Monday, June 30, 2014

150-years-ago -- A First-Hand Account of the Death of Gen. Leonidas Polk

[Excerpted from Leonidas Polk: Bishop & General by William M. Polk, M.D., L.L.D., NewYork, 1915, Vol. II, Pages 372-374)
Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk
(Leonidas Polk: Bishop & General)

     General Johnston arrived soon after 8 a.m. General Polk mounted and rode with him toward the headquarters of General Hardee, who was to join them in the examination. Each general was attended by several members of his staff. General Polk was accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Jack, A. A.-G., Colonel W. D. Gale, A.-D.-C, Major Frank McNairy, volunteer A.-D.-C., and Lieutenant Hopkins of the Orleans light-horse. The party reached the quarters of General Hardee about 10 A.M. [June 14, 1864] and dismounted; after a short consultation all mounted again and rode forward. In a few minutes they were on the main line of the intrenchments, through  they passed and continued their course for nearly a mile, when they dismounted behind a sharp hill, known as Pine Mountain, and moved cautiously over the top, and then down a few yards to a small earthwork, occupied by a battery and its supports.  
     On reaching the crest of the hill the spectators had a full view of the surrounding country, over which sunshine and shadow moved, keeping pace with the slowly drifting clouds. Both lines of battle were plainly visible. Bodies of men could be seen, busy with axe and spade. Guns were being placed in position. Groups of officers could be distinguished moving about behind the lines. The adjacent fields were white with the covers of a thousand wagons. In the distance, to the front, lay the hills of Etowah; to the right, the peaks of Kennesaw. 
     The constant firing of the heavy lines of skirmishers, reinforced here and there by the guns of some battery, whose position was marked by the white smoke which in the still air settled about it — all combined to make the scene one of unusual beauty and grandeur. In the enthusiasm of the moment some of the officers stood on the parapet and exposed themselves to the sharp gaze of hostile eyes. The men of the battery vainly warned them of the danger. While they were speaking there was a flash, a puff of smoke, a sharp report, and in an instant fragments of splintered rock and flying earth scattered around them, as a shot was buried in the parapet. The officers separated, each seeking some place of greater safety. General Johnston and General Polk moved together to the left, and stood for a few moments in earnest conversation behind a parapet. Several shots now passed together just above the parapet and touched the crest of the hill. Generals Johnston and Polk, having apparently completed their observations, began to retrace their steps. General Johnston fell a few paces behind, and diverged to the right; General Polk walked to the crest of the hill, and, entirely exposed, turned himself around, as if to take a farewell view. Folding his arms across his breast, he stood intently gazing on the scene below. While he thus stood, a cannon-shot crashed through his breast, and opening a wide door, let free that indomitable spirit. Amid the shot and shell now poured upon the hill, his faithful escort gathered up the body and bore it to the foot of the hill. There, in a sheltered ravine, his sorrow-stricken comrades, silent and in tears, gathered around his mangled corpse. 
     Hardee, bending over the lifeless form, said to Johnston, "General, this has been a dear visit. We have lost a brave man, whose death leaves a vacancy not easily filled"; then, kneeling by the side of the dead body, he exclaimed: ''My dear, dear friend, little did I think this morning that I should be called upon to witness this." Johnston, with tears in his eyes, knelt and laid his hand upon the cold brow of the fallen hero, saying, "We have lost much! I would rather anything but this." 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

150-years-ago BATTLE BETWEEN C.S.S. Alabama vs. U.S.S. Kearsarge

(Naval History & Heritage Command)

[Naval History & Heritage Command]

CSS Alabama

History of the Ship
In 1862, John Laird Sons and Company of Liverpool, England built the screw sloop-of-war CSS Alabama for the Confederate States of America. Launched asEnrica, the vessel was fitted out as a cruiser and commissioned as CSSAlabama on 24 August 1862. Under Captain Raphael Semmes, Alabama spent the next two months capturing and burning ships in the North Atlantic and intercepting American grain ships bound for Europe. Continuing its path of destruction through the West Indies, Alabama sank USS Hatteras near Galveston, Texas and captured its crew. After visiting Cape Town, South AfricaAlabama sailed for the East Indies where it spent the next six months cruising for enemy shipping. While there, the formidable commerce raider destroyed seven more ships before redoubling the Cape of Good Hope and returning to Europe.
On 11 June 1864 Alabama arrived at Cherbourg, France and Captain Semmes requested the permission of city officials to dock and overhaul his ship. Three days later, the sloop-of-war USS Kearsarge, which had been pursuing the raider, arrived off Cherbourg and began patrolling just outside of the harbor. On June 19, Alabama sailed out of Cherbourg to engage Kearsarge. As Kearsarge turned to meet its opponent, Alabama opened fire. Kearsarge’s crew waited until the distance between both vessels closed to less than 1,000 yards before returning fire. According to survivors of the battle, the two ships steamed on opposite circular courses as each commander tried to cross the bow of his opponent to deliver a heavy raking fire. The battle quickly turned against Alabama due to the poor quality of its powder and shells; by contrast, Kearsarge benefited from additional protection provided by chain cables along its sides.

Approximately one hour after firing the first shot, Alabama had been reduced to a rapidly sinking hulk. According to witnesses,Alabama fired 150 rounds to the Kearsarge’s 100. When a shell fired by Kearsarge tore open a section of Alabama’s hull at the waterline, seawater quickly rushed through the cruiser and forced it to the bottom. Semmes subsequently struck his colors and sent a boat to surrender to his opponent. Although Kearsarge’s crew rescued most of the raider’s survivors, the British yacht Deerhoundpicked up Semmes and 41 others who escaped to England. During its two-year career as a commerce raider, Alabama inflicted considerable disorder and devastation on United States merchant shipping throughout the globe. The Confederate cruiser claimed more than 60 prizes with a total value of approximately $6,000,000.
Admiral Raphael Semmes
Commander of the C.S.S. Alabama

Thursday, June 26, 2014


 [National Park Service]
When Federal Maj.  Gen. William T. Sherman moved from New Hope Church, Georgia, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was compelled to follow on a parallel line. This shift put the Confederates in front of Marietta, in a battleline extending from Lost Mountain across Kennesaw Mountain to Brush Mountain, a distance of about 12 miles. Pine Mountain, an isolated eminence in front of this line, also was occupied. This position covered Marietta, the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which at this point passed between Kennesaw and Brush Mountains, and the bridges across the Chattahoochee River which would be indispensable if  the Confederates were compelled to withdraw. Proceeding east from New Hope Church, Lost Mountain
is approximately 71/2 miles, Kennesaw Mountain 14 miles, and Brush Mountain 17 miles distant.

Gen. Leonidas Polk
Library of Congress
Several days of rainy weather checked military operations. By June 14, however, a portion of the Federal Army had worked close to the Confederates on Pine Mountain. Generals Johnston, William Hardee, and Leonidas Polk rode to the summit of Pine Mountain that day to observe the enemy's line, and while there a battery of Federal guns, three-quarters of a mile distant, fired, one of the shots killing Polk instantly. The Confederate line of 10 miles or more was too long for the
number of available troops, and Johnston soon concentrated them on Kennesaw Mountain.

The main Federal force now advanced toward Kennesaw Mountain, and as the Confederate position was neared, Sherman's men spread out on a line paralleling it and extending south. There was continuous skirmishing, but the operations were hindered by heavy rains which converted streams into torrents and roads into ribbons of mud.

Discerning that the Federals were attempting to envelop his flank by the movement to the south, Johnston moved Hood from the right to the left of his line in an effort to strike the Federals as they maneuvered for position. On the morning of June 22, Federal troops advanced toward Marietta along the Powder Springs Road. By noon they had reached the intersection of the Macland and Powder Springs Roads, situated on a ridge which offered a strong defensive

The Federal troops were massed in the woods around the road intersection, only a portion of them intrenching. During the morning, Hood had concentrated his troops on the Powder Springs Road, and in the afternoon they were ordered to attack. From Confederate prisoners it had been learned that such a movement was intended, and the Federals had a little time to prepare for the assault. It began at 5:30 p. m., the Federal skirmish line being quickly engulfed, but failed to reach the main line owing to heavy artillery fire.

Prior to the Confederate assault, Hooker, in command of the Federal column, established his headquarters in the home of Valentine Kolb, which stands on the Powder Springs Road, 4.5 miles southwest of Marietta. Many of the fortifications erected during this engagement are also still in existence.

Indecisive skirmishing continued for several days. Sherman had the choice of making a frontal assault, or attempting another turning movement. The heavy rains and the all but impassable roads would make the turning movement especially difficult. Furthermore, the troops were tired of marching and wanted to fight. Lincoln, running for reelection, needed a Federal victory to bolster his policy of continuing the war. If the frontal assault succeeded, all military resistance in north Georgia might be ended ; if it failed, the flanking movement still could be attempted. These
considerations determined Sherman to risk a frontal attack.

The assault was made at two separate points against the Confederate center on the morning of June 27. One column struck south of Kennesaw Mountain along the Burnt Hickory Road. Another was hurled against a salient south of the Dallas Road, defended by General Benjamin F. Cheatham, and known now as Cheatham's Hill. Eight thousand troops were sent against the Confederates at Cheatham's Hill, and 5,300 at the point south of Kennesaw Mountain. At Cheatham's Hill the Federals lost 1,580 men in killed, wounded, and captured, against slightly over 200 in Confederate losses; in the attack south of Kennesaw Mountain, the Federals lost about 600 men, including 30 officers, against about half that number of Confederates. The attack thus failed with heavy losses. Military critics charge Sherman with having made one of his few mistakes in ordering the frontal attack. 

Realizing that the Confederate position could be carried only by a tremendous sacrifice of men, Sherman resumed the flanking tactics which he had employed so often. A Federal column was extended far beyond the Confederate left, and Johnston's line of communications to Atlanta was threatened. Consequently, on the night of July 2, the Confederates withdrew, thus ending the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

150-years-ago -- SIEGE OF PETERSBURG - June 15-18

(National Park Service)
[From National Park Service Booklet]
The Battle of Petersburg, June 15—18, 1864
      After the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, Grant had abandoned, for a time at least, his plan to capture Richmond by direct assault. With characteristic zeal he had ordered Meade to move the Army of the Potomac across the James River and to invest the more southerly city. On June 14 Grant and Butler conferred at Bermuda Hundred. At that time orders were given for the attack on Petersburg.
      The first of the Northern forces to arrive on the scene of battle was the XVIII Corps of the Army of the James. Early in the morning of June 15 these troops, commanded by Gen. William F. Smith, crossed from Bermuda Hundred to the south side of the Appomattox by means of a pontoon bridge at Broadway Landing. Eighteen thousand Union soldiers were on their way to face less than 4,000 under Beauregard. Throughout the day they approached the city and assembled for the attack.
      The Union offensive opened shortly after 7 p. m. on June 15. Among the first places to fall was Battery 5, one of the strongest of the Confederate positions. Entering the ravine between Batteries 7 and 8 Smith's men were able to approach Battery 5 and take it from the rear, the direction from which an attack was least expected. Within a few hours Beauregard had lost not only Battery 5 but all the line for more than a mile south. The defenders withdrew and threw up a hasty entrenchment along Harrison's Creek, well to the rear of the captured section of the line. While this Confederate retreat was taking place, the Union II Corps, commanded by Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, arrived to reinforce the attacking columns.
       The appearance on the field of the II Corps was an ominous sign for the Confederacy. While the initial attacks were taking place on June 15, the Army of the Potomac had been busily engaged in crossing the James River farther to the east, on pontoon bridges. The number of Union troops south of the river was increasing hourly until by midnight of June 16 the entire army, numbering at least 90,000, had crossed.
Young Confederate with Bowie knife.
(Liljenquist Family Collection, Library of Congress)
      Darkness ended the fighting on June 15, but early the next day the attacks were renewed. More of the defense line south of the portion captured the previous day now gave way. In response to repeated entreaties from Beauregard throughout June 15 and 16, Lee ordered more divisions to the support of Petersburg. This necessitated the draining of precious reserves from the Richmond lines. By dusk of that second day Beauregard could muster about 14,000 to face the enemy. Thus, the center of attention rapidly shifted from Richmond to Petersburg, which had so recently seemed of but secondary importance.
      The third day of battle was practically a repetition of that of the preceding day. Again the Northern forces attacked the Confederate troops, concentrating their efforts to the south of the positions captured earlier. Again the Confederates were forced to draw back. A decisive break through of the opposing line was now anticipated by the assaulting forces. At about 12:30 a. m., June 18, Beauregard ordered his troops to begin a withdrawal to new positions about a mile closer to the city. Throughout the early morning hours of that day Beauregard had his men busily engaged in the construction of this defense line. Colonel Roman, aide to Beauregard, later recalled that "without a moment's rest the digging of the trenches was begun, with such utensils as had been hastily collected at Petersburg, many of the men using their bayonets, their knives, and even their tin cans, to assist in the rapid execution of the work."
pontoon bridge
Pontoon bridge at Broadway Landing constructed by the Union Army in 1864.
Courtesy, National Archives.
       A general assault was ordered for the Union forces at 4 a. m. on June 18. When the attack began it was soon discovered that the ranks of the enemy had not been broken nor had the city fallen into Northern hands. The eastern section of the Dimmock Line was empty except for a thin line of skirmishers who were gradually forced back. The Northern troops came on, crossing the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad south of where the defenders had constructed their line. The advance continued until they were brought face to face with the muzzles of the defender's guns. Meanwhile, elements of Lee's command continued pouring in to aid their comrades. Lee, himself, came down from his temporary head quarters near Chester, Va., to direct the defense operations in person.
       Throughout that June Saturday, brisk action occurred on the new Petersburg front. The major Union drive, involving elements of four corps, came about 3 p. m. Artillery hammered the Confederates. Charges of infantry were made only to be hurled back. During the course of one of these futile drives the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, according to William F. Fox (Regimental Losses in the American Civil War), suffered the most severe losses of any regiment in a single engagement of the entire war. About 4 p. m. this unit, 850 strong, charged from the concealment of the Prince George Court House Road north of where Fort Stedman was soon to stand. Met by a heavy crossfire, it withdrew in less than one-half hour, with 632 casualties.
      As on the previous days, fighting ended with the coming of darkness. Grant's attempt to capture Petersburg had failed, with a loss of 10,000 men; but his efforts could not be considered entirely unsuccessful. Two of the railroads leading into the city had been cut, and several roads were in Union hands. Behind the Northern troops was City Point which Grant speedily converted into a huge supply base.
      The major result of the opening 4 days of combat, however, was the failure of the Federal forces to break the Confederate defense line. First Beauregard, and then Lee, had held against heavy odds. They had been pushed back closer to their base but they had held. Possibly if Smith had advanced his XVIII Corps farther into the defenses on the opening night, Petersburg would have fallen on June 15 or 16. But that had not been done, and the campaign was to run nearly 10 more months.
The lines of battle before Petersburg were clearly drawn. Between 47,000 and 51,000 men defended it against 111,000 to 113,000 besiegers. The defenses of Richmond now stretched from White Oak Swamp, east of that city, south to the Jerusalem Plank Road, 26 miles away. The fate of the Army of Northern Virginia—of the Confederate capital itself— would depend upon the outcome of the drive against Petersburg.