Monday, April 23, 2007
Shooting broke out briefly when the Federals reached Spotsylvania, but the Federals were so tired from double-time marching that they could scarcely do more than stumble toward the Confederate line. That night and next day, both armies built strong breastworks—usually a stack of logs with a 'head log' at the top, leavig space beneath to shoot through. There was only light skirmishing on 10 May, but men still died.
Lee's lines followed the shape of a large, irregular crescent. In the middle was a bulging salient the soldiers cubbed the 'mule shoe'; history woold remeber it as "Bloody Angle," for a sharp turn in the line.
As dusk approached, Colonel Emory Upton convinced Grant to let him take a crack at the salient. Grant gave him a brigade, with which Upton set out at a dead run toward the salient. A spearhead of Federals drove right through a rain of bullets and leapt over the breastworks, some of them pitching in their bayoneted rifles like harpoons; Upton had broken through the very center of the Confederate line. All he needed was some reinforcements which were already on their way. But a wall of Southern artillery turned back the reinforcements and Upton had to fall back with heavy losses. He did however, bring a thousand prisoners with him. This manuver convinced Grant that the salient was vulnerable. "A brigade today—we'll try a corps tomorrow," he said.
Heavy rains on the 11th prevented any action of consequence. The morning of 12 May was drizzly and foggy. The guns which protected the center had been moved to the right of the Confederate line, with a promise that they would be back by morning, but the guns had not arrived. Only 5,000 rebs were all that held the center of the line. The silence was broken by cheering in the distance, when out of the fog rolled 20,000 Federals, the entire II corps. There was no stopping them, the yankees flowed right over the breastworks. Lee sent reinforcements to the center and the counterattack fell onto the disorganized Federals like a thunderclap, driving them back over the breastworks, and there the Yankees stayed.
The battle near the "angle" was probably the most desparate engagement in the history of modern warfare, and presented features that were absolutely appalling. It was primarily a savage hand to hand fight across the breastworks. Rank after rank was riddled with shot and shell and bayonet-thrusts, and finally sank, a mass of torn and mutilated corpses; then fresh troops rushed madly forward to replace the dead, and so the murderous work went on and on. Even the darkness of night and the pitiless storm failed to stop the fierce contest, and the deadly strife did not cease till well after midnight.
If courage were all that a nation required, there was courage enough at Spottsylvania, on either side of the entrenchments, to have made a nation of every State in the Union.
Chaplain Alanson A. Haines of the Fifteenth New Jersey Regiment stated: With Dr. Hall our good and brave surgeon, I found a place in the rear, a little hollow with grass and a spring of water, where we made hasty preparations to receive the coming wounded. Those that could walk soon began to find their way in of themselves, and some few were helped in by their comrades as soon as the charge was over and a protion withdrawn. It was a terrible thing to lay some of our best and truest men in a long row on the blankets, waiting their turn for the surgeon's care. Some came with body wounds and arms shattered, and hands dangling. At ten o'clock, with the drum corps, I sought the regiment to take off any of our woundd we could gind. On my way, met some men carrying Orderly-Sergeant Van Gilder, mortally wounded, in a blanket. With his hand all blood, he seized mine, saying, 'Chaplain, I am going. Tell my wife I am happy.' At two o'clock a.m. I lay down amid a great throng of poor, bleeding sufferers, whose moans and cries for water kept me awake..."
Early the next morning, the Confederates pulled back to a new line, and the Union forces claimed the breastworks with its heaps of dead and wounded. More than 7,000 Yankee soldiers had fallen, and probably as many as 10,000 Rebels.
Skirmishing and maneuvering continued at Spotsylvania for another seven days. Then on 19 May, Grant once again attempted to move his army around the Confederate flank toward Richmond. And again, Lee raced to stop the Army of the Potomac.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Tree Explodes during Nor'easter
On Sunday April 16, Allentown experienced the destructive effects of a Nor'easter. One of the trees that was scheduled to be brought down for Arbor Day didn't wait. It literally exploded. Although much of the base of the tree is still standing, the upper part of the tree which had split into several different sections, came tumbling down, more or less. Two large portions fell heavily into Section M' of the West End portion of the cemetery, near twelfth street. Another portion fell in the opposite direction and would have been on the ground in Section L', but it got hung up in a tree across the road, creating a dangerous situation, as it was attached to the trunk by a sliver of bark.
A call went out to the Allentown Parks Department for assistance. The Parks Dept. had their own problems with trees throughout the park system, but they promised to bring the hanging limb down to the ground. Clean up will have to wait until next week.
Phtographs of the tree are shown below:
About five headstones were knocked off their pedestals, but were otherwise not damaged. These will be replaced once the tree is removed.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The Wilderness Campaign
Earlier in 1864, Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant had been placed in command of all Union Armies by President Lincoln. Grant planned a direct attack on General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. He intended to” fight it out along this line if it takes all summer.” The argument has been made that Grant had no strategy, other than to utilize the superior military might of the Union forces to eventually wear down the Confederates. Grant was aware that a large number of the three year troops who enlisted in 1861 were due to leave his army at the expiration of service, and it appears he wanted to get all the use out of them that he could.
Grant planned to use Major General George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac, which woulde be coordinated with advances by Major General Franz Sigel along the Shenandoah Valley and Benjamin F. Butler on the Yorktown Penisula to divert Lee's attention. Grant would travel with Meade, but Meade would retain nominal command of the army. Meade's troops had been camped on the Northern bank of the Rapidan River in Virginia since Meade's unsuccessful foray south towards Lee's army in November of 1863.
At 4:00 A.M. on May 4, 1863 the Union army crossed the Rapidan and headed towards the heavily wooded area known as the Wilderness, where the Battle of Chancellorsville had been fought the previous year. Near dawn on May 4,1864, the leading division of the Army of the Potomac reached Germanna Ford, 18 miles west of Fredericksburg. The spring campaign was under way and it superficially mirrored the strategic situation prior to the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. A numerically superior Union force (100,000 men), well-supplied, in good spirits, and led by a new commander, moved south toward the Confederate capital. There, however, the similarities ended.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress)
Ulysses S. Grant now directed the Army of the Potomac, although George Meade technically retained the authority he had inherited from Hooker just before the Battle of Gettysburg. Grant now carried the new rank of lieutenant-General and bore responsibility for all Federal armies. The General-in-chief told Meade, "Lee's army will be your objective. Where he goes, there you will go also."
The Confederates also entered the 1864 campaign brimming with optimism and anxious to avenge their defeat at Gettysburg. As usual, the 62,000-man Army of Northern Virginia found itself vastly outgunned and scrambling for supplies, but based on past experience, these handicaps posed little concern. Confederate generalship in the post-Jackson era created more serious problems. Lee elevated both A. P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell to corps command following "Stonewall's" death, but neither officer performed particularly well. Only Longstreet provided Lee with experienced leadership at the highest army level.
Gen. Robert E. Lee © Mort Kunstler
The entrenched Confederate forces easily spotted the Federal advance from their signal stations and alerted General Lee. Lee planned to attack Grant in the Wilderness, hoping to take advantage of the difficulties of visibility and movement in the dense brush and thus, to nullify the disparity in mumbers.
Grant, although anxious to confront Lee at the earliest good opportunity, preferred not to fight in the green hell of the Wilderness. On the morning of May 5, he directed his columns to push southeast through the tangled jungle and into open ground. Word arrived, however, that an unidentified body of Confederates approaching from the west on the Turnpike threatened the security of his advance.
Four Confederate brigades crept astride the Union left flank. The Southerners poured through the woods, rolling up unwary Federal troops "like a wet blanket." The fighting soon became a melee, the gunsmoke in the impenetrable underbrush reducing visibility still further. The fighting intensified as Grant and Lee threw more reinforcements into the battle. Patches of the woods were set ablaze by the gunfire and many of the fallen wounded burned to death. The fighting continued until nightfall, and then the two armies established their positions along the five mile front to await daylight.
Fire consumes wounded in the Wilderness
Fighting along the Turnpike on May 6 was also vicious if indecisive. The Union forces struck at the center of the Confederate line, but reinforcements arrived and the Union troops were driven back. Lee sensing that the battle was turning his way, and sent additional troops into the fight, but the Federals held their position until the attack ground to a halt and the battle died out as night fell. Both sides had suffered heavy casualties, but neither side retreated.
Both armies expected more combat on May 7, but neither side initiated hostilities. The Battle of the Wilderness marked another tactical Confederate victory. Grant watched both of his flanks crumble on May 6 and lost more than twice as many soldiers (about 18,000 to 8,000) as did Lee. Veterans of the Army of the Potomac had seen this before: cross the river, get whipped, retreat -- the story of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville reprised. But Grant, not Burnside or Hooker, now was in command. Late on May 7, the general-chief rode at the head of his army and approached a lonely junction in the Wilderness. A left turn would signal withdrawal toward the fords of the Rapidan and Rappahannock. To the right lay the highway to Richmond via Spotsylvania Court House. Grant pointed right. The soldiers cheered. There would be no turning back.
Grant in the Wilderness © Mort Kunstler
Saturday, April 07, 2007
A Tree is Taken Down
Arbor Day will be celebrated on April 27, 2007. To honor this occassion, the City of Allentown's Parks Department has issued a call to all tree nurseries and tree management services in the area to volunteer their time and talents to assist the historic Union and West End Cemetery. The intended purpose is to remove diseased or damaged trees (most are well over 100 years old) from the cemetery. Tree removal is one of the cemetery's most expensive maintenance items. The cemetery usually raises only enough funds to remove three trees a year, at best. This fall, the Parks Department removed three additional trees from the cemetery at no cost. The Tree Service firms that answer the Parks Department's call for assistance, will also be donating their services.
It is anticipated that as many as ten trees may come down in the month of April. There is some apprehension about removing this many trees at one time, but they are generally in widely different areas of the cemetery and hopefully the impact will not be great. When opportunity knocks, one can not turn their back, but must take advantage. Monies that would normally go to tree removal will now be diverted to planting replacement trees in the cemetery.
The first tree was removed on Monday, April 2nd by Mike's Lawn Care. The tree was located very close to the fence near the corner of 12th & Liberty Streets and posed a danger to passing pedestrians, wires, cars parked at the curb, etc. Photos of the tree removal are shown below:
The first of a number of trees is removed from the cemetery.
Monday, April 02, 2007
General Ulysses S. Grant
Elihu B. Washburne, the member of Congress from the Galena district in Illinois, General Grant’s old home, introduced a bill creating the grade of lieutenant-general, and it was passed by both houses of Congress, with the implied understanding that General Grant was to fill the position. The highest grade in the army theretofore created during the war had been that of major-general. The act became a law on February 26, 1864, and the nomination of General Grant was sent to the Senate by Mr. Lincoln on the 1st of March, and confirmed on the 2nd. On the 3rd the general was ordered to Washington.
On the evening of March 8, 1864 the President and Mrs. Lincoln gave a public reception at the White House. The President stood in the usual reception-room, known as the "Blue Room," with several cabinet officers near him, and shook hands cordially with everybody, as the vast procession of men and women passed in front of him. He was in evening dress, and wore a turned-down collar a size too large. The necktie was rather broad and awkwardly tied. His height of six feet four inches enabled him to look over the heads of most of his visitors. His form was ungainly, and the movements of his long, angular arms and legs bordered at times upon the grotesque. His eyes were gray and disproportionally small. His face wore a general expression of sadness, the deep lines indicating the sense of responsibility which weighed upon him; but at times his features lighted up with a broad smile, and there was a merry twinkle in his eyes as he greeted an old acquaintance and exchanged a few words with him in a tone of familiarity. He had sprung from the common people to become one of the most uncommon of men. Mrs. Lincoln occupied a position on his right. For a time she stood on a line with him and took part in the reception, but afterward stepped back and conversed with some of the wives of the cabinet officers and other personal acquaintances who were in the room.
At about half-past nine o’clock a sudden commotion near the entrance to the room attracted general attention, General Grant made his appearance, walking along modestly with the rest of the crowd toward Mr. Lincoln. He had arrived from the West that evening, and had come to the White House to pay his respects to the President. He had been in Washington but once before, when he visited it for a day soon after he had left West Point. Although these two historical characters had never met before, Mr. Lincoln recognized the general at once from the pictures he had seen of him. With a face radiant with delight, he advanced rapidly two or three steps toward his distinguished visitor, and cried out: "Why, here is General Grant! Well, this is a great pleasure, I assure you," at the same time seizing him by the hand, and shaking it for several minutes with a vigor which showed the extreme cordiality of the welcome.
The scene now presented was deeply impressive. Standing face to face for the first time were the two illustrious men whose names will always be inseparably associated in connection with the war of the rebellion. Grant’s right hand grasped the lapel of his coat; his head was bent slightly forward, and his eyes upturned toward Lincoln’s face. The President, looked down with beaming countenance upon his guest. Although their appearance, their training, and their characteristics were in striking contrast, yet the two men had many traits in common, and there were numerous points of resemblance in their remarkable careers. Each was of humble origin, and had been compelled to learn the first lessons of life in the severe school of adversity. Each had risen from the people, possessed an abiding confidence in them, and always retained a deep hold upon their affections. In a great crisis of their country’s history both had entered the public service from the State of Illinois. Both were conspicuous for the possession of that most uncommon of all virtues, common sense. Both despised the arts of the demagogue, and shrank from posing for effect, or indulging in mock heroics. Even when their characteristics differed, they only served to supplement each other, and to add a still greater strength to the cause for which they strove. With hearts too great for rivalry, with souls untouched by jealousy, they lived to teach the world that it is time to abandon the path of ambition when it becomes so narrow that two cannot walk it abreast.
The next day, March 9th, 1864, the general went to the White House, by invitation of Mr. Lincoln, for the purpose of receiving his commission as Lieutenant General from the hands of the President.
President Lincoln with his top commanders, from left,
Admirals Porter and Farragut and Generals Sherman,
Thomas, Grant and Sheridan.
While in Washington General Grant had been so much an object of curiosity, and had been so continually surrounded by admiring crowds when he appeared in the streets, and even in his hotel, that it had become very irksome to him. With his simplicity and total lack of personal vanity, he did not seem able to understand why he should attract so much attention. The President had given him a cordial invitation to dine that evening at the White House, but he begged to be excused for the reason that he would lose a whole day, which he could not afford at that critical period. "Besides," he added, "I have become very tired of this show business."
On the 12th of March, 1864 the official order was issued placing General Grant in command of all the armies of the United States.
The man we know as Ulysses S. Grant was actually named Hiram Ulysses Grant. As a boy he was known as "Lyss". Thomas Hamer, the Congrssman who appointed Grant to West Point, forgot all about Hiram. Remembering that Grant's mother's maiden name was Simpson and thinking that was Lyss Grant's middle name, he filled out the application in the name of "Ulysses S. Grant".
When Grant arrived at West Point and discovered that the Academy had him registered under the wrong name, he tried to get the error corrected. He was told that it didn't matter what he or his parents thought his name was, the official government application said his name was "Ulysses S. Grant" and that application could not be changed. If Hiram U. Grant wanted to attend West Point, he would have to change his name.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Civil War the Final Year
While guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Patterson's Creek on February 2, 1864, a Confederate Cavalry force of 28 men commanded by Major Harry Gilmore swept in on Company F of the 54th at noon just as they were sitting down to dinner. One Federal soldier was killed, eight wounded and eight escaped by running off and hiding. The rest were marched off to captivity.
The prisoners were herded over the mountains to the Shenandoah Valley pike, reaching Harrisonburg in three days, and then moving on the next day to Staunton. From there they were taken to Richmond by rail and introduced to Belle Isle prison. Near the end of March they were again placed in cars and this time they were sent to Andersonville Prison, newly opened in March of 1864 and receiving its first 500 prisoners in late February. These men from Lehigh County would remain in this terrible hell until released in April 1865, 13 months of dreadful suffering. Not all returned. At least seven died in prison within the first six months of captivity.
It was in March of 1864 that General U. S. Grant became the General Chief of all Union forces and from that point forward the Union Army would be a unified force with a renewed effort to bring the terrible war to a close.
In early May, the Army of the Potomac marched into the Virginia Wilderness, scene of some of the previous years humiliation at Chancellorsville. The Battle of the Wilderness, which lasted two days was inconclusive, but proved costly for both sides.
A few days later, May 8, 1864, the Union Army was en route to Richmond, believing that they had flanked the Army of Northern Virginia, but were astonished to find a line of Confederates waiting for them at Spotsylvania. The Union troops were so tired from having marched double-time to that point that they could do little more than stagger toward the Confederate line. A stray bullet dropped General John Sedgewick in his tracks. His last words were; "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."
Four days of intense fighting ensued. Finally, on May 12, a day that was drizzly and blanketed with fog, a wave of 20,000 Yankees rolled out of the fog and over the Confederate breastworks. Lee ordered a counterattack and the Union troops were driven back over the breastworks. Near the 'angle', savage hand-to-hand combat was the order of the day. Bayonets, swords, muzzle against muzzle, muskets used as clubs, the fighting was fierce and deadly. Wild cheers, savage yells, shouts and frantic shrieks rose above the sighing of the wind and the pattering of the rain. Even the darkness of night and the rain could not stop the contest. The battle did not end until after midnight. At three o' clock in the morning, the Confederates pulled back to a new line.
Skirmishing and maneuvering continued at Spotsylvania for another seven days. Then, on May 19, Grant tried again to slip around Lee's flank toward Richmond. And again, Lee raced to stop the Army of the Potomac.
Next came the Battle of Cold Harbor on the 3rd of June and which proved to be a Union failure. The bluecoats fell in waves. Union casualties totaled 7,000. Confederate losses were only around 1,500. Grant would later state: "I regret this assault more than any one I have ever ordered." He added, "No advantage whatever was gained from the heavy loss we sustained."
th Pennsylvania Volunteers
By mid-May the Army of West Virginia, under command of General Franz Sigel, had moved south to New Market where it met a mixed Confederate force under General Breckinridge. Among the Confederates were 258 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute. The battle was distinguished by the brave, charging cadets against an artillery battery and the subsequent retirement of the Union force north to Cedar Creek. This was the first engagement of the 54th Pennsylvania as a regiment since its formation almost three years before in 1861. It had suffered losses in earlier actions but only at company level for it was always assigned guard duty along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in detached company units.
General David Hunter replaced Sigel and in early June, started south, up the Shenandoah Valley. His mission was to fulfill Grant's thrust against Lynchburg and Hunter moved south into Lexington burning and despoiling the countryside. While occupying Lexington with a force of about 18,000, he ordered the burning of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). From Lexington, Maj. Gen. David Hunter advanced against the Confederate rail and canal depots and the hospital complex at Lynchburg. Reaching the outskirts of town on June 17, his first tentative attacks were thwarted by the timely arrival by rail of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s II Corps vanguard from Charlottesville. Hunter withdrew the next day after sporadic fighting because of a critical shortage of supplies. His line of retreat through West Virginia took his army out of the war for nearly a month and opened the Shenandoah Valley for a Confederate advance into Maryland. It was during the action at Lynchburg that the 54th Pennsylvania sustained the highest loss of any unit in General Hunter's Army.
After chasing Hunter off into West Virginia, Early received orders to continue north down the valley, cross the Potomac and menace Washington D.C. At dawn, October 19, 1864, the Confederate Army of the Valley under Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early surprised the Federal army at Cedar Creek and routed the VIII and XIX Army Corps. Commander Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan arrived from Winchester to rally his troops, and, in the afternoon, launched a crushing counterattack, which recovered the battlefield. This action brought the 47th Pennsylvania back North into the Shenandoah Valley where, in battle at Cedar Creek in October, it would sustain the highest battle loss of all Union infantry regiments engaged which would, in turn, contribute the greatest loss of men from the Lehigh County in the entire war.
In In September 1864 men from Lehigh County were coming forth to collect a bounty of $400 t0 $600 dollars to enlist in the newly formed 202nd PVI with a commitment of one year of service. Another one-year regiment, the 209th PVI, along with the 202nd were filled with men from Allentown and Slatington.
As 1865 arrived it was not until March 1865 that military units containing Lehigh County men went into action when on the 25th, the Confederates attacked Fort Stedman at Petersburg, Virginia. In the counterattack the 209th lost five killed and 50 wounded, Company H suffering six wounded of which two were mortal.
Now it was just a matter of days. Lee was in retreat, but the unlucky 54th Pennsylvania still had more casualties to endure. On the 5th of April the 54th along with another regiment, was assigned the destruction of High Bridge to cut Lee's line of retreat. At Rice's Station within sight of the bridge, the whole command was surrounded and captured by a Rebel force. Although this was not the end of the war, it was the end of combat for these soldiers of Lehigh County.
The Civil War ended on 9 April, 1865, at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia when General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to General U. S, Grant.
When the last of the veterans of the Civil War passed into eternity in the 1930's, not one of their grave markers would bear the name of their political party. "Civil War Veteran" was the highest honor. Even those that deserted in dishonor are buried with the same distinction, a testament to the deep national pride in the cause. To be even tangentially associated with the War of the Rebellion was enough to be noted as "Veteran" in death.
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