Ed Bearss Tribute

There are several notices on Civil War sites that the world’s finest Civil War historian, Ed Bearss, is now not able to give talks and is, at age 97, staying at home for the most part.

I spent an extremely-enjoyable day with Ed on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 2014.  First, we had a discussion at the Lotz House, where Ed was kind enough to accept a copy of my biography of Jacob Cox, the unsung hero of the Battle of Franklin.  Then, we did a three hour tour of the battlefield, beginning at Winstead Hill and ending at the Carter House.  During the tour he and I had an ongoing discussion about the ebb and flow of the battle, and at one point Ed joked that I was in effect channeling Jacob Cox.  (He was right, of course).  That evening there was a formal dinner at which all the participants took the opportunity to chat with Ed, who, as always, was voluble and friendly.

Below is a treasured photo of Ed and me outside the Carter House that day.


Furloughs and Families

In January 1865, after having played a key role in destroying the Confederate Army of Tennessee, General Jacob Cox was granted his first furlough in nearly two years.  His homecoming was probably like that of thousands of men seeing their families after a very long interlude.

Cox took several days to get home to Warren, Ohio.  His eldest son and namesake described the event in his own memoir, Building an American Industry: “I opened the door to see a very tall  man with big bushy beard in a soldier’s uniform.  He stepped in and asked if Mrs. Cox was home, and I flew off to the nursery to tell mother that there was a big soldier in the front room…Imagine the surprise of her children when the big soldier soon came back into the nursery and routed us all out of bed.  It proved to be father home on a furlough.”  The happy family spent a week together.

These events almost did not happen because, as is often the case in war, the exigencies of combat almost kept Cox in the field that January.  He wrote to his wife in late December, “Last night my trunk was packed for home, & my leave of absence for thirty days was snug in my pocket.” when all leave was cancelled.  Washington had ordered George Thomas to continue his pursuit of Hood’s remaining forces, but Cox riposted unhappily to his wife, “Here we know for an absolute certainty that the army is stuck in the mud, but the administration would not believe General Thomas…I am getting ragged & barefoot.  My boots are worn out, my coat is worn out, my waistcoats are worn out, my hat is worn out…if I ever get near civilization again, I shall be obliged to hide in bed somewhere till I can get some clothes made.”  A few days later the campaign ended, and Cox finally got his furlough orders.

Note: Cox’s eldest son was the founder of the Cleveland Twist Drill company, which was a leading manufacturing enterprise in that city for many years.  In 1912 this son gave $100,000 to Oberlin College for the construction of the school’s administration building.  This Italianate structure, named for General Cox, remains today the administrative hub of the college.

Below are pictures of Cox’s son’s book, my biography of Cox,  and the Cox administration building of Oberlin College:


The U.S. Volunteers, the Regular Army, and “Black Jack” Logan’s Revenge

Following up my earlier post noting that 98% of the Union army was NOT in the United States army, but rather in Winfield Scott’s ill-advised product, the U.S. Volunteers, one correspondent noted that in fact the volunteers received pensions after the war and were core members of veterans organizations.  Point taken.

However, the Volunteer Generals were never given major commands, which were always given to West Pointers.  Perhaps the  most egregious example was when, during the Atlanta campaign, Sherman denied John “Black Jack” Logan the command of the Army of the Tennessee after General James McPherson was killed.  Sherman wrote later that he saw Logan as a volunteer who “looked to personal fame and glory as auxiliary and secondary to political ambition, and not as professional soldiers.” An angry Logan wrote to his wife, “West Point must have all under Sherman, who is an infernal brute.” 

Logan was eventually given command of that army, but only days before the Grand Review in May, 1865, and only because O.O. Howard had become head of the Freedman’s Bureau.  Clearly Logan wasn’t satisfied.  In subsequent years as a member of both the House of Representatives and Senate he consistently acted to reduce both Sherman’s authority as army chief and his budgets.

Logan also became the first commander of the most important veterans’ group, the Grand Army of the Republic, and he is credited by some with the creation of the Memorial Day celebrations.  He also wrote a book, “The Volunteer Soldier in America,” which not only extolled the efforts of volunteers in every American war, but also downplayed the role of “regulars.”

Interestingly, in a “confidential” letter to Jacob Cox in 1882, Sherman wrote that he in fact wanted to name Logan as commander.  But he claimed that General George Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland on the Atlanta campaign, “was unusually emphatic that he never could or would act in UNISON with Logan as an equal.”   Having tried to deflect blame, Sherman nevertheless admitted, “I had to stand the brunt of Logan’s anger and hatred” thereafter.

Below are images of the Grand Army of the Republic, Logan’s statue on Logan Circle in Washington, DC (the only one not dedicated to a West Point grad), and Logan’s book.


98% of the Men in The Union Army Were Not in the Union Army

One of the most important missteps taken by the Union as it faced the threat of secession was General-in-Chief Winfield Scott’s decision to create the U.S. Volunteers to parallel the U..S. army.  He believed the war would be a short one,  and he had had a negative experience with volunteers in the Mexican War.  So his policy was that the regulars in the army could do all the fighting, while the volunteers could do guard duty, watch the borders,  and act as auxiliaries.  In fact,  contrary to Scott’s vision, the 16,000 man army at the opening of the war would be “supplemented” by millions of volunteers, who would do the bulk of the fighting.   (The South, by contrast, had a “unified army”).

Jacob Cox, one of the best Union “political generals,” opined in his memoirs that his soldiers were disgruntled because they not recognized as being in the United States army.  He noted an additional problem was the “anomalous and hurtful” rivalry between West Point-trained Generals and Political Generals.  The former, he wrote, often “refused to acknowledge the equality of the volunteers.”  The latter, he wrote, saw the regular officers as “a would-be aristocracy and derided them as martinets.”

Over time, as the volunteers proved themselves, relations between the two groups improved, and volunteers like Cox, John Logan, and Joshua Chamberlain achieved both senior commands and recognition by the regulars as capable military leaders.

Cox believed that a “citizens army,” as Napoleon had created, would have been a far better approach.  As he wrote, “If the regular army organization is so narrow it can’t be expanded in time of emergency, what use is it?  If a volunteer organization is fit to decide the  great wars of the nation, is it not ridiculous to keep an expensive organization of regulars f the petty contests with Indians?…what is needed is a system flexible enough to provide or the increase of the army to any size required without losing any of the advantage of character or efficiency which, in any respect, pertained to it as a regular army.”

Over time the U.S. armed forces have in fact evolved in this way, so Cox’s views were quite prescient.  But the fact remains that some 98% of the Union army was not, oddly enough, in the Union army.

Below are images of Scott and Cox’s memoirs.



Battle of Franklin: Pontoon Miscommunication Led to the Battle

The Civil War is rife with examples of miscommunication and/or refusals to communicate which led to significantly changed circumstances.    John Pope’s refusal to accept the word of several of his senior generals led to Lee’s overwhelming victory at Second Manassas.  Burnside’s failure to order — in so many words — William Franklin at Fredericksburg to aim to sweep Lee’s right led to the disaster at Marye’s Heights.

The Battle of Franklin took place on November 30, 1864 after a seemingly-minor miscommunication.  On November 27 Union commander John Schofield had used pontoons to build a bridge to get his army over the Duck River at Columbia.  He then proceeded to burn them so the Confederates could not use them.  Knowing that he was facing a much larger army than his, the Army of Tennessee under John Bell Hood, Schofield even then was planning his withdrawal north.

So he sent a message to commander George Thomas in Nashville noting that the bridge over the Harpeth River north of Franklin had previously been destroyed, and stating, “would it not be well to replace it by a pontoon bridge?”  Thomas, perhaps wondering why Schofield was asking a question to which the answer was obvious, replied, “You can send some of the pontoons  you used at Columbia to Franklin to lay a bridge there.”  In the frantic situation of the next few days, Schofield apparently did not pay attention to the words Thomas used, and instead on November 29 he repeated his request for pontoons, again making no reference to the destruction at Columbia.

Thus, when Schofield arrived at Franklin the morning of November 30, there were no pontoons.  He set out to re-build a former bridge, a task which took him and his engineers most of the day.  In fact, new pontoons arrived after noon, but Schofield  ignored them, continuing on his re-building task.  The wagons of the army were able to use the new bridge to get over the Harpeth by the early afternoon, but Hood’s attack at   4 PM ensured that there would in fact be a Battle of Franklin.

Schofield biographer Donald Connelly has written, “the delay to repair and improve the bridge triggered the ensuing battle at Franklin and would fan discord and suspicion between Thomas and Schofield” for years to come.

What if the pontoons had been there as requested?  Schofield would likely have been able to get his entire army to Brentwood, 2 miles to the north, by 4 PM.  Maybe then historians would have been writing about the Battle of Brentwood as Hood ordered a flank attack led by Nathan Bedford Forrest!

Below are images of what the repaired bridge might have looked like at Franklin, Schofield,  and Thomas




Battle of Franklin: Three Ohio Heroes vs. Two Ohio Rebels

There are a few examples of senior officers who fought in the Civil War for the “other side.”  For the Union, two prime examples were Virginians Winfield Scott and George Thomas.  The Confederate ranks included Pennsylvanian John Pemberton.

My book “Ohio Heroes of the Battle of Franklin,” outlines how three Generals, Jacob Cox, Emerson Opdycke, and Jack Casement, “saved the day” for the Union at a perilous moment on November 30, 1864.  Opposing them that day were two other Ohio Generals, Otho Strahl and Daniel Reynolds, but they fought for “the other side” as members of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Strahl and Reynolds were born in Ohio and were classmates at Ohio Wesleyan University, from which they both graduated.  They migrated South in the 1850’s, where they both studied law.  When the war began they were practicing lawyers, Strahl in Tennessee, Reynolds in Arkansas.  They were prominent citizens , and they decided to support the cause of rebellion.

Like many “citizen-soldiers,” they rose quickly through the ranks.  Strahl fought at many of the key western battles, including Shiloh, Perryville, Chickamauga, and the Atlanta campaign.  Reynolds fought in the Tullahoma campaign, Chickamauga, and Atlanta.

At Franklin Strahl was leading his men on foot near the front lines when he was hit by three bullets in the head,  He was one of six Confederate general officers to be killed that day as the Confederacy suffered a major body blow.  Reynolds was wounded at Franklin, but he was able to carry on through the Battle of Nashville, December 15-16, when the Army of Tennessee was obliterated.  He later lost a leg at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina.  After the war, he returned to Arkansas, where he became a prosperous lawyer and planter.

Below are images of Strahl and Reynolds and the battlefield at Franklin.  Strahl’s name can be seen near the front line, Reynolds’s further back on the right.




Nov. 30, 1864: The Battle of Franklin Part 3: The Triumph of the Defensive

Confederate commander John Bell Hood launched the final frontal infantry attack of the war at 4PM that day.  While George Wagner’s men held off the onslaught of some 20,000 men for a while, the small group was quickly overwhelmed. Many were captured, but the others ran pell-mell toward the opening in the breastworks on Columbia Pike.  As Union commander John Schofield directed artillery attacks against the rebels from Fort Granger, the rebel onslaught came to the main line and, in the middle, went through and over it.  To their left and right their attacks were thwarted, including to the east as the Confederates got entangled in the Orange Osage and were easy targets for Jack Casement’s men’s repeater rifles.  But in the middle, the Union’s crisis was at hand.  At about 4:30, five minutes before sunset, the Union forces were teetering on the edge as the men fought in a maelstrom of rifle fire and hand-to-hand combat.

But then the Union forces came to the fore to “save the day.”  Commandant on the line General Jacob Cox had had the foresight of setting up a second line.  Seeing the crisis, he sent a courier to tell Colonel Emerson Opdycke to come to the center to assist.  He then rode to the center, rallying his men from the second line, and they responded.  Several regiments, including the 44th Missouri, 175th Ohio, and 183rd Ohio, rushed to meet the challenge, even as the artillery from Fort Granger and the rifles from Casement and General Ruger held the left and right.  Soon after, Opdycke and his brigade arrived and helped to seal off the rebel attack, forming a new defensive line along Cox’s second line.  By 5 PM the crisis had been met and the Union suffered no more rebel incursions.

Hood, viewing the battle and seeing something resembling the Union disaster at Chickamauga, continued to send his men forward in the dark.  From 5-7 PM they suffered countless casualties.  At 7 Hood sent some of S.D. Lee’s men, who had just arrived from Columbia, to test the Union right, and they too were thwarted.  Though the fighting continued until 10, at 7 Cox told Schofield he could hold the line indefinitely. Soon after, Schofield telegraphed Thomas that the day had been won and that he would follow Thomas’s orders to continue the withdrawal over the Harpeth that evening.   Cox protested that he could finish off Hood the next day, but Schofield demurred.

At midnight the Union forces began their withdrawal over the Harpeth toward Nashville.  By leaving the field to the Confederates, the latter was, at least technically the victor.  But this was a classic Pyrrhic victory — Union casualties were 1/3 those of the Confederates, with the death count 1700 vs. 170.  Six Confederate generals,  including Patrick Cleburne, were killed, and dozens of senior officers in the devastated Army of Tennessee were dead or seriously wounded.  The Union army, fighting behind strong breastworks, proved that fighting on the defensive was, by this stage of the war, the preferred approach.   The Confederates proved that Napoleonic infantry charges were pointless and hopeless in the age of booming cannon, repeater rifles, and strong breastworks.

Two weeks later, at the Dec. 15-16 Battle of Nashville, Hood’s Army of Tennessee was finally obliterated.  But it had suffered an irreparable blow at the Battle of Franklin.

Below are images of the battle, including illustrating the two Union lines; a painting of the fighting near the Carter House; a Kurz and Allison painting showing General Cox leading his men; and  my book about the battle. Franklin_battle_1630battle-of-franklin-opdyckes-tigers-repulse-rebel-breakthroughcropped-1280px-kurz_and_allison_-_battle_of_franklin_november_30_1864-e1516570470556.jpg