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

Nov. 27, 1864: Union Maneuvers over the Duck River; the Pontoon Problem

Franklin-Nashville Campaign, continued.

After General Jacob Cox deflected Confederate General John Bell Hood’s flanking attack at Columbia on the 24th , Union commander John Schofield knew his outnumbered force needed to move north to avoid being overwhelmed.  However, he didn’t move rapidly toward Nashville, where overall commander George Thomas and his forces were based.  Schofield had been ordered to keep Hood occupied for as long as possible. at least until the Union forces, including the 16th corps coming from Missouri, were coalesced in the Tennessee capital; and that event seemed many days away.

As a result, Schofield ordered all  his forces over the Duck River north of Columbia in the hopes that that would delay Hood for at least a few more days.  Late on the 27th, he had set up a strong defensive position, including by burning the pontoon bridges his men had used to cross the river.  Looking ahead, he sent a message to Thomas asking for pontoon bridges to be prepared for a potential crossing of the Harpeth River north of Franklin.  He did not tell Thomas that he had destroyed his pontoons.  Also, that day reinforcements, including two regiments which would play a key role at the November 30 Battle of Franklin, the 44th Missouri and 183rd Ohio, arrived.  They were accompanied by 1000 cavalrymen led by the newly-minted overall commander of the Union cavalry, the 26 year old “boy wonder” General James Wilson.

John Bell Hood assessed the situation, and was probably pleased that Schofield was not withdrawing rapidly north.  He saw it would be foolhardy to try to cross the Duck River and attack the entrenched Union on the other side.  Intent on getting between Schofield and Nashville, for the second time on this campaign he began thinking about a flanking maneuver.  As he later recalled in his memoirs,  “the situation presented an occasion for one of those interesting and beautiful moves upon the chess-board of war” as  had been done by “the immortal Jackson” at Chancellorsville.

More on that emulation of Jackson tomorrow.  For now, images of Schofield, Hood, Wilson, Columbia, and a typical pontoon bridge.









Franklin-Nashville Campaign Begins; Union Victory November 24, 1864, at Columbia, TN

On November 24, 1864, the Union fended off John Bell Hood’s first attempt to flank their forces during the first battle of the Franklin-Nashville campaign at Columbia, TN.  The Union forces, the 4th and 23rd corps, commanded by John Schofield, had been stationed at Pulaski, TN to fend off Hood’s advance from Alabama.  Hood, with a well-established reputation for aggressiveness, instead tried to get around the Union forces, aiming at Columbia.  The rebel advance was led by none other than Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry, and only a sprinkling of Union troops were in the city as Forrest and Hood’s infantry advanced.

To meet the challenge, Schofield sent his trusted deputy General Jacob Cox along with elements of the two corps to fend off the rebel attack.  They arrived in a timely fashion, easily brushing away Forrest’s advance force and then defeating the rebel infantry who made it to the city that day.  Cox’s efforts were aided ably by 4th corps division commander General George Wagner.  This was the first time that these two men had fought alongside one another, and Cox gained a very positive impression of Wagner’s abilities.  That proved to be an important factor in the days to come of this campaign.

More tomorrow about the next battles in the campaign, but for now, images of Wagner, Cox, and the campaign.  Also of my book on the campaign, “Ohio Heroes of the Battle of Franklin.”

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MLK and the Civil War

At the end of my latest speaking tour aboard the American Cruise Lines ship “America” on the Mississippi, I took the occasion to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.  The building was erected to connect with the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was tragically shot in April 1968.

The museum not only has an excellent collection of artifacts, but it also documents the African-American experience from its early days to today.  The tour of the displays ends outside the motel room which King was occupying when he was assassinated.

The museum also, via its displays and film, provides critical context for the causes and effects of the Civil War.     Highly recommended.

Below are photos of the museum/hotel and a close-up of the room where King was shot — the wreath indicates the exact location.


National Civil Rights Museum housed in the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.20191101_142714

“Targeting” “Beast” Ben Butler in Vicksburg

During a recent visit to a home on the southern Mississippi River, I found a memorable artifact of the war.

General Ben Butler was the Union military commander who took New Orleans early in the war and then remained its military commander for some time.  During that period he implemented several improvements in the city’s operations, including efforts to reduce the threat of malaria and yellow fever.  However he is best known for implementing an order that any woman in that city who disparaged Union troops would be arrested as a “lady of the town” (i.e. a prostitute) and imprisoned.  This did not make him very popular!

One result is that almost from the day of his departure from the city, “Beast” (his local nickname) Butler has been the “target” of abuse from this city’s citizens.  Below is a photo of the device (found in this home) in which the object of the user’s’ “target practice” is Ben Butler’s picture at the bottom of a chamber pot.  No mistaking the opinion of the maker of that device!


butler chamber pot

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Two Days of Missed Opportunities: Antietam

As we commemorate the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam on September 17, we shouldn’t forget that on both the 16th and the 18th a Union attack of any size would have decimated Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  On the 16th almost half of his forces were not in place in Sharpsburg, but McClellan let the fog and indecisiveness stop him from attacking.  On the 18th Lee’s forces were bloodied, unbowed, but ready to be overwhelmed because of the massive casualties of the previous days.  McClellan, with major reinforcements on the way and many troops still fresh (not active the day before), instead did nothing and let Lee escape.

Had McClellan attacked in force either day, Antietam could have been THE turning point of the war as Lee and his men would have been overwhelmed.  Instead we had two more years of death and destruction.

Yes, “what if” is always an interesting discussion.  In fact, that’s why I wrote my second book about just such a scenario.  But it describes a Union victory on the 17th.  Victory on the 16th and 18th, in k20-20 hindsight, admittedly, were there for the asking.




Battle of South Mountain: Who Won the Day?

Although it is little remembered now, for at least a few hours, the Battle of South Mountain, September 14, 1862, was almost one of the most memorable of the Civil War.  As historian Scott Hartwig put it, “thanks to Jacob Cox’s early initiative and aggressive generalship, McClellan had nearly won Fox’s Gap and Turner’s Gap cheaply and early in the day.”

That is, Cox and his men of the Kanawha division (including future presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley) almost pushed the Confederates off South Mountain — and would have with better support (which arrived too late).  As it was, the Union victory that day caused Robert E. Lee to decide to return to Virginia, ceasing his movement to the North at least for a time. Ultimately he reversed that decision and the Battle of Antietam three days later was one result.