Sailors, Diplomats, Tycoons and the Campaign to Control California’s Gold in the Civil War

Today, we are pleased to welcome back guest author Neil Chatelain

Passengers on board the California steamer Ariel look on a the CSS Alabama approaches.
US Naval History and Heritage Command

As massive operations spread across the United States during the Civil War, a secret and ever-important campaign was being waged at sea. This was not ironclad warships battling one another or amphibious assaults securing Confederate port cities. For four years, a continuous struggle, fought by sailors, diplomats, and tycoons, waged over control of the Panama Route and the valuable steamers carrying gold from California to Panama to New York. Waged across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Caribbean, this campaign would determine which side had access to hard currency, adding security and financial stability to the victor.

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“I Intend to the Make the Yankees Pay”: J.E.B. Stuart’s Operations in August 1862

Part one in a series

J.E.B. Stuart in the field

James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart was one of the Confederacy’s emerging stars in the summer of 1862. A Major General at 29, Stuart headed the cavalry division in Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Over the course of several days in August, Stuart was involved in two separate events in the central part of the Old Dominion. Although these affairs were small in nature, one would set the stage for the other and ultimately brought on another clash between Union and Confederate armies near Manassas.

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Statues of Stonewall

UDC Jackson dedication 2017

Each year, the United Daughters of the Confederacy rededicates the Stonewall Jackson statue at Manassas National Battlefield. (2017)

It’s probably no surprise that “Confederate statues” has shown up as a frequent term in the ECW search engine this week. In particular, people have been searching for “Stonewall Jackson statues.” Back in 2011, I put together a series, “Statues of Stonewall,” that provided some history about various Stonewall Jackson monuments in Lexington, Richmond, Manassas.

Three notable statues not covered in the series were subsequently profiled in The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson, which I co-authored with Kris White.  Continue reading

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The Demotivational Colonel Hubbard?

James Hubbard (Dudley L. Vaill – The County Regiment)

After receiving orders on April 1, 1865, to assault the Confederate entrenchments at Petersburg the following morning, Col. James Hubbard assembled the officers of his 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery regiment, then serving as infantry, to brief them on the pending charge. The thirty-one year old explained the unit’s assignment and concluded his brief talk with a statement that hardly seems to have inspired confidence among the subordinates:

“Gentlemen, we are going to have a hell of a fight at early daylight as General Grant has made up his mind to take Petersburg and Richmond tomorrow morning and I want you fellows to simply tell your first sergeant[s] to have the men fall in ready to march as I have suggested, at 1 o’clock a.m. Now you can go to your quarters and if any of you have anything to say to your folks, wives or sweethearts make your story short and get what sleep you can for hell will be tapped early in the morning… God only knows how many of us will ever come out of this damn fight. Good night, gentlemen, hoping our forces may be successful.”[1]

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Games Soldiers Play: Chuck-a-luck

Leisure time in camp

Last year at Brownell Middle School we had a combined Math-Science Expo sort of thing instead of a traditional Science Fair. Like everyone in the education business, we were trying to find a sweet spot for a combination of Common Core, STEAM, and parents. Add this to the fact that I had several students who were not even remotely interested in any of those three things, nor in math, which was what I was trying to teach them. One of my young charges challenged me by asking, “What fun is there in Math, anyway?” Continue reading

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In the Wake of Vicksburg, U. S. Grant as Commander of the Army of the Potomac?

meade-grantBy early August, 1863, Ulysses S. Grant had settled into administrative routine following the fall of Vicksburg, Mississippi—but Grant wasn’t one to sit idle long. He had set his eye on Mobile, Alabama, which he was “very anxious to take” and which he thought he could do “with comparative ease.”

But even as Grant eyed Mobile, forces in Washington, D.C. were eyeing him. Word had begun to circulate in the upper reaches of the War Department, among influential politicians in the capitol, and even at the White House itself that perhaps Grant might best be used not in Alabama but in Virginia.  Continue reading

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A “Visionary” Plan? The Proposed March 1865 Peace Conference, Part 6

Abraham Lincoln

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 are available. Part 6 is the concluding post in the series.)

From his headquarters at City Point, Grant, in turn, informed Lincoln and Stanton that Ord had met with Longstreet to discuss prisoner exchanges. He made sure they knew that Ord “had my authority to do so.” He also mentioned that “a general conversation ensued on the subject of the War” that led to the letters from General Lee, which were included with the telegram, and therefore, he added, “I respectfully request instructions.”[1]  Continue reading

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Dan Sickles and the Temporary Insanity Defense

Daniel E. Sickles

The Civil War spawned a number of so-called “political generals” for both the Union and the Confederacy.  In most cases, these were well-connected men that had little or no military experience but had the means to help raise and equip regiments and therefore ended up with officers’ commissions.  Some of them performed their duties surprisingly well; others were unmitigated disasters as commanders of regiments, brigades, divisions, or entire army corps.  Few political generals, however, came to the war with as much notoriety as Daniel Edgar Sickles.

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A “Visionary” Plan? The Proposed March 1865 Peace Conference, Part 5

Major General Edward Ord (Library of Congress)

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 are available.)

In any event, on Tuesday, February 28, Longstreet and Ord met again purportedly to discuss prisoner exchanges, when Ord suggested that Lee should contact Grant and request “an interview, stating that General Grant was prepared to receive the letter, and thought that a way could be found for a military convention, while old friends of the military service could get together and seek out ways to stop the flow of blood.” Longstreet replied that the fighting had to stop before the Confederates could engage in peace negotiations. Ord readily agreed, which is surprising since Lincoln had opposed this condition when Stephens proposed it at Hampton Roads. Nevertheless, they parted with a more structured plan, albeit one that incorporated some verbal maneuvering to achieve their goal of peace. While “Ord was not ordinarily given to the use of guile to attain his ends,” according to Cresap, “it is not impossible that he would consider the present object so important that a bit of subterfuge was in order.”[1] Continue reading

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Question of the Week: 8/14-8/20/17

What was the first Civil War battlefield or site you visited? (And – if you want to tell – how old were you during that first visit?)

Posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Question of the Week | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments