“Atlanta Is Ours”

Union General William T.  Sherman

Union General William T. Sherman

Defeat at Jonesboro ended John Bell Hood’s hopes of holding Atlanta. He abandoned the city the evening of September 1, destroying all useful military stores that could not be moved (a scene later immortalized in the book and film Gone With The Wind). The next morning (150 years ago today), Atlanta’s mayor surrendered the city to Sherman’s troops; over the next days, Sherman’s army group consolidated in and around the city. After 4 months and 23,000 casualties (vs 27,000 Confederate losses), Sherman’s men had achieved a great victory. “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won,” telegraphed Sherman on September 3.

Atlanta’s fall electrified the North. Just the previous month, George McClellan had been nominated on a Democratic platform that called the war a failure. Sherman’s announcement destroyed that claim. This measurable land success changed public opinion, and turned the 1864 election campaign to Lincoln’s advantage, never to be lost. Continue reading

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Poland 1939 – 75 Years

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This day in 1939 (75 years ago), the Second World War began with the German invasion of Poland. When done, the war would redefine the world and still reverberates today.

A common misconception about the war’s beginning was the so-called “Polish Corridor” was imposed on Germany in 1918; in reality, the German-Polish border was drawn to nearly match the 1772 frontier.

Poland fell after six weeks of fighting, but did not surrender; the government and many soldiers escaped to the West – most never to return. Others fell into the hands of the USSR, and many died or were executed.

An excellent précis can be found here: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005070

The picture above (taken 11 June 2014) shows 45 unknown graves of Polish soldiers from the 1939 campaign in the community cemetery in Ciechanow, Poland. The author’s great-grandparents are buried yards away.

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Jonesborough, Georgia: The Battle that Doomed Atlanta

Like Corinth, Mississippi or Petersburg, Virginia, the town of Jonesboro, Georgia was significant to military planners and general officers for one simple fact: two or more railroads came to a junction there.

Running south from Atlanta was the Macon and Western Railroad and, 17 miles later, the railroad connected with the Atlanta and West Point Railroad.

By late August 1864, this railroad line was the life-line for Confederate Army of Tennessee, which was being besieged by William T. Sherman’s Union armies. Just like the Army of Tennessee at Petersburg, Virginia, the lifeline of the principle western Confederate army needed to remain intact. Continue reading

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To Georgia With Lee

When John Bell Hood assumed command of the Army of Tennessee on July 18, 1864 he quickly changed the tactics employed by the main Confederate army in the west. Under the leadership of Joseph E. Johnston, the Army of Tennessee had given up considerable ground, moving from one defensive locale to the next, husbanding its strength. Johnston’s goal was to trade land for a chance to catch Sherman either in open ground or weary enough that the Ohioan would launch a fruitless assault against the entrenched Confederates; see Kennesaw Mountain.

Yet, under Hood’s leadership, the tactics would flip; the Army of Tennessee would move to the offensive, strike back at the invading Union army. Continue reading

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

We are pleased today to welcome guest author Sam Smith
part one in a series

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Plymouth, North Carolina, in May, 1864 (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper)

The Civil War forever changed Plymouth, North Carolina. The city, like so many others, suffered for its strategic significance. Plymouth controlled the Albemarle Sound and the final stretch of the Roanoke River, making its capture an early priority as the Union fought to establish its blockade of Southern waters. The city was burned twice, once by each side, before being firmly held by Union forces starting in 1862.

The Plymouth of 1864 “was a mere remnant….a few tumble-down houses that had escaped the flames, two or three brick stores and houses, and the rest a medley of negro shanties,” observed Massachusetts Sergeant Warren Goss, who arrived in February. “The place was a general refuge for fugitive negroes…and for rebel deserters.” Two women came down from Massachussets and “schools had been established for the young and middle aged colored population.” [i] Altogether, roughly 2,000 civilians, mostly fugitive slaves, were clustered along the southern bank of the Roanoke River. They were known as “the Plymouth Pilgrims.”[ii] Continue reading

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Visiting Headquarters

LeesHQ-FarSideOfRoadPerhaps the gray day made headquarters seem quieter than normal. Situated along Route 30 on the northwest corner of Gettysburg, General Lee’s HQ usually has the feel of a place where something’s going on. It was certainly like that on July 1, 1863, when Lee made his headquarters there after a pretty brutal day of fighting that finally saw his men gain the upper hand. And it was like that on July 1 of this year when the Civil War Trust announced an exciting new fund-raising initiative to purchase the property—which it has called “one of America’s most significant unprotected sites.”

I stopped by the headquarters several days ago while I was in Gettysburg for a photo-taking expedition for an upcoming Emerging Civil War Series project (details coming soon!). It had been raining for most of the afternoon, so I was good and drenched. My footwear was so soggy it squished as I walked. Continue reading

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Shaping Chancellorsville: Conclusion

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The final installment in a series

In 2010, the update to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (FSNMP) map denoted for the first time the location of the Day One battlefield even though it lies outside the park boundary. In its summary of the overall battle, the first sentence reads: “At Chancellorsville Robert E. Lee won his greatest victory, but lost his legendary subordinate, Stonewall Jackson.” Of the ten tour stops on the driving tour, descriptions for five of them reference Jackson by name (compared to three mentions for Hooker and, surprisingly, one for Lee).

This might suggest the Lee-Jackson storylines of the Lost Cause have won. I was surprised when I conducted this study in 2012, looking at 149 years of material related to battlefield development, at how frequently the Lee-Jackson storyline was used to guide and contextualize acquisition decisions. Then, after the land was acquired, those same storylines were used to interpret the new ground.

The Reconciliation memory, meanwhile, faded with the veterans only to be resurrected in the preservation battles of the last twenty years. The Emancipation memory comes into focus only in the last fifteen years. Beyond mentions by Calvin Coolidge, the Union memory never got used at Chancellorsville at all. Continue reading

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Walking the Exposed Federal Line at Reams Station

DSCF1212Key to the Union failure at Reams Station is the poor tactical position they assumed around the tracks of the Weldon Railroad. This morning’s piece by Ryan Quint explores the previous exhaustive campaigning experienced by the Second Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac and its impact on their fighting quality at this battle. A brief mental lapse doomed their chances and cost the corps dearly, as a visit to the Civil War Trust preserved section of the battlefield demonstrates.

The Second Corps position at Reams Station incorporated earthworks dug by the Sixth Corps in late June while scrambling to the railroad to protect the returning cavalry of the Wilson-Kautz Raid. “They were hurriedly thrown up, badly constructed, and poorly located,” critiqued Lieutenant George K. Dauchy who commanded the 12th Battery, New York Light Artillery.[1] Nevertheless the Second Corps artillerists manhandled their pieces into this position, rather than building a new one from scratch.

Continue reading

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“A Hideous Dream”: The Federal Second Corps at the Second Battle of Ream’s Station

In the wake of the fighting around Globe Tavern, the Federal high command looked to expand on its success. The Weldon Railroad was firmly under the control of Warren’s Fifth Corps, but now George Meade wanted to negate the railroad entirely. To do so, Meade ordered Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps up.

Throughout early August Hancock’s men had been involved north of the James River, fighting in the engagement known as Second Deep Bottom. Only on the night of August 20-21 had the corps re-crossed the river and now, with little rest, was ordered twelve miles south of Petersburg towards Ream’s Station. As the tired men began the march, some of them quipped that they were now “Hancock’s Cavalry.”[i] Continue reading

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Escape from Hellmira!

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Confederate memorial in Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira, NY

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Confederate prisoners being held in Elmira Prison in upstate New York started construction on a tunnel that would allow ten men to burrow their way to freedom. It was the only one of several escape attempts that would be successful.

I’ve written before on “Hellmira,” but today’s tidbit comes from a neat little piece by Ray Finger, a reporter with the Elmira Star Gazette: “20 Facts about Elmira’s Civil War prison camp.”

Continue reading

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