Civil War Wednesday: Gilgal Church

Confederate earthworks at the Gilgal Church site in Kennesaw, Georgia

Confederate earthworks at the Gilgal Church site in Kennesaw, Georgia. Photo by Michael Shaffer.

Major General Patrick Cleburne

Major General Patrick Cleburne. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Witnessing the death of Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk atop Pine Mountain on June 14, 1864, General Joseph E. Johnston ordered the removal of all troops from the exposed salient the following day. Establishing the Gilgal Church Line, a position the Confederates would hold for 48 hours, Major General Patrick Cleburne’s Division occupied the center of the line near the church. The troops worked quickly to tear away logs and other materials from the house of worship to use in fortifying their earthworks.

Attacking on June 15, the lead elements of the Federal XX Corps included Major General Daniel Butterfield’s Third Division: soldiers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The assailants struggled to dislodge Cleburne’s stubborn defense. A colonel from Indiana joining the advance noted his men faced “…a tremendous fire of artillery and musketry, coming from what proved to be the enemy’s great line of earthworks….”[1] Colonel Benjamin Harrison, a future U.S. president who led the 70th Indiana Infantry, numbered among the Northern soldiers engaged in the fighting.

Major General Daniel Butterfield

Major General Daniel Butterfield. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Realizing their inability to take Cleburne’s position, the Federals fell back. The following day, as fighting occurred near the church, Major General John Schofield moved to the right of Butterfield and managed to turn the Southern flank. He brought up his artillery and placed enfilading fire along the Confederate line. This made the position too hot to maintain and forced Johnston to retract his lines. Major General William Hardee’s Corps fell back to the Mud Creek Line for two days and then occupied the defenses along the Kennesaw Mountain Line. Of the fighting at Gilgal Church, one Federal soldier remembered, “I have visited the battle grounds of ‘Stone River’ and ‘Chicamauga’ [sic] neither of which exhibits near the ‘Scars of Battle’ as does the battle ground of ‘Golgotha.’[2] (Several period accounts contain references to Gilgal as Golgotha.)

Located on Kennesaw Due West Road in Kennesaw, the Gilgal Church site contains remains of original Confederate earthworks, with a rebuilt section of a defensive position. Entering and exiting the small parking section remains difficult, so use caution when visiting this Atlanta Campaign spot in Cobb County.

[1] U.S. Government, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, vol. 38, pt.2 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1985), 384.

[2] Charles Harding Cox, “Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Charles Harding Cox,” Indiana Magazine of History 68, no. 3 (September 1972): 204, accessed November 30, 2015, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/viewFile/9663/13038.

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

Civil War Wednesday: Chattahoochee River Line

“No general, such as he, would invite battle with the Chattahoochee behind him.”[1] Or so Major General William T. Sherman believed when he wrote this dispatch on July 3, 1864. The officer Sherman referenced, General Joseph E. Johnston, had weeks earlier granted permission to begin construction of a defensive position along the Cobb County side of the Chattahoochee River. The Atlanta Campaign unfolded as a series of maneuvers, as Sherman’s armies continually tried to flank the left of the various Confederate positions. Johnston, outnumbered roughly two-to-one, continued to fall back ever closer to Atlanta, hoping he could eventually catch the Federal forces separated and defeat them before they could unite. Thus, before the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, the Southern officer already anticipated yet another retrograde movement.

Francis Shoup

Francis Shoup, Courtesy http://www.mkwe.com/ohio/pages/H019-09.htm

Johnston’s chief of artillery, Brigadier General Francis A. Shoup, approached the commander of the Army of Tennessee, around June 18, 1864, with a novel idea for a defensive line along the river. Johnston approved, requested a train up from Atlanta, and before nightfall of the same day, Shoup stood along the banks of the river surveying the task ahead. To hasten construction of the works, Shoup impressed around 1,000 enslaved persons to build the fortifications. He also canvased local hospitals and brought convalescing soldiers out to lend a hand. Work began, in earnest, and within a few days, strongholds – later named “Shoupades” – began to take shape.

Shoup crafted an original design, which called for the northern point to rest at a position above where the Western & Atlantic Railroad bridge crossed the river, then extending southward below Proctor’s Creek. Johnston, fearing yet another effort to turn his left flank – a valid concern, as Federal cavalry forces indeed neared the river – ordered the line extended below the Mayson-Turner Ferry. The extension resulted in the River Line stretching for six miles or so.

Shoup’s concept of self-supporting fire

Shoup’s concept of self-supporting fire, Courtesy William R. Scaife and William E. Erquitt, The Chattahoochee River Line: An American Maginot (Atlanta: William R. Scaife, 1992).

The forts, built aboveground – per Shoup’s instructions – should rest between 60 and 175 yards apart, so they could preserve the capacity to cross-support, if the position come under attack. Shoup ran what he called palisades, at angles back from each fortification. The palisades met at, in Shoup’s terms, a reentrant position, where he placed artillery pieces, one gun facing to the left, the other to the right. If the Federals charged the line, the cannon would open fire, at first with shell, and switch to canister if the advance continued. Those soldiers able to weather the artillery barrage, and boldly progress, would then face rifle fire from the Army of Tennessee troops in each Shoupade. Shoup designed each Shoupade to hold 80 men. Nearly half of them would stand on the banquet (a ledge running the sides of the fortification), and pour down fire, while the balance of the soldiers reloaded the rifles from the safety of the 12-foot-high walls.

Falling back through Marietta during the evening hours of July 2, the Confederates fought a delaying action on Independence Day along the Smyrna-Ruff’s Mill line. Under cover of darkness, on July 4, Johnston’s soldiers first occupied the various positions along the River Line. No dispatches had gone out to the corps commanders in the Army of Tennessee alerting the troops of the unique design awaiting them at the river. Some of the soldiers who had grown comfortable fighting behind more traditional earthworks – positions, which had saved their lives at Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, and other engagements – began tearing down portions of the line and using the material to build standard defensive positions. Others, notably Major General Patrick Cleburne, understood Shoup’s design, and began working to complete the yet unfinished parts of the line.

Seeing what stood between his armies and Atlanta, Sherman wired Washington on July 6, noting, “…I must study the case a little….”[2] Sherman did not want a repeat of Kennesaw Mountain, where he had attacked the Confederate forces along a strongly fortified position, so after consulting with his chief engineer, Captain Orlando Poe, the two decided to go around the River Line instead of launching a frontal assault. However, this time, instead of moving to their left, they flanked to the right. Portions of Major General John Schofield and Brigadier General Kenner Garrard’s forces crossed the Chattahoochee River on July 9 near Roswell. Holding a position, no longer tenable, Johnston ordered the Army of Tennessee across the river during the evening of July 9.

Shoup poured his heart and soul into the design and construction of the line, and carried a sadness over the evacuation with him for the balance of his life. “I could not then, and I have never been able since, to see why the position should not have been held indefinitely,” he lamented.[3] Today, the River Line Historic Area works to preserve, protect, and interpret these remaining portions of the River Line. For more information, please visit www.riverline.org.

[1] U.S. Government, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, vol. 38, pt.5, 30.

[2] O.R., vol. 38, pt.4, 433.

[3] Shoup, Francis. ‘Dalton Campaign – Works at Chattahoochee River – Interesting History’. Confederate Veteran III, no. 9 (September 1895).

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

Civil War Wednesday: Repealing Secession

James Johnson, Provisional Governor of Georgia

James Johnson, Provisional Governor of Georgia, 1865. Courtesy of New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Responding to a call from Provisional Governor James Johnson, elected delegates gathered in convention in Milledgeville on October 25, 1865, to develop a new state constitution. On the second day of the proceedings, the body unanimously approved an ordinance repealing the 1861 declaration of secession. The official printer of the convention – The Southern Recorder newspaper – reported the act in their October 31 edition.

An Ordinance

To repeal certain ordinances and resolutions therein mentioned, heretofore passed by the people of the State of Georgia in Convention.

We, the People of the State of Georgia in Convention, at our seat of Government, do declare and ordain, That an ordinance adopted by the same people, in convention, on the nineteenth day of January, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-one, entitled “An ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of Georgia and other States united with her under a compact of government entitled ‘the constitution of the United States of America’”; also an ordinance adopted by the same on the sixteenth day of March in the year aforesaid, entitled “An ordinance to adopt and ratify the constitution of the Confederate States of America”; and also all ordinances and resolutions of the same, adopted between the sixteenth day of January and the twenty-fourth day of March, in the year aforesaid, subversive of, or antagonistic to the civil and military authority of the government of the United States of America, under the constitution thereof, be, and the same are hereby repealed.

Various newspapers across the nation informed their readers of Georgia’s action, and critical reviews often proved the result, especially among members of the northern press. The Philadelphia Enquirer, in their October 31 edition, criticized the state in a story entitled “Georgia Lags.” The editors pronounced, “Georgia is not coming up to the necessities of the times with the alacrity which was expected from her.” Comparing results in Milledgeville to similar bodies, previously meeting in other states, they did not find favor with the deeds of the delegates. “Georgia follows the lead of South Carolina, and merely repeals [italics in original] that ordinance, thus justifying the argument that it was legal, and that all that was done under it was lawful, and that the same yet remains of binding force in regard to everything not specially declared unlawful.” One week later, the same editors proposed the original act of secession resulted in “Thousands of her sons…slaughtered…the ruins of homesteads within the broad track of SHERMAN [caps in original]…Georgia is a waste and weeping place….”

Continuing the trend of negative comments on the proceedings in Milledgeville, the Albany Evening Journal reported on October 30, “Georgia is even less practicable and loyal than South Carolina in addressing herself to the work of reconstruction.” A reporter with the Boston Daily Advertiser, who traveled to Milledgeville to cover the convention, offered a slightly more favorable commentary in a November 8 story, which recapped several proceedings from the convention. Noting the delegates’ act of passing a constitution abolishing slavery, he closed the account: “So, without a word to warm the blood of friend or foe, the great Empire State of the South took up the banner of liberty and fell into the ranks of progression.”

Looking for some balance in the news emerging from Milledgeville, a reporter with the Macon Daily Telegraph hoped “…the correspondence of the Northern press…will be confined strictly to facts, and the true spirit of the proceedings…my acquaintance with those, already here, leads me to believe this will be the case!” As the delegates worked to complete a new constitution, the citizens of Georgia faced greater difficulty, as the tumultuous period of reconstruction awaited.

Old State Capitol Building

Old State Capitol Building, Milledgeville

Traveling to Milledgeville today, one can tour the building where the convention delegates met and explore the treasures found in the Old Capitol Museum’s collection. For more information, visit http://oldcapitalmuseum.org/.

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

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: 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.