Friday, March 13, 2015

The War in 1865: Part Five

Note:  This is part of my continuing series on the end of the War Between the States 150 years ago as depicted in my The Civil War Today app.

On March 1, 1865 the State of New Jersey became the third Union state to vote against the 13th amendment. Significantly, this was the first free-state to dissent in ratification, the two previous states, Kentucky and Delaware, were slave-states within the Union. The Civil War Today app quotes from The New York Times:  "The discussion of the Constitutional Amendment continued during the principal part of the day. The vote was taken about five o'clock, and the amendment was defeated by a vote of 30 yeas against 30 nays. The result received cheers and hisses in the lobbies. It was a strict party vote."

My app goes on to explain: "New Jersey is one of the more conservative Northern states, home to many War Democrats who have favored a war to preserve the Union but reject the abolition of slavery as their cause. The state passed gradual emancipation laws in 1804, but did not abolish slavery outright until 1846, and there are still, in fact, a small number of persons remaining in indentured servitude within the state. It should be pointed out that New Jersey's apprenticeship provisions were mainly intended to provide for former slaves in their old age, more so than to hold them in perpetual bondage. The state senate is to debate the amendment later this month."


A small Confederate force under General Jubal Early still controlled the southern portion of the Shenandoah Valley in early March when Union cavalry under General George A. Custer attacked Early.  Custer managed to flank the Rebel positions at Waynesboro, Virginia, thereby routing the Southerners.  Early and his staff narrowly escaped being captured.  It was a complete Yankee victory and left the entire valley in Union possession for the first time in the war.  Soon Union cavalry were approaching Charlottesville, VA, about 90 miles in the rear of General Robert E. Lee's entrenched army at Petersburg and Richmond.


The 38th US Congress worked into the night in its final session. President Abraham Lincoln was likewise up late signing legislation hammered out at the last minute. A major piece of legislation established the Freedman's Bureau, to handle the transition of freed blacks from slavery. It also provided Federal assistance for the enormous number to refugees in the destitute South, freed blacks as well as whites displaced by the war.


President Lincoln was sworn in for his second term the next day.  His speech was marked with determination, appreciation, and - to the chagrin of many in his party - reconciliation with the South. He stated: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills that it continue until...every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword...so it must be." Afterwards, the President and his wife hosted a reception of about 6,000 attendees.


One of the attendees, Andrew Johnson, the new Vice-President, apparently suffered from typhoid fever, which he attempted to treat the night before with whiskey.  He drank too heavily for his frail condition, even on that morning of the event, and was drunk when he was sworn in.  He gave an address in which he is quoted in one of the app's Quotes of the Day (I believe he is referring to The Bible he was sworn in on): "I kiss this book in the face of the nation, the United States." This caused one senator to write his wife that Johnson "disgraced himself and the Senate by giving a drunken foolish speech."


Several sharp clashes broke out between Yankee and Rebel troops as Sherman's army closed in on the North Carolina state line.  Union advances along the NC coast from New Bern and Wilmington were also met with heavy skirmishing. By now the Confederates had scratched together enough troops to meet each Federal advance but there were still insufficient numbers to offer full battle let alone to stop the Union forces anywhere. 


In naval action, the Union Mississippi River Squadron sent several mortar boats to Mobile Bay to assist with the planned attack on the city of Mobile, Alabama which remained in Confederate control despite the loss of the bay in 1864. Meanwhile, near the Virginia coast, a Rebel gunboat was destroyed by the USS Don after an exchange of fire on a large creek feeding into the Potomac River. 


While President Lincoln and his wife hosted 4,000 guests at the 1865 Inaugural Ball, Union cavalry under General Judson Kilpatrick entered North Carolina as Sherman's mass of infantry trudged through the mud in South Carolina without opposition.  General Joseph Johnston established his headquarters at Fayetteville, NC.  The remnants of the Army of Tennessee that had come east after being defeated at Nashville in 1864, gathered with significant Confederate cavalry, infantry units from the coast, and some militia and cadet training units to try to form a new army.  


The diaries and letters of 15 individuals are followed on a daily basis in The Civil War Today app.  A red outline means there is an entry for that person for that particular day.  It is a good mix of people from various aspects of American life, both North and South.
Among the features in each daily edition of my app are diary entries or letters or other correspondence from a group of fifteen men and women from the North and the South.  The app follows this group through the entire war.  Some write more regularly than others.  No one writes something every day. By 1865 one of them is dead. President Lincoln is one of these individuals. Southern belle Mary Chesnut is another.  Here is an entry by John Beauchamp Jones, a military clerk in the Confederate Government. His detail and tone tell us much of the how the South felt the war at this late stage. 
When you select a given individual their portrait is enlarged and you may read whatever correspondence is available from them for a given day.
"March 7th 

"Bright and frosty.

"Yesterday we had no certain accounts of the movements of Sheridan. His force was said to be near Charlottesville - at Keswich. Fitz Lee's cavalry and Pickett's infantry were sent in that direction. Not a word has yet appeared in the Richmond papers concerning this movement from the Valley - the papers being read daily in the enemy's camp below. We hear of no corresponding movement on the part of Grant; and perhaps there was none.

"Preparations to evacuate the city are still being made with due diligence. If these indications do not suffice to bring the speculators into the ranks to defend their own property (they have no honor, of course), the city and the State are lost; and the property owners will deserve their fate. The extortioners ought to be hung, besides losing their property. This would be a very popular act on the part of the conquerors.

"On the 4th inst., the day of inauguration at Washington, the troops (Federal) near Petersburg got drunk, and proposed an hour's truce to have a friendly talk. It was refused.

"I met my friend Brooks to-day, just from Georgia, in a pucker. He says the people there are for reunion. Mr. B. rented his house to Secretary Trenholm for $15,000 - furnished. It would now bring $30,000. But he is now running after teams to save his tobacco - he a speculator!

"The raid of Sheridan has caused some speculators to send their surplus flour into the city for sale. Some sold for $700 per barrel to-day, a decline of $50.

"D. H. London says the enemy captured the tobacco at Hamilton's Crossing (near Fredericksburg) this morning. I doubt it, but would not deplore it, as it belongs to speculators, sent thither for barter with the enemy. No doubt many articles will decline in price - the owners fearing the coming of the enemy.

"The packing up of the archives goes on, with directions to be as quiet as possible, so as 'not to alarm the people.' A large per cent of the population would behold the exodus with pleasure!"

By a vote of 9-8, the Confederate Senate approved the impressment of slaves into the military. (Note: The military service was in exchange to become a freedman in the South. This legislation was endorsed by President Jefferson Davis, General Lee, and Governor William Smith of Virginia. There were already attempts to form slave militia regiments in Georgia and elsewhere in late-1864, before the question was debated by the Confederate Senate, the States believing their Sovereignty trumped the Central Government on matters of State militias.)

At the recommendation of General P.G.T. Beauregard, General Johnston ordered the impressment of slaves as labor to build road blocks and block or destroy bridges under the supervision of Confederate engineers.  Meanwhile, Union troops pressed inland from New Bern and Wilmington on the North Carolina coast.  General Braxton Bragg commanded the Rebel defenders of the coast.  A hot fight happened near Kinston, North Carolina, where Bragg's troops managed to penetrate the Yankee lines and hit the Northern flank.  The clash resulted in about 2,600 causalities. A victory in a small battle which stalled the Union until it could concentrate the majority of its coastal troops under General John Schofield.

General W.H.C. Whiting died in the northern prison camp at Governor's Island from wounds he received in the Second Battle of Fort Fisher. Whiting had a successful career during the war. He was responsible for overseeing the transfer of troops from the Shenandoah Valley to Manassas, which proved to be decisive in the First Battle of Bull Run. He commanded a division in the Seven Days' Battles in 1862. For most of the remainder of the war he was tasked with constructing fortifications and defending the port of Wilmington.  Fort Fisher was his most formidable endeavor. His command repulsed the initial attack on the fort in 1864 but it fell in January 1865 where he was severely wounded in its defense.  Whiting was 40.

The weather was very wet in the Carolinas. Sherman complained "the rain makes our roads difficult." Nevertheless, his army pushed on into Fayetteville, North Carolina.  As he did General Kilpatrick's cavalry led the way. Kilpatrick was hit hard in a surprise attack by the cavalry of Generals Wade Hampton and Joseph Wheeler while most of the Union troops were encamped.  This escalated to the largest cavalry battle so far in 1865 with over 200 casualties and dozens of Northerners taken prisoner. 

General Johnston summoned General Bragg's troops from the North Carolina coast and concentrated a makeshift army to confront Sherman. Meanwhile, Federal troops destroyed the arsenal, depot, mills, and factories in Fayetteville. Unlike in South Carolina, the seat of secession, Sherman's troops displayed more discipline in North Carolina.  The practice of burning civilian homes was reined-in and Union destruction was limited, as it was in Georgia, to primary buildings of industry and transportation.

On March 13, 1865, the Confederate Congress approved General Orders No. 14, which allowed for the enlistment of slaves into the Confederate Army. The orders went into effect on March 23.  (The app does not supply very much detail about this touchy and controversial subject. In point of fact, the impact was small.  Two companies of blacks began training in Richmond but never saw battle. The final version of the legislation did not specifically grant freedom to slaves serving in the army, instead it left that up to the owner of the slave.  But, that was nothing new.  Slave holders were always allowed to grant freedom their slaves if they so chose. More "free blacks" lived in the South than the entire free black population of the North before the war started. This is not to suggest the South was in any way "enlightened." The decision to muster slaves into the army was motivated out of desperation, not wisdom.  At any rate, after the Confederate Congress adjourned, President Davis [with General Lee's support] modified the legislation by executive order to read that any slave volunteering to serve in the Confederate military would be granted his freedom upon the end of his service.)
The last portrait of President Abraham Lincoln as presented in the app.  March 1865.

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