Civil War Weather: Introduction

It’s time to start the first ECW Blog Series of 2023…and we’ll be taking a look at the elements and outcomes of Civil War weather!

Hot hot was it? How cold was it? Was that a hurricane? Did that soldier write about a tornado? It was raining…like what? From mud marches to storms at sea (and a lot in between), weather played a role in Civil War campaigns, battles, and life. Our new blog series will be highlighting the impact of weather, relevant primary sources, weather difficulties on the march, and more. To start the series, here are a few quotes about weather from Union and Confederate soldiers and a few starting reflections from the primary sources.

John O. Casler in his memoirs Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade wrote about the weather during part of the Romney Campaign in western Virginia in January 1862:

“But the weather changed considerably, and it was cold and rainy. We continued the march, but it snowed that evening, so that our baggage wagons could not get up with us, and we were without tents, blankets and rations.”[i]

Generals had to combat the weather, and sometimes the elements dictated their campaigns. In William T. Sherman’s memoirs, he wrote about the summer heat halting part of his military movements during the Jackson Expedition in Mississippi in July 1863:

“The weather was fearfully hot, but we continued to press the siege day and night, using our artillery pretty freely; and on the morning of July 17th [1863] the place was found evacuated. General Steele’s division was sent in pursuit as far as Brandon (fourteen miles), but General Johnston had carried his army safely off, and pursuit in that hot weather would have been fatal to my command.”[ii]

Artilleryman William Christie in the First Minnesota Artillery wrote home to his younger brother Alexander on November 29, 1863, from the vicinity of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The analogies and spelling in his excerpt are…original.

“I see the weather changes up your way. Well sir it changes down here also and is as fickle as the wind or a weather cock, not to say anything to the disparagement of the female sects of our own species, By comparing them to anything so easily moved as the article last mentioned[.] Fortieight hours ago we had summer weather, accompanied by a genuine thunder storm with all the compounent Parts of such an Article thrown in, with great abundance with the storm round went the wind and for the thirtisix hours we have had a Blustering Jolly Rolicking Northwester, clearing the Atmosphere of all superabundant vapors and making the sky look so Beautifully blue, (ditto with our noses, last Item not by any means desirable, and not in the least Particle conductive to comfort.) and the ground frize, under foot quite firm.”[iii]

Finally, the weather could become the scapegoat of a failed campaign. While there’s often truth to claims that the elements hampered campaigns, it’s also something that gets woven into memory reasoning. For example, staff officer Alexander S. Pendleton gave his opinion and justification for Confederate General Early’s decision to not attack Washington D.C. in July 1864.

“but to account for our failure to enter Washington it is only necessary to call to mind the fearful heat of the 11th of July. The dust was insufferable, and the men dropped out of ranks by hundreds from sheer exhaustion.”[iv]

Stay tuned…the forecast at Emerging Civil War over the next few weeks is cloudy with a chance of battle!

 

Sources:

[i] John O. Casler, Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade (1906). Page 62, accessed through Google Books.

[ii] William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Second Edition, Revised and Corrected: Volume 1 (New York: Appleton and Company, 1886). Page 359, accessed through archive.org

[iii] Thomas and William Christie, edited by Hampton Smith, Brother of Mine: The Civil War Letters of Thomas & William Christie (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011). Page 184.

[iv] W. G. Bean, Stonewall’s Man: Sandie Pendleton (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959, 2000). Page 206.



1 Response to Civil War Weather: Introduction

  1. Living in Maine, where we recently dropped from 32 degrees to minus 17 degrees and then swung up to the mid-30s over a 72-hour period, I look forward to reading this series!

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