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

Meigs, Memories, and Pensions

One of the most important Union military leaders who most people know little about is General Montgomery Meigs.  As Quartermaster General of the army, he created a supply and logistics system which were as nearly as important to winning the war as battlefield triumphs.  But because he worked behind the scenes and did not command troops in battle, his essential work was insufficiently-heralded.

Meigs is a bit better known as the person who recommended that Robert E. Lee’s home in Arlington, just across the Potomac from Washington, be used as a cemetery for Union dead.   “Arlington Cemetery” today remains a vivid reminder of the effects of war, as military veterans from the Civil War and subsequent wars are interred there nearly daily.

After the war Meigs also contributed to the welfare of the Union soldier and his family by designing the “Pension Building” in Washington.  The home of the first large-scale public welfare program, there hundreds of clerks processed the claims of Union veterans for their military pensions.  Today the edifice is the National Building Museum, whose Great Hall is the site of Presidential Inaugural balls.  But the outside of the building, with a lengthy frieze of Union soldiers, remains a vivid reminder of the original purpose of the building.


Centreville Markers — Lone Reminders of Conflict

Manassas Battlefield Park, where the battles of First and Second Manassas (or Bull Run) took place, is just about six miles from the city of Centreville, Virginia.  But whereas the National Park Service has many markers in Manassas about those battles, in Centreville, a critical crossroads early in the Civil War, tbere are very few indications of the impact of the conflict.

Below are four relatively-new markers, signposts telling the reader what happened in that area.  Appropriately, the signs are on the grounds of the Centreville Public Library, where the Bull Run Civil War Round Table has its monthly meetings (second Thursday of the month at 7 PM).  (You can see the library in the background of the first picture).

I am speaking to this group, of which I am proud to be a member, on February 14 about the Union command controversy and the Maryland campaign.  The latter was, as we all know, an offshoot of what happened at Second Manassas.  Enjoy!



Christmas in Knoxville, 1863

Late in 1863, after Union General Ambrose Burnside had successfully fended off the challenge from Confederate General James Longstreet to take Knoxville, Tennessee, he was “rewarded” by being replaced by General John Foster.  There was very little fighting in the region over the next few weeks as Foster and Longstreet maneuvered against one another, to little effect, in the poor conditions of the Tennessee winter.

Foster’s key subordinate, General Jacob Cox, wrote to his wife that “The nature of the country is such that neither party inclines to take the offensive.” He added that the wretched environment his men had to bear while in winter quarters was worse than that he had experienced in West Virginia. Their morale needed constant bolstering, and part of Cox’s role as commander was “going through the regimental camps and giving such encouragement and cheer” as he could. The men bore up well, and “The spirit of the troops is magnificent. It would hardly be believed, but yet it is true, that these brave fellows lying here on the frozen ground, without shoes, clad in tattered rags, & fed on half rations are re-enlisting for a new term of three years by whole regiments.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the army’s officers did not suffer such privations.  In his memoirs, Cox wrote that in the days before Christmas his staff scoured the countryside for food.  They clearly were successful, because on Christmas day Cox hosted his staff and his good friend, Colonel Emerson Opdycke, who was stationed nearby as part of George Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, to a festive dinner.  Opdycke recalled that they ate “oyster soup, roast turkey, roast chicken, roast mutton . . . coffee with coffee sugar in it, and a pudding.”  He added, not surprisingly given Cox’s strict moral code, “but no liquors of any kind!”

Nearly a year later, on November 30, 1864, Cox and Opdycke would play the key roles in defending the Union forces against John Bell Hood’s attack at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.

Below are pictures of Opdycke and Cox and the Battle of Franklin

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Speaking/Cruising on the Mississippi River

I am pleased to announce that beginning in 2019 I will be the “Civil War Expert” on several Mississippi river cruises on the American Cruise Lines paddlewheelers.  The schedule is not finalized, and I could be on more cruises, but for right now I will be on three: one in late April, one in late May, and one in early June.

Here is a link to the relevant Lower Mississippi cruises, which go weekly between Memphis and New Orleans:

American Cruise Lines also cruises on the Columbia, Hudson, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers, as well as the Intra-Coastal waterways between Baltimore and Jacksonville.  I would hope to be able to be selected for those in the future.

Bonnie Kathryn and I were passengers on the Mississippi and Columbia River cruises a few years ago, and it was a very enjoyable experience.  We are looking forward to being “working passengers” on their cruises in the future.




Speaking Tomorrow in La Plata, MD at the Southern MD CW Round Table

Following is the notice from that group’s web-site about my talk tomorrow about the Battle of Franklin.  Hope you can make it.

December 11, 2018

The Southern Maryland Civil War Round Table is pleased to announce that its next meeting will take place on Tuesday, December 11, 2018 at 7:00pm at the College of Southern Maryland’s Learning Resources Center, Room LR-102, at 8730 Mitchell Road in La Plata, MD.


Join us tonight as we welcome Mr. Gene Schmiel, who will discuss Union General Jacob Cox and the Battle of Franklin, TN.

“Like so many men of his era, Jacob Cox never expected to be a military man, especially one who would play a key role for the Union at, among others, the Battles of Antietam and Franklin.  In his youth Cox was a ministerial student at Oberlin College, and his quiet, studious, introverted persona seemed to be ill-suited to the military life.  However, he rose to the occasion sufficiently well that General W.T. Sherman offered him a brigadier generalship in the regular army at the war’s end.  Instead Cox returned to civilian life, where he became a true Renaissance man, becoming Governor of Ohio, Secretary of the Interior, congressman, president of the Wabash Railroad, president of the University of Cincinnati, and Dean of the Cincinnati Law School.  He also wrote four histories of the war which are still today considered objective analyses of that conflict.

The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, dealt a major body blow to the Confederate Army of Tennessee, which suffered its final defeat and resultant dissolution two weeks later at the Battle of Nashville, effectively ending the war in the West.  Confederate commander John Bell Hood launched the Civil War’s final major offensive charge that day with 20,000 men, fully 50% larger than Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, attacking 13,000 Union men, most of whom were stationed behind hastily-constructed but formidable barriers.  Hood suffered an inevitable debacle at a time when most commanders had learned that fighting on the defensive was a far preferable tactic.

The Union defensive line at Franklin was commanded and created by General Jacob D. Cox.  He was given this role by the Union commander, John Schofield, who had learned during the Atlanta campaign earlier that year that Cox was a dependable and capable subordinate.  The defensive line was nearly-impregnable, but a mistake by one of Cox’s subordinates allowed the Confederates to penetrate a hundred yards into the center of the line.  At that critical time Cox, who had presciently created a potential second line of defense behind the first, displayed conspicuous leadership and saved the day.  As one of his men wrote later,  ‘General Cox remained mounted while the confusion was greatest, and during the break in the line, he was in the midst, displaying heroic bravery, with hopeful look and sword poised above. Gen. Cox’s quiet but superb magnetism impelled every man who caught his eye to redoubled effort in wresting victory from defeat.’

While Hood announced to his  men the next day that Franklin was a victory, the author of a superb Confederate memoir, Company Aytch, Private Sam Watkins, wrote later, “I shrink from the butchery…My flesh trembles, and creeps and crawls when I think of it today.  It was the finishing stroke to the independence of the Southern Confederacy.”

Grant’s Postwar Views on Many Topics

I just finished reading an edited version of “Conversations with General Grant,” a book written by John Russell Young of the “New York Herald” based on their talks during Grant’s post-presidency world tour in 1877-9.   I had read excerpts before, some of which I used in my biography of Jacob Cox, but this edition contained many revealing — not to say astounding — thoughts from the 18th president.

  1. He says he wasn’t concerned about England and/or France recognizing the Confederacy, not only because the war would have gone on anyway — leading to a Union victory — and because it “would have meant the withdrawal of England from the American continent.  Canada would have become ours.  If Sheridan, for instance, with our resources, could not have taken Canada in thirty days, he should have been cashiered.”
  2. Speaking of Stonewall Jackson, he said that at West Point, “some of us regarded him as a fanatic. Sometimes his religion took strange forms – hypochondria – fancies that an evil spirit had taken possession of him.” Noting that Jackson’s early victories had been over mediocrities, “if he had attempted on Sheridan the tactics he attempted so successfully upon others, he would not only have been beaten, but destroyed.”
  3. He said, “Lee, of course, was a good soldier, and so was Longstreet…I do not know that there was any better than Joe Johnston…he gave me more anxiety than any of the others.”
  4. Noting his disappointment that the South had remained bitter about the war, Grant said, “looking back, over whole policy of Reconstruction, it seems to me that the wisest thing would have been to have continued for some time the military rule…it would have been just to all, to the negro who wanted freedom, the white man who wanted protection, the Northern man who wanted Union.” Instead, blacks got the vote, but as a result, “we have given the old slaveholders forty votes in the electoral college.  They keep those votes, but disfranchise the negroes.  That is one of the gravest mistakes in the policy of reconstruction.” He added that while this looked like a political triumph for the South, “it is not.  The Southern people have nothing to dread more than the political triumph of the men who led them into secession.  That triumph was fatal to them in 1860.  It would be no less now.”51zQBDaoAoL._SY346_

A Busy November/December on the Road

This November and December I have four talks scheduled:On November 8 I will be at the Chesapeake CWRT  in Arnold, MD, speaking about the life of Jacob D. Cox.

On November 14 I will be at the Western Reserve CWRT in Berea, Ohio, speaking about the creation of West Virginia during the Civil War and the crucial role played by Jacob Cox in securing it for the Union.

On November 15 I will be at the Gettysburg CWRT in that city, speaking about the Battle of Franklin and Jacob Cox’s critical role there.

On December 11 I will be at the Southern Maryland CWRT in Lat Plata, MD, speaking also about the Battle of Franklin and Jacob Cox.

Hope to see you there!007