Civil War Talks on the Life of Jacob Cox, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Franklin, and the War in West Virginia

The “Atlanta Campaign,” a Misnomer?


In May 1864 W.T. Sherman began what has been called the “Atlanta Campaign” against Confederate General Joe Johnston’s Army of Tennessee.  But, as modern historians have pointed out, Atlanta itself was not an objective.   Grant’s order to Sherman stated  that he was to “move against Johnston’s army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources…I leave you free to execute in your own way.”  (In some ways that order is a precursor of Sherman’s objective in his “March to the Sea,” but leave that for the moment).  Grant wanted to be sure that Johnston couldn’t send reinforcements to Lee in the East — and vice versa — even as they tried to defeat these two armies.

When Confederate commander John Bell Hood abandoned Atlanta after Jacob Cox’s men cut his final supply line, the city was open for the Union to move in on September 1/2.  As the rebel army abandoned Atlanta, Sherman had an opportunity to destroy the divided Confederate forces, half of which were at Jonesboro, and half of which were retreating from Atlanta to the east.  Instead, satisfied with the capture of the city, Sherman decided to let Hood go. He told O.O. Howard that because Atlanta had fallen, “I do not wish to waste lives by an assault.” Perhaps forgetting that the objective of his campaign was to destroy the opposing army and not to take Atlanta,  Sherman told his commanders September 4, “The army having accomplished its undertaking in the complete reduction and occupation of Atlanta,” it would take a month’s rest until a new campaign was launched.

Both Sherman and Hood ultimately realized that Sherman should have continued the campaign. Hood wrote later, “I have often thought it strange Sherman should have occupied himself with attacking Hardee’s intrenched position, instead of falling upon our main body on the march round to his rear.” Sherman admitted to Halleck on September 4, “I ought to have reaped larger fruits of victory,” but he blamed the slowness of his commanders instead of his own decision-making. He later acknowledged, “I had not accomplished all, for Hood’s army, the chief objective, had escaped. Then began the real trouble.”




Rawlins Remembered

On my way to an event in downtown DC, I passed through a small park near the White House and found a statue of Civil War Union General John A. Rawlins, which was sculpted by “A Bailly” in 1873 and erected in 1874.    Other than the word “Rawlins” on one side, there is no other notation on the statue, nor any explanatory note nearby — presumably because, unlike today, everyone knew,  in 1874, who Rawlins was and what he had accomplished.

Rawlins, a Galena, Illinois lawyer who met Ulysses Grant there before the war, was Grant’s closest friend and advisor, and his military rank was due almost wholly to his being at Grant’s side from early in the war.   In his Grant biography, Chernow emphasizes, repeatedly, that Rawlins’s roles during the war included keeping Grant away from alcohol.   Although Rawlins was dying of tuberculosis, Grant  named him Secretary of War in 1869.  He served five months before dying.  Jacob Cox, then Secretary of the Interior, and W.T. Sherman were at his bedside.  According to Wikipedia, one of his few accomplishments was approval of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

For reasons unknown, Grant mentioned Rawlins only a few times in his memoir, and gave no emphasis to the key advisory role he had played for many years.

Today, Grant’s epic statue, one of the finest examples of that art, sits in front of the west side of the U.S. Capitol building.  When presidents are inaugurated, they look out over the assembled masses and Grant’s statue is there, front and center.   A mile or so away, Rawlins’s statue remains anonymous.



A “Soapy” Reunion in North Carolina for Sherman and Schofield

In late March 1865, following Jacob Cox’s defeat of Braxton Bragg at Wyse Forks and his completion of the rebuilding of the railroad from New Bern to Goldsboro, he and the other forces under John Schofield were reunited in Goldsboro with Sherman’s army, which had been moving north from South Carolina.

In his memoirs Cox, commanding the 23rd Corps, described the occasion,  which had moments not only of joy, but also of the kind of humor probably typical of men who had fought so long and so hard, and now had victory in sight.   He wrote:

“Sherman joined us in person, and we paraded the Twenty-Third Corps to honor the march-past of Slocum’s Army of Georgia, the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps, as they came in from Bentonville.  Sherman took his place with us by the roadside, and the formal reunion with the comrades who had fought with us in the Atlanta campaign was an event to stir deep emotions in our hears…The men who had traversed the Carolinas were ragged and dirty, their faces were begrimed by the soot of their camp-fires of pine-knots in the forests, but their arms were in order, and they stepped out with the sturdy swing that marked all our Western troops.

“Our men were in new uniforms we had lately drawn from the quartermaster, amd the tatterdemalions who had made the march to the sea were disposed to chaff us as if we were new recruits or pampered garrison troops.  ‘Well, sonnies!~’ a regimental wag cried out, ‘do they issue butter to you regularly now?’  ‘Oh, yes to be sure!’ was the instant retort; ‘but we trade it off for soap!!’  The ironical emphasis on the ‘we’ was well understood and greeted with roars of laughter, and learning that our men were really those who had been with them in Georgia and who had fought at Franklin and Nashville before making the tour of the North to come by sea and rejoin them in North Carolina, they made the welkin ring again with their greeting.”


Holmes County, Ohio; Fort Fizzle, and the Monument to the Civil and other wars

During the Civil War, Holmes County, Ohio (60 miles south of Cleveland) supplied many soldiers for the Union effort.  The residents there also created one of the more unusual internal conflicts when, in 1863, a thousand men resisted conscription.  When federal troops fired on their encampment, most of the men fled — and were ultimately conscripted.  Attached below is a placard describing the events at the aptly-named “Fort Fizzle.”

As is the case in many counties in Ohio, on the town square in Millersburg, the county seat, there is a monument which has a Union Civil War private atop it.  But clearly the Holmes county residents were more frugal than most.   As can be seen from these pictures, the monument covers the contributions of county residents to four wars, not just one!  It has the names Washington,  Jackson, Scott, and Grant on it, and above each name is an inscription noting that Holmes county men served in the Revolutionary, Indian, Mexican, and Civil Wars.   I’d be interested to know if this frugal, efficient approach was used on other town squares.


The First Civil War “Staff Ride” and a Call for Preservation

On our way back from my talk on the Battle of Franklin May 19 to the North Carolina Civil War Round Table in Burlington, NC, we stopped at the Guilford Courthouse Battlefield.  This Revolutionary War battle was a costly British victory, forcing Cornwallis to withdraw for supplies and reinforcements.

While there I recalled that in his memoirs, Jacob Cox, who was the military governor of western North Carolina after the war, described how he led his staff on what was probably the first “staff ride” of a battlefield and why historic preservation was so

important. In modern times our army has led hundreds of future officers on such rides to Civil War battlefields to learn the lessons of tactics and strategy.  They also learn a lesson about historic preservation.

Here is what I wrote in my biography of Cox about this event and why we visit Civil War battlefields.


In the last paragraph of the reminiscences, Cox made an appeal to preserve the memory and reality of the war as he had fought it. While military governor of North Carolina in 1865, he and his staff visited the Revolutionary War battlefield of “Guilford-Old-Court-House” near Greensboro. With an official report in his hand, he and his staff “could trace with complete accuracy every movement of the advancing enemy and his own dispositions to receive the attack.” Cox recalled, “We could see the reasons for the movements on both sides.” He found himself critiquing the movements “as if they had occurred on one of our own [Civil War] recent battlefields.” That in turn, he noted, “made us realize, as perhaps nothing else could have done, how the future visitor will trace the movements in which we have had a part; and when we have been dust for centuries, will follow the path of our battalions from hill to hill, from stream to stream, from the border of a wood to the open ground where the bloody conflict was hand to hand, and will comment upon the history we have made.”

He concluded that future historians would assess “what is accurate in our reports and narratives.” Further, they will come to understand that “the face of the country itself will be an unalterable record which will go far to expose the true reason of things…to show what statements are consistent with the physical conditions under which a battle was fought, and what, if any, are warped to hide a repulse or to claim a false success. Nature herself will thus prove the strongest ally of truth.”

Cox could not have anticipated the degree to which his nineteenth century vision has been fulfilled in our time. Every year millions of visitors walk on the ground where he and other Civil War soldiers fought, fell, and died, studying the strategy, tactics, and movements of two great armies, the memory of which Cox helped to make an indelible part of our nation’s history.”



Battle of Franklin talk at North Carolina CWRT Saturday May 19

Tomorrow I will be speaking for the second time to the North Carolina Civil War Round Table in Burlington, NC, this time about the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.  When I spoke to this group last year about Jacob Cox and his role in North Carolina, the group noted that they seldom heard much about the war in the West.  This in fact is a phenomenon I too have noticed — the groups in the West seldom talk about the East, and vice versa.  It’s not quite as divided as North vs. South, of course, but certainly of interest.

Below is a photo of me with Ed Bearss outside the Carter House — Jacob Cox’s headquarters that day — and the Kurz and Allison painting of the battle showing Jacob Cox encouraging his men to stem the Confederate tide and save the day.  741


Patton of the 22nd Virginia’s Intel Failure

One of the earliest battles in the war, on July 17, 1861, at Scary Creek in what is now West Virginia, just north of Charleston, was a  minor Confederate victory which led to a major Union victory a few days later.  A key reason was the unwitting willingness of Colonel George Patton (the famed WWII General’s grandfather) of the 22nd Virginia Infantry, to tell a Union spy, Pryce Lewis, a few days before Scary Creek, all about Confederate capabilities and emplacements.    Patton was wounded and captured at Scary Creek, but was paroled and returned to battle later.  Among his future accomplishments was “grandfathering” George Patton.

Jacob Cox, the Union commander, used the intel to launch a flanking maneuver around General Wise’s troops holding Charleston.  Wise skedaddled out of town quickly, and after July 23, 1861, the future capital of West Virginia was firmly in Union hands.  battle-of-scary-creek17904093_642155862651075_9014560043996005236_n51GKVtzGzoL9780821420829

Stonewall, the Female Institute, and John B. Floyd

Abingdon, VA is the home of the State Theater of Virginia, one of whose venues was once the home of John B. Floyd, a former VA governor and Civil War (Confederate) general.   We went to see Richard III there last Saturday and saw the two interesting historical markers (below) in front of the building.

The first, about Floyd, is less “praising” than most of these, pointing out the controversy of his defeat at Fort Donelson.  But it doesn’t note that as Secretary of War under Buchanan he shifted military resources to the South during the secession crisis,  nor does it discuss his disputes with fellow-former governor Wise in western Virginia in 1861  which helped the Union establish control of what would become West Virginia.

The second, one of the many echoes of the “Lost Cause,” notes that in 1868 a Presbyterian church bought the property to establish a school for girls, and they named it in honor of Jackson.  It later became “Stonewall Jackson College,” but closed in 1930.


Andrew Johnson: A Cipher and a Failure? Echoes from the First Impeachment Trial

We will be returning to Franklin, Tennessee this week for a talk at the Round Table there, and we will once again be passing through Greeneville, TN, the home of the Andrew Johnson house/visitor center.   The site is rarely visited, but now that Johnson’s impeachment has been the recent subject of historical recall (and, of course, revisionism, depending on your politics), I thought I would re-send this item.

First, I think it should be said that Johnson should not be forgotten solely because of his trial.  In addition, we should remember that he was responsible for so many of the problems of Reconstruction with which we are still living.  Or was he?  The debate will go on, of course, as we Civil War types continue to “re-fight” the war and also Reconstruction.

Below are pictures from the visitor site and Johnson’s statue there, and also a picture I took earlier of the statue of Johnson (along with Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk) on the Raleigh, NC statehouse lawn (these three presidents were born in NC).  Note that Johnson’s accolade is that “he defended the Constitution” — of course that included the 14th amendment, which he strongly opposed.

One of Johnson’s strongest supporters in the early days of Reconstruction was Jacob Cox, who believed Johnson’s policies were consistent with those laid out by Lincoln before the assassination.  Eventually even Cox turned against Johnson when the latter showed almost no ability to adjust to changing attitudes in the Congress and the country.

The following from Cox’s writings is apt:  In a letter in November 1866, Cox wrote: “Johnson has disappointed everybody: the Democrats who adopted hm as well as the Republicans whom he abandoned.”  Calling Johnson a “failure and a cipher,” an embittered Cox said he had stayed as loyal as long as he did only to protect against the kind of Reconstruction that no one could accept.  Cox wrote acerbically, “he is obstinate without being firm, self-opinionated without being capable of systematic thinking, combative and pugnacious without being courageous…The Democracy played with him as an angler with a trout,” and their Southern allies, who had “always looked down upon him as a ‘mean white,’ puffed him with the idea that he was to be the leader of their class of Southern gentlemen.”

Below are images from Cox’s memoirs and from the Johnson site.   Please share this item.






Battle of Franklin Visit

Last weekend I returned to Franklin for the annual “Legacy Dinner” (on Friday the 27th), which celebrates the many advances the Battle of Franklin Trust is making in preservation and expansion of the Civil War-related areas in the city.  Their work is nothing short of fantastic, with many more acres of land now open for visitors and a new visitors center about to be built.  I was of course especially pleased to see the large exhibit in the visitors center of Jacob Cox’s sword, epaulets, and other memorabilia, courtesy of a family trust.  This “unsung hero” of the Battle of Franklin is now getting the recognition he deserves.   Below are three pictures from my most recent visit, of the Carter House (Cox’s headquarters), Carnton Plantation (a confederate hospital), and the statue of a rebel soldier on the town square.  I have also added an older picture, one of my most cherished memories, of my shaking hands with Ed Bearss during the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 2014.  Enjoy!


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