Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"The Dead Angle": The Confederate Perspective

One of the best things about studying Civil War history is reading the words of the men who fought the war themselves. Among those works, Private Sam Watkins memoir, "Company Aytch", is one of the finest written by any participant of the war. Watkins has provided generations of historians and students of the war a first hand account of the fighting in the West.

On June 27, 1864, the fiercest fighting at Kennesaw Mountain was actually just south of the mountain itself, on a hill just off of the Dallas Road. Today, that hill is known as Cheatham Hill, after Confederate General Benjamin Cheatham. This was the bloodiest spot on the battlefield that day, and it is a haunting place to this day. The fighting was worst at a place where the Confederate lines formed a slight angle, known afterwards as "The Dead Angle." This is where Union Colonel Dan McCook led his brigade uphill against entrenched Confederates. Among those Confederates was Sam Watkins.

I would equate the feeling at Cheatham Hill with the same feeling I get every time I visit the Mule Shoe at Spottsylvania, the fields of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh, the Deep Railroad Cut at Second Manassas, and the Cornfield at Antietam. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I keep telling myself, "Something terrible happened here." While that is certainly the case at every Civil War battlefield, some sites just seem more haunting because of the especially fierce brutality of what occured there. At Cheatham Hill, Union soldiers were pinned down by Confederate fire for days after their charge. Men died out in the Georgia sun. Fire broke out among the brush, burning men alive. It was a thoroughly brutal and unforgiving place.

The fight at Cheatham Hill is for me the most intruiging aspect of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. It is one of the things we will look at on this blog as I write my book. This post, using the words of Sam Watkins, serves as a way of looking at the fighting there from the Confederate perspective.

Looking up toward the Deal Angle. The Confederate works were built just behind the crest of the hill. On the crest itself sits the Illinois monument, dedicated on June 27, 1914.


The First and Twenty-seventh Tennessee Regiments will ever remember the
battle of "Dead Angle," which was fought June 27th, on the Kennesaw line,
near Marietta, Georgia. It was one of the hottest and longest days of
the year, and one of the most desperate and determinedly resisted battles
fought during the whole war. Our regiment was stationed on an angle,
a little spur of the mountain, or rather promontory of a range of hills,
extending far out beyond the main line of battle, and was subject to the
enfilading fire of forty pieces of artillery of the Federal batteries.
It seemed fun for the guns of the whole Yankee army to play upon this
point. We would work hard every night to strengthen our breastworks,
and the very next day they would be torn down smooth with the ground
by solid shots and shells from the guns of the enemy. Even the little
trees and bushes which had been left for shade, were cut down as so much
stubble. For more than a week this constant firing had been kept up
against this salient point. In the meantime, the skirmishing in the
valley below resembled the sounds made by ten thousand wood-choppers.

Well, on the fatal morning of June 27th, the sun rose clear and cloudless,
the heavens seemed made of brass, and the earth of iron, and as the sun
began to mount toward the zenith, everything became quiet, and no sound
was heard save a peckerwood on a neighboring tree, tapping on its old
trunk, trying to find a worm for his dinner. We all knew it was but the
dead calm that precedes the storm. On the distant hills we could plainly
see officers dashing about hither and thither, and the Stars and Stripes
moving to and fro, and we knew the Federals were making preparations for
the mighty contest. We could hear but the rumbling sound of heavy guns,
and the distant tread of a marching army, as a faint roar of the coming
storm, which was soon to break the ominous silence with the sound of
conflict, such as was scarcely ever before heard on this earth. It
seemed that the archangel of Death stood and looked on with outstretched
wings, while all the earth was silent, when all at once a hundred guns
from the Federal line opened upon us, and for more than an hour they
poured their solid and chain shot, grape and shrapnel right upon this
salient point, defended by our regiment alone, when, all of a sudden,
our pickets jumped into our works and reported the Yankees advancing,
and almost at the same time a solid line of blue coats came up the hill.
I discharged my gun, and happening to look up, there was the beautiful
flag of the Stars and Stripes flaunting right in my face, and I heard
John Branch, of the Rock City Guards, commanded by Captain W. D. Kelly,
who were next Company H, say, "Look at that Yankee flag; shoot that
fellow; snatch that flag out of his hand!" My pen is unable to describe
the scene of carnage and death that ensued in the next two hours.
Column after column of Federal soldiers were crowded upon that line,
and by referring to the history of the war you will find they were massed
in column forty columns deep; in fact, the whole force of the Yankee army
was hurled against this point, but no sooner would a regiment mount our
works than they were shot down or surrendered, and soon we had every
"gopher hole" full of Yankee prisoners. Yet still the Yankees came.
It seemed impossible to check the onslaught, but every man was true
to his trust, and seemed to think that at that moment the whole
responsibility of the Confederate government was rested upon his
shoulders. Talk about other battles, victories, shouts, cheers, and
triumphs, but in comparison with this day's fight, all others dwarf
into insignificance. The sun beaming down on our uncovered heads, the
thermometer being one hundred and ten degrees in the shade, and a solid
line of blazing fire right from the muzzles of the Yankee guns being
poured right into our very faces, singeing our hair and clothes, the hot
blood of our dead and wounded spurting on us, the blinding smoke and
stifling atmosphere filling our eyes and mouths, and the awful concussion
causing the blood to gush out of our noses and ears, and above all,
the roar of battle, made it a perfect pandemonium. Afterward I heard a
soldier express himself by saying that he thought "Hell had broke loose
in Georgia, sure enough."

Remnants of earthworks built by Union soldiers who came close to the Dead Angle and stayed there because they were pinned down by Confederate guns

I have heard men say that if they ever killed a Yankee during the war
they were not aware of it. I am satisfied that on this memorable day,
every man in our regiment killed from one score to four score, yea,
five score men. I mean from twenty to one hundred each. All that was
necessary was to load and shoot. In fact, I will ever think that the
reason they did not capture our works was the impossibility of their
living men passing over the bodies of their dead. The ground was piled
up with one solid mass of dead and wounded Yankees. I learned afterwards
from the burying squad that in some places they were piled up like cord
wood, twelve deep.

The Illinois Monument
After they were time and time again beaten back, they at last were
enabled to fortify a line under the crest of the hill, only thirty yards
from us, and they immediately commenced to excavate the earth with the
purpose of blowing up our line.

The trenches where Watkins and his fellow Confederates fought

We remained here three days after the battle. In the meantime the woods
had taken fire, and during the nights and days of all that time continued
to burn, and at all times, every hour of day and night, you could hear
the shrieks and screams of the poor fellows who were left on the field,
and a stench, so sickening as to nauseate the whole of both armies,
arose from the decaying bodies of the dead left lying on the field.

We remained here three days after the battle. In the meantime the woods
had taken fire, and during the nights and days of all that time continued
to burn, and at all times, every hour of day and night, you could hear
the shrieks and screams of the poor fellows who were left on the field,
and a stench, so sickening as to nauseate the whole of both armies,
arose from the decaying bodies of the dead left lying on the field.

Looking from the point of view of the Confederates toward the field through which Federals had to advance

We remained here three days after the battle. In the meantime the woods
had taken fire, and during the nights and days of all that time continued
to burn, and at all times, every hour of day and night, you could hear
the shrieks and screams of the poor fellows who were left on the field,
and a stench, so sickening as to nauseate the whole of both armies,
arose from the decaying bodies of the dead left lying on the field.

Every member of the First and Twenty-seventh Tennessee Regiments deserves
a wreath of imperishable fame, and a warm place in the hearts of their
countrymen, for their gallant and heroic valor at the battle of Dead
Angle. No man distinguished himself above another. All did their duty,
and the glory of one is but the glory and just tribute of the others.

Confederate trenches

After we had abandoned the line, and on coming to a little stream of
water, I undressed for the purpose of bathing, and after undressing
found my arm all battered and bruised and bloodshot from my wrist to my
shoulder, and as sore as a blister. I had shot one hundred and twenty
times that day. My gun became so hot that frequently the powder would
flash before I could ram home the ball, and I had frequently to exchange
my gun for that of a dead comrade.

Colonel H. R. Field was loading and shooting the same as any private in
the ranks when he fell off the skid from which he was shooting right
over my shoulder, shot through the head. I laid him down in the trench,
and he said, "Well, they have got me at last, but I have killed fifteen
of them; time about is fair play, I reckon." But Colonel Field was
not killed--only wounded, and one side paralyzed. Captain Joe P. Lee,
Captain Mack Campbell, Lieutenant T. H. Maney, and other officers of the
regiment, threw rocks and beat them in their faces with sticks. The
Yankees did the same. The rocks came in upon us like a perfect hail
storm, and the Yankees seemed very obstinate, and in no hurry to get away
from our front, and we had to keep up the firing and shooting them down
in self-defense. They seemed to walk up and take death as coolly as if
they were automatic or wooden men, and our boys did not shoot for the fun
of the thing. It was, verily, a life and death grapple, and the least
flicker on our part, would have been sure death to all. We could not be
reinforced on account of our position, and we had to stand up to the rack,
fodder or no fodder. When the Yankees fell back, and the firing ceased,
I never saw so many broken down and exhausted men in my life. I was as
sick as a horse, and as wet with blood and sweat as I could be, and many
of our men were vomiting with excessive fatigue, over-exhaustion, and
sunstroke; our tongues were parched and cracked for water, and our faces
blackened with powder and smoke, and our dead and wounded were piled
indiscriminately in the trenches. There was not a single man in the
company who was not wounded, or had holes shot through his hat and
clothing. Captain Beasley was killed, and nearly all his company killed
and wounded. The Rock City Guards were almost piled in heaps and so was
our company. Captain Joe P. Lee was badly wounded. Poor Walter Hood and
Jim Brandon were lying there among us, while their spirits were in heaven;
also, William A. Hughes, my old mess-mate and friend, who had clerked
with me for S. F. & J. M. Mayes, and who had slept with me for lo! these
many years, and a boy who loved me more than any other person on earth
has ever done. I had just discharged the contents of my gun into the
bosoms of two men, one right behind the other, killing them both, and was
re-loading, when a Yankee rushed upon me, having me at a disadvantage,
and said, "You have killed my two brothers, and now I've got you."
Everything I had ever done rushed through my mind. I heard the roar,
and felt the flash of fire, and saw my more than friend, William
A. Hughes, grab the muzzle of the gun, receiving the whole contents in
his hand and arm, and mortally wounding him. Reader, he died for me.
In saving my life, he lost his own. When the infirmary corps carried him
off, all mutilated and bleeding he told them to give me "Florence Fleming"
(that was the name of his gun, which he had put on it in silver letters),
and to give me his blanket and clothing. He gave his life for me,
and everything that he had. It was the last time that I ever saw him,
but I know that away up yonder, beyond the clouds, blackness, tempest
and night, and away above the blue vault of heaven, where the stars keep
their ceaseless vigils, away up yonder in the golden city of the New
Jerusalem, where God and Jesus Christ, our Savior, ever reign, we will
sometime meet at the marriage supper of the Son of God, who gave His life
for the redemption of the whole world.

Grave of an uknown Union soldier near the Dead Angle, believed to be 21 year old Mark Carr, 34th Illinois
For several nights they made attacks upon our lines, but in every attempt,
they were driven back with great slaughter. They would ignite the tape
of bomb shells, and throw them over in our lines, but, if the shell did
not immediately explode, they were thrown back. They had a little shell
called _hand grenade_, but they would either stop short of us, or go
over our heads, and were harmless. General Joseph E. Johnston sent us a
couple of _chevaux-de-frise_. When they came, a detail of three men had
to roll them over the works. Those three men were heroes. Their names
were Edmund Brandon, T. C. Dornin, and Arnold Zellner. Although it was
a solemn occasion, every one of us was convulsed with laughter at the
ridiculous appearance and actions of the detail. Every one of them made
their wills and said their prayers truthfully and honestly, before they
undertook the task. I laugh now every time I think of the ridiculous
appearance of the detail, but to them it was no laughing matter. I
will say that they were men who feared not, nor faltered in their duty.
They were men, and today deserve the thanks of the people of the South.
That night about midnight, an alarm was given that the Yankees were
advancing. They would only have to run about twenty yards before they
would be in our works. We were ordered to "shoot." Every man was
hallooing at the top of his voice, "Shoot, shoot, tee, shoot, shootee."
On the alarm, both the Confederate and Federal lines opened, with both
small arms and artillery, and it seemed that the very heavens and earth
were in a grand conflagration, as they will be at the final judgment,
after the resurrection. I have since learned that this was a false alarm,
and that no attack had been meditated.

Previous to the day of attack, the soldiers had cut down all the trees in
our immediate front, throwing the tops down hill and sharpening the limbs
of the same, thus making, as we thought, an impenetrable abattis of vines
and limbs locked together; but nothing stopped or could stop the advance
of the Yankee line, but the hot shot and cold steel that we poured into
their faces from under our head-logs.

One of the most shameful and cowardly acts of Yankee treachery was
committed there that I ever remember to have seen. A wounded Yankee was
lying right outside of our works, and begging most piteously for water,
when a member of the railroad company (his name was Hog Johnson, and
the very man who stood videt with Theodore Sloan and I at the battle of
Missionary Ridge, and who killed the three Yankees, one night, from Fort
Horsley), got a canteen of water, and gave the dying Yankee a drink,
and as he started back, he was killed dead in his tracks by a treacherous
Yankee hid behind a tree. It matters not, for somewhere in God's Holy
Word, which cannot lie, He says that "He that giveth a cup of cold water
in my name, shall not lose his reward." And I have no doubt, reader,
in my own mind, that the poor fellow is reaping his reward in Emanuel's
land with the good and just. In every instance where we tried to assist
their wounded, our men were killed or wounded. A poor wounded and dying
boy, not more than sixteen years of age, asked permission to crawl over
our works, and when he had crawled to the top, and just as Blair Webster
and I reached up to help the poor fellow, he, the Yankee, was killed by
his own men. In fact, I have ever thought that is why the slaughter was
so great in our front, that nearly, if not as many, Yankees were killed
by their own men as by us. The brave ones, who tried to storm and carry
our works, were simply between two fires. It is a singular fanaticism,
and curious fact, that enters the mind of a soldier, that it is a grand
and glorious death to die on a victorious battlefield. One morning the
Sixth and Ninth Regiments came to our assistance--not to relieve us--
but only to assist us, and every member of our regiment--First and
Twenty-seventh--got as mad as a "wet hen." They felt almost insulted,
and I believe we would soon have been in a free fight, had they not been
ordered back. As soon as they came up every one of us began to say,
"Go back! go back! we can hold this place, and by the eternal God we
are not going to leave it." General Johnston came there to look at the
position, and told us that a transverse line was about one hundred yards
in our rear, and should they come on us too heavy to fall back to that
line, when almost every one of us said, "You go back and look at other
lines, this place is safe, and can never be taken." And then when they
had dug a tunnel under us to blow us up, we laughed, yea, even rejoiced,
at the fact of soon being blown sky high. Yet, not a single man was
willing to leave his post. When old Joe sent us the two chevaux-de-
frise, and kept on sending us water, and rations, and whisky, and
tobacco, and word to hold our line, we would invariably send word back to
rest easy, and that all is well at Dead Angle. I have ever thought that
is one reason why General Johnston fell back from this Kennesaw line,
and I will say today, in 1882, that while we appreciated his sympathies
and kindness toward us, yet we did not think hard of old Joe for having
so little confidence in us at that time. A perfect hail of minnie
balls was being continually poured into our head-logs the whole time we
remained here. The Yankees would hold up small looking-glasses, so that
our strength and breastworks could be seen in the reflection in the glass;
and they also had small mirrors on the butts of their guns, so arranged
that they could hight up the barrels of their guns by looking through
these glasses, while they themselves would not be exposed to our fire,
and they kept up this continual firing day and night, whether they could
see us or not. Sometimes a glancing shot from our head-logs would wound
some one.

But I cannot describe it as I would wish. I would be pleased to mention
the name of every soldier, not only of Company H alone, but every man in
the First and Twenty-seventh Tennessee Consolidated Regiments on this
occasion, but I cannot now remember their names, and will not mention
any one in particular, fearing to do injustice to some whom I might
inadvertently omit. Every man and every company did their duty. Company
G, commanded by Captain Mack Campbell, stood side by side with us on this
occasion, as they ever had during the whole war. But soldiers of the
First and Twenty-seventh Regiments, it is with a feeling of pride and
satisfaction to me, today, that I was associated with so many noble and
brave men, and who were subsequently complimented by Jeff Davis, then
President of the Confederate States of America, in person, who said,
"That every member of our regiment was fit to be a captain"--his very
words. I mention Captain W. C. Flournoy, of Company K, the Martin Guards;
Captain Ledbetter, of the Rutherford Rifles; Captains Kelly and Steele,
of the Rock City Guards, and Captain Adkisson, of the Williamson Grays,
and Captain Fulcher, and other names of brave and heroic men, some of
whom live today, but many have crossed the dark river and are "resting
under the shade of the trees" on the other shore, waiting and watching
for us, who are left to do justice to their memory and our cause, and
when we old Rebels have accomplished God's purpose on earth, we, too,
will be called to give an account of our battles, struggles, and triumphs.

Reader mine, I fear that I have wearied you with too long a description
of the battle of "Dead Angle," if so, please pardon me, as this is
but a sample of the others which will now follow each other in rapid
succession. And, furthermore, in stating the above facts, the half has
not been told, but it will give you a faint idea of the hard battles and
privations and hardships of the soldiers in that stormy epoch--who died,
grandly, gloriously, nobly; dyeing the soil of old mother earth, and
enriching the same with their crimson life's blood, while doing what?
Only trying to protect their homes and families, their property, their
constitution and their laws, that had been guaranteed to them as a
heritage forever by their forefathers. They died for the faith that
each state was a separate sovereign government, as laid down by the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of our fathers.*

*It should be noted that Sam Watkins's memoir portrays the war in the traditional Confederate interpretation of events, as seen in this final sentence. Namely, it was about states' rights, not slavery. I of course disagree with this, and just wanted to add this note to that effect.

Sam Watkins, "Company Aytch": A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War (1882, reprint, New York: Touchstone, 2003), 142-150. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Surrender of Fort Donelson, 151 years ago

151 years ago today, Confederate forces at Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, surrendered to Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant. Since one of the top five most popular posts on this blog is my entry from one year ago on the 150th anniversary of Fort Donelson's surrender, I wanted to repost that article today, as well as some pictures from Fort Donelson that I took during my visit there last March. As always, I love visiting the South, and Tennessee is one of my favorite states in the country. Fort Donelson is a relatively small off the beaten path site, but it is well worth your time to visit.

The Fort Donelson guns overlooking the Cumberland River
Confederate Memorial
Fort Donelson guns 
Fort Donelson National Cemetery
Here is the article which I published on this day last year. Keep in mind, it was written for the 150th anniversary of Fort Donelson, but because of its popularity, I wanted to share it again today.

Fort Donelson and the Rise of Ulysses S. Grant: 150 Years Ago

150 years ago today, Ulysses S. Grant was a Brigadier General on the cusp of either victory or defeat. On the afternoon of February 15, 1862, he found himself galloping over icy roads to salvage his army and his chances of capturing the Confederate forces at Fort Donelson. After three days sitting outside of Fort Donelson along the Cumberland River in northern Tennessee, the moment of crisis had arrived—a moment that would determine not only the course of the war in the West, but would also launch Grant on to a career of unsurpassed fame.

Ulysses S. Grant (www.generalandbrevets.com)

On the afternoon of February 6th, just hours after Fort Henry had surrendered to Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s Western Gunboat Flotilla on the Tennessee River, Ulysses Simpson Grant—born Hiram Ulysses Grant, and changed thanks to a clerical error during his acceptance to West Point—immediately seized upon his next move. He wired Major General Henry Halleck in St. Louis, informing him that by February 8th, Grant and his force of infantry and navy gunboats would move on and take Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, 12 miles to the east of Fort Henry. While his goals were ambitious, necessities slowed his advance. Foote’s gunboats were forced to retire to Cairo, Illinois, for repairs before making another attack on a river fortress, such as the one they had undertaken on the 6th at Fort Henry. By February 12th, after days of reconnoitering Confederate lines, Grant was finally ready to move in concert with his gunboats. That morning, Grant set out on the 12 mile march east to Donelson. Arriving late in the day, he began making his troop dispositions so as to close off escape routes for Donelson’s defenders. Grant positioned the division of Brigadier General C.F. Smith, his former Commandant of Cadets at West Point, on the Union left, with John McClernand stretching his division to cover the Union right, forming from the area around Indian Creek to the town of Dover and Lick Creek near the Cumberland. On the 13th, there was skirmishing along the lines, but not much more. The major action was being held off for the 14th.

(Map of Fort Donelson from Grant's Memoirs)

Following a failed Confederate advance around noon on the 14th, the action shifted to the choppy brown waters of the Cumberland. There, Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote, aboard the USS St. Louis, began his second assault of the campaign against a river fortress. While at Fort Henry, Foote had the advantage of moving against a fortress with low lying guns, 50% of which were under flooding river waters, the guns of Fort Donelson sat atop 100 foot high bluffs, greatly compromising the accuracy and abilities of the Federal gunboats. With the USS St. Louis, USS Pittsburg, USS Carondelet, and USS Louisville leading the way, Foote began his attack at 3:00 p.m. Steaming upriver against the swift currents of the Cumberland, Foote battled both Confederate gunners and the river itself. He was seen from the St. Louis with a bull horn directing the assault of the gunboats so that they would advance in concert. Yet, despite his best efforts, events went terribly awry for Andrew Foote. The guns of Fort Donelson were simply too much for his gunboats to bear. As Commander Henry Walke of the USS Carondelet later recalled:

Soon a 128 pounder struck our anchor, smashed it into flying bolts, and bounded over the vessel, taking away a part of our smoke stack; then another cut away the iron boat [crane]s as if they were pipe-stems, whereupon the boat dropped into the water. Another ripped up the iron plating and glanced over; another went through the plating…another struck the pilot house, knocked the plating to pieces, and sent fragments of iron and splinters into the pilots, one of whom fell mortally wounded, and was taken below… and still they came, harder and faster, taking flag-staffs and smokestacks and tearing off the side armor as one tears the bark from a tree.

The fight was especially harrowing for the men inside the Carondelet, as one of the 12 artillery pieces exploded inside the ship, killing and wounding almost 2 dozen men. As the fighting intensified, the deck of the USS Carondelet became so slick with the blood of its crewmen that sand was laid down to soak up the heavy price being exacted by the Confederate guns of Fort Donelson.

(Gunboat's firing on Fort Donelson, Battles and Leaders)

Confederate soldiers and gunners alike watched with anticipation as their shells clanked off of the Union gunboats, wreaking great havoc. One member of the 49th Tennessee later remembered the scene vividly:
The bumbs, shells ware burstings in the air with loud and wild confusion threatening sudden death and distrucktion and stil th[ey] came onn while our [biggest guns] we[re] threatening them with sudden distrucktion and also while [the shorter range] 32 pounders we[re] hailing down on them with a vengeance.

After an hour and a half of such brutal fighting, Foote’s flag ship, the St. Louis, was hit directly in the pilot house, wounding Foote, demolishing the steering wheel, and causing the ship to lose control, drifting wildly downstream with the currents of the Cumberland. With the damage to the St. Louis, the Union flotilla retired downriver, abandoning their fight against Fort Donelson.

That evening, as Confederate soldiers felt secure in having driven back the Union flotilla, Confederate generals John Floyd, Gideon Pillow, and Simon Bolivar Buckner were less sure of their success. Despite having wired Confederate officials of a great victory, these men still realized that they were essentially pinned down by Grant. Thus, the following morning, February 15, 1862, a breakout attack was to be launched at dawn. Gideon Pillow was to lead the attack against the Federal right, prying open the Forge Road leading to Nashville and safety. Buckner was to follow with the troops from the Confederate right, providing a wedge to keep the escape road open for Pillow’s men to leave the fort. Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner hoped the plan would give them enough time to escape the approaching jaws of defeat and surrender awaiting them just outside their defensive works.

On the morning of the 15th, as the Confederates inside the fort were preparing their breakout attempt, Ulysses Grant was riding north to meet Foote aboard the St. Louis. Grant did not anticipate an attack while he was gone, and thus had ordered his commanders not to make any offensive movements. As Grant met with Foote several miles away, too far to hear the action at Donelson, the Confederate counter attack began at dawn with great success. By mid-morning, the Federal lines were being torn apart by Pillow’s attack, and by noon, the Confederate attack had opened their escape route. John McClernand, desperate for help, sent word to recently christened division commander Brigadier General Lew Wallace to his left, begging for reinforcements. Despite having been ordered by Grant not to make any offensive movements, Wallace acted on his own and send one of his two brigades to the aid of McClernand. By the time that the Confederate attack had reached its zenith, Wallace had moved his other brigade, commanded by John Thayer, closer to McClernand’s lines so as to further reinforce the Federal right.

As McClernand and Wallace were struggling to stop the Confederate onslaught, confusion began to flow through the Confederate ranks. Just as Buckner’s men were preparing to do leave their lines so as to strengthen the Confederate breakthrough, inexplicably, Pillow ordered a halt to his attack and sent his men back into the Fort Donelson works to retrieve their supplies and artillery pieces which he felt necessary for the move to Nashville. The evening before had clearly left holes in the Confederate plan, as it was not articulated well nor fully understood by each of the Confederate leaders that day. Gideon Pillow believed his men needed to retire back to their earlier lines before moving on to Nashville; Buckner strongly disagreed, believing such a move would abandon the initiative that just been seized. Upon Pillow and Buckner taking their case to John Floyd, the commanding officer sided with Pillow, thus rebuffing Buckner’s pleas to maintain the offensive. This decision would prove to be quite costly for the Confederates at Donelson. While the Confederates delayed and argued, the seemingly defeated Federals found an opportunity.

In the late morning hours, upon leaving the St. Louis, Grant was met by an aide, white faced with fear. Quickly learning of what had occurred, Grant mounted his horse and sped his way to his lines to reclaim some sense of order. On this fateful ride, Grant was riding to the salvation of his army, riding against all odds to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Grant was a man much accustomed to finding success out of failure; after all, he had done it with his own personal life. In the 1850s, after resigning from the army due to charges of alcoholism, personal loneliness, and depression, Grant fell into very difficult times. At one point, he borrowed money from friend and former West Point classmate Simon Bolivar Buckner, the man against whom he was now battling. In 1857, Grant pawned off a gold watch for the price of $22 to provide for his family. Now, five years later, a Brigadier General in the Union army, Grant was riding to the rescue not only of his forces outside of Fort Donelson; he was riding to the rescue of his military career and to the rescue of his country in its greatest hour of peril.

Arriving on the scene, Grant surveyed the situation and took stock of what needed to be done. He spoke first with C.F. Smith on the Federal left, then rode on to meet Wallace and McClernand on the chaotic Federal right. In his article on Fort Donelson in the Battles and Leaders series on the Civil War, Brigadier General Lew Wallace recalled the scene:
“In every great man’s career there is a crisis exactly similar to that which now overtook General Grant, and it cannot be better described that as a crucial test of his nature. A mediocre person would have accepted the news as an argument for persistence in his resolution to enter upon a siege. Had General Grant done so, it is very probably his history would have been then and there concluded. His admirers and detractors are alike invited to study him at this precise juncture. It cannot be doubted that he saw with painful distinctiveness the effect of the disaster to his right wing. His face flushed slightly. With a sudden grip he crushed the papers in his hand. But in an instant these signs of disappointment or hesitation—as the reader pleases—cleared away. In his ordinary quiet voice he said, addressing himself to both officers, “Gentlemen, the position on the right must be retaken.” With that he turned and galloped off.” (Battles and Leaders, Volume 1, 422).
As Grant left Wallace and McClernand, he rode back to his old mentor C.F. Smith on the Union left. Correctly assuming that the Confederate counterattack against McClernand had weakened the Confederate forces facing the Union left, Grant ordered Smith to make a full assault on the Confederate works. Smith quickly went to work gathering his forces, and by 2 p.m., he was ready to advance. Riding out front of his lines on a magnificent white horse, Smith placed his hat on the tip of his sword and ordered his men to fix their bayonets and to not cap their guns, thus assuring the men would not stop to fire during their charge against the Confederate works. Smith exhorted the men to give their all to the Union cause, proclaiming, “Come on, you volunteers, come on. This is your chance. You volunteered to be killed for love of your country and now you can be!” Shortly after 2 p.m., Smith began his advance, and what was up to that time the greatest Federal feat of arms in the West had begun.

As the gallant Smith rode into battle, directly behind him followed the 2nd Iowa. Being one of the lead regiments, the 2nd Iowa suffered particularly great casualties, especially among the flag bearers. Seeing the regimental standard fall time and time again, a series of brave souls stepped to the forefront to hold their nation’s symbol aloft. In the midst of the counterattack, Color Sergeant Harry Doolittle, wounded four times that day, noted that the flag took on a transcendent meaning to it:

It was no longer a combination of stripes and stars in silken texture, but the vital personification of human liberty battling for its own life, and its downfall, though but temporary, seemed like the triumph of wrong, injustice, and oppression.

The fourth and final man to pick up the flag that day was 19 year old Corporal Voltaire P. Twombley. Racing behind Smith, Twombley led the Federal rise up the Fort Donelson works. Standing atop the parapet, Twombley waved the Union flag high as his brothers in blue descended into the outer works of Fort Donelson, cheering, yelling, running, and driving back the remaining Confederate defenders. Firmly planting the Federal colors atop Fort Donelson’s outer works, that day Corporal Twombley earned himself the Congressional Medal of Honor.

(Capture of Fort Donelson, Harper's Weekly)

That evening, as the sun set on the blood covered fields around Fort Donelson, Grant’s counterattack had worked. Smith had taken the outer defenses of Donelson and could now fire into the fort with artillery. On the Federal right, Wallace and McClernand had retaken significant amounts of the ground lost that morning. Inside the Confederate fort, the Confederate high command saw the writing on the wall. John Floyd, the commanding officer, passed command off to Gideon Pillow and set off for Nashville to avoid capture and the likely event of being tried for treason for his pro-Southern activities as Secretary of War from 1857 to 1860. Pillow likewise passed off the command, setting out across the Cumberland in a small skiff barely big enough for he and his chief of staff. Thus, Simon Bolivar Buckner, the man who had once loaned Ulysses S. Grant money, was now left to send Grant a message of a very different nature.

The following morning, a party bearing a flag of truce entered Union lines held by C.F. Smith’s division. Smith escorted the part to Grant’s nearby headquarters, understanding the significance of the occasion. Upon receiving a message from Buckner asking what terms of surrender he might offer, and with the helpful and stern advice of C.F. Smith, Grant replied in the only way he knew how:

Gen. S.B. Buckner, Confederate Army


Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

I am, sir, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

U.S. Grant Brigadier General

Buckner responded with frustration at Grant’s terms, noting that his position was doomed to fall:

The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.

("Unconditional Surrender Grant," Harper's Weekly)

Thus, on Sunday, February 16, 1862, Ulysses S. Grant completed his ride to save his campaign for Donelson by riding once again. Unlike the day before, his ride this morning was relatively calm. He was making his way to the Dover Hotel to meet his old friend Simon Bolivar Buckner to accept the first of three Confederate surrenders which he would receive during the American Civil War. With his famous message to Buckner, the man born Hiram Ulysses Grant, and who was then known as Ulysses Simpson Grant, would soon be known to millions across the nation as “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. His success at Fort Donelson catapulted Grant to great fame throughout the north: he had busted open the Confederate defensive line in the West, forcing Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnston to retreat to southern Tennessee. The success of Grant and Foote had also opened the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, facilitating Federal movement deep into Tennessee and the subsequent surrender of Nashville. Yet, most importantly, he had given hope for the people of the north that they could indeed win the war because men like “Unconditional Surrender” Grant were willing and able to do what it took to make victory a reality. As the acclaimed Shelby Foote wrote:
To them [the nation] the whole campaign was an absolute marvel of generalship, a superb combination of simplicity and drive, in welcome contrast to all that had gone before in the West and was continuing in the East. They did not dissect it in search of flaws, did not consider that Grant had started behind schedule, that men had frozen to death because of a lax discipline which let them throw away coats and blankets in fair weather, that individual attacks had been launched without coordination and been bloodily repulsed, nor that the commanding general had been absent from his post for better than six critical hours while one of his divisions was being mauled, the other two having been barred by his own orders from lending assistance. They saw rather, the sweep and slambang power of a leader who marched on Wednesday, skirmished on Thursday, imperturbably watched his fleet’s repulse on Friday, fought desperately on Saturday, and received the fort’s unconditional surrender on Sunday. Undeterred by wretched weather, the advice of the tactics manuals, or the reported strength of the enemy position, he had inflicted about 2,00 casualties and suffered about 3,000 himself—which was as it should have been, considering his role as the attacker—and now there was something more than 12,000 rebel soldiers, the cream of Confederate volunteers, on their way to northern prison camps to await exchange for as many Union boys, who otherwise would have languished in southern prisons under the coming summer sun. People saw Grant as the author of this deliverance, the embodiment of the offensive spirit, the man who would strike and keep on striking until this war was won. Fifteen years ago, during a lull in the Mexican War, he had written home to the girl he was to marry: “If we have to fight, I would like to do it all at once and then make friends.” Apparently, he still felt that way about it (Shelby Foote, The Civil War, Volume One, 214-5).

The rise of Ulysses S. Grant from a relatively unknown Brigadier General to a national hero was one of the main storylines of 1862, as it was one which had long lasting implications for the war and the country. A year and a half after his victory at Fort Donelson, Grant was the commander of the Union Division of the Mississippi. Two years after Fort Donelson, Grant was preparing to assume the title of Lieutenant General, a rank previously held only by George Washington. Six years after Fort Donelson, Ulysses S. Grant had been elected the 18th President of the United States. 150 years ago today, on his fateful ride to resurrect his hopes of capturing Fort Donelson, Ulysses S. Grant was riding on to his future fame and destiny as one of the great heroes in all of American history.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Southern Comfort Zone

The title of this post is NOT about the Atlanta airport.

My flight yesterday was scheduled for 4:26 pm. We did not leave Atlanta until after 9 pm. Twice, our plane was found mechanically faulty, and another was brought in. Three times our gate was switched. There were severe thunderstorms across the South, making travel a nightmare.

But, after leaving my Aunt and Uncle's house in Kennesaw at 2 pm yesterday, I finally got home in Ohio at right around midnight. A very long day indeed.

However, I still love Georgia (if not Delta Airlines). I am glad to be back home in Ohio, safe and sound, because I have quite a bit of work ahead of me on the book project, as well as putting the finishing touches on and hopefully publishing my Antietam research. Also, I don't mind leaving Georgia too much because, as the Brad Paisley song goes,

Cause I know the route I leave on
It will always bring me back
(Hopefully the route leading me back will not be a Delta flight with a 5 hour delay and turbulence from thuderstorms, but I agree with Brad's general sentiment)
A  big thanks to the folks at Emory University's Manuscript and Rare Book Library in the Woodruff Library Building, the staff at the Atlanta History Center, and most importantly, the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park Staff, including Park Historian Willie Johnson and Ranger Amanda Corman. I also want to thank local historian Brad Quinlin who spent several hours going over Kennesaw Mountain while walking the ground with me this past Friday.

So long Kennesaw Mountain, see you next time.
Now, I just need to hunker down in this Ohio winter to continue working on this book...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Flying Home to Ohio

Sadly, my time in Georgia has come to an end. Today, it was in the 60s and sunny. Tomorrow, I fly back to Cleveland, where assuredly, the sun will not shine again until sometime in mid-June, and there will still be snow on the ground when the Indians open their season in April.

But, my stay in Georgia was wonderful, as always. I love spending time with my Uncle Jeff and Aunt Paula, and I have had an amazing trip for researching, hiking, and getting to know the battle of Kennesaw Mountain much better than I ever did before. If one is going to write about history, no matter what kind, I am thoroughly convinced that experiencing things first hand is crucial. Walking the ground of battlefields, touring historic homes, or even just being in the same places as historical figures always helps the writing process.

For me, spending time hiking the many trails at Kennesaw Mountain is very important. Because this was my last full day in Georgia, I saved the biggest, best known trail for last.

Today, Jeff and I hiked up Big Kennesaw, all 1808 feet.

The land behind me is the ground over which Union and Confederate forces struggled during the Atlanta Campaign in the lead up to the fight at Kennesaw Mountain in June. In the distance are the fields of Pickett's Mill, Resaca, and Rocky Face Ridge.

 Pumpkinvine Creek at Pickett's Mill Battlefield, a Georgia State Park

Further north are the blood soaked grounds of Chickamauga and Chattanooga

The Brotherton Cabin at Chickamauga

And many miles further is Cleveland, where I head tomorrow. It has been a great trip, and it has reminded me why I love the South so much. I can't wait to come back. But, for now, it is publishing Antietam research, writing my Kennesaw Mountain book, hoping for a new season at Antietam, and awaiting what else God has in store for me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Today at Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield

I am spending the day hiking around Kennesaw Mountain.

What started out as a very foggy morning...

Has fast become a beautiful day.

Mid 60s, sun, and lots of trails on a battlefield to hike. What a great day to be in Georgia.

And I met a new friend today. This is Albert, the Kennesaw Mountain lizard 
(or salamander, whatever). 


Greetings from Georgia! I'm headed back out to hike the trails for the rest of the day!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Beautiful Day at Chickamauga

If you're in Georgia doing research for a book, and you suddenly have a day with no plans, and if you are a Civil War historian, the answer is easy.

You drive to Chickamauga. 

When I left Kennesaw this morning, it was cool, cloudy, and a bit rainy. When I arrived at Chickamauga, just south of the Tennessee-Georgia border, it was in the 60s, sunny, and a beautiful day. I drove around the park, took pictures, hiked a bit, and just thought about how fortunate I am to live in a country that preserves historic sites like Chickamauga, and how fortunate we all are that God created the sun (after a very harsh winter in Cleveland, this Georgia sun was a much welcome respite).

The Florida Monument

 Monument marking the spot where Brigadier General Benjamin Helm, the brother-in-law of Abraham Lincoln, was mortally wounded

The Brotherton Cabin

 Wilder's Lightning Brigade Monument

 Monument marking the HQ site for James Longstreet's force following the Confederate breakthrough on the afternoon of September 20, 1863

 2nd Minnesota Monument on Snodgrass Hill

 I met "Nick" the volunteer dog today

I didn't get the name of Nick's fellow human volunteer, but she was very helpful in answering my questions and making sure I had all the maps I needed to properly tour the battlefield. 

Union artillery position on Snodgrass Hill

Snodgrass Hill HQ site for Major General George Thomas, "the Rock of Chickamauga"

 Snodgrass Cabin, used as a field hospital after the battle

One final shot of the Florida Monument

All in all, it was a great day. I managed to get in a little hiking at Kennesaw Mountain when I got back to Kennesaw later in the day. 

Tomorrow's forecast for Kennesaw is mid 60s and sunny. I am planning on spending the entire day hiking the battlefield.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Kennesaw Mountain Book Announcement

Greetings from Georgia!

If you recall, a few months ago I posted about visiting Georgia for research and battlefield hiking to prepare for a new project. Well, I am back in the beautiful state of Georgia once again. I flew in to Atlanta on Friday, and will be here for the next week to visit family, hike battlefields, and work on my new project, which has been ongoing for a few months now. I haven't been able to announce it yet, but I am now able to tell you about it because I have gotten the final go ahead from the publisher.

I have agreed to write a book for the History Press on the June 1864 Battle of Kennesaw Mountain!

This book will be a part of the History Press's Civil War Sesquicentennial Series, a series which features two outstanding books by my friend and colleague, John Hoptak (his books are on South Mountain and on Gettysburg). John is a big reason why this project is happening, as he put me in touch with the folks at the History Press. I owe him a tremendous thanks for his help. The book will be an overview of the battle, but considering that there aren't many books out there solely devoted to this fight, it will be based largely off of primary sources from soldiers who fought in 1864.

While Antietam has long been my main field of interest, I have also spent considerable time studying the Atlanta Campaign. While at John Carroll I wrote my Master's thesis on Ohio soldiers who fought during this campaign, and I have made several trips to Georgia to see the battlefields from this pivotal campaign in the American Civil War. I have also posted on here about Kennesaw Mountain before.

Of course, while in Georgia, I am staying with my Uncle Jeff and Aunt Paula, who live in Kennesaw and are opening their home and giving me a place to stay while I work on this project. Yesterday, Jeff and I spent some time hiking at Pickett's Mill State Battlefield, a very well preserved historic site with miles of trails that allow visitors to see the site of the May 27, 1864 Battle of Pickett's Mill that resulted in a Confederate victory.

My Kennesaw Mountain book likely won't be finished until this fall, and it won't hit the shelves until late this year or early in 2014, but I am very excited and looking forward to this incredible opportunity!

Stay tuned to the blog for more information and updates about the book over the upcoming months. I will post on here regularly about the project and about Kennesaw Mountain, in addition to my ongoing Antietam research which I hope will be published soon as well (more on that to come soon!)

I am very grateful for this wonderful opportunity. From time to time, when things get difficult and I don't know what my next step will be, God always tosses me another stone to jump to, to continue on across the stream and along the path He has set before me. Whatever success I may have had, I owe it all to Him. Thank the Lord for this great opportunity for which I could not be more excited.