History Briefs 2012 - 2013
By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2012, 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.
The Rising of the Sun and of Gods
One of the things that I enjoy about the
Civil War are the memorable quotes that were uttered by people who
participated in it. No doubt everyone who is interested in the Civil War has
some favorite Civil War quotes. Two excellent quotes, one Union and one
Confederate, are associated with the battle of Chancellorsville. One quote
mentions the rising of the sun, and the other talks about how someone rose to
an exalted position in history.
In the battle of Chancellorsville Robert E.
Lee violated one of the cardinal rules of tactics and split his force in the
face of superior numbers by sending Stonewall Jackson on a circuitous march to
slam into the right flank of the Army of the Potomac. All during the day as
Jackson's men moved across the Union front, nervous reports were sent up the
chain of command that enemy troops were on the move. Union commanders higher
up in that chain interpreted this movement as a retreat by the Confederates.
But while Union commanders high in the chain of command contemplated how to
pursue the retreating Confederates, Union commanders in the field understood
that the ultimate destination of the troops moving across their front was not
further away from them, but closer to them, dangerously, mortally close to
them. One of those field commanders was Colonel Robert Reily of the 75th Ohio
Volunteer Infantry. Reily addressed his regiment by warning them that a great
battle was imminent, and he made this foreboding statement to his men:
"Some of us will not see another
sunrise. If there is a man in the ranks who is not ready to die for his
country, let him come to me, and I will give him a pass to go to the rear,
for I want no half-hearted, unwilling soldiers or cowards in the ranks
Reily knew what he was talking about, because
his 75th Ohio was part of the XI Corps, and the XI Corps was in the crosshairs
of one Stonewall Jackson.
Jackson's flank attack was the beginning of a
stunning victory by the Army of Northern Virginia. The morning after this
flank attack, as the two wings of the Army of Northern Virginia were reuniting
to make another assault on the retreating Army of the Potomac, Robert E. Lee
rode toward the front past the burning Chancellor House that gave the
crossroads its name. At the sight of their commander, the Confederate soldiers
cheered wildly. After the war, when this incident was recalled by Colonel
Charles Marshall of Lee's staff, Marshall wrote this effusive description:
"The scene is one that can never be
effaced from the minds of those who witnessed it. The troops were pressing
forward with all the ardour and enthusiasm of combat. The white smoke of
musketry fringed the front of the line of battle, while the artillery on the
hills in the rear of the infantry shook the earth with its thunder, and
filled the air with the wild shrieks of the shells that plunged into the
masses of the retreating foe. To add greater horror and sublimity to the
scene, Chancellor House and the woods surrounding it were wrapped in flames.
In the midst of this awful scene, General Lee, mounted upon that horse which
we all remember so well, rode to the front of his advancing battalions. His
presence was the signal for one of those outbursts of enthusiasm which none
can appreciate who have not witnessed them. The fierce soldiers with their
faces blackened with the smoke of battle, the wounded crawling with feeble
limbs from the fury of the devouring flames, all seemed possessed with a
common impulse. One long, unbroken cheer, in which the feeble cry of those
who lay helpless on the earth blended with the strong voices of those who
still fought, rose high above the roar of battle, and hailed the presence of
the victorious chief. He sat in the full realization of all that soldiers
dream of—triumph; and as I looked upon him in the complete fruition of the
success which his genius, courage, and confidence in his army had won, I
thought that it must have been from such a scene that men in ancient days
rose to the dignity of gods."
These quotes are especially memorable because
of the way that what was said came to pass. In his evocative quote, Charles
Marshall said of Robert E. Lee that the scene during the final stages of the
battle of Chancellorsville was such to raise Lee to god-like stature. After
the Civil War, rightly or wrongly, this certainly happened with Lee. Echoing
Marshall's words, one of Lee's biographers, Emory M. Thomas, wrote of Lee
"within the American South he has attained the status of demigod." Of course,
Lee is not a deity, but in the minds of many he has attained a level of
historical prominence matched by very few, and the battle of Chancellorsville
is one of Lee's achievements that led to this.
Robert Reily's quote spoke of more poignant
consequences. Reily told the men of the 75th Ohio, "Some of us will not see
another sunrise." When Stonewall Jackson's men came screaming out of the
woods, most of the men of the XI Corps were eating supper and caught off guard
and fled. But Reily had the 75th Ohio ready for an enemy attack, and this
regiment fought for about ten minutes until they were overwhelmed. In those
ten minutes, Robert Reily became one of those who had seen his last sunrise,
making his Chancellorsville quote not only memorable, but his last words.
These two quotes contain the kind of flowery language that seems to
characterize the 19th Century, the kind of language that nowadays would be
considered corny. But it is this kind of language that contributes to the aura
of the Civil War and offsets the carnage and the horror with an embellished
linguistic beauty that has been lost from our times.
Dear to Democracy
I am nervous every time I present one of
these history briefs, because I know that the knowledge of history possessed
by every member of this Roundtable far exceeds my own. But tonight my level of
trepidation is at a record high, because tonight's speaker, Harold Holzer, is
without question one of the most eminent historians of today. With that in
mind, I grappled mightily with how best to present a history brief that is
palatable to a renowned historian like Harold, and I came up with three
I thought that I might try flattery, but then
I realized that Harold is such an accomplished historian that no matter how
much hyperbole I injected into any flattery, nothing I said would be an
exaggeration. I also thought that I could plead ignorance, which in my case is
entirely plausible, since I have no formal training in history. I am honored
to be the Roundtable's historian, but I will never understand why the
Cleveland Civil War Roundtable chose a biochemist to be its historian. When I
was in college, history was a course that those of us majoring in science took
only because it was a requirement. Because I feared that flattery and pleading
ignorance did not provide a sufficiently high likelihood of success, I decided
upon a third tactic. I will present a history brief that has as its focus
Harold's own words.
The passage that I selected for the history
brief comes from the Introduction for a book titled Lincoln on Democracy. This
book is a compilation of various writings by Abraham Lincoln that was edited
by Harold Holzer and Mario Cuomo, and Harold wrote the Introduction. There is
an anecdote in this passage about Venezuela that occurred in 1957. This
anecdote is particularly appropriate because it demonstrates that Lincoln's
words still have power in modern times. The motivation for the book Lincoln on Democracy was a desire by some Polish schoolteachers for documents about
American democracy that could be used to educate students in Poland during the
early 1990s when that country was transitioning to democracy. Eventually the
book, meaning Lincoln's writings, was translated into Polish. The last part of
this passage conveys succinctly and brilliantly why history is relevant and
also expresses, much better than I ever could, why this biochemist has done an
about-face on his college-age opinion that history is just an unpleasant and
burdensome mandate and has instead come to enjoy and appreciate history. The
last part of this passage includes some Lincoln quotes woven into text that
Harold wrote. I won't indicate the quotes because doing so makes this passage
sound clumsy when it is read aloud. If this history brief is posted on our web
site, then everyone can see which words are Harold's and which are Lincoln's.
What I think is interesting about that part of the passage is how seamlessly
Harold's and Lincoln's words are woven together, as if Harold and Lincoln are
of one mind.
In the 1950s the American composer Aaron
Copland traveled to Venezuela to conduct a performance of his Lincoln
Portrait, an orchestral piece in which a narrator speaks Lincoln's most famous
words against a backdrop of inspirational music. "To everybody's surprise,"
Copland told a newspaper reporter, "the reigning dictator, who had rarely
dared to be seen in public, arrived at the last possible moment," joining six
thousand spectators jammed into an outdoor stadium. The narrator that evening
was the fiery Venezuelan actress Juana Sujo. When she spoke the final words of
the piece – "government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not
perish from the earth" – the audience responded by jumping to its feet and
shouting and cheering so vociferously that even Copland was unable to hear the
end of the piece. Copland remembered, "It was not long after that the dictator
was deposed and fled the country. I was later told by an American foreign
service officer that the Lincoln Portrait was credited with having inspired
the first public demonstration against him. That, in effect, it had started a
As the Copland recollection so vividly
suggests, Lincoln's written legacy continues to transcend both time and place,
holding relevance for today as well as tomorrow. "Writing," as Lincoln
understood, "...is the great invention of the world...very great in enabling
us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of
time and space." Lincoln's writings on democracy continue to vivify this
promise. And the promise, just as Lincoln understood early and well, extends
not just to Americans but to people everywhere. He "grasped not only the whole
race of men then living," but "reached forward and seized upon the farthest
posterity." He "erected a beacon to guide" his "children...and children's
children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other
No American president, no American writer was
ever more "Dear to democracy."
The Highest Ranking Officer in the
One interesting bit of trivia about the Civil
War is the identity of the highest ranking officer in the Confederate Army. It
was not Robert E. Lee, although that is the answer that many people would
give. Nor was it Albert Sidney Johnston; he was number two. At least he was
number two until the battle of Shiloh, where he was mortally wounded. It was
also not Joseph E. Johnston, even though he famously believed that it should
have been. The highest ranking officer in the Confederate Army was Samuel
Cooper, which leads to the next questions. Who was Samuel Cooper, and how did
he come to be the South's highest ranking officer?
Cooper was born on June 12, 1798 in New Hackensack, New York. (When we see our
pro-Confederate friends, we have to be sure to tell them that the
Confederacy's highest ranking officer was a Yankee.) At the age of 15 Cooper
entered the U.S. Military Academy and two years later graduated an
unimpressive 36th out of a class of 40. He began his military career in
artillery and rose to the rank of captain. In 1837, after 12 years in
artillery, he was appointed chief clerk in the War Department. He continued to
serve at the War Department until 1841, when he left Washington and was a
staff officer for two years in the Second Seminole War. After this he returned
to the War Department, where he continued to rise through the ranks and where
he remained until the Civil War.
It was Cooper's personal life more than his
professional life that led him to the Confederacy. In 1829 Cooper married
Sarah Maria Mason, a daughter of John Mason and a granddaughter of George
Mason, who was a Founding Father and the patriarch of the prominent Mason
family of Virginia. This marriage connected Cooper to Virginia aristocracy.
Ann Maria Mason, the sister of Cooper's wife, was married to Sidney Smith Lee,
the older brother of Robert E. Lee. Samuel Cooper also was a close friend of
Jefferson Davis from the time of Davis' term as Secretary of War. When U.S.
Army officers were choosing their loyalties just prior to the Civil War,
Cooper sided with the Confederacy, and his connections to prominent
Southerners factored into his decision. He resigned his commission on March 7,
1861 and went to the Confederate capital in Montgomery, Alabama to offer his
services to new president Jefferson Davis. Cooper was commissioned a brigadier
general, and about two months later Cooper was promoted to full general, the
first to attain that rank in the Confederacy and hence the highest ranking
officer in the Confederate Army. The best evidence is that Cooper attained
this distinction because he was the first U.S. Army officer to offer his
services to Jefferson Davis.
Davis was aware of Cooper's organizational
and administrative skills and therefore requested that Cooper serve in an
administrative capacity, which Cooper did quite well throughout the war as the
Confederate Army's Adjutant and Inspector General. After Richmond fell, Cooper
fled south with Davis and his party, but Cooper's age and health forced him to
remain in North Carolina while the others moved on. Cooper's greatest
contribution to history was removing the Confederate military documents from
Richmond, preserving them, and turning them over to the U.S. government. Those
documents were made part of the Official Records, and Cooper's actions, in the
words of one historian, resulted in "a priceless contribution to the history
of the period." After the war, Cooper returned to his pre-war home near
Alexandria, Virginia, although his family's house had been destroyed by Union
troops to make room for a fort. Cooper and his family lived on the property in
an overseer's house and subsisted on farming. Cooper never regained his U.S.
citizenship and died on December 3, 1876 at age 78.
Our history has recorded the brilliant
accomplishments of many Civil War generals of both sides. But our history has
recorded almost nothing about what Samuel Cooper did during the Civil War.
Some might say that while Confederate officers in the field were winning
renown (or notoriety, depending on their performance and on a person's point
of view), Samuel Cooper spent the war sitting at a desk pushing papers. In
other words, the highest ranking officer in the Confederacy was an
administrator, a military bureaucrat. As a bureaucrat, Cooper's duties took
place behind the scenes, and his specific contributions were not easily
observed. Perhaps because Cooper seemed to render such seemingly unimportant
and peripheral service to the Confederate cause, Jefferson Davis wrote of
Cooper in 1877, "The many who measure the value of an officer's service by the
conspicuous part he played upon the fields of battle, may not properly
estimate the worth of Cooper's services in the war between the States, but
those who...were in a position to know what he did, what he prevented, what he
directed, will not fail to place him among those who contributed most to
whatever was achieved." If Davis is not just engaging in hyperbole, then this
amounts to high praise for someone whose chief function was as a bureaucrat.
Rightly or wrongly, there are perhaps no more reviled professions than
bureaucrats, lobbyists, and lawyers, and for some people the best that can be
said about all of them is that they are a necessary evil. Some people might
even go so far as to drop the descriptor "necessary." But if we accept Davis'
assertion that Cooper made important contributions, then this provides
evidence that bureaucrats can be valuable. As for lobbyists and lawyers, I was
not able to find any evidence which supports the assertion that they are
The Other Star Spangled Banner
At the time of the Civil War neither side,
Union or Confederate, had an official national anthem. But in light of what
became the national anthem of the United States of America, it can be argued
that there is a song that comes closer to a national anthem of the Confederate
States of America than the song "Dixie," which many consider the CSA's
national anthem. That song is "The Bonnie Blue Flag."
The flag that is the subject of the song is a
blue flag with a single large five-pointed white star in the center. But while
the flag may be familiar to many people, the flag's history may not be. The
Bonnie Blue Flag was originally the flag of what was known as the Republic of
West Florida. The territory that comprised this short-lived country lies along
the Gulf Coast east of the Mississippi River and west of the Florida panhandle
and, in spite of its name, includes none of present-day Florida. This
territory includes what are now the southern parts of Alabama and Mississippi
and a small part of Louisiana north of Lake Pontchartrain.
settlers in the area came to oppose Spanish control of the territory. In
September 1810, these settlers rebelled against the Spanish authorities, and a
force of rebel troops under Philemon Thomas marched on the provincial capital
of Baton Rouge. One of the units that joined this force was led by Isaac
Johnson, and the flag that was carried by this unit was the Bonnie Blue Flag,
which had been made a few days earlier by Johnson's wife, Melissa. After the
rebels took Baton Rouge, the Bonnie Blue Flag was hoisted as the emblem of the
new Republic of West Florida. This new nation adopted a constitution modeled
after the U.S. Constitution and established its capital at St. Francisville,
in present-day Louisiana.
The territory comprising the Republic of West
Florida had changed hands a number of times from France to Britain to Spain.
Originally it had been part of the French Louisiana Territory. Using this as
justification, President James Madison, without Congressional approval or
negotiations with Spain, issued a proclamation laying U.S. claim to the
territory. In December 1810 Madison sent troops to seize control of the
region, and the U.S. flag was raised over Baton Rouge. Although many citizens
of the Republic of West Florida welcomed their country's assimilation into the
U.S., many others were not so enthusiastic, and Spanish colonial officials
expressed outrage at "the perfidy of the American government." Nevertheless,
less than three months after its birth, the Republic of West Florida passed
out of existence, but the country's flag did not.
When secession fervor began growing in the
South, the Bonnie Blue Flag became a symbol of secession movements. On January
9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to adopt an ordinance of
secession. When this was announced in Jackson, the Bonnie Blue Flag was raised
atop the capitol building above a wildly cheering crowd.
One person in that crowd was a pro-Southern
Ulster immigrant named Harry McCarthy. Already impassioned by the moment,
McCarthy was inspired by the sight of the Bonnie Blue Flag flying above the
capitol to compose lyrics set to the melody of an Irish song named "The Irish
Jaunting Car." The song that McCarthy composed has the same name as the flag
that is its subject, "The Bonnie Blue Flag."
story about how that song was composed should sound familiar. Harry McCarthy,
who was witnessing a highly emotional event and was inspired by the sight of a
flag composed lyrics about that flag, and those lyrics were set to a melody
that he knew from somewhere else. Doesn't that sound very much like someone
who was outside Fort McHenry on the night of September 13-14, 1814 and penned
the words to the song that is the national anthem of the United States? When
Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner," he had been watching the
battle of Baltimore, he was inspired by the sight of the American flag flying
over Fort McHenry, he wrote lyrics about that flag, and those lyrics were set
to the melody of a song that Key knew from his gentlemen's club, that song
being "To Anacreon in Heaven." The song "The Bonnie Blue Flag" was very
popular in the Confederacy, although it was never officially adopted as the
Confederacy's national anthem. However, a compelling case can be made that
"The Bonnie Blue Flag" rather than "Dixie" comes closer to a national anthem
for the Confederate States of America because of the similarity in the
circumstances surrounding the composing of "The Bonnie Blue Flag" and "The
Star Spangled Banner," the song that eventually became the U.S. national
Of course, the song "The Bonnie Blue Flag" is
not particularly popular with pro-Unionists. But I think that it is silly for
us in the North to renounce that song. It has a really energetic and
infectious melody. In fact, the National Football League used that melody as
part of the background music on a highlights show that was a weekly broadcast
many years ago. If the NFL used that melody, it can't be all bad. I think we
who are pro-Union should follow the example demonstrated by Abraham Lincoln
toward the other anthem of the Confederacy, "Dixie." When news of the
surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia reached Washington, a crowd of
revelers outside the White House tried to prod Lincoln to give an impromptu
speech. Rather than give a speech, Lincoln famously requested that a band play
"Dixie." Lincoln said of "Dixie" that it is "one of the best tunes I have ever
heard" and went on to say that the Confederacy "attempted to appropriate it."
Just because a movement that we consider abhorrent tries to take possession of
something that we find enjoyable is no reason for us to relinquish it by
obstinately refusing to enjoy it any more. In fact some people in the Civil
War did what they could to see to it that that did not happen with the melody
for "The Bonnie Blue Flag" by writing alternate lyrics.
Most of the lyrics that Harry McCarthy
composed deal with states seceding. (And McCarthy got the order in which the
states seceded wrong.) However, one verse has these lyrics, which are not
particularly complimentary to the Union or to Northerners:
As long as the Union was faithful to her
Like friends and like brethren, kind were we, and just.
But now, when Northern treachery attempts our rights to mar
We hoist on high the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.
Hurrah! Hurrah! For Southern rights, hurrah!
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.
One alternate version is attributed to
Union Colonel J.L. Geddes of the 8th Iowa, who wrote it when he grew tired
of listening to the original after he became a prisoner of war. This version
expresses a pro-Union sentiment, and some of the lyrics from this version
We're fighting for our Union; we're
fighting for our trust.
We're fighting for that happy land where sleeps our father's dust.
It cannot be dissevered, though it cost us bloody wars.
We never can give up the land where floats the stripes and stars.
Hurrah! Hurrah! For equal rights hurrah.
Hurrah for the good old flag that bears the stripes and stars.
We trusted you as brothers, until you
drew the sword.
With impious hands at Sumter, you cut the silver cord.
So now you hear the bugles; we come the sons of Mars,
To rally round the brave old flag that bears the stripes and stars.
Hurrah! Hurrah! For equal rights hurrah.
Hurrah for the good old flag that bears the stripes and stars.
There are even lyrics that are associated
with the Irish Brigade, although there is a line about George McClellan that
rings hollow. One of the verses deals with the refusal of the 69th New York to
march in a parade honoring the Prince of Wales. Some of the lyrics from this
version are these:
Now when the traitors in the South
commenced a warlike raid,
I quickly then laid down my hod, to the devil went my spade!
To a recruiting-office then I went, that happened to be near,
And joined the good old Sixty-ninth, like an Irish volunteer.
Then fill the ranks and march away! No traitors do we fear.
We'll drive them all to blazes, says the Irish volunteer.
When the Prince of Wales came over here,
and made a hubbaboo,
Oh, everybody turned out, you know, in gold and tinsel too.
But then the good old Sixty-ninth didn't like these lords or peers.
They wouldn't give a damn for kings, the Irish volunteers!
We love the land of Liberty, its laws we will revere.
"But the devil take nobility!" says the Irish volunteer!
Now if the traitors in the South should
ever cross our roads,
We'll drive them to the devil, as Saint Patrick did the toads.
We'll give them all short nooses that come just below the ears,
Made strong and good of Irish hemp by Irish volunteers.
Then here's to brave McClellan, whom the army now reveres.
He'll lead us on to victory, the Irish volunteers.
Now fill your glasses up, my boys, a
toast come drink with me.
May Erin's Harp and the Starry Flag united ever be.
May traitors quake, and rebels shake, and tremble in their fears,
When next they meet the Yankee boys and Irish volunteers!
God bless the name of Washington, that name this land reveres;
Success to Meagher and Nugent, and their Irish volunteers!
Those are two sets of lyrics to the tune of
"The Bonnie Blue Flag" that are pro-Union and anti-secession. Now when we
pro-Unionists hear that melody, we don't have to turn a deaf ear to it. We
just need to sing the right lyrics.
The Social Network of Civil War Dead
In October 2012, Facebook announced with
great fanfare that its social network had exceeded one billion people. That is
certainly very impressive, but Civil War nurse Cornelia Hancock was head of a
social network that included a functionality that Mark Zuckerberg probably
never contemplated when he developed Facebook. Cornelia Hancock's social
network extended into the afterlife, and she described it in a letter to her
family from a military hospital near Gettysburg.
"Every barn, church, and building of any size
in Gettysburg had been converted into a temporary hospital. We went the same
evening to one of the churches, where I saw for the first time what war meant.
Hundreds of desperately wounded men were stretched out on boards laid across
the high-backed pews as closely as they could be packed together. The boards
were covered with straw. Thus elevated, these poor sufferers' faces, white and
drawn with pain, were almost on a level with my own. I seemed to stand
breast-high in a sea of anguish.
"The townspeople of Gettysburg were in
devoted attendance, and there were many from other villages and towns. The
wounds of all had been dressed at least once, and some systematic care was
already established. Too inexperienced to nurse, I went from one pallet to
another with pencil, paper, and stamps in hand, and spent the rest of that
night in writing letters from the soldiers to their families and friends. To
many mothers, sisters, and wives I penned the last message of those who were
soon to become the 'beloved dead.'"
Cornelia Hancock almost did not have the
chance to become a Civil War nurse and had to overcome a nearly impermeable
obstacle to do so. She was born on February 6, 1840 in New Jersey to a Quaker
family that had lived in that state since before the American Revolution.
After Hancock's only brother became a member of the Union army, her
abolitionist views motivated her to do service to the Union cause. On July 5,
1863, at the age of 23, she boarded a train for Gettysburg with a number of
physicians and nurses. During a stop in Baltimore, the group encountered
Dorothea Dix, the Superintendent of Army Nurses. Dix approved all of the women
on the train as nurses except for Hancock, because Dix felt that Hancock was
too young and attractive. In Hancock's words, Dix rejected her because of her
"youth and rosy cheeks." Nevertheless, Hancock refused to accept this decision
and, in her words, "settled the question myself by getting in the car and
staying in my seat until the train pulled out of the city of Baltimore."
July 7 was Hancock's first day treating the
wounded at Gettysburg. She wrote in a letter, "(T)he first sight that met our
eyes was a collection of semi-conscious but still living human forms, all of
whom had been shot through the head, and were considered hopeless. They were
laid to die and I hoped that they were indeed too near death to have
consciousness. Yet many a groan came from them, and their limbs tossed and
twitched." She also wrote of the enormity of the task that confronted the
medical personnel at Gettysburg. "There was a long table in the woods that was
the operating table, and for seven days it literally ran blood.
A wagon stood nearby rapidly filling with
amputated arms and legs. So appalling was the number of the wounded as yet
unsuccoured, so helpless seemed the few who were battling against tremendous
odds to save life, and so overwhelming was the demand for any kind of aid that
could be given quickly that one's senses were benumbed by the awful
responsibility that fell to the living." Because Hancock had no real
experience as a nurse, she wrote letters home for the wounded soldiers and
thus began her social network. Her caring and compassion endeared her to the
soldiers, some of whom showed their gratitude by crafting a silver medallion
engraved with words that read in part, "Testimonial of regard for
ministrations of mercy to the wounded soldiers at Gettysburg."
Hancock continued to serve as a nurse with
the Army of the Potomac through the Overland Campaign. She expressed her
opinion of Ulysses Grant's tactics during this campaign when she wrote, "The
idea of making a business of maiming men is not worthy of a civilization."
Hancock is reputed to be one of the first Union women to enter Richmond after
the fall of the Confederate capital. Her thoughts about her experiences as a
Civil War nurse are best summarized by two of her quotes. In a letter from
Gettysburg to her sister, Hancock wrote, "I feel assured I shall never feel
horrified at anything that may happen to me hereafter." But during this same
time Hancock also claimed, "I am as...dirty as a pig and as well as I ever was
in my life."
|Cornelia Hancock in
After the war, Hancock continued to help
those in need by establishing a school in South Carolina for freed black
children and working there for ten years until she left for health reasons.
After a short rest, Hancock returned to social work and helped form a charity
in Philadelphia. Hancock never married and expressed to her mother in a letter
shortly after the end of the Civil War, "Men, as the generality of them appear
in public life have few charms for me, and if thee have any lingering hopes
for me yet in my advancing years committing matrimony, thee must keep thy
anticipation in good check." In 1913 Hancock returned to the place where she
launched her social network when she attended the 50th Anniversary of the
battle of Gettysburg. On December 27, 1927, at the age of 87, Cornelia Hancock
left this life and joined the soldiers for whom she had written letters.
Swiss author Madame de Staël conveyed a
truism about death in her quote, "We understand death for the first time when
he puts his hand upon one whom we love." In looking at the tabulations of
Civil War casualties, it is easy to become so overwhelmed by the numbers that
we lose sight of the reality that each and every number was a person whose
loved ones mourned that loss. Soldiers mourned the loss of comrades, mothers
and fathers mourned the loss of sons, and wives and children mourned the loss
of husbands and fathers. Often that loss happened far from home, and family
members had no way of seeing their son or husband or father one last time. In
the 19th Century, the concept of a good death was extremely important. One
component of a good death was some final words by the dying person that calmed
and comforted loved ones. The letters that Cornelia Hancock sent to family
members of a dead soldier fulfilled this aspiration and gave those family
members the opportunity to hear the final words of the dearly departed after
his death, as though he had written to them from the hereafter. In this way,
Cornelia Hancock gave a number of people one final moment in which a dead
family member was alive with them for a parting embrace.
Two Lost Causes
1995 the U.S. Post Office issued a series of stamps to commemorate the Civil
War. Evidently there was some Southern input into the design of this stamp
series, because a heading underneath the main heading reads, "The War between
the States." The people selected for depiction on the stamps include those
who are expected, such as Lincoln and Davis, Grant and Lee, and Sherman and
Jackson. There is, however, one person whose inclusion has to be considered
surprising, and that is someone named Stand Watie. When I first saw these
stamps, I had no idea who Stand Watie was. Since this stamp series includes a
mere 16 stamps that depict individuals from the Civil War, can Stand Watie be
considered worthy of inclusion as one of the top 16 people of the Civil War?
Little is known about Watie's early life. He was born in 1806 on Cherokee
land near Rome, Georgia. His Cherokee name, Degataga, means "he stands" or
"stands firm" or "stands together," hence his Anglicized name Stand. Watie's
first real appearance in recorded history came during Andrew Jackson's
presidency and the quest to remove the Cherokee from their land in Georgia.
The vast majority of Cherokee refused to be removed, and their elected
principal chief steadfastly made this clear in negotiations with the U.S.
government. However, a minority faction of Cherokee, led by some members of
Watie's family and including Watie, himself, reasoned, most likely correctly,
that the U.S. government would eventually forcibly remove the Cherokee or
perhaps even slaughter them in order to free up the land. This minority group
therefore decided to try to obtain something from the U.S. government in
return for the Cherokee land in Georgia, which they did late in 1835 in what
became known as the Treaty of New Echota. The treaty gave the Cherokee an
amount of land in Oklahoma equal to that in Georgia and also five million
dollars. The leaders of the minority faction signed the treaty, but the
principal chief did not, and the majority of the Cherokee (that is, 90%) did
not recognize the treaty as valid, eventually signing a petition to this
After Senate ratification of the Treaty of New Echota (by a single vote), the
minority group moved west without incident in 1837. The majority of the
Cherokee tribe were forcibly removed beginning in 1838 in what became known as
the Trail of Tears. The legal basis claimed for this forced removal was the
Treaty of New Echota, the treaty that was not signed by the Cherokee's elected
leader and not recognized by the vast majority of the Cherokee tribe. Shortly
after this group arrived on their new land, their council decided to kill the
leaders of the minority faction, since relinquishing tribal land had been
established by the Cherokee as a capital offense. Ironically, one person who
had been instrumental in establishing this policy was the leader of the
minority faction that negotiated the Treaty of New Echota and who was now
subject to this policy's execution. On June 22, 1839, most of the prominent
leaders of the minority faction were killed. Stand Watie escaped death only
because he was warned by a friend. In ensuing years, there was much bloodshed
among the feuding Cherokee groups, and it became almost a Cherokee civil war.
Finally in 1846 the two groups made peace, and Watie was even made a member of
the tribal council.
the outbreak of the Civil War, Watie, who was a slaveholder, declared loyalty
to the Confederacy and raised a regiment of mounted infantry, the First
Cherokee Mounted Volunteers. One member of this unit was Clem Rogers, the
father of Will Rogers. The only major battle in which Watie and his men took
part was Pea Ridge. After that battle, Watie's mounted infantry operated as
raiders and were engaged mainly in small battles. Two of the most important
were the capture of a Union steamboat and its cargo on the Arkansas River and
the Second Battle of Cabin Creek, in which Watie and his troops captured a
Union wagon train that had enough supplies to clothe the troops and feed them
and their civilian dependents for a month. It is not much of a stretch to say
that Stand Watie was a Native American Nathan Bedford Forrest. Watie has two
Civil War distinctions. He was the only Native American to attain the rank of
general in the Confederacy, and one of only two for both sides, the other
being Ely S. Parker of the Union. And Watie was the last Confederate general
to surrender, doing so on June 23, 1865.
After the Civil War, Watie returned to his devastated home and tried to
rebuild his life. This period saw another division among the Cherokee, this
time into those who fought for the Union and those who fought for the
Confederacy. Tensions were so high that Watie had to go into exile.
Eventually the two groups reconciled, and Watie could return to his home in
Cherokee territory, where he lived and farmed for the last four years of his
life. All three of Watie's sons preceded him in death, and shortly before his
own death on September 9, 1871, Watie wrote to one of his daughters, "You
can't imagine how lonely I am up here at our old place without any of my dear
children being with me." Watie lived long enough to see land taken from the
Cherokee that had been given to them in perpetuity by the treaty that Watie
signed. It has been said that Watie supported two lost causes: the Treaty of
New Echota and the Confederacy.
Based simply on Stand Watie's impact on the Civil War, I think it is difficult
to make a strong case that he should be considered in the top 16 Civil War
individuals. How then did he come to be included alongside the Civil War
luminaries who are depicted in this set of stamps? It seems from the
arrangement of the stamps that the Post Office included people in pairs, one
Northerner and one Southerner as counterparts. This pairing makes sense for
Lincoln and Davis, Grant and Lee, and Sherman and Jackson. Other pairs are
David Farragut and Raphael Semmes, Harriet Tubman and Mary Chesnut, and Clara
Barton and Phoebe Pember. Watie's Union counterpart is Winfield Scott
Hancock, and some might argue that this is an unequal pairing in terms of
Civil War prominence. Most likely Watie was included primarily in the
interest of ethnic diversity, but his military skill and bold exploits are
legendary. Watie had an extremely eventful life, and if the Post Office had
not included him, many Civil War enthusiasts, myself included, would never
have heard of him. Whether this is sufficient reason to include Watie in a
series of Civil War stamps is another matter. But since the Post Office saw
fit to pair Frederick Douglas with Joseph E. Johnston, then I suppose the
Hancock-Watie pairing cannot be considered the oddest one.
Musical Historical First
What do the following historical figures have in common: Ferdinand Magellan,
Roger Bannister, Yuri Gagarin, and Louise Brown? The answer is that each one
earned a place in history primarily by being the first person to do something:
Magellan for leading the first circumnavigation of the earth, Bannister for
running the first sub-four-minute mile, Gagarin for being the first human to
go into outer space, and Brown for being the first person born through in
vitro fertilization. Not that these people did nothing else of consequence,
but their place in history came really from being the first person to do
something. The same is true for Oliver W. Norton, whose historic first is
associated with the bugle call "Taps." The first time that this haunting,
wistful melody emanated from a bugle, it was Oliver Norton who was on the
business end of the instrument.
The bugle call "Taps" is attributed to Union Brigadier General Daniel
Butterfield. Butterfield felt that the army's official call to extinguish
lights was too formal. This call, known as "Tattoo," had been adopted from
the French army and was Napoleon's favorite bugle call. Norton described the
origin of "Taps" in an 1898 letter to a magazine which had published an
erroneous identification of its composer.
During the early part of the Civil War I was
bugler at the Headquarters of Butterfield’s Brigade. Up to July, 1862, the
Infantry call for Taps was that set down in Casey’s Tactics, which was
borrowed from the French. One day, soon after the seven days battles on the
Peninsular, when the Army of the Potomac was lying in camp at Harrison's
Landing, General Daniel Butterfield, then commanding our Brigade, sent for
me, and showing me some notes on a staff written in pencil on the back of an
envelope, asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times,
playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat, lengthening some
notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to
me. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call
for Taps thereafter in place of the regulation call.
The music was beautiful on that still summer
night, and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade. The next day I
was visited by several buglers from neighboring Brigades, asking for copies
of the music which I gladly furnished. I think no general order was issued
from army headquarters authorizing the substitution of this for the
regulation call, but as each brigade commander exercised his own discretion
in such minor matters, the call was gradually taken up through the Army of
the Potomac. I have been told that it was carried to the Western Armies by
the 11th and 12th Corps, when they went to Chattanooga in the fall of 1863,
and rapidly made its way through those armies.
"Taps" also came to be used by quite a few Confederate units and gained
official recognition by the U.S. Army in 1874. It was made standard at
military funerals in 1891. "Taps" celebrated its 150th birthday in July 2012.
Oliver Norton came to be Butterfield's bugler after he enlisted in 1861 and
became a member of the 83rd Pennsylvania Regiment. Norton was the bugler of
his regiment and later was appointed bugler of the brigade. He was not a
Pennsylvanian by birth, but was born in Angelica, New York in 1839. The
oldest of 13 children, Norton was well educated and was working as a teacher
when the Civil War began. His 83rd Pennsylvania Regiment became part of a
brigade that eventually included the 20th Maine of Little Round Top fame.
Daniel Butterfield was in command of this brigade from its formation through
Antietam. It was this brigade, commanded at that time by Strong Vincent, that
was hustled up Little Round Top in response to Gouverneur K. Warren's timely
warning. In fact, Norton's 1913 book, The Attack and Defense of Little
Round Top, is considered one of the most accurate accounts of that fight.
After Gettysburg, Norton received a commission as a first lieutenant in the
8th U.S. Colored Regiment. He remained in this unit until his discharge on
November 10, 1865. He maintained his connection to the army as a member of
the Grand Army of the Republic and by attending reunions. In 1870 he married
Lucy Fanning, with the presiding minister Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, the
brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The couple moved to Chicago, where they had
five children. Norton and his business associates formed a company that
produced tin cans and sheet metal products, which seems appropriate for
someone whose military career was closely connected to a piece of metal.
Norton died on October 1, 1920, and his wife Lucy died in 1933. No monument
to Oliver Norton exists anywhere.
From now on when you hear "Taps," remember that Oliver Norton was the first
person to play that plaintive melody. By all accounts, Norton was a good man
who lived an honorable life. Nevertheless, Norton's life was by no means
historic, and if he had not been the bugler of Daniel Butterfield's brigade,
and if his brigade commander had not been the person who composed "Taps,"
Norton would be just one more good man who lived an honorable life who never
ascended into the annals of history. There is an axiom of history that in
order to make history, you don't necessarily need to be the best; you just
need to be the first. Another axiom of history is that sometimes making
history is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Oliver W.
Norton is historic proof of both of those axioms.
The Only Man to Beat Robert E. Lee
In an Even Fight
There are some who consider Robert E. Lee the
greatest military leader of the Civil War. But Ulysses S. Grant beat Robert E.
Lee, which calls into question the claim that Lee was the greatest military
leader of the Civil War. However, that wasn't an even fight, and even if
detractors of Lee and admirers of Grant refuse to admit that it wasn't an even
fight, it doesn't change that fact. Nevertheless, there was someone who did
beat Robert E. Lee in an even fight, and that person was Charles Mason. Lee
graduated second in the West Point Class of 1829. Mason finished first, which
means that Mason beat Lee in an even competition. Some other notable members
of the Class of 1829 are Joseph E. Johnston (number 13), Theophilus Holmes
(another Confederate general, who graduated third from the bottom), and John
F. Kennedy (number 14, although presumably not the John F. Kennedy who was the
35th U.S. President). Mason finished with a total of 1,995.5 points out of a
possible 2,000; Lee finished with 1,966.5 points, 29 points less than Mason or
about 1.5% behind him. Both Lee and Mason had no demerits, as did three other
members of the Class of 1829. Since Mason graduated from the U.S. Military
Academy ahead of Lee, why have we not read about the illustrious military
career of Charles Mason? The reason is that Mason did not have a military
career, which is not to say that Mason did not have a distinguished career.
Mason was born in Onondaga County, New York
on October 24, 1804. After graduating from West Point, he taught engineering
there for two years and then resigned from the army to attend law school in
New York City. Mason practiced law for two years and then worked for the New
York Evening Post on its editorial staff, eventually serving as Acting Editor.
In 1836 he moved to Wisconsin Territory, and a year later he married Angelica
Gear. The couple lived on a farm near Burlington and had three daughters. In
1838 Iowa, which had been part of Wisconsin Territory, became a separate
territory, and President Martin Van Buren appointed Mason Chief Justice of the
Iowa Territory Supreme Court. Mason's first decision was his most famous.
Citing the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Mason ruled that a Missouri slave
named Ralph, who had been sent to Iowa by his master, was not required to
return to slavery. This ruling is contrary to the Dred Scott Decision, which
came almost 20 years later. Mason remained on the Iowa Supreme Court for nine
years, up to and for a short time after Iowa became a state. Subsequently
Mason was appointed U.S. Commissioner of Patents, was elected to the Iowa
State Board of Education, and founded a patent law firm.
During the Civil War, Mason became a Peace
Democrat. Although he opposed secession and slavery, he professed that the
constitutional rights of the southern states must be protected. Mason
disagreed with almost all of Abraham Lincoln's policies and used the Dubuque
Herald, a Democratic newspaper, to give voice to his Copperhead beliefs in a
series of anonymous letters signed simply "X." He once stated that the Union
"can never be perpetuated by force of arms and that a republican government
held together by the sword becomes a military Despotism." Mason was the
Democratic candidate for governor of Iowa twice, in 1861 and 1867, and was
defeated both times. After his second gubernatorial loss, Mason withdrew from
prominence, but remained active for the rest of his life in local affairs in
his home city of Burlington. On February 25, 1882, at the age of 77, the man
who finished ahead of Robert E. Lee at West Point died in obscurity at his
Charles Mason wrote in his diary in 1864,
"General Lee is winning great renown as a great captain. Some of the English
writers place him next to Napoleon and Wellington. I once excelled him and
might have been his equal yet perhaps if I had remained in the army as he
did." Because of Mason's career choices, we can never know if that would have
happened, and I suppose that Mason can be viewed as someone who never
fulfilled the great promise he showed at the U.S. Military Academy. But this
is an unfair judgment of someone who lived a varied and productive life and
contributed to society in a number of ways. I think a different quote by
Charles Mason sums up his life better, and this quote also applies to the
person who finished second to Mason at West Point. Reflecting on the turbulent
years during and shortly after the Civil War and his part in those years,
Mason wrote in his diary, "I played the game of life at a great crisis and
lost. I must be satisfied."
Well-Known Obscure Places
There is a joke about the Civil War which
asks the question, "Why were so many Civil War battles fought on National
Parks?" Of course it is the other way around. It is National Parks that were
established on the sites of Civil War battles. But that joke prompts the
thought that we would have never heard of those places had there not been
Civil War battles there. In his book, Mr. Lincoln's Army, Bruce Catton has a
superb passage which captures how the war came to a place that we would have
never heard of had the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia
not fought there 150 years ago this month.
"The country around Sharpsburg is
surpassingly lovely, with low hills rolling lazily down to the Potomac on the
west, and little patches of trees breaking up the green-and-brown pattern of
the farmers' fields. The river comes down unhurried, going to the south in
wide loops and then swinging to the east; and just before it turns again to go
south the copper-colored Antietam comes down and joins it-another unhurried
stream that makes little loops and bends of its own as it follows a
north-and-south line to enter the river. Between the creek and the river is
the town of Sharpsburg, lying on the western slope of a gentle ridge that
slopes off, east and west, to the two streams.
"Now this country town, together with the
streams and the principal roads, had names before the armies came together
there, because men have to have names for such places in the daily routine of
living. But most of the landscape lay nameless, and it serenely and happily
lacked history and tradition. Nothing had ever happened there except the
quiet, undramatic, unrecorded round of births and deaths, christenings and
weddings, cornhuskings and barn-raisings, the plowing of the ground in the
spring and the harvesting of fat crops in the fall. Life moved like the great
tide of the Potomac a mile or so to the west-slowly, steadily, without making
a fuss, patiently molding the land to its own liking.
"As one comes up the hill on the road from
Boonsboro, there is the National Cemetery, green and well kept. It was not
there at all on the morning of September 16, 1862; there was nothing there
then but the broad crest and the peaceful grove. If a man stood in this grove
and looked to the north, he could see the white block of the little Dunker
church. And on that September morning in 1862, anyone who looked at the church
would have seen two bits of woodland lying near it-one west of the Hagerstown
road, and the other east of the road. Two quieter bits of woodland could not
have been found in North America, and no one outside the immediate area had
ever heard of them. But ever since then, because of what was about to take
place there, those two wood lots have had a grim, specialized fame and have
been known in innumerable books and official records as the West Wood and the
East Wood-as if, in all that countryside, there were no other bits of wood
that lay just east and west of a country road. There was a forty-acre
cornfield between the two plots of trees, which ever since has simply been the
cornfield, as if there had never been any other.
"Where the cornfield used to be there is a
roadway flanked by gleaming, archaic-looking monuments and statues. But in the
fall of 1862 no one was dreaming of statues, and because they had had good
growing weather the corn was in fine shape, the tall stalks waving slowly in
the last winds of summer. And over and above this perfection of peace and
quiet, on the sixteenth of September, there was a silent running out of time
and a gathering together of the fates, as issues that reached to the ends of
the earth and the farthest borders of national history drew in here for
That passage beautifully conveys how the town
and the landmarks and the residents of Sharpsburg would have remained out of
the sight of history had the armies not happened upon that location for their
battle. Would we even know what state Sharpsburg is in or that there are two
round-topped hills just south of Gettysburg or that Vicksburg sits on the bank
of the Mississippi River had Civil War battles not happened in these places?
Most of these places would have "serenely and happily lacked history" had
history's sometimes cruel hand not reached into them. But because Civil War
battles were fought there, the names of these places echo within our heritage
and make us simultaneously quiver with dread and swell with pride. These
places can never again be obscure nameless landscapes.
Statues or no statues, monuments or no
monuments, National Park or not, these places have become, in the words of
Abraham Lincoln, consecrated far beyond our power to add or detract.
Note: For brevity, the passage from Bruce Catton's Mr. Lincoln's Army, was abridged somewhat.
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