History Briefs 2009 - 2010
Maurer, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2009, 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.
Sure and begorrah, ‘tis a grand month
to remember the glorious Irish Brigade in the Civil War.
The Irish Brigade of the Union Army was an
infantry brigade, authorized by the United States Secretary of War in
September 1861. All but one of its five regiments were of Irish origin. Its
first regiment was the 69th New York Infantry called: the "Fighting 69th".
They were known in part for their famous war cry: "Clear the way!"
At the First Battle of Bull Run, the 69th
served under the command of Colonel William Tecumseh O’Sherman, and was one of
the few Union regiments to retain cohesion after the defeat. After Bull
Run, Thomas Francis Meagher, the Captain of Company K, applied to have the
69th New York Volunteer Militia reorganized into Federal service as the core
unit of a larger brigade composed predominantly of Irish immigrants.
Meagher (an escapee from imprisonment as an Irish Rebel in England) was
promoted to brigadier general and designated the brigade's commander.
In addition to creating a strong fighting
force, the formation of the Irish Brigade served three Union purposes:
- It warned Britain that there could be
Union-supported consequences in Ireland if Britain intervened (most of the
brigade's membership were known Irish revolutionaries.)
- It served to solidify Irish support for
the Union. Many Irish were naturally predisposed to support the Confederacy
due to their sympathy with struggles for independence.
- It solidified the support of the Catholic
minority for the Union cause. Having their own paid Catholic chaplain
implied a social acceptance for Irish Catholics which had eluded them in the
Their chaplain was Fr. William Corby, CSC, a
Holy Cross priest and future president of the University of Notre Dame. He
became famous for his giving absolution to the troops of the Irish Brigade
before the Battle of Gettysburg.
The brigade fought well, earning praise for
hard campaigning during the Seven Days Battles. After Malvern Hill in the
summer of 1862, while other units were transferred to northern Virginia to
fight under Gen. John Pope, the Irish Brigade remained on the Peninsula with
Gen. George B. McClellan.
On September 17, 1862, during the Battle of
Antietam, command confusion led to the Irish Brigade facing the center of the
Confederate line, entrenched in an old sunken farm road. The brigade again
acted conspicuously, assaulting the road - referred to after the battle as
"Bloody Lane". The green became the red.
Although unsuccessful, the brigade's attack
gave supporting troops enough time to flank and break the Confederate
position, at the cost of 60% casualties for the Irish Brigade. The
brigade would then suffer its most severe casualties in December at the Battle
of Fredericksburg where its fighting force was reduced from over 1600 to just
It fought in the northern battleground at
Fredericksburg where they assaulted the sunken road in front of Marye's
Heights. Coincidentally, one of the regiments manning the sunken road defenses
was also a predominantly Irish Regiment. It was at Fredericksburg that
Lee allegedly gave Meagher's regiment the name: "Fighting 69th".
In May 1863, the brigade sustained further
casualties at the Battle of Chancellorsville and in July, at Gettysburg, the
brigade of 600 men distinguished itself further in the Wheatfield. It has a monument
on the Loop on the battlefield.
The "Fighting 69th" also fought in World War
I as part of the Rainbow Division. The Medal of Honor for bravery was awarded
to several regiment members. By the time World War II came, the Irish
influence in the regiment had diminished somewhat, but the regiment served
with distinction in the Pacific Theater as part of the 27th "New York"
The Fighting 69th has been a unit of the New
York National Guard since 1947. The 69th Infantry also served with
distinction in Iraq from 2004-2005. It fought in and around Baghdad, most
notably securing “Route Irish” and the surrounding area of Baghdad suburbs.
The Irish Route is an MSR - A Main
Supply Route – between Baghdad and its airport. The designation 'Route Irish'
follows the common practice of naming MSRs after sports teams - in this case
the 'Fighting Irish' of the University of Notre Dame.
Father Corby would be proud.
Raise your glass to the Irish Brigade!
On February 9, 1861, 149 years ago yesterday,
the Convention of Seceded States in Montgomery, Alabama selected Jefferson
Davis as the Provisional President of the Confederate States of America. Davis
was chosen over William Yancey, Howell Cobb, and Robert Toombs, among others.
One day later, 149 years ago today, Davis received the news that he had been
chosen as the Provisional President, and then, on February 11, Davis left his
home in Mississippi for Montgomery. On that same day, Abraham Lincoln left
Springfield, Illinois for Washington. On February 18, Davis was inaugurated
and delivered his inaugural address. In that address, he advanced arguments
regarding the justification and constitutionality of the South's decision to
It is easy for those of us who disagree with
secession, myself included, to summarily dismiss any arguments in support of
it. But just for tonight, I ask each of you to listen to the following
statements from Davis' inaugural address and consider them as the sincere
pronouncements of someone who genuinely believed that his decision was
correct. As you listen to Davis' words, consider the possibility that the
architects of secession believed that, in separating from the United States,
they were merely doing what the American colonists did when they separated
from Great Britain over grievances which they saw as oppressive and
irresolvable. Ask yourself if you hear in Davis' words the same sentiment
which is expressed in a famous sentence which is probably familiar to you
because it is the first sentence in our country's birth certificate, "When in
the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve
the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among
the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of
Nature and of Nature's God entitle them..." In case you do not remember it,
that sentence is the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence. Here
then are some excerpts from Jefferson Davis' inaugural address.
"The declared purpose of the compact of
Union from which we have withdrawn was 'to establish justice, insure
domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general
welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our
posterity;' and when, in the judgment of the sovereign States now composing
this Confederacy, it [the Union] had been perverted from the purposes for
which it was ordained, and had ceased to answer the ends for which it was
established, a peaceful appeal to the ballot-box declared that so far as
they [the States] were concerned, the government created by that compact
should cease to exist. In this they [the States] merely asserted a right
which the Declaration of Independence of 1776 had defined to be inalienable;
of the time and occasion for its exercise, they [the States], as sovereigns,
were the final judges, each for itself...
"The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth
of the States, and which has been affirmed and reaffirmed in the bills of
rights of States subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, undeniably
recognize in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the
purposes of government...
"Thus the sovereign States here represented
proceeded to form this Confederacy, and it is by abuse of language that
their act has been denominated a revolution...
"Sustained by the consciousness that the
transition from the former Union to the present Confederacy has not
proceeded from a disregard on our part of just obligations, or any failure
to perform every constitutional duty, moved by no interest or passion to
invade the rights of others, anxious to cultivate peace and commerce with
all nations, if we may not hope to avoid war, we may at least expect that
posterity will acquit us of having needlessly engaged in it...
"Through many years of controversy with our
late associates, the Northern States, we have vainly endeavored to secure
tranquility, and to obtain respect for the rights to which we were entitled.
As a necessity, not a choice, we have resorted to the remedy of
"The Constitution formed by our fathers is
that of these Confederate States, in their exposition of it, and in the
judicial construction it has received, we have a light which reveals its
Those of us who disagree with secession view
the rationales in support of it as rationalizations. In all likelihood, a
significant part of the motivation for secession came from a frustrated
obstinacy for autonomy. Moreover, that the Confederate cause included slavery
understandably detracts from its case. But these considerations should not be
allowed to influence the opinion of Davis' arguments. As far as I know, the
Founding Fathers were unclear about the right of a state to secede. Are the
arguments which Davis articulated in his inaugural address wrong because they
are inconsistent with what the Founding Fathers intended, or are Davis'
arguments wrong because the South lost? How would the high-sounding words of
the Declaration of Independence be viewed today if Great Britain had defeated
the American colonists? If the British had won, perhaps the Declaration of
Independence would be seen today as nothing more than the idealistic rantings
of rebellious rabble. We all know that history is written by the victors,
which means that Jefferson Davis did not have the opportunity to make a case
for secession which history accepts as definitive.
Shelby Foote ends his three-volume narrative
on the Civil War with this post-war anecdote about Jefferson Davis.
"In his response to a visitor, a reporter
who hoped to leave with something that would help explain to readers the
underlying motivation of those crucial years of bloodshed and division,
Davis pondered briefly, then replied. 'Tell them-' He paused as if to sort
the words. 'Tell the world that I only loved America.'"
- David A. Carrino
Until tonight, with this “Joust at the
Judson,” as history gets rewritten, when Americans think of debates, they
think of Lincoln-Douglas and maybe Kennedy-Nixon.
Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas seven
times in 1858 during their campaign for the US Senate from Illinois – winning
the debates overall but losing the election.
It was on June 16,1858 in Springfield,
Illinois that the state Republican party unanimously nominated Abraham Lincoln
as their candidate for the United States Senate. The Republicans had garnered
statewide support for Lincoln, with an unprecedented 95 individual county
Republican conventions endorsing him.
On the evening of his nomination, Lincoln gave his acceptance speech. As his
audience listened intently, he began this famous talk with these words:
We are now into the fifth year, since a
policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of
putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy,
agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented.
In my opinion, it will not cease until a
crisis shall have been reached, and passed. A house divided against itself
cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave
and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved - I do not expect
the house to fall - but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will
become all one thing, or all the other.
Words – no doubt like those of tonight’s
debaters – that will live forever…
In closing out this bicentennial year of
Abraham Lincoln we remember December 1862 - the last month that millions of
Americans would legally be enslaved in our country. Lincoln’s Emancipation
Proclamation would free them the first day of the new year.
In August of that new year, Union supporters
in Springfield – disgruntled with Lincoln and his proclamation - asked him to
speak at a rally on September 3rd. Lincoln could not attend but wrote a letter
(really a speech) to be read at the gathering by his long-time friend, James
The letter was sent with a brief note which
read, "I cannot leave here now. Herewith is a letter instead. You are one of
the best public readers. I have but one suggestion. Read it very slowly. And
now God bless you, and all good Union-men." (Note: Though the complete text of
Lincoln's letter is not included here, all of Lincoln's original spelling and
grammar has been left intact.)
Here are some words from that letter-speech:
There are those who are dissatisfied with
me. To such I would say: You desire peace; and you blame me that we do not
have it. But how can we attain it?
There are but three conceivable ways.
First, to suppress the rebellion by force of arms. This I am trying to do.
Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed.
If you are not for it, a second way is to
give up the Union. I am against this. Are you for it? If you are, you should
say so plainly.
If you are not for force, nor yet for
dissolution, there only remains some imaginable compromise. I do not believe
any compromise, embracing the maintenance of the Union, is now possible.
Allow me to assure you, that no word or
intimation, from that rebel army, or from any of the men controlling it, in
relation to any peace compromise, has ever come to my knowledge or belief…
But to be plain, you are dissatisfied with
me about the negro. Quite likely there is a difference of opinion between
you and myself upon that subject. I certainly wish that all men could be
free, while I suppose you do not. Yet I have neither adopted, nor proposed
any measure, which is not consistent with even your view, provided you are
for the Union...
You dislike the emancipation proclamation;
and, perhaps, would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional--I
think differently. I think the constitution invests its Commander-in-chief,
with the law of war, in time of war…
But the proclamation, as law, either is
valid, or is not valid. If it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is
valid, it can not be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to
You say you will not fight to free negroes.
Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but, no matter.
Fight you, then exclusively to save the
Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union.
Whenever you shall have conquered all
resistence to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will
be an apt time, then, for you to declare you will not fight to free negroes.
I thought that whatever negroes can be got
to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do… Does
it appear otherwise to you?
But negroes, like other people, act upon
motives… If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the
strongest motive--even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made,
must be kept.
The signs look better… Peace does not
appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and
so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time.
And then, there will be some black men who
can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye,
and well-poised bayonnet, they have helped mankind on to this great
consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones - unable to
forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech - they strove to
Still, let us not be over-sanguine of a
speedy final triumph. Let us be quite sober. Let us diligently apply the
means, never doubting that a just God, in his own good time, will give us
the rightful result.”
Yours very truly
Nov 8, 1864 - Abraham Lincoln is re-elected
president, defeating Democrat George B. McClellan. Lincoln carries all but
three states with 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 of 233 electoral
votes. He tells his supporters: "I earnestly believe that the consequences of
this day's work will be to the lasting advantage, if not the very salvation,
of the country."
During the early days of this month, Major
General William Tecumseh Sherman set in motion his plan to devastate the south
with his March to the Sea. He would leave Atlanta with 62,000 men and only 20
days' supply of rations to begin an overland campaign, without further supply
or communications, to live off the land as they moved towards Savannah and the
Atlantic Ocean. His army would subsist from the farmland and plantations along
the way as they destroyed rail lines and ruined industry used in the southern
Sherman wrote of the beginning of the march
in his memoirs saying:
“We stood upon the very ground whereon was
fought the bloody battle of July 22nd and could see the copse of trees where
McPherson fell. Behind us lay Atlanta, smoldering and in ruins, the black
smoke rising high in the air and hanging like a pall over the ruined
city…Some band, by accident, struck up the anthem of ‘John Brown’s soul goes
marching on;” the men caught up the strain and never before or since have I
heard the chorus of “Glory, glory halleluiah’ done with more spirit, or in
better harmony of time and place.”
Georgians were horrified at the potential
destruction and the seeming inability of Confederate armies to do anything
about Sherman. The southern press viciously attacked him in these words:
“It would see as if in him all the
attributes of man were merged in the enormities of the demon, as if Heaven
intended in him the depths of depravity yet untouched by a fallen race…Unsated
still in his demonic vengeance he sweeps over the country like a monsoon of
As the soldiers marched, they sang a wide
variety of songs but not the one that would define the March to the Sea to
later generations which was written months later: “Marching through Georgia.”
It’s said that Sherman hated that song. However it would become such a
universal anthem that the Japanese troops sang it as they entered Port Arthur
and British troops sang it in India – it was hugely popular during WWII.
With all due respect to Sherman:
“Bring the good old bugle boys, we’ll sing
Sing it with spirit that will start the world along
Sing it as we used to sing it, 50,000 strong
While we were Marching through Georgia
Hurrah, hurrah we bring the jubilee
Hurrah, hurrah the flag that makes you free
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea
While we were marching through Georgia.”
The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War
by David J. Eicher
It’s October 1862 when "victory" at Antietam
is cause both for the release of President Abraham Lincoln’s great
proclamation and further doubts about the leadership qualities of General
George B. McClellan.
Here are some words of that time:
October 1st - The Whig, a newspaper in
Richmond, commenting on the Emancipation Proclamation said:
“It is a dash of the pen to destroy four
thousand millions of our property, and it is as much a bid for the slaves to
rise in insurrection with the assurance of aid from the whole military and
naval power of the United States.”
October 4th – Maria Daley’s diary entry:
“McClellan, Pierrepont says, is popular
because he keeps his soldiers out of harm’s way as much as possible. I think
too he said, there were 34,000 on furlough at the last battle. No wonder he
says McClellan is popular with 18,000 stragglers – the rebels shoot their
stragglers so they have none.”
October 13th – Lincoln in a note to
“You may remember my speaking to you of
what I called your over cautiousness? Are you not over cautious when you
assume that you cannot do what the enemy is doing? Should you not claim to
be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?
Late October – General Henry Halleck in a
“I am sick and disgusted with the
conditions of military affairs here in the east and I wish myself back in
the western army. With all of my efforts, I can get nothing done. There is
an immobility here that exceeds all that any man can conceive of. It
requires the lever of Archimedes to move this inert mass. I have tried my
best, but without success.’
November 5th – McClellan later in his
“Late at night I was sitting alone in my
tent writing to my wife…Suddenly someone knocked on my tent pole and upon my
invitation to enter there appeared Burnside and Buckingham both looking very
solemn…After a few moments Buckingham said to Burnside: ‘Well General, we
had better tell General McClellan the object of our visit.’ I said I would
be glad to learn it where upon he handed me the orders of which he was the
bearer. I read the papers with a smile, immediately turned to Burnside and
said: ‘Well Burnside, I turn the command over to you.’”
Eyewitness History of the Civil War
by Joe H. Kirchberger
September 1862: Union forces under General
George McClelland hold back the invading forces of General Robert E. Lee at
the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. Some words of those days:
General George McClellan, upon being handed
the battle plan of General Lee:
“Here is a paper with which, if I cannot
whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”
Confederate General John B. Gordon fought
there and had these memories:
“The first volley sent a ball…through the
calf of my right leg. On the right and left my men were falling…like trees
in a hurricane…Higher up in the same leg I was again shot; but still no bone
was broken…I could not consent to leave them in such a crisis…I had a
vigorous constitution and this was doing me good service… A fourth ball
ripped through my shoulder…
I could still stand and walk, although the
shocks and loss of blood had left but little of my normal strength. I
remembered the pledge to the commander that we would stay there till the
battle ended or night came. I looked to the sun – it seemed to stand still.
I then attempted to go myself, although I
was bloody and faint…I had gone but a short distance when I was shot down by
a fifth ball which struck me squarely in the face…I fell forward and lay
unconscious with my face in my cap; and it would seem that I might have been
smothered by the blood running into my cap… but for the act of some Yankee
who …shot a hole through the cap which let the blood out.
I was borne on a stretcher to the rear.”
Author David H. Strother wrote of the battle
in an article in Harper’s Magazine in 1868. It included these words:
“Many were found to be so covered with
dust, torn, crushed and trampled that they resembled clods of earth and you
were obliged to look twice before recognizing them as human beings.”
Union General Jacob Cox (and later Ohio
Governor) had these words on Antietam in 1882:
“McClelland estimated Lee’s troops at
nearly double their actual number…for the rooted belief in Lee’s
preponderance of numbers had been chronic during the whole year.
The result was that Lee retreated
unmolested on the night of the 18th and what might have been a real and
decisive success was a drawn battle in which our chief claim to victory was
the possession of the field.”
Eyewitness History of the Civil War
by Joe H. Kirchberger
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