History Briefs 2007 - 2008
Maurer, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2007 & 2008, All Rights Reserved
Editor's Note: Since 2007, each
Roundtable meeting has opened with a 'History Brief' presented by the
Roundtable Historian, each 'brief' providing a small glimpse into a
less-explored corner of the story of the Civil War.
This page collects the History Briefs from
this particular Roundtable season.
In Big History: April 9, 1865 -
Appomattox Court House Virginia: General Robert E. Lee surrenders his army to
U.S. Grant. Grant would recall the written surrender terms as follows:
When I put my pen to paper I did not know the
first word that I should make use of in writing the terms. I only knew what
was in my mind, and I wished to express it clearly, so that there could be no
mistaking it. As I wrote on, the thought occurred to me that the officers had
their own private horses and effects, which were important to them, but of no
value to us; also that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to call upon
them to surrender their side arms.
When he (Lee) read over that part of the
terms…he remarked, with some feeling, I thought, that this would have a happy
effect upon his army.
Grant was taking Lincoln’s suggestion –
Letting them up easy…
In Little History: April
3, 1882. The Thomas Howard family in their small house on top of Confusion
Hill in St. Joseph Missouri was just beginning their day. The well-dressed Mr.
Howard walked down the hill with his six year old son, called Tim, to get the
morning papers. His wife, with their small daughter, Mary, started breakfast,
asking their two houseguests – Bob and Charley – what they would like to eat.
“Just a smidgeon,” Bob said, “I’m feeling sort of peculiar.”
Upon his return, Mr. Howard played with Tim
and Mary in the yard, pushing them on swings. Bob and Charley, after using the
privy, also played with the family until breakfast was served. Mr. Howard came
to the table carrying Mary. Her mother gave her a jelled biscuit. She then
asked her husband for some money to go shopping for Easter clothes. He peeled
off two $5.00 bills from a small roll for her as she prepared sandwiches for
him to take on his trip later that day – asking him if he would be back for
Holy Thursday services that week. Tim and Mary ate their bacon and oatmeal.
After breakfast, and further preparation for
his trip, Tom Howard, joined Bob and Charley in the sitting room, which had
served as their bedroom, carrying a long linen duster and packed saddle bags –
“It’s an awfully hot day,” he said while raising a window. He then took off
his black Prince Albert coat and black vest with elaborate red stitching fully
exposing the two revolvers he wore on his hips. “I guess I’ll take off my
pistols for fear the neighbors will spy them if I walk out into the yard,” he
said as he unbuckled the two crossed holsters with their unmatched revolvers –
laying them on the bed.
His attention then turned to a picture of a
race horse named Skyrocket on the wall. “That picture’s awful dusty,” he said,
taking a furniture duster from a wicker basket. Pulling a chair across the rug
he stood on it and feathered the walnut frame. His friend, Bob, standing
between Howard and his pistols pulled out his 44 Smith and Wesson revolver,
extended it straight out from his right eye and pulled the trigger putting a
bullet into the back of Mr. Howard’s head as his feet went limp and he fell to
the floor dead.
Bob Ford – as was later noted in a popular
song – was a “dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard and laid Jesse James in
Plan to attend May’s Roundtable meeting and
I’ll tell you the rest of the story of Jesse James – who some call the “Last
Rebel of the Civil War.”
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
by Ron Hansen
Jesse James Was His Name;
Or, Fact and Fiction Concerning the Careers of the Notorious James Brothers of Missouri
by William A. Settle Jr.
In Big History: March 8, 1864
U.S. Grant arrived in Washington DC where he attended a reception that evening
at the White House in his dusty campaign uniform unaware that it was a formal
affair. Grant officially received his commission on March 9th assuming command
of all the Union armies. General Halleck, who two years earlier had removed
Grant as a commander for alleged misconduct – maybe drunkenness - becomes his
chief of staff. Sherman replaces Grant in the west.
|Reception for U.S.
Grant in the East Room of the White House,
March 8, 1864
In little history: The Union blockade of the south – “a 3800 mile cordon arching from Cape
Charles in Virginia to the mouth of the Rio Grande in Texas" - continued with
its sailors growing ever more weary with their assignment, “suffering from
months and months, sometimes years of stark isolation and crushing monotony.
Over the long term, for sailors, the blockade deteriorated into a war of
nerves and voyages of endurance.”
By March 1, 1864 a blockade captain, William
Wainwright, observed that one half of his crew was regularly drunk and
fighting. Fist and knife fights among sailors were commonplace, some deadly.
One crewman said: “Our men were kept on board so long, and we were under
steam, that they became very irritated and ugly. Fights were of daily
occurrence and some of them serious – several men lost their lives in this
|Union blockade ship,
There were many reasons for irritations and
short tempers: They were without women, fresh food and, always on call for
action - very much sleep. So just about anything was annoying about their
mates: skin color, place of birth, poor hygiene, the way food was chewed and
snoring. One man said: “If you want to find out what a man really is, go spend
a year with him on the blockade and you will discover what he is made of as
well of what kind of fellow you are yourself.”
George Bernard Shaw once quipped: “The longer men stay aboard ship they become
crazier, crazier and crazier.” There seems to be some truth to that. The
mental strain of their duty – unchecked exhaustion, sleeplessness and what we
would now call depression - did break many men. They described their feelings
in various ways including: “played out,” heart-broken,” crossing the line,”
“low courage,” and “used up.” One said, “I don’t know what to do with myself
while another said, I was so bad that I was not able to be at any duty” and
yet another, I had to give up all together.”
Fortunately only a small number of men
actually went insane with some committing suicide and others trying. Those
that overcame the psychological pressures of their duty did so by “developing
a strain of mental toughness uniquely tailored to combat the blockade's war of
nerves. They had to find ways to accept, adapt and overcome every annoyance
and hardship the ships and the enemy forced on them.
As one man simply put it – in order to
survive: sailors, “Had to get used to it” and most of them did.
Navy section source:
Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War (Civil War America)
by Michael J. Bennett
In big history:
“Ft. Henry is ours!” telegraphed U.S. Grant to General Halleck
on February 6, 1862. “I shall take and destroy Ft. Donelson on the 8th.” And
then reality set in – bad weather delayed the re-supply of his ground troops
and repairs were needed to his damaged gun boats, so it was February 12th when
Grant approached Ft. Donelson to begin his attack on the 13th. The delay
enabled the Confederates to prepare a defense of the fort - so it would not be
the push-over that was Ft. Henry.
Despite a valiant effort – almost even
turning the tide – Confederate generals, Floyd, Pillow and Buchner, knew the
night of February 15th that the fort would be lost. Buchner asked for
surrender terms the next morning. Grant gave his historic reply: “No terms
except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to
move immediately on your works.” Buchner surrendered about 13,000 men. When
news of this much needed victory reached the north, church bells rang and
cannons fired in victory salutes. Lincoln promoted Grant to major general.
General U.S. “Unconditional Surrender” Grant was born.
Montgomery, AL, February 18, 1861
In little history: General Floyd, who commanded the fort, escaped with 1500
men before the surrender and general Pillow, whose slogan was, “liberty or
death,” chose liberty and rowed across the Tennessee River to escape. Buchner
also permitted Nathan Bedford Forrest to escape with his men – he took his men
across an icy stream without running into any Yankees.
Buchner found Grant’s surrender terms – or
lack thereof – to be “ungenerous and unchivalrous” perhaps because at West
Point he had once lent Grant some money to get home in 1854.
The Confederates were as despondent at their
losses as the Union was jubilant with newspapers lamenting the “disgraceful,
shameful catalog of disasters.” Mary Chestnut reported that she had, “Nervous
chills every day.” And in London, Confederate diplomat, James Mason, reported
that the “late reverse at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson have had an unfortunate
effect upon the minds of our friends here.”
And as all of this was going on, Jefferson
Davis was inaugurated on February 18th for his six-year term as president.
Davis and his black footman both wore black suits. When asked why, the footman
replied: “This ma’am is what we always does at funerals…”
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States)
by James McPherson.
|Ulysses S. Grant
|Lincoln and Douglas
debate in 1858
In big history: There was no
way to know as the year 1858 began that it would some day be best remembered
as the year of the Lincoln – Douglas Debates. Beginning in August that year
and going through mid October, the nationally known 45 year old Illinois
democratic senator, Stephen A. Douglas, and his challenger, ex-congressman
Abraham Lincoln, a 49 year old republican, met in debate before huge crowds
throughout their state.
Through 21 hours of speeches, rebuttals and
rejoinders the so called “Long Abe” and the short “Little Giant” Douglas
presented and argued their beliefs – one man for life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness regardless of race, the other stressing government by and for
These debates began as a desperate measure
from the underdog Lincoln, trying to campaign against the better known,
financed and organized Douglas. “Douglas’ tactics make it seem like he’s
having a triumphant…march through the country,” Lincoln said. In response,
Lincoln began to trail Douglas, publicly responding to Douglas’ speeches.
This approach however soon wore thin –
especially when the opposition press began to ridicule him – one paper even
suggested that touring circuses should include a talk by Lincoln - to “give
him good audiences while relieving his supporters of the mortification they
must feel at his present humiliating position.” Lincoln realized he needed a
new approach and, as he put it – the “offensive would be better than the
And then in July the pro Lincoln Chicago
Daily Press and Tribune came out with a powerful suggestion - in frontier
language: “Why not let Mr. Douglas and Mr. Lincoln agree to canvas the state
together, in the old western style.” Lincoln followed this with a formal
challenge to Douglas – “for you and myself to divide time and address the same
Douglas, of course, did not welcome Lincoln’s
proposal. However the “old western style” nature of the offer meant that he
could not readily decline either - especially when the republican press began
to write that whoever refused to debate had “no better reason than cowardice
for dodging the challenge.” While Douglas felt he could not refuse, he could,
and did insist on making the terms of the debates.
They would only meet once in each of the
state’s nine congressional districts, and since they had each already spoken
in two of these, although not jointly, they would now meet once in each of the
remaining seven. Lincoln accepted the terms insisting only on “perfect
reciprocity,” saying, “I want as much time as you and that conclusions shall
The historic deal was done: Each debate would
last three hours. The opening speaker would take an hour followed by the other
speaker for a reply of an hour and a half. The first speaker would then have a
half hour for a rejoinder and closing. Douglas would have an overall slight
advantage by opening at the first debate. Even so Douglas worried to a
supporter; “I shall have my hands full.”
“Neither candidate,” historian, Harold Holzer writes, “could have been
prepared for the overwhelming public response…seldom or since has political
rhetoric elicited such sustained, fevered interest or exerted such powerful or
long standing influence.”
Lincoln and Douglas were contenders for an
Illinois senate seat but as the Richmond Enquirer noted, “Theirs became the
great battle of the next presidential election.” And, we might add the future
direction of the country. Douglas would win the senate seat and later Lincoln
would defeat him for the presidency.
In little history: On March 4,
1861 when Lincoln rose to give his inaugural address he looked for some place
to put his hat - and saw Douglas reaching to hold it for him – then taking it
with a smile. Three months later Douglas died suddenly in Chicago. Lincoln
ordered the White House draped in black and government offices shut down in
respect. On the day of the “Little Giant’s” funeral Lincoln would see no
visitors, remaining alone in his office, no doubt with his thoughts back in
that historic summer and fall of 1858.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text
Edited and with an introduction by Harold Holzer.
In big history: In December of
1862 preparations were well under way by Confederate general Braxton Bragg in
Murfreesboro and Union general William Rosecrans in Nashville for what would
be come the Battle of Murfreesboro for the South, and the Battle of Stones
River for the North. Rosecrans took his time getting ready, causing Lincoln
some “great anxiety," according to general Halleck, “over the fact that,
Middle Tennessee being the Confederacy’s only gain that had not been erased,
pro southern members of the British parliament…might find in this apparent
stalemate persuasive arguments for the intervention that France was already
urging.” Rosecrans moved out on December 26th – the battle began with a
Southern attack on December 29th.
In little history: That same
month in Murfreesboro, its citizens afforded the Confederate officers and men
with various entertainment and amusements – horse races, balls, parties and
other social gatherings. There was even a visit by Jefferson Davis, but the
high point of the season was the marriage of John Hunt Morgan and a local
belle, Mattie Ready.
|John Hunt Morgan
The previous summer, Mattie, “spirited in her
defense of all things southern” heard some occupying union officers
criticizing Morgan and she told them off. When one of the officers asked her
name, she told them and then added, “But by the grace of God one day I hope to
call myself the wife of John Morgan.”
When Morgan, a widower, heard this story he
came to call the next time the town was in Southern hands – and they soon
became engaged. The December 14th wedding, attended by Bragg, other officers
and family, was held in the courtroom of the Murfreesboro courthouse –
Leonidas Polk presiding, wearing, over the uniform of a Lt. General, the
vestments of an Episcopal bishop.
Within a week, Morgan, a new bridegroom and a
new Brigadier general, was off on what became known as his “Christmas Raid”
through Kentucky –“destroying railroad trestles and four important bridges,
along with an estimated $2 million in Union stores and tearing up more than 20
miles of railroad track while capturing and paroling 1887 enemy soldiers.”
Mattie would become a widow September 4, 1864
when Morgan was killed at Greenville, Tennessee.
The Civil War: A Narrative
by Shelby Foote.
In big history: This month in
1864, Gen. John Bell Hood led his Army of Tennessee across that state to
attack Gen. George Thomas' armies gathering at Nashville - but first they had
to face Scofield's army at Franklin TN, resulting in a four-hour battle on
November 30th which decimated Hood's army. Gen. Thomas would finish the job
started that day two-weeks later in the Battle of Nashville - routing Hood and
In little history: Those days
in Franklin, a nice story before the horror of that day began, as reported in
a scrap book account of a resident, Mrs. Adelicia McEwen German:
A federal officer had taken residence at
the home of Franklin's Gen. McEwen and he asked McEwen's daughters to sing
to him. They did - choosing a recently composed song that had become
popular. They had only sung a few lines when the battle started. The officer
rushed from the house to find his regiment but on his way was shot through
the lungs and severely wounded. First taken to a camp hospital and then to
Nashville he eventually recovered.
18-days after the battle, Col McEwen
received a message from the officer saying, that in every waking moment the
piece of music the young ladies had begun to play for him was still ringing
in his ears. And then, four months later just as the war was ending, the
officer returned to Franklin, bringing some fellow officers with him, to the
McEwen home where he asked the daughters to finish the song that would not
leave his mind. They did and when they finished the officers wept like
Here are its words:
Just before the battle mother, I am
thinking most of you.
While upon the field we're watching with the enemy in view.
Comrades brave around are lying, filled with thoughts of home and God,
For well they know that on the morrow, some will sleep below the sod.
O, I long to see you mother, and the loving ones at home;
But I'll never leave our banner, till in honor I can come.
Tell the traitors all around you, that their cruel words we know
In every battle kill our soldiers, by the help they give our foe.
Hark! I hear the bugles sounding, 'Tis the signal for the fight;
Now may God protect us mother, as He ever does the right.
Hear the battle cry of freedom, as it swells upon the air!
O yes, we'll rally round the standard or we'll perish nobly there.
Reference: Incident about an old song -
Homespun Tales (The Battle of Franklin).
In big history: On October 12, 1861
the Union Navy launched its first ironclad - The St. Louis - on the
Mississippi at Carondelet, Missouri.
In little history: That month the
noted southern diarist, Mary Chesnut, became increasingly annoyed with the
southern press, specifically the newspaper, the Charleston Mercury.
She wrote on October 20th, 1861 after several
earlier entries along the same lines:
Mercury today says Carolinians were
sold in the convention. It was utterly exasperating in its taunts and abuse
of the Confederate government. Simply atrocious. Could they not wait one
year? There are the Yankees to abuse. If our newspapers would only let loose
their vials of wrath on them - or pour out, to use the right words - and
leave us, until the fight is over, a united people.
It is our only hope. We have élan enough
and to spare. If only we had patience and circumspection. If we were horses
that could stay. The idea is that in pluck and dash our strength lies. The
others have the numbers for us to dash our brains against. Now, to think the
newspapers are trying to take the heart out of us.
We believe we can do it - and so we can -
but if they persuade us that everyone in office is fool, knave, or traitor,
how can we? It is awfully discouraging. I agree with Mr. Carlyle that a few
hung editors might save us yet.
Mr. Miles says: "The wounded men and
the sick men, the widows and orphans must feel pretty flat when they read in
the Richmond Examiner and the Mercury that they were done to
death by their own inefficient government. Everyone should do all they can
to keep up the fire of our enthusiasm."
Also that month, Mary wrote:
If I had been a man in this great
revolution - I should have either been killed at once or made a name and
done some good for my country. Lord Nelson's motto would be mine -
"Victory or Westminster Abbey."
Woe to those who began this war - if they
are not in bitter earnest.
Mary Chesnut's Civil War
by Mary Chesnut and C. Van Woodward
Lincoln secretary, John Hay, writes to
Lincoln's other secretary, John Nicolay…
Washington, September 11, 1863
Washington is as dull here as an obsolete
almanac. The weather is not so bad as it was. The nights are growing cool.
But there is no one here except us old stagers who can't get away. We have
some comfortable dinners and some quiet little orgies on wine and cheese in
We are quietly jolly over the magnificent
news from all round the board. Rosecrans won a great and bloodless victory
at Chattanooga which he had no business to win. The day the enemy ran he
sent a mutinous message to Halleck complaining of the very things that have
secured us the victories…
You may talk as you pleas of the Abolition
Cabal directing affairs from Washington - some well meaning newspapers
advise the president to keep his fingers out of the military pie, and all
that sort of thing. The truth is, if he did, the pie would be a sorry mess.
The old man sits here and wields like a backwoods Jupiter the bolts of war
and the machinery of government with a hand equally steady and equally firm.
His last letter is a great thing. Some
hideously bad rhetoric - some indecorums that are infamous - yet the whole
letter takes its solid place in history, as a great utterance of a great
man. The whole cabinet could not have tinkered up a letter which could have
been compared to it. He can snake a sophism out of its hole better than all
the trained logicians of all schools.
I do not know whether the nation is worthy
of him for another term. I know the people want him. There is no mistaking
that fact. But politicians are strong yet he is not their "kind of
cat." I hope God won't see fit to scourge us for our sins by any of the
two or three most prominent candidates on the ground.
I hope you are well and hearty. Next winter
will be the most exciting and laborious of all our lives. It will be worth
any other ten.
|John Milton Hay
|John George Nicolay
The Cleveland Civil