What capabilities did Southern soldiers in the American Civil War have to get news about the North?

What capabilities did Southern soldiers in the American Civil War have to get news about the North?


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My great-grandfather was a Confederate cavalry soldier fighting under Johnson's remaining forces after Lee's surrender. In his diary, he writes on April 18, 1865, "Good news today. Lincoln has been killed while in his box at theater. Washington and Bill Seaward stabbed in several places." I'm not sure who this "Washington" person is, but I know that the assassination of Lincoln and the attempted assassination of William Seward occurred on April 14, 1865 -- just four days before the diary entry. I assume that there was no telegraph service between the north and south during the war. How else did news from the northern states, such as Lincoln's assassination, make its way to the people of the Confederate states and its soldiers in particular?


As soon as the death was published in northern newspapers it would have become available to the south. For an important event, like Lincoln's assassination, a man would have used a horse and carried a newspaper right to Richmond, which is about 100 miles away from Washington DC, where the assassination occurred. Since the first reports were published on the 16th of April, they would have been printed in Richmond on the 17th of April and the next day, the 18th of April all of the newspapers in the south would have published the news, having received it by telegraph or courier.


Besides official or secret agent movement of news and papers, it was routine for soldiers on picket duty to swap newspapers and reading material along with coffee and tobacco when armies were in contact. The desire for different reading material was very strong.


Education during the 1860s

Julian Scott A picture of a female seminary in, Nashville, Tennessee, which was used as barracks in March of 1862. Library of Congress

School was an important topic in the lives of most children. Few states provided universal public education, but in communities throughout the nation, local church congregations and civic-minded citizens started schools. The teacher was often left largely to his or her own devices and the day-to-day running of the schools was based more on the teacher’s practices than the board’s policies. The agricultural economy in both the North and the South dictated school schedules, and children were excused from school during the months when they were needed to work in the fields. The modern practice of closing schools for long summer breaks is a holdover from this practice.

The schools were generally small, and often several grade levels were taught in the same room. Testing was often oral, and children memorized and recited more often than they wrote. Indeed, there is some evidence that the phrase “toeing the line” relates to the practice of making children stand at a line on the floor when reciting their lessons

Corporal punishment was used, and even encouraged. Lucy Chase traveled south to teach in a school for free blacks. She related in a letter that the mothers frequently encouraged her to use corporal punishment:

Norfolk, Va. 7/1/64
. Many a father and mother have begged me to beat their children at school. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” is on every mother‘s tongue. “Now you whip her and make a good girl out of her,” the kindest mother says when she trusts her sweetest child to us.

In general, students attended school for fewer years than do modern students. However, a brief survey of school books from the period indicates that their reading books advanced through several modern grade levels in any given year. By the fifth year of school, students were reading material at a level which is today considered college level.

There were also academies which provided intensive educational experiences for boys and girls aged thirteen to twenty. The children of wealthy families might board at the academy, while children from the area were day students. These academies offered a variety of classes. John B. Cary’s Hampton, Virginia Male and Female Academy, for example, offered classes in Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, as well as chemistry, natural philosophy, and astronomy. As at most academies, the boys and girls were kept separated at Hampton.

At many Southern academies, discipline was maintained among the boys through a military-type training which well prepared them for military service. It not only prepared the students, but also the faculty. Indeed, John B. Cary’s academy closed during the war, as 20% of the faculty, and 25% of the students served together in a unit which became the 32nd Virginia Infantry. (The Civil War had a smaller impact on Northern academies.)

Julian Scott

A family sending a child to an academy was paying tuition and, often, boarding fees. In addition the family was doing without any income that the child might have made at a part-time job. Thus students who boarded at and attended schools like Cary’s Hampton academy were the exception rather than the rule.

—Adapted from An Introduction to Civil War Civilians by Juanita Leisch (Thomas Publications, 1994)


By far, the food soldiers received has been the source of more stories than any other aspect of army life. The Union soldier received a variety of edibles. The food issue, or ration, was usually meant to last three days while on active campaign and was based on the general staples of meat and bread. Meat usually came in the form of salted pork or, on rare occasions, fresh beef. Rations of pork or beef were boiled, broiled or fried over open campfires. Army bread was a flour biscuit called hardtack, re-named "tooth-dullers", "worm castles", and "sheet iron crackers" by the soldiers who ate them. Hardtack could be eaten plain though most men preferred to toast them over a fire, crumble them into soups, or crumble and fry them with their pork and bacon fat in a dish called skillygalee. Other food items included rice, peas, beans, dried fruit, potatoes, molasses, vinegar, and salt. Baked beans were a northern favorite when the time could be taken to prepare them and a cooking pot with a lid could be obtained. Coffee was a most desirable staple and some soldiers considered the issue of coffee and accompanying sugar more important than anything else. Coffee beans were distributed green so it was up to the soldiers to roast and grind them. The task for this most desirable of beverages was worth every second as former soldier John Billings recalled: "What a Godsend it seemed to us at times! How often after being completely jaded by a night march. have I had a wash, if there was water to be had, made and drunk my pint or so of coffee and felt as fresh and invigorated as if just arisen from a night's sound sleep!"

Soldiers often grouped themselves into a "mess" to combine and share rations, often with one soldier selected as cook or split duty between he and another man. But while on active campaign, rations were usually prepared by each man to the individual's taste. It was considered important for the men to cook the meat ration as soon as it was issued, for it could be eaten cold if activity prevented cook fires. A common campaign dinner was salted pork sliced over hardtack with coffee boiled in tin cups that each man carried.

The southern soldier's diet was considerably different from his northern counterpart and usually in much less quantity. The average Confederate subsisted on bacon, cornmeal, molasses, peas, tobacco, vegetables and rice. They also received a coffee substitute which was not as desirable as the real coffee northerners had. Trades of tobacco for coffee were quite common throughout the war when fighting was not underway. Other items for trade or barter included newspapers, sewing needles, buttons, and currency.


Seemingly everything possible has already been written about the climactic battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—three nightmarish days of intense combat in early July 1863—that determined America’s destiny.

Consequently, for people craving something new beyond the standard narrative so often repeated throughout the past, they were sorely disappointed by the new Gettysburg titles released for the 150th anniversary.

In fact, this unfortunate situation that has fully revealed the overall sterility of the Gettysburg field of study has resulted in the writing of this book to fill this significant void in the historical record. It tells the story of the Irish and their key roles at the battle of Gettysburg and the overall Civil War.

This important chapter about the vital contributions of the most uniquely ethnic and obscure fighting men, especially in the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia, has not been previously revealed in full, even in books about the most written-about and decisive confrontation in Civil War—and American—history. Therefore, this analysis of the importance of the Irish role at Gettysburg represents one of the final frontiers of Gettysburg historiography.

Because of their longtime absence from the historical record, the contributions of these young Irish men and boys at the decisive Battle of Gettysburg will be explored. The unforgettable story of a large number of Irish Confederates who played leading roles in the most climactic moment of the battle, “Pickett’s Charge,” on the hot afternoon of July 3, 1863, needs to be told.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

These young men and boys from Ireland, especially the most recent immigrants, were literally caught between two worlds—the ancient homeland and the New World—when they stoically advanced across the open fields in the ranks of Lee’s greatest offensive effort. The Irish on both sides included soldiers who still spoke the Irish language.

Large numbers of Irish on the Confederacy side marched to their deaths during the audacious bid including Pickett’s Charge to pierce the right-center of the Army of the Potomac at a weak point of the Cemetery Ridge defensive line. Before the most famous attack of the Civil War, Irish Confederates played leading roles in equally determined assaults on the second day at both ends of Major General George Gordon Meade’s lengthy defensive line centered on the expanse of Cemetery Ridge: East Cemetery Hill on the north, where large numbers of Louisiana Irish Rebels charged the heights with the war cry “We are the Louisiana Tigers!” and in the all-important showdown for possession of strategic Little Round Top, where Irish soldiers of the Alabama Brigade and the Texas Brigade performed magnificently in determined assaults on the line’s southern end.

Ironically, the Irish soldiers were often the butt of jokes and racial stereotypes among the non-Irish, providing a source of soldiery humor across the South. Even the famous diarist Mary Chesnut, who had her own Irish servants, wrote how she saw the Irish nurse of the President Jefferson Davis family “weeping and wailing as only an Irish woman can.”

Sadly for the historical record, these Irish Confederates have left us with relatively few letters, diaries or memoirs in private collections and archives around the United States, an unfortunate development that has doomed these Sons of Erin and their notable battlefield achievements to obscurity, especially in relation to the Battle of Gettysburg.

In fact, no aspect of Gettysburg historiography has been more overlooked than ethnic studies that have revealed new insights into the overall American experience. This has been an ironic development because of the important roles of Irish Confederates during the three days at Gettysburg, providing additional evidence of an especially rich field of study.

By 1861, the largest immigrant group in the South was the native Irish (Catholics) and Scotch-Irish (Protestants). Contrary to the stereotype that the South consisted of a homogenous Anglo-Saxon society transferred from England, the South was overflowing with hardworking and devout Emerald Isle immigrants.

Confederate prisoners at Gettysburg. Photo: Public Domain

By 1860, the South was a multicultural and multiethnic nation that mocked the postwar stereotype of the homogeneous Anglo-Saxon (or Aryan) population that allegedly represented Anglo-Saxon purity—one of the greatest and most enduring Lost Cause myths of the Old South. As the largest immigrant group in the South in 1860, the Irish people and their vibrant culture added the most colorful component of what was a true heterogeneous mix, which mirrored the demographic realities of the South’s population and, in turn, Confederate armies, including the Army of Northern Virginia.

Unfortunately, the romance of Lost Cause myths has greatly obscured the South’s ethnic realities and complexities, especially the disproportionate Irish wartime contributions in a great silencing of the historical record. Offering a comforting psychological explanation and moral justification in order for the vanquished Southern people to minimize their humiliating defeat and subjugation, these persistent racial myths were developed by an active group of postwar southern writers, ex-Confederate leaders, and historians to explain their disastrous defeat and to regain the moral high ground lost by slavery’s defense.

Fortunately for the Confederacy in terms of its war-waging capabilities— in a parallel that had been seen in the thirteen colonies just before the American Revolution—the South possessed a vast Irish manpower pool by 1860. Tens of thousands of immigrant Irish had flooded into the South, especially major urban areas (most of all New Orleans) because of the exodus created by the Great Potato Famine of 1845–1849. Known as the An Gorta Mor—ancient Gaelic for “The Great Hunger.

Unlike in major northeastern cities, the much easier assimilation of Irish immigrants into the overall mainstream of a more open and tolerant Southern society—the unity of whiteness in a slave society enhanced equality for whites —ensured a deep loyalty, including Democratic Party adherence, to their adopted homeland and a widespread wearing of the gray.

Most revealing, during the 1850s, ugly anti-Irish riots swept through the ethnic slums and ghettoes of New York City, Philadelphia and Boston and even targeted Catholic churches, while the Irish were accepted as full-fledged citizens in Richmond, Mobile and Charleston. Clearly, this was a significant difference not lost on tens of thousands of Sons of Erin across the South with their adopted homeland’s call to arms in April 1861, after the firing on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.

Therefore, the majority of the Irish people found that the South, not the North, was the true land of liberty, offering greater social and economic opportunities and easier access into the overall mainstream of everyday life. Indeed, since before the nation’s founding in the fiery forge of a people’s revolution, the South and its people—not only in the cities but also in the rural areas and in the western frontier regions (as far west as the plains of west Texas)—were fully receptive to the Irish refugees from hard economic times, famines and British oppression.

In total, an estimated forty thousand Irishmen fought for the Confederacy. During the climax of the bloody showdown at Gettysburg, large numbers of Ireland-born Confederates marched forth in lengthy formations that flowed with mechanical-like precision over the open fields during Pickett’s Charge.

Battle of Gettysburg painting by Thure de Thulstrup

Fighting against centralized authority had become a way of life to generations of Irish, and the Civil War was only the latest chapter of what had become almost a cultural tradition to the Sons of Erin. The ancestors of many Irish Catholics of the Army of Northern Virginia (ironically, like the blue-uniformed men of the Irish Brigade) had been liberty-loving rebels who had risen up against English invaders centuries before on the ancient homeland.

Consequently, during Lee’s assault on the afternoon of July 3, these Sons of Erin were still proud of carrying on the distinguished revolutionary heritage of Irish rebels that extended back far beyond America’s own revolutionary heritage.

During what was actually only their most recent revolution against the domination of centralized authority (now located in Washington, D.C., and not London, but still a faraway power that represented arbitrary rule) and a dissimilar opponent, Irish Confederate companies of numerous regiments attacked over the open fields of Gettysburg with colorful battle flags of green emblazoned with ancient patriotic slogans while unleashing Irish war cries that had been heard on Ireland’s most famous battlefields in a storied past.

In regard to explaining the common motivations of the Irish soldier that were atypical compared to other Southern soldiers, no Confederates at Gettysburg fought, in general, less for slavery than the Irish. After all, the vast majority of these Irish immigrants in gray and butternut were relatively poor and primarily menial workers of the lower class—the former peasantry of the so-called old country. These tough men had mostly been common laborers who had worked on the docks, railroads, levees and small farms of the South.

Consequently, relatively few Irish (more the case of Catholics than Protestants—the Scotch-Irish—especially the Great Famine Catholics) in the South owned slaves by 1860. In fact, by inclination, the Irish, especially Catholics, in general were the least likely to be slave owners, in part because they had hailed from a long-oppressed minority and were more empathetic than Anglo-Saxons, who possessed a long history as conquerors.

Confederate soldiers illustration. Photo: Wiki

In truth, these Irish also fought from a sense of sincere gratitude to a Southern society that had accepted them and treated them more fairly than Northern society. Consequently, they were infused with a vibrant new nationalism of a kind experienced by their Irish ancestors in battling the English invaders over the centuries. Because the South had so thoroughly accepted Irish (Catholics and Protestants) for generations and given ample economic opportunities for them to advance up the social ladder unlike in northeastern cities, this path of upward mobility helped to open up many leadership positions in Confederate armies. Most of all, a vibrant sense of Irish nationalism evolved smoothly into the overall mainstream of Southern nationalism by 1861, because the two revolutionary struggles of the common people were seen as largely one and the same, despite existing on opposite sides of the Atlantic and separated by thousands of miles—a righteous, if holy, struggle for self-determination (“home rule”) by the common people.

And no enduring idea from the pages of history and a misty Celtic past was more foremost in the hearts and minds of hundreds of these brave Sons of Erin than that Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against the oppression of Great Britain was the same as the Confederacy’s struggle for self-determination.


Surrender in the American Civil War

One in every four soldiers surrendered at some point during the American Civil War. It was an honourable way of accepting defeat – provided it was done under the right circumstances.

Fort Sumter, 14 April 1861, under the Confederate flag.

M ajor Robert Anderson never expected to become the first hero of the American Civil War. On 19 April 1861, he stood on board the USS Baltic as it steamed into New York Harbor, escorted by a fleet of ships cheering their arrival. On board was the garrison of Fort Sumter, which Anderson had surrendered to Confederate forces a few days earlier. Since December 1860, when South Carolina seceded from the Union, Anderson’s small garrison had been in a state of crisis, with diminishing supplies and unclear guidance from Washington. Anderson had refused Confederate General Pierre G.T. Beauregard’s initial demand for surrender on 11 April, but after 34 hours of bombardment and with the fort on fire, Anderson raised the white flag. Having secured the fort, Confederate officials granted Anderson and his men safe passage.

During the voyage north, they had no idea what kind of reception they would receive when they arrived in New York. To their surprise, they ‘were received with unbounded enthusiasm’. To honour Anderson and his men, the city held an enormous rally in Union Square, an event which would have been appropriate for a victorious general. More than 100,000 New Yorkers (the New York Times reported it as ‘the entire population of the city’) flooded the park and the surrounding streets. Anderson was praised by a series of orators as a ‘gallant commander’, ‘the Hero of Fort Sumter’, who had survived ‘the smoke and flame’. Praise for Anderson was not restricted to the North. The Richmond Daily Examiner heaped ‘the highest honour and credit on the gallant Major in command and the noble band of heroes that so faithfully served under him’. For his part, Robert Anderson seemed somewhat embarrassed by the whole affair. A career military man, he had never sought the spotlight.

If Robert Anderson’s surrender at Fort Sumter in April 1861 has traditionally marked the start of the American Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865 is often cited as its end (though in reality it was only the first in a series of surrenders that signaled Confederate defeat). Between Fort Sumter and Appomattox Courthouse, both Union and Confederate forces surrendered on dozens of occasions, including some of the decisive battles of the war: Fort Donelson, Harpers Ferry and Vicksburg. In the largest of these surrenders, soldiers numbering in the thousands laid down their arms. In nearly every Civil War battle, soldiers – individually and in small groups – found themselves in a position where choosing not to fight appeared to be their only option, and threw up their arms in surrender.

One out of every four soldiers surrendered at some point during the American Civil War many surrendered on multiple occasions. Although the statistics are woefully incomplete, approximately 700,000 soldiers surrendered. This is approximately equal to the number of soldiers killed. If death shaped the Civil War, so too did surrender.

One of the reasons why surrender proved so ubiquitous was that both Union and Confederate officers had a clear, shared understanding of when one could do it honourably, a rubric demonstrated during Robert Anderson’s surrender at Fort Sumter. When under fire, one could surrender honourably once it became evident that continuing to fight would prove fruitless.

This remained the standard throughout the war, even to the very end. For instance, in May 1865 – more than a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, after the surrender of other Confederate armies under generals Joseph Johnston, Richard Taylor and Jeff Thompson, after the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis – the Union army sent a courier to General Edmund Kirby Smith asking if he’d like to surrender the last major Confederate force in the field. The Commander of Department of the Trans-Mississippi, Kirby Smith had been isolated from the rest of the Confederacy since the fall of Vicksburg two years earlier. Yet, he said that he could not surrender, writing in a lengthy reply that ‘an officer can honorably surrender his command when he has resisted to the utmost of his power, and no hopes rest upon his further efforts’. Kirby Smith was not any under illusion that the Confederacy would rise again or that he could defend himself against a Union invasion of the Trans-Mississippi, but concluded that he could not surrender until the circumstances forced his hand.

While most surrenders during the American Civil War met this standard, on a few occasions officers surrendered prematurely or without cause. When Union Colonel Dixon Miles surrendered Harpers Ferry to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson in September 1862, many of his soldiers believed that they had not been given adequate opportunity to fight. One soldier recalled that ‘the indignation of Union men and officers at the surrender was terrible – some sobbed like children, some swore, some were angry beyond words’. Another noted that ‘I have never seen ten thousand men all terribly angry in my life but this once’. Northern newspapers and a congressional investigation concluded that Miles acted out of cowardice rather than discretion, such that ‘Colonel Miles’ incapacity, amounting to almost imbecility, led to the shameful surrender of this important post.’ Harpers Ferry proved to be the Union’s largest surrender in the Civil War, with more than 12,000 soldiers laying down their arms. Ironically, Dixon Miles didn’t survive to hear his name raked through the mud: at the moment he ordered the surrender, Miles was hit by a fragment from an artillery shell and died shortly after.

Surrender factored heavily in the war’s conclusion and shaped its aftermath. Having won re-election in November 1864, Abraham Lincoln saw Confederate surrender as a route to peace after the deadliest year of the war. Lincoln encouraged his generals to offer generous terms, hoping that this would entice Confederates to lay down their arms. ‘Let them surrender and go home,’ Lincoln told them:

they will not take up arms again. Let them all go, officers and all, let them have them have their horses to plow with and, if you like, their guns to shoot crows with … Give them the most liberal and honorable of terms.

Confederate soldiers would be immediately paroled and allowed to return home. They would be given rations and in some cases transportation. They would not go to prison and would not be prosecuted for treason. Surrender would be the way to end the war quickly and with the least amount of bloodshed.

While Lincoln wanted to entice Confederate officers and armies to surrender, he instructed his generals not to allow the Confederacy itself to surrender. From the beginning of the Civil War, the Lincoln administration held that secession was unconstitutional and the Confederate government illegitimate. Lincoln himself often referred to it as the ‘so-called Confederacy’ and took pains to avoid recognising it as a rival nation. He worried that if the Union accepted the surrender of the Confederacy’s political leaders, it would retroactively grant the government some standing. To recognise its death would in effect recognise its life. For his part, Confederate President Jefferson Davis also agreed that the Confederacy could not surrender. The Confederate Constitution, he argued, granted him considerable power, but it did not allow him to end its life through surrender. Consequentially, the American Civil War did not end with one massive surrender, but with the surrender of individual Confederate commands.

Although displeased with the war’s results, most Confederate soldiers believed that the Union offered generous terms and were eager to return to civilian life. However, not all Confederates were willing to accept that the war was ending. At Appomattox Courthouse and in the surrenders that followed, some men decided not to accept their commander’s decision and left hoping to join another Confederate army. When Kirby Smith finally surrendered, some of his soldiers marched into Mexico rather than accept defeat. Many of these men who refused to accept surrender at the end of the war continued to resist the federal government in the years that followed, becoming the founding members of paramilitary organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction.

Robert Anderson’s Civil War ended in April 1865 when he was asked to return to Fort Sumter to commemorate four years since his surrender. The Union had recently gained control of the city and was on the verge of defeating the Confederacy. The night before Anderson was scheduled to participate in a grand ceremony in the fort’s ruins, news reached Charleston of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, prompting celebrations that lasted late into the night. The next morning, Anderson and other notables boarded vessels that ferried them to Fort Sumter, with grandstands decked in patriotic bunting. A New York Times correspondent noted that four years earlier ‘our national ensign, floating in its pride and power over the battlements of Fort Sumter, was assailed and trailed in surrender’. Today ‘the identical flag that was lowered in humiliation, was raised with appropriate ceremonies’. When the cheering subsided, Anderson said that he ‘was here to fulfill the cherished wish of my heart through four long, long years of bloody war, to restore to its proper place this dear flag’.

David Silkenat is the author of Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2019).


Confederate Army History

The confederacy was created at the start of the American Civil War. In 1860, when Abraham Lincoln won the election, the southern states began seceding from the Union. They decided to create a confederacy and thus having an organization by which to make decisions. The strength of the Confederate Army was half of the Union Army. There were only so many soldiers who were against the Federal Forces and the Central government.

There were not only Army men of the Union in the Confederate Army, but also the prisoners who were captured in the war from different skirmishes. They also included the Native Americans. There were around 28,693 Native Americans who served both in the Union and Confederate Army. The Confederate Army had African Americans and Chinese. The incomplete and destroyed records give an inaccurate number of the numbers that served in Confederate Army, but as far as best estimates 1.5 million soldiers participated in civil war against Union Army.


The Occupation of the South

Ruins of Cary Street, Richmond. Photo Credit: U.S. Army Military History Institute, MOLLUS-MASS Collection.

Union soldiers in the southern United States at the end of the Civil War faced a situation that might seem hauntingly familiar to those who have served more recently in places like Bosnia, Iraq, or Afghanistan. There were large areas of great devastation, rubbled cities, neglected farms, hunger, a fractured and demoralized society in chaos, with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (including newly-freed slaves and soldiers just released from the disbanded Confederate Army ), and little remaining civil government. In short, there was little-beyond the Union Army-to prevent the entire region from slipping away into post-war anarchy.

At the national level, most planning had focused on winning the war, not on what would follow. In the absence of a coherent national plan, and with limited experience and no formal doctrine on the subject, the Union Army did what Soldiers have always done-they adapted to the situation and found ways to accomplish the mission. From the earliest occupations in 1862 (Nashville, New Bern, New Orleans, Norfolk, and Memphis), the army built upon its military occupation experiences from the Mexican War (1846-48), and worked to find approaches that would work in the southern states as they fell. The specifics of how they did this varied, but a closer look at the situation in the fallen capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia, offers a good example.

On April 3, 1865, six days before the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, two divisions under General Godfrey Weitzel, commanding general of the Twenty-Fifth Corps of the Union Army, occupied Richmond. By order of General Robert E. Lee (who realized his lines were broken and Richmond was lost), the Confederate Army had retreated from the city the night before, leaving instructions for the mayor to surrender the next morning. When Weitzel’s Union soldiers arrived, they found a city on fire and a civilian populace without the will or means to stop either the flames or the extensive looting that accompanied them.

There was no Army doctrine for Stability Operations, but the way forward was clear – Weitzel’s priority was to restore order, and his soldiers quickly made the transition from combat to stability. They stacked arms in the city square and went to work with bucket brigades to save what they could. By the first evening, the fires were out, order was restored, and the city was secured against further violence.

Humanitarian assistance was the next priority. Much of the populace was starving and in a generally desperate condition. A military relief commission established procedures to distribute food to thirty districts in the city. Hunger persisted as a problem for months, but the aid distribution system worked to prevent tragedy. Of particular note was the recognition and acceptance of local expertise. Two civilians were assigned to each district-many with experience in local charity work.

Ruins of Gallego Mills, Richmond, VA. Photo Credit: U.S. Army Military History Institute, MOLLUS-MASS Collection.

Other challenges were much more complex. Perhaps the most immediate task with long-term implications was the restoration of agriculture. There were only a few weeks left to plant crops for the growing season, and the fields around Richmond were greatly neglected. The situation was not only a matter of tending the fields and doing the planting, it also involved labor issues – the slaves were now freedmen, and their labor was no longer mandatory or free. The Army had to assume the role of jobs bureau and facilitate a new relationship that could get the crops planted while protecting the rights of former slaves. To encourage freedmen to return to the farms they had previously worked, the Army tied distribution of food rations for able-bodied workers to their willingness to work. At the same time, the Army had to ensure that the landowners paid these returning workers appropriately (sometimes even designating what that wage should be) and treated them as the free men they now were. To further boost the system, the Army disbursed abandoned, captured, and excess property- government horses and mules in particular-to the populace. The results of the agricultural effort were effective, at least in the short term-the 1865 crop was generally good and famine was averted.

Rebuilding local agriculture and labor systems was an important step towards restoration of much larger regional and national systems like transportation, commerce and banking, and the broken economy in general. There were great needs in many other areas, as well-reestablishing the court systems, local law enforcement, local political systems and elections-to name a few. Nearly all of these tasks were beyond the current expertise of the Army that was tasked to address them. But as has been the case so often, the Army did address them because, especially in the first years of the reconstruction, it was the only organization that could. It is interesting to note that many southerners recognized this as well. They wanted and asked for military control of their areas at the beginning of the reconstruction, rather than civilian government. Whatever their other thoughts about the Army, they knew that it could provide security, and that it was their best chance for fair treatment and protection from exploitation.

The ruins of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad bridge in Richmond, Virginia, at the end of the American Civil War stood as a reminder to the nation that there was much to rebuild. Photo Credit: U.S. Army Military History Institute, MOLLUS-MASS Collection.

As Reconstruction in the South progressed, other forces came into play. There were political battles over how much aid to give and for how long and fierce arguments over the terms of reconciliation, and over the proper balance between the desire to punish and the need to rehabilitate. A large and rapid drawdown of forces hindered the Army’s ability to maintain order, a persistent insurgency developed against the enforcement of federal laws, especially with regard to civil rights, and opportunists from both the North and South spread corruption. The legacy of those later years of Reconstruction stayed with the South for many decades. However, the experiences of the Army in the first years of Reconstruction were foundational to its future experiences with military government, reconstruction, and stability operations in general-themes that persist to the present.

ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021. Website: https://ahec.armywarcollege.edu/

Occupation: Stability Operation Roots in Civil War Reconstruction in This Week in Army History by Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey A. Calvert, US Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute

Mailing Address:
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Carlisle, PA 17013

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The serial revenge sniper

One thing is always true: Once you train someone to be an effective soldier, they have a skill set that can be easily applied to other pursuits—usually criminal in nature. Sometimes, though, someone skilled at killing people will use those skills to pursue something else: Revenge. Jack Hinson was that person in the American Civil War.

As reported by OZY, Hinson lived with his family on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. Although his sympathies lay with the South, he was firmly anti-secession and tried to stay neutral. His two sons were captured while out hunting, however, and after being summarily executed as suspected Confederate guerrillas a sadistic Union officer had their heads cut off and mounted on Hinson's fence as a warning.

As you might imagine, this didn't endear Hinson to the Union army. Hinson was no soldier, but Guns.com tells us he was an experienced hunter and expert marksman. He ordered a special gun, a .50 caliber Kentucky Rifle with a barrel 41 inches long, capable of hitting targets from half a mile away in the right hands. And Hinson had the right hands. He embarked on a cold-blooded murder spree to avenge his two boys, and it's estimated Hinson executed as many as 100 Union officers by sniping them with terrifying accuracy. The Union Army eventually designated four regiments to hunt Hinson, but he was never captured, and died peacefully in 1874.


10 War Crimes of the US Civil War

When we think of war crimes, we think of the Nazis and Stalin&rsquos henchmen. The American Civil War has been covered many times on Listverse, but history classes tend to overlook the presence of genuine crimes against the understood rules of proper war-time conduct. Here are 10 of the most heinous examples.

Silas Gordon&rsquos pro-slavery, anti-Union activities resulted in the Union burning down every town and farm in Platte County, Missouri twice. He appears to have been consumed by an intemperate fury against the North, and more than once killed people on mere suspicion, without any evidence of wrongdoing. He was probably responsible for the Platte Bridge Tragedy, in which a rail trestle was burned through, collapsing under the weight of a passenger train, killing at least 17 men, women, and children.

In retaliation for his guerrilla tactics, Colonel James Morgan burned down platte City and apprehended three of Gordon&rsquos men, William Kuykendall, Black Triplett, and Gabriel Chase. They pled for a legitimate trial before a judge, but Morgan had them taken to Bee Creek Bridge, where Triplett was shot by 8 men with muskets. Chase fled with arms bound behind him, but sank to his waist in the muddy bank, where a soldier caught and bayoneted him through the throat with such force that he nearly decapitated him. Kuykendall had played dumb through all of this and his ruse worked. He was spared.

Ferguson was a Confederate guerrilla possessed of the same raging hatred of the Union as Silas Gordon, and led various posses of armed Confederate sympathizers, and sometimes soldiers, in ambushes and murderous raids throughout middle and eastern Tennessee. He is notorious for acting with marked cruelty and targeting anyone, even women and children, whom he felt crossed him or supported the North.

He is said to have cut the heads off 80-year-old men and rolled them down hills into towns. He was arrested within 3 months of returning home to Nashville after hearing news of Lincoln&rsquos assassination, and was tried and hanged on 20 October 1865 for 53 counts of murder. He had personally knifed and shot unarmed civilians for their support of the abolitionist cause. His actions after the First Battle of Saltville, Virginia were specifically cited, in which he and his men invaded a Union field hospital and shot and stabbed to death over two dozen soldiers of the 5th U. S. Colored Cavalry regiment, including white officers.

This campaign is more popularly known as Sherman&rsquos March to the Sea. It is dated from 15 November, in the aftermath of General John Bell Hood&rsquos accidental razing of much of Atlanta, Georgia, to 21 December 1864. Hood&rsquos intent was to burn military supplies lest they fall into General William Sherman&rsquos hands, but most of the city was made of wood and the winds were high.

Sherman ordered his army of 62,000 men with 64 cannons to march from Atlanta 300 miles southeast to Savannah, Georgia and destroy absolutely everything in their path, especially the railroads. They ripped apart the ties, heated and wrapped the rails around trees, dynamited factories, and burned down towns, farms, banks and courthouses. Sherman had given orders that the civilian population was not to be harmed personally unless they resisted, and that his intent was to break the South&rsquos back, physically and psychologically, and put an end to its stubbornness.

Whether the march itself constitutes a war crime is still a fiercely contended subject. It is effectively the same form of warfare as dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was understood in both cases that the civilians, not just the military, would suffer terribly, and civilian outcry would help put an end to the war. But Sherman had no intention of deliberately killing civilians and the march must be left open to debate because of this.

Nevertheless, Sherman knew that civilian deaths would be unavoidable and explained himself in a speech after the war with the statement, &ldquoWar is Hell.&rdquo Uncorroborated reports exist of a massacre of 200 civilians north of Columbia, South Carolina a few months before the march commenced, so Sherman knew full well what his men would do whenever no responsible eyes watched them. Three days after Atlanta was fully evacuated, Sherman ordered the city&rsquos unburned sections shelled to ruins. One shell passed down through a house and blew off the legs of a man named Warner. The same shell cut his daughter in half.

Sherman personally saw his men rape and murder unyielding slaves throughout the march and gave no order to stop this. Those slaves who accepted the offer to enlist were given unarmed porter duties and treated comparatively well, but could only rely on food and water provisions when they were in surplus after the army was satisfied. Sherman also ordered the execution by firing squad of a 50-year-old man accused of espionage. He was most likely not guilty but was given no trial. All crops were either consumed or burned, as were all livestock slaughtered. It is surmised that 50,000 civilians were killed during the war, and possibly 1,000 of them died during the Savannah Campaign at the hands of soldiers unlawfully entering their houses to pillage. The 3rd and 4th Amendments to the Constitution prohibit this.

In January of 1863, at the height of the war, Lieutenant Colonel James Keith was dispatched with the 64th North Carolina Regiment to the town of Marshall, in Madison County, on the border with Tennessee. A posse of pro-Union civilians had broken into the home of Colonel Lawrence Allen, looted and destroyed much of it, then broke into a storehouse for salt and stolen what they could carry, then blew it up with gunpowder kegs.

Keith was enraged and, with the 64th, he searched the Shelton Laurel Valley, found and fought with them, shot down 12, and captured about 7. He then tracked down these men&rsquos family homes and tortured their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters by breaking their fingers until they revealed the locations of about 8 more Union sympathizers. Keith arrested these men and marched the 15 of them for Tennessee, but two escaped into a steep ravine.

Keith deliberately disobeyed the order of the North Carolina Governor, Zebulon Vance, to hold the prisoners until they could be tried, and had them all executed by firing squad and thrown in a ditch. Keith was given 2 years in prison for this before escaping. He was never seen again.

Few places throughout the United States saw quite the anarchic bloodshed as the Kansas Territory. Senator James Lane led a raid on Osceola on 23 September 1863, in pursuit of General Sterling Price&rsquos invading army, east of Harrisonville and Clinton, Missouri, near the present border with Kansas. Lane was a staunch abolitionist, Price just as staunchly pro-slavery. Lane had about 1,100 men at his disposal and skirmished with a much smaller Union detachment outside Osceola. When the Union soldiers were routed, they fled into the surrounding woods and cornfields, and Lane led his men into the town where they burned 797 of 800 buildings to the ground.

They took care to kill none of the civilian population, but forced them from their homes and then searched every room of every building and stripped all belongings deemed of value, before torching everything, even the church. Lane stole a piano for himself. He then ordered 9 men of military age, one of them 16 years old and sobbing over his dead horse, to be tried on suspicion of aiding the Confederacy, and had them shot dead.

At about 9:00 in the morning, on 27 September 1864, William &ldquoBloody Bill&rdquo Anderson and a force of 80 guerrillas, including Jesse James, rode into Centralia, Missouri to rip up the North Nissouri Railroad. Anderson decided against this and instead, they stopped an arriving train and looted it and its 125 passengers, of whom 23 were Union soldiers. Anderson ordered the train evacuated, the 23 soldiers lined up and stripped, and then asked which of them were officers. Only one man stepped forth, but instead of killing him Anderson&rsquos men shot down the other 22, then scalped, skinned, and dismembered them.

This officer, Sergeant Thomas Goodman, escaped around noon. Some three hours later, 155 Union mounted infantry armed with single-shot muzzle-loading muskets arrived in town, heard of Anderson&rsquos action, and attacked him from the rear. Anderson&rsquos men were armed with up to 4 revolvers each, most stolen over the years, and routed the infantry within 3 minutes of engaging them. Anderson survived to be killed in a battle in October of that year.

Fort Pillow was a Union stronghold on the Tennessee banks of the Mississippi River, near Henning, and on 12 April 1864, it was besieged by up to 2,500 cavalrymen under General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who would later become the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Forrest easily took control of the high ground around the fort and demanded it be surrendered. The commander refused and Forrest&rsquos men assaulted and overwhelmed the defenders. Many of them were shot down as they fled into the river.

Both sides of the war reported that after the fort&rsquos surviving garrison, most of it comprised of black soldiers and civilian workers, surrendered and was disarmed, the Confederates swarmed upon them and bayoneted, knifed, and clubbed some 250 men to death in an orgy of sadism. Over two dozen were castrated and lynched. Forrest always maintained that this massacre was a fair fight because the defenders were armed to the very end.

In retaliation for #6, Captain William Clarke Quantrill led a raid into Lawrence, Kansas on 21 August 1863. Lawrence was a hotbed of anti-slavery sentiment and Quantrill was a fervent pro-slavery Confederate guerrilla, who had effectively enlisted into the Army under General Sterling Price, but deserted to form his own band of soldiers. There was little law in the Kansas Territory, and Quantrill&rsquos Raiders are known for more than one infraction of it.

Quantrill was especially out to kill James Lane, but Lane escaped into a cornfield. The Raiders descended from Mount Oread into town at about 5:00 in the morning and burned down every business and municipal building. Homes were spared torching but the families were driven outside and the husbands, fathers, and son all shot dead on their porches, in the streets, even in their beds. The women were raped, some of them and some children shot down or trampled while they fled. At least 185 men and boys as young as 11 were executed merely for being able-bodied.

Douglas was the Northern counterpart to the next entry, a prison-of-war camp in Chicago, Illinois for Confederate soldiers. It was built as a training depot for Union recruits, but by March 1862 was refitted as a prison for the large numbers of captured Rebels. It operated in this capacity until the end of the war. Within the first month its use as a prison resulted in the death of 1 in 8 inmates from exposure to the harsh winter or pneumonia. The prisoners were poorly cared for in the way of medicine and proper diet. They received enough to eat to save them from starvation, but did not receive much fruit or onions, which allowed disease to suppress their immune systems.

By the war&rsquos end, the Camp had gone through no less than 15 commands of 12 different wardens, none of whom was able to run the facility efficiently. Not only were the prisoners grossly neglected, they were not even properly supervised, and there were over 100 successful escapes. From June 1864 to the end of the war, inmates caught breaking any rule were tortured on the wooden horse, a sharply edged, wood pyramidal beam that rested between the buttocks against the tailbone. Prisoners were forced to sit on it with weights tied to their ankles for hours, even in snow or rain, until they passed out and fell off.

From 1864 on, the inmates were no longer fed adequately, but given only enough to keep them alive and hungry, purely for the guards&rsquo amusement. They were forced to stand at attention in freezing rain and sleet for hours, during which time the guards robbed them of any valuables.

The death toll by the war&rsquos end has been put at 4,454, but many went unreported, and the total figure may be as high as 6,000, most from exposure and disease brought on by malnutrition. This is at least 17% of the 26,000 prisoners sent to Douglas.

Camp Sumter was a Confederate Prisoner-of-War Camp for Union soldiers, today a historic site located in Andersonville, Georgia, from which the prison derives its more well known name. Its conditions were little known from its opening in February 1864 until it was liberated in May 1865, one month after Lincoln was assassinated. When the mistreatment of prisoners came to light, the entire nation and even Europe were disgusted and dumbfounded by the photographs of horrifically emaciated prisoners who somehow found the strength to survive.

The prison covered 25 and a half acres east of Andersonville, and was nothing but a bare patch of land surrounded by woods and fenced in twice. The outer fence was a log palisade 1,620 feet by 779 feet, with two entrances in the west wall leading into town. 19 feet in from this palisade stood an inner fence of chest-high posts topped with single crossbeams. This was nicknamed the dead line. Anyone who tried to cross it for the outer palisade, or even touched it, was shot without warning.

Inside the camp, there were only eight small buildings that could house a total of about 100 men. The prison held 45,000 by the end of the war. Most were given tents in which to sit or sleep, but the Georgia summer was overwhelming. 13,000 of those men died within 7 months of summer incarceration from sunstroke, starvation, or disease. The entire prison population suffered from a hookworm epidemic, causing most of them to defecate bloody diarrhea filled with worms.

The prison was very poorly supplied with food and medical provisions, and when Dr. Joseph Jones was assigned to investigate, he vomited twice during the one hour he toured the camp, and contracted a severe case of the flu which he warded off with oranges. He then asked the commandant, Henry Wirz, why Wirz was not suffering from scurvy, which was rampant throughout the camp. Wirz replied that he ate apples and oranges. &ldquoAnd the prisoners?&rdquo Jones asked. Wirz shrugged and said, &ldquoWhat about them?&rdquo Prisoners were able to pull out their own teeth with their fingers because of vitamin C deficiency. 3,000 died per month, or 100 per day.

They had no clean drinking water, but were forced to drink from the same creek running through the camp&rsquos center in which they bathed and which caught about half of all liquid and solid waste. Wirz was tried, court-martialed, and hanged for murder on 10 November 1865, the only Confederate officer to be so executed. His primary defense in court was that the prison&rsquos food and water never arrived by train. When he was hanged, his neck did not break, and he strangled to death for 9 minutes.


Women Fought in the Civil War Disguised As Men (And So Do Today’s Re-enactors)

Historians often say that America's Civil War pitted brother against brother. But what many people do not know is that, on occasion, it also involved sisters. As Slate reports, up to 1,000 women fought for both the Union and Confederate armies during the war, disguising themselves as men to slip by.

To pass as men, these women bound their chests and cut their hair, Slate explains. Then, they chose a male name and simply signed up. Slate:

One of these soldiers was Frances Louisa Clayton, alias Jack Williams, a Minnesotan who enlisted with her husband in 1861. To pass as one of the boys, she took up drinking, smoking, chewing, and swearing. When Frances’ husband died, a few feet in front of her at Stones River, she stepped over his body and kept fighting. Many like Frances enlisted with loved ones a woman from Tennessee named Melverina Elverina Peppercorn joined the Confederate army to be with her brother. At least two women went to war with their fathers. 

Women went to war for all sorts of reasons: they wanted to fight, the pay was good. They weren't just soldiers, either: as Smithsonian reported a few years ago, women worked as spies, too. 

Today, Slate reports, on Civil War battlefield reenactments across the country, modern women are donning grey or blue uniforms, too, ever since re-enactor Lauren Cook Burgess, who had been banned from participating based on her gender, successfully won a discrimination suite in 1989. But women still must conform to the same standards those historic women did: create a passable male disguise. 

The Gettysburg Anniversary Committee puts it like this: "If any Army or event volunteer (as above) determines the female gender at not less than 15 feet, that individual will be asked to leave the field/ranks." (The roles for all re-enactors, regardless of gender, are quite strict, although some female re-enactors still report discrimination on the battle field from male re-enactors.)

To spread the word about this "subculture within a subculture," Slate says, J. R. Hardman, a re-enactor (for both sides) and film maker, is making a documentary feature called Reenactress, about female Civil War soldiers and those today who chose to portray them. 


Watch the video: Objective 6 -- The Civil War Begins: Comparing the North and South