Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Command Profile: William W. Averell

Photo 1 I have always found William Woods Averell a somewhat fascinating Civil War command figure. Now, I know that many of you may be saying, “William who?” However, if you have been reading this blog consistently over the course of the last year, you may recall that I have mentioned Averell on several occasions. That is because Averell commanded the Union’s 4th Separate Brigade in West Virginia. As a result, he played a key role in the events surrounding my essays on Droop Mountain, the David Creigh affair, and the service of one of my ancestors, Samuel Snider, who served as a private in Averell’s command.

As to why he fascinates me, one of the reasons is that reaction of, ‘William who?” Interestingly, while almost every Civil War general who ever commanded anything beyond his adjutant and immediate staff has a biography published, no one has ever written one on Averell. The closest thing to a biographic effort was Edward Eckert and Nicholas Amato’s editing of Averell’s unfinished memoirs, titled “Ten Years in the Saddle,” which only covered his early life and his military career up to 1862. Beyond that, little notice has been given to Averell’s wartime career. And, perhaps, that is because the only thing noteworthy about Averell’s command performance is his unrealized potential, and maybe that is also what makes him a little fascinating as well.

William Averell grew up in the area around Cameron, New York, and his father was a man of many trades, including farmer, justice of the peace, postmaster, and constable. When young William was old enough to be on his own, he moved to the nearby town of Bath, where he worked as a drugstore clerk. However, like many young men, Averell had ambitions beyond life in upstate New York and yearned to attend college. Unfortunately, his parents did not have the funds to support his ambitions, so he sought an appointment to West Point, which he received in 1850. Averell thrived during his years at the Military Academy, making many good friends and embracing the life of a soldier—he found what he believed to be his calling. He would graduate in 1855, 26th in a class of 34, and was commissioned as a lieutenant of cavalry.

Following assignments at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis and Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, we was sent west to the New Mexico Territory, where he saw his first combat fighting the Navajos, Kiowas, and Zunis. Unlike some, Averell seems to have enjoyed the life of a soldier in a distant frontier garrison, both the often dull routine as well as the excitement of patrol, with its ambushes and close encounters with death. However, the most important thing to note about William Averell and his early military career is that he truly became a classic product of the “Old Army” and, as such, for better and for worse, his attitudes and conduct as a commander during the Civil War would be formed on that basis.

When I say that Averell was a product of the pre-war U.S. Army culture, I mean that is several ways. First, while he recognized wars were the result of political policy, he did not believe that they should be fought for political ends or purposes. Even more so, he did not believe that those holding political office, including the President of the United States, should play any significant role in the conduct and execution of the war—that was solely the domain of the soldier. This attitude was further strengthened by Averell’s view of the Civil War as an unnecessary product of political ambitions and failures that was now left to soldiers to fix. One could also go so far as to say that he viewed the Civil War as an unpleasant interruption in the soldierly life that now caused members of the heretofore brotherly fraternity of Army officers to fight one another, disrupting the pleasant and serene lifestyle of garrison duties.

In fairness, however, it must also be said that Averell believed in the cause of the Union, as did many of his fellow Northern professional soldiers, and was determined to fight in that cause. Still, it is important to understand that the Union was all he believed in fighting for—unpleasant issues such as the extension of slavery to the territories and emancipation had no place in the cause. The South merely needed to be shown the error of their ways via a few Federal victories and then politely allowed to re-renter the Union. In this sense, one can see that Averell stood in the same camp of officers that included men like George B. McClellan and John Fitz-Porter. In fact, it has been said that he almost a mirror image of McClellan, and, as I will describe, there is much truth in that statement.

Averell was badly wounded by a Indian arrow in 1859 and he returned to his family in Bath to convalesce and regain strength in his leg. Than convalescence leave would continue until the firing on Fort Sumter, some two years later. Having regained his health, he traveled to Washington and reported for duty. Following a rather incredible assignment in which he traveled thousands of miles on horseback through Confederate territory to successfully deliver orders to a Federal garrison in the Indian Territory beyond Arkansas, Averell was ordered to Averell was take command of an unruly Kentucky Cavalry regiment, later re-designated as the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry. Appointed as the regiment’s colonel, he trained, organized, and equipped them, turning them into a reasonable facsimile of a fighting unit. This success resulted in his promotion to command of a cavalry brigade that included that same regiment.

Photo 2 However, by the early summer of 1863, Averell had displayed another characteristic shared by George McClellan: a lack of resolve. Like McClellan, Averell was an excellent organizer, trainer, and planner. But, unfortunately and just like McClellan, when the fighting began, while he might go into battle with fury, he soon would back off and never finish the job. Like McClellan, he did not believe in the concept of a “hard war” as did men like Grant and Sherman, and he wanted the fighting to be more civilized and polite. He thought that one should hurt the enemy just enough to make them change their minds. As a result, he lacked the kind of aggression needed to be a successful commander. During the Chancellorsville campaign, this tendency highlighted him sufficiently to receive the wrath of General Joe Hooker. Hooker needed scapegoats following his disastrous defeat and Averell became one. Hooker relieved him of command and he was ordered first to Washington and then Philadelphia.

Before he could arrive in Philadelphia, fate intervened in the form of General Robert Schenck, commander of the Department of West Virginia. Schenck was badly in need of officers who could reorganize and train his scattered forces and he believed Averell might be just the man for the job. Upon arrival in West Virginia, Averell found his command to be a somewhat ragtag mixture of Ohio and West Virginia cavalry, infantry, and light artillery who had seen rather undistinguished service in a series of Federal defeats in the Shenandoah Valley and at Second Manassas. Worse, shortly after he arrived, Averell was ordered to retrain and reorganize his infantry into cavalry and to do so as quickly as possible. This would be a complicated task under the best of circumstances but Averell’s problem was compounded by a lack of proper saddles, bridles, and other essential materials needed to train and equip a mounted force. Luckily, however, most of the regiments being converted consisted of West Virginia farm boys who at least understood how to mount and ride a horse. That fact, combined with Averell’s considerable talents as an organizer and trainer resulted in the rapid transformation of three complete regiments of infantry into “mounted infantry.” These men quickly proved to not only be adept at rapid movement on horseback, they also possessed the ability to fight either mounted or dismounted. Described by one visiting Union general as a truly fierce looking group of solders, the 4th Separate Brigade would be successful operating under Averell during a series minor raids and skirmishes during the summer and early fall of 1863.

Their first real test and Averell’s, as well, would come in the Droop Mountain campaign. The men would perform well, driving off Confederate forces defending the road over that mountain toward Lewisburg and sending them into full retreat. Averell, on the other hand, would not do so well. While his plan and execution for the engagement at Droop Mountain was masterful, he once again stopped short of his objective. His orders had been to take Lewisburg and drive on to the nearby Virginia and Tennessee Railroad bridge over the New River. Once there, he was to destroy the bridge and, thus, sever a vital supply link to Confederate forces operating under James Longstreet in eastern Tennessee. But, once he reached Lewisburg, Averell hesitated, perceiving danger in every rumored move of the enemy and always believing the worst. He then elected to liberally interpret his orders and, citing supply shortages which did not exist, he turned his command about and went home.

This is not to say, however, that Averell was not a good leader. Shortly after Droop Mountain, he led his men on the Salem Raid against the same Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, this time trying to destroy rail lines and rolling stock near Salem, Virginia. The raid was noteworthy for its audacity and the horrible winter weather his command encountered. But, despite snow, sleet, ice, driving rains, and flooded streams, Averell led his men to Salem and back, suffering with them, shivering in his saddle just like them. Few officers could have performed as well. Still, the raid accomplished little and the rail facilities in and around Salem were repaired in a matter of days. And, like Droop Mountain, the raid would be presented by Averell as a great success and his commanders would accept that version of the story.

The picture that emerges here is one of an officer who appeared competent but, perhaps, that was only because he was fighting small, isolated actions in one of the war’s backwaters. Here, his lack of aggressive leadership was not so apparent. Unfortunately for William Averell, the course of the war would soon change and he would again find himself commanding troops engaged in major actions. Worse, this time, he would be serving under one of the most aggressive and mercurial commanders of the war, Philip Sheridan.

In the summer of 1864, Averell and his brigade would be reassigned to Sheridan’s new Army of the Shenandoah, which was directed by General grant to drive Jubal Early’s Confederate army out of the valley and secure the Shenandoah once and for all. Sheridan was the perfect man for the job—decisive, aggressive, and demanding, everything William Averell and officers like him were not. Initially, he performed well. Late in the afternoon during the Battle of Third Winchester, with infantry fighting raging, Averell and Wesley Merritt led their cavalry divisions down the Valley Pike from the north at a thundering gallop, crashing into the Confederate left flank. They quickly overran the cavalry and infantry defending the Southern redoubts there and forced the enemy infantry to withdraw. The damage caused by this attack was phenomenal. The word that Union cavalry was in their rear spread panic all along the Confederate line, and Early’s soldiers began a mad dash for the rear, “whirling through Winchester.” In some ways, this moment would be the zenith of Averell’s career, and it would be short lived.

Photo 3 A few days later, at Fisher’s Hill, as Early’s army fell back in disorder from another defeat at Sheridan’s hands, Averell was ordered pursue the retreating Confederate troops. Sheridan’s hope was that the cavalry would scatter and essentially destroy Early’s forces then and there, ending the campaign. He sent a dispatch to Averell, saying, “I do not want you to let the enemy bluff you or your command, and I want you to distinctly understand this note. I do not advise rashness, but I do desire resolution and actual fighting, with necessary casualties, before you retire. There must now be no backing or filling by you, without a superior force of the enemy actually engaging you.” However, once again, Averell chose to interpret his orders loosely. Rather than aggressively following and engaging Early’s men, he decided to stop and regroup, allowing the enemy to retreat unmolested. Sheridan was outraged. That very evening, he issued the following special order:



I. Bvt. Maj. Gen. W. W. Averell, commanding Second Cavalry Division, Department of West Virginia, is relieved from duty with that command and will at once proceed to Wheeling, W. Va., there to await orders from these headquarters or higher authority. General Averell will only take with him his personal staff. Col. William H. Powell, Second West Virginia Cavalry, is assigned to the command of the Second Cavalry Division, Department of West Virginia, until otherwise ordered.

By command of Major-General Sheridan

Averell was crushed and his military career was over. He returned home to Bath where, ironically, he would receive his brevet promotion to Major general on March 13, 1865. Five days later, he would tender his formal resignation from the army that he loved so much. He consider Sheridan’s actions in relieving him at Fisher’s Hill to have been illegal and unjustified and, while he would go on to a successful post-war career as a diplomat and inventor, he would spend much of his remaining life fighting to restore his name as an officer. Finally, in 1888, with fellow Democrat Grover Cleveland in the White House, Averell was reinstated in the Army by a special Act of Congress and placed upon the retired list. With his reinstatement, he was appointed to the post of Assistant Inspector General of Soldiers’ Homes. He resigned the position in 1898 and died two years later on February 3, 1900.

In some ways, William Averell’s command portrait is that of a man caught in the middle of tremendous change, both in the military culture of the United States and in the nature of war itself. No longer would the Army fight wars free from what men like Averell and McClellan saw as political “interference.” From this point forward, the president would function as commander-in-chief and establish political war aims for the nation. The military’s job was to develop and execute a strategy to achieve those aims. Further, under General Order 100, which was issued in 1863 and would serve as the foundation for U.S. military doctrine well into the 20th century, those aims would now include freedom for any and all enslaved persons. And, the strategy to achieve those aims might very well involve the use of massive force and destructive power. For all his talents as a soldier, William Averell could not see the necessity to change with the times, to look ahead, and to see that the army and the art of war were revolutionizing right before his eyes. His stubborn adherence to a command style based on training, detailed organization, endless preparation, and an overriding spirit of caution combined with a lack of vision to be his undoing as a commander.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Command Profile: James Longstreet

Photo 1 Few Civil War command figures have generated as much controversy and discussion in the many years since the war as James Longstreet. Known as “Old Pete” to his friends in the pre-war Regular Army, Longstreet was affectionately referred to by Robert E. Lee as his “old war horse.” Lee came to rely upon Longstreet not only for his often sage strategic and tactical advice, but also his ability to employ his corps in delivering crushing blows against the enemy. However, it was that very same relationship with Lee and his post-war life as a ‘reconstructed rebel” that made him the target of the Lost Cause movement’s leadership.

He was blamed by Jubal Early and the other leaders of the Lost Cause for the loss at Gettysburg and his sometimes intemperate responses just threw fuel on the fire on controversy. As a result, we are left with a historical picture of Longstreet that is clouded by that controversy and the arguments surrounding what really happened at Gettysburg. To be sure, an entire book could be written about Longstreet and Lee on July 2, 1863, and several historians have attempted to do just that. I certainly don’t have the room in this venue to explore that topic to the level it deserves. Rather, I will endeavor to simply analyze Longstreet as a commander and summarize what I believe is the most logical answer to the questions surrounding his performance at Gettysburg.

Longstreet was born in South Carolina but spent most of his youth on his uncle’s plantation near Augusta, Georgia. It seems his father selected the military as a career for his son when the boy was very young, but realized that the local educational resources were not sufficient to prepare him for any military academy. So, he sent James to his brother’s plantation, where he could receive better schooling. After his father’s death in 1833, his mother moved to Alabama, but young James remained with his uncle. However, when his uncle attempted to obtain an appointment to West Point for him, there was none available from the local Georgia congressman. Therefore, they turned to a relative who happened to be the congressman from the Alabama district where his mother lived and Longstreet got his appointment in 1838.

Longstreet was a solid if not spectacular cadet in a class that included George Thomas, William Rosecrans (his roommate), George Pickett, and John Hood. However, ironically, the cadet who became his closest friend at West Point was Ulysses Grant. Longstreet was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1843 and assigned to the 4th U.S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks, outside St. Louis, Missouri. His friend Grant would follow him there two years later and it was Longstreet who introduced Grant to Julia Dent, who was his fourth cousin. Longstreet would eventually be best man at their wedding.

Like Grant and most of the other young men who would be commanders in the Civil War, Longstreet saw considerable service in Mexico. He was cited for bravery in combat, receiving brevet promotions to major. Wounded in the thigh at Chapultepec, he recovered and returned to service after the war with assignments in Texas and New Mexico.

Photo 1a As the nation began to tear apart in late 1860, Longstreet considered what course to take. He was generally opposed to secession, but did believe in the doctrine of states’ rights. Therefore, on May 9, 1861, some three weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and accepted a commission from Alabama free of obligations to Federal service and, in his own words, “a clear conscience.” However, the facts of Longstreet’s resignation and entry in Confederate service tell a far different story, one that provides an interesting glimpse into the dark side of Longstreet’s character, and also tells that, while he may have been a good soldier, he was also a very ambitious one.

Most of the Southern officers who resigned their commissions to fight for the Confederacy followed a very careful and honorable process. First, they tendered their resignations and awaited notice that their resignations were accepted. Only then did they apply to their home states for commissions and many waited until they traveled home following their release from U.S. service to so in person. Then, once in the service of their state, they might eventually be elevated to positions directly serving the Confederate government in Richmond based on assignments to command a brigade, division, or corps. But this was not the path taken by James Longstreet.

As early as January 1861, he corresponded with officials in Alabama about the prospects of a commission there. As the most senior officer from Alabama serving in the U.S. Army who had entered West Point from that state, this was a logical course of action as he might expect to get a very senior commission. But, all the while, he was still a serving officer in the U.S Army and he was negotiating for his personal improvement with those who were seceding from the United States and who would soon be its enemy. Worse, according to official records, Longstreet was tendered a commission as a lieutenant colonel of infantry from Alabama on March 16, 1861. On May 1, he accepted this commission, a full eight days before he resigned from Federal service and a month before that resignation was accepted. In fact, he later accepted pay from the government in Montgomery dated to May 1. Remember that the Confederacy had attacked Federal forces at Fort Sumter in April and been declared in rebellion by the President of the United States. Therefore, while serving in supposed good faith as an officer in the U.S. Army, James Longstreet accepted a commission in an enemy army and later would take money for that period. It was not the act of an honorable man, but it was most assuredly the act of an ambitious one.

Interestingly, as further proof of his personal ambition, rather than traveling to Alabama to assume service, as most of his comrades did, Longstreet went straight to the new Confederate capital in Richmond, seeking an assignment. Once there, he met personally with Jefferson Davis, who informed him that he had been appointed a brigadier general with date of rank on June 17. He was ordered to report to General Beauregard near Manassas, and assume command of a brigade of three Virginia regiments. His outstanding service at First Manassas earned him a promotion to major general and command of a division.

However, during the winter of 1861-1862, Longstreet was devastated by personal loss when a typhoid epidemic in Richmond claimed the lives of three of his children. Those who knew him well said that he changed dramatically after that. His tent, which had been the scene of much drinking and card playing, became a more sober and serious place. He would rarely drink alcohol from that time forward and became far more somber.

After Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia, Longstreet was given command of 15 brigades, nearly half the army. He would perform superbly for Lee in the Seven Days Battles, aggressively attacking McClellan’s army and driving it back down the peninsula and way from the very doorstep of Richmond. Unlike several of his counterparts, he displayed adeptness at managing such a large force as well as a cool, calm demeanor during the heat of battle. Lee apparently noticed this characteristic as well, and Longstreet would become his closest lieutenant and advisor. Lee would later say, "Longstreet was the staff in my right hand."

Longstreet continued to perform well as Lee turned against John Pope’s Union Army of Virginia. Arriving at Second Manassas on August 29, 1862, his corps was responsible for delivering the smashing blow to Pope’s left flank the next day, sending Federal forces in full retreat back to Washington. Later, however, this singular success would be turned against Longstreet by Lost Cause advocates and would even carry into 20th century historiography. The Lost Cause leaders would point out that Longstreet was supposed to have attacked earlier in the day, but asked Lee to postpone the attack while he prepared his corps and reconnoitered the battlefield. This, they claimed, was a sign of his slowness, lack of aggression, and even disobedience to Lee. Lee’s 20th century biographer and virtual “disciple,” Douglas Southall Freeman, would write that these actions at second Manassas were a sign of things to come and that Longstreet’s performance on July 2 at Gettysburg began here. Freeman would write, "The seeds of much of the disaster at Gettysburg were sown in that instant—when Lee yielded to Longstreet and Longstreet discovered that he would."

Longstreet continued to serve Lee well during the Maryland Campaign a few weeks later. He wisely counseled Lee not to split the army by sending Jackson and his corps to Harper’s Ferry. While Lee did not listen to what was probably very good advice, Longstreet accepted his commander’s decision. Then, at Antietam, he advocated the tactical defense, which he came to believe was not only the soundest course in battle, but also was the South’s best long term approach to surviving and defeating Union forces.

Thus, when Lee entered Pennsylvania in June 1863, Longstreet later would claim that his understanding from discussions with Lee prior to the invasion was that, while the overall strategy was offensive, the plan was to maneuver Federal forces into battle at a place of Lee’s choice, where the Army of Northern Virginia could employ a tactically defensive posture. Therefore, when Lee encountered the Army of Potomac, Longstreet was surprised that his general decided to continue attacking offensively on the second day of the battle. According to Longstreet, he advised Lee to break contact with the enemy and move strategically around his left flank, where they could position themselves between Union forces and Washington, undertake the tactical defensive, and force a fight on Lee’s terms.

Whether that was actually what Longstreet told Lee is something we will never know as there were, apparently, no witnesses or at least none who recorded the event. Further, in three different published versions of the story, Longstreet is inconsistent in what he claims to have said to Lee. Plus, his advice seems somewhat fuzzy and Lee was probably right to reject the idea as he had no idea where the rest of Meade’s army was deployed. He had already been forced to wander about Pennsylvania blind due to Jeb Stuart’s absence and, as a result, he had stumbled into some portion of the enemy army. To now move off to the south in the face of that army, where he might run into the rest of it, made little sense. But, whatever was said, it is clear from other accounts that Longstreet was rebuffed by Lee and was angered by that rejection. Therefore, there is probably some credence to arguments that his lackluster command performance during the next few hours of July 2 was colored by his disagreement with Lee.

An attack on the Union left that was supposed to be launched at midday was delayed by a series of errors, marches in the wrong direction, and an insistence on waiting for more troops to come up. In the balance, his performance from that morning until 4:00 p.m. that afternoon seems like one of an inexperienced, unprofessional soldier and not like the skilled, savvy professional soldier that James Longstreet was. However, despite the fact that he may have felt as he did about the attack and that, once he reached the Union left, he found the enemy not as vulnerably positioned as told earlier, Longstreet sent his men in with aggression and determination. Only the timely arrival and employment of Union reserves, along with stubborn resistance by the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac stopped Longstreet’s relentless assault in what may have been the toughest three hours of fighting during the entire war.

But, Longstreet’s Gettysburg controversy did not end on July 2. The next day, he opposed Lee’s plan for an assault by men from George Pickett’s division and A.P. Hill’s corps against the Federal center. Longstreet would later claim that he told Lee that “no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position.” Again, we will never know whether he actually said those words, but the evidence is clear that he opposed the attack and felt strongly that it would fail and do so disastrously.

Photo 2 As the Confederate artillery barrage on Union forces on Cemetery Ridge continued, Longstreet sent an amazing note to Lee’s artillery chief, Porter Alexander, in which he told the artilleryman to essentially use his judgment as to the effectiveness of the artillery fire and not only advise General Pickett when to launch the assault but also whether to attack at all. Alexander was shocked by the note in which it appears Longstreet was actually trying to shift responsibility for ordering the charge to the more junior Alexander. The artilleryman responded to Longstreet in such a manner that Longstreet realized he could not ask someone else to give an order he himself opposed. When Pickett finally came to Longstreet and asked him if he should advance, Longstreet turned away, appearing very “grave and concerned.” Finally, Old Pete could only nod, apparently unable to speak the words that would send so many to their deaths.

Following the defeat at Gettysburg, in September 1863, Longstreet and his corps were dispatched to Georgia and assigned to the irascible Braxton Bragg and the Army of Tennessee. Longstreet would arrive in time to play a critical role in that Confederate army’s only true victory, the defeat of the Union Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga under Longstreet’s old West Point roommate, William Rosecrans. But Longstreet soon clashed openly with Bragg, as seemingly did everyone else. Further, sending an ambitious man like Longstreet into the snake pit that was the command staff of the Army of Tennessee only added to the already toxic leadership environment. The generals on Bragg’s staff, who had been lobbying for his removal for months, now had what they saw as a powerful and potentially influential ally in James Longstreet. Longstreet would accommodate them by writing a remarkable and utterly insubordinate letter to the Confederate Secretary of War, James Seddon, in which he stated, "I am convinced that nothing but the hand of God can save us or help us as long as we have our present commander."

Seddon forwarded the letter to Jefferson Davis and Davis made what was his second trip to deal with the rebellious generals of Bragg’s army. The president’s visit included what may have been one of the most bizarre moments of the war in which Bragg was forced to sit and angrily face his detractors as, one by one, they openly condemned him. For his part, Longstreet stated that Bragg "was incompetent to manage an army or put men into a fight" and that he "knew nothing of the business." However, just as before, Davis refused to relive Bragg of command and did nothing to change the command picture in the army.

Bragg would then reassign all the officers who opposed him or reduce their authority. Longstreet, who had commanded an entire wing of the army at Chickamauga, was now demoted to only command those forces he had brought with him from Virginia. As a result, he tried to extract himself from Bragg’s siege of Chattanooga. Eventually, he would be ordered to break free from Bragg and undertake operations against Ambrose Burnside’s army at Knoxville. Longstreet finally had an opportunity to prove himself as an independent commander in the field, but he failed miserably in this role. His siege of Knoxville was a failure and his army was forced to spend a harsh winter in the mountains of east Tennessee.

In 1864, Longstreet and his corps would rejoin Lee’s army as they awaited an offensive by Longstreet’s old friend, Ulysses Grant. When that offensive began in May 1864, Longstreet would lead his men into the thick of the fighting on the right flank in the Wilderness. During the fight, in which he rolled up Winfield Scott Hancock and the Federal left “like a wet blanket,” Longstreet was severely wounded when a bullet from friendly fire tore through his shoulder, severing nerves, and ripping a gash in his throat. He would recover and return to Lee in October 1864; however it would take years for him to fully regain the use of his right arm.

Longstreet served with Lee until the end of the war, defending Petersburg and then taking the long retreat that ended at Appomattox. When Lee asked his advice on surrender, Longstreet initially maintained the time had not yet come for that. However, once they found themselves blocked at Appomattox Court House, he knew the time had come. After the surrender, he would shake hands with his friend Grant on the porch of Wilbur McLean’s house and return to private life.

Photo 3 Following the war, Longstreet moved to New Orleans and, ever the opportunist, joined the Republican Party. Leveraging his relationship with Grant, who was now president, he served in a variety of posts and became an outspoken an advocate for equal rights for blacks, national reunification, and reconstruction. It is little wonder that he made such a ready target for the racist leaders of the Lost Cause. As the years passed, Longstreet became the scapegoat for Confederate defeat in the Civil War. James Longstreet may have, at times, allowed his own personal ambition to overcome his sense of honor, but he was a talented soldier who was, without doubt, the greatest of all the South’s corps commanders. The South was defeated both at Gettysburg and in the war for many reasons, but Longstreet was not one of them.

Photo 4 Only in recent decades has his life been reexamined with less prejudice and his name restored. In fact, it would not be until 1998 that a monument to him would be erected anywhere in the United States. Ironically, that monument stands at Gettysburg.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Command Profile: A.P. Hill

Photo 1 I thought it might be interesting to write a series of what I will call “command profiles,” essays in which I will try to analyze some of the men placed in command positions during the Civil War. While these will certainly contain some biographic information, my intent is not to merely provide biographies. Rather, I want to see if I can give the reader a brief analysis of these men in terms of their abilities as commanders in the field. Each had his talents and his own limitations, and only the experience of war would bring either to light. Some of the men I will examine are household names, but many will be men known only to those who have studied the war closely, and they are, perhaps, the most interesting commanders of all.

This first entry in the series looks at Ambrose Powell (A.P.) Hill, who served in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Students of the war know Hill well, but he is generally unknown to most of the American public. Hill belongs to a small, unique group in Lee’s army that also includes Jubal Early and Richard Ewell. All three men might be referred to as a “characters” because, while they all played pivotal roles in Lee’s army, at the same time, each possessed interesting personality traits, some of which adversely impacted their ability to perform as commanders. As a result, each man would perform brilliantly on occasion, but then be just as prone to utter and seemingly inexplicable mediocrity.

In any case, despite solid or even brilliant performances, in the eyes of the public and historians alike, neither Hill, Early, nor Ewell would ever share the stature of Lee’s other, more noteworthy commanders, such as Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, or even Jeb Stuart. Ironically, all three served under Jackson, and that may explain some of their lack of historical recognition. Perhaps because they were subordinates to the legendary Stonewall, they have always been seen as unworthy successors who simply never measured up to either the public’s or history’s standards and, thus, always remain in Jackson’s somewhat immense shadow.

A.P. Hill’s resume includes a solid Virginia lineage, West Point education, and the usual service pattern of an engineer in the pre-war Army. He served in Mexico as a young officer and performed capably, but not brilliantly, under fire. As the Civil War approached, he found himself an anti-slavery secessionist who supported Virginia’s secession purely from a state rights point of view. Like other former professional soldiers in the Confederate armies, Hill made a rapid ascent up the chain of command. A regiment commander at First Manassas, he was a brigade commander by April 1862 and a division commander only a month later.

During this rise, he demonstrated all the traits one would expect from a professional and desire in a field commander—he was organized, took care of his men, never risked them unnecessarily, had initiative, was courageous, and handled his troops well under fire. After all, in what was perhaps the zenith of his military career, it was Hill who led his division on a forced march from Harper’s Ferry to the battle field at Antietam, arriving just in time to stop Burnside’s attack on the Confederate right and save Lee’s army from potential disaster.

Photo 2However, both before and after Antietam, A.P. Hill also demonstrated the personality traits that would limit his abilities as a commander. While Hill was seemingly placid on the surface, he apparently teemed with temper and emotion inside. He had a disturbing tendency to be intemperate, impatient, and impetuous, and, as a result, he would occasionally take actions that were described as “imprudent.” Lee got his first taste of this at Mechanicsville during the Seven Days Battles of late June 1862. Here, Hill attacked McClellan’s right wing without orders to do so, while Lee was trying to avoid a fight through maneuver. Hill recovered his reputation in Lee’s eyes with outstanding performances during that same series of battles at Gaines’ Mill and Frayser’s Farm, but he ran afoul of Longstreet over articles concerning the latter battle, which were published in a newspaper whose editor was a former member of Hill’s staff. Hill was placed under arrest by Longstreet in the first of what would be a series of squabbles between Hill and the officers he served.

Hill’s request that he be removed from Longstreet’s command was granted when Lee transferred him and his Light Division to Jackson’s corps. For Hill, this would be truly a case of “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” While Hill knew Jackson from his cadet days at West Point and service in Mexico, the two feuded from the outset. Despite the fact that Jackson respected Hill’s fighting abilities, he would not tolerate his tendency to either loosely interpret orders or rigorously follow only certain commands. For his part, Hill chafed under Jackson’s secretiveness and uncommunicative nature. In addition, while Hill may have been impetuous, he still believed in order and organization, two things he either did not see in Jackson’s way of doing things or which, were seemingly never evident due to Jackson’s habit of not revealing his plans to his subordinate commanders.

Therefore, if Jackson’s orders appeared incomplete, Hill would take the initiative and operate based on his own judgment, which Jackson saw as insubordinate and which resulted in a series of charges against Hill. Perhaps the worst insult for Hill came on the march to Maryland, when Jackson ordered Hill to march at the rear of his division because he had not observed Jackson’s orders to rest his men ten minutes out of every hour. The feud was so bad that even Hill’s legendary performance at Antietam and Lee’s personal intervention could not stop the two generals from their quarreling. Jackson and Hill both continued to stoke the fire between them and only Jackson’s death at Chancellorsville ended the squabbling.

With Jackson’s death, Lee reorganized his army and established a new 3rd Corps under Hill’s command. From that point forward, one gets a general sense that, as a corps commander, Hill had probably exceeded his own capabilities. His performance as a corps commander became one more of mediocrity than of either brilliance or incompetence. In other words, it is not that Hill caused noteworthy disasters but more that he and his corps cannot be found delivering the smashing offensive blows that his division was once known for.

In his first action as corps commander at Gettysburg, it was elements of his corps that stumbled into John Buford’s cavalry and, eventually, the Union I Corps west of Gettysburg. While some criticized him for allowing the large-scale engagement to occur contrary to Lee’s orders and point to it as another example of his imprudence, Hill was simply operating based upon the intelligence he and Lee had been provided, which indicated the Army of the Potomac was not yet in the vicinity. As the fighting started, Hill was not on the scene and his men went in slowly, developing the battle at a snail’s pace because they did not know what was in front of them. Eventually, they would put enough forces on the field to send the I Corps retreating back through Gettysburg, but at great cost. Once the battle was fully underway on July 2 and 3, Hill and his corps sank into obscurity and were simply not a factor. Again, some have said this was evidence that Lee had no confidence in Hill or that Hill was not yet able to grasp the role of corps commander. However, this probably was not Hill’s fault. In reality, some of his divisions were badly beat up on the first day and, as a result, Lee kept his men in reserve or called upon divisions and brigades piecemeal to support either Ewell or Longstreet. Therefore, he had no opportunity to really prove himself.

Photo 3 On the other hand, however, from Gettysburg until his death at Petersburg in April 1865, Hill performed adequately but never with brilliance. The sole exception, unfortunately, was the disaster at Bristoe Station, where his impetuous and impatient manner caught up with him. His ill advised attack cost thousands of lives and probably only the good graces of Robert E. Lee prevented him from being relieved of command. Had Hill lived to see the post-war years, perhaps he could have resurrected his career and, like others, written his own version of events, made his accomplishments seem greater than they might have been, and successfully emerged from Stonewall Jackson’s shadow.

Friday, March 12, 2010

On the Margins of the War: Fort Davidson

 Photo 1 In a previous entry, I wrote about Price’s Raid, the misbegotten 1864 campaign intended to bring Missouri into the Confederacy and led by the Confederate general and former Missouri congressman and governor, Sterling Price. As a part of that essay, I briefly discussed the first engagement of the raid at Fort Davidson, near Pilot Knob, Missouri. Recently, I took the opportunity to visit the Fort Davidson Historic Site, which is maintained by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and toured both their excellent museum and the remnants of Fort Davidson itself. The museum’s exhibits offered fresh information about this small battle fought on the margins of the war and seeing the terrain around the fort provided a feel for the battle, the place, and the people who fought here. Armed with these insights, I did some additional research and discovered that, not only was the defense of the fort a small gem in terms of tactics, but also the battle’s aftermath included the kind of cruel tragedy and barbarism that marked the Civil War in Missouri.

On September 3, 1864, Major General William Rosecrans, Federal commander of the Department of Missouri, received word from General Washburn in Little Rock that Confederate forces at Batesville, Arkansas, under General Jo Shelby, were about to be joined by additional units and placed under the overall command of Sterling Price. Rosecrans and Washburn correctly surmised that Price’s presence meant an invasion of Missouri was in the offing, but the former was unsure what avenue of attack price might take. Even when he received intelligence that Price had crossed the Arkansas River, Rosecrans remained uncertain what direction price would go.

On the 23d we received certain information that Price had crossed the Arkansas with two divisions of mounted men, three batteries of artillery, a large wagon train carrying several thousand stand of small-arms, and was at or near Batesville on White River. From this point midway between the Mississippi and the western boundary of the State there are three practicable routes of invasion. One by Pocahontas into southeast Missouri, another by West Plains and Rolla or vicinity north toward Jefferson City, a third by Cassville north either through Springfield and Sedalia or by the Kansas border to the Missouri River.

His own military judgment told him that Price would aim for the central region of the state, but that the Confederates might also send a detachment into southeast Missouri. Little did he know that Price would indeed enter the southeast part of Missouri, but would do so with his entire army of 16,000 men with the goal of moving north to seize St. Louis before turning west to take Jefferson City. The next day, September 24, Rosecrans learned that Shelby and 5,000 men, supported by artillery, were reported just south of Pilot Knob, 86 miles south of St. Louis. While this could be the detachment Rosecrans predicted, he also was a smart enough soldier to know that Shelby could be the lead element of Price’s entire army, in which case St. Louis might be their objective.

General Thomas Ewing Therefore, he ordered General Thomas Ewing, Union commander of the region surrounding Pilot Knob, to gather what troops he could at Fort Davidson and ascertain whether the reports of Confederate activity in the area indicated merely that stray detachment Rosecrans predicted or if Price’s army was actually moving towards St. Louis. If it was a detachment, Ewing was to defend and hold Fort Davidson with the forces at his disposal. However, if it turned out to be Price’s army, he was to evacuate the fort and fall back to the north.

General Sterling Price From a purely military point of view, Fort Davidson was certainly not worth any expenditure of Confederate manpower or material and it was too small to pose any threat to Price’s rear should he bypass it on his way to capture St. Louis, as he should have done. But, Sterling Price was no soldier. He was a politician in uniform and he saw the campaign as being more political in its goals than military. While the “liberation” and occupation of St. Louis was his heartfelt goal, Fort Davidson was too tempting a target. It was tempting because it would provide an initial and overwhelming victory for his campaign, which was certain to rally Southern sympathizers to join his army, and it was even more tempting because Thomas Ewing now commanded Fort Davidson.

From Price’s point of view and those of Southern sympathizers across Missouri, Ewing symbolized Northern brutality and Union “occupation” of the state. He was a 35-year old former lawyer, two-term Congressman from Ohio, and Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, as well as an ardent “free-soiler” who had fought to make Kansas a free state. In 1862, he resigned from the Kansas Supreme Court to recruit and lead a volunteer Kansas regiment in the Union Army. He demonstrated a natural aptitude for leadership and, after his distinguished conduct at the Battle of Prairie Grove in 1863, he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of the District of the Border, which comprised Kansas and western Missouri.

Photo 2 In that capacity, Ewing became infamous for issuing General Order No. 11 in retaliation for Quantrill's raid on Lawrence, Kansas, which led to the murder of 150 men and boys. Under this order, anyone living in four Missouri counties that bordered Kansas who was considered to be a Southern sympathizer would be forcibly expelled. Rumor and innuendo were sufficient to cause expulsion and anyone who did not leave voluntarily, was forced out by Federal forces. Thousands of Missouri families were thus driven out of the state into Arkansas and their homes and farms either confiscated or destroyed. The bitterness this cruel policy created made Ewing a marked man in Southern eyes and made Fort Davidson a prize worth having, particularly if Ewing could be captured along with the fort.

As for the fort, itself, it wasn’t much of a prize. Even the term “fort” is something of a misnomer as the entire facility was not more than 30 yards from side to side. Ewing described the fort and its surroundings as follows:Photo 3

The village of Pilot Knob, which is the terminus of the railroad and the depot for supply of the lower outposts, is eighty-six miles south of Saint Louis. It lies in a plain of about 1,000 acres, encircled by Cedar and Rock Mountains on the north, Pilot Knob on the east, and Shepherd's Mountain, stretching around the valley, on the south and west. Each hill is from 500 to 600 feet in height, and rises abruptly from the valley, with the sides toward it covered with rocks, gnarled oaks, and undergrowth. The southern and western slopes of Shepherd's Mountain are accessible, and several roads lead over them to "the coalings" on its summit. Stout's Creek flows along the base of Shepherd's Mountain and through a gap between it and Pilot Knob into a larger valley of several thousands of acres, encircled by a chain of hills, in the northern end of which and about a mile from the town of Pilot Knob is the flourishing village of Ironton. Through this gap runs the road from Pilot Knob to Fredericktown, passing out of the larger valley by the "Shut-in," a gap four miles southeast of Pilot Knob. The two valleys are called Arcadia .

Fort Davidson is a hexagonal work, mounting four 32-pounder siege guns and three 24-pounder howitzers en barbette. It lies about 300 yards from the base of the knob and 1,000 from the gap. From the fort to the remotest summit of these hills visible from it is not over 1,200 yards, while all parts of the hill-sides toward the fort, except the west end of Shepherd's Mountain, are in musket-range. The fort was always conceded to be indefensible against any large army having serviceable artillery. Early last summer I sent competent engineers to select another site, but such are the difficulties of the position no practicable place could be found any more defensible. I therefore had the roads leading up the hills obstructed, cleared the nearest hill-sides of timber, and put the fort in a thorough state of defense by deepening the ditches, strengthening the parapet, and adding two rifle-pits leading north and south, commanding the best approaches.

Ft Davidson As Price approached, Ewing proceeded to Fort Davidson to join the small force already there under the command of Major James Wilson. Wilson’s force included six companies of the 47th Missouri Infantry, and one company from the 50th Missouri Infantry, for a total of 489 officers and men, all of which were, in Ewing’s words, “raw troops.” In addition, Wilson also had 562 veterans from 6 companies of the 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry; one company from the 2nd Missouri State Militia Cavalry; another from the 1st Missouri State Militia Infantry, a battery of the 2nd Missouri Light Artillery, and a detachment of the 14th Iowa Infantry that Ewing brought with him. Still unsure as to whether he was dealing with a small Confederate detachment or Price’s army of 16,000, Ewing made preparations to, first, determine the enemy’s strength and, second, to fight a delaying defense-in-depth no matter what that strength might be.

To those ends, shortly after arriving at Fort Davidson at noon on September 26, Ewing sent two companies to scout toward Fredericktown, and a smaller scouting party to reconnoiter the roads south of Fredericktown and “learn of the loyal people on them as much as possible as to the force of the enemy.” In short order, both groups ran into Confederate forces in strength near Shut-in Gap, and fell back into the town of Ironton, one mile south of Fort Davidson and just beyond the gap between Pilot Knob and Shepherd Mountain. There, the Union troops joined with a company from the 47th Missouri and turned to make a stand. When Ewing heard that the enemy had been found, he dispatched Major Wilson with men from the 14th Iowa, a section from Captain Montgomery’s 2nd Missouri Light Artillery, and all his available cavalry to support the units already engaged and ordered them to drive the enemy back through Shut-in Gap. Wilson’s men succeeded in driving the Confederates back through the gap, but soon encountered the leading edge of what was Price’s army. He wisely fell back as night arrived and a heavy rain storm ensued.

Photo 4 When Wilson’s reports arrived at Fort Davidson, Ewing sensed that he was not facing a small detachment, but, rather, that Sterling Price was on the other side of the gap. However, rather than immediately evacuate the fort as ordered, he decided to fight a delaying action. Given the circumstances, in which he was outnumbered by better than 10 to 1, it was a somewhat remarkable decision. In his official report, Ewing makes no mention of whether he believed St. Louis was Price’s objective or whether he knew critical reinforcements were on their way to the city. But, if he did, that may explain his decision to stand and fight, which he described as follows:

By midnight it was evident that the enemy were in strong force, as their column could be heard coming into the valley in steady procession, and their encampment grew extensive. We still did not know positively that Price's main army was there, though all our information was decidedly to that effect. But the advantages of delaying the enemy two or three days in his march northward and of making a stubborn fight before retreating were so great, even though the defense should be unsuccessful and much of the garrison be lost, that I resolved to stand fast and take the chances.

That night, Ewing gathered all unneeded supplies and commissary stores, rolling stock, and wagons, and sent them north. He also had details quickly construct six platforms along the forts earthen walls for his field guns, and immediately placed four pieces on them. Throughout the night, Ewing kept Major General Smith in De Soto informed of his plans and movements via by telegraph until the Confederates cut the lines at 11:00 a.m. on September 27.

At first light on the 27th, Price’s men attacked, forcing Wilson back through Arcadia Valley to the gap between Shepherd Mountain and Pilot Knob. Ewing ordered the 14th Iowa to take position on the east end of Shepherd Mountain, and told Wilson to take his cavalry and fall back to the side of Pilot Knob, allowing them to command the gap from both sides and “opening a clear range from the fort.” Wilson and the Iowans were able to stubbornly hold the gap for several hours, but, by early afternoon, the weight of the Confederate forces forced them back towards Fort Davidson. Price’s men now crested Shepherd’s Mountain and swept down the hillside towards the fort, but Ewing’s artillery quickly drove them back.

Soon, however, two Confederate guns appeared atop the mountain and opened fire on the fort. This was what Ewing feared most because, if more enemy guns could be placed on the hills above the fort, they would quickly destroy it. Luckily for the Union defenders, Price could only get these two pieces in place and return fire from seven of Fort Davidson's guns quickly drove the Confederate artillery back to the other side of the hill.

At this point, the wisest course of action on Sterling Price’s part would have been to wait until more artillery could be brought forward to the mountain tops, then pound Fort Davidson into submission. But that might take until the next morning and Price was impatient for his victory. His officers argued that a mere show of force might induce a Federal surrender, but Price would not listen. Instead, he ordered a frontal assault to begin immediately. Worse, rather than coordinating a simultaneous attack from several fronts, he sent his men in piecemeal, allowing Ewing to use all his artillery and rifles on each attacking group.

Photo 5 The first attack came from the direction of Shepherd Mountain and was made by General Marmaduke’s command. Marmaduke’s men struggled down the hillside, combating both the terrain and the intense fire from Union artillery. Unable to maintain good order, they took cover in a deep creek bed once they reached the plain in front of the fort. From that position, they maintained an “incessant fire” on the fort’s garrison, but were unable to get any closer. Meanwhile, General Fagan’s Confederates had moved around and over Pilot Knob to approach Fort Davidson from the east. This group assaulted the fort at the double-quick, but had to cross a broad open expanse that offered an excellent field of fire for Ewing’s men. As the Union general later described,

We opened on them when at 600 yards from the fort with musketry from the ramparts and from the long line of the north rifle-pits, and with canister from seven pieces of artillery. They rushed on most gallantly, but were broken, confused, and swept down by our rapid and well-directed fire until the advance reached the ditch…”

Photo 6 The fighting became frantic at this point. Captain Montgomery described the attack and his artillerymen’s struggle:

…the four guns inside doing excellent firing with shell until the rebels charged within 150 yards. We then used canister, double charge. The enemy's lines came within thirty paces of the fort. Lieutenant Simonton held his position, doing excellent service, until the enemy were within sixty yards of the fort. He was then ordered inside. Just as the lead team of the right piece reached the gate the two lead horses were shot down, wounding the driver, blocked up the gap so they were unable to get the section inside. The lieutenant ordered all the men to take care of themselves. The men all came in except one, who was captured. The horses then were beginning to stampede, when I ordered them to shoot the horses with their revolvers.

Photo 7 The attacking Southern soldiers tried desperately to climb out of the ditch and up the fort’s walls, but they were too steep. As they struggled, the Federal defenders retrieved crude hand grenades from the fort’s magazine and hurled them down on the attackers. This made the ditch untenable and Fagan’s men fell back with heavy losses. Price suspended any further assaults, deciding to bring up artillery during the night and construct ladders for scaling the fort’s walls. He would attack again at dawn.

Meanwhile, Ewing’s interrogation of Confederate prisoners convinced him that, indeed, Sterling Price was here with his entire army. But, Ewing had managed to delay him by two days and decided now was the time to extract his command. At midnight, he began preparations to evacuate and attempt to slip through Confederate lines to the north via the Potosi road. He ordered that the magazine be filled with all spare ammunition and a delayed fuse be prepared that would destroy the magazine two hours after the Federal garrison had left.

We took possession of the town and valley and drove from them all straggling rebels. The garrison was then aroused, knapsacks packed, haversacks, and cartridge-boxes well supplied and everything destructible, which we could not take away and the enemy might use, placed near or on the magazine. At 3 o'clock Colonel Fletcher silently led the infantry out of the sally port around the ditch, and through the north rifle.pit, forming them under cover of a deep shadow at the end of the pit. The drawbridge was then covered with tents to muffle the sound, and the cavalry and battery marching out formed column with the infantry and took a by-way to the Potosi road.

Under the cover of darkness, Ewing’s entire command silently marched past Confederate camps and up the road to safety. At 5:00 a.m., the Arcadia Valley shook violently as Fort Davidson’s magazine exploded with a roar. This was clearly a sign that something was amiss, but Price did not have anyone investigate until daylight. Soon after Price learned that Ewing had escaped, he also received intelligence that strong reinforcements had arrived in St. Louis, making any attack on the city impossible—his insistence on taking Fort Davidson and Ewing’s successful delaying tactics has cost him dearly. Worst of all, 1,051 Union troops had inflicted more than 1,000 casualties on his army of 16,000.

Photo 8 Price would move on and his raid would eventually end with more disasters. But, there is another smaller and more chilling postscript to the story of Fort Davidson. During the fighting on September 27, Major James Wilson was wounded and captured along with five of his men. After the successful evacuation of the fort, he and his comrades remained Confederate prisoners. However, around October 1, Price’s men turned Wilson and the other prisoners over to Tim Reeves, commander of a notorious Confederate guerilla unit, near Union, Missouri. Reeves, a former rural Baptist minister, had been targeted by Major Wilson and his unit and there was a considerable amount of bad blood between them. Reeves promptly had all six men executed and dumped their bodies along St. John’s Creek.

On October 23, a young man named Michael Zwicky from Washington, Missouri and four of his friends found three bodies lying on the ground next to the creek, partially covered by leaves. Two were in Federal uniform, one “distinguished as an artillerist,” and one was in civilian clothing. Horrified, the young men soon discovered three more bodies, one with major’s straps on his coat. The other two bodies had been “torn to pieces” by buzzards and wild hogs. The men quickly covered the bodies and notified the local Justice of the Peace and Coroner, a Mr. Kleinbeck. Kleinbeck investigated the suspicious deaths, remembering hearing “fourteen or fifteen shots [being fired] in rapid succession” three weeks earlier. He gathered papers from the bodies and sent them on to St. Louis, where it was determined that the dead were Major Wilson and his men.

The Federal response to the murder of Wilson and his men was severe. In July 1863, in response to Confederate threats to execute Union prisoners and African-American soldiers in particular, President Lincoln issued a proclamation that “that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed.” General Rosecrans now acted on the president’s policy by ordering the public execution of six Confederate prisoners of war. Five were to be enlisted men held at St. Louis’ Gratiot Street Prison, while the sixth would be an officer held in Independence.

The five enlisted soldiers were selected at random and none had anything to do with either Reeve’s guerilla unit or Wilson’s murder. They were not told of their fate until the date slated for their execution, October 29. A Catholic priest, Father Ward, and an Episcopalian minister, Reverend Phillip McKim, attended the men after their death warrants were read to them. Five were baptized and the other, young Asa Ladd, wrote a final letter to his wife and children. They then were taken by wagon to Fort Number 4, near what is now Lafayette Park in St. Louis, where a detachment of Union soldiers from the 10th Kansas and 41st Missouri Infantry would carry out the execution. The St. Louis Democrat reported the scene as follows:

On the west side of the fort six posts had been set in the ground, each with a seat attached, and each tied with a strip of white cotton cloth, afterward used in bandaging the eyes of the prisoners. Fifty-four men were selected as the executioners. Forty-four belonged to the 10th Kansas and ten to the 41st Missouri. Thirty-six of these comprised the front firing party, eighteen being reserved in case they should not do this work effectually.

About three o’clock the prisoners arrived on the ground, and sat down, attached to the posts. They all appeared to be more or less affected, but, considering the circumstances, remained remarkably firm. Father Ward and Rev. Mr. McKim spoke to the men in their last moments, exhorting them to put their trust in God. The row of posts ranged north and south, and at the first on the north was Asa V. Ladd, on his left was George Nichols; next Harvey H. Blackburn, George T. Bunch, Charles W. Minnekin, and James W. Gates. Ladd and Blackburn sat with perfect calmness, with their eyes fixed on the ground, and did not speak. Nichols shed tears, which he wiped away with a red pocket-handkerchief, and continued to weep until his eyes were bandaged. Nichols gave no sign of emotion at first, but sat with seeming indifference, scraping the ground with his heel. He asked one of the surgeons if there was any hope of a postponement, and being assured that there was none, he looked more serious, and frequently ejaculated, “Lord, have mercy on my poor soul!” Again he said: “O, to think of the news that will go to father and mother!”

After the reading of the sentence by Col. Heinrichs, Minnekin expressed a desire to say a few words. He said:

“Soldiers, and all of you who hear me, take warning from me. I have been a Confederate soldier four years, and have served my country faithfully. I am now to be shot for what other men have done, that I had no hand in, and know nothing about. I never was a guerrilla, and I am sorry to be shot for what I had nothing to do with, and what I am not guilty of. When I took a prisoner, I always treated him kindly and never harmed a man after he surrendered. I hope God will take me to his bosom when I am dead. O, Lord, be with me!”

While the sergeant was bandaging his eyes, Minnekin, said: “Sergeant, I don’t blame you. I hope we will all meet in heaven. Boys, farewell to you all; the Lord have mercy on our poor souls!”

The firing party was about ten paces off. Some of the Kansas men appeared to be reluctant to fire upon the prisoners, but Captain Jones told them it was their duty; that they should have no hesitation, as these men had taken the life of many a Union man who was as innocent as themselves.

At the word, the thirty-six soldiers fired simultaneously, the discharge sounding like a single explosion. The aim of every man was true. One or two of the victims groaned, and Blackburn cried out: “Oh, kill me quick!” In five minutes they were all dead, their heads falling to one side, and their bodies swinging around to the sides of the posts, and being kept from falling by the pinions on their arms. Five of them were shot through the heart, and the sixth received three balls in his breast, dying almost instantly.

Photo 9 As was so often the case on the margins of this war, brutality and inhumanity had been answered in kind. No form of justice was served and both sides were guilty of nothing less than mindless, vengeful, cold blooded murder.