Friday, August 22, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt eleven)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

In essence that was all there was to the Battle of Cross Keys. Ewell, fretting because he could not get the Pathfinder to make another attack, at last pushed forward for more than a mile until he occupied the ground from which the Federals had advanced that morning. There he stopped, having been warned not to put too much space between the two wings of the army. Frémont, with 10,500 infantry effectives, faded back before Ewell’s 5000. It was finished. The North had lost 684 men, nearly half of them lying dead of their wounds in the grainfields; the South had lost 288, only 41 of them killed. Jackson’s trust in Old Bald Head was confirmed. Except for a quick ride out, to see how things were going, he had let Ewell fight his own battle while he himself remained on the heights above Port Republic. Asked if he did not think there was some danger that Shields would advance to help Frémont, whose guns were within earshot, Stonewall gestured toward his batteries and said grimly: “No, sir; no; he cannot do it! I should tear him to pieces.” As he stood there, listening to the sound of Ewell’s battle, intoxicated as if by music, he remarked to his ministerial chief of staff: “Major, wouldn’t it be a blessed thing if God would give us a glorious victory today?” One who overheard him said that as he spoke he wore the expression “of a child hoping to receive some favor.”

But, childlike, having received it, he was by no means satisfied. He wanted more. That night he issued orders for Ewell to leave a reinforced brigade in front of Frémont and march the rest of his division through Port Republic to join the other wing for a combined assault on the Union troops beyond the river. Once Shields was properly broken up, they could both return and fall on Frémont, completing the destruction Ewell had begun today.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt ten)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

It was. Saturday, after an early start, Ewell’s division stopped just beyond the hamlet of Cross Keys, six miles from Harrisonburg, to stand in Frémont’s path when he came up. Jackson’s plodded another three miles and went into the position on the heights above the confluence of the rivers at Port Republic, overlooking the low-lying opposite bank of the South Fork, where the road wound southwest from Conrad’s Store; this would be Shields’ line of advance, and the guns on the heights would enfilade his column at close range. Neither of the Union forces was yet in sight, however, so the Valley soldiers had time for reading their mail, which had just been forwarded along with the latest newspapers. Elated by their victories, the editors had broken out their blackest type. The Charleston Mercury called Stonewall “a true general” and predicted that he would soon be “leading his unconquerable battalions through Maryland into Pennsylvania.” By way of contrast, gloomy reports from the northern press were reprinted in adjoining columns, and the Richmond Whig combined a mock protest with a backhand swipe at the Administration: “This man Jackson must be suppressed, or else he will change the humane and Christian policy of the war, and demoralize the Government.” The men, of course, enjoyed this flood of praise. Jackson, too, had an ache for fame—“an ambition boundless as Cromwell’s,” Taylor called it, “and as merciless”—but he considered this a spiritual infirmity, unbecoming in a Christian and a deacon of the Presbyterian Church. Also, he was pained that the glory was not ascribed to its true source: God Almighty. Members of his staff observed that from this time on he gave up reading the papers—perhaps for the same reason he had given up drinking whiskey: “Why, sir, because I like the taste of [it], and when I discovered that to be the case I made up my mind to do without [it] altogether.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt nine)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

Attempting to regain control, the corps commanders divided the front into four sectors, Hardee and Polk on the left, Bragg and Breckinridge on the right. Coördination was lacking, however, and all the attacks were frontal. Besides, compliance with Johnston’s original instructions—“Every effort will be made to turn the left flank of the enemy, so as to cut off his line of retreat to the Tennessee River and throw him back on [Snake] Creek, where he will be forced to surrenderder”—was being frustrated by Prentiss, who stood fast along the sunken road. “It’s hornets’ nest in there!” the gray-clad soldiers cried, recoiling from charge after charge against the place. When Sherman and McClernand gave way, taking up successive rearward positions, the Confederate left outstripped the right, which was stalled in front of the Hornets Nest, and thus presented Johnston with the reverse of what he wanted. He rode toward the far right to correct this, carrying in his right hand a small tin cup which he had picked up in a captured camp. Seeing a lieutenant run out of one of the tents with an armload of Yankee souvenirs, Johnston told him sternly: “None of that, sir. We are not here for plunder.” Then, observing that he had hurt the young man’s feelings, which after all was a poor reward for the gallantry shown in the capture, by way of apology he leaned down without dismounting and took the tin cup off a table. “Let this be my share of the spoils today,” he said, and from then on he had used it instead of a sword to direct the battle. He used it so now, his index finger hooked through the loop of the handle, as he rode toward the right where his advance had stalled.

At the end of the battle line, on the far flank of the Hornets Nest, there was a ten-acre peach orchard in full bloom. Hurlbut had a heavy line of infantry posted among the trees, supported by guns whose smoke lazed and swirled up through the branches sheathed in pink, and a bright rain of petals fell fluttering like confetti in the sunlight as bullets clipped the blossoms overhead. Arriving just after one of Breckinridge’s brigades had recoiled from a charge against the orchard, Johnston saw that the officers were having trouble getting the troops in line to go forward again. “Men! They are stubborn; we must use the bayonet,” he told them. To emphasize his meaning he rode among them and touched the points of their bayonets with the tin cup. “These must do the work,” he said. When the line had formed, the soldiers were still hesitant to reenter the smoky uproar. So Johnston did what he had been doing all that morning, all along the line of battle. Riding front and center, he stood in the stirrups, removed his hat, and called back over his shoulder: “I will lead you!” As he touched his spurs to the flanks of his horse, the men surged forward, charging with him into the sheet of flame which blazed to meet them there among the blossoms letting fall their bright pink rain.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt eight)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

Ethan Allen Hitchcock, a sixty-four-year-old Vermonter, West Point graduate and veteran of the Seminole and Mexican Wars, was surprised to receive from the War Department in mid-March a telegram summoning him to Washington. He had been retired from the army since 1855, and never would have entered it in the first place if his parents had not insisted that the grandson and namesake of the Hero of Ticonderoga was obliged to take up arms as a profession. Hitchcock’s principal interests were philosophy and mysticism; he considered himself “a scholar rather than a warrior,” and had written books on Swedenborg and alchemy and Jesus. His first reaction to the summons that plucked him from retirement was a violent nosebleed. He got aboard a train, however, suffering a second hemorrhage on the way and a third on arrival, each more violent than the one before. Checking into a Washington hotel, he took to the bed in a dazed, unhappy condition.

Presently the Secretary of War was at his bedside. While the old soldier lay too weak to rise and greet him, Stanton told him why he had been sent for. He and Lincoln needed him as a military adviser. The air was thick was treason! … Before Hitchcock could recover from his alarm at this, the Secretary put a question to him: Would he consider taking McClellan’s place as commander of the Army of the Potomac? Hitchcock scarcely knew what to make of this. Next thing he knew, Stanton had him out of bed and on the way to the White House, where Lincoln repeated the Secretary’s request. Badly confused, Hitchcock wrote in his diary when he got back to his room that night: “I want no command. I want no department. … I am uncomfortable.” Finally he agreed to accept an appointment as head of the Army Board, made up of War Department bureau chiefs. In effect, this amounted to being the right-hand man of Stanton, who terrified him daily by alternately bullying and cajoling him. He was perhaps the unhappiest man in Washington.

Monday, August 18, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt seven)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

Davis in Richmond knew nothing of this. Ever since Johnston’s departure he had been urging a delay in the retrograde movement. In fact, when Virginia officials came to him with a plan for mass recruitment to turn back the invaders, Davis took heart and urged the general to hold his ground while the army was brought up to strength for an offensive, which he now referred to as “first policy.” March 10, believing that Johnston and his army still held the Manassas intrenchments, he wired: “Further assurance given to me this day that you shall be promptly and adequately reënforced, so as to enable you to maintain your position and resume first policy when the roads will permit.”

Johnston was not there to receive it, nor were any of his men. The cavalry rear guard had pulled out that morning, following the southward trail of the army on its way to the Rappahannock, accompanied by its general—who was already contemplating another retreat, from there back to the Rapidan. The one in progress had not gone well. One division, in an advance position, had not been informed of the movement at all, but was left to find its way out as best it could. The heavy guns were left in their emplacements, some of them not even thrown from their carriages. Supplies and equipment, including the trunks the volunteers had brought, went up in smoke. The packing plant at Thoroughfare Gap was put to the torch, along with one million pounds of meat remaining after farmers in the neighborhood had been given all they could haul away. For twenty miles around, all down the greening slopes of Bull Run Mountain, there was a smell of burning bacon, an aroma which the natives would remember through the hungry months ahead.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt six)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

There was danger in delay. Fort Donelson was being reinforced; Johnston might concentrate and crush him. But Grant was never one to give much weight to such considerations, even when they occurred to him. Meanwhile, his army was growing, too. Intent on his chance for command of the West—for which he had already recommended himself in dispatches announcing the capture of Henry and the impending fall of Donelson—Halleck was sending, as he described it, “everything I can rake and scrape together from Missouri.” Within a few days Grant was able to add a brigade to each of his two divisions. On second thought, with 10,000 more reinforcements on the way in transports and Foote’s ironclads undergoing repairs at Cairo, he believed that he had more to gain from waiting than from haste. So he waited. All the same, in a letter written on the 9th he declared that he would “keep the ball moving as lively as possible.” Hearing that Pillow, whose measure he had taken at Belmont, was now in command of the fort, he added: “I hope to give him a tug before you receive this.”

By the 11th he was ready to do just that. Unit commanders received that morning a verbal message: “General Grant sends his compliments and requests to see you this afternoon on his boat.” That this headquarters boat was called the New Uncle Sam was something of a coincidence; “Uncle Sam” had been Grant’s Academy nickname, derived from his initials, which in turn were accidental. The congressional appointment had identified him as Ulysses Simpson Grant, when in fact his given name was Hiram Ulysses, but rather than try to untangle the yards of red tape that stood in the way of correction—besides the risk of being nicknamed “Hug”—he let his true name go and took the new one: U. S. Grant. There were accounts of his gallantry under fire in Mexico, and afterwards his colonel had pointed him out on the street with the remark, “There goes a man of fire.” However, even for those who had been alongside him at Belmont, these things were not easy to reconcile with the soft-spoken, rather seedy-looking thirty-nine-year-old general who received his brigade and division commanders aboard the steamboat.

Almost as hard to believe, despite the whiskey lines around his eyes, were the stories of his drinking. Eight years ago this spring, the gossip ran, he had had to resign from the army to avoid dismissal for drunkenness. So broke that he had to borrow travel money from his future Confederate opponent Simon Buckner, he had gone downhill after that. Successively trying hardscrabble farming outside St Louis and real-estate selling inside it, and failing at both, he went to Galena, Illinois, up in the northwest corner of the state, and was clerking in his father’s leather goods store—a confirmed failure, with a wife out of a Missouri slave-owning family and two small children—when the war came and gave him a second chance at an army career. He was made a colonel, and then a brigadier. “Be careful, Ulyss,” his father wrote when he heard the news of the fluke promotion; “you’re a general now; it’s a good job, don’t lose it.”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt five)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

They came soon enough. In fact, they came immediately. Coincident with the return of the messenger, Johnston’s right caved in, the troops there scattering headlong, demoralized and crying like their foes the year before: “We are betrayed!”

Primarily, though, he lost that wing of his army not because of a Federal advance, as he had feared, but because of Zollicoffer’s rashness and military inexperience. After occupying Cumberland Gap, the Tennessean had been ordered to move seventy miles northwest to Mill Springs, on the south bank of the Cumberland River, from which position he could parry an enemy thrust either toward the Gap, where he had posted a guard, or toward Nashville, 150 miles southwest. However, when Crittenden reached Knoxville, assuming command of the region, he learned to his amazement that Zollicoffer had not been content to remain south of the river, but had crossed and set up a camp on the opposite bank. Here at Beech Grove, with a wide unfordable river to his rear, the Tennessean was defying a Union army twice his size and attempting to stir up the doubtfully loyal citizens with proclamations which boldly inquired, “How long will Kentuckians close their eyes to the contemplated ruin of their present structure of society?”

Despite this evidence of literary skill, Crittenden now began to doubt the former editor’s military judgment, and at once dispatched a courier, peremptorily ordering him to recross the river. But when he went forward on inspection in early January, to his even greater dismay he found the citizen-soldier’s army still on the north bank. Zollicoffer blandly explained that Beech Grove afforded a better campsite; he had stayed where he was, in hopes that they could talk it over when Crittenden arrived. Then too, he explained—to the West Pointer’s mounting horror—there were reports that the Yankees were advancing, which made falling back seem a cowardly or at any rate not a manly sort of action.