the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad and threaten Raleigh.

GEO., B. McCLELLAN,

Major-General.

Ambrose-Burnside

Ambrose Burnside readied his forces to assist McClellan

 

This seems to be conflicting guidance from Major General McClellan warning that “every minute is a great crisis” while prescribing an overland route that could take up to two weeks for the troops of Burnside to cover. McClellan’s suggested route of march would take the three divisions initially to the northwest and then to the north crossing into Virginia approaching Petersburg from the south. It’s certainly possible that McClellan believed that Confederate intelligence reports of Burnside’s movement from the south could cause Lee to suspend offensive operations and focus on defending Richmond and Petersburg against this new threat.

Whatever McClellan’s logic, Burnside would not use the overland route. Within the week, the expeditionary force would begin loading ships for a trip to Virginia. On the 2nd of July, the 8th Connecticut and other regiments of Burnside’s Expeditionary Force were transported by rail to Morehead City, NC where they boarded the steamer “Admiral” and travel to Newport News, VA.

Croffut and Morris, historians of the Connecticut regiments described the movement and the soldiers’ new home at Newport News:

On July 2, the Eighth moved to Morehead City, and thence on the transport Admiral to Newport News, where a camp was set on an exposed sandy plain. The Eleventh followed closely. The beach of Hampton Roads, near at hand, protracted the delight of bathing. A few oysters were scattered along the clean bottom; and the boys felt out with their bare feet, dived down, and captured enough of the toothsome bivalves to break the monotony of salt pork and hard-tack.[1]

Another regimental historian of Burnside’s force offered a detailed view of Newport News:

At first view, Newport News had the appearance of a place where nothing new ever occurred or was likely to happen. A sandy plain, fifteen or twenty feet above the river, with a few old barracks, and some earthworks and ditches, constructed by General Butler’s troops; a gray sky, with spits of rain, made up the desolate picture. Beyond the plain was a swamp, with immense southern pitch-pines…[2]

Newport News 1861

View of Civil War Newport News from the James River

 

For the next month, Burnside’s troops would sit at Newport News and wait for the call that would never come to assist the embattled Army of the Potomac.

 

 

[1] The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868

[2] History of the Thirty-Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, 1862-1865; Mills, Knight and Company, Boston, 1884.

Lincoln gives the green light for the Burnside Expedition

On December 29, 1861, Ambrose Burnside met with General McClellan and President Lincoln in Washington for a final review of the plan for his expeditionary force’s North Carolina operation. The idea for what Burnside originally termed the “Coast Division” was first pitched to McClellan in October 1861 with the purpose as recounted by General Burnside in an 1882 publication:

To organize a division of from twelve to fifteen thousand men, mainly from states bordering on the northern seacoast, many of whom would be familiar with the coasting trade, and among whom would be found a goodly number of mechanics, to fit out a fleet of light-draught steamers, sailing vessels and barges, large enough to transport the division, its armament and supplies, so that it could be rapidly thrown from point to point on the coast with a view to establishing lodgments on the southern coast, landing troops, and penetrating into the interior, thereby threatening the lines of transportation in the rear of the main army then concentrating in Virginia, and hold possession of the inland waters on the Atlantic coast.[1]

When first briefed on the plan, President Lincoln expressed substantial reservations with both the objective and the worthiness of the vessels procured for the operation. The objective of the briefing on December 29th of 1861 was to obtain Lincoln’s final approval.

Much discouragement was expressed by nautical men and by men high in military authority as to the success of the expedition. The President and General McClellan were both approached, and the President was frequently warned that the vessels were unfit for sea, and that the expedition would be a total failure. Great anxiety was manifested to know its destination, but the secret had been well kept in Washington and at our headquarters.[2]

The generals understand that operational security is the key to the success of the invasion of the North Carolina coast and even the president is keenly attuned to the need to keep it secret.

As Mr. Lincoln afterwards told me, a public man was very importunate, and, in fact, almost demanded that the President should tell him where we were going. Finally, the President said to him, “Now I will tell you in great confidence where they are going, if you will promise not to speak of it to any one.” The promise was given, and Mr. Lincoln said, “Well, now, my friend, the expedition is going to sea.” The inquirer left him without receiving any further information.[3]

After being assured of the great potential for success by McClellan and Burnside, the president finally gives his approval to commence operations as soon as practical.

 

McClellan_Lincoln_Burnside

Generals McClellan and Burnside convinced Lincoln to approve the operations against the Confederates in coastal North Carolina

 

In preparation for pending movement of the expeditionary force, General Burnside orders all sick soldiers to be moved from the camp to a general hospital or loaded abroad a hospital transport.

Although Oliver Case claims to feel “as well as I ever did in my life,” the surgeon excuses him from duty the night before and he is ordered to report to the hospital ship “Recruit” the next morning. Oliver describes the ship as “fitted up full of good berths and is a very different affair from those steamers we came in on.” He also mentions in his letter on December 30th that about 30 soldiers of the 8th Connecticut have contracted measles.[4]


[1] The Burnside Expedition, Ambrose E. Burnside, N. Bangs Williams and Company, Providence, 1882.

[2] IBID

[3] IBID

[4] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (30 December 1861)

 

Thoughts about Oliver Case on Independence Day

“…we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”                        From The Gettysburg Address, given by President Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863.

casegravestone

I wish I knew more about Oliver Cromwell Case, Private, 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment, but I don’t. This I do know…he was among over 600,000 Americans killed by other Americans between 1861 and 1865 in order to determine the real meaning of July 4, 1776. The southern states saw it as a second war for independence. The north saw it as necessary to preserve the Union. The fact is, as stated by President Lincoln, brave men consecrated the battlefields of the war far beyond anyone’s “power to add or detract” from their sacrifice.

Thank you, Private Case.