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History Briefs 2015 - 2016
By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2015-2016, 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.
Past Briefs:
2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010
2010-2011 2011-2012 2012-2013
2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016
2016-2017 . .

May…

The Medical "Rebellion" Within the Union Army

Anyone who has watched television in Cleveland has almost certainly seen one of the commercials that end with the following emphatically confident promise, "I'll make them pay." These advertisements are for a law firm that specializes in personal injury cases, such as medical malpractice. If this law firm had been in existence at the time of the Civil War, one of the medical practices used by the Union army may have provided an opportunity for this firm to follow through on its confident promise. Battlefield medicine saw amazing advancements during the Civil War, and Civil War physicians worked tirelessly and admirably to deal with one seemingly hopeless injury after another. In spite of this, there were flaws in the medical treatment that soldiers received. With regard to one serious flaw, the person in charge of medical matters for the Union army was not responsible for this problem and, in fact, mandated a correction of this flaw. But a political appointee who is well known to every Civil War enthusiast undid the corrective action.

Many horrific descriptions can be found to convey the enormity of the frightful task that Civil War physicians faced in field hospitals. A gruesomely accurate description was written by Jacob R. Weist, a physician from Ohio who served in the Union army. Weist wrote, "Wounded men are lying everywhere. What a horrible sight they present! Here the bones of a leg or an arm have been shattered like glass by a minnie ball. Here a great hole has been torn into an abdomen by a grape shot. Near by see that blood and froth covering the chest of one choking with blood from a wound of the lungs. By his side lies this beardless boy with his right leg remaining attached to his body by only a few shreds of blackened flesh. This one's lower jaw has been carried entirely away; fragments of shell have done this cruel work. Over yonder lies an old man, oblivious to all his surroundings, his grizzly hair matted with brain and blood slowly oozing from a great gaping wound in the head. Here is a bayonet wound; there is a slash from a sabre. Here is one bruised and mangled until the semblance of humanity is almost lost...The sum of human agony about us is so great that no expression can describe it." Against this backdrop of ghastly medical need, physicians in battlefield hospitals performed extraordinary feats to assist the wounded. But in spite of this, there were some flaws in the treatment given by the Union army's medical corps, and one flaw in particular led to what became known as a rebellion among the members of that corps.

The person at the center of this rebellion was William A. Hammond. Hammond was born in 1828 and received his M.D. at the age of 20. After a one-year internship and a few months in civilian practice, he joined the army as an assistant surgeon. Hammond spent 11 years in the army, mostly in the West, and the strong reputation that he developed led to him being offered a position as chair of anatomy and physiology at the medical school of the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Hammond resigned from the army on October 31, 1860 to take this position. Six months later Hammond had his first experience with Civil War wounded when he treated some of the Union troops who were injured by a pro-secessionist mob in an infamous riot in Baltimore. One month later Hammond resigned from his academic position and returned to the army, where he was eventually assigned to West Virginia as a physician in the army commanded by William Rosecrans. Hammond was later assigned to the Army of the Potomac. During his first year of Civil War service Hammond met and interacted with Jonathan Letterman, another army physician who has been called the Father of Modern Battlefield Medicine.

In the spring of 1862 Clement Finley, who at that time was the Union army's surgeon general, became engaged in an acrimonious argument with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton over some issues in the army's medical department, and Stanton relieved Finley of his duties. Stanton had someone in mind as Finley's successor, but by this time William Hammond had developed such a strong reputation as an administrator and innovator that there was much support for Hammond to be named the army's surgeon general, including from the Sanitary Commission. Contrary to the wishes of his own secretary of war, Abraham Lincoln promoted Hammond to army surgeon general on April 25, 1862. This led to friction between Hammond and Stanton, which reached a boiling point a little over a year later. To make the situation worse, Hammond was an assertive and imposing person, which made it difficult for Hammond and Stanton to co-exist. In fact, in a short biography of William Hammond on the web site of the U.S. Army Medical Department, there is a statement that reads, "It was inevitable, however, that the masterful personality of Hammond would excite the disapproval of such an autocratic spirit as Secretary Stanton." However, no one could deny that under Hammond's stewardship the army's medical corps experienced immense improvements. Drawing on what he learned during his first tenure in the army, Hammond redesigned army hospitals to improve the floor layout and to provide more ventilation, lighting, and space. He also raised the qualification standards for army physicians, improved and increased medical records of patients, instituted an inspection system for army hospitals, and implemented throughout the entire Union army the ambulance system that Jonathan Letterman had developed for the Army of the Potomac. Mortality among army patients decreased, and efficiency and effectiveness of the army's medical corps increased.

But one of Hammond's directives for improving patient care gave Edwin Stanton an opening to dismiss the man whom Stanton did not want as the army's surgeon general and toward whom Stanton felt fierce disdain. On May 4, 1863 William Hammond banned the use of calomel, a chemical that was widely used for medicinal purposes and had been so used for centuries prior to the Civil War. Calomel is a chemical compound that contains mercury. Specifically, calomel is mercurous chloride. Calomel was routinely given orally to treat a number of diseases and ailments, including typhoid fever, yellow fever, dysentery, and constipation. Despite its mercury content and despite abundant evidence of its deleterious side effects, calomel was even given to children. As an indication of how standard and trusted calomel was as a medicine, on the day that George Washington died, he was given calomel to treat the respiratory illness from which he was suffering.

At the time of the Civil War germ theory had not been proven, so it was not known that many diseases are caused by microorganisms. The rationale for calomel treatment grew out of the medical thinking that diseases resulted from an imbalance in the body's humors, that is, the body’s fluids, and it was thought that one method for curing a disease involved purging unhealthy humors from the body. This is the thinking that led to the medical practice of bloodletting. Another method for purging unhealthy humors was to use cathartic chemicals. Calomel is well suited for this purpose, since calomel has been said to cause explosive evacuation of the bowels. For example, according to an account written by two of the physicians who treated George Washington just before his death, the Father of Our Country endured the intense and copious bowel evacuation that is typical after calomel administration, and this likely contributed to his death. In addition, calomel, at the doses at which it was used medicinally, frequently produced extreme salivation. Patients who were treated with calomel often experienced loosening of their teeth or even loss of teeth. Associated with the oral administration of calomel were deterioration of facial tissue, such as the cheek and gums, as well as loss of muscle and bone from the jaw with consequent facial deformities and sometimes partial loss of functionality of the mouth. There were also harmful effects on the internal organs, particularly the gastrointestinal tract.

William Hammond correctly recognized that calomel is toxic and that its administration to patients does much more harm than good. However, his directive banning calomel infuriated most of the 'conventional' physicians of his time, both military and civilian, who considered that Hammond must be a fringe physician if he banned such a widely used medicine. The uproar over Hammond's ban of calomel came to be known as the Calomel Rebellion, and the widespread criticism of Hammond's directive led Edwin Stanton to take action that resulted in Hammond's dismissal as the army's surgeon general. First Stanton ordered that Hammond conduct a lengthy inspection tour of military hospitals, which effectively removed Hammond from his post as surgeon general. Stanton then directed that a personal friend, Joseph Barnes, assume the duties of the surgeon general.

When Hammond returned to Washington from the inspection tour, he demanded that he either be returned to his position or face trial by court-martial. Stanton chose the latter for Hammond and, by some accounts, arranged that the court-martial’s panel be composed of people who shared Stanton's dislike of Hammond. It was not difficult to find such people, because Hammond was certainly overbearing and heavy-handed, and he had earlier made known his contempt for some of the people who were eventually selected by Stanton to serve on the court-martial. One member of the court-martial’s panel had once been described by Hammond as a "vulgar ignoramus" and another as "unscrupulous, dishonest, cowardly, and ignorant." In the end Hammond was found guilty of irregularities in procurements for the medical department, and he was dismissed from the army on August 18, 1864. William Hammond was known to be arrogant, and it is reasonable to conclude that this played a role in his dismissal, if for no other reason than because Edwin Stanton, by all indications, was the type of person who simply would not tolerate his own arrogance being overshadowed by someone else’s.

On the day after Hammond was dismissed from the army, The New York Times characterized Hammond's guilt as being "of a very vile sort." The Times also claimed that Hammond had "stooped to the level of the lowest shoddy knave" and went on to state "he will be remembered only to be loathed." In a whirlwind journalistic reversal, the Times sheepishly admitted one day later, "We know nothing of the case beyond the fact of conviction." The hasty prediction by The New York Times regarding how William Hammond would be remembered could not have been further from the truth. After the Civil War Hammond became a pioneer and innovator in the nascent field of neurology, he held several appointments in academia, he wrote seminal works in his field, and he participated in the founding of medical journals and of the American Neurological Association. In 1879, 15 years after Hammond's dismissal from the army, the wrong that Edwin Stanton wrought was corrected when William Hammond was restored to the army as a retired member at his previous rank, although without pay. Upon his death in 1900 Hammond was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. There was, however, one consequence of Stanton's actions against Hammond that could not be corrected, and this is that calomel continued to be used not just during the Civil War, but for decades afterward, even into the early 20th Century. In time William Hammond was proven to be correct regarding his ban of calomel, which is unquestionably toxic and is now known to be of no use in the treatment of diseases.

If the Cleveland law firm which promises to "make them pay" had been in existence at the time of the Civil War, this firm may have found a fertile field for liability in the Union army's use of calomel for medicinal purposes. Occasional and random errors that lead to personal injury can be a valid reason for liability. But a systematic flaw is an even more likely reason for widespread liability, particularly if the person in charge recognizes the flaw and endeavors to correct it, but his corrective effort is overruled. This was the case with regard to the medicinal use of calomel in the Union army. In light of the extensive use of calomel to treat the diseases of Union military personnel, it is certainly possible and perhaps likely that calomel was at least a contributing factor in some and maybe many of the more than 200,000 Union military deaths that were classified as death by disease. Consequently, the medicinal use of calomel may have been a sufficient cause for personal injury cases, in the same way that Vietnam veterans were compensated for exposure to Agent Orange after a lengthy process that began with a lawsuit. Physicians in the Confederate army also used calomel, so perhaps there were grounds for southern cases to be prosecuted as well. But if lawyers did decide to prosecute southern cases involving calomel, they would have to be careful to "make them pay" in something other than Confederate currency.

 


William A. Hammond
Edwin M Stanton
 
 
 
 

April…

The Best Confederate General from the Buckeye State

In 2012 the sports web site Bleacher Report published its choices for the best player ever to play for each National Basketball Association team. The choices for some teams, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls, are obvious. But for other teams, such as the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, it is difficult to choose the best player in that team's history, because those teams had an abundance of great players. If a similar endeavor were done for Union Civil War generals by state, Ohio would fall into the latter category, because there would be some question about whether to choose Ulysses S. Grant or William Tecumseh Sherman, since a compelling case can be made for either one of them. It can be argued that Grant should belong to Illinois, since Grant gave his place of residence as Galena, Illinois when he and his son checked into the Willard Hotel in Washington. But Grant's birthplace is in Ohio, which means that Ohio can legitimately lay claim to Grant, similar to Illinois laying claim to Barack Obama, while Obama can also be claimed by his place of birth, Hawaii. (Or is it Kenya?) If Ohio is allowed to claim Ulysses Grant, then choosing between Grant and Sherman as the best Union general from the Buckeye State is not easy. But the decision is not as difficult for Ohio's best Confederate general. Depending upon the criteria that are used to classify someone as being "from Ohio," there are five and perhaps six Confederate generals who were from Ohio. (After the text of this history brief, the names of the Confederate generals from Ohio are listed along with a brief description of each of them.) Among these five (or six) Ohio Confederate generals, the strongest case can be made for Bushrod Johnson as the best, if for no other reason than the extent of his military contributions to the Confederate cause, although Johnson's record is by no means unblemished.

Bushrod Rust Johnson was born on October 7, 1817 in Belmont County, which is in southeastern Ohio, and which holds the distinction of being the first county in the United States to elect a woman sheriff (although this occurred long after the Civil War in 1976 when Katherine Crumbley was elected sheriff). Based on Bushrod Johnson's background, he was an unlikely person to serve in the military, and even more unlikely to do so for the Confederacy. Johnson and his family were Quakers, and they were also abolitionists. Johnson and his uncle actively helped escaped slaves reach freedom via the Underground Railroad. Despite his family's pacifist beliefs, Johnson successfully pursued an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy and graduated in 1840 at number 23 in a class of 42, a class that included William Tecumseh Sherman, George Thomas, and Richard Ewell. After graduation, Johnson served in the Second Seminole War in Florida and then in the Mexican-American War, where he served under both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. It was during his time under Scott that Johnson received the first blemish on his military record. Johnson was serving as a commissary officer, and he devised a scheme to sell government goods for personal profit. After his scheme was discovered, Johnson was forced to resign from the army in 1847.

Four years later in 1851, Johnson obtained a position as an instructor at the Western Military Institute in Georgetown, Kentucky. A year later Johnson married Mary Hatch, and the following year the couple had a son, Charles, who was physically and mentally handicapped and remained an invalid his entire life. In 1855 the Western Military Institute merged with the University of Nashville, and Johnson and his family moved to Nashville. Three years later in 1858 Johnson's wife Mary died, which made Johnson a widower at the age of 41 and left him to take care of Charles by himself with the help of a nanny whom he hired.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Johnson was a prominent resident of Nashville, and he chose to rejoin the military in June 1861 to support the cause of the land that had become his home. Johnson's first assignment was at Fort Donelson, and he was instrumental in the construction of the fort. Promoted to brigadier general in January 1862, Johnson commanded a division during the battle of Fort Donelson, where he led a successful assault on the Union right. After the surrender of Fort Donelson, Johnson managed to escape, and he then commanded a brigade at Shiloh, where he was seriously wounded by an exploding artillery shell. Johnson recovered from this wound in time to serve at Perryville and Stones River.

On June 24, 1863, Bushrod Johnson's brigade became one of the first Confederate units to face Spencer repeating rifles at an engagement known as the battle of Hoover's Gap, which was part of William Rosecrans' Tullahoma campaign. Three months later Bushrod Johnson had his greatest day in the Civil War at Chickamauga. Johnson had been placed in command of a provisional division under James Longstreet, who had been sent with two divisions to reinforce Braxton Bragg's army. On the second day of the battle of Chickamauga, Johnson's troops spearheaded the attack that struck through the gap that Rosecrans mistakenly created in the Union lines. Johnson said of the attack, "The scene now presented was unspeakably grand. The resolute and impetuous charge, the rush of our heavy columns sweeping out from the shadow and gloom of the forest into the open fields flooded with sunlight, the glitter of arms, the onward dash of artillery and mounted men, the retreat of the foe, the shouts of the hosts of our army, the dust, the smoke, the noise of fire-arms—of whistling balls and grape-shot and of bursting shell—made up a battle scene of unsurpassed grandeur." After Johnson’s troops pierced the Union lines, the Union army was saved by Johnson’s West Point classmate, George Thomas.

Following the battle of Chickamauga Johnson was returned to brigade command and remained with Longstreet for Longstreet's failed attempt to capture Knoxville, Tennessee. In the spring of 1864, when Longstreet returned to the eastern theater, Bushrod Johnson and his brigade remained with him. In the East, Johnson and his brigade participated in the Bermuda Hundred campaign, where Johnson performed well. Eventually Johnson, now in command of a division, took part in the siege of Petersburg on the receiving end of Ulysses Grant's unrelenting pressure. The Union mine that was detonated to begin the battle of the Crater exploded under Bushrod Johnson's section of the Confederate lines. Johnson received another blemish on his military record because of his sluggishness in mounting a response to the Union assault that followed the detonation of the mine.

After Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia evacuated Petersburg, Bushrod Johnson and his division were part of the Appomattox campaign. During Lee's flight to his ultimate defeat, Johnson received another blemish on his military record and in so doing contributed to the depletion of the Army of Northern Virginia. Four days after Lee's army left Petersburg, that army suffered the disastrous defeat at Sailor's Creek. During this battle, Johnson's division and the division of George Pickett comprised the Confederate troops whose panicked retreat led Lee to mournfully exclaim, "My God! Has the army been dissolved?" Many men of Johnson's division were captured, and there is evidence that Johnson abandoned his command on the field. Two days after the battle of Sailor's Creek, Lee relieved Johnson, Pickett, and their corps commander, Richard Anderson, which brought Bushrod Johnson’s Confederate military career to an end. Bushrod Johnson's battlefield action in the Confederate army began when he faced Ulysses Grant at Fort Donelson and ended facing Grant in the Appomattox campaign.

Following the Civil War, Bushrod Johnson returned to teaching at the University of Nashville, where he was named co-chancellor in 1870. Johnson was also reunited with his invalid son and took care of him until his own life ended. In 1875 Johnson retired due to failing health, and he and his son moved to that part of the United States from which Johnson had fought to separate the Confederate states. Johnson did not return to the state of his birth, but moved to the Land of Lincoln, to a farm in southwestern Illinois. Johnson died five years later on September 12, 1880, less than one month shy of his 63rd birthday. He was buried in Miles Station, Illinois, in other words, in the region of the U.S. in which he was born, but not in the region of the U.S. which came to be his home. Johnson's remains were eventually moved to Nashville, the place where he spent much of his adult life, but this did not occur until 1975, which was the year before the Ohio county in which Johnson was born became the first U.S. county to elect a woman as sheriff. Johnson's remains were reinterred next to his wife in Nashville City Cemetery. Also buried in this cemetery is Johnson's West Point classmate, Richard Ewell. After spending 95 years in a grave far from his wife and far from his home, Bushrod Johnson, a Confederate general from the Buckeye State, whose life was an amalgam of largely unknown successes, troubling failures, and painful misfortunes, was finally able to rest in peace.

Had Bushrod Johnson been an NBA player with basketball accomplishments that are equivalent to his Confederate military contributions, no one would rank Johnson as his team's all-time best player. However, in light of the members on the team of Confederate generals from Ohio, Bushrod Johnson can legitimately be considered the best of that group. It is perhaps surprising that there is more than one candidate for the choice of the best Confederate general from Ohio. However, this fits with Ohio's tendency to not be uniform in presidential elections. In such elections Ohio is consistently a purple state, which means that Ohio does not regularly belong to either political party. Although Ohio was solidly a blue state in the Civil War, there was still some gray that came from Ohio, and a compelling case can be made that the best Confederate general from Ohio was Bushrod Johnson.

Ohio's Confederate generals

Charles Clark: Clark was born on May 24, 1811 in Lebanon, Ohio. His military service was in the western theater, and he was a wartime governor of Mississippi. After the war he lived in Mississippi until his death in 1877.
Robert Hatton: Hatton was born on November 2, 1826 in Steubenville, Ohio. He was killed on May 31, 1862 (age 35) at the battle of Seven Pines, which was part of the Peninsula campaign.
Roswell Ripley: Ripley was born on March 14, 1823 in Worthington, Ohio (which is in Franklin County). Ripley fought in the Peninsula campaign and the Seven Days battles and was wounded at the battle of Antietam. After he recovered from his wound, he commanded troops in the Charleston, South Carolina defenses. Following the war he lived for about 20 years in England. After returning to the U.S., he lived in New York City until his death in 1887.
Otho Strahl: Strahl was born on June 3, 1831 in Morgan County (which is in southeastern Ohio). He was killed on November 30, 1864 (age 33) at the battle of Franklin, and he was one of four Confederate generals (including Patrick Cleburne) whose bodies were laid on the porch of the house on the Carnton Plantation.

No image available

Philip Luckett: Luckett was born in 1823 in Virginia. He lived for a time as a young adult in Ohio, but spent most of his adult life in Texas, from which state he fought in the Civil War. Luckett’s classification as an Ohioan can be questioned, because he was not born in Ohio and did not live for a long time in Ohio, although due to failing health he moved to Cincinnati after the war to live with relatives and died there in 1869.

 


Bushrod Rust Johnson
 
 
 
 
 

March…

Erin's Spartans in Gray

Rightly or wrongly, some months of the year in the U.S. are dominated by a holiday that happens to fall in that month: New Year's Day for January, Independence Day for July, Halloween for October, Thanksgiving Day for November, and Christmas for December. Any religious significance aside, these holidays and the monthly focus on them transcend any ethnic ancestry. However, there is one month which, in a sense, belongs to a particular ethnic group due to a holiday which falls in that month. That month is the month of March, which can be said to belong to the Irish, because Saint Patrick's Day falls in March. Likewise, some units that fought in the Civil War had an Irish heritage. Of course, the most well-known Irish unit of the Civil War was the Union's Irish Brigade. But for those who also wear gray while they do their wearing of the green, there were some Irish units in the Confederacy. While some of these were regiments, such as the 6th Louisiana, 10th Tennessee, and 8th Alabama, most of the Irish units in the Confederate army were companies rather than regiments or brigades. One of these Irish companies was Company F of the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery, and this unit has an illustrious history.

Company F, 1st Texas Heavy Artillery consisted primarily of Irish dockworkers from Houston. The unit took as its official name the Jefferson Davis Guard, which was typically shortened to Davis Guard. There were other Confederate units which used some variation of the name Davis Guard, but Company F, 1st Texas Heavy Artillery was the only one of these that was comprised of men with Irish heritage. This unit has two other distinctions, and these are that it won a victory at what is arguably the greatest numerical disparity of the Civil War, and it was the only Confederate unit to receive medals commissioned by the Confederate Congress.

The Davis Guard's momentous victory came at the second battle of Sabine Pass. Sabine Pass is a natural waterway in southeastern Texas that connects the Gulf of Mexico with the Sabine River. The Sabine River forms much of the border between Texas and Louisiana, and because of its connection with the Gulf of Mexico via Sabine Pass, the Sabine River provided an invasion route for the Union into Texas. In addition, the town of Sabine Pass, which lay on the western shore of the waterway of the same name, had a port that was used by blockade runners. Consequently, David Farragut, commander of the blockading squadron in the Gulf of Mexico, dispatched a flotilla of three ships in September 1862 to capture the port. This resulted in what came to be known as the first battle of Sabine Pass, which was no more than a brief bombardment by the Union ships of a very small Confederate force that was stationed on the west side of the Sabine Pass waterway. The Confederate force quickly withdrew, and the town of Sabine Pass surrendered. The Union flotilla remained in the area for a short time after the battle, but upon receiving a report that a large Confederate army was approaching, the Union flotilla withdrew, and the Confederates regained control of Sabine Pass.

To better defend the approach into the area, the Confederates built an earthen fort on the west side of the Sabine Pass waterway about a mile north of where the first battle of Sabine Pass occurred. The Davis Guard was assigned to garrison this fort, and in command of the garrison was Richard W. "Dick" Dowling, who was born in Ireland in 1837. Dowling and his older sister emigrated to New Orleans when Dowling was nine years old. The rest of the family came to the U.S. five years later, but two years after their arrival Dowling's parents died in an outbreak of yellow fever. In 1857, four years after the death of his parents and at the age of 20, Dowling moved to Houston and began what became a successful business as a saloon owner. By the time of the Civil War, Dowling owned several saloons and had participated in the establishment of Houston's first gas company, first volunteer fire department, and first streetcar company. When the Civil War began and the Davis Guard was formed, Dowling was elected a lieutenant in the company.

After the Davis Guard occupied the newly constructed fort on Sabine Pass early in 1863, Dowling began an intense training program for the men in his artillery company in preparation for the next Union attempt to take control of Sabine Pass. Dowling put his men through extensive artillery drills to make them thoroughly familiar with the ranges from the fort to various points across Sabine Pass. He also had marker posts placed at various locations across the waterway to assist his men in setting the ranges of their guns. This intense preparation served the Davis Guard well when another Union force attacked Sabine Pass on September 8, 1863, almost one year after the first attack. This second attack consisted of a combined navy and army force that comprised four gunboats and 18 other ships, including troop transports, as well as 4,000 infantry. The initial assault was carried out by the four gunboats, which steamed up Sabine Pass toward the fort. One of the gunboats carried 500 of the infantry troops, who were to be landed once the fort had been reduced, and this gunboat remained behind to keep the infantry troops at a safe distance. The remaining 18 ships and the infantry on the troop transports stayed out of range of the fort's guns. As the gunboats approached the fort, the Davis Guard's months of artillery training begot a nightmare of destruction for the two gunboats that were in the lead. With the ranges well established, the Confederate gunners scored multiple hits on these two gunboats. Eventually the boilers of both gunboats were hit, and these gunboats were disabled. In time the commander of the Union gunboat squadron recognized that the assault was a failure, and the two surviving gunboats with the rest of the flotilla and the infantry troops withdrew. In all the Union force suffered 350 casualties and lost two gunboats, while the Davis Guard had no casualties.

The numerical disparity at the second battle of Sabine Pass was very large, about a hundred to one. The Union force contained a total of about 5,000. There is some uncertainty about the exact number of Confederates who took part in the battle, but the best reckoning is between 45 and 50. However, by all accounts the Union infantry remained on board ships and was not engaged, so technically the disparity in the battle, itself, was not as great as generally recorded. Nevertheless, based solely on the total number in each force at the battle, the Davis Guard can claim to have defeated a force that was a hundred times its number. In the immediate aftermath of the battle, the focus of the news about the engagement was that a few dozen Confederates drove off a combined army-navy Union expedition of a few thousand. In light of this considerable numerical disparity coupled with the fact that the Davis Guard blocked a large invasion force, the second battle of Sabine Pass was likened to the battle of Thermopylae, reputedly even by Jefferson Davis.

A Confederate Sabine Pass Medal


The Confederacy was so elated over the victory at Sabine Pass, coming as it did about two months after Gettysburg and Vicksburg, that the Confederate Congress did something to honor the Davis Guard that it had not done before and would not do again. In recognition of the victory at Sabine Pass, the Confederate Congress commissioned medals for each member of the Davis Guard, and these are reputedly the only military medals that were commissioned by the Confederate Congress. The medals which the men of the Davis Guard received were made by citizens of Houston from Mexican silver coins. The faces of the coins were smoothed out, and the faces were then inscribed on one side with the words "Sabine Pass| Sept: 8th| 1863" and on the other side with the initials "D.G." (for Davis Guard) and either a Maltese Cross or a Confederate battle flag. The medals were hung with green ribbons to acknowledge the Irish heritage of the men in the Davis Guard. Only seven of the medals are still known to be in existence.

Despite the euphoria that was aroused in the Confederacy over the victory at the second battle of Sabine Pass, the fortunes of the breakaway nation at the time of that victory were decidedly downward. Dick Dowling's artillery unit won an astounding and uplifting victory, but that victory was in support of an ultimately unsuccessful effort to bring a new nation into existence. Because of this failure, Dick Dowling, who had moved from Ireland to America at the age of nine, again underwent a change in his country of residence, although this time it happened without any change in Dowling's geographic location. Less than two years after the second battle of Sabine Pass, Dowling no longer lived in the Confederate States of America, but once again lived in the United States of America. However, Dowling did not live long in his once and present country. In the summer of 1867 an epidemic of yellow fever struck the Gulf Coast, including the city of Houston, and at the age of 30 Dick Dowling died of the disease that had claimed his parents 14 years earlier. But before the day arrived that Dick Dowling's loved ones filled to him the parting glass, Dowling and his Irish comrades in the Davis Guard carved out a distinctive place for themselves in history and also provided ample reason for adding gray to the green color scheme of the Irish month of March.

Related Reading:

The Irish In the Civil War

 


Richard W. Dowling
 
 
 
 
 

February…

The Slave Who Captained His
Ship to Freedom

There is an old joke that is intended to convey the lesson that in order for a person to attain a particular goal he needs to do more than simply petition the Almighty and then let God decide whether or not this goal should be realized. As this joke goes, a man died and went to heaven, and when he came face to face with the Sovereign of the Universe, he said to God, "I am certainly happy to be here in heaven, but there is a question that I have long wanted to ask you. During my life on earth I prayed to you every day, often more than once per day, that you would let me win the lottery. But even after years of praying, I never won the lottery. The Bible says that if someone asks, it will be answered, yet you never answered my prayer to win the lottery." God looked compassionately at the man and in a gentle voice said, "My son, it was always my desire to see you be happy, but that was one prayer that I was not able to answer." The man replied, "You are God almighty. How could you not have been able to answer that prayer?" God responded, "Even with all my almighty powers, I was not able to answer your prayer to win the lottery, because you never bought a lottery ticket." Just as the old joke admonishes that more must be done to address personal needs and desires than simply prayerfully await intervention by the Almighty, a slave named Robert Smalls did not merely wait for his freedom to come to him, but won his freedom in a unique and daring escape.

Robert Smalls was born on April 5, 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina. Smalls was born behind the home of John McKee, who was the owner of Robert Smalls' mother. The identity of Smalls' father is not known with certainty, but it may have been John McKee's son, Henry. Smalls' mother, Lydia, worked in the house that the McKee's had in the city, but the McKee family also owned a plantation on an island near Beaufort. For reasons that are unclear, Robert Smalls was favored as a slave, and he was allowed to play with white children and work at less strenuous tasks. Because of this, Smalls' mother worried that her son would fail to fully grasp the horrible realities of slavery, and she arranged for Robert to spend time at the McKee plantation. It was here that Robert saw the rigors of field work and the cruelty of whippings. As a result, Robert learned what bondage truly meant for a slave, and he developed a spirit of defiance.

When Smalls reached the age of 12, he was hired out to work in Charleston. Smalls worked at a number of jobs in Charleston and eventually began to work on the docks. This led to him working on harbor boats, and he showed such a keen aptitude for this work that he became what was called a wheelman, which was essentially a pilot, although blacks were not allowed to hold the title of pilot. In this role Smalls became thoroughly familiar with the waters of Charleston harbor and along the coast. Several years after he began working in Charleston, Smalls married Hannah Jones, who worked in a Charleston hotel, and they had two children. When the Civil War began, Smalls' experience as a wheelman led to his assignment on the Confederate ship CSS Planter. Prior to the war the Planter was a cotton steamer. For her wartime role she was armed and used to transport supplies to forts in and around Charleston harbor. The Planter was manned by three white crewmen and eight black slaves with Smalls acting essentially as the boat's pilot.

Confederate steamship CSS Planter

On the fortuitous night of May 12, 1862 Smalls set in motion a plan that he had devised some time earlier and had kept in mind for just the opportunity that presented itself that night, even though that plan almost certainly meant death for all the participants if it failed. On the night of May 12, 1862 the three white crewmen of the Planter, Captain C.J. Relyea, pilot Samuel H. Smith, and engineer Zerich Pitcher, took it upon themselves to take unauthorized shore leave. After they were gone, Smalls took command of the Planter and steamed away from the wharf where she was docked. The Planter then steamed to another wharf where Smalls' wife, two children, and several other slaves were picked up. With its party of nine men, five women, and three children, the Planter steamed through Charleston harbor under the guidance of Robert Smalls, whose meticulous knowledge of those waters gave him the exact skill needed for the escape voyage. Smalls also donned the captain's large straw hat to conceal his face and used his familiarity with the captain's signals and mannerisms to deceive any Confederate sentries whom he encountered along the escape route, which included passage near Fort Sumter. At the appropriate points along the way, Smalls blew the Planter's steam whistle to give the usual salute and even mimicked the captain's posture while he stood on board. At every checkpoint the boat was allowed to pass without incident. Once out of the harbor the Confederate flag on the Planter was replaced with a white sheet that Smalls' wife Hannah had taken from the hotel in which she worked, and the boat steamed toward the Union blockading fleet. The first Union ship that the Planter encountered was the USS Onward, but initially men on board that ship did not see the white flag and aimed some of the ship's guns at the Planter. But soon the white flag was seen, and the escaped slaves were taken on board the Onward.

The daring escape that Smalls led was reported throughout the North in newspapers such as Harper's Weekly. For the Confederacy the escape was an embarrassment, primarily because the ingenious plan and its execution contradicted the Confederacy's firmly held claim that blacks were intellectually inferior and lacked initiative. In fact, some in Charleston insisted that Smalls and his party must have had assistance from whites in order to devise and carry out such a resourceful escape. Smalls' fame led to this former slave meeting the president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and Smalls added his voice to that of Frederick Douglass in urging Lincoln to allow blacks to fight against the Confederacy. In October 1862, five months after his escape, Smalls returned to the area around Charleston to serve as pilot of the Planter, which was now being used as a Union gunboat, and he participated in 17 military engagements. Most exemplary was the action at Folly Island Creek near Charleston, where the captain of the Planter was overcome by fear in the heat of an intense fight and hid in the coal bunker. Smalls took command of the boat and guided it to safety.

After the Civil War Smalls used the money that the U.S. government awarded to him for the capture of the Planter to purchase the house in Beaufort that had belonged to his former owner. Not only did Smalls and his family reside there, but Smalls allowed Jane McKee, the widowed wife of his former owner, to live in the house until her death. Smalls later went into politics and served in the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. His most noteworthy political service came at the 1895 South Carolina constitutional convention, where the re-emerged white supremacists sought to undo the civil rights that had been established during Reconstruction. In an impassioned speech against the proposed South Carolina constitution, Smalls gave a stinging reproach to the ex-Confederates who were laying the foundation for Jim Crow when he stated, "I fought in seventeen battles to make glorious and perpetuate the flag that some of you trampled under your feet." Although Smalls was unsuccessful in blocking passage of the new South Carolina constitution, it has been said that he showed as much courage in opposing that constitution as he did during his escape on the Planter.

Robert Smalls died on February 22, 1915 in the house behind which he had been born into slavery, the house in which he had worked as a slave, which he came to own as a free man, and which now is on the National Register of Historic Places. Another legacy of Robert Smalls is the first U.S. Army ship named after an African-American. This ship was launched in 2004, and in light of the time that Smalls spent on a boat that was used to transport supplies in Charleston harbor, it is fitting that the U.S. Army vessel that bears Smalls' name is used for transport of cargo and vehicles. Robert Smalls lived a life that allowed him to say with absolute conviction, "My race needs no special defense for the past history of them and this country. It proves them to be equal of any people anywhere."

There are many inspirational stories in the Civil War, in fact probably more than are known, because in all likelihood some inspirational Civil War stories tragically were not recorded. Fortunately, the story of Robert Smalls was recorded, because his story is inspiring not only from the standpoint of slavery, but also from the perspective of a person taking matters into his own hands and doing whatever he can to reach his goal no matter the risk. Robert Smalls did not simply buy a ticket on his ship to freedom. Robert Smalls, both figuratively and literally, was the captain of the ship to his freedom. Good things come to those who wait? This is not an axiom to which Robert Smalls adhered. Robert Smalls lived by the axiom that God helps those who help themselves.

 

Robert Smalls
 
 
 
 
 

January…

Whose Maryland?

The opening lines of the official state song of what was once one of the 13 original colonies are as follows:

The despot's heel is on thy shore,
Maryland, my Maryland.
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland, my Maryland.

In light of the uncomplimentary things that were written in the Declaration of Independence about King George III, it is not surprising that the state song of one of the 13 original colonies refers to a despot. But what may be surprising to many people is that the despot referred to in the state song of Maryland is not George III, but Abraham Lincoln. In other lines Lincoln is referred to as a tyrant and a vandal, and near the end of the song there is a line that calls opponents of secession "Northern scum." These sentiments are expressed in this song because this song, which is titled Maryland, My Maryland, was not written at the time of the Revolutionary War, but was written in late April of 1861 as a poem urging Maryland to secede from the Union. In spite of the fact that the song advocates secession, Maryland, My Maryland remains the state song of Maryland.

James Ryder Randall


Maryland, My Maryland was written by James Ryder Randall, who was born in Baltimore. By 1861 Randall had been living in the South for several years, and he came to consider himself a Southerner. He was an ardent secessionist, and he wrote Maryland, My Maryland as a reaction to what happened in Baltimore on April 19, 1861. On that day a Massachusetts regiment was moving on foot through the streets of Baltimore on its way to Washington when a mob of secessionists began throwing stones and bricks at the troops and even shot at them. Eventually the Massachusetts troops fired back at the mob. By the end of the riot 15 people were dead, 4 soldiers and 11 civilians, and many more were wounded. After James Ryder Randall heard news of the riot in the city of his birth, he wrote a poem as a plea to Maryland to join the Confederacy, and those words became the lyrics of the song Maryland, My Maryland. Randall's poem was published in newspapers throughout the South, and by May 1861 the poem had made its way to Maryland, where Jennie Cary, a daughter in a prominent secessionist family in Baltimore, set the poem to the tune of O Tannenbaum after tweaking the words slightly to better fit the melody. The song became very popular in the South during the Civil War, and according to some accounts Robert E. Lee had the men in the Army of Northern Virginia sing that song as they marched into Frederick, Maryland during Lee's first northern invasion. Maryland, My Maryland has been called the Marseillaise of the South, although other songs also lay claim to that nickname.

Maryland never actually seceded, Maryland was never part of the Confederacy, and Maryland never had a star on the Confederate flag, in contrast to Kentucky and Missouri, which, like Maryland, were never part of the Confederacy, but unlike Maryland were claimed by the Confederacy and had stars on the Confederate flag. In spite of all of this, the Maryland legislature adopted Maryland, My Maryland as the official state song, and this happened in 1939. It is not clear why this decision was made at that time, but maybe there was a 20th Century eruption of secession nostalgia in Maryland. Maryland, My Maryland is sung each year at the Preakness horse race, the second leg of horse racing's triple crown, which takes place in Baltimore, the location of the riot that prompted James Ryder Randall to compose Maryland, My Maryland. For the past 18 years, Maryland, My Maryland has been sung at the Preakness by the United States Naval Academy Glee Club, which leads to the question of whether it is appropriate that cadets of one of the branches of the United States Armed Forces publicly sing a song which advocates dissolution of the country that these same cadets swear to support and defend.

The song mentions the surnames of several prominent individuals from Maryland's history including the Carroll family, of which one member is John Carroll, after whom is named John Carroll University, a private Jesuit university that is located in a suburb of Cleveland. But the song's impassioned invocation of revered names from Maryland's past was used simply as an appeal to Marylanders to join the cause which had as its goal separation from the Union in which Maryland was a charter member. It is at least questionable whether the secessionist sentiment extolled in Maryland, My Maryland is appropriate for a song that is intended to represent one of the 50 United States. This is especially so when the song refers to the person who is arguably the greatest president in U.S. history as a despot. Moreover, even without a careful reading of the lyrics of every state song, it is reasonable to conclude that Maryland, My Maryland is the only state song in which people who live in a particular geographic region of the U.S. are called "scum."

Perhaps not surprisingly, the use of Maryland, My Maryland as the state song of the Old Line State has come under criticism. In 2002 a member of the Maryland legislature named Jennie Forehand introduced legislation to change the state song of Maryland. Her bill failed, as did another such bill that was introduced in 2009. Still another bill to change Maryland's state song was introduced in 2015 by Karen Lewis Young, but that bill will not be debated until 2016. During 2015 in the aftermath of killings in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, there was intense debate about the flying of the Confederate battle flag at government buildings. One person who was vocal about removing the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse was former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley. O'Malley was in office as governor in 2009, when one of the bills proposing to change the state song of Maryland was introduced, but he did not speak out on that issue. Evidently O'Malley believes that removing secessionist symbols from South Carolina is a necessity, but doing so in Maryland is not. Maryland's current governor, Larry Hogan, stated that he agrees with the decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina's capitol, and he worked to remove the battle flag from any Maryland license plates that had it, specifically the Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates. However, Hogan has publicly proclaimed his opposition to removing Maryland, My Maryland as Maryland's state song. Clearly Hogan feels that some secessionist symbols should be removed, even in Maryland, but Hogan evidently believes that secessionist symbols are worth preserving if they refer to Abraham Lincoln as a despot and call Northerners "scum."

The issue of the Maryland state song is a lesser known aspect of the issue that includes the controversy over the Confederate battle flag, an issue that Dennis Keating covered very well in an article that he wrote for The Charger. In light of the controversy regarding the Confederate battle flag, a question that is worth considering is whether, like the flying of the Confederate battle flag at government buildings, it is appropriate for a state to officially celebrate its heritage in a song that advocates secession.

 

Maryland! My Maryland!

I

The despot's heel is on thy shore,
Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

II

Hark to an exiled son's appeal,
Maryland!
My mother State! to thee I kneel,
Maryland!
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!

III

Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Maryland!
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Maryland!
Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
Remember Howard's warlike thrust,-
And all thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland!

IV

Come! 'tis the red dawn of the day,
Maryland!
Come with thy panoplied array,
Maryland!
With Ringgold's spirit for the fray,
With Watson's blood at Monterey,
With fearless Lowe and dashing May,
Maryland! My Maryland!

V

Come! for thy shield is bright and strong,
Maryland!
Come! for thy dalliance does thee wrong,
Maryland!
Come to thine own anointed throng,
Stalking with Liberty along,
And chaunt thy dauntless slogan song,
Maryland! My Maryland!

VI

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,
Maryland!
Virginia should not call in vain,
Maryland!
She meets her sisters on the plain-
"Sic semper!" 'tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back amain,
Maryland! My Maryland!

VII

I see the blush upon thy cheek,
Maryland!
For thou wast ever bravely meek,
Maryland!
But lo! there surges forth a shriek,
From hill to hill, from creek to creek-
Potomac calls to Chesapeake,
Maryland! My Maryland!

VIII

Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll,
Maryland!
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Maryland!
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!

IX

I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland!
The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!


 

December…

Some Other South Carolina Rebels Who Fought for Secession

Near the end of the movie Glory there is a depiction of the attack by the 54th Massachusetts Regiment on Fort Wagner. This attack took place on July 18, 1863 on Morris Island near Charleston, South Carolina as an attempt by forces of the national government to take Charleston from the rebels who held it. Some years prior to this assault, government forces attempted to capture Charleston by attacking a fort that was situated on a different island near Charleston, an island named Sullivan's Island. In the battle on Sullivan's Island, the rebels held a fort that guarded the entrance to Charleston harbor. Combined naval and ground forces of the national government planned to take the fort and then capture Charleston. In ground forces alone, the rebels on Sullivan's Island were outnumbered two to one. The naval fleet of the national government included nine warships, while the rebels had no naval force during the battle of Sullivan's Island. In spite of this, the rebels repulsed the forces of the national government, inflicted five times as many casualties as they suffered, and prevented the capture of Charleston.

Although the battle of Sullivan's Island pit rebel troops against forces of the national government, this battle was not between men in blue and men in gray. In the battle of Sullivan's Island, the rebel forces were American colonists, the government forces were British, and the battle took place on June 28, 1776 or four score and seven years before the attack of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment on Fort Wagner. In December 1860 South Carolina's defiance was expressed by its secession from the United States. But in an earlier act of defiance, some other South Carolina rebels fought in support of secession against forces of their national government in the battle of Sullivan's Island.

For some time before the British attempted to take Charleston, the Americans recognized the importance of that city and began construction of a fort on Sullivan's Island to defend the entrance to the harbor. The walls of the unnamed fort were built of logs from palmetto trees, and the choice of this wood proved significant in the battle. In command of the fort was Colonel William Moultrie. Shortly before the battle of Sullivan's Island, Moultrie said something that can be considered the South Carolina equivalent of a defiant wartime quote from ancient Greece. At the battle of Thermopylae, when the Spartans were warned that the Persians would fire so many arrows that the arrows would blot out the sun, one of the Spartans reputedly said, "Then the battle against us will be in the shade." In a similar way, an experienced seaman visited William Moultrie in the fort, pointed to the British fleet, which by then was in the waters off of Charleston, and said to Moultrie that the British ships will destroy the fort in half an hour. To this gloomy prediction Moultrie replied, "We will lay behind the ruins and prevent their men from landing."

The British plan for capturing Charleston involved a combined attack by naval and ground forces, and when the British arrived in early June, the fort had not been completed. British ground forces under the command of General Henry Clinton were put ashore on an island that is northeast of Sullivan's Island and is separated from Sullivan's Island by a water inlet. These troops were to cross the water inlet and then move across the length of Sullivan's Island to attack the fort, which was on the opposite end of Sullivan's Island. (As an aside, it was through this inlet that the Hunley went as she began her mission that resulted in the sinking of the Housatonic.) On the morning of June 28, 1776, these British troops began their movement toward the fort. But the Americans positioned troops on Sullivan's Island along the inlet to contest the British crossing. Despite a determined effort by Clinton's men, the fire from the American troops prevented the British from crossing the inlet, and Clinton's men never made it to the fort. This resulted in the entire attack on the fort falling to the British fleet.

The British fleet was under the command of Commodore Sir Peter Parker (presumably not the Peter Parker who is the alter ego of Spiderman). As the British ground forces commenced their movement, the British ships moved into position in what was supposed to be a coordinated attack on the fort. At 11:30 a.m. the ships began firing on the fort, but the sponginess of the palmetto wood of the fort's walls allowed the walls to absorb the bombardment without splintering. Three of the British ships attempted to move to a position from which they could shell the fort at a weaker side, but all three of these ships became grounded on sand bars. Although two of the three ships were refloated, one ship remained stuck and was later scuttled. The Americans returned fire, but the fort was low on powder, which caused the gunners to conserve their fire. Despite this, some of the British ships received many hits, including Parker's flagship, the HMS Bristol, which was hit 70 times. One of the shells that hit the Bristol wounded Parker in the knee and thigh. But not only was Parker wounded by this shell, part of his britches were "quite torn off, his backside laid bare." The battle lasted over ten hours, and even though the British fired substantially more rounds than the Americans, the fort withstood the British attack. At nightfall Parker withdrew, and in the weeks following the battle the British made no more attempts at the fort or at Charleston. By late July the British forces left the area, and Parker and Clinton blamed each other for the failure to capture Charleston.

There are several important consequences and legacies of the battle of Sullivan's Island. This battle was the first significant victory for the Americans in the Revolutionary War and provided a much needed boost in morale, since it showed that the Americans could defeat the British in battle, even when the Americans were badly outnumbered. This battle also gave South Carolina its state flag. Prior to the battle William Moultrie was instructed by the colonial government to design a flag to be used at the fort. Moultrie's flag was a dark blue field with a white crescent in the upper left corner. In January 1861, after South Carolina had seceded, a white palmetto tree was added to the center of the flag, and this flag, with some minor design tweaks, has remained the flag of South Carolina. Another legacy of the battle of Sullivan's Island is the fort, itself. This fort came to be named in honor of its commander, William Moultrie, and Fort Moultrie was subsequently expanded and updated. In the months prior to the Civil War, the U.S. garrison in Charleston had been occupying Fort Moultrie. But in late December 1860, after South Carolina had voted to secede, garrison commander Robert Anderson moved his troops to Fort Sumter, because he believed that Fort Sumter was more defensible. When Fort Sumter was bombarded, some of the shots came from Fort Moultrie. Fort Moultrie remained in operation until after World War II, when it was decommissioned and later transferred to the National Park Service. Historian Ed Bearss, whose primary focus is the Civil War, expressed the following about the importance of the battle of Sullivan's Island. "So far in 1776 General Washington had accomplished little beyond hurrying Howe's evacuation of Boston. The American army sent to overrun and occupy Canada had collapsed. Now came word of a victory from the south. Not only had the British been repulsed before Sullivan's Island, but they had given up their initial attempt to carry the war to the southern colonies. A victory had been won, and American morale soared...Now independence might become something beyond the bold statements set forth on parchment."

Shortly after South Carolina voted to secede in December 1860, a Union-loyal South Carolina lawyer and politician named James L. Petigru gave his assessment of the secession fever that had taken hold of his native state. Petigru said, "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum." For many years Petigru had been on the minority side of public opinion in South Carolina. He opposed nullification, and he was the lead attorney in a trial against what was known as a test oath, which required that everyone in the South Carolina militia swear allegiance to the state in precedence over the federal government. This trial occurred in 1834, which indicates that the sentiment of state over nation existed in South Carolina long before that state's Ordinance of Secession.  Moreover, the fiercely rebellious sentiment in South Carolina goes back even further, as indicated by the resolve of South Carolinians to stand and fight on Sullivan's Island against a vastly superior force. Charleston even had its own tea party in 1774 when city officials convinced the local importers of British tea to dump the tea in the Cooper River, or, as a Charleston newspaper reported, "an Oblation was made to Neptune." As James Petigru intimated, sometimes the rebellious sentiment in South Carolina seems to border on insanity. But in the battle of Sullivan's Island this rebellious sentiment is viewed as fervently patriotic. Perhaps South Carolina's rebellious sentiment is classified as crazed insanity or fervent patriotism depending on the target of that rebellious sentiment.

 

William Moultrie
Henry Clinton
Sir Peter Parker
Robert Anderson
James L. Petigru

November…

Six degrees of Simon Bolivar Buckner

A popular movie trivia game is Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The object of the game is to connect a particular movie actor with Kevin Bacon step by step via movie co-stars from a movie in which that particular actor appeared to a movie in which Kevin Bacon appeared. One of the fascinations of this game is that Kevin Bacon, an actor who is not particularly prominent, can be connected to even very prominent actors. Something similar can be done with Civil War officers, who had many shared experiences prior to and during the war. In keeping with the use of a less prominent individual, one Confederate officer who has some interesting and not well-known connections with some prominent Union officers is Simon Bolivar Buckner. Buckner had a role in Ulysses Grant's Civil War nickname, and prior to the war Buckner did a gracious favor for Grant. During the war Buckner gave advice in his hometown to a young Union officer who had no military training; later in the war this young Union officer made a wise military decision for his own troops that more prominent Union officers had not yet made. Buckner's closest childhood friend was the man who was responsible for the Confederate victory at Chickamauga. Buckner also has a connection to William McKinley, although this connection is electoral, not military. In a military connection that extends beyond the Civil War, Buckner's son, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., commanded troops on Okinawa in World War II, and was mortally wounded near the end of that battle.

Simon Bolivar Buckner, who was named after the South American military leader, was born on April Fools' Day in 1823 on his family's estate near Munfordville, Kentucky, a town that would play a role in two of Buckner's Civil War connections. Buckner attended the United States Military Academy, where his roommate was a cadet whose name, prior to entering West Point, had been Hiram Ulysses, but whose name became Ulysses Simpson by the time he was Buckner's roommate. After Buckner graduated number 11 in the West Point class of 1844, seven spots ahead of Winfield Scott Hancock, he served in various capacities in the U.S. Army and then in the Mexican-American War in a number of battles. After the war Buckner was a member of the army of occupation in Mexico City, and he was the person who lowered the American flag for the last time when that army departed from Mexico. In 1850 Buckner married Mary Jane Kingsbury, and eight years later their only child, daughter Lily, was born.

When the Civil War began, Buckner and his family were living in his native Kentucky, and Buckner was assigned by the governor of Kentucky to use the state militia to defend Kentucky's neutrality. When this neutrality could no longer be maintained, Buckner accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate army. One of his first assignments in that role was at Fort Donelson where he was one of four brigadier generals along with Gideon Pillow, Bushrod Johnson, and overall commander John B. Floyd. Opposing the Confederate forces at Fort Donelson was a Union force under the command of Buckner's West Point roommate, Ulysses Grant. After the quartet of Confederate brigadier generals decided that the fort could not be held, overall commander Floyd informed his comrades in rank that he did not want to be the person to surrender the fort, because he feared that he would be tried for treason if he was captured. Floyd turned over command to Pillow, but Pillow declined command because he likewise feared an indictment for treason. Command of Fort Donelson then passed to Buckner, who agreed to hold the fort long enough to allow Floyd and Pillow to slip away. Another Confederate officer who escaped prior to the surrender of Fort Donelson was Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Buckner's decision to be the person who surrendered Fort Donelson may have arisen because he expected favorable terms from his adversary. Not only had Buckner been Grant's roommate at West Point, but in 1854 Buckner took it upon himself to cover one of Grant's debts when Grant had fallen on hard times financially. At that time Grant was returning home and was unable to pay a hotel bill, but Buckner told the hotel proprietor that he would guarantee payment of the bill. In spite of this pre-war favor, when Buckner sent a message to Grant offering to surrender Fort Donelson and asking about the terms, Grant sent his famous reply, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." Buckner's reply to his pre-war friend indicated his displeasure. "The distribution of the forces under my command...compel me...to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose." The surrender of Fort Donelson gave Buckner the undesirable distinction of being the first Confederate commander to surrender a Confederate army. Nevertheless, the "ungenerous and unchivalrous terms" that Grant proposed in his message to Buckner coupled with the initials of the name that Grant adopted at West Point led to Grant's Civil War nickname of Unconditional Surrender Grant. As a final connection between the former West Point roommates, after the Civil War Simon Bolivar Buckner was one of the pallbearers at the funeral of Ulysses Grant.

Six months after Buckner surrendered Fort Donelson, he was exchanged for a Union general named George McCall. McCall had been wounded and captured at the battle of Glendale during the Seven Days battle. After their exchange Buckner served for the remainder of the Civil War, while McCall, due to poor health, resigned seven months later. (Long-time fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers will recognize this exchange as the kind of one-sided trade that former Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien typically was on the wrong side of.) Buckner's assignment after his return to service for the Confederacy was in Braxton Bragg's army during the 1862 invasion of Kentucky. The first engagement of that invasion occurred at Buckner's hometown of Munfordville. The small Union garrison in the town was outnumbered five to one, but the Union commander, Colonel John Wilder, refused to surrender. Although Wilder realized that his position was difficult, he was not convinced that he was badly outnumbered. In an unusual arrangement, Wilder entered enemy lines under a flag of truce to see for himself how large the enemy force was. It was Buckner who met with Wilder when the young Union officer arrived. As Buckner was showing Wilder the Confederate positions around Munfordville, Wilder admitted to Buckner that he was not a military man, and he asked Buckner for advice. The flattered Buckner convinced Wilder that his situation was hopeless and that he should surrender, which Wilder did. Wilder was eventually exchanged and came to command a brigade that fought at Chickamauga. Prior to that battle, Wilder, whose pre-war career was in hydraulic machinery, took a vote of the men in his unit about purchasing Spencer repeating rifles, which they unanimously agreed to do at their own expense, although the government later covered the cost of the rifles. Wilder's brigade became one of the first Union units to be equipped with repeating rifles. At Chickamauga Wilder's brigade was able to use its superior firepower to hold off a much larger Confederate force at a bridge over West Chickamauga Creek. (As an aside, John Wilder was married to Martha Stewart, but not the Martha Stewart.)

John Wilder was not the only Union officer at Chickamauga who had a connection to Simon Bolivar Buckner. Another Union officer who had a connection to Buckner was instrumental in the outcome of the battle of Chickamauga. This was division commander Thomas J. Wood, who graduated from West Point the year after Buckner in a class that included Fitz-John Porter and Barnard Bee (the man who gave Stonewall Jackson his nickname), and also included someone with the interesting name of Abram Lincoln. On the morning of the second day of the battle of Chickamauga, Thomas Wood received an order from army commander William Rosecrans to move his division to the left to close a purported gap in the Union line. However, there was no gap, but when Wood moved his division it created a gap, and Wood knew it. But earlier that morning Wood had received a severe dressing down from Rosecrans for failing to promptly comply with an order, and Wood was not about to question this order. A half hour after Wood carried out Rosecrans' order, a massive Confederate attack fortuitously hit the gap in the Union line and precipitated the Union defeat at Chickamauga. Thomas Wood, the man who moved his division to create the gap, had been Simon Bolivar Buckner's close friend during their youth in Munfordville. At Chickamauga Thomas Wood's childhood friend commanded a corps in the Confederate army that won victory largely because of the gap that Wood created.

After the Civil War Buckner returned to Kentucky and became interested in politics. Eventually he was elected governor of Kentucky as a Democrat, and his tenure was noted for his large number of vetoes of special interest bills. Buckner later participated in the 1896 presidential election as a candidate of a party that split from the Democratic Party over the issue of the gold standard. This party nominated former Union general John Palmer for president and former Confederate general Simon Bolivar Buckner for vice president. At the time of the election Palmer was 79 years old and Buckner 73 years old, which made this the oldest combined age for a presidential ticket in U.S. history. The winner of the 1896 presidential election was Union Civil War veteran William McKinley. The geriatric ticket that included Simon Bolivar Buckner received just under 1% of the popular vote and no electoral votes.

In addition to his post-war political activities, Buckner did something else of importance after the Civil War. In 1885 at the age of 62 Buckner married Della Claiborne, who was 28. Buckner's first wife had died 11 years earlier, and a year after Buckner and his second wife were married they welcomed a son, who was named Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. Buckner, Jr. followed in his father's footsteps by pursuing a military career, and in World War II Buckner, Jr. was in overall command of U.S. ground forces at the battle of Okinawa. Near the end of the battle Buckner, Jr. was struck by fragments from an artillery shell and soon died from his wounds. Buckner, Jr. was the highest ranking U.S. officer in World War II to die from enemy fire, and he was laid to rest in Kentucky near his father.

Who can say how much of an effect Simon Bolivar Buckner had on the Civil War officers who had a connection with him? Would Ulysses Grant's military career have gone differently had he not roomed with Buckner or had Buckner not covered Grant's hotel bill? Would John Wilder have made his wartime decision regarding repeating rifles had he never met Buckner? Would Thomas Wood have acted differently at Chickamauga had his youth not included Buckner as a friend? Would the presidential election of 1896 been any different without Buckner's participation in it? Answers to these questions can only be obtained by speculating, but one thing is certain. Without Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr., the United States would have had a different person in command of its ground forces on Okinawa in World War II. The extent of Buckner's effect on the Civil War officers with whom he had connections can perhaps be found in a classic movie. Although this movie was made in 1946, it is probably somehow connected to Kevin Bacon, but it is left to movie buffs to deduce that connection. In the movie It's a Wonderful Life when George Bailey feels that he is on the verge of insanity as he observes what the world would be like without him, the angel Clarence tries to hammer home his point that George's life is consequential by telling George, "One man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around he leaves an awful hole."

 

Simon Bolivar Buckner
Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.
 
 
 
 

October…

A Civil War Greek Tragedy

"In times of peace sons bury their fathers; in times of war fathers bury their sons." This quote comes from the ancient Greek text The Histories, which was written by Herodotus in the second half of the Fourth Century B.C. The Histories chronicles events that happened in ancient times in Greece and western Asia. The Histories is part fact, part opinion, and part fable. The quote about peace and war was spoken by a man named Croesus, who was king of Lydia, a kingdom in what is now western Turkey. Croesus was one of those fathers who buried his son, not because of war, but because of a tragic accident involving an ancient weapon of war. Croesus had had a dream in which he saw his son killed by a spear. Because of this he refused to allow his son to fight in battle. At one point during his reign, Croesus received a report of a giant boar that was ravaging a province in his kingdom, and the people in that province petitioned Croesus to send a hunting party to kill the boar. Croesus' son, Atys, told his father that he wanted to lead the hunting party, but Croesus refused because of the dream. However, Atys convinced Croesus to let him lead the hunting party by telling his father that a boar does not wield spears. When the hunting party found the boar, the members of the group surrounded the animal and began hurling spears at it. One of the spears missed the target and struck and killed Atys, which both fulfilled the prophecy in the dream and filled Croesus with deep remorse for allowing Atys to lead the hunting party. The Civil War has a story like that of Croesus and Atys, and it involves Confederate General William J. Hardee and his only son, Willie.

William Hardee was born on October 12, 1815 in Georgia. After he graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1838 in the class that included P.G.T. Beauregard, Hardee served for a time in the Seminole Wars before taking ill. He later served in the Mexican-American War, in which he was captured and subsequently exchanged. After Hardee's home state of Georgia seceded, he joined the Confederacy's army. One of his first assignments was to organize a brigade of Arkansas troops, and his ability to solve difficult problems led to his men giving him the nickname "Old Reliable." Hardee commanded Confederate troops at a number of important battles including Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, Chattanooga, and Atlanta.

William Hardee's best known military contribution came before the Civil War when he was involved in the production of a new manual of military tactics that was intended to update light infantry tactics in response to widespread introduction of the rifled musket. In the early 1850s Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who was keenly aware of the recent developments in small arms that were happening in Europe, became convinced that the adoption of the rifled musket by the U.S. Army would necessitate a new manual for infantry tactics. In 1854 Davis appointed Colonel William Hardee to head a committee to prepare this new manual. This appointment came not because of any particular expertise that Hardee had on the subject, but simply because Hardee was fluent in the French language. The French army was considered paramount in the tactical use of rifles after its many years of fighting in northern Africa with the newly developed small arms. It therefore made sense to use the French army's proficiency as the starting point for a new U.S. infantry manual. The manual that resulted from Hardee's committee was originally titled Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, but that title later became simply Hardee's Tactics. However, this manual was essentially nothing more than a translation of the French army's light infantry manual, and there is evidence that the translation was not done by Hardee, himself, but was largely done by a member of Hardee's committee, Lieutenant Stephen Vincent Benét, the grandfather of the noted poet.

William Hardee's most fateful day of the Civil War occurred just before the battle of Bentonville. After William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea ended with the capture of Savannah, Sherman turned his force northward. Vastly outnumbered troops under the command of William Hardee had been opposing Sherman in Georgia and had evacuated Savannah the day before Sherman captured that city. After taking Savannah, Sherman's force moved north in two wings. A much smaller Confederate army, now under the command of Joseph E. Johnston, did what little it could against Sherman, and William Hardee commanded a corps in that Confederate army. In March 1865 at Bentonville, North Carolina, the Confederate army made a stand against one wing of Sherman's force. After heavy fighting on the first day of the battle, in which a strong Union attack was repulsed, the other wing of Sherman's force was called to Bentonville. In response to this, Johnston rearranged his lines, and there was sporadic fighting on the second day. On the third and final day of the battle, a Union division launched a strong attack that threatened to break the Confederate lines. To push back these Union troops, the Confederates launched a counterattack.

One of the Confederate units that participated in this counterattack was the 8th Texas Cavalry. A few days before the battle of Bentonville, William Hardee's 16-year-old son, Willie, had pleaded with his father to allow him to join that unit. For some time Willie, drawn by the siren song of valor and duty, had repeatedly begged his father to allow him to join a combat unit. William Hardee, who knew firsthand the realities of the battlefield, had previously resisted all of his son's pleas and had instead assigned his son to staff duty. But William Hardee could finally no longer resist. According to some accounts, Hardee consented by telling an officer of the 8th Texas Cavalry, "Swear him into service in your company, as nothing else will satisfy." The Confederate counterattack on the third day at Bentonville, in which the 8th Texas Cavalry took part, was successful in repulsing the Union attack and saved the Confederate army. As William Hardee was exulting with some comrades over the success of the Confederate counterattack, his elation turned to sorrow when he saw Willie being brought to the rear with a severe wound. Three days later Willie was dead. Ironically the Union troops in the attack that led to Willie's death were from Sherman's wing that was commanded by Oliver O. Howard, who had been a tutor for Willie Hardee when Willie's father was commandant of cadets at West Point.

It is hard to imagine that William Hardee did not regret for the rest of his life that he allowed his son to join the 8th Texas Cavalry. This is especially so because the battle of Bentonville was the last major engagement in that wartime theater. This means that had Hardee not allowed his son to fight at Bentonville, Willie likely would have survived the Civil War. William Hardee had a number of fulfilling post-war experiences, such as restoring his family's Alabama plantation to working condition and serving as president of the Selma and Meridian Railroad. But watching his son grow to adulthood and have a family of his own were fulfilling post-war experiences that were denied to William Hardee, and he could not have helped but feel personally responsible both for that and for denying those experiences to his son. One feeling that probably remained with Hardee for as long as he lived is expressed in another statement that Herodotus ascribed to Croesus. Herodotus recorded in The Histories that in addition to the quote about fathers burying their sons Croesus also stated, "No one is so foolish as to choose war over peace." Of course, history has shown that Croesus' statement is far from true, and the Civil War is a prime example of that. But for those fathers who end up burying their sons, as William Hardee did, the lesson contained in Croesus' statement is learned too late.

 

William Hardee
 
 
 
 
 

September

A Civil War First... or Not

If a person-on-the-street quiz were done in Cleveland, and the participants were asked to name the inventor of the automobile, the most frequent answer would almost certainly be Henry Ford. This same answer would almost surely be most frequent if the quiz were given in New York or Atlanta or Los Angeles or definitely Detroit. But the answer would be different if the quiz were given in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, or certainly Mannheim. In Germany the inventor of the automobile is Karl Benz, and in reality Benz beat Ford by 11 years in the creation of an automobile. Sometimes, for reasons that are not entirely clear, inaccurate assignments are made to historical firsts. There are many historical firsts that are associated with the Civil War. For instance, as some, perhaps many, Civil War enthusiasts know, or think they know, the first submarine of the Civil War was the H.L. Hunley. Even Shelby Foote said so in volume 2 of his Civil War trilogy when he wrote about the Hunley, "She was, in short, the world's first submarine." Or was she?

In spite of Shelby Foote's statement, the Hunley was not "the world's first submarine," nor was she the Civil War's first submarine. In fact, the first submarine of the Civil War was built in the North. This submarine was the USS Alligator, and compared to the Hunley, the Alligator was more technologically advanced. The Alligator was 47 feet in length, which made her somewhat longer than the 40-foot Hunley, and the Alligator also had a somewhat larger crew (12 compared to 8). Originally the Alligator's propulsion was via 16 oars (8 on each side) in contrast to the Hunley's hand-cranked propeller. However, several months after her launch, the Alligator's oars were replaced with a hand-cranked propeller, which doubled her speed from 2 to 4 knots. The Hunley's designed method of attack was to use a spar to attach an underwater bomb to the target and then to detonate the bomb with a lanyard as the submarine withdrew. The Alligator's designed method of attack involved a diver who exited and re-entered the vessel through a forward chamber. Air was supplied to the diver with a hand-operated compressor inside the Alligator, the air was sent to the diver through an air tube. The diver was to attach an underwater bomb to the target, and the bomb would be detonated with electrical current supplied by a battery on the Alligator and transmitted to the bomb by an insulated copper wire. In addition, the Alligator had an innovative air purification system that chemically removed carbon dioxide from the air in the crew compartment and thereby allowed the vessel to remain submerged longer.

The story of the Alligator began in Philadelphia in May 1861 when a strange vessel was sighted in the water near the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The vessel was seized by the harbor police and turned over to the U.S. Navy. The commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Captain Samuel F. DuPont, commissioned an investigation, which found that the 33-foot submersible vessel had been built under the supervision of a man named Brutus de Villeroi, a Frenchman whose loyalties and intentions were unknown. It is not entirely clear why de Villeroi had his creation sail unannounced in plain view, but one possibility was to attract attention, which was certainly the result. The naval investigation concluded that de Villeroi's vessel was potentially useful in the ongoing Civil War. Several months after de Villeroi's stunt he was contracted to supervise construction of a larger vessel that would be delivered to the navy.

Artist rendering of the Alligator

Very little is known about Brutus de Villeroi, and no photograph or painting of him is known to exist. It is known that in 1832 in France de Villeroi built and demonstrated a submersible vessel that was intended to be used for salvage. He came to the U.S. in 1856, but his reasons for coming are not known. Two Philadelphia newspapers reported in August 1859 about a demonstration of a submersible vessel in the Delaware River. Another article appeared in October 1859, in which it was reported that a diver exited the submerged vessel and that the submersible vessel remained underwater for over an hour, which suggests that the air purifier was operational in the vessel. There is evidence that de Villeroi was opposed to slavery, such as his organizing a fundraising effort in 1863 to have a monument erected to John Brown. It is not known what de Villeroi did after the Civil War, but there is a record for him in the 1870 census, and his obituary appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper on July 3, 1874. In the 1860 census de Villeroi listed his occupation as "natural genius."

The high regard that de Villeroi showed for himself with his declared occupation became an irritant to those who had to interact with him during the construction of the Alligator. The contract called for the submarine to be built in not more than 40 days and for $14,000, both of which were unrealistic. When it became clear that construction would not be completed on time, de Villeroi, who was the construction project's supervisor, sent a letter to the naval officer who was overseeing the project and blamed the delay on the contractor. What followed was a series of acrimonious letters to the naval officer from de Villeroi and from the contractor in which each blamed the other for the delays in construction. These delays were of particular concern to the navy, because the navy anticipated using the submarine against a Confederate ironclad vessel which intelligence reported was under construction (and which eventually became the CSS Virginia).

The navy took delivery of the submarine on June 13, 1862, by which time she had received a coat of dark green paint. Between the color and her movements in the water while being rowed, she acquired the name Alligator, although she was never officially commissioned as such. By the time the Alligator was ready for operations, her intended first target, the Virginia, was gone. The Alligator was instead given missions to destroy an important railroad bridge over the Appomattox River and to clear obstructions from the James River to allow passage of Union gunboats to bombard Richmond. The person who was given command of the Alligator for these missions was a civilian named Samuel Eakins. The Alligator arrived by tow at City Point on the James River on June 25, 1862, but by this time the water level in the places where the Alligator was to conduct operations was too low to allow her to be completely submerged, an obvious impediment to stealth for a submarine. As a result, after spending only 8 days in a combat zone without being used, the Alligator was towed to the Washington Navy Yard. Shortly after the Alligator arrived at Washington, Eakins, the civilian commander of the Alligator, was replaced by Thomas Selfridge, who was a naval officer, because the navy wanted someone with naval experience to evaluate the Alligator's usefulness. Selfridge, who had briefly been in command of the Monitor, became convinced that the Alligator would never be useful for military operations. After giving his gloomy opinion of the submarine, Selfridge was transferred to the river fleet in the West, where he was given command of the USS Cairo. Selfridge was in command of the Cairo when she sunk after she struck a torpedo.

The Alligator remained in the Washington Navy Yard for 9 months, during which time her propulsion system was upgraded to a hand-cranked propeller. On March 18, 1863 the Alligator was put through a series of tests that were witnessed by President Abraham Lincoln. After these tests, the vessel was declared fit for duty, and Samuel F. DuPont, the same naval officer who had taken possession of de Villeroi's prototype in Philadelphia, requested that the Alligator be assigned to him for his planned attack on Charleston, South Carolina. DuPont envisioned using the Alligator against some Confederate ironclads that were defending Charleston. Samuel Eakins was returned to command of the Alligator, which, ironically, was to be towed to Charleston by the USS Sumpter (although the spelling of the names of the ship and the fort differ). On March 31, 1863 the two vessels began their voyage, but 2 days later, when the vessels were off Cape Hatteras, a violent storm engulfed them. In a short time the crewless Alligator began to take on water through broken portholes and loosened plates in her hull. The Alligator began to sink and threatened to drag the Sumpter down with her. After much effort to save the submarine and not wishing to risk the loss of the tow vessel, the commanders of the Sumpter and the Alligator decided that the submarine was doomed. The Alligator was cut loose and sank in the waters off Cape Hatteras, making her another resident of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. The Alligator has not been seen again to this day.

A recent collaborative effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research has been focused on searching for the Alligator. Thus far she has not been found, but a significant discovery has been made. In 2004 Brutus de Villeroi's drawings of the plans for the Alligator were found in the military archives in France along with a letter from de Villeroi proposing to sell his design to the French government, a proposal that was rejected. Although this attempt to duplicate the Alligator met with failure, the original Alligator can rightly lay claim to being the Civil War's first submarine.

While the Hunley is by far the best known Civil War submarine, she was by no means "the world's first submarine," or the Civil War's first submarine, or even the first submarine built by the Confederacy. Nor was the Hunley the first Civil War submarine to attack an enemy warship. That distinction goes to a submarine, whose name is not known, that attacked the USS Minnesota in Hampton Roads in early October 1861. A woman spy who witnessed a test run of the submarine passed intelligence to the Union military, and because of this intelligence the attack was thwarted with a net placed around the target, although the Confederate submarine escaped. There is, in fact, evidence for more than 20 Civil War submarines, some built by the North and some built by the South. These include the Pioneer, the Pioneer II, the Explorer, the Saint Patrick, the Captain Pierce, and the Intelligent Whale. But submarines were constructed before the Civil War, perhaps as early as the mid-1600s. There was even a submarine known as the Turtle that was built by the Americans during the Revolutionary War and used in an unsuccessful attack on a British warship in what is believed to be the first documented attack by a submarine on an enemy ship.

Why, then, do so many people, including Shelby Foote, believe the Hunley was "the world's first submarine"? Perhaps the answer is similar to why so many people believe that Henry Ford was the inventor of the automobile. Karl Benz built the first automobile, and Henry Ford subsequently developed a way to mass produce automobiles. Perhaps Henry Ford's development of a process to mass produce automobiles became transformed over time into Henry Ford being the inventor of the automobile. Similarly, the Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship. Perhaps this became transformed over time into the Hunley being "the world's first submarine," and maybe this notion was strengthened by Lost Cause mythology. Like people in any country, Americans enjoy giving credit to one of their own countrymen as the inventor of something important, such as Henry Ford and the automobile. Perhaps in this spirit of nationalism, Americans were willing to accept the claim of the Hunley as "the world's first submarine," because this gives credit for another historic first to some Americans — some traitorous, treasonous, seditious Americans — but Americans nonetheless. But whatever the reason for conferring the status of "the world's first submarine" on the Hunley, the moral of the story about the Alligator is that, like the story of the automobile, sometimes the specifics in a story about a historic first depend on where that story is being told.

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The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable