Posts from the ‘This Week in the Civil War’ Category

Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force Unveils Logo Contest and More

JOINT-NEWS RELEASE:

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie
Phone: (651) 201-1332
Email: secretary.state@state.mn

State Rep. Dean Urdahl
Phone: (651) 296-4344
Email: rep.dean.urdahl@house.mn

Civil War Commemoration Task Force Unveils Logo Contest and More

ST. PAUL – Nov. 22, 2011 – The Civil War Commemoration Task Force invites Minnesotans to participate in a logo contest and develop an icon to be used in commemorating the war’s 150th anniversary. Logo designs must depict both Minnesota and the Civil War. The deadline for submission is 5 p.m., Dec. 30. A task force subcommittee will review the submitted logos and announce a winner on Jan. 10.

“It will be interesting to see how citizens combine visual elements of Minnesota and the Civil War,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, task force co-chair. “I anticipate people will find creative ways to make that connection and I look forward to reviewing the submissions.”

Documents must measure 8.5 inches by 11 inches and be smaller than 10 megabytes in size. The contest is open to all ages.  Logo contest entries must be submitted electronically in a PDF format and emailed to civilwartaskforcelogo@mnhs.org.  For further information call (651) 259-3130 for more information.

The task force has also planned other events that share Minnesota’s connection with the Civil War such as:

–  designing a website (address to be determined);
–  preparing to issue “This Week in the Civil War” press releases;
–  planning tours of Dakota War sites for next summer;
–  making links available to schools for Civil War curriculum, as well as other educational opportunities;
–  encouraging performances of Civil War-era music.

“It is my hope that the many events planned by the task force and others commemorating the sacrifices made by Minnesotans to defend the Constitution and preserve the Union will motivate our generation to greater civil engagement,” said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, task force co-chair.

The task force consists of six state officials and up to nine at-large citizens, serving through 2015.

Contest Rules and Logo Examples

Editors note:
Ritchie and Urdahl are co-chairs of the Civil War Commemoration Task Force, which is in the process of developing plans to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the historic war. A public logo contest is underway now and a number of other events will follow during the next few years.

The Civil War was Urdahl’s specialty during the 35 years he taught American history at New London-Spicer. His uniform is a replica of those worn by enlisted Civil War soldiers. The cap Urdahl displays bears the insignia of Minnesota’s Company B infantry regiment based at Fort Ridgley in south-central Minnesota.

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150 Years Ago: Battle of Ball’s Bluff Oct. 21, 1861

Ball’s Bluff was a small battle by the standards of the Civil War, but it had ramifications far beyond its size. It was only the second significant battle in the east, and received a great deal of attention in both North and South. Edward Baker, a senator from Oregon and close personal friend and political ally of President Lincoln, was killed during the battle and became a martyr to those who took a hard line against the Confederacy. Perhaps most importantly, the defeat spurred the creation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War by Congress; the Committee became a persecutor of those who were considered to be soft on defeating the Confederacy and destroying slavery.

George McClellan took command of Union forces around Washington, D.C., in the wake of the defeat at Bull Run in July 1861. He immediately set about training and improving the state of his army. As the good campaigning weather of fall 1861 passed, however, he began to feel pressure to advance on the Rebel forces just across the Potomac River from Washington. Probes and raids by Yankee forces over the Potomac combined intelligence gathering with training. On 19 October McClellan ordered General George McCall to conduct a reconnaissance toward the village of Dranesville, Virginia, covering a topographical survey of the area. McClellan alerted neighboring commander General Charles P. Stone of the movement and told him to keep a vigilant watch on the town of Leesburg; if the Rebels evacuated it, he could move in. A “light demonstration’ on Stone’s part would help move them on.

Stone moved one brigade to the Potomac opposite Leesburg. When an inexperienced scouting party crossed into Virginia during the night of 20 October, it mistook shadows for an unguarded Confederate camp. Stone ordered Colonel Charles Devens and 300 men to make a dawn attack. If no other Confederate forces were found, Devens was to stay on the Virginia side and conduct a further reconnaissance. When Devens found no camp, he pushed on to Leesburg, which he found empty of enemy troops. Devens requested reinforcements so that he could hold Leesburg.

When Stone ordered additional troops to join Devens, only three boats were available to ferry soldiers to the Virginia side and so movement was slow. Colonel Edward Baker was ordered to take command of the larger force, totaling 1,640 men. Baker was an inexperienced soldier, but he was also an old Illinois friend of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, in fact, had named his second son after Baker. After he had moved west, Baker was elected senator from Oregon. He had turned down a commission as brigadier general, because it would require his resignation from the Senate. An outspoken enemy of any who would compromise with the slaveholding South, he looked forward to an opportunity to prove his point in battle.

Baker ordered his men to form a line of battle in a clearing near the river. Immediately in the rear of his position was 100-foot Ball’s Bluff; a single narrow path led down to the Potomac. More experienced officers worried about a wooded ridge immediately in front of Baker’s line. Confederates on that height would be able to shoot down at the Union soldiers in the clearing below.

Actually, Confederate units under the command of Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans were slowly arriving on the battlefield and exchanging shots with the Yankees. At 3:00 p.m. the Confederates launched a general assault on the four regiments at Ball’s Bluff. Soon, Evans’s 1,600 Rebel soldiers in wooded cover were pouring shot into Baker’s forces in the open. For three and one-half hours, the Union soldiers held on. Baker was killed around 5:00 p.m. Unable to stand the fire and unable to retreat in an orderly manner, the Yankee formation began to crumble. Some leaped off the bluff in an attempt to reach the river, and many were killed or injured by the fall. Others climbed safely down Ball’s Bluff, but the few boats were swamped by the numbers trying to regain the Maryland side. As the Confederates fired down from the top of the bluff, boats sank and scores drowned in the river. By 7:00 p.m. the battle was virtually over and most Federal survivors were prisoners.

Union losses totaled 49 killed, 158 wounded, and 714 captured or wounded. Confederate casualties amounted to 33 killed, 115 wounded, and one man missing. The obvious disparity in losses was clear to all and trumpeted by the Confederates, while the defeat having occurred so near to Washington ensured that newspaper reporters would quickly spread the news to the rest of the country.

National Cemetery at Ball's Bluff

The effects were quickly felt in the north. For Lincoln, Baker’s death was a personal blow. When informed, Lincoln stood stunning and silent for several minutes. He walked slowly back to the executive mansion with bystanders noting tears rolling down his face. Baker was buried in a state funeral attended by the president, vice president, congressional leaders, and the Supreme Court. He immediately became a martyr to the cause of the Union, despite the fact that his inexperience had contributed to the disaster.

Nonetheless, the political establishment was intent on discovering darker motives for the disaster. Although many regular officers blamed Baker, Republicans who favored a hard war policy and the destruction of slavery blamed McClellan and Stone. On 20 December, Congress created the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Representatives from both the Senate and the House of Representatives thus formed a permanent committee to inquire into and investigate how the war was being directed. Investigations were conducted in secret, and the committee was soon persecuting those suspected of having Southern sympathies.

Their first victim was General Charles P. Stone. Witnesses denounced Stone, alleging that he secretly communicated with unnamed Southerners and returned runaway slaves to their owners. He was also blamed for failing to reinforce Baker at Ball’s Bluff. The Committee took their findings to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who ordered Stone relieved of command and arrested on 8 February 1862. Stone was never tried, but enough testimony was released to the newspapers to paint him as a traitor. Stone was released from prison in August 1862, and though he served again, his military career was virtually at an end. Stone’s experience remained an example and warning to Union commanders throughout the remainder of the war.

– Tim J. Watts

[Source: Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History. W.W. Norton & Co. 2002. pp. 167-169]

Additional Links:

The U.S. Army has a detailed look at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff that was published previously as Ball’s Bluff: An Overview and is now on line. You can find that here.

The Civil War Trust has a webpage dedicated to the Battle of Ball’s Bluff with additional resources, including recent efforts to preserve the historic battlefield from development encroachment. You and find their Ball’s Bluff page here.

The Balls’ Bluff National Cemetery contains 25 burial plots containing the remains of 54 soldiers. Only one, plot #13, is identified as James Allen, a soldier from the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority began its Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Restoration program in 2004, to restore the park’s appearance to what it looked like in 1861. You can find more information about those efforts here.

You can read a brief biography of Senator-Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker here.

For further reading:

Farwell, Byron. Ball’s Bluff: A small Battle and Its Long Shadow (1990).

Grimsley, Mark. “The Definition of Disaster.” Civil War Times Illustrated (1989).

Holien, Kim Bernard. Battle at Ball’s Bluff (1985).

Stears, Stephen W. “The Ordeal of General Stone.” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History (1995).

Tap, Bruce. Over Lincoln’s Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct of the War (1998).

This Week in the Civil War: October 16

Oct. 16: War by telegram. The fall of 1861 is bereft of major fighting until Union Major Gen. George B. McClellan gets a disastrous battle going — by telegram.

Oct. 21, 1861 witnesses a badly coordinated attempt by Union forces to cross in boats from Maryland to the Confederate-held Virginia side of the Potomac River, northwest of Washington. Their aim: to seize a key railroad juncture at Leesburg, Va. But Union forces will get no further than the steep Virginia slope of the Potomac riverbank at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. It all began with a line in a seemingly innocuous McClellan telegram to a subordinate, Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone. McClellan advises Stone, commander of troops along the Potomac, to “keep a good lookout upon Leesburg,” adding “perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.” Stone obliges by sending two Union companies across the river the night of Oct. 20, 1861.

They scale the bluff and report back that it’s a dangerous, steep slope. The next day, thousands of Union troops begin crossing, their incursion begun. But Confederates above on the heights at Ball’s Bluff fiercely counterattack. Heavy Confederate cannon and rifle fire drives the green federal forces back down the bluff, many splashing mortally wounded and bleeding into the river. Others drown trying to swim away in uniform. When it’s over, hundreds of Union troops are dead and hundreds more are missing or taken prisoner — out of roughly 1,780 ill-trained Union troops seeing their first action.

A leader of the Union attack, Col. Edward D. Baker, who served in the U.S. Senate from Oregon, is killed. Baker is a good friend of President Abraham Lincoln and the Union rout causes such an uproar in Washington that a congressional oversight committee is formed for the conduct of the war.

On This Date in History – May 22, 1861 – 1st Union Casualty of Civil War

On May 22, 1861, in what’s generally regarded as the first Union combat fatality of the Civil War, Pvt. Thornsbury Bailey Brown was shot and killed by a Confederate soldier at Fetterman Bridge in present-day West Virginia.

Click here for more information on this story and the location of his gravesite at Grafton National Cemetery.

This week in the Civil War – Week of May 22

(AP) On May 23, 1861, voters in a Virginia convention ratify an ordinance for the state’s secession from the Union as a divided nation lurched toward all-out war. South Carolina had been the first state to secede in December 1860. It was followed afterward by six other Southern slave states, including North Carolina on May 20. Virginia initially was among states seeking a way out of the crisis and delegates initially opposed secession in February 1861. But the Confederate artillery attack on federal troops at Fort Sumter, S.C., in April joins other developments in shifting the mood on the political landscape. In late May, Richmond replaces Montgomery, Ala., as the capital of the Confederacy and its president, Jefferson Davis, arrived there to great fanfare on May 29, 1861. Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina secede this month, bringing to 11 the number of Southern states forming the Confederacy.

On this date in 1865: Tragedy on the Mississippi – Sultana explodes, thousands die

SULTANA

On 27 April 1865, the steamboat Sultana exploded and sank in the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee, causing the greatest marine disaster in U.S. history. Approximately 1,700 people, mostly discharged Union soldiers, lost their lives on a frigid spring night when boilers aboard the over-crowded steamer exploded. April 1865 brought turmoil in America with General Lee’s surrender, President Lincoln’s assassination, and John Wilkes Booth’s death. As a result, the Sultana tragedy was given few headlines in American’s influential newspapers.

Launched from Cincinnati, Ohio, in January 1863, the side-wheeled steamer was named Sultana meaning a sultan’s wife, sister, or mother. It was considered one of the best steamers of its time with its new lightweight tubular boilers. The boat measured 260 feet in length and had the capacity to carry 1,000 tons while trimming only 34 inches of water; thus making it ideal for travel on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers. It provided accommodations for 376 passengers including crew, which was the Sultana’s legal capacity.

Like many boats during the Civil War, the Sultana came under fire. Twice in 1863, Rebel forces fired at the boat, causing heavy damage to its upper works. The Union ironclad Eastport also fired upon the Sultana later that year on the Mississippi River. As the Union began to seize more of the Mississippi River Valley, the Sultana began to carry troops, supplies, and cargo for the Federals.

Ill-fated Sultana, Helena, Arkansas, on or about April 26, 1865

On 21 April 1865, the Sultana departed from New Orleans with 100 passengers and headed north on the Mississippi River. As the boat steadily moved upriver, a Sultana engineer noticed a leaking boiler and sought out a boilermaker in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to repair the problem on 23 April. The boilermaker, R.G. Taylor, told Captain J. Cass Mason that two sheets on the boiler had to be replaced. Concerned about time and money, Captain Mason told Taylor to patch the boiler and promised to finish he repairs once he reached St. Louis. Taylor disagreed with Mason, but made the patch for the Sultana anyway.

Owners of the Sultana, which included Captain Mason, anxiously awaited the layover in Vicksburg. In Vicksburg, they hoped to find former Union prisoners of war from Cahaba and Andersonville prisons because a government contract offered boats five dollars per enlisted soldier and ten dollars per officer to take them back north. Even though there were two steamboats docked at Vicksburg, Captain Mason and other Sultana officers lobbied prison officials to let their steamboat take all the soldiers. The tactic worked. The Sultana left the dock on the evening of 24 April 1865 with approximately 2,100 troops, 200 civilians, and cargo, more than six times its legal carrying capacity. The former prisoners, weakened from disease, dysentery, and malnutrition, were cramped together but in good spirits because the war had ended, and they were only a few days from reaching their homes.

On the evening of 26 April, the Sultana reached Memphis, Tennessee, to unload cargo, and then crossed the river to Arkansas to buy coal. Soon afterward, the boat slowly moved against the stream at 1:00 A.M. despite continued boiler problems and a strong current. Meanwhile, the Mississippi River rose to flood stage from spring rain and levees and dikes ruined by the war.

Seven miles north of Memphis at 2:00 A.M., the Sultana swung around a bend and began to labor through Paddy’s Hen and Chicken Islands. An explosion instantly tore through the decks above the boilers. Red-hot shrapnel and steam from the boilers killed or maimed scores of passengers instantly. The eruption hurled many people into the air and out into the frigid river. Passengers threw doors, shutters, mattresses, bales of hay, and anything else buoyant overboard. Few life preservers, only one lifeboat, the flood conditions, darkness, and weakened passengers made the chances of survival slim.

The explosion was audible in Memphis, but it took two hours for help to arrive. A steamboat heading down river and boats from Memphis went to help after hearing the screams and seeing the flames. But for most, it was too late. While rescuers attempted to save people still clinging to makeshift rafts or treetops, they saw the river full of dead bodies floating downstream. Boats searched for survivors all morning but stopped looking by midday. Of the estimated 2,300 passengers, only 600 survived. The rest died in the explosion, drowned in the dangerous currents, or died soon after their rescue.

On 30 April 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton created a board of inquiry to investigate the Sultana disaster. Rumors circulated that a Confederate had placed a torpedo in a lump of coal during the refueling in Arkansas, but nothing was proved. The board received testimony from surviving crew, passengers, and steamboat experts, but their reports only shifted blame from one person to another. Without conclusive evidence, the board decided that insufficient water in the boilers created the explosion, and that overcrowding did not cause the catastrophe. No individual was blamed for the tragedy, and no one knew definitively what caused the boiler malfunction.

With the nation’s mind focused on the closing scenes of the Civil War, little attention was given to the Sultana tragedy. The passengers who were lucky enough to survive formed the Sultana Survivor Association, which met every 27 April. More people died in the Sultana disaster than did on the Titanic 47 years later, yet the tragic story remains largely overlooked due to the dramatic events at the end of the war.

–          Nathan R. Meyer [Encyclopedia of the Civil War pages 1901-1902]

According to the National Park Service, “Sites at the bottom of rivers become land sites when the river channels change and get filled-in. In Tennessee, this happened with the paddlewheel steamboat Sultana. In 1865, just days after the end of the American Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the Sultana exploded and sank in the Mississippi River near Memphis. Built to carry 376 people, the Sultana was overloaded with Union soldiers going home after release from Confederate prison camps. Accounts vary on the cause of the explosion and the extent of casualties but agree this is the greatest maritime disaster in United States history. In 1982, the remains of the Sultana were discovered in an old filled-in river channel near Memphis on the Arkansas side.

For further reading

Elliott, James W. Transport to Disaster (1962).

Potter, Jerry O. The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster (1992).

Salecker, Gene Eric. Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865 (1996).

Walker, John L. Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster (1910).

It was 150 years ago in the Civil War [April 12-30, 1861]

Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, Charleston, South Carolina

April 12, 1861 – Fort Sumter fired upon in Charleston, South Carolina.

April 14, 1861 – Fort Sumter surrendered.

April 15, 1861 – President Lincoln calls for volunteers

A Proclamation by the President of the United Stales.

Whereas, the laws of the United States have been for some time past and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law: now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtueof the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, tho militia of the several States of the Union to the aggregate number of 75,000, in order to suppress said combinations and to cause the laws to be duly executed.

The details for this object will be immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War Department. I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and existence of our national Union, and the perpetuity of popular government, and to redress wrongs already long enough endured. I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth, will probably be to repossess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union; and in every event the utmost care will be observed, consistently with tho objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with, property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens of any part of the country; and I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid, to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes, within twenty days from this date.

Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both houses of Congress. The Senators and Representatives are, therefore, summoned to assemble at their respective Chambers at twelve o’clock, noon, on Thursday, the fourth day of July next, then and there to consider and determine such measures as, in their wisdom, the public safety and interest may seem to demand.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this fifteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-fifth.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

By the President.
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

CARL RUSSO/Staff photo. Re-enactment participants in The Famous Olde Sixth Company I Massachusetts Militia of Lawrence Mass. from left, Sean Sweeney of Lawrence; Christian Padron of Lawrence; flag bearer, Morrgan Sweeney-Charlton, 17, and a sophomore at Central Catholic High School and Joe Bella of Methuen demonstrate a formation used to put down a mob while visiting the graves of Sumner Needham and his widow, Hannah in Lawrence’s Bellevue Cemetery. Sumner was a member of the Sixth Co. I Mass. Militia when he was killed by a secession mob in Baltimore in April 1861. The militia was traveling through Baltimore on its way to Washington to defend the capital at the start of the Civil War. The Lawrence militia members will travel to Baltimore on the weekend of April 16 to participate in events to commemorate the 150th. anniversary of the Civil War and the mob attack on the Militia that killed Sumner.

April 17, 1861 – Virginia secedes from the Union.

April 18, 1861 – Harper’s Ferry, Virginia evacuated.

April 19, 1861 – 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, while answering the call-to-arms attacked in Baltimore, Maryland while en route to Washington.

April 19, 1861 – President Lincoln declares a blockade of the Southern Coast.

April 20, 1861 – Robert E. Lee resigns from the United States Army.

April 23, 1861 – Robert E. Lee assumes command of the Virginia State forces.

April 29, 1861 – First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry mustered in at Fort Snelling, Minn.

April 29, 1861 – Confederate Provisional Congress convenes for its second session.

April 30, 1861 – Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson occupies Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

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