Little Known Facts That Changed The Course Of The Civil War

Andy Mateja is a Chicago native who was fascinated by the Civil War. Over the past 40 years, he has amassed an impressive library of hundreds of Civil War Books and trade publications. He is currently using these resources as a basis for the development and writing of an unprecedented analysis of the Battle of Gettysburg, specifically the 2nd day of the conflict. Andy has spent countless hours researching important battles from numerous sources, including widely recognized publications, to gain valuable insight from the authors comparing them to official battle reports filed by the actual field commanders and their post-battle assessments. He looks forward to hearing from other Civil War aficionados and engaging in spirited dialogue regarding the truth about the conflict that changed America.

 

by Andy Mateja

While I do not agree with many these points, some noted authors believe the Civil War was actually between two forms of American society. While slavery was the most significant factor, most of the combatants who fought in the Civil War did not believe they were fighting for or against it, as most who fought for the South did not even own slaves. Many of Northerners were not influenced by this “peculiar institution” and did not even care about slavery.

Some authors erroneously believed the South could never have won unless England would help the Confederacy just as France did for the “Colonies” during the Revolutionary War, but England of course would have had naval maritime merchant business severely damaged by Northern privateers.  The Southern States also believed their Cotton Embargo would be far more effective in bringing assistance from overseas which, for numerous reasons, they never received.

Many believed the North was too strong to be defeated by a band of “a belligerent hastily formed Southern government” and were positive the Emancipation Proclamation was effective in keeping recognized world powers out of the war so as to be spared of being accused of defending the abhorrent institution of slavery….which was already on the decline with Russia freeing serfs in their country in 1861.  Some others believed that if the South won and gained their independence from the United States, other states would have followed suit and the destiny of the U. S. would have been completely transformed and resembled more like Europe than a unified nation.

Several of these same authors also believe Jefferson Davis was the best Southern President for the Confederacy with even Robt E Lee and could not imagine anyone who could have done better. On this point I do not agree as evidenced by the political and command decisions made by him and the negative after effects.

Another belief is that if the South would have just freed the slaves at the beginning of the war, it would have had a positive impact on their results but was hardly possible, as most did not even own slaves, and believed they were fighting for “states rights” , not to preserve Slavery.

But most of the authors agree on the point that the Blockade was a decisive factor. But few agree that it was THE decisive factor. While over time the blockade DID deprive many Southerners of their basic essentials, few would argue that if the South had followed up their victory at First Bull Run, the blockade would have been meaningless………….

It is also believed that it was major blunder for the Confederate forces not to defeat Gen Ulysses Grant at Vicksburg as Gen Robt E Lee would not leave Virginia to take command in Mississippi. Lee’s advance into Pennsylvania was sort of a diversion away from what was going on in Vicksburg. It didn’t have the desired results for a multitude of reasons as well.

Finally, there is no question that Abraham Lincoln was truly a political genius and a master of rhetoric. A chief executive with less resolve and unquestionable foresight would never have pulled the nation through its most compelling crisis and  most desperate hour of need.

Could the South have won the Civil War???  What do YOU think …….????

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Ewell’s Gets a Second Chance at Gettysburg

By Andy Mateja

At the end of the first day of fighting at Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac under the newly appointed command of Maj Gen George Meade had 85,000 men and 85 cannon in place to resist the positive aggression of Gen Robt E Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Maj Gen Richard Ewell and his troops failed to remove his Union opponents from their significant and strategic position on Culp’s Hill.  Lee was concerned and somewhat dismayed that his new commander of the II Corps did not complete his mission to oust the enemy which they were now fortifying. Lee realized only too well that his former the II Corps commander, Maj Gen Stonewall Jackson would have moved heaven and earth to accomplish his mission as he had effectively accomplished two months earlier at Chancellorsville. Lee was gentle yet very clear to Ewell as to what the results were that he had hoped for the night of July 1st which now had to be pressed again the next day under much more difficult conditions.

Ewell’s three divisions had been worn out from their long march, hard fighting and piecemeal concentration in the face of the enemy. He was so unsure they would be able to accomplish their goal that he made an only a meager attempt to accomplish Lee’s objective.

Lee, while deeply disappointed, realized that he had only made a “suggestion” to Ewell (as he had grown accustom to with Stonewall Jackson) instead of ordering it.  He had also confused Ewell several times as to how he (Ewell) should accomplish that goal. By leaving the discretion up to Ewell (“take the heights if practicable but not to bring on a general engagement”), confusion set in since a “general engagement had already been underway for most of the day.

On the morning of July 2nd, Ewell now was ordered to keep pressure on the Union flank in order to prevent to keep Meade from reinforcing his left flank where Lee had ORDERED Lt Gen James Longstreet to attack with most of his I Corps.  Ewell was also told once again by Lee that if an opportunity presented itself, he should take Culp’s Hill.

Opposing Ewell were the remnants of the Union XI Corps, I Corps and the XII Corps. The Federal position resembled an inverted fishhook and most of them spent the morning and afternoon preparing for the Rebel onslaught they were expecting. While the Confederates were also preparing to attack, Ewell’s artillery commanders only advanced 48 of his 80 artillery pieces of which only two-thirds of those were used that day. It appeared once again that only the Confederate infantry would be used to attack Culp’s Hill without much the abundantly available artillery support.

As Ewell pressed his II Corps to advance, he also contacted elements of Maj Gen A.P. Hill’s III Corps to support his movement. Further confusion resulted in only 75% of Ewell’s available combat troops with part of that force advancing only after darkness has set in. By that time it was late in the day and part of the Union forces earlier opposing Ewell had already been sent to support the Union II and III Corps confronting Longstreet’s unexplainably delayed attack on the Federal left flank.

The remaining Union troops, including the badly depleted I and XI Corps, dug in on Culp’s Hill to await Ewell’s attack near dusk. The fighting was fierce on both sides as darkness began to set in.  The Union forces, while depleted, nevertheless fought tenaciously and incurred severe losses. The Confederate troops, erroneously believing Longstreet was sending additional support, gained a lodgment on the Union right at the top of Culp’s Hill. Union XII Corps reinforcements returned from the Union Left and arrived just in time to halt the further Confederate advance in the dark.  Additional Confederate troops were rushed into the melee.

However even though Ewell’s men were not utilizing their artillery effectively, the Union troops WERE. They blunted the Confederate advance with a combination of artillery and concentrated rifle fire.

Unfortunately, some of the Union XI Corp repeated their reprehensible behavior of Chancellorsville and the 1st day at Gettysburg and “skedaddled”. Union canister had also had an unintended and tragic effect on the fleeing Federals.  “Friendly fire “was taking their toll on the Union defenders along with the Rebel attackers. Confederates were overrunning the Union artillery positions.

In the end Ewell’s men failed to achieve their objective and were NOT able to capture Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill which they also attempted during this late afternoon/early night bloody conflict. While many had perished on both sides in this underrated element of the 3-day Gettysburg ordeal, it was obvious to most (including Robt E Lee) that another day way required for the ultimate result.

Richard Ewell was given the golden opportunity to redeem himself and his men of their lackluster performance the day before he was unable to make it happen. At that time however all eyes were on Longstreet’s delayed attack on the other side of the field which many believed had the greatest chance of breaking the Union line and winning the battle (and perhaps the war) by nightfall…..

 

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by Andy Mateja

While most readers are familiar with the results of the Epic first major battle of the Civil War, the plan of the principal Confederate field commander General PGT Beauregard is little known to many.

After the fall of Ft Sumter in April 1861, several of the leaders of the newly formed Confederacy wanted to quickly defeat their Union antagonists by immediately capturing the symbol of National Authority…. The Federal capitol in Washington.

New elected Confederate President Jefferson Davis, with his military experience during the Mexican War and Beauregard himself, the victor of Ft Sumter were favored to be the one to make this happen. Meeting with each other in late May along with Robt E. Lee, the commander of the Virginia State forces at this time, they discussed this objective in detail. Lee advised against immediately attacking Washington and suggested instead to battle the Union forces at Manassas because of its strategic importance to the Washington area and its direct link to the Shenandoah Valley. Davis at first wanted to command the Confederate forces himself but realized that as President of the new Confederacy, this was impractical and not going to happen

Beauregard, on the other hand, did not want to attack. He felt his force was too small and believed needed reinforcements even though at the same time he continued planning to capture Washington. Davis’ idea, with Lee’s help,  wanted to defend northern Virginia  by uniting Beauregard and Gen Joseph E  Johnston by  rail in the Shenandoah Valley along with concentrating other smaller elements of the Confederate forces eastern Virginia by rail as well. Beauregard disagreed and suggested Johnston was probably going to be attacked and Johnston should instead reinforce HIM so they both can recapture Alexandria Virginia just across the river from Washington.

Davis then questioned why the Confederate army should abandon Johnston’s position in the valley without a fight. Davis also was concerned and did not want a large Union army in their rear after Beauregard captured Alexandria that may cut off supplies to his OWN army.

Beauregard was eager to have his grandiose plan approved…. Davis however was not. He handled Beauregard’s disappointment with kid gloves.  Beauregard had also found out that Union Brig Gen Irvin McDowell was planning to move against him with 40,000 troops. He begged for reinforcement and used a Confederate congressman to deliver his plea to Davis. Beauregard had hoped to get the enemy to attack him so as to be on the defensive and less likely to lose the battle.

Even though he was quite nervous, Beauregard still hatched yet another plan to attack Washington. He suggested he and Johnston still unite and first defeat McDowell, then move into the Shenandoah Valley and defeat the Union forces there, onward into western Virginia defeat the enemy there then onward into Maryland and attack Washington from the rear.  In reality, he did not have enough men or enough experienced officers to make this new plan work…

Beauregard tried a different approach on July 14th and sent another emissary to Davis who recommended they include Robt E Lee and Gen Sam Cooper in the discussion. Beauregard’s now proposed Johnston would attack Washington from the North while he attacked from the South.                No consideration was even addressed as to what the Union troops would do when Johnston left the Shenandoah Valley to attack Washington. Prudently, both Davis & Lee rejected his latest proposal.

One week later The First Battle of Bull Run was fought just 30 miles outside of Washington. After finding out on July 17th that McDowell was advancing to do battle, Beauregard again called for the same reinforcements he had requested a month earlier. It was reasoned that if the reinforcements arrived too late, Beauregard would be overwhelmed…. and if they arrived too early, the Union forces might capture the flanks as Davis and Lee had originally feared. Fortunately the reinforcements arrived in time and had a positive impact on the outcome of the battle. Nevertheless Beauregard still believed they arrived too late

Jefferson Davis wanted to arrive during the battle to lend assistance himself if required, but actually arrived near the end of the fighting.  Many of the Confederate leaders on the field at this time felt that Washington was ripe for the taking. But confused orders prevented a coordinated effort to actively pursue the fleeing enemy and advance all the way to the White House. Also it appeared to some that Beauregard was losing his nerve. He halted the vigorous pursuit when he had believed an erroneous report that the Union troops had broken his line on another part of the battlefield. When Davis arrived on the scene, one Confederate brigade commander loudly called out to President to give him 5000 men to finish the job and capture Washington. That officer’s name was Thomas J Jackson ….earning on that day the immortal nickname “Stonewall”.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, Davis did not have any fresh troops to spare which if he did, may have ended the war.  He followed his pursuing troops for some time in the dark and then turned back to send a victory dispatch to his own War Department. When he subsequently learned of Beauregard’s false claim of a Union breakthrough, Davis became visibly angry and was incensed that the pursuit of the routed enemy could not be renewed. Beauregard’s and Johnston’s troops, fighting all day in the extreme heat, were already spent and Davis’ presence added to the confusion on the battlefield. No one was really sure WHO was in command…Beauregard, Johnston or President Davis himself. Perhaps Davis should have remained in Richmond to manage the supportive efforts from there.

Beauregard’s chief of staff took the initiative to draft up an order and ask Davis to sign it, authorizing the continuation of the pursuit of the defeated Yankees. While Davis was willing to do so, doubt began to also creep in his mind about the reliability of the reports regarding Federal troop demoralization. It appeared no one with command authority wanted to accept the blame if the post battle efforts caused the loss of a heretofore clear cut victory for the Confederates.

Why victory wasn’t pursued in the Federal disarray and why Washington was not captured that night is an age log mystery that has never been completely explained. As it turned out, Jefferson Davis was blamed by most of the critics, including Beauregard himself. This was of course in addition to Davis being accused of not supporting Beauregard’s efforts at Bull Run by not supplying adequate supplies, munitions and reinforcements. The seeds of discontent were now sewn between Jefferson Davis and P.G.T Beauregard which were to have negative effects during critical periods in the final years of the war.

The Confederate dream of capturing Washington and a quick victory were now squandered away forever……………

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Tragic Saga of the Sultana

by Andy Mateja

One of the saddest tragedies experienced by released Union prisoners during the entire conflict occurred just days after the virtual end of the Civil War. It occurred when the Mississippi river steamer “Sultana” was overloaded with recently freed Union prisoners, many of whom who had survived on the battlefield and horrendous Confederate Prison of War camps, met their tragic end on the very vessel that was supposed to bring them home.

The Sultana was actually fitted for transporting captured bales of cotton with tall smokestacks designed to reduce possibility of fire from boiler room sparks. Its usual run was from New Orleans to St Louis after fall of Vicksburg in July 1863. The ship’s boilers were in desperate need of repairs. However instead of replacing boilers only the “leaks” were dealt with. The steamers final trip began on April 13th 1865 when sailed down to Vicksburg to retrieve some of the 5000 recently released Union prisoners, most of whom had already suffered as prisoners in Andersonville GA and Cahaba AL. Military authorities were authorized to pay transportation charges of $5 per enlisted man and $10 per officer. Greed had been the motivator for Capt Mason of the Sultana to overload his steamer. Political corruption was also rampant at this time with Capt Mason being protected from prior infractions by his brother… the Illinois Secretary of State. To further complicate the matter, Union military officials were refusing to release comparable Confederate prisoners …unaware that Gen Robt E. Lee had surrendered just a few days before ….

Confederate authorities, realizing the war was now lost nevertheless released the Union prisoners anyway. Captains of other vessels were also bribing Union officials to get their share of released prisoners for transportation back home. The Sultana was next in line to receive released prisoners but was told only 400 would be given to them, while expecting more than 1000. Capt Mason whined about this and Union authorities agreed to “revise” the amount place 1400 total men on his steamer instead. The Sultana was only approved to transport 376 passengers and already had a boiler in need of immediate repair, which would delay the sailing and the released prisoners would no doubt have been given to another vessel. Mason decided to just “patch” the ruptured boiler plates so as to allow for immediate departure. The released prisoners to be transported were primarily from Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and West Virginia and were to be delivered to Cairo IL and from there railed to Columbus OHIO for disbursement.

While the Sultana was being deliberately overloaded, another vessel, nearly empty, was nearby and offered to help transport the overflow. The “excuse” given to the released prisoners eager to get home was that the other vessel was infected with Smallpox which none of them wanted to risk after their ordeal in Andersonville…

Men were crowed on upper and lower decks of the steamer with no room to move about.  As it turned out, a total of 2100 passengers, including the crew and paying passengers were packed on the decks along with120 barrels of sugar and 30 mules and horses.

The Sultana began its return trip to the North on April 24th. .  After two days of sailing upriver it was realized that when the occupants would shift about on deck to see things on one side or the other, the steamer was become unbalanced and rot remain on an even keel. River water would then dangerously splash onto the red-hot boilers and instantly turn to steam.   A few of the released prisoners had later left the ship in when it docked in Memphis. They had assisted in the unloading of most of the heavy sugar cargo which afterwards made the steamer “top heavy” without adequate ballast. They did however take on a load of coal which balanced the weight somewhat.

Sadly, a few hours after departing Memphis, two of the boilers “blew up”. A gaping hole in the center of the vessel was the result which resulted in flying coal and furnace bricks crushing many of the invalided former prisoners along with many others. Scalding steam killed many more as the Sultana erupted into flames.  Mass confusion existed as overcrowded decks resulted in pushing and shoving to exit the vessel before the flames arrived.  Grabbing for anything that floated, men leapt into the Mississippi River to escape certain death.

Fortunately another river steamer who tried to help the doomed passengers, but it was too late for many of them, as only 150 were rescued by this vessel.

The Sultana ultimately sank around 9 AM on April 27th. Ironically the last remaining major Confederate Army had surrendered in North Carolina just the day before effectively ending the Civil War. 1238 had died according to military records. 783 were rescued. Some believed that almost 1700 had actually perished. Three separate investigations were undertaken to determine the cause of this disaster. Some had believed the cause may have been a Confederate bomb planted in the coal bins similar to what happened at Grants headquarters in City Point VA the year before. This turned out not to be true.

This heartbreaking catastrophe received very little media attention in the East, as many were focusing all of their attention on the death of Abraham Lincoln and the End of the War.   No memorials were ever created for those who died in this tragic event which had occurred on the heels of the Victorious END of the deadliest conflict in American History ……………..

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