AUGUST 2017

AUGUST  2017
FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

Translate

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Friday, July 17, 2015

LAST GRASP, LAST GASP

I would not have granted Confederate Major General John George Walker (above) a pardon in 1866. And not because he betrayed his nation. About one in four of the 31 million Americans actively supported the rebellion of the slave states in 1860, that killed 750,000 soldiers and civilians. But I believe John Walker should have been punished for the death of one young union private in particular, who died at the age of 23 for no other reason than because General Walker was stubborn and arrogant. And what inspired Walkers' belligerence was the unexpected appearance at the mouth of the Rio Grande River of the quixotic Union general Lew Wallace.
On 11 March, 1865, the bookish Hoosier met with Walker's subordinate General James Edwin Slaughter, and local regimental commander Colonel John Salmon Ford, at the southern end of South Padre Island in Port Isabel.
But instead of the expected topic of prisoner exchange, Wallace(above)  wanted to talk about an immediate cease fire west of the Mississippi, and the negotiated surrender of all rebel troops. Slaughter agreed to forward the proposal to the Confederate Commander of the entire trans-Mississippi, General Edmund Kirby Smith. But first the offer had to cross the desk of the Texas Commander, General John G. Walker.
On 25 March, from his headquarters in Houston, Walker berated Wallace for “seeking an obscure corner of the Confederacy to inaugurate negotiations.” Having insulted his own command, Walker admitted, “It would be folly...to pretend we are not tired of the war...”, but even discussing surrender said Walker, would render rebel officers “infamous for all time.” Walker then closed by saying, “With the blessing of God we will yet...extort from your government all that we ask.” Wallace accurately labeled Walker's rejection as “childish”. Nevertheless Walker was encouraged by his superior, General Smith,  to passively accept Wallace's cease fire.
The Trans-Mississippi (Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas) had been isolated from the rest of the Confederacy since the fall of Vicksburg in July of 1863. And while federal troops had withdrawn from Louisiana and Texas in 1864, they still occupied the barrier islands (above), blockading imports, except for a trickle that could be hauled across the beach at Bagdad, Mexico, on the south shore of the Rio Grande river.  
Walker was convinced his soldiers had driven off the Federal invaders, but an enlisted man stationed in south Texas wrote home, “The soldiers are getting very restless, and some talk of breaking up and going home.” At the end of December 1864, General Slaughter had only 2,600 soldiers fit for duty along the Rio Grande. By the end of March 1865, desertion had lowered that number to less than 1,200 men.
Then during April of 1865 the eastern Confederacy shattered. The Army of Northern Virginia surrendering on the 9th. , and on the 26th General Joe Johnston surrendered all Confederate forces in North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. As their government melted away the inmates of The trans-Mississippi found the Confederate dollar was worth more as kindling than currency. 
Plantation owners could only sell cotton to the government for worthless paper, and the few small farmers who were not in the army had trouble growing enough for themselves. By early May, in Texas' largest city of Houston, a 50 pound bag of flour cost the entire monthly salary of an army captain. Even to the die hard General Walker it was now obvious only a Yankee invasion could unite his disillusioned and hungry soldiers.
As far back as February of 1865 Union commanders on the barrier islands had wanted to raid the Brownsville area. That request was denied because Washington did not want to pay for land they expected to get back for free. But then a rumor reached the Federally occupied southern most of the barrier islands, Bazos, that the Confederate army was evacuating Brownsville.
The new commander on Bazos, 30 year old Brevet Brigadier General Harvey Barret (above), knew if he asked Washington for permission to check out the rumor, they would say no. So he didn't ask. 
On the morning of 11 May, 1865, the “ambitious but inept” General Barret ordered Lieutenant Colonel David Branson to cross the lagoon over night and land 300 infantry and dismounted cavalry at Boca Chita – Small Mouth – of the Rio Grande River, before dawn. They were to carry 5 days rations and 100 rounds of ammunition each. If not resisted on landing, Branson was to push 7 miles east on the old military causeway road to the White Ranch, where the neck of land between the South Bay of the Bazos lagoon and the  Rio Grande was narrowest. There were thought to be about 65 rebel cavalry picketed at the ranch, but if he met no resistance Branson was to continue another 8 miles across the almost featureless landscape to the Palmetto Ranch. And if practical he was to probe another 12 miles toward Brownsville and Fort Brown. As a later report admitted, Barret's raid was “either without any definite purpose, or for some purpose that has never been made clear.” It was also without cavalry.
Colonel Branson's force of 8 companies – 250 men of the 62nd Colored infantry (above)  and 2 companies of the 2nd Texas (U.S.) Cavalry - 50 troopers without horses - landed at the end of the causeway about 2a.m. and pushed east ward. About 8:30 they got to the White Ranch, and found the place abandoned. Branson let his men grab a couple of hours sleep and then marched on to the Palmetto Ranch. As they approached the hacienda around noon on 12 May, the Federals took fire from some pickets, who fell back as the federals advanced. Left behind were 3 rebels on sick call, 2 horses and 4 Texas long horn cows, as well as rations for about 150 men. Burning the hacienda and supplies, Branson's men camped nearby.
The Confederates surprised at Palmetto Ranch were an under strength company of cavalry under Captain William Robinson. He gathered his 60 men in the sage brush a mile away, and sent word to his commander at Fort Brown, Colonel John Salmon “Rip” Ford. 
Ford (above), who earned his nickname because he always filled his causality lists with the notation “Rest In Peace”,  responded that he would arrive the next morning with reinforcements. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Robinson realized the federals had no cavalry, and decided not to wait. 
About 3a.m. he sent his men flanking the federal camp, and laid down an harassing fire. Unable to match the rebels for maneuverability, Branson woke his exhausted infantry and marched them in the dark back to the White Ranch with his prisoners – 3 rebels, a horse and 4 cows. Robinson chose not to follow. And amazingly, for all the marching and shooting, the only causality was one of the unmounted Texas federals. So far. It seemed nobody on either side wanted to be the last man killed in the Civil War.
Colonel Branson sent details of the encounter to General Barret back on Bazos Island, expecting to be ordered to withdraw. After all, the mission had been to confirm the rumor that Brownsville was being evacuated. And with cavalry picketed 11 miles east of Brownsville, it was clear the rebels were still there. Instead, Barret himself arrived at the White Ranch just after dawn on 13 May, with 9 under strength companies – about 200 men - of the veteran 34th Indiana infantry. While the Hoosier soldiers rested, Barret pushed the 300 men of the 62nd and 2nd Texas Cavalry back toward Palmetto Ranch.
Marching out from Brownsville to meet the Yankees that morning was Colonel “Rip” Ford and 360 mounted cavalry, and six 6 pounder artillery pieces (above). 
Given the flat, open terrain, with the only trees bordering the Rio Grande River, the battle would be decided by who best used their cavalry and artillery, and Barret had none, and no combat experience with either. Why he was being foolish was explained to Barret that afternoon, when after a morning spent sniping at each other - again with no causalities - he tried to outflank the Confederates. About 4pm on the afternoon of 13 May, Ford's mounted troopers easily out flanked Barret's flanking maneuver.
In his after action report, Barret admitted what he should have realized before he launched his misadventure. “....a heavy body of cavalry and a section of (artillery),  under cover of the thick chaparral on our right, had already succeeded in flanking us...our position became untenable. We therefore fell back...This movement...having to be performed under a heavy fire from both front and flank.” In other words, trying to move infantry in cavalry country, without artillery or cavalry support, was foolish. Barret's excuse was he didn't know any better.
Luckily, the 34th Indiana now arrived, and threw out the 48 men of Company B as skirmishers, to cover the retreat of Barret's over extended 62nd regiment. 
In that line stretched across the hard dry chaparral, knelt Private John Jefferson Williams (above), a 23 year old blacksmith from Anderson, Indiana. The young man had been in the army since September of 1863, joining the unit after it participated in the capture of Vicksburg. And after duty in occupied New Orleans, this was Private William's first battle. And his last. 
Firing in the skirmish line, Private Williams stood to reload his musket when a rebel cavalryman fired a ball that entered William's skull just above his right eye, killing him instantly. 
Ford's cavalrymen herded the isolated Federal skirmishers into a bend of the Rio Grande River, and forced them to surrender, along with 30 stragglers from the 62nd and 2nd Texas.
The sacrifice of Company B and private Williams, allowed the 62nd infantry to form a longer skirmish line behind the retreating 34th. Their retreat was then covered by another line of the 34th Indiana. And thus began a leap frog 4 hour march, which Colonel Ford described as “a run”, all the way back to the White Ranch. From there the enclosing swamps restricted Colonel Ford's flanking attacks, and he satisfied himself with lobbing an occasional artillery shell, and long range musket fire. The last shots of this, the last battle of the American Civil War, were fired by the last skirmish line of the 62nd infantry, before boarding their boats for Bazos island.. Seeing the Federals heading to the water, Colonel Ford told his troopers, “Boys, we have done finely. We will let well enough alone, and retire.”
The final causality count from this final 2 day battle was, on the Union side, 4 dead – 2 from the 62nd , and one each the 2nd Texas and the 34th Indiana, 12 wounded, and 101 captured. The Confederates suffered “five or six wounded” according to Colonel Ford. The low "butcher's bill" indicated that not only were few of the soldiers on either side willing to die for their "country", they were not willing to kill for it either. The last man to die in the “Battle of Palmetto Ranch” had been John Jefferson Williams, the last man to be killed by enemy fire in the American Civil War.  The $45 found in his pocket was sent to his widow in Anderson, Indiana. And even he would not have died if Confederate Major General John George Walker had not insisted on fighting for a month after the war should have come to an end. 
The next day, 14 May, 1865, the 400 man Confederate garrisoned in Galveston, Texas, tried to desert with their weapons. A soldier in Shreveport, Louisiana, wrote that, ”Mutiny and wholesale desertion was openly talked of.” A senior Confederate officer described “mobs of disorderly soldiery, thronging the roads, interrupting travel and making life and property exceedingly insecure”. On 20 May half the troops left in Texas did desert, and the remaining half refused to try to stop them. 
Final proof of the collapse of the Trans Mississippi was that not only were the prisoners of the 62nd Colored Infantry captured at Palmetto Ranch treated like full prisoners of war, but they and their white Union comrades were all released by Colonel Ford within a few days. The rebellion of the slave states was over, even in the hearts and minds of the die hard rebels. Finally, on 25 May, General Walker himself admitted defeat, disbanded his command, and headed for Mexico with his wife and children.
Six months later John George Walker was in Liverpool, Britain, writing to U.S. President Andrew Johnston, asking for a pardon and restoration of his citizenship. 
After a year of lobbying in person in Washington, he signed a pledge that he did, “solemnly swear in presence of ALMIGHTY GOD that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States... and...abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations...with reference to the emancipation of Slaves. So help me God.”  The  “ambitious but inept” Barret did not know better than to try and keep the war going. But the experienced professional John George Walker, certainly should have. 
In November of 1869 the stubborn Walker (above) went to work for the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, and in the spring of 1873 was seeking to attract European immigrants to the lone star state. In 1885 Walker was named U.S. consul to Bogota, Columbia by President Grover Cleveland, and while in Washington, D.C. John Walker died of a stroke at 72 years of age, in 1893. He was never held to public account for his part in the last death in the American Civil War.

The captured men of the Indiana 34th regiment buried the body of Private John Jefferson Williams about 200 yards south of the walls of Fort Brown (above)  and 100 yards from the Rio Grande River. 
After the war the fort's burial ground became the Brownsville National Cemetery (above), where the earthly remains of Private Williams remained undisturbed for 44 years.
Then,  in 1909,  some 1,500 bodies, including that of Private Willaims, were disinterred.
He was reburied in the 8 acre Alexandria National Cemetery, in Pineville, Louisiana. The last man to be killed in combat during the American Civil War is still there, buried in plot 797.  Proof yet again, that starting a war is easy, but stopping always costs more than anybody wants to pay.
Rest In Peace
- 30 -

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

FIRST BLOOD Part Six

I think it was William Tecumseh Sherman who best described Bull Run as, “one of the best-planned battles, but one of the worst fought.” And Sherman knew, since he was a Colonel in General Tyler's division, a spectator on the north side of the stone bridge while the battle raged south of the muddy meandering Bull Run. The fighting began about 9:30 that Sunday morning, 21 July, 1861, as the first federal soldiers wadded across Sudley Springs ford. They were the Second Rhode Island regiment, commanded by the tall, pleasant and amiable 38 year old Ambrose Burnside (above), an example of the Peter Principle a century before its enumeration. Brave, jovial, bright and easy going, he seemed a natural choice for command, but doubted his own competence, and proved it by becoming “obstinate and unimaginative” when given responsibility His men scrambled up the high southern bank of Bull Run in exactly the right place and moment to make Colonel Burnside a general.
Thirty minutes earlier the 1,000 men of General “Shanks” Evans battalion had been guarding the Warenton Turnpike where it crossed over that stone bridge at the northern base of Henry House hill.   Now they were over a mile to the northwest, trying to throw out a skirmish line on the forested northern slope of Mathews' House hill.
Unable to see more than a few yards in any direction, the zouaves of the First Louisiana Volunteers regiment, under Major Chatham Wheat, took a volley of friendly fire from another rebel unit, killing 3 men. Many of these “Tigers” had been “filibusters” in William Walkers' 1857-58 attempt to establish a slave state in Nicaragua. Armies from Costa Rica, Salvador and Honduras had eventually crushed the slavers, and Walker had been hanged in Honduras in September of 1860. But even now the filibusters remained true believers in slavery, and were reforming behind a split rail fence just as Burnside's men moved out of the trees at the top of the embankment.
The first volley fired by Evan's brigade was “A perfect hail storm of bullets, round shot and shell “, according to Rhode Island Private Sam English. But Burnside's men held (above), and after a five minute fire fight, they drove the rebels fell back. Twice more, Evens led his men forward, using the brush and a corn field to disguise his meager force.
After about fifteen minutes, Colonel John Slocum led a New Hampshire and a New York regiment in a general assault. The 5,000 federal troops pushed Even's 1,000 man brigade off the hill top. The retreat was stopped at the bottom  by the shallow creek called Young's branch, or the Chinn Branch.
From atop Henry House Hill, and seeing Major Evans preparing his men for a fourth assault, General Bernard Bee sent a note urging Evans to fall back. Instead Evans asked for help. General Bee gave into the impulse, and ordered his 2,000 man brigade forward, across the Warrenton Pike, splashing through the shallow Young's Branch, and alongside Even's brigade, up Mathew's House hill yet again. “Here is the battlefield,” he told his men, “and we are for it.”
The two sides stood within yards of each other, firing, reloading and firing again, the rebel assault blunted by more of McDowell's left hook climbing up from Sudley Springs ford. There were now close to 10,000 men battling on the Mathews' House Hill, the majority federal. And then, without warning, the rebels found themselves caught in a crossfire as federal troops suddenly appeared at their backs.
During the morning, Colonel William T. Sherman, a spectator on the north side of Bull Run, had seen a Confederate officer easily crossing Bull Run at a spot he noted. It was the hidden Farm ford. Just before noon, when General McDowell authorized Tyler's division to make an assault over the stone bridge (above), Sherman used his initiative to launch his regiment unresisted over his newly discovered ford. When Sherman's men fired into their backs, the rebel line crumpled, the survivors falling back to the crest of Henry House hill. General McDowell now arrived on Mathews' House hill, and ordered his artillery units to begin shelling the rebel positions, while his two divisions reformed for an assault on Henry House hill.
It was at this moment that Generals Beauregard and Johnston arrived on Henry House hill. The “Little Napoleon” began rallying Evan's exhausted soldiers at the crest, while Johnston rode toward the rear, to speed up the arrival of the rest of his Shenandoah battalions. At the same time, Thomas Jackson's 5 Virginia regiments arrived. But instead of forming on the crest of the hill with the others,  Jackson formed his men just behind the crest and ordered them to lay down. Using the hill to protect his men from the federal cannon fire, was a trick the Duke of Wellington had used to defeat the real Napoleon at Waterloo.
Seeing McDowell pushing forward almost 9,000 men toward Henry House hill, a desperate General Bee urged Jackson to advance his brigade forward. But unlike Bee, Jackson stayed right where he was.
Bee complained to his staff, “Look, there stands Jackson.  Like a stone wall”. Without Jackson's support the rest of the rebel flank began to give in the face of the advancing federal infantry. 
Then, just before stepping into effective musket range, McDowell ordered his men to halt, and brought forward two batteries of cannon, the 5th U.S. artillery under Major Charles Griffin and the 1st U.S. artillery under James Ricketts, to blast the rebel line, point blank.
The gunners positioned themselves with blue coated infantry to guard their flanks. As the 11 federal guns began firing across 300 yards at the 13 cannon supporting Jackson's brigade, the blue coated troops on one of the federal gunner's flank suddenly let loose a murderous volley on the gunners. (above) They were in fact 250 blue coated men of Arthur Cumming's 33rd Virginia regiment, part of Jackson's brigade. At Cumming's command, his troops then charged the federal guns. Almost 50 of the rebels died in the assault, and almost half were wounded. But the federal battery was captured and turned on the federal line when Jackson's entire brigade stood and began returning the federal volleys. The federals charged, retook the guns, then lost them again, then retook them a third time. But the rebel battle line had stabilized alongside Jackson.
Rushing back and forth across his weakening battle line, Beauregard kept his men shooting. Then he saw the end approaching – more federal troops coming in on his left. General Beauregard was about to order a general retreat.
But the advancing troops were in fact the final Shenandoah brigades, part of Kirby Smith's battalion, and Jubal Early's from over on the rebel left. Together they were able to outflank the federal troops, and Beauregard ordered a general advance.
Under pressure across the line, the federal left began to crumble, and with Tyler refusing or unable to feed any more troops over the narrow stone bridge, General McDowell ordered a withdrawal.
The federal retreat was brilliantly handled at first. There was some panic when a rebel artillery shell landed on the bridge over Chub Run, and among the Washington elite who had gone forward to watch the fight, but in truth the image of a panic (above) has been greatly exaggerated. The exhausted federal troops could not be stopped at Centerville, but that was because the reserves were too weak to protect the retreating men. But the federal army largely stayed in good order, covered by Colonel Sherman's regiment. And the rebels were in no condition themselves to make the bad federal position, any worse.
It had been the bloodiest day in American history to date. There were 460 federal soldiers dead on the field, and over 1,100 wounded, many of whom would later die. Worse, there were 1,300 missing or taken prisoner. Confederate losses were about 390 killed, 1,500 wounded and just 13 missing. In terms of blood, the battle had been pretty much a draw. And by later battles the cost had been low. But this was only the first blood, the first major battle of a war that was too soon dwarf  the effort this day. 
The hero of the battle was clearly Colonel Thomas Jackson (above),  hereafter known as “Stonewall Jackson”. The accusation became an honor in large part because General Bee, who uttered it, was dead on Henry House hill.
On the federal side the villain was equally clear – General Robert Patterson (above). He was supposed to have held Johnston's men in the Shenandoah Valley. He did not. It could have been he could not. But as early as 19 July, the day after the “battle” of Blackburn's ford, and two days before the battle of Bull Run, Winfield Scott had ordered Patterson back to Harpers Ferry, and relieved him of command. Scott already knew, and McDowell already knew on that date,  that Johnston's 10,000 men were heading for Manassas Junction. But the approaching loss of the 90 day militia made the battle of Bull Run mandatory. And the north had come very close to winning it despite Johnston's reinforcement of Beauregard
The “Little Napoleon”, General Gustave Toutant Beauregard (above), was hailed as the hero of the Battle of Manassas Junction – Confederates always named their battles after the nearest town, the union after the nearest river. But within a few weeks Beauregard had so insulted President Jefferson Davis and his fellow officers, the Little Napoleon would be transferred first to the west, and later out of the war entirely. The man who sent the warning of the federal flanking movement, Captain Edward Porter Alexander, would come to command all artillery in the rebel Army of Northern Virginia, and conduct the largest bombardment of the war, on the afternoon of the third day at Gettysburg, preparing the way for the doomed Picket's charge.
Of the union veterans of Bull Run – the federal fight – William T. Sherman (above) would end the war, having carved his name across the deep south, all the way from Atlanta, Georgia, to North Carolina. 
Ambrose Burnside would lend his name to the fuzz on his cheeks – sideburns- and had already designed the standard cavalry carbine used during the last 2 years of the war, although he would not profit from it. But promoted to the his level of incompetence, over all commander of the federal Army of the Potomac, he would be most remembered as man who pointlessly sacrificed thousands of federal lives at Fredricksburg. 
And Major Charles Griffin (above), the man who lost his battery at Bull Run, would rise to the rank of Major General, and be a witness at Appomattox Court House when Robert E. Lee would surrender the rebel army of Northern Virginia , and end the war.
Rose O'Neal Greenhow, the pro-slavery fanatic, would be arrested in Washington for betraying McDowell's plans. At the end of May 1862 she would be handed over to the Confederacy.  Jefferson Davis welcomed her in Richmond, and credited her with winning the battle, in part because it downplayed Beauregard's efforts. But then what to do with her? He shipped her to Europe, where she attempted to convince the Europeans that slavery was not evil. Much of the royalty, who did not think much of their own people, welcomed her. But the disapproval of the working classes prevented the blue bloods from doing more than inviting her to parties, and buying her book.
In September 1864, the lady was returning home. Outside of Wilmington, North Carolina, the last open harbor in the rebel south, her ship ran aground, and Rose insisted on setting out for shore in a row boat. The boat over turned and Rose Greenhow, the queen of antebellum Washington society, disappeared beneath the waves. Her body washed up on shore the next morning. She had been pulled under by the $2,000 in gold she had carried sewn into her dress, earned for her white-washed defense of the indefensible
- 30 -

Blog Archive

Amazon Deals