Archive for November, 2012

A Desperate Gamble

by Andy Mateja

In early Dec 1862, an 11,000 man Confederate army under Maj Gen Thomas Hindman moved through Boston Mountains in Northwest Arkansas toward Fayetteville. He was intent on fighting the smaller Union army camped nearby which he outnumbered by almost 2-to-1 .
However, Hindman’s army had been ordered previously to Little Rock to become part of the Confederate reinforcements for Vicksburg. This presented a problem, as his men, many of which were Arkansans, wanted to rid their state of the dreaded “Yankees”. Hindman, a diminutive 5 ft 2 inch general and former Arkansas congressman, replaced Gen Early Van Dorn as commander of the local army. He was determined to beat the Union forces in his state who were now actually using Hindman’s own home for their headquarters.
While ordered to march to the aid of Vicksburg, Hindman defied orders and decided to defeat and push the existing Union forces in Northern Arkansas back into Missouri. The Union forces under Brig Gen James Blunt contained free Negroes in their ranks, as well as Indians and Kansas “Jayhawkers”. His army totaled nearly 7000 men with another 6000 man Union force camped in Springfield Mo.
Blunt had believed that Hindman’s army numbered 25,000 men so he asked to be reinforced with the troops in Springfield. The Union reinforcements were sent to Blunt and arrived a few days later.
The Confederate forces also were moving in the same direction, crossing mountains amidst very cold temperatures which actually froze the water in their canteens. Hindman however was determined to attack Blunts forces before the reinforcements arrived from Springfield. On December 7th he ordered his cavalry to interpose themselves between the two converging Union forces. The Confederate cavalry did their job well and turned back the lead elements of the Union reinforcements and pursued them back to their main line. The battle intensified as more Confederate reinforcements arrived and established their line in the vicinity of Prairie Grove.
When Hindman saw additional Union reinforcements arriving and realizing his men were tired and hungry from their long march, he abandoned his plan of attacking and chose instead to dig in at Prairie Grove. The commander of the Union reinforcements was unsure if Blunt’s forces were not already defeated. When he found out they were nearby and ready to go, he attacked Hindman. Despite the Union troops also being tired from their long march, they attacked quickly ….and so did the Confederates. Hindman’s forces tried to smash the Union left flank. Union forces pushed back the Confederate attack and then were repulsed by a countercharge. The fighting was fierce in this section with dead and wounded covering the field in a very short time.
Meanwhile Blunt’s Union forces only seven miles away, finally realized the Confederate cavalry holding them in place was a diversion from the main battle. He began to move his forces on narrow pathways around 10:00AM and reached the scene of the fighting around 3:00PM. Blunt’s plan was to attack the Confederate left but inadvertently began shelling his own Union reinforcements with is artillery. Once he realized his error, Blunt fiercely attacked the Confederate line and focused most of his artillery on breaking it. The fighting became horrific with hand-to-hand combat being the most fierce and bloody. As darkness fell the shooting died down. Both armies slept on their arms with some of them resting within 50 yards of their opponents. Hindman’s casualties amounts to over 1300 – killed wounded and missing. The wounded were left on the cold, icy field with no food or water as their supply wagons were 30 miles away. Union casualties were very close – 1251 killed wounded and missing. Hindman’s forces retreated during the early morning hours, partially under a flag of truce to gather their wounded.
Blunt took credit for the Union victory even though the forces under him did little of the fighting. Hindman also claimed “victory” for his Confederate army even though he left Prairie Grove in the hands of the Union forces and Northern Arkansas remained under Union control for the rest of the war.
Unfortunately this considerable Union victory in Arkansas was marginalized by an even larger battle a week later in Virginia where over 13,000 Union casualties were incurred at a place called Fredericksburg……

Lee’s Post War Nobility

by Andy Mateja

As the war was winding down to an end, Robert E. Lee, “who would rather die a thousand deaths” faced reality and agreed to meet with Ulysses S. Grant to surrender the remnants of his beloved Army of Northern Virginia . on the afternoon of Sunday April 9th 1865, he did so and received the most compassionate response from Grant he could hope for, both in words and deeds.
Grant allowed Lee and his officers to keep their side arms and horses and the men to keep the horses that they owned. 25, 000 rations were also provided for Lee’s starving army.
After the surrender Lee returned to his family in Richmond and lived there for a while. He had already lost his Arlington mansion and could never return there as it was now becoming a national cemetery with thousands of dead Union soldiers already interred. A few days later President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a southern zealot which incensed Northerners and increased their desire for vengeance against Confederate leaders. Jefferson Davis was captured a month later and thrown in prison and in June 1865 Robert E. Lee was indicted for treason. Lee surprised and deeply concerned by this action, appealed to Grant to assist him, as the terms of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox stated Lee and his men would not be disturbed by the United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.
Grant incensed by this unbelievable incident, agreed to help and angrily threatened to resign his commission of General and Chief of the United States Army if government authorities arrested Lee. Lee also sent Grant an application for the restoration of his citizenship, which Grant forwarded to now President Andrew Johnson with the request to nullify the indictments against Lee and other former Confederate leaders. This was rejected by Johnson and Lee’s citizenship was never restored. Lee also was never arrested and brought to trial, as Johnson’s administration suspended the prosecution, not wanting to risk Grant’s resignation, as Grant was the victor of the Civil War and the most popular man in the United States at that time.
Lee’s benevolence prevented further violence and bloodshed contemplated by fellow Confederate military leaders who wanted to continue the war in guerrilla fashion. Some wanted to leave the country entirely which Lee talked them out of, saying “Do not leave Virginia- our country needs her young men now”. Lee also intervened at the St Paul Episcopal Church in Richmond when a former slave came forward to receive Holy Communion. Parishioners were outraged until Lee himself walked up to chancel rail and knelt near the former slave. Fellow parishioners then followed Lee’s lead and the service continued.
A few months later, Lee and his family moved to a run-down house provided by friends in the Virginia countryside. Lee, while appreciative, really need a job and wanted to do something that would take his mind off the recent conflict. Through a chance remark made by Lee’s daughter Mary, to a board member of Washington College in Lexington VA, Lee was appointed president of the college. The board members believed Lee’s presence would attract more students to attend and pay the tuition fees. Lee spent three weeks considering the offer – his academic background was limited to West Point and he was still under indictment which might later become an embarrassment for the college. Then also was a question of his health which had been deteriorating since 1863. Ultimately Lee felt the cause of Southern education to be far greater than his own personal problems and accepted the position, saying “If I thought I could be of any benefit to our noble youth, I would not hesitate to give my services”.
Lee began his new position in September 1865 and emphazed pride and honor in serving the Confederacy while at the same time expecting loyalty to the re-established Union. He constantly repeated the need for reconciliation and peace in his students and fellow Confederate officers. As he told former Confederate General PGT Beauregard “I need not tell you that true patriotism sometimes requires of men to act exactly contrary, at one period, to that which it does at another, and the motive that impels them – the desire to do right – is precisely the same”. Lee then went on to cite examples in history with George Washington fighting with and later against the British.
Lee even appealed to widows of fallen Confederate soldiers. To one he said “Madam, do not train up your children in hostility to the government of the United States. Remember we are all one country now. Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring them up to be Americans”.
This from the vanquished leader of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. In following Lincoln’s immortal words “to bind up our nations wounds”, Robert E. Lee exemplified the greatness he once held on the battlefield can be just as powerful in the re-unification of our great nation by beating swords into plow shares…………………….

The South’s OWN Manifest Destiny

by Andy Mateja

During the mid 1800’s the Southern States realized that expansion lands for slavery to continue were becoming harder to find. Even with the recent massive acquisition of land as spoils from the recent war with Mexico and subsequent procurement of the Oregon Territory from England, Southern leaders felt much of it was not conducive to slavery related agriculture. Therefore they began to look elsewhere for additional acquisitions. President James K Polk, a southerner, felt the annexation of Cuba would be a worthy venture. Cuba was the Caribbean’s largest island where slavery already existed. The only problem was that Cuba was owned by Spain.
Polk’s emissary tried to purchase Cuba from Queen Isabella of Spain for $100 million dollars. The offer was quickly rejected with the Spanish representative staying they “would prefer to see Cuba sunk into the ocean” than sell it to the United States. Southerners were now becoming agitated as they believed the growing economic and political power of the North from the newly acquired lands would eclipse their power and become a threat to their way of life. They again began to look towards Cuba and it’s half a million slaves. This they believed would add 13-15 representatives in Congress and dominate the government before the newly acquired territories could organize and enter the Union as Free states.
Since Spain did not want to sell Cuba, the thought process moved in the direction of seizing the island by force. Soldier of Fortune Nariciso Lopez was contacted to undertake this venture. Lopez had been born in Venezuela and had fought with the Spanish army against Simon Bolivar to put down his revolution. The revolution succeeded and Lopez and the remnants of the Spanish army were evacuated to Cuba. Through strong political connections in Spain, Lopez was made governor and military leader of a portion of Cuba. He was removed from office and sentenced to death in 1848 which caused him to flee to New York City where he joined a group of Cuban dissidents eager to overthrow Spanish rule in Cuba. They found lots of support for their cause in New York City who believed the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States included the annexation of Cuba. Lopez offered his services to lead the invasion attempt but the Cuban dissident preferred than an “American” lead the assault. Lopez then approached Senator (and future Confederate President) Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and offered him $100,000 to lead the expedition and another $100,000 or a “very fine coffee plantation” when the mission is accomplished. Davis rejected the offer and said his senatorial duties precluded him from accepting. Ironically, Davis recommending Robt E. Lee for consideration. Lee also turned the offer down. Lopez had no choice but to now head the assault himself.
Fortunately for Cuba, Lopez had no strategic vision and was a poor planner. He brought 1500 men with him from New York and was ready to launch the invasion until blocked by U.S. warships and Lopez’ chartered ships were seized by the U.S. Attorney General. As the invasion plans were widely publicized in advance, current U.S. President Zachary Taylor was embarrassed and did not want to get the country involved in an overthrow attempt. Lopez however did not give up on the invasion scheme. He went to Mississippi to ask then Governor and Mexican War veteran, John Quitman to head a new assault. While tempted to do so, he, like Davis & Lee before him, declined the offer.
Lopez decided to lead the assault again. However this time he lured 250 former Mexican War veterans from Kentucky & Ohio to join him with a promise of a $4000 bonus and large tracts of Cuban land. Lopez set up headquarters in New Orleans and added 350 additional men to his invasion force. While President Taylor tried to stop them again, friendly local Southern politicians obfuscated the issue and helped Lopez and his force sail away in April 1850 from New Orleans amidst cheering crowds.
However Lopez’s fortunes took a turn for the worse. Bad weather grounded one of his invasion ships in a deserted area. The other ships were spotted and reported to Cuban officials. The element of surprise was now gone. Lopez’ force regrouped and those remaining boarded a different ship and headed for Cardenas on Cuba’s northern coast. They would seize the railroad town of Matanzas and use it as a base hoping to recruit local volunteers. The citizens of Cardenas were opposed to the invasion and began firing on Lopez’ men. The fighting lasted three hours with Lopez ultimately being victorious. However the delay turned out to be fatal as word of the invasion spread to the region and more loyal Cuban soldiers began to converge on Cardenas. Lopez retreated back to his ship and sailed to Mantua on the western side of Cuba. Spanish cavalry attacked Lopez’s men before they boarded the ship but were repulsed and could not prevent Lopez’ departure.
More bad luck for Lopez – 5 miles offshore his ship ran aground on a sandbar. Not wanting to be trapped by Spanish warships that were no doubt on their way to the scene, Lopez dumped his provisions, arms and ammunition overboard to lighten the ship including unloading 200 men on a nearby inlet. The invasion attempt failed and Lopez sailed to Key West aggressively pursued by a Spanish warship.
When Spain learned of this invasion attempt, they were outraged. They protested fervently but Southerners ignored their protests and instead gave Lopez a hero’s welcome, complete with parades, and banquets. Southern newspapers even justified Lopez’s action in print. Senator Jefferson Davis said publically “I want Cuba…and I know sooner or later I will have it”. His fellow Mississippi senator went too far as demand annexation of several Mexican states, saying “I want them al for the same reason for the planting and spreading of slavery”.
President Taylor, although a Southerner himself, had no intention of tolerating this kind of rhetoric. His attorney general indicted the Mississippi Governor but a southern jury was unwilling to convict. Subsequent indictments were dropped.
Lopez wanted to try one more time to invade Cuba. He gathered a force of around 300 men throughout the South including 50 Cubans. Lopez sailed again from New Orleans unscathed once again in August 1851. They first headed for Key West and work their way up the Florida coast for more recruits and munitions. With limited fuel Lopez decided to sail directly for Cuba instead and due to currents and a faulty compass, would up in Havana Harbor. When Lopez realized his mistake he reversed course and tried to quickly flee from the Spanish ships & guns.
Lopez tried to land at the Bay of Cabanas but was chased away by Spanish warships. They tried again at night but that failed as well. They instead landed at Morillo, about 60 miles from Havana. This time the Spanish were ready and attacked his forces, killing 30. The men Lopez left behind to guard the ship and supplies were also attacked and defeated. Lopez’ second in command tried to escape with 50 men but was captured and all were executed by a Spanish firing squad in Havana’s public square. Not so for Nariciso Lopez.
The remnants of Lopez’ invasion force were scattered and many were killed by Spanish cavalry. Lopez himself was captured along with 160 of his men. The men were sent to Spain for imprisonment but the U.S. government quietly negotiated the release of many on them. No so for Narciso Lopez. He was executed in front of a crowd of 20,000 Cuban citizens and soldiers.
Southeners in New Orleans reacted violently destroying Spanish stores and ransacked the Spanish Consulate. They wanted revenge against Spain but instead the U.S. Secretary of State, Daniel Webster formally apologized for the activity and American involvement. This apology eventually led to the release of Lopez’ men that were captured and sent to Spain. There were continued attempts afterwards to purchase Cuba by Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchannan, but Queen Isabella refused to sell particularly after this incident.
With options for slavery expansion dwindling by the day, Southern Leaders became more paranoid about the rise in Northern political power. With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 , they realized drastic actions were all that was left …..and they took them, with South Carolina leading the way……