Archive for November, 2014

Corked Up at Bermuda Hundred

by Andy Mateja

While Lt Gen Ulysses S Grant was battling Gen Robt E Lee in the Wilderness during his famed Overland Campaign, 60 miles away outside Richmond another conflict was developing that was destined to have a profound effect on the Union’s chances for a quick end to the Civil War.

As the new commander of all the Union armies, Grant traveled to Ft Monroe on April 1st 1864 in the southeast corner of Virginia to give orders to Maj Gen Benjamin Butler and his Army of the James and his role in the combined effort of all the Union field armies to defeat the Confederate opponents. While Grant engaged Lee, Butler was to move against the Confederate capitol of Richmond from the east.

Butler was a political appointee and a war Democrat. His first combat role was to suffer defeat at Big Bethel on June 10th 1861. A few months later he somewhat redeemed himself by capturing the Hatteras Inlet in North Carolina. In April 1862, butler was appointed the Military Governor of New Orleans after its capture. The he gained infamous notoriety by issuing General Order 28  declaring that women who made insulting comments and gestures against the Union occupying troops were to be treated no better than those “plying for avocation”….otherwise known as prostitutes.

Grant realized that Butler was a less than stellar commander but had no choice. Relieving a Democrat military commander might has negative political effects in the upcoming presidential election. He had ordered Butler to advance on City Point and secure that position. Richmond was the real objective point.

With this new Union strategy, the Confederates became worried about drying to defend multiple positions at the same time. Lee suggested that troops stationed in North & South Carolina be quickly concentrated near Richmond to help defend the capitol. The military authorities in Richmond acquiesced and appointed Gen PGT Beauregard to command these troops. Beauregard was the victor of Ft Sumter and shared in the victory during the First Battle of Bull Run. At Shiloh the following year, Grant turned the tables on Beauregard by snatching “victory from defeat” which the Confederates were on the verge of winning.

Butler decided to embellish Grant’s order bypassing City Point and capturing Bermuda Hundred to capture Richmond from the rear. Experiencing rough terrain, it would have been easier for Butler to capture Petersburg instead and cut the rail supplies to Richmond. He decided against it and through his incompetence, gave up the initiative he had seized and allowed a very small Confederate defending force to stop him in his tracks.

Beauregard thought Butler would logically go after Petersburg instead of Richmond and wanted to concentrate his collecting forces from NC & SC there in early May. Maj Gen George Pickett was there and began preparing the defenses with whatever forces he had against the perceived pending attack from Butler.  Additional support continued to arrive from NC & SC including veteran combat commander Lt Gen DH Hill.

As Pickett was moving troops to prepare for the Union attack, Butler sat idly by and virtually did nothing. He initiated a very “timid” advance without proper coordination of support troops. Butler made excuses for his inactivity even though he outnumbered his Confederate opponents 20 to 1.

As the Union troops were finally about to advance on the railroad junction between Richmond and Petersburg, Confederate reinforcements arrived on the field in the nick of time to secure the position. Union cavalry however did sever communications and destroy railroad tracks to the south of Petersburg so Pickett did not know when additional reinforcements would arrive.

Nevertheless Butler continued to squander away precious time by inactivity. His field commanders recommended an immediate attack on Petersburg which Butler soundly rejected.

To compound the issue of his ineptness, On May 10th Butler ordered his troops to fall back amidst a false rumor that the Confederates were moving to attack. At this time Beauregard had approximately 4900 men in Petersburg with additional troops arriving hourly. The “attack” that Butler feared was actually a transfer of med to the Richmond defenses to prepare for Maj Gen Phillip Sheridan’s cavalry excursion which terminated at Yellow Tavern.  Beauregard wanted to concentrate on Butler first and then move on Sheridan.

On May 12th , the same day Maj Gen JEB Stuart lost his life confronting Sheridan at Yellow Tavern, Pickett claimed to be to sick for duty and did not return to the campaign. The troops detached from Beauregard to defend Richmond were now diverted to attack Butler’s forces situated on Drewry’s Bluff in advance of the Bermuda Hundred. Butler also began his long awaited advance on this date but the roads were narrow and difficult to move over thereby limiting his effective battle strength. When the Confederates attempted to flank Butler the next day, he ordered another pause to “strengthen his lines.

Beauregard himself decided to command his troops in person at Drewry’s Bluff. Since Sheridan now was no longer an immediate threat, the Southern commander decided to go on the offensive even though he was still greatly outnumbered. He devised a grand scheme in which Lee would fall back to outside Richmond and send him 10,000 reinforcements to attack Butler from the front while Confederate troops collecting in Petersburg would attack Butler from behind. Then after defeating Butler, Beauregard would move north to attack Grant’s flank to assist Lee n defeating him. The road to Washington DC would be open.

Unfortunately for Beauregard, Confederate Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg disagreed and felt it would take to long to implement. President Jefferson Davis agreed. Beauregard had to other choice than to move forward to attack Butler without his requested reinforcements.

He attacked Butler at Drewry’s Bluff and attempted to flank him and cut him off from Bermuda Hundred. Being attacked from THREE sides by his adversary, Butler would be forced to surrender. As it turned out, the plan was too complicated to success.  Fog also set in on May 16 and Union trenches prepared by Butler’s troop’s days before slowed down the Confederate attack.

Even though the Beauregard’s men were now advancing against Butler’s troops, disorganization and confusion resulted uncoordinated attacks, causing the Confederate line to become entangled and not able to effectively finish off the Union forces . Butler was able to retreat leisurely back to Bermuda Hundred after suffering 4100 casualties while their Southern opponents incurred 2500.

Beauregard’s men quickly dug a strong line of entrenchments to prevent the Union troops from escaping the topographical trap they placed themselves into.  In essence the Confederates “bottled up’ Butler’s men which prevented them from further attacks on Richmond and Petersburg.

Fate (and Ulysses S Grant) had presented Butler with a golden opportunity to bring the Civil War to a quick conclusion. His own ineptness however prevented him from capitalizing on the prospect of capturing the lightly defended Confederate capital and preventing further supplies from reaching Robt E Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia.

It would be several more weeks before Grant would drive Lee in defensive positions around Richmond and Petersburg and the final siege of the Confederate capital would result in the cessation of hostilities of a bloody 4-year conflict that would ultimately cost the lives of over 620,000 Americans

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Lifelong Pals and Friendly Enemies

 

by Andy Mateja

During the Civil War there were many “friends” that had served on opposing sides in the conflict. One of the most notable of these friendships was between Ulysses S. Grant and James Longstreet.

Grant was born and raised in Ohio while Longstreet spent his early years in Georgia. They met in 1839 at West Point while Longstreet was an upper classman and Grant was a 1st year “plebe”.

Longstreet was nicknamed Peter by his father which over time became “Pete” …. Grant was nicknamed “Sam” because his West Point appointment was addressed to U.S. Grant. Friends afterward nicknamed him Uncle Sam and later just Sam. Grant’s real first name was Hiram and did not bother to correct the appointment name error. Longstreet graduated in 1842 54th in a class of 56 members whereas Grant graduated in 1843 21st in a class of 39.

Grant was assigned to the 4th U.S. Cavalry, which Longstreet already belonged to and stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St Louis.  It was during this period that Grant met his future wife Julia Dent in 1844. As it turned out, Longstreet’s mother was related to the Dent family

Grant was later transferred to Louisiana and only saw his future wife only once in 4 years.  Longstreet was already there and spent his free time with Grant until 1845 when he was transferred to St Augustine Florida. They were reunited later that year in Corpus Christi TX as the War with Mexico was heating up. Both their regiments were later moved further south to where Brownsville TX is today and the War with Mexico began.  Longstreet was eager to see action but Grant was not.  As it turned out, Longstreet did see lots of action and Grant did not.

Serving as Quartermaster of his regiment, there was only minor action for grant until Black Fort during the siege of Monterrey. Grant became temporary adjutant of the 4th Infantry when that officer was killed. Longstreet however again saw far more action while fighting for Independence Hill outside the city. As a skilled horseman, Grant did some trick riding under fire to try to secure reinforcements and ammunition. Ultimately the Americans surrounded Monterey while Longstreet and the 8th Infantry attacked from the opposite direction.

Grant and Longstreet served in the same army division the next year when Winfield Scott entered the scene they were involved in the attack on Vera Cruz and later on Mexico City. Longstreet received accolades for his performance at Contreras and was promoted to Captain. Grant joined Longstreet during the fighting at Churubusco where Longstreet personally planted the U.S. flag on the enemy ramparts.

Longstreet was later severely wounded at Chapultepec during the battle of Mexico City. Grant often visited Longstreet while he was convalescing from his wound. The Mexican War ended in 1848 and Grant & Longstreet returned to the US. Where Grant married Julia Dent later that year with Longstreet serving as best man. Longstreet was also married that year to Marie Louise Garland who was a childhood friend of Julia Dent.

Grant and Longstreet’s military career paths did not cross much during the next 6 years. Grant resigned from the army in 1854 and embarked on numerous personal business and financial failures that continued up to the commencement of the Civil War. Despite being broke and struggling to provide for his family, he ran into Longstreet in St Louis one day and offered to pay a $5.00 debt to him. Longstreet refused but Grant persevered and the debt was paid.

 

During the Civil War, both men went their separate ways to serve in the opposing armies. Longstreet rose to the rank of Lieutenant General and commanded one of Robt E. Lee’s corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Grant also rose to the rank of Lieutenant General in command of ALL the Union armies and later became President of the United States. Ironically it was the same Grant who through hard times had to resort to selling firewood on the street corners of St Louis less than 10 years before.

Both of them fought most of the war different battlefields…..East and West. However as fate would have it the two of them crossed paths once again on the same battlefield in Virginia in May of 1864. Longstreet was again severely wounded and did not return to action until a few months before the war ended.

In early 1865, Union Gen Ord tried to find a way to end war by utilizing Grant’s and Longstreet’s long lasting personal friendship. He reasoned maybe their wives could get together to help end the war. Grant’s wife Julia liked the idea but Grant rejected it. He wanted to end the war only by victory.

On April 9th 1865 Robt E. Lee surrendered his army to Grant at Appomattox Court House. The surrender included Longstreet who Grant met with the following day, giving him a cigar and suggesting they get together to play a few hands of poker as they had more than 20 years before. His vanquished friend was in no mood for it at that time.

Longstreet did visit Grant after the war in Nov 1865 and dined with him and Julia along with her father whom he had known from his days at the Jefferson Barracks in St Louis. Grant had assured his friend Longstreet that amnesty would be provided to him for his role in the war. However despite Grant’s assurance, Longstreet was not given amnesty by the new U. S. President Andrew Johnson.  Grant once again persevered and convinced Congress to grant the amnesty to Longstreet instead.

Longstreet had vigorously supported Grant during his Presidential campaign on 1868. In return, Grant appointed Longstreet (with Senate approval) to the position of Surveyor of Customs in New Orleans. Later he was appointed as postmaster of Gainesville GA the town he chose to live in from 1873 on. Longstreet outlived Grant by 19 years. Grant passed away in 1885 and Longstreet in 1904.

These interminable friends and comrades shared a life time of experiences culminating in opposing one another during the Civil War. Their friendship nevertheless persevered without animosity to the end of their lives.

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