Civil War: Thanksgiving Foods | Inside Adams: Science, Technology & Business

Civil War: Thanksgiving Foods

November 26, 2013 by Ellen Terrell

via Civil War: Thanksgiving Foods | Inside Adams: Science, Technology & Business.


Civil War IEDs

I came across this in the memoirs of William T. Sherman. He was describing a scene on his famous (or infamous, if you’re from the South) march to the sea in November and December 1864.

“On the 8th, as I rode along, I found the column turned out of the main road, marching through the fields. Close by, in the corner of a fence, was a group of men standing around a handsome young officer, whose foot had been blown to pieces by a torpedo planted in the road. He was waiting for a surgeon to amputate his leg, and he told me that he was riding along with the rest of his brigade-staff of the Seventeenth Corps, when a torpedo trodden on by his horse had exploded, killing the horse and literally blowing off all the flesh from one of his legs. I saw the terrible wound, and made full inquiry into the facts. There had been no resistance at that point, nothing to give warning of danger, and the rebels had planted eight-inch shells in the road, with friction-matches to explode them by being trodden on. This was not war, but murder, and it made me very angry.”

I was struck by how this scene has repeated itself over and over in the past decade, with a HMMWV or MRAP in place of the horse. When faced with a superior enemy force, an insurgency is of course forced to adopt irregular tactics.

Sherman continued with his solution to the problem, and the route-clearance procedures he implemented:

“I immediately ordered a lot of rebel prisoners to be brought from the provost-guard armed with picks and spades, and made them march in close order along the road, so as to explode their own torpedoes, or to discover and dig them up. They begged hard, but I reiterated the order, and could hardly help laughing at their stepping so gingerly along the road, where it was supposed sunken torpedoes might explode, but they found no other torpedoes till near Fort McAllister.”

I’m really beginning to like Sherman.


Grant: Butcher of the Wilderness?

When Ulysses Grant assumed command of all Union armies in the spring of 1864, Lincoln at last had found the aggressive leader he had needed and wanted. Frustrated by the failures of McClellan, Meade, and Halleck to prosecute the war in a vigorous and aggressive manner, Lincoln was very pleased with Grant’s plans to take the fight to the enemy throughout all theaters. Grant believed that all the Union armies needed to go on the offensive simultaneously and in a coordinated manner in order to keep the Confederacy from utilizing its interior lines of defense and communication to reinforce its disparate elements. Grant’s plan called for Nathaniel Banks to operate on the Gulf Coast, Benjamin Butler to move on Richmond from the Peninsula, and Franz Sigel to harass Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley. Meade’s Army of the Potomac, meanwhile, would move overland from Washington to Richmond, with Grant accompanying. Lincoln agreed that pressuring the enemy at multiple points was ideal, stating that “those not skinning can hold a leg.”[1] Unfortunately for Grant and his plans, “the leg-holders bungled their jobs.”[2] Banks’s Red River campaign in Louisiana was a disaster, and he never moved on Mobile as planned, while Sigel did little more than display his “skill at retreating” in the Shenandoah Valley.[3] Butler’s expedition up the James River got off to an encouraging start, but ended with his army trapped between the James and the Appomattox River.[4] These failures would put additional—and certainly unneeded—pressures on Meade’s Army of the Potomac, but Grant surely understood and accepted Moltke’s admonition “that no plan survives contact with the enemy.”[5]

Grant’s decision to travel with the Army of the Potomac was controversial and probably created confusion about who was actually in charge, both inside and outside the chain of command.[6] Grant, however, shared the frustration of Lincoln and others in Washington at the unwillingness of Union commanders to pursue the enemy and destroy them after victories at Antietam and Gettysburg. Union armies in the eastern theater had repeatedly disengaged after both victories and defeats to return to Washington and lick their wounds. In accompanying Meade, Grant intended to ensure that the Army of the Potomac would pursue and engage Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in a thoroughly aggressive manner. These tactics would lead to more casualties, but Grant believed that such a strategy would end the war and ultimately lead to fewer lives lost.[7]

As the Army of the Potomac began crossing the Rapidan River on May 4, Lee correctly ascertained Grant’s intentions and began moving his forces into blocking positions in the tangled brush of the Wilderness. Fighting was intense, and the thick scrub forest ensured that Federal forces could not maneuver well enough to bring their superior numbers to bear. As the fighting raged on throughout the fifth and sixth of May, neither side was able to gain a decisive advantage. Grant continued to press the fight despite the “defeatist attitudes” of his troops, and upbraided his subordinates for presuming to know Lee’s intentions. “’Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing what Lee is going to do,’ he barked. ‘Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault and land in our rear and on both our flanks at the same time.’”[8] Grant eventually recognized the Wilderness as the “meat grinder” that it was, and moved his army to the east and around Lee’s left flank. The Army of the Potomac had suffered more casualties than the Army of the Northern Virginia, but the Union army was larger and “could afford this. Lee could not.”[9]

Grant’s tactics were called into question by Northern Democrats appalled by the casualties his aggressiveness had caused. They “began denouncing [him] as a ‘butcher,’ a ‘bull-headed Suvarov’ who was sacrificing the flower of American manhood.”[10] Two months of awful campaigning had indeed produced horrific carnage, with “some 65,000 northern boys…killed, wounded, or missing since May 4.”[11] But these charges against Grant were patently unfair. Grant understood better than any of his civilian critics that war was an awful business, and that “its glory,” as Sherman put it, “is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentation of distant families.”[12] Both Grant and Sherman understood that in order to end the war, it needed to be fought with utmost vigor, and that only aggressive campaigning would put an eventual stop to the bloodletting. Furthermore, the tactics employed by both sides did not keep pace with advances in technology. Each side suffered correspondingly higher casualties when it was on the offensive, the Confederates losing more men in its offensive campaigns of 1862 and 1863 than the Union. Grant’s 1864 campaign reversed the offensive situation and the casualty count.[13]

The soldiers of the Army of the Potomac did not seem to agree with the critics, for even “with their extremely close-up perspective on the battle they had just fought, the combat…did not seem all that much different from that of Chancellorsville or any of the other bloody and indecisive defeats the army had suffered at Lee’s hands.”[14] The difference under Grant, however, was that after receiving some knocks from the Army of Northern Virginia, the Union soldiers did not retire from the field, but kept pressing the attack. As the men emerged from the Wilderness, they approached a crossroads that offered a choice to go back north or head south. As the column turned south toward Richmond, and “despite the prospect of another immanent bloody meeting with Lee’s army, the men of the Army of the Potomac waved their caps and cheered at the realization that they had fought a battle and were still advancing.”[15]


[1] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 721-2; Donald Stoker, Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 351-2,; Steven E. Woodworth, This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 250-1.

[2] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 722.

[3] Ibid., 722-4, quotation on 724.

[4] Ibid., 723-4.

[5] Woodworth, This Great Struggle, 251.

[6] Joseph T. Glatthaar, “U.S. Grant and the Union High Command during the 1864 Valley Campaign,” in The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 37,; Robert N. Thompson, “The Folly and Horror of Cold Harbor,” Military History 23, no. 8 (November 2006): 40-1,

[7] Stoker, Grand Design, 368.

[8] Woodworth, This Great Struggle, 254.

[9] Ibid., 256.

[10] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 742.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Sherman quoted in Stoker, Grand Design, 358.

[13] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 476-7.

[14] Woodworth, This Great Struggle, 256.

[15] Ibid.

McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign

After spending the winter of 1861-1862 preparing his Army of the Potomac, all the while being prodded by Lincoln to advance on the rebels, General George B. McClellan finally agreed to take action. Lincoln had wanted McClellan to attack Joseph Johnston’s Confederate army at Centreville and then push straight on through to Richmond. McClellan resisted, claiming that the Rebel defenses at Centreville were too stout and that an assault would merely be a disastrous repeat of Bull Run. McClellan presented an alternative plan that involved shipping troops down to Fort Monroe, at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, and then speeding the army up the Peninsula to attack Richmond from the southeast, behind Johnston’s lines. Lincoln feared that this was simply another McClellan delay, and he directly ordered the general to probe the rebel defenses at Centreville. To Lincoln’s dismay and McClellan’s embarrassment, Johnston had already evacuated his army to Richmond, and the fortifications left behind indicated that the Confederate position had never been as large or imposing as McClellan had claimed.[1] Artillery emplacements were discovered to contain “Quaker guns”—logs painted black to resemble cannons—and “there had clearly been no more than 45,000 rebels on the Manassas-Centreville line, fewer than half the number McClellan had estimated.”[2]

Johnston’s retreat to Richmond negated McClellan’s plan to come in behind him up the Peninsula, but McClellan continued to press for this option. Lincoln was skeptical, and insisted that McClellan would “find the same enemy, and the same, or equal intrenchments” whether he attacked up the Virginia Peninsula or overland from Washington.[3] Lincoln was also concerned that the Peninsula plan would leave Washington undefended should Johnston decide to make a move in that direction, and though the president “did not quite share [the abolitionists’] darkest suspicions” that such a move was deliberate on McClellan’s part, “he did find the matter troubling.”[4] McClellan promised to leave enough troops behind to defend Washington, though Lincoln detached more soldiers than McClellan had wanted, and the Army of the Potomac embarked for Hampton Roads, Virginia.[5]

In early April 1862, McClellan pushed up the Peninsula from Fort Monroe and approached Yorktown, where Confederate General John B. Magruder and thirteen thousand rebel soldiers hunkered down behind extensive defensive lines. McClellan was convinced that Magruder had far more troops than he actually had and that the fortifications would make a frontal assault far too costly. McClellan opted to besiege Yorktown and spent nearly a month preparing trenches and bringing up heavy guns with which to pound the rebel defenses. Lincoln was irritated by this delay, but McClellan insisted that it was necessary, writing “to his wife that if Lincoln wanted to break the rebel lines, ‘he had better come & do it himself.’”[6] While the Army of the Potomac toiled in the expanding trenches around Yorktown, Johnston exploited the delay and moved his entire army to the Peninsula. Finally, on the night of May 3-4, and just as McClellan was ready to begin his bombardment, the Confederates evacuated Yorktown and headed back up the Peninsula. Jefferson Davis was angry with Johnston over this surrendering of territory, but no more so than Lincoln was with McClellan for the delay that allowed so many rebel troops to escape and prepare defenses farther up the Peninsula and closer to Richmond.[7]

McClellan pursued the fleeing Confederate army, and by May, his “army of 100,000 had advanced to within hearing of Richmond’s church bells.”[8] Confederate morale was understandably low, and Jefferson Davis pleaded with Johnston to attack McClellan’s army while McClellan dawdled outside Richmond. Johnston finally acted on May 31, and the indecisive Battle of Seven Pines inflicted a combined eleven thousand casualties on the two armies, including Johnston himself.[9] General Robert E. Lee was selected by Davis to command Johnston’s Army of Northern Virginia, and the “quiet Virginian” quickly began to take the offensive.[10] In a series of engagements known as the Seven Days’ Battles, Lee pushed McClellan and his army south to Harrison’s Landing on the James River. The Army of Northern Virginia was ably assisted in this endeavor by Jeb Stuart’s excellent cavalry and reinforced by Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley army. Despite the fact that the Army of the Potomac more than held its own against the Confederates during much of the fighting, McClellan continued to issue orders to withdraw, prompting General Phil Kearny to remark, “Such an order can only be prompted by cowardice or treason…We ought instead of retreating to follow up the enemy and take Richmond.”[11] McClellan wanted to remain at Harrison’s Landing, but because of mounting disease casualties in the hot and humid swamps, Lincoln ordered McClellan to evacuate in July 1862.[12]

Whether McClellan’s caution was attributable to the prudence of a wise commander or, as some radical Republicans suggested, to sympathy with the Confederate cause, it is nonetheless clear that the commander of the Army of the Potomac allowed numerous opportunities to pass by him. Russel Beatie is obviously an admirer of McClellan’s, and his conclusion was that the Peninsula Campaign failed because of Lincoln’s micromanaging and unwarranted intrusions into day-to-day operations. There is no doubt some truth to Beatie’s assessment, but his defense of McClellan often feels like an armchair general’s after-the-fact rationalization, full of unnecessarily inflammatory accusations directed toward Lincoln and his administration and endless excuses for McClellan’s obvious failures.[13] Had McClellan attacked overland to Centreville when Lincoln wanted him to, it is quite possible that the Army of the Potomac would have succeeded in smashing through defenses that were not as formidable as McClellan estimated them to be. At Yorktown, McClellan, in keeping with the standard doctrinal admonition never to leave the enemy in your rear, chose not to bypass Magruder and instead undertook a time-wasting siege. McClellan could have left a sizeable force capable of hemming Magruder in and keeping reinforcements out while navy gunboats bottled up the York River approaches. Thus free to resume his campaign, McClellan could have raced up the Peninsula and arrived at Richmond before Johnston had a chance to fully strengthen his positions and the city’s defenses. Once at Richmond, McClellan could have quickly assessed the situation and formulated a plan to assault the city, but he once again insisted on a siege. When Lee assumed command, he at once went on the offensive and pushed the Army of the Potomac back down to the James River and eventually back to Washington. McClellan was understandably worried about excessive casualties, in part because he had a habit of vastly overestimating his enemy’s strength of numbers. But as Stonewall Jackson was proving in the Shenandoah Valley, speed of maneuver could often negate numerical superiority, and even if McClellan’s army was outnumbered (which it was not), his constant delays did nothing but allow the Confederates to reinforce their troop strength and prepare their physical defenses. In the end, McClellan himself, whether through prudential caution or treasonous delay, was the reason the Peninsula Campaign failed.

[1] Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 112-3.

[2] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 424.

[3] Lincoln quoted in McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 424.

[4] Steven E. Woodworth, This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 104.

[5] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 424-5.

[6] Ibid., 426.

[7] Ibid., 427.

[8] Ibid., 454.

[9] Ibid., 462.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Quoted in ibid., 470.

[12] Ibid., 488.

[13]Russel H. Beatie, Army of the Potomac: McClellan’s First Campaign, March-May 1862, Vol. III (Havertown, PA: Savas Beatie, 2007), 629-56,

First Manassas

In mid-summer 1861, Abraham Lincoln ordered General Irvin McDowell to advance his army from Washington, D.C., to Richmond, Virginia. Lincoln, motivated at least in part by the spirit of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune and its masthead proclaiming “On to Richmond,” had concluded that a successful assault on the Confederate capital would boost Northern morale while simultaneously dealing a serious blow to the Confederacy. General McDowell was a regular army officer with over two decades of experience, and was “by all accounts a loyal and capable officer, though he had never before commanded troops in battle.”[1] McDowell pleaded for more time to train and prepare the soldiers in his army, but Lincoln dismissed his doubts, saying, “You are green, it is true, but they are green also; you are green alike.”[2] The plan called for McDowell to move on Richmond while General Robert Patterson’s army pinned down Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s men in the Shenandoah Valley. As James McPherson pointed out, “McDowell’s plan was a good one—for veteran troops with experienced officers. But McDowell lacked both.”[3]

McDowell and his thirty-five-thousand-man army left Washington on July 16 and headed west toward Manassas Junction, where General P.G.T. Beauregard waited with twenty thousand Confederate troops. The inexperienced and poorly-disciplined Union soldiers travelled slowly as they made their way toward the waiting Confederates, and the planned one-day march to Manassas turned into five. The delay provided Beauregard with additional time to dig in, but more importantly it allowed Johnston to slip away from Patterson in the Shenandoah Valley and make his way toward Manassas by rail. These reinforcements were critical to Beauregard, since they increased his numbers to a level of parity with the invading Union army.[4] Upon his arrival at Beauregard’s headquarters on July 20, Johnston informed Beauregard that Patterson probably would attempt to link up with McDowell no later than July 22. Beauregard began making plans for an assault that would disrupt this anticipated rendezvous, but McDowell beat him to the punch by launching an attack early on the twenty-first.[5] McDowell’s assault began promisingly enough as his flanking movement threatened to panic and rout the inexperienced Confederate soldiers on Beauregard’s left. Beauregard, however, was able to rush reinforcements in time to slow the advance, and Confederate resistance was further stiffened by General Thomas J. Jackson’s brave stand at Henry House Hill, an action which earned him his nickname—Stonewall. McDowell was unable to organize his brigades into a massed attack, and the Union advance began to crumble. As the Union army lost its momentum, it began to disintegrate and panicked soldiers began fleeing the battlefield.[6] In their headlong retreat, they passed U.S. Congressmen who had come out to witness the battle, some of whom threatened to shoot the fleeing soldiers.[7]

As a result of the Confederate victory at Manassas, Southern hopes for independence soared while Northern optimism for a speedy end to the war and its attendant reunification crumbled. Horace Greeley, who had trumpeted a Union advance to Richmond, gloomily advised Lincoln that seeking peace with the rebels on their terms was the Union’s only option. Lincoln refused to give in to the naysayers, however, and he called for a million three-year enlistees. The throngs of volunteers who answered the call came to Washington and joined the new Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George B. McClellan.[8]

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the First Battle of Manassas was McClellan’s assignment to this command. McClellan had graduated from West Point in 1846 and fought bravely in the Mexican War before leaving the army and becoming a successful railroad executive. When the Civil War broke out, McClellan returned to the army “and rose rocket-like through the ranks. When the Confederates bombarded Fort Sumter, he was a civilian. Six months later he was general in chief.”[9] McClellan was greeted by all—soldiers, civilians, politicians, and even Lincoln himself—as the man who would save the Union army and thus the Union itself. McClellan’s ego delighted in the attention as he set out to rebuild the shattered and demoralized army. By all accounts he did an admirable job of reorganizing and training the Army of the Potomac, instilling discipline and pride in all who served.[10] McClellan, however, resisted deploying his army, despite Lincoln’s pleading and prodding, and his insubordination toward the president bordered on treasonous. After his poorly executed Peninsula Campaign failed miserably, McClellan was removed as general-in-chief, though he retained command of the Army of the Potomac. Even in this capacity, though, he seemed intent on thwarting all attempts at an overall Union victory. The man whom Lincoln believed would save the Union after the disaster at Manassas instead became an enormous hindrance to the Union cause, but Lincoln lacked the political capital to relieve a man so popular with his soldiers and the general population.

[1] Steven E. Woodworth, This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 44-45, quotation on 44.

[2] quoted in Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 38.

[3] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 335,;cc=acls;idno=heb00677.0001.001;node= heb00677.0001.001%3A1;view=toc.

[4] Woodworth, This Great Struggle, 46-47.

[5] Donald Stoker, Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 42,

[6] Woodworth, This Great Struggle, 47-49.

[7] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 345.

[8] Ibid., 347-8.

[9] Stoker, Grand Design, 52.

[10] Ibid., 53.