Civil War Wednesday: Longstreet’s Gainesville

Longstreet memorial in Gainesville

Monument on the site where Longstreet’s Gainesville home stood | Photo courtesy of the author

James Longstreet, born January 8, 1821, in South Carolina, spent his youth in Augusta, Georgia. He later attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1842. Serving in Florida after his graduation from West Point, Longstreet began a military career, which would take him into Mexico, serving under Major Generals Zachery Taylor and Winfield Scott during the Mexican-American War.

Surviving a wound at Chapultepec, he continued service in the United States Army, until resigning his commission on June 1, 1861. Rising from his early rank of brigadier general in the Confederate army, to a position of lieutenant general, Longstreet fought in most of the major battles in the eastern theater. With the Army of Northern Virginia, and General Robert E. Lee, Longstreet, along with Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson, served Lee well during the war. Lee, referred to Longstreet as his “Old War Horse,” and depended upon the general during the various campaigns in the east.

Traveling a roundabout route via rail, Longstreet brought several of his troops west in September 1863, and a few of his brigades, which arrived earliest, helped the Army of Tennessee win the Battle of Chickamauga. Disgruntled with General Braxton Bragg, Longstreet sought a way to separate himself from the crusty officer. Bragg, wishing to rid his army of Longstreet, sent the general toward Knoxville, where he might force Major General Ambrose Burnside’s troops away from the city, and open the important railroad connecting the eastern and western theaters. Longstreet’s troops faced a repulse when attacking the garrison of Fort Sanders in late November 1863, and wintered in east Tennessee.

Rejoining the Army of Northern Virginia before the opening of the Overland Campaign, Longstreet received a wound from friendly-fire during the May 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. Out of the saddle for months, he returned to active duty, and continued service until Lee surrendered his forces to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House. Longstreet and Grant, friends before the war, reunited when Grant became president. Longstreet alienated many former Confederates when he joined the Republican Party, supported Grant, and occupied several government-appointed positions, including U.S. Minister to Turkey.[1]

Longstreet's Piedmont Hotel in Gainesville

Present-day image of Piedmont Hotel | Photo courtesy of the author

Moving from New Orleans in 1875, Longstreet returned to Georgia, and set up residence in Gainesville. He managed the Piedmont Hotel, with his second wife Helen. The Longstreet couple lived as respected citizens of Gainesville, and the old general continued to deflect accusations from Jubal Early, and other former Confederates, intent on casting the blame for the loss at Gettysburg on Longstreet. In 1896, Longstreet fired a rebuttal, as his From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America rolled-off the press. Grieving over the passing of his old friend Grant, Longstreet, during an 1885 interview with the New York Times, uttered one of his most memorable phrases – “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?”[2]

James Longstreet died on January 2, 1904, and his body rests in Gainesville’s Alta Vista Cemetery. Today, the Longstreet Society, operating from their headquarters in the restored Piedmont Hotel, works to preserve and protect the various Longstreet sites in the area. They house an impressive collection of Longstreet memorabilia, host educational programs, and sponsor occasional tours. For more information, please visit http://www.longstreetsociety.org/.

Longstreet's Gravesite in Gainesville

Longstreet’s gravesite | Photo courtesy of the author


[1] John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2001), 352–53.

[2] New York Times, “General James Longstreet (1821-1904),” Ulysses S. Grant Homepage, http://www.granthomepage.com/intlongstreet.htm (accessed August 27, 2015).

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.

Civil War Wednesday: Augusta Powder Works

Confederate Powder Works

Confederate Powder Works | Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-3504

Major George Washington Rains left Richmond, Virginia, during the early days of July 1861. North and South had not yet met on the fields of Manassas, but Confederate officials surely knew they would soon need ample supplies of gunpowder and other war matériel. Shortly after volunteering to don the gray, Rains received the assignment to find a suitable site to build a powder mill. The vision of Augusta native Henry Cumming, who in the 1840s formed the idea to create an industrial artery flowing through the city – a canal – benefited Rains, and the Confederate war effort 20 years later.

Augusta offered many incentives for Rains in his search for a proper location to erect the powder works. Besides the canal, Augusta also provided easy access to the railroad and the Savannah River, and the city’s distance from any imaginable battlefront early in the war solidified the spot as the ideal setting. Design of the shops needed to supply the various armies in the field with reliable powder began, and gathering building materials and machinery took much of Rains’s time. In September, just two months after leaving Richmond, the major oversaw construction getting underway for “…the largest and finest Gunpowder Factory to be found in any country.”[1]

Colonel G.W. Rains

Colonel G.W. Rains

Receiving promotion to the rank of colonel, Rains supervised the works through the end of the war. Various threats from Federal troops – namely Major General William T. Sherman’s armies during the November 1864 March to the Sea, and later in the 1865 Carolinas Campaign – kept the colonel and his staff ever at the ready to disassemble, and move the irreplaceable machinery. However, Sherman, unwilling in either campaign to slow his progress to attack Augusta, steered clear of the city, and the powder works.

Stacking of arms at Appomattox Court House, and later at the Bennett Farm in North Carolina, signaled the end of a need for powder. Rains pointed out from the time the mill first opened, until he silenced the machinery on April 18, 1865, the works produced “… 2, 750,000 pounds, or one thousand, three hundred and seventy-five tons of gunpowder.”[2]

Augusta Powder Works

Powder Works site today | Photo courtesy of the author

Signaling a status, which remains to the present, Rains recalled the “…great extent of the Powder Works and their immense capabilities, were the admiration of all visitors.”[3] The vast works, which consisted of multiple buildings on both sides of the canal, stretched for two miles. Progress, in the form of tearing down and rebuilding, took place several years after the war, when all vestiges of the powder works crumbled away to make room for building new textile mills.

Rains wanted the chimney to remain as a lasting shrine for Southern soldiers who gave their all. He got his wish, thus creating one of the first Confederate monuments in the country. Rains could take solace in knowing his tower beside the canal would serve as a reminder of the horrendous casualties during the American Civil War. The obelisk, with “…its battlemented tower and lofty shaft, large proportions and beautiful workmanship,” bearing “…evidence of the magnitude and style of their construction to future generations.”[4]

Today, the Canal Authority, in partnership with the National Park Service, manages the canal and obelisk site. Plans call for development of an interpretative plaza beneath the chimney, so visitors can enjoy the placid setting, while learning about the history of the region. Visit http://www.augustacanal.com for details in planning your next visit to historic Augusta, and check out the ‘Food, Fabric, and Firepower’ tour, a Civil War-themed journey leaving at 1:30 p.m. daily.


[1] George Washington Rains, “History of the Confederate Powder Works,” Newburgh Daily News Print, https://archive.org/details/powderworks00rainrich (accessed July 14, 2015).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.

Civil War Wednesday: Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski, Library of Congress HABS GA, 26-SAV.V, 2-50

“From the position the enemy has taken in the Savannah River, it becomes necessary that you look to your defense in that direction.”[1] On February 17, 1862, General Robert E. Lee wrote these words to Colonel Charles Olmstead, the officer responsible for the garrison of 385 soldiers holding Fort Pulaski. For Lee, this occasion did not mark his first visit to Georgia, or to Fort Pulaski. As a young lieutenant in the late 1820s, Lee, after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, took his engineering training to Georgia’s coast.

During the aftermath of the War of 1812, the United States began building a series of coastal fortifications – The Third System. On Cockspur Island in the Savannah River, construction had started on a fortification named in honor of Casimir Pulaski, a native of Poland, who led cavalry troopers during the American Revolution.[2] While Lee influenced the early design of Fort Pulaski, advancements in artillery in the years leading up to the Civil War would prove the death knell of masonry fortifications.

Captain Quincy Gillmore

Captain Quincy Gillmore, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-06490

Seeking to seal the port of Savannah, and cut the number of blockade-runners making safe passage into the city, the Federals began preparations for taking Fort Pulaski in January 1862. Captain Quincy Gillmore received the task of landing troops and artillery on nearby Tybee Island, and positioning his artillery to launch a bombardment of the fort. Gillmore’s soldiers stepped onto the sandy shores on February 21, but several days passed as the men worked in the marshy areas, busily constructing roads and gun placements. Finally, with all preparations complete, the Federal guns opened fire on the morning of April 10. The artillery – many of the guns rifled – soon found their mark, and the shells started reducing the walls of the fort to rubble. Olmstead realized he held a position no longer tenable; the following day, he surrendered Fort Pulaski.[3]

Colonel Charles Olmstead

Colonel Charles Olmstead, Fort Pulaski National Monument—Georgia, gutenberg.org

Reporting on the mission’s success, Gillmore wrote to department commander, Major General David Hunter. “I have the honor to transmit herewith the terms of capitulation for the surrender to the United States of Fort Pulaski, Ga…the fort hoisted the white flag at a quarter before 2 o’clock this afternoon…a practicable breach in the walls was made in eighteen and a half hours’ firing by daylight.”[4] The fort would remain in Federal possession during the balance of the war, and later served as a prison, which held captured Confederates.

Today, the National Park Service manages the Fort Pulaski National Monument. Please visit http://www.nps.gov/fopu/index.htm for details in planning your next visit to historic Savannah, and Fort Pulaski!

 

[1] U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, reprint 1899 ed., Series I, vol. 6 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 389. (Hereafter listed as O.R.)

[2] Casimir Pulaski, National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/fopu/learn/historyculture/casimir-pulaski.htm (accessed May 28, 2015).

[3] J.E. Kaufmann and H.W. Kaufmann, Fortress America: The Forts That Defended America, 1600 to the Present (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2004), 254–57.

[4] O.R., 139.

 

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.

 

Civil War Wednesday: The Battle of Brown’s Mill

Major General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 42 on July 25, 1864, once again communicating his plans for taking the city of Atlanta. Sherman’s horse soldiers received special mention in the orders, which indicated the troopers’ main mission rested on destroying portions of the rail network lining the city.

Brigadier General Edward McCook.

Brigadier General Edward McCook.

Saddles began filling on the morning of July 28; soon, two brigades under Brigadier General Edward McCook left a dusty trail as they rode toward the Macon and Western Railroad. After destroying large sections of this line, the horsemen turned their sights toward the Atlanta and West Point Railroad. A surprise awaited the riders as they traveled the Ricketyback Road when Southern iron of a different form – the cavalry soldiers with Major General Joe Wheeler – twisted the Federals’ plans, much as they had intended to warp the tracks of the Atlanta and West Point.

Hard fighting, often hand-to-hand, took place along the Ricketyback Road, and when Confederate reinforcements, in the form of the 1st and 9th Tennessee Battalions blocked the intersection onto the Corinth Road, the battle turned into a rout. Wheeler smelled blood, rose in his saddle, and encouraged his soldiers from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas to “Follow me! My brave Men!” McCook, shaken with the sudden onslaught, sat in his saddle, almost as if in a daze, mumbling, “What shall we do? What shall we do?” Colonel James Brownlow, son of Tennessee’s infamous “Parson” Brownlow had the answer. Escape! As Brownlow maneuvered toward the Chattahoochee River, at a position near Franklin, McCook and company rode toward the New River. The brave soldiers of the 8th Iowa fought a strong rearguard holding action, which allowed several Federal troopers to avoid a trip to Andersonville’s Camp Sumter. Local African-Americans served as guides for both fleeing forces, as they attempted to navigate through the unfamiliar territory.

Major General Joe Wheeler.

Major General Joe Wheeler.

Early on the morning of July 31, lead elements of Wheeler’s force caught up with Brownlow’s command and took several prisoners. Crossing the Chattahoochee proved a very slow process, and those boys in blue remaining on the “wrong” side of the river became prisoners. In his after-action report, McCook stated, “At Brown’s Mill…I was surrounded by an overwhelming force.” A fitting summation for a costly defeat, one Sherman echoed in a communication to Washington, “The loss of this cavalry is a serious one to me.”

One bright moment for the Federals did emerge from their suffering at Brown’s Mill, when Private George Healey with the 5th Iowa Cavalry received the Medal of Honor for assisting in the capture of five Confederate soldiers. Federal casualties during the action numbered 1,400 with almost 1,300 taken as prisoners; Wheeler lost around 700 dead, wounded, or missing.

[1] David Evans, Sherman’s Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 261.

[1] Ibid., 264.

Images courtesy Library of Congress.

mikeMichael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

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Civil War Wednesday: The 11th Georgia Infantry at Gettysburg

Brigadier General George “Tige” Anderson; Courtesy Digital Library of Georgia

July 2, 1863, day two of the fighting at Gettysburg, found the corps of Lieutenant General James Longstreet launching an attack against the left of the Federal position. The resultant hard fighting produced many casualties among the roughly 94,000 Federal troops of Major General George Meade, and the Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of General Robert E. Lee – a force of almost 72,000 soldiers. The various battles of the day introduced new place names into the American lexicon – Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, The Peach Orchard, and The Wheatfield. The action in the Wheatfield involved several of more than 40 Georgia units engaged at Gettysburg; however, none would suffer as greatly as the 11th Georgia Infantry Regiment, part of Brigadier General George “Tige” Anderson’s brigade in Major General John Bell Hood’s Division, Longstreet’s Corps.

Major Henry McDaniel; Courtesy Vanishing Georgia Collection, Georgia Archives

As the late afternoon of brutal fighting unfolded, the brave men of the 11th Georgia, along with other Georgians, South Carolinians, Texans, and Arkansans struggled to drive the Federal troops from the Wheatfield. Anderson’s brigade became the first Southern element to reach the Wheatfield. Once there, they confronted Colonel Regis de Trobriand’s brigade, specifically the soldiers of the 17th Maine positioned on their left. A stonewall dividing the Wheatfield from the surrounding countryside marked a coveted position on the field, and the Georgians twice crossed the barrier only to face a withering fire, which forced them to withdraw. Sometime after 5:30 p.m., Anderson fell wounded, and command of the brigade transferred to the 11th Georgia’s Colonel Francis Little. Lieutenant Colonel William Luffman took charge of the 11th until he too received a wound, leaving the Georgians to continue the fight under yet another new officer – twenty-six-year-old Major Henry McDaniel. McDaniel would survive the carnage of Gettysburg and the balance of the war’s engagements to become Georgia’s governor in 1883. Many of McDaniel’s men did not escape the arena of death in the Wheatfield. A Georgia officer participating in the attack noted, “We rallied the men and charged the third time almost into the mouths of their cannons…I could hear bones crash like glass in a hailstorm.”[1] Three hundred nine soldiers of the 11th entered the battle of July 2; at the day’s end, the number of dead, wounded, or missing totaled 201, for a 65 percent casualty rate – among the highest in Lee’s entire army during the three days of fighting at Gettysburg.[2]


[1] J. Keith Jones, Georgia Remembers Gettysburg: A Collection of First-Hand Accounts Written by Georgia Soldiers (Gettysburg, PA: Ten Roads Publishing, 2013), 21.

[2] J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley, The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties, and Maps, June 9-July 14, 1863 (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2012), 124.

mikeMichael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

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