Archive for August, 2008

Newsman Villard: Eyewitness to History

August 31, 2008

By John E. Carey

Henry Villard ranks high among the many memorable newsmen of the Civil War. Insightful, energetic and an able researcher, but most of all an affable friend and companion, Villard made a living and earned his own page in American history by placing himself in the company of the most famous leaders of his time.

Henry Villard was born Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard on April 10, 1835, in Speyer, Germany. In 1852, he paid for passage to the United States. Like many immigrants, he landed in New York with almost no money and absolutely no English-language skills. In the first years after his arrival, Villard held many jobs, several menial and some even demeaning.

He was a cooper’s apprentice, a bartender, a traveling salesman of religious books, a helper in a brickyard, a lumberman and a farm laborer. He sold encyclopedias and real estate. He learned most of his English while working as a clerk in a law office. He didn’t just learn English. He mastered the language.

When Villard decided to become a writer, he dedicated himself to becoming a leader of the profession. He wrote for several German-language papers, including the Volksblatt of Racine, Wis., and Neue Zeit and Staats Zeitung in New York.

He covered the Pikes Peak gold rush for the Cincinnati Daily Commercial and wrote a guidebook for prospectors.

Friend of Lincoln Villard met Abraham Lincoln during the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates. He volunteered to become one of the first traveling campaign reporters, accompanying the future president and recording a memorable evening the two spent together, lost in conversation, in a storm-ravaged train depot.

Not only had they developed a mutual respect for each other, but Villard, on another occasion, also offered a buffalo robe as a gift to a shivering Lincoln.

Villard had obtained the hide during a trip to Pikes Peak. With that robe, along with his charm, humor and skill as a newsman and writer, Villard made the future president a friend and confidant for life.

Villard covered the Republican convention of 1860, where he witnessed Lincoln’s nomination. After the convention, he interviewed the future president and further developed their relationship. Villard remained in Illinois to continue writing dispatches on the man who would soon lead the nation.

He wrote of “the solemnity of [Lincoln’s] mission” and that the Republican was “resolved to fulfill it fearlessly and conscientiously.”

Villard even traveled as a guest aboard the train that carried Lincoln from his home in Springfield, Ill., to Washington for the inauguration. The only correspondent on the train during the leg to Cincinnati, Villard asked for and received from the president-elect a handwritten and signed copy of a speech.

Scene of action

Even before the start of hostilities, Villard distinguished himself as perhaps America’s first syndicated writer. He signed contracts with the Cincinnati Commercial, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Herald to provide them with news. When the Civil War began, Villard knew exactly what to do. He wanted to be at the scene of action: the front.

First he traveled to Washington to assess the readiness of the Union forces. He covered the Union Army’s raid into Alexandria and felt grief when Col.

Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth of the Fire Zouaves, another friend, was slain while tearing down a Confederate flag May 24, 1861.

Villard made the rounds in Washington, making friends and sources of Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, Gen. Winfield Scott, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, Gen. Irvin McDowell and many others. Upon learning that Gen. William T. Sherman made his way to the Washington office of the Associated Press each night at 9 to read the daily war news telegraphed from the front, Villard decided he had better go along to gather news.

He subsequently joined Sherman every night. Sherman told Villard he loved to read the newspapers, “but he frequently objected to what the writers ‘scribbled.’ ”

“He liked nothing better than to express his mind upon the news as it came,” Villard wrote.

Sherman became but one of Villard’s many well-connected sources during the war. Despite Sherman’s renowned hatred for most newsmen, Villard developed a warm friendship and camaraderie with the general.

The same Sherman who was castigated by many newspapermen as “insane,” the same Sherman who threatened to execute newsmen who revealed the movements of his forces later in the war spent hours discussing the war and its personalities with Villard. Sherman even became a frequent visitor to the Villard household after the war.

At the Battle at Bull Run Villard made a name for himself by carefully crafting reports from the front lines into readable, in fact memorable, essays on the personalities and events of the war. Far from the sterile prose of some others, Villard’s work was infused with emotion. Additionally, he completely understood the importance of timely, factual and exciting reporting.

He frequently traveled 100 miles or more under arduous conditions to get his story to a telegraph line or train depot for transmission to editors at home.

Villard accompanied the Union Army into the field for its first major engagement, the Battle of Bull Run. The night before the battle, Villard wrote: “Not a sound is heard except the measured tread of the sentinels. … For we are on the eve of a great battle — perhaps the battle that is to make the bloodiest picture in the Book of Time.”

During the battle, Villard came under fire for the first time. He sought out McDowell, the army commander, but a staff officer told the reporter: “You won’t find him. All is chaos in front. Our troops are breaking and running!” Villard then witnessed the disorder firsthand as he rushed back to Washington after the battle to file his report. He was appalled at the Confederate victory and the melee the soldiers in blue made as they ran from the field.

Future presidents

Traveling to the Western theater, Villard covered Gens. Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman and Don Carlos Buell and their battles there. Arriving just after the capture of Fort Donelson, Tenn., Villard wrote, “Mournful was the sight of long rows of fresh graves containing the killed on both sides.”

After the fall of Nashville, Lincoln appointed Sen. Andrew Johnson of Tennessee as the military governor of that occupied state. Villard met with and studied Johnson, concluding that he “had too violent a temper and was too much addicted to the common Southern habit of free indulgence in strong drink.” Johnson would later inhabit the White House — one of three men to rise to that position who knew Henry Villard.

While covering Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland, Villard became acquainted with James A. Garfield, the army chief of staff, who “looked like a distinguished personage.”

‘Bloody evidence’

After Shiloh, Villard wrote of his approach to the field.

“The battle was speedily raging with great violence. From one end of the line to the other, the combat lasted for hours, with hardly a lull in the deafening discharge of small arms and guns. “There was bloody evidence in every direction that the slaughter had been great,” the reporter wrote when he saw the carnage at Shiloh. “Neither the one side nor the other had removed its dead, and there they were, blue and gray, in their starkness, lying here singly and there literally in rows and heaps. I passed more than a thousand of them. It was morbid … and many lay as though they had consciously stretched themselves out to sleep. But here were also many exceptions, with features repulsively distorted by pain and hatred.”

A fatal feud Villard’s close association with the Army made him a witness to the horrors of battle. However, he also saw everyday life and experienced the agony of waiting, the boredom of camp life and other aspects of the Army on the march. His writings brought home to readers the realities of the war. Villard witnessed one of the more unusual events of the war: two Union generals engaged in a feud that ended in murder. While eating breakfast on Sept. 30, 1862, at the Galt House, the best hotel in Louisville, Ky., Villard witnessed the argument and its aftermath firsthand.

It seems Gen. William “Bull” Nelson had summarily dismissed a subordinate, Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president). Yet Davis was returned to active duty by higher authority. On that morning, Davis encountered Nelson, demanding an apology. Nelson, a giant of a man, could be heard calling Davis an “insolent puppy” before slapping him. Davis withdrew, only to return with a pistol. Seconds later, Nelson lay wounded.

To Villard, Nelson looked like “a dying lion.” Nelson did die 10 minutes later, and the great reporter had another story.

With audacity and guile back in the east, Villard met and accompanied Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside as he led the Army of the Potomac south toward Fredericksburg. Villard never had a high regard for Burnside. He had interviewed Burnside before the First Battle of Bull Run and then encountered the fleeing, terrified general after that battle.

The Union debacle at Fredericksburg saddened and sickened Villard. He directly blamed Burnside’s inadequate leadership for the tremendous Union casualties. After the battle, as was Villard’s habit, he started toward Washington to deliver his views on the battle to the newspapers he served. However, Burnside had instructed men in the rear, including his police force under Provost Marshal General Marsena Patrick, to prevent stragglers, reporters and all other men from getting to Washington before an official Army report of the action could be made. Out of sight of Union sentries, Villard bribed fishermen and riverboat captains to get him and his story to Washington. Because of his audacity and guile, Villard became the first newsman in the nation’s capital with an eyewitness account of the battle.

Sen. Henry Wilson of Massachusetts recognized Villard in the dining room of Willard’s Hotel and heard about the battle. He returned later to tell Villard that President Lincoln would appreciate a visit and report from his old friend. Villard felt it a duty to inform the president of what he saw and thought. He became one of the first civilians to deliver to Lincoln a report on the mess at Fredericksburg. Villard remembered the president concluding their meeting by saying, “I hope it is not as bad as all that, Henry.”

Life of accomplishment

During the Civil War, Villard contributed to numerous papers, including the New York Herald, the New York Tribune and the Chicago Tribune. He suffered from malaria and other severe ailments from about 1863. He had his first stroke at 37. Despite all this, he served valiantly as a reporter in the field, often sharing the conditions and rations of the soldiers. After the war, Villard became a famous business tycoon and entrepreneur.

He made and lost at least two fortunes while underwriting railroads, steamship companies and other ventures.

He knew Thomas Edison and invested in Edison’s electricity projects. He wooed investors as well as immigrants from Europe. He also became a philanthropist and supporter of human rights initiatives. Villard Hall at the University of Oregon still stands, and Villard’s human rights work led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

A memorial to war correspondents stands at the top of South Mountain, not far from the field at Antietam. Henry Villard’s name is there among the names of the luminaries of Civil War journalism.

The American immigrant, business tycoon, railroad man, entrepreneur and philanthropist surely would be proud of this lasting tribute.

Carl Schurz: Civil War General and Difficult Statesman

August 31, 2008

Carl Schurz (1829-1906) came to America from his native Germany in 1852. Even before he became a naturalized U.S. citizen, his influence in American politics, especially among German-American immigrants, became so great that he was nominated for lieutenant governor of Wisconsin as a Republican.

In 1860, he led the Wisconsin state Republican delegation to the national convention. He campaigned for Lincoln who later appointed him Minister to Spain. He rose to become a Major General in the Union Army during the Civil War, was elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Missouri, and later served as Secretary of the Interior, the highest offices ever occupied by a non-native born citizen.

Schurz biographer Hans Trefousse called him “America’s most celebrated citizen of foreign birth.”
Carl Schurz

Along the way, Lincoln allowed Schurz to read the notes which formed the basis for Lincoln’s first inaugural address — almost one month before the delivery of that oration. Schurz undoubtedly was buoyed by Lincoln’s belief that: “One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.“

Schurz played Beethoven’s great works for Lincoln on a White House piano. He worked for, gave personal advice to, or opposed at least six U.S. presidents, wrote for at least six newspapers and magazines, published notable books and gave countless speeches of national significance

Carl Schurz expressed his deeply felt respect and admiration for Lincoln in his “Abraham Lincoln: An Essay,” published in 1891. Schurtz wrote, “The people knew that the man at the head of affairs, on whose haggard face the twinkle of humor so frequently changed into an expression of profoundest sadness, was more than any other deeply distressed by the suffering he witnessed; that he felt the pain of every wound that was inflicted on the battlefield, and the anguish of every woman or child who had lost husband or father; that whenever he could he was eager to alleviate sorrow, and that his mercy was never implored in vain. They looked to him as one who was with them and of them in all their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows,— who laughed with them and wept with them; and as his heart was theirs, so their hearts turned to him. His popularity was far different from that of Washington, who was revered with awe, or that of Jackson, the unconquerable hero, for whom party enthusiasm never grew weary of shouting. To Abraham Lincoln the people became bound by a genuine sentimental attachment.”

Schurt became a dedicated supporter of the still young Republican Party and campaigned for Lincoln in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin. After the election, President Lincoln appointed him U.S. envoy to Spain. Upon the first defeats of the Union Army in the Civil War, Schurz returned to the U.S. and begged Lincoln to appoint him a Union Army general.

He won his appointment and rose to the rank of Major General, but not without significant controversy. Biographer Trefousse wrote that Schurz was “a competent officer who had risen too high, too fast.”

Schurz had no military training and his appointment was largely political payback from Lincoln and an effort to secure the continued support of German Americans. But Schurz, like Joshua Chamberlain, dedicated himself to the study of military thinking and tactics. He immersed himself in Clausewitz, Jomini and other noted military experts in an attempt to make up for his lack of military background.

His personal daring in battle remains unquestioned. But the units Schurz led did not always fare well in battle. And a certain amount of prejudice against the “Dutch” troops he usually led clouded Schurtz’s record as a military man.

In the summer of 1862 Schurz found himself in command of the Third Division in Segal’s First Corps of Pope’s Army of Virginia. Largely composed of German immigrants, the corps already had a reputation as “a band of wild, untrained and demoralized marauders.”

On August 22, 1862, at Freeman’s Ford, Schurz ordered a bayonet charge in an effort to rescue General Henry Bohlen’s brigade, including the Eighth Virginia (U.S.) and Sixty-First Ohio. Bohlen was killed in the engagement, his brigade decimated and Schurz was forced to withdraw, but his actions in battle had been deliberate and forceful.

On August 29 Schurz led his men in an eight hour engagement against Longstreet’s men and part of Jackson’s corps near Grovetown. The next day, he led his men again in battle and, at one point, tried to encourage his commander Sigel to push all his men forward. But Sigel, not known for his audacity, refused to press the attack. Schurz supervised a withdrawal again.

The New York Tribune recorded these engagements and lauded Schurz for leading “his division in the hottest fight with heroic courage and veteran skill.”

Schurz wrote of the Second Battle of Bull Run: “Stonewall Jackson, with a force of 26,000 men, had worked his way through Thoroughfare Gap to the north of us, had swooped all around Pope’s flank, having made a march of fifty miles in thirty-six hours and pounced upon Manassas Junction, where Pope’s supplies and ammunition were stored, helping himself to whatever he could use and carry off, and burning the rest. Jeb Stuart’s troopers, accompanying Jackson, had even raided Pope’s headquarters at Catlett’s Station. It was a brilliant stroke, but at the same time most hazardous, for Pope’s largely superior forces might have been rapidly concentrated against him, with Longstreet, his only support, still far away.”

Pope was relieved.

At Chancellorsville in May 1863, Schurz’s division performed poorly. When Schurz’s men were surprised by Jackson who attacked at dusk on May 2, the rout was on. of the Schurz had tried to alert his new corps commander, Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard, that the flank was poorly prepared, but to no avail. After Chansellorsville, Schurz was saddened by press criticism of the German troops and particularly his own division for their confusion and panic. Although he responded to the papers, his Germans were mistaken for Brig. Gen. Charles Devens’s First Division. Deven’s men had retreated wildly in a rout.

Schurz wrote General Howard one of his classic, stinging letters. The letter was so bitter that Howard said, “I thought I should never survive it, but I have.”

The debacle at Chansellorsville stigmatized the German troops thereafter. The rest of the Army of the Potomac called them “foreigners,” and worse: cowards. Despite Schurz’s best efforts, he was never able to completely restore the reputation of his men as fighters or himself as a military leader.


As the three day Battle of Gettysburg was about to commence, Schurz was in the XI Corps under Maj Gen. O.O. Howard. Schurz woke his men early on July 1, 1863, in Emmitsburg, some ten miles from Gettysburg. During the march toward Gettysburg, Schurz was told by dispatch rider from Howard that the First Corps was fighting west of Gettysburg. Schurz was ordered to rush his corps forward, reinforce the First Corps and assume command of the Eleventh Corps.

Schurz galloped ahead and reached Howard on Cemetery Hill about 11:30 A.M. Howard told Schurz that General Reynolds had been killed. Howard now commanded the field and Schurz was needed to position the Eleventh Corps. The First Corps needed the Eleventh Corps on the high ground on its right flank, near Oak Hill, northwest of town.

The corps arrived but the men were nearly exhausted from marching at the double quick in the summer heat. Schurz led them forward through town toward Oak Hill. But, soon after noon, Rodes’s division of Ewell’s Confederate Corps arrived on Oak Hill and attacked the right of I Corps. At 2 p.m. Heth’s division joined the attack on I Corps. At 3 p.m., the battle spread north of the town when Jubal Early’s division of Ewell’s Corps attacked down the Harrisburg Road and crushed the flank of Schurz’s outnumbered XI Corps. At about the same time, west of Gettysburg, Pender’s division relieved Heth and assaulted I Corps’ position along Seminary Ridge.

Both Eleventh Corps divisions that fought on Oak Hill retreated in disarray through Gettysburg, losing almost 50% of their men, half of them captured as they tried to run through town. It had become another humiliating rout for the Eleventh Corps.

Schurz was not blamed. Schurz’s horse was shot from under him but the general was unharmed. He stayed at the front with his men and tried to prevent the retreat. But his men, outnumbered and exhausted, had suffered another humiliating defeat.

General Buford put most of the blame on Howard, saying that there was “no directing person on the field.”

General John Buford

Schurz retained his division when the Eleventh Corps was sent to Chattanooga that fall, but resigned from the army early the next year.

Schurz returned to civilian life, working as Washington correspondent for the New York Tribune, then as editor-in-chief of the Detroit Post. Starting in l867 he served as co-editor and part owner of the German-language Westliche Post in St. Louis, Missouri.

In 1869, Schurz was elected U.S. senator by his new home state, Missouri. Only sixteen years after arriving in America as a homeless fugitive, Carl Schurz became a member of his adopted country’s highest legislative body. The former minister to Spain, war veteran, and newspaperman would now be called Senator. He was only forty years old.

Schurz only served one term in the Senate. But that was not the end of his public career. President Rutherford B. Hayes made Carl Schurz his Secretary of the Interior where he championed civil service reform and made improvements in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Carl Schurz never went “quietly into the night.” He was difficult, perhaps irascible. He never shied away from giving unsolicited advice and outspoken opinions to his seniors. Many of his letters had an insolent tone. In fact, he badgered Presidents Lincoln, Johnson and others with his vitriolic, opinion-filled letters. That Lincoln largely tolerated or ignored Shurtz’s haranguing is testimony to his forbearance. Unfortunately, others were much less patient with Schurz. Some even reprimanded him.

Because of Schurz’s deeply held convictions and strongly worded speeches, editorials and letters, he became a hero to his supporters and a lightening rod to his critics.

He moved to New York City, where he helped found the New York Evening Post. From 1892 to 1898 Schurz wrote editorials for Harper’s Weekly.

At the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Schurz told immigrants from Germany how he expected them to fit into American society. The term “melting pot” had not yet been coined, but Carl Schurz fully subscribed to the idea. “ I have always been in favor of a healthy Americanization, but that does not mean a complete disavowal of our German heritage,” Schurz told the immigrants. “Our character should take on the best of that which is American, and combine it with the best of that which is German. By doing this, we can best serve the American people and their civilization.”

During his final illness, Mark Twain was among those who called upon the old general. Carl Schurz, one of the last surviving generals of the Civil War, died May 14, 1906, in New York.

In 1929, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, Germany’s Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann summed up Schurz’s contributions: “Carl Schurz managed to combine his love for Germany with a loyalty to his American homeland in a marvelous unity reflecting the striving of his great personality which, here as well as there, was concerned with profound moral goals that are not restricted to a single nation, but apply to all mankind.”

Among the many accolades and eulogies of Schurz at the time of his death, he may have been proudest of the remarks of Theodore Roosevelt, who he had opposed. “The country has lost a statesman of Lincoln’s generation,” wrote T.R., “whose services both in peace and war at the great crisis in the Republic’s history, will not be forgotten while that history lasts.”


Mr. Carey is a frequent contributor to the Civil war page of The Washington Times.

James Buchanan Eads: Grant’s Ironclad Designer and Tamer of the Mississippi

August 31, 2008

By John E. Carey

When the deans of American colleges of engineering were asked in the early 20th century to name the top five engineers of all time, James Buchanan Eads was among them; the list also included Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison. He may have been the finest self-educated engineer of all time. Yet Eads also made himself a skilled fund-raiser, diver and inventor and an able leader.

The Eads family was so poor during the 1820s in St. Louis that young James, named for his mother’s cousin who would later become president, had to quit school to sell apples in the street. He then was hired as a clerk in a dry-goods store. The owner gave him access to his personal library, thus stirring the mind and imagination of a gifted young man.
HAER Eads 099443pv.jpg
Above: The Eads Bridge

Eads’ lifelong relationship with the mighty Mississippi began in 1838, when he joined the crew of a riverboat. Realizing how many boiler-driven vessels were subject to fires or explosions, Eads entered the salvage business four years later. He was not interested in salvaging ships, however. He laid claim to the valuable cargoes strewn across the floor of the great river and made himself a millionaire.

Eads pioneered a diving bell that permitted divers to walk on the bottom of the Mississippi, and he was the first to risk using his invention, a perilous undertaking. He also became an expert in Mississippi River currents, silt and sand.

In April 1861, as the Civil War began, both the Union Army and Navy scrambled to find a way to fortify the Mississippi and penetrate the Confederacy. Military leaders summoned Eads to Washington, and in August, after months of study and negotiation, he signed a contract to design and build seven ironclad gunboats.

Eads’ first four ironclads sailed downstream to Cairo, Ill., in November 1861 under the command of the U.S. Navy. He had produced a novel kind of American warship in fewer than 100 days.

In February 1862, under the command of Navy Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, Eads’ gunboats bombarded and contributed to the capture of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in a joint attack with troops led by Ulysses S. Grant, then a little-known brigadier general.

On Feb. 4 and 5, Grant landed his divisions in two locations near Fort Henry, a Confederate earthen fort on the Tennessee River with outdated guns. One division went ashore on the east bank of the Tennessee River to prevent the Confederate garrison’s escape. The second division landed on the Kentucky side to occupy the high ground, which would ensure the fort’s fall.

As Foote’s seven gunboats began bombarding the fort, Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, commander of the garrison, realized that it would be only a matter of time before Fort Henry fell. Leaving the artillery in the fort to hold off the Union fleet, he withdrew nearly all his men to Fort Donelson, 10 miles away.

Foote slowly sailed the Eads gunboats closer and closer to Fort Henry, maintaining a tremendous barrage. Returning to the fort, Tilghman found the gunboats within 400 yards. The vessels continued lobbing shells into his fortifications, and Tilghman capitulated.

Fort Henry’s fall opened the Tennessee River to Union gunboats and shipping as far as Muscle Shoals, Ala.

Ten days later at Fort Donelson, Confederate Gen. Simon Buckner realized his force was beaten by Grant and the gunboats. He requested surrender terms. “No terms except an immediate and unconditional surrender can be accepted,” Grant famously replied.

After the fall of Donelson, the two major water routes in the Confederate west, bounded by the Appalachians and the Mississippi River, became Union highways for movement of troops and materiel. These were the first major Union victories of the war. Eads’ gunboats played a key role.

The gunboats were put to work bombarding the most crucial remaining Confederate stronghold: Vicksburg, Miss. The city fell on July 4, 1863. The combined Army-Navy operation, the first of its kind by U.S. military forces, opened the Mississippi to the sole use of Union forces.

After the war, St. Louis fell behind Chicago as a commercial center in the Midwest. Chicago enjoyed easy east and west railway service, while St. Louis was cut off by the Mississippi River. The city fathers in St. Louis decided they needed a railroad bridge spanning the river. Eads gladly created a design. As chief engineer of the St. Louis Bridge Co., he would become instrumental in building the bridge and reinvigorating the economy of St. Louis.

Eads created a design to compete with a proven method of bridge-building submitted by Brooklyn Bridge designer John Roebling. The Eads plan called for a span longer than any existing bridge, with a triple arch founded on bedrock. The design called for one arch 520 feet long and two arches of 502 feet. If built, it would become the world’s first major steel bridge.

Eads’ critics sent his plan to a board of 27 leading civil engineers for review. The group unanimously condemned it. Eads had stolen a march, so to speak, however, and already had begun construction on the west abutment, where bedrock was just 47 feet below the high-water line. Eads used compressed-air pneumatic caissons to build the west and east piers and the east abutment. He wasn’t the first American builder to use pneumatic techniques, but he would be the first to attempt such a deep penetration using compressed air.

The drawing for the east abutment called for penetration to 136 feet below high water. Unfortunately, the job produced a first – the introduction of “caisson disease,” also called “the bends.” This agony affected 80 of the crew’s 352 sandhogs, and 15 died. Eads again showed his mental acuity, however, developing slower ascent methods and limiting the men’s time at depth to lessen the effects of the bends.

To prevent obstruction of river traffic during construction, Eads developed new methods of bridge building. He used a tieback system that introduced cantilevering to American bridge construction. The bridge’s three arches each consisted of four 18-inch steel tubes composed of steel staves bound together by steel hoops. The massive structure was completed in 1874 at a cost of more than $10 million. The bridge supported two rail lines, with a 54-foot-wide pedestrian promenade above.

Even before Eads had finished his bridge in St. Louis, he became intrigued by another engineering challenge. At New Orleans, every time the “bar” – the blockage of silt and sand in the delta – made passage into and out of the Gulf of Mexico impossible, ships lay at anchor and moored to piers, filled with idle crewmen and stevedores. Commerce came to a standstill. Often, more than 60 ships sat near New Orleans for days while waiting to cross the bar. New Orleans fell to eighth on the list of most productive American port cities.

Eads said he would find a solution, but he didn’t know when he started that he would have to fight the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers every step of the way.
He went to work on one of the largest engineering challenges in the United States. He pledged that he would find a way to remove the silt from the Mississippi River delta without using clumsy and costly dredging boats. He proposed a method to use nature and the river’s own flow to “cleanse” the water.
City Class Gunboat circa 1864

Eads proposed to Congress that he would create a channel 28 feet deep and 300 feet wide through the river’s southwestern pass. He also wanted a contract to maintain the passage for 10 years. He offered to finance the work himself until his channel reached 20 feet. After that, he wanted $1 million with incremental $1 million payments for each additional foot of depth produced until the channel reached 28 feet. His maintenance fee would then be $500,000 a year for 10 years.

Eads said he could deepen the channels of the Mississippi by narrowing and restricting the flow of the water. The Corps of Engineers, led by Gen. Andrew Atkinson Humphreys, wanted no part of Eads’ scheme. The corps wanted to dredge and build a canal.

Eads had clashed with Humphreys before, over a proposal to build a canal around his bridge in St. Louis. The end of that dispute had come easily when Eads called on his old friend President Grant. The president had sided with Eads, killing Humphreys’ plan.

Eads went to work raising the money for his Mississippi delta project. He hired the Grand Republic, one of the most luxurious steamers of her day. He planned to wine and dine investors and politicians while showing them that his initial jetties were, in fact, deepening the channel. Humphreys sent his own man from the Corps of Engineers, armed with facts and figures disputing every claim Eads made. Humphreys successfully undermined Eads’ fund-raising effort.

In the end, Eads narrowed the south pass of the Mississippi in 1875 by building jetties.

The restricted flow increased the speed of the river, flushing sediment into the gulf. Within eight months, the channel at the sandbar deepened to 13 feet. By August 1876, the channel was 20 feet deep. By 1879, the South Pass Channel was 300 feet wide and 30 feet deep. The force of the river completely removed the sandbar.

The final project of Eads’ enormously productive career – a maritime link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – never came to fruition. (His audacious accomplishments are recounted in detail in John M. Barry’s fine book “Rising Tide.”) Eads had proposed not a canal, but a railway to carry oceangoing ships in cradles and huge flat cars across
Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The Mexican government endorsed the plan and, largely because of Eads’ reputation and record of success, the House voted for the idea, but the Senate defeated the bill.

Had he lived a few more years, we might today be able to see huge ships crossing the Sierra Madre del Sur by rail. We’ll never be sure whether Eads might have been successful with this wild idea. He had never failed before, though.

The Physician Suffers; But Still Excels

August 31, 2008

By John E. Carey

The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder did not exist during the Civil War, though family members certainly were aware of the toll inflicted on the minds and bodies of many veterans.

William C. Minor, a trained physician, suffered paranoia, uncontrolled fits of rage and severe headaches and nightmares after the Civil War. Ultimately, his illness resulted in irrational behavior that culminated in the murder of a stranger. Admitted to an asylum in 1872 and confined in Britain and the United States for the rest of his life, he died in 1920 after making a major contribution to one of the most important books in the English language.

William Chester Minor, son of Eastman Strong Minor, was raised in privilege. He enjoyed the advantages of a fine family name, wealth and education. His father headed the seventh generation of Minors in the United States. Most of the family had established themselves as key members of the community, dating back to Pilgrim times.Eastman Minor closed his New England printing business in 1834 and traveled with his wife, Lucy, to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to spread the gospel among the “brown peoples.”

William was born seven months after their arrival. His mother died when he was 3, and when he was 5 years old, his father again was married, to another missionary.William Minor’s father and other clergymen preached against the temptations of the flesh. Yet young William witnessed the local tropical girls bathing naked, apparently without shame or fear of sin – a vision and a dichotomy that would haunt him into adulthood, and constitute evidence of a fragile mental disposition. Minor complained of “lascivious thoughts” about the local girls – thoughts which he later identified as having set him on the path to insanity.

A gentle soul, he took to producing watercolors and other artistic pursuits, but his deepest love was for literature. By the age of 12, he knew several languages – and also could navigate ably the seamy back streets of Rangoon, Burma; Singapore; and Bangkok.

After his return to the United States, Minor completed a classical education and then was graduated from the School of Medicine at Yale. He spent nine years in medical apprenticeship before volunteering for service in the Union Army four days before the Battle of Gettysburg.After months of service far from the front, Minor was with the Army of the Potomac at the Wilderness and heard wounded soldiers of both armies crying in terror and despair as fire swept through the kindling in the underbrush on the battlefield. He amputated limbs and treated the terrible wounds inflicted by rifle and cannon fire. He saw death in every form amid filthy conditions in which infections thrived. It was as though “hell itself had usurped the place of earth,” one soldier wrote of the Wilderness.

After the Wilderness, he was assigned by a court-martial board to a difficult duty. A Union Army deserter, Irish by birth, had been caught and, rather than hanging him as prescribed, the court had ordered him branded on the face with a “D” – marking him forever as a deserter. For many Irishmen then, this was particularly heinous, for it barred a man from returning to participate in the covert war against the English. The scarred face would alert law officers.Using a red-hot branding iron, the hesitant doctor carried out the duty, but the sight and sound of burning flesh would scar him for life no less than the deserter.

At war’s end, a captain, he was performing autopsies at a military hospital when he began to exhibit erratic behavior. Irishmen, he believed, entered his quarters while he slept to molest him. He also began to frequent the most unseemly establishments in the slums of New York.He complained of headaches and vertigo. As his behavior deteriorated, Minor spent time in the government insane asylum, now St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, and finally was retired on disability by the Army. Then, at the urging of his family, he went to Europe, where it was hoped he could rid his mind of torment. He expected to read, rest and paint.

There was no escaping the postwar demons, however. Waking one night while living in a down-at-the-heels section of London, Minor went into the street and shot to death a man on his way to work. Arrested with pistol in hand, he told police he believed he had chased tormentors out of his apartment.Found to be insane at his trial, Minor was committed in 1872 to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. He became Patient Number 742 at Broadmoor, and would remain there for 38 years before he was transferred to an asylum in the United States.

© Reprinted by permission of the Secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press
His story didn’t end upon his arrival at Broadmoor, however. A man of education and intellectual discipline, Minor used his Union Army pension to start his own library at Broadmoor. He collected the best titles and authors of the English language.

In London, philologists had fixated upon the idea of an all-encompassing “Big Dictionary” of English. The project had languished since 1857. Then, around the time of Minor’s incarceration, Dr. James Murray and others realized that they would need the help of many volunteers, to search bookshelves for quotations to support each definition. Even with the help of this army of volunteers, the dictionary took 70 years to complete.Ultimately, Minor contributed 20 years of erudite submissions to the editors then compiling what would become known as the Oxford English Dictionary, a monumental accomplishment of philology.

It would be two decades before Dr. James Murray, the renowned editor of the dictionary, would meet his prized contributor – and discover that he was an inmate in an insane asylum.

Simon Winchester author of “The Professor and the Madman,” published last year, recounts Minor’s grimly fascinating tale – doctor, artist, Civil War veteran, murderer and lexicographer.

By John E. Carey

Adultery, Bloodshed and “The Trial of the Century”

August 30, 2008

By John E. Carey

Betrayal. Revenge. Murder. Defending one’s honor. The “Dream Team.”
The “Trial of the Century.”

A Famous athlete’s trial? A President impeached? No.

It’s the story of Congressman Daniel Sickles in 1859.

In February 1859, the 39 year old New York Congressman Daniel Sickles learned from a note signed “R.P.G.” that his wife Teresa had, in her own words, “an intimacy of an improper kind” with Washington, D.C. District Attorney Philip Barton Key. Sickles, a competent lawyer, extracted a written confession from his wife on February 26, 1859. “I did what is usual for a wicked woman to do,” she wrote. She confirmed to her husband what the note writer had alleged: that the son of the composer of “The Star Spangled Banner” signaled readiness for these liaisons by tying a white string to a shutter on his house near Lafayette Park – and just a block from the Sickles home. Key also occasionally signaled his amorous intentions by waving a handkerchief outside the Sickles home.

After Teresa’s confession, Sickles spent the night commiserating with his good friend, lawyer Thomas Francis Meagher. Meagher later described Sickles as in “a state of nearly constant sobbing and shaking.” Apparently, though historical records of this are incomplete, a fair amount of alcohol was consumed by Sickles and Meagher during the night of February 26 and the morning of the 27th. When Sickles made preparations to depart his home at about 2 p.m. on February 27 to walk to the Clubhouse, a popular drinking establishment and boarding house across Lafayette Square, he either encountered Key handkerchief in hand or noticed the white string on the shutter.

Sickles accosted Key with the words, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my house. You must die.” Sickles fired a shot from one of his three sidearms, hitting Key a grazing wound. “Murderer,” screamed Key. “Don’t shoot me, don’t murder me!” Sickles fired a second shot, hitting Key in the groin. Key collapsed into the gutter.

Sickles third round struck Key in the chest. Sickles, according to several accounts from passers-by on the busy Square, approached Key, put a gun to his head, and pulled the trigger. The gun mis-fired; and friends grabbed Sickles to end the assault. Key soon died from his wounds.

Sickles walked the two blocks to U. S. Attorney General Jeremiah Black’s house to turn himself in. Sickles told Black there was “one less wretch in the world.”

Thomas Francis Meagher was summoned to immediately begin to prepare the defense of his friend and client. He volunteered his service to Sickles and visited President Buchanan in the White House. Sickles was a dear friend of the president. The two lived together in London while Buchanan was Ambassador to the court of Saint James. Sickles had been Buchanan’s most trusted advisor and confidant.

When Meagher informed the president that his friend Sickles had just gunned down the Federal Prosecutor, the president informed Meagher that he was already aware of the crime. A White House servant had witnessed the murder, and rushed to inform the president. The president gave the servant $200 and told him to flee Washington – thus, arguably, committing obstruction of justice.

During Meagher’s conversation with Buchanan, Meagher urged the president to swiftly appoint Key’s deputy, Robert Ould, as the new federal prosecutor. Ould, who had been a lawyer for 17 years but had almost no trial experience, became the President’s choice in an apparent second attempt by the president to help his friend.

Meagher began to assemble his own “dream team” of talented lawyers to assist in Sickles’ defense. He recruited the legal giants of the day, including James Brady, who had already won 51 of 52 murder cases. Edwin M. Stanton joined the defense team. Stanton, the future Secretary of War in President Lincoln’s Civil War cabinet, was a friend of President Buchanan’s and Sickles’ and he may have joined the defense team at Buchanan’s request. Attorneys John Graham, Daniel Ratcliffe, Allan Magruder, Samuel Chilton, and Phillip Phillips also joined in the defense.

Edwin M. Stanton
Edwin M. Stanton

America’s newspapers, including the already well regarded New York Times, screamed out the news. As the trial commenced, headlines about the Sickles case frequently were sprawled across all columns of America’s daily papers. Leslie’s Illustrated printed 200,000 copies of it’s magazine as the trial opened, but demand prompted editors to print 300,000 more. Adultery, and an aggrieved husband’s right to take the law into his own hands, became the topic of discussion throughout the nation.

For twenty-two days, the Sickles trial dominated America’s newspapers. And the trial made for interesting, even salacious, reading.

“Whenever [Key] met her, the whole object of his acquaintance was the gratification of his lust,” defense attorney John Graham told the jury.

Sickles became something of a media darling, certainly a celebrity. He retained his seat in Congress. Cabinet members visited him in jail and his meals were catered from home. Hundreds of spectators packed the court room each day. The Washington,
D. C. police chief added extra officers to the courtroom detail.

Sickles’ defense lawyers argued that Key, a widower, should have understood better his marriage vows. Their case is nearly one of justifiable homicide – but using eyewitness accounts of friends that saw Sickles’ state of torment after learning of his wife’s infidelity, a strong case for temporary insanity was presented. No American jury had ever acquitted an accused on the grounds of temporary insanity.

The “Dream Team” won. Sickles was acquitted – a verdict that was largely supported in the land. But Sickles’ notoriety would fade quickly when he announced to the newspapers his intention of forgiving Teresa her indiscretions. Said Sickles, “I shall strive to prove to all that an erring wife and mother may be forgiven and redeemed.”

Sickles became a pariah – other Congressmen refused even to speak to him.

Some said the Sickles verdict was a shock: that a man who obviously killed his wife’s lover might be acquitted. But the late Chief Justice of the United States, William Rehnquist, wrote that the outcome was nothing special. “[A]n article in the March 12, 1859, edition of Harper’s Weekly concluded that Sickles would have been justified in killing the man who seduced his wife,” wrote Rehnquist, “and predicted that no jury in the United States would convict him even of manslaughter.”

For Sickles, the attack on Fort Sumter came none too soon. He volunteered his services to his home state of New York and was made a brigadier general. He rose to command the III Corps of the Army of the Potomac. But controversy always followed him, at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and even into the post Civil War years where his frequent philandering caused rumors to abound.

In Sickles’ later life, he dedicated himself to the preservation of the battlefield at Gettysburg. Generations owe him a debt of gratitude.

Sickles remains today one of the most controversial leaders of the American Civil War.

Meagher went on to found the Irish Brigade – and drowned after the Civil War while, most probably, intoxicated. Stanton became Lincoln’s right hand man as Secretary of War. Both played important roles in a most unusual trial, arguably, the “Trial of the Century.”

CSS Hunley: Submarine’s Hatch May Have Cost All Their Lives

August 30, 2008

How often and where in modern America does a television news anchor break into routine programming with a “news bulletin” from the Civil War?

This has happened maybe once this Century: in Charleston, South Carolina, on July 14, 2006!

Marine archeologists and historians investigating the once lost remains of the submarine CSS Hunley in Charleston made a shocking discovery in July 2006: The forward hatch of that vessel was not properly secured and locked into its diving position when the sub was recovered on August 8, 2000.
Css hunley on pier.jpg

Using X-rays and forensic analysis, archaeologists and others working to restore the submarine recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sullivan’s Island have found evidence the forward hatch may have been opened intentionally on the night the sub sank.

The forward hatch was one of two ways crew members got into and out of the sub. Covered with concretions plus a thick layer of sand and other ocean debris, X-rays revealed that the hatch is open about half an inch, after more than five years of preservation and detailed investigative work.

Historians and archaeologists concluded earlier that rods that could have been part of the hatch’s watertight locking mechanism were found at the feet of the sub’s commander, Lt. George Dixon.

Now that evidence leads investigators working on the Hunley to think that maybe the hatch was opened intentionally.

“The position of the lock could prove to be the most important clue we have uncovered yet and offers important insight into the possibilities surrounding the final moments before the submarine vanished that night,” said Hunley Commission chairman state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston.

Had the hatch been intentionally unlocked, there are several possible explanations.

Dixon could have opened the hatch to survey his vessel after successfully attacking and sinking the USS Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864. Housatonic exploded after Dixon maneuvered Hunley and rammed a black powder filled drum or “torpedo” into Housatonic’s side. Housatonic became the first ship in history destroyed by a submarine.

Dixon or another crewmember could also have opened the hatch to allow fresh air into the stifling hot submarine.

Finally, an emergency sighting by Yankee boats could have led the Hunley’s crew to open the hatch to abandon ship. Historians know that after the Hunley attacked Housitonic Union seamen searched the nearby waters for the attacker using small boats. But Hunley’s after escape hatch was found in the locked position, so many doubt that a submarine evacuation was attempted by Hunley’s crew on the night of Feb. 17, 1864.

“If the Hunley crew opened the hatch, it must have been for a critical reason,” said archaeologist Michael Scafuri. “Even on a calm day, three-foot swells can occur out of nowhere on the waters off Charleston. Every time the hatch was opened, the crew ran the deadly risk of getting swamped.”
In her brief but historic service with the Confederate Navy, Hunley sank three times, killing a total of 21 crew members.

Although scientists said the new discovery of the open forward hatch could help determine the cause of the sinking, it also is possible that the lock was damaged after the sub sank and the hatch opened while it sat on the ocean floor. Further investigative work is underway.

Hunley has become a huge tourist draw for those interested in the Civil War, the evolution of the submarine and marine archeology. CSS Hunley and her many historic artifacts are open to tourists at the old U.S. Naval Station in Charleston.The crown jewel of Charleston’s Civil War heritage, Fort Sumter, draws approximately 280,000 visitors annually, despite a thirty minute boat ride each way. The fort, which participated in the first artillery duel of the Civil War in April 1861, is accessible only by boat during a trip that also offers breathtaking views of the historic city.

Charleston also has many beautiful surviving antebellum buildings; including the old trading market, the old slave market, several lovely churches including St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (one of dozens of National Historic Landmarks), and many other private homes and public buildings still in use today. Many are open for tours.

Charleston’s many pre-Civil War cobblestone streets and architecture copied from ancient Greek and Roman structures offers a unique historic journey back in time. Charleston even has horse or mule drawn carriage rides complete with tour guides in period Civil War costume. Barns and stables just a block from the old market give the old city the air of Civil War history.

The author of the book “Charleston at War,” Jack Thomson, gives Civil War walking tours daily in old Charleston. He is known for his expertise and is considered a town character in his own right.

The Museum of Charleston has a full-size replica of the Hunley in an outdoor display near the museum entrance. Unfortunately, the museum has been sometimes slow to keep up with Hunley revelations.

“The spar used to position the explosive mine on Yankee ships was actually affixed to Hunley’s keel,” Charleston architect and part-time City historian Gary Boehm said. The museum has yet to update the replica with information discovered by Hunley investigators.

Charleston remains a lovely and unique Civil War tour destination filled with people that cherish her history and culture.

John E. Carey is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page. He recently explored Charleston.

Frederick Douglass: Turning Points

August 30, 2008

By John E. Carey

To serious students of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass usually requires little introduction. Douglass excelled as a leader and role model. Slave, writer, accomplished orator, abolitionist, friend and advisor to Lincoln, Douglass spearheaded the movement to allow black men to enlist in the Union forces.

Douglass was the first African American ever invited to the White House (by Abraham Lincoln) and he coined the term “Ebony and Ivory” when he invited Stephen Douglas to debate slavery (Douglas demurred).

Above: Stephen Douglas

Douglass threw himself into the national debate with zeal and enthusiasm. He fought to end slavery within the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War. Additionally, he complimented “talk” with action, managing an underground railroad that rescued hundreds and maybe even thousands of slaves by spiriting them into Canada.

Frederick Douglass, c.1879.

Three turning points in Douglass’ fascinating life tell us much about the man who owns a unique place in American history. The first turning point came when John Brown tried to enlist Douglass, his powers of persuasion and his reputation into the Harper’s Ferry raid. Determining that the pacifists’ approach to abolition fostered by Douglass was not working, John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison set upon a more violent course of action. They wanted to enlist Douglass to help in their plan.In the very first issue of his anti-slavery newspaper, the Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison wrote, “I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

Douglass became enthralled with Garrison and the Liberator. “My soul was set on fire,” Douglass wrote of the paper. In 1839, Douglass began to write essays for the Liberator, which ultimately resulted in a long career of writing and speaking out against slavery. His newspaper notoriety made him a lightening rod for the abolitionist cause, and he became on the first truly nationally known black abolitionists.A former slave himself, Douglass had endured feeding from a trough, whippings and other humiliating privations. Douglass understood the plight of his fellow black men better than many others. His essays counted and white leaders in American took note.Even though Douglass and Garrison waged a public argument over the methods and tactics of achieving abolition, Douglass drew the attention of John Brown of Kansas.

Brown believed that Douglass would like his idea to free slaves by attacking federal property in the deeply divided areas of Maryland and Virginia. Brown thought he could incite a revolt of slaves everywhere; and that Douglass might eagerly help him do just that.

In 1859, John Brown rented a farm near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and began planning his attack on Harper’s Ferry. He invited Douglass to a meeting in the hopes that he might recruit Douglass into the scheme.Douglass met with Brown in August, 1859.

John Brown, c.1856.

When Douglass heard the violent and illegal nature of Brown’s planned attack on the federal arsenal, Douglass knew that lawlessness would only alienate the support of the white community. This turning point marked Douglass as a moderate who refused to support violent or lawless opportunists in the cause of abolition.

Had Douglass become a part of Brown’s cabal, he certainly would have lost his standing with white abolition leaders and may have wound up alongside Brown on the gallows.At the outset of the Civil War, Douglass established two goals for his life: the emancipation of all the slaves in southern and border states and the establishment of the right of black men to enlist and serve in the Union Army. These goals would lead Douglass to two more turning points, both involving President Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln

Douglass launched what modern observers might call a “media blitz,” calling for the emancipation of the slaves. He created a pressure cooker, of sorts, for President Lincoln. Lincoln knew in his heart that Douglass was right to want the freedom of all the slaves, but agonizing defeats on the battlefield, rising casualty figures, and resistance to the draft caused Lincoln to balk. Lincoln didn’t want the emancipation controversy to become another reason for white northerners to take sides against the war.

But Douglass would not relent. Understanding well Lincoln’s political considerations, Douglass still believed emancipation must be achieved as soon as possible. This second turning point caused Douglass to kept up his pressure on the president. Douglass authored strongly worded published essays and gave innumerable speeches not directly attacking Lincoln but clearly supporting emancipation. And Lincoln relented: deciding he must free the slaves as soon as the Union Army turned back Lee’s forces at Antietam.

Frederick Douglass’ final turning point came when he became distressed at Lincoln’s failure to legalize the enlistment of black men into the Union Army after emancipation. If black men were free and full citizens, Douglass argued, they had the right and privilege of service in their nation’s military forces. They had the right to participate as combatants in their nation’s war.Douglass knew than emancipation was not his final goal. He wanted all black men to become citizens and he knew that the road to citizenship could come through service to the nation.

Said Douglass, “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.:Unable to contain his distress over Lincoln’s slow response on this issue, Douglass departed for Washington D.C. – and his third turning point. Douglass went to the White House to confront Lincoln over the issue of black enlistment.

Lincoln received the hostile Douglass in his usual dignified and gentlemanly manner. Lincoln explained that many of his generals expressed doubt about enlisting the black men.Although Douglass was not pleased with Lincoln’s response, Douglass experienced another turning point. He knew this was a time for cooperation and reconciliation. He left the White House with Lincoln’s promise to ultimately allow black men full rights and responsibilities in the Army. Lincoln asked for understanding and a little more time.

Douglass returned to Boston and a short time later became one of the best recruiters of black men into the Union Army.

Frederick Douglass inspired all men to greater things. His greatness can be seen in his turning points: the rejection of John Brown’s violence, his indefatigable refusal to give in on important issues such as emancipation, and his ability to reconcile and compromise with other leaders like Lincoln.

Douglass’ turning points allowed him to ultimately achieve all his objectives.On April 14, 1876, Frederick Douglass gave an oration in memory of Abraham Lincoln. Douglass’ words that day tell us much about both men:“Friends and fellow-citizens, the story of our presence here is soon and easily told. We are here in the District of Columbia, here in the city of Washington, the most luminous point of American territory; a city recently transformed and made beautiful in its body and in its spirit; we are here in the place where the ablest and best men of the country are sent to devise the policy, enact the laws, and shape the destiny of the Republic; we are here, with the stately pillars and majestic dome of the Capitol of the nation looking down upon us; we are here, with the broad earth freshly adorned with the foliage and flowers of spring for our church, and all races, colors, and conditions of men for our congregation–in a word, we are here to express, as best we may, by appropriate forms and ceremonies, our grateful sense of the vast, high, and preeminent services rendered to ourselves, to our race, to our country, and to the whole world by Abraham Lincoln.”

Frederick Douglass: a great American leader and achiever, shaped by his turning points.

CSS Shenandoah: Technological Wonder

August 30, 2008

Murky Gray At Sea: The Story of James Waddell and CSS Shenandoah

By John E. Carey
The Washington Times
Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah (Hill and Wang, 2006, 448 pp.) by Tom Chaffin tells the harrowing story of the last Confederate sea raider’s mission around the globe—a mission that confounded the United States navy for more than a year.

On Oct. 8, 1864, the British merchant Sea King set sail from London bound for Bombay. She vanished and word quickly spread in seaports that she was lost at sea. In fact, the Confederate Navy had reinvented the Sea King as the commerce raider CSS Shenandoah.

Openly building or procuring a vessel to assist the Confederacy in the war would have violated England’s neutrality. So Chaffin introduces readers to Commander James D. Bulloch, the Confederacy’s premier agent provocateur in England. Bulloch procured 33 blockade runners and had masterminded the building of CSS Alabama, a 1050-ton screw steam sloop of war that made her Captain, Rafeal Semmes, a hero of the Confederacy.

Above: Semmes

The novel design and construction of Shenandoah herself will be of interest to seamen. The ship was a “composite, full-rigged ship, with something more than auxiliary steam-power, and all necessary arrangements for disconnecting and lifting her screw” to reduce drag while sailing. The ship weighed 1,018 tons and was propeller-driven by a 250-horsepower steam engine with a top speed of eight knots—sixteen knots under sail. Armed with modern rifled British Whitworth 32 pounders and other guns, Shenandoah was a sleek, fast, cutting-edge technological wonder.

The Shenandoah’s Captain, U.S. Naval Academy graduate James Iredell Waddell and his crew ultimately destroyed 32 ships, ransomed six, took more than 1,000 prisoners, and destroyed or captured $1.4 million in Union assets. Shenandoah never fired a shot in anger – a remarkable feat of daredevil nerve. And Waddell and his men managed to round up and send home safely every one of her captive seamen: without serious injury to any man.
Commander James Iredell Waddell, CSN

Above: Commander James Iredell Waddell, CSN

The Shenandoah’s tale is easily the most quixotic and previously neglected sea story of the Civil War. Her 58,000-mile, circumnavigation of the globe made her the Confederacy’s second most successful merchant raider.Her Captain, James Waddell, who became a Confederate Navy Lieutenant (later a Commander) proved himself not quite the strategist, seaman and warrior as Rafeal Semmes, who delighted Confederate newspaper readers for twenty two months of at sea bravery starting on 24 August 1862 in CSS Alabama.

Waddell’s exploits at sea were often overlooked amid the overwhelming news of Union Army advances and the Confederacy’s final days.For four months after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Waddell continued his wartime mission: totally unaware that he had no flag, rank or legal standing.
The already legally murky work of the commerce raider became, for the loser at war’s end, potential grounds for prosecution for war crimes. The author notes that even before the war ended, “the difference between privateer and pirate was, literally, paper-thin.” As news spread that the war was over, Waddell’s men made this realization, and feared for their lives. Waddell displayed indecision, which ultimately resulted in the near mutiny of his men; an interesting sidebar to this saga of the sea.

Chaffin’s way of telling the tale makes readers understand that this is not just a historical account of Shenandoah, Bullock and Waddell. By adding quotes from diaries and other first hand accounts, Chaffin gives readers and students of history insight into First Lieutenant William Whittle, Jr., the Executive Officer, and Midshipman John Mason who recorded that the crew “made it a rule from the start that there should be no pillaging of the captured vessels.

”The interesting characters encountered include several Shenandoah captives, some who exhibited cowardice, and some who showed great dignity and bravery. Captain John Eldridge of the Hawaiian vessel Harvest, protested the capture of his ship vehemently, as Harvest was not a U.S. flagged vessel. Much like the crewmen of HMS Bounty, who disappeared on Pitcairn Island in 1789, when put ashore in the languid paradise of the Pacific Islands by Shenandoah, Eldridge spent the rest of his days on a tropical island with a native wife, where his descendants live today.

Chaffin also recounts the Shenandoah’s encounters with the likes of the Royal native leader of Ascension Island, where males “submitted to a rite of passage that required castration of the left testicle.”

Shenandoah sailed past both the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, crossed the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, and past the west and east coasts of North America. The officers and men suffered the hardships of long periods of desolation at sea. There were also times of playful interaction, including one “winter” frolic aboard the commerce raider on June 4, 1865 near Siberia. The Confederate sailors did not yet know that the war was over and “engaged in a regular school-boy “snow-balling,’” according to observer and participant Francis Chew.

Other memorable good times for the men of Shenandoah included a sumptuous wine-fueled reception in Melbourne, Australia. This breech of Victoria’s neutrality proved costly to the British government, after an international tribunal awarded damages of 800,000 pounds against Britain when Shenandoah continued to attack shipping after she departed Australia.

Sea of Gray is a detailed account of the history and voyage of the Shenandoah’s men and captives. Captain Waddell, for all his flaws, outran and out-lasted the vastly superior United States Navy. The Liverpool Mercury reported on the last days of the Shenandoah on Tuesday, November 7, 1865. The reporter commented that “one or two of the fleetest ships in the United States navy were sent in pursuit of the Shenandoah,” to no avail.

In some of the more intriguing elements of the Shenandoah story, a U.S. Navy Charles F. Adams class guided missile destroyer would bear the name of James Waddell. And another John Eldridge, USNA Class of 1971, would rise to command both USS Los Angeles and USS Rhode Island.

Tom Chaffin based most of his work on painstaking research in diaries, letters and documents of the period. He wrote a captivating history important to Civil War buffs, mariners and students of American Studies.

Commander John E. Carey, USN (Ret) works in the war against terror.

Inspirational Story From the Civil War: Father James Sheeran

August 30, 2008

By John E. Carey

The Reverend James Sheeran, a Catholic priest, served with the 14th Louisiana Regiment from New Orleans in General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Writer and historian Bruce Catton once said he wished he had met Sheeran. Sheeran perplexed “Stonewall” Jackson by his tenacity and self assurance. Robert E. Lee and Phil Sheridan both backed down in the face of Sheeran’s logic and determination.

Father Sheeran ministered to those in need of religious support, cared for the sick and wounded, and performed innumerable acts of kindness for his fellow man. Sheeran’s determination and righteousness, grounded in God, inspired common soldiers and generals alike. In the face of all kinds of adversity, Sheeran displayed real backbone.

Three things seemed to guide Sheeran in every action, every disagreement and every situation. He believed in duty, the word of the Lord, and his home in the Confederacy.

During a confrontation at a hospital, Sheeran demonstrated some of his strengths.

“Across the road from our hospital,” Sheeran wrote, “was one full of Yankees. As usual having attended to the wants of our own men I visited the wounded of the enemy and offered my service.”

What Father Sheeran found in the Yankee hospital infuriated him. “I enquired if they had no surgeon of their own or any person to dress their wounds. They told me that they had several surgeons over there (pointing to the adjacent building), but they paid no attention to them, did not even come to see them.”

Sheeran marched directly to find the surgeons responsible for the Yankee wounded, telling them “of the painful condition of the wounded and requested them as a matter of humanity not to neglect them so….”

The Union medical staff “told me that they had no bandages to dress the wounds, no instruments to operate with, and that they were fatigued from the labors of the night.”

“I remarked it would be some consolation to their wounded if they would but visit them and wash the wound of those who were bathed in their own blood. I next went to their men paroled to attend to the wounded, asked why they did not wait on their companions, many of whom were suffering for a drink of water. They told me that they had no one to direct them, that their surgeons seemed to take no interest in the men.”

“I became somewhat indignant to hear the excuses of these worthless nurses, and putting on an air of authority ordered them to go to the rifle pits filled with the dead bodies of their companions and they would find hundreds of knapsacks filled with shirts, handkerchiefs and other articles that would make excellent bandages.”

“They obeyed my orders with the utmost alacrity and soon returned with their arms full of excellent bandage material, and bringing them to me asked: ‘Now sir, what shall we do with them?’” Sheeran was fully prepared to give the required final direction. “Go and tell your surgeons that you have bandages enough now.”

“Off they went to the surgeons….” Sheeran records. “In about two hours I returned and was pleased to find the surgeons and nurses all at work attending to their wounded.”

Sheeran spoke his mind and, when he believed he was in the right, he was not afraid of any man. In 1892, a Sheeran friend, Father Joseph Flynn wrote down this account of Sheeran’s run in with Stonewall Jackson:

“Going to his [Father Sheeran’s] tent one day, General Jackson sternly rebuked the priest for disobeying his orders, and reproached him for doing what he would not tolerate in any officer in his command. [The exact offense is unknown.] ‘Father Sheeran,’ said the general, ‘you ask more favors and take more privileges than any officer in the army.’ [Sheeran apparently replied] ‘General Jackson, I want you to understand that as a priest of God I outrank every officer in your command. I even outrank you, and when it is a question of duty I shall go wherever called.’ The General looked with undistinguished astonishment on the bold priest and without reply left his tent.”

Dr. Hunter McGuire, Chief Surgeon of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, recalled another incident between Father Sheeran and Stonewall Jackson. “At one time just before the fight at Chancellorsville,” Dr. McGuire said, “we were ordered to send to the rear all surplus baggage. All tents were discarded…. A Catholic priest belonging to one of the Louisiana brigades sent up his resignation because he was not permitted to have a tent, which he thought necessary to the proper performance of his office.”

“I said to General Jackson,” reported McGuire, “that I was very sorry to give up [the] Father–; that he was one of the most useful chaplains in the service. He replied: ‘If that is the case he shall have a tent.’ And so far as I know this Roman Catholic priest was the only man in the corps who had one.”

Above: “Stonewall” Jackson

Looking to clear the way for unrestricted access to men in need throughout the army and the countryside, Sheeran sought an authorization to go wherever and whenever he is needed. This led the chaplain into conflict with both Robert E. Lee and Phil Sheridan. Army red tape tends to restrict one’s movements to designated times and places. Sheeran set out to attain a pass authorizing the fullest freedoms imaginable.

After hearing half-answers, excuses and outright lies from dozens of officers, Sheeran obtained entry into General Lee’s presence. Lee, at first, refused to support Sheeran. But then Sheeran explained his army role, the length and arduous nature of his service, and the number of men he has prayed with and assisted along the way. Lee scribbled Sheeran a pass “that will last me the rest of the war if I should last so long.”

Later in the war, Union troops arrested Sheeran for crossing into Yankee lines. The Union Army imprisoned Sheeran at the old horse stables of Fort McHenry. Civil War Historian Scott Sheads at Fort Mc Henry in Baltimore pulled Sheeran’s file for us.

“The Reverend James Sheeran was arrested at Winchester, Virginia on November5, 1864 and confined at Fort McHenry on November 10, 1864. Arrested byorder of Major General Philip Sheridan.”

In the cold, cramped, dung and vermin filled environment, of Civil War Fort McHenry, Sheeran tired physically but his resolve stiffened. He wrote letters to General Sheridan and the Union Secretary of War, denouncing his treatment.

Ultimately, the Union Army set Sheeran free. But he again encountered red tape; only this time it is in the form of Union Army rules and restrictions. Sheeran again explained his case, this time to a befuddled General Phil Sheridan. Sheeran, as usual, departed with the passes and respect he thought he deserved.

James Sheeran knew God wanted him at his place at the front. During one engagement, Sheeran actually formed and “commanded” a rag-tag force of troops. “Our ambulance drivers….as well as our stragglers, were for stampeding,” wrote Sheeran. “Mounting my Grey and riding down….I ordered [them] to move forward as quickly as possible….” Before infantry officers arrived to take over, Sheeran wrote, “I took command of the stragglers and formed them in a line…”

Throughout the war, Sheeran retained his sense of humor and his sense of perspective.

Father Sheeran was born in Temple Mehill, County Longford, Ireland, in 1818. At the age of twelve, he emigrated to Canada and eventually settled in Monroe, Michigan where he taught in a boy’s school opened by the Catholic Redemptorist Fathers.

Sheeran married and fathered a son and a daughter. But his wife died in 1849 and Sheeran was drawn to the life of a Catholic priest. He joined the Redemptorist Congregation 1855 and was ordained a priest in 1858. At about the same time, his daughter became a nun and his son succumbed to illness.

Assigned to a parish in New Orleans, he became an ardent Southerner. When the leader of his Catholic province asked for volunteers to serve as chaplains in the Confederate Army, Father Sheeran enthusiastically offered his service.

In 1960, Bruce Catton’s wrote, “[To Father Sheeran] the real enemy appears to be war itself, and not just the opposing army.”

Father Joseph Durkin wrote of Father Sheeran, “He may have been, at times, unduly stern and uncompromising. He may have lacked some of the gentler virtues. But, in a world which so readily sells responsibility for ease, and integrity for profit, we may well prefer Father Sheeran’s iron to a more sophisticated irony.”

Both sides admire priest’s heroic service

August 30, 2008

By John E. Carey

“During the siege of Vicksburg, Father Bannon was daily at the breastworks and could not be kept away,” scribbled a soldier into his diary. At Vicksburg, Bannon faced his greatest challenge. He made a point of visiting his Missourians at the front daily, but he never forgot those hospitalized in town. He ate horse and rat meat (which the city folk called “ground squirrel”) before the siege would end.

Dr. John Leavy made note of Bannon when he wrote in his journal of “Father Bannon, the Catholic priest who accompanied the artillerymen of Guibor’s command [and] who joked and laughed with them in bivouac and went with them into action … and who prayed with the dying on the battlefield.”

During the Vicksburg siege, Union artillery shells frequently disrupted Mass, doctors in hospital, and every other activity. After one explosion in a hospital, a soldier wrote, “Father Bannon was unhurt, and by his quick action he rendered Dr. Britts, saving the doctor’s life by stopping the flow of blood.”

When a shell came screaming through the church during Mass, a soldier wrote, “The congregation [had risen] to rush out, but Father Bannon continued the service as though nothing unusual had happened.”

Leavy recounted a discussion with Bannon at City Hospital during the shelling. “While talking to me about the urgent necessity for attending to one’s religious duties and the uncertainty of life, a large fragment of shell came through the building, and struck a St. Louis boy in the hip, crushing the bones, and imbedding itself in the tissue.” Leavy attended to the wounded man’s bleeding. Bannon went to work to save his soul.
Stones River cannon and cemetery.jpg

The soldiers also noticed Bannon’s daily treks to visit the men engaged with Grant’s army in the trenches surrounding Vicksburg. On one occasion, when summoned to assist the severely wounded at the height of the fighting, Bannon’s “magnificent black horse … started to gallop more than a mile to the position.” The observer noted “the troops on both sides, Federal and Confederate, struck by his heroism, started up from their trenches, ceased firing, and cheered him loudly.”

Father John Bannon left an indelible imprint on many men.

Back to Ireland

After Vicksburg, Bannon traveled east to Richmond. Here, Jefferson Davis persuaded him to make the perilous trip to Ireland and to persuade the Irish to stop their migration to the Union side. Irishmen upon arrival in New York or Boston were easily recruited into the Union Army with cash enticements and the promise of regular pay. The Confederacy desperately wanted to stop this influx of new men into the Union Army. Bannon had become a diplomat.

John Bannon went to Ireland at the behest of his government. And he traveled to Rome in an effort to persuade the pope to recognize the Confederacy. But Bannon’s final service to the Confederate government failed to change the outcome of the war.

Because of the ever-tightening Union blockade of the Confederacy, Bannon was unable to return to his adoptive home. After the war ended, authorities in St. Louis made sure John Bannon would never again be allowed to preach in his beloved city.

Bannon would live out his days in Ireland after joining the renowned Jesuit order of Catholic priests. St. Ignatius Loyola, a Basque nobleman and soldier, who found God in all things, started the Jesuits, or more formally the Society of Jesus, in 1540. This militaristic order was perfect for Father John Bannon, who found God even in America’s most horrific war.

John Bannon: an ordinary Irish farm boy who became a heroic soldier, priest, diplomat and servant of the people of God.

John E. Carey is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page of the Washington Times.