Saturday, February 28, 2015

The War in 1865: Part Four

The Civil War Today app is filled with period photographs.  This one shows some of the destruction at Columbia, South Carolina following the Federal occupation of that city.
Many drawings from the period are also included in the app. This is an illustration of the burning of Columbia as depicted in Harper's Weekly.
Note:  This is a continuation of my series on the end of the War Between the States as presented in The Civil War Today app.

General William T. Sherman's concentration upon Columbia, South Carolina resulted in the virtual destruction of the city. Confederate forces assembling under the immediate command of General P. G. T. Beauregard hastened to withdraw from the city, having insufficient numbers to meet Sherman's 60,000 men.  The Civil War Today app, dated February 17, describes the resulting occurrence at Columbia this way:

"After spending a month in Savannah, Sherman headed north to tear the Confederacy into smaller pieces. The Yankee soldiers took particular delight in carrying the war to South Carolina, the symbol of the rebellion. It was the first state to secede and the home of Fort Sumter, where South Carolinians fired on the Federal garrison to spark the war in April 1861. When Confederate General Wade Hampton's cavalry evacuated Columbia early this morning, the capital was open to Sherman's men. In the predawn darkness, Iowa troops under Colonel George Stone crossed the Congaree River and drove off remaining enemy, allowing a pontoon bridge to be constructed across the river. By mid-morning, Confederates forces were gone, and Mayor T.J. Goodwyn surrendered the city to Colonel Stone. 

"Sherman's orders called for a well-disciplined occupation, including the destruction of railroads and public works, which his armies have done throughout all his marches. But some of the Yankees got drunk and started to rampage through the city. Union General Henry Slocum observed: 'A drunken soldier with a musket in one hand and a match in the other is not a pleasant visitor to have about the house on a dark, windy night.' Sherman claimed that some of the raging fires were started by evacuating Confederates and fanned by high winds, but these initial fires were put out. It is clear from the Union reports that Sherman's soldiers were guilty of burning and looting during the night. Some homes were ransacked, but spared from the torch. Terrified citizens gathered in a number open spaces, including the grounds of South Carolina College. Some Union troops did follow orders and helped fight the fires, but roughly half the city is destroyed."

With the capture of Columbia, General William J. Hardee was finally forced to order the evacuation of Charleston, scene of the first shots of the war, which had held out against numerous Union naval bombardments and infantry assaults throughout the war.  Unlike Columbia, buildings were not burned at Charleston, this time thanks to disciplined Northern troops properly controlling the area.  The troops were greeted with cheers by the large slave population still inside the city. Of course, large portions of the city, especially close to the harbor, were already destroyed from a great fire in 1861 and from Union shelling which took place off and on since the war began. Hardee's troops maneuvered inland to rendezvous with other scattered Confederate elements attempting to form a new army to defy Sherman's advance. 

After a day-long river fleet bombardment of Fort Anderson along the Cape Fear River, Union troops captured the fort along with numerous Confederate prisoners.  This placed Federal forces just ten miles south of Wilmington, North Carolina.  Meanwhile, a new Northern military operation began at Eastport, Mississippi. It was commanded by General George Thomas, who transferred his headquarters from Nashville, Tennessee to Eastport.  The objective was to capture Selma, Alabama, a major transportation hub in a Confederate controlled region which had seen little attention over the previous four years of war.

In politics, a vote scheduled in the U.S. Senate to recognize the State of Louisiana as part of the Union was blocked due to Republican opposition. Many Republicans disagree with President Abraham Lincoln's terms for reconstruction of the South and did not want Louisiana recognized under those terms.  It is felt among the opposition that Lincoln is too lenient and that stronger measures of retribution are in order as a consequence of secession and the resulting national war.

The Confederate House of Representatives met in a closed-door session to consider enlisting slaves as soldiers.  This was a controversial part of an effort to raise 300,000 Southern troops to resist the numerous Union offensives taking place within the tattered Confederacy. According to the app: "Many Southerners have remained staunchly opposed to the idea of black soldiers, pointing out that it undermines their whole concept of racial inferiority. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Howell Cobb of Georgia, now serving in the Confederate Army, famously stated that 'if slaves seem good soldiers, than our whole theory of slavery is wrong.'"  Debate would continue for several more days as cultural prejudices clashed with tangible military necessity. Note: Ironically, just as Lincoln's party blocked his desired return of Louisiana to the Union, Jefferson Davis' party was blocking his initiative to make Rebel soldiers out of slaves.

Fighting continued along the Union approach to Wilmington with Confederates stalling the Northern advance at some lesser fortifications above Fort Anderson.  Union gunships led the way with several concentrated bombardments as the infantry worked through the swamps and constructed obstacles along the roads and paths along the Cape Fear River.  The Southerners released scores of floating mines to hit the various Union gunboats, causing damage to several of them.  The Federals sent a fake gunship upstream. The ship, named 'Old Bogey,' drew heavy fire from Confederate batteries before it was discovered to be a floating decoy. 

Faced with numerous naval gunships and outnumbered by forces advancing on both sides of the Cape Fear River, the Confederates abandoned Wilmington, making a few thousand troops available for joining with reinforcements sent from all over the South to build an army to oppose Sherman.

Several more Union states ratified the 13th amendment including Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, and Minnesota.  Kentucky, like Delaware before it, did not ratify the amendment despite pleas from the Governor to do so.  A late effort to alter the amendment so that free slaves would be forced to leave the state following the end of the war also did not garner enough votes for passage.  Unionists conventions convening held in the Southern states of Louisiana and Virginia voted in favor of the abolition of slavery.  Unionist delegates in Tennessee passed a pro-Union constitution which banned slavery, but a vote is still pending in that state regarding the 13th amendment.

Heavy skirmishing occurred near Camden, South Carolina, as Sherman's advance remained opposed by scattered Confederate forces.  Columbia was abandoned by Union forces, who left 500 head of cattle behind to assist with feeding "the destitute population" including all the recently freed blacks that now gathered in that smoldering city. Reports reached Sherman that some Confederates were killing and mutilating the bodies of Northern soldiers sent to forage for supplies.  Sherman ordered retaliation against this.

Sherman wrote a letter serving notice to Confederate General Wade Hampton: "It is officially reported to me that our foraging parties are murdered after capture....I have ordered a similar number of prisoners in our hands to be disposed of in like manner....I hardly think these murders are committed with your knowledge, and would suggest you give notice to the people at large that every life taken by them simply results in the death of one of your Confederates."

In what amounted to another war of words involving Sherman, Hampton quickly replied: "It is a part of the system of the thieves whom you designate as your foragers to fire the dwellings of those citizens whom they have robbed.  To check this inhuman system...I have directed my men to shoot down all of your men who are caught burning houses.  This order shall remain in force so long as you disgrace the profession of arms by allowing your men to destroy private dwellings."

Robert E. Lee appointed General Joseph E. Johnston as commander of all Confederate troops in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.  Lee directed Beauregard to commit his "duty" to Johnston and ordered both officers to work toward pushing Sherman back in the Carolinas.  Ever the pessimist, Johnston rightly questioned his abilities to successfully confront Sherman given the scattered and ill-supplied nature of the forces at hand. Meanwhile, Beauregard replied to Lee that he would be honored to serve under Johnston.  The two generals began to concentrate Southern forces in an attempt to deliver a blow to Sherman should an opportunity present itself through the dispersal of Union forces on the march through the Carolinas.

Sherman's army moved upon the prisoner of war camp at Florence, South Carolina, where more than 12,000 captured Union troops were held in conditions as bad or worse than at Andersonville. About 2,500 Union prisoners died at the camp at Florence.  Few prisoners were liberated, however, as the Confederates moved the vast majority to North Carolina. Many of the prisoners died of pneumonia and almost all were malnourished.

Another Union advance began in late February. General Philip Sheridan moved south through the Shenandoah Valley from Winchester, Virginia with two solid Corps of Northern cavalry, mostly armed with modern repeater rifles.  The immediate objectives were Staunton and Lynchburg. Depending on how much resistance they encounter, if any, the cavalry planned to possibly proceed on to Petersburg from the west to aid with General Ulysses S. Grant's operations against General Lee.
Among the photos contained in the app that were taken in February 1865 is this portrait of Robert E. Lee - his last sitting photograph of the war.  For some reason he is dressed formally but not in uniform.

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