Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 21, 1862

November 21, 1862: Gen. Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac, sends Brig. Gen. Marsena Patrick with a message across the swollen Rappahannock River to the mayor of Fredericksburg, Montgomery Slaughter, demanding the city’s surrender, or he will open fire and shell the town. The message reads, in part:
Under cover of the houses of your city, shots have been fired upon the troops of my command. Your mills and manufactories are furnishing provisions and the material for clothing for armed bodies in rebellion against the Government of the United States. Your railroads and other means of transportation are removing supplies to the depots of such troops. This condition of things must terminate, and, by direction of General Burnside, I accordingly demand the surrender of the city into my hands, as the representative of the Government of the United States, at or before 5 o’clock this afternoon.
Burnside offers some period of time to remove the women and children and sick before the shelling starts. The officer in command of the garrison troops, Col. Ball, sends the message back to Gen. Longstreet, who had arrived. By the time the message got to Longstreet, Lee had arrived in Fredericksburg, and the generals confer. The Confederates agree to pull troops out of the town, yet promise that any attempt by the Federals to occupy the town will be resisted. The citizens of Fredericksburg begin to leave, in a long refugee train out of town.
Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, outside his tent

—Lieut. Josiah Marshall Favill, serving in the Union army in the 57th New York Infantry Regiment, writes in his diary about the prospects for the coming battle, and how the Army of the Potomac always seems to be the Hard Luck outfit. Already the common soldier is taking stock of the situation before Fredericksburg:
The enemy occupy the range of hills opposite, and are working night and day to make them impregnable. Apparently there are a series of hills running parallel to the river, or nearly so, in rear of each other, and the camps of Lee’s army are wholly sheltered in the intervening valleys. No better position for defense could be found, and Lee must thank his stars Burnside did not establish himself on that side when he had a chance to do so almost unopposed. It is strange how constantly we fall short in our endeavors at the very moment when we might succeed. Something is missing; this time, it was the pontoon train that failed us just at the critical point in the campaign.

The Fredericksburg Campaign, showing the movements of both armies

—On this date, Pres. Lincoln issues an executive order prohibiting the exportation of arms and ammunition out of the country, in order to prevent third parties from buying arms and selling them to the Rebels.

—Lieut. Robert Graham, of the 56th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, writes home to his father about their march up into southern Virginia near Norfolk in an attempt to limit the raids by Union troops on the countryside. Among other depredations, he notes the effect Yankees have on the slave population fleeing their plantations to go with the Northerners:
Two or three skirmishes take place nearly every week. We find provisions and everything else a great deal lighter over here than in North Carolina. We fared very well in this respect in our last line of march, as very few soldiers had passed through that section of the country before us. I was not aware before of the great quantity of brandy made in Eastern North Carolina. The Yankees destroyed in one way or another all they could lay hands on. Sometimes they would take a band or two along with them. They killed some 300 head of hogs in and around Hamilton, sometimes taking only a few slices of ham and leaving the rest for the Buzzards. Some of the citizens of Martin thought that they had carried off no less than 3000 negroes from that and the adjoining counties. One plantation alone lost 60. Their expedition is said to have resembled a Bacchanal more than a march – in some regiments not more than one soldier out of four carrying his musket – each had a negro by his side for this purpose. I wish we could have cut them off. The New York Express says they intended to take Goldsboro and had 12,000 men. They were commanded by Gen. Foster, quondam Assistant Professor at West Point.

—The Richmond Daily Dispatch, ever optimistic over the Southern cause, publishes this gleeful editorial on the continuous round of changing generals in the Union command structure, and the innate capabilities of Northern soldiers:
Since this war commenced, the Yankees have immeasured military idols, and then annihilated them, with a real harness unparalleled in the history of war. At first, Gen Scott war the great soldier of the age, but Manassas gave him his quietus. . . . McClellan was at once hoisted upon the vacant pedestal, and every one remembers the fevrile enthusiasm with which he was hailed by the universal Yankee nation. . . . But where is McClellan now?–Pope’s star flashed for a brief hour across the firmament and then disappeared as suddenly as it rose . . . and other subordinate leaders have been sacrificed by the wholesale. For our own part, we do not believe that any of those men deserved their fate — They were engaged in a bad cause; they had to encounter superior generalship, and a people fighting in defence of their own homes and firesides. They did as well under the circumstances as any Generals could have done, and no change from one to the other has at all improved the Yankee fortunes.

We venture to predict that the late changes will be as fruitless as those which occurred before. It would be hard to say on what field Burnside has proved his superiority to McClellan. . . .

Whilst never regarding McClellan as a "Young Napoleon," he unquestionably understood the capabilities of his men, and the obstacles he had to encounter. Much better than the rabble of the North or their besotted Government. We have never been of those who regarded the Yankees as cowards, but they have not the military aptitude of the Southern people and cannot be improvised into soldiers. They are unfamiliar by education both with the idea of danger and the use of arms.

They were called upon to confront men who had been accustomed to both from their cradle and who are fighting in the holiest cause for which men ever drew a sword.

—Henry Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of Presidents, serves as secretary to his father, Charles Francis Adams, Sr., the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James. From the American legation in London, he writes to his brother Charles, Jr., an officer in the Union cavalry, serving with the 1st Massachusetts Cav. Reg. This letter reveals Henry’s own despair at prospects for a diminished and uncertain future, as well as his fallen faith in himself—and in the war’s efficacy and the Union cause. It is interesting to note how his ideas follow the Progressive’s desire for comprehensive planning for the State, as if it were a single organism:
The future is a blank to me as I suppose it is also to you. I have no plans nor can have any, so long as my course is tied to that of the Chief [father]. . . . The truth is, the experience of four years has done little towards giving me confidence in myself. The more I see, the more I am convinced that a man whose mind is balanced like mine, in such a way that what is evil never seems unmixed with good, and what is good always streaked with evil; an object seems never important enough to call out strong energies till they are exhausted, nor necessary enough not to allow of its failure being possible to retrieve; in short, a mind which is not strongly positive and absolute, cannot be steadily successful in action, which requires quietness and perseverance. I have steadily lost faith in myself ever since I left college, and my aim is now so indefinite that all my time may prove to have been wasted, and then nothing left but a truncated life.
I should care the less for all this if I could see your path any clearer, but while my time may prove to have been wasted, I don’t see but what yours must prove so. At least God forbid that you should remain an officer longer than is necessary. And what then? The West is possible; indeed, I have thought of that myself. But what we want is a school. We want a national set of young men like ourselves or better, to start new influences not only in politics, but in literature, in law, in society, and throughout the whole social organism of the country — a national school of our own generation. And that is what America has no power to create. In England the Universities centralize ability and London gives a field. So in France, Paris encourages and combines these influences. But with us, we should need at least six perfect geniuses placed, or rather, spotted over the country and all working together; whereas our generation as yet has not produced one nor the promise of one. It’s all random, insulated work, for special and temporary and personal purposes, and we have no means, power or hope of combined action for any unselfish end.
One man who has real ability may do a great deal, but we ought to have a more concentrated power of influence than any that now exists.
For the present war I have nothing to say. We received cheerful letters from you and John today, and now we have the news of McClellan’s removal. As I do not believe in Burnside’s genius, I do not feel encouraged by this, especially as it shakes our whole structure to its centre. I have given up the war and only pray for its end. The South has vindicated its position and we cannot help it, so, as we can find no one to lead us and no one to hold us together, I don’t see the use of our shedding more blood. . . .
Henry Adams

No comments:

Post a Comment