Shenandoah Subordinates: David Russell’s Final Battle

Part two in a series.

Finally, the days of waiting were over. For over a month, the Federals under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan had been marching back and forth through the Shenandoah Valley in a veritable dance with Lieut. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederates. Now, on the morning of September 19, 1864 Sheridan was finally leading his men into battle. Acting on intelligence that Confederate troops from Early’s army had been recalled to the lines around Richmond and Petersburg, along with reports that the Confederates were strung out around Winchester, Sheridan moved to the attack. His plan was simple; the Yankees would advance west along the Berryville Turnpike and hit the Confederates before Early could consolidate. First, Sheridan’s cavalry had to clear the way through a steep gorge known as the Berryville Canyon.

The Battle of Third Winchester. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Battle of Third Winchester. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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“The Very Essence of Nightmare”—The Battle of Plymouth, NC, and the Destruction of the CSS Albemarle, pt. V

The CSS Albermarle once fought the USS Saccacus to a standstill in Albemarle Sound. By the fall of 1864, the Albemarle rested as the victor of Plymouth. (National Archives)

The CSS Albermarle once fought the USS Saccacus to a standstill in Albemarle Sound. By the fall of 1864, the Albemarle rested as the victor of Plymouth. (National Archives)

We are pleased to welcome back guest author Sam Smith for the final part of his series

In October of 1864, Lieutenant William B. Cushing, an old friend of the late Captain Flusser, embarked on a daring raid to destroy the ship that had so bedeviled the Federal occupiers of Plymouth, North Carolina. With 22 men and one small steam launch fitted with a single howitzer, Cushing made his way from Norfolk, Virginia to the mouth of the Roanoke River. In the moonlight of October 28, Cushing attached a “spar torpedo,” a 14-foot pole with a bomb affixed to the end, to the underside of his craft and pushed off towards Plymouth.[i] Continue reading

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I Have No Desire to Return Until This War is Settled: The Motives and Sacrifice of Sgt. Paul Kuhl, 15th New Jersey Volunteers

Today we are pleased to welcome guest author William Griffith.

The individual motives for why men fought in the American Civil War were personally unique to every soldier. Some fought for patriotism, manhood, and freedom from bondage for others. Some fought simply because it was what everyone else was doing, or joined to avoid being drafted, all the while collecting a hefty enlistment bounty. James M. McPherson, in his ground-breaking study, For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought In The Civil War, argues that there was a reoccurring pattern of reasons why men took up arms during the conflict. After personally reading and analyzing over 25,000 letters and 250 private diaries from men on both sides, Dr. McPherson concluded that the most common motives were duty, honor, and patriotism.[1] Sergeant Paul Kuhl, Company A, 15th New Jersey Volunteers, exemplified this thesis and carried with him these ideals from August 1862 all the way until his death at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 12, 1864. His initial, sustaining, and combat motives are all evident in the letters written to his mother and siblings throughout the war. Unpublished and transcribed by a descendent, Kuhl’s letters give its readers an in-depth look into the young mind of a New Jersey farm boy turned soldier.

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Posted in Armies, Battlefields & Historic Places, Battles, Campaigns, Civil War Events, Common Soldier, Emerging Civil War, Memory | 1 Comment

“The Very Essence of Nightmare”—The Battle of Plymouth, NC, and the Destruction of the CSS Albemarle, pt. IV

General Henry Wessels, pictured in 1863.  (National Archives)

General Henry Wessels, pictured in 1863. (National Archives)

We are pleased to welcome back guest author Sam Smith
part four of a series

By daybreak on April 20, with a couple of signal shots from the Albermarle, Confederate infantry rushed forward toward the forts defending Plymouth. The Union defenders opened fire as soon as the Confederates were in range. Lieutenant Wright led his men in what he called “one of the grandest charges of the war.” The Confederates were torn by grape, canister, and musketry as they ran through the open fields in front of the Union forts. Corporal Council was killed by shell fragments, true to his presentiment.[i]

The fighting swept into the streets of Plymouth, and a “most terrific street fight” erupted as the Union soldiers tried to check the Confederate onslaught. Outnumbered by more than four to one, they could not kill quickly enough to stop the Rebels. Soon enough, the defenders of Plymouth were rushing out of their hiding places and into Fort Williams, the keystone fortification at the center of the Union line. In the words of Confederate Major Graham Daves, it looked like the flight of “a colony of prairie puppies.”[ii] Continue reading

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Conference at Charlestown

Ulysses S. Grant. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Ulysses S. Grant. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The fall of Atlanta in early September, 1864 sent shockwaves through the Northern states. Sitting at his headquarters at City Point on the James River outside Petersburg, Virginia, Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, hoped that his subordinate in the Shenandoah Valley, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, would launch an offensive and capitalize on the Union success. For the better part of a month, Sheridan had marched his command up and down the Valley, having nothing to show for his maneuvers except an indecisive skirmish at Charlestown. For two weeks, Grant waited for Sheridan to take the offensive and deal a blow to Lieut. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley. When none came, Grant decided to pay Sheridan a visit.

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Civil War Echoes: Erich Raeder’s Navy

Bismarck2

Raphael Semmes published his Memoirs of Service Afloat During The War Between The States in 1869, providing a far-ranging discussion of the Confederate naval war and his role in it as a commerce raider, squadron commander, and field commander. This book so impressed Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II that he made it required reading among his senior naval officers. The book influenced discussions and debates before World War I about how the weaker German Navy could confront a stronger foe. One of the key debaters was the Chief of Staff of the Battlecruiser Fleet, a man named Erich Raeder.

From 1928 to 1943 Raeder ran the German Navy and took it into World War II. Caught off-guard by the start of the war in September 1939 (naval plans expected it in 1944 or 1945), and facing much stronger opponents, he was forced into much the same situation as the Confederates in 1861. Raeder adopted a similar strategy to the one the Confederate Navy used during the Civil War. In many ways it was a very close mirror. Continue reading

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Already Looking Toward Next Weekend?

As one weekend wraps up and we stare at the conventional work week that unfolds in front of us, it is human nature to wonder about the upcoming weekend and start to think of plans. For some this is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. If that describes you, then you want to keep reading. Or if you are a person who is looking for weekend plans but do not want to go through the hassle of making them yourselves, well keep reading also! Continue reading

Posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Battles, Campaigns, Civil War Events, ECW Weekender, Emerging Civil War, National Park Service, Sesquicentennial | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two “Keys” and 47 Years

On September 14, 2014, the nation will pass a milestone anniversary. 200 years prior, Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a poem, which later, when adapted to music, would be come the United States of America’s national anthem.

The action that Key witnessed was the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, a star-shaped fort that guarded the water approaches to Baltimore, Maryland, named after a Maryland signer of the Constitution and the third Secretary of War, James McHenry.

Throughout the night of September 13, 1814, the fort and its defenders withstood constant shelling from the British fleet, and when dawn broke on September 14th, the flag still fluttered above the ramparts. Coupled with a setback at the battle of North Point in which British General Robert Ross was killed, the Americans, aided by Maryland militia, safely defended the city and harbor. Continue reading

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Emory Upton in Upstate New York

UptonStatue03Batavia, New York, sits midway between Buffalo and Rochester along the busy New York State Thruway. Western New Yorkers know it best for its racetrack, Batavia Downs, a half-mile track that features live harness racing July through December.

But I best know Batavia as the birthplace of Emory Upton, a Civil War officer whose name I evoke every time I take people across the battlefield at Spotsylvania Court House. When I tell Upton’s story, I make it a point to mention his hometown because it’s kind of in my neck of the woods. I feel a kind of residual hometown pride.

I had never actually been to Batavia before last week, though, although the Thruway has taken me “thru,” as its name implies, on several occasions. I was there last week to speak to a room full of Civil War enthusiasts at Genessee Community College, situated atop a high open hilltop just outside of town. It was an artillerist’s dream, I imagined, had any artillerist a reason to set up cannons there.  Continue reading

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Review—Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman

O'Connell-coverToday we are pleased to welcome guest author Derek D. Maxfield with a review of Robert L. O’Connell’s Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman (New York: Random House, 2014).

He is perhaps the most eccentric general of the Civil War. With his red hair, piercing eyes, and fidgety manner, William Tecumseh Sherman has been called a prophet by some and madman by others. But whatever the label, Sherman was one of the reasons the Union was preserved.

The latest brave soul to try to get to know Sherman is Robert L. O’Connell. His new book, Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, is aptly titled and well done. O’Connell seeks to come to terms with the general topically, instead of the standard chronological approach. The book is divided into three main sections: “The Military Strategist,” “The General and His Army,” and “The Man and His Families.” It is a veritable “three ring circus,” as O’Connell sees it, but “it’s too distracting to watch all simultaneously,” so he utilizes a sequential, topical method. The chief complaint about this approach is one O’Connell himself acknowledges in his introduction: many areas of overlap that can make the book seem repetitive. The three compartments he creates are almost impossible to separate neatly. Take, for instance, the influence of his surrogate father, Thomas Ewing. This man is ever-present in every sphere of Sherman’s life—personal, public and private. Ewing cannot be contained by compartments any more than cats can be herded (O’Connell xxi). Continue reading

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