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)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

December 5, 1863: James Garfield Resigns from the Army

152 years ago today, on December 5, 1863, James Garfield resigned his position in the Union army. He did so having achieved the rank of Major General of Volunteers, a promotion he was given for his service in the Battle of Chickamauga. Indeed, the date of rank for his promotion was September 19, 1863, the first day of Chickamauga. It was also, as fate would have it, eighteen years to the day before he succumbed to his wounds from an assassin’s bullet as president in 1881.

Garfield leaving the army at the rank of Major General of Volunteers was remarkable for a man who had risen so quickly. He was leaving the army at the age of thirty-two, just one year shy of his father's age when Abram Garfield died in Ohio in 1833. In almost the same amount of years, he had gone considerably farther in his life than his father ever had. He had been a professor, college president, state senator, and now, a general in the Union army.

Garfield had mixed feelings about leaving the army in December 1863. He did so in order to take a seat in Congress that he had been elected to the previous year. When his name had come into consideration for a congressional nomination in the summer of 1862, Garfield pledged to his friends and supporters that if he were elected, he would leave the army to serve his constituents in Congress. At the time, however, Garfield and the Union were in the midst of one of several low points during the war. While Confederates made gains on the battlefields of the South, Garfield had grown frustrated with the pace of the war and his role in it, which he believed to be quite lackluster at that time.

Garfield won his election in October 1862 while he was in Washington awaiting a new assignment in the army. That month, Garfield was embroiled in the fervor of Civil War Washington, growing frustrated at the lack of progress being made on the battlefields in stemming the tide of the Confederate rebellion. Garfield developed a strong disdain for a number of West Point educated and professional army officers, believing that too many of them adopted a conservative approach in the war that would only lead to Southern victory. In the same month in which he was elected to Congress, Garfield passionately wrote, “If the Republic goes down in blood and ruin, let its obituary be written thus: ‘Died of West Point.’” With such an attitude, it is no wonder that he had a desire to leave the army for the arena of politics.

Following Garfield’s election, Congress was not meeting for its first new session until December 1863. Thus, Garfield had time before he had to leave the army, allowing him to serve as the Chief of Staff for William Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland through most of that year. This continued service was not a sure thing, however. At least not at first. Early in 1863, Garfield wrote to Attorney General Edward Bates to ask him what he was legally required to do as a Congressman-elect who was active in the army. Did he have to resign right away? Bates assured Garfield that he did not have to resign until he took his seat in Congress, guaranteeing Garfield several months more active service in the Union army. This allowed Garfield to continue gaining invaluable experience and to help orchestrate and take part in the Tullahoma Campaign and to play an important role in the midst of the maelstrom of war that was the Battle of Chickamauga.  

Even in late 1863, Garfield still had qualms about leaving the army. In a meeting with President Lincoln, Garfield expressed his reservations over resigning his position to serve in Congress. Lincoln encouraged Garfield to take his congressional seat, telling the young Ohioan that he needed congressmen "who know the wants of the army from practical knowledge."

With the advice of the president and his past promises in mind, Garfield resigned from the army 152 years ago today. He was taking the same enthusiasm for the war which he had displayed in the army and transforming it into his congressional career. He would no longer fight as an army officer; now, he would fight as a congressman.

Beyond his conflicted feelings about leaving the army, Garfield entered into Congress in a moment of great personal grief. On December 1, his first-born child Eliza died in Ohio. Nicknamed "Trot" after a character in a Charles Dickens novel, Eliza was born on the eve of the war in July 1860. Garfield's letters home throughout the war frequently spoke of her, asking his wife Lucretia to "kiss Trot" for him.

Just days after Eliza's funeral, Garfield found himself in Washington, leaving the “wild life of the army” behind, as he described his military experiences in a letter to his wife Lucretia. He was about to embark on a new and entirely different endeavor, one which would eventually lead him to the White House.

Friday, December 4, 2015

James Garfield in Civil War Washington

Wanted to share the video from a talk I did last month. This was my keynote talk at the James Garfield Symposium at Lakeland Community College, sponsored by the Friends of the James Garfield National Historic Site. The symposium's topic was Garfield in Washington.

While most of the talks focused on Garfield as a Congressman and President, I instead focused on Garfield's introduction to Washington during the Civil War. His time in the capital while he was still in the army aided him in making political connections and emerging on the national political scene in the midst of some of the most harrowing times in American history.

The video is courtesy of Lakeland Community College, which filmed the program for their youtube and television channels.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving 1881

Because of his tragically short presidency, there were many things which James Garfield did not have the opportunity to do as President of the United States. One of those was to declare a national day of thanksgiving. This was a long standing tradition in American history, but it had been formalized into an annual event ever since 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln called for the fourth Thursday in November to be a day of giving thanks. In the years before Garfield's presidency, the president had issued a proclamation in October or November declaring a day of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, by that point in 1881, Garfield had died of wounds from his assassination.

Thus, it was up to Garfield's successor, the 21st President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, to issue a proclamation of Thanksgiving that year. On November 4, 1881, Arthur issued the following proclamation, declaring November 24, 1881, 134 years ago today, to be a day of thanksgiving for the nation, just over two months after Garfield's death.

By the President of the United States of America 
A Proclamation 

It has long been the pious custom of our people, with the closing of the year, to look back upon the blessings brought to them in the changing course of the seasons and to return solemn thanks to the all giving source from whom they flow. And although at this period, when the failing leaf admonishes us that the time of our sacred duty is at hand, our nation still lies in the shadow of a great bereavement, and the mourning which has filled our hearts still finds its sorrowful expression toward the God before whom we but lately bowed in grief and supplication, yet the countless benefits which have showered upon us during the past twelvemonth call for our fervent gratitude and make it fitting that we should rejoice with thankfulness that the Lord in His infinite mercy has most signally favored our country and our people. Peace without and prosperity within have been vouchsafed to us, no pestilence has visited our shores, the abundant privileges of freedom which our fathers left us in their wisdom are still our increasing heritage; and if in parts of our vast domain sore affliction has visited our brethren in their forest homes, yet even this calamity has been tempered and in a manner sanctified by the generous compassion for the sufferers which has been called forth throughout our land. For all these things it is meet that the voice of the nation should go up to God in devout homage.

Wherefore I, Chester A. Arthur, President of the United States, do recommend that all the people observe Thursday, the 24th day of November instant, as a day of national thanksgiving and prayer, by ceasing, so far as may be, from their secular labors and meeting in their several places of worship, there to join in ascribing honor and praise to Almighty God, whose goodness has been so manifest in our history and in our lives, and offering earnest prayers that His bounties may continue to us and to our children.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 4th day of November, A.D. 1881, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and sixth.

President of the United States

Secretary of State

Monday, November 16, 2015

Garfield Interview

Wanted to share an interview I did with the folks at the Mentor Channel in Mentor, Ohio, the home of the James A. Garfield National Historic Site. I did a talk and book signing there last week, and Ante Logarusic stopped by before hand to do a short interview on the book.

Monday, November 2, 2015

James Garfield and the Civil War--Now Available!!

November 2, 1880 was an important day in American history. Across the United States, the final votes were being cast to determine who would become the 20th President of the United States. James Abram Garfield, a longtime member of the United States House of Representatives and a former Major General in the Union army, was the Republican candidate, while Winfield Scott Hancock, himself a former Major General as well, was the Democratic nominee. Over 9 million votes were cast for president that year, representing 78% of the eligible electorate, the highest number of voters to turnout up to that time in American history. Once all the votes were finally tabulated, James Garfield of Ohio was the victor.

Garfield spent that day at his farm in Mentor, Ohio, greeting well wishers and handling his daily business of overseeing his farm. That night, he was in the small campaign office behind his home, receiving updates on the polls from across the country. When he retired for the evening at 3 a.m., Garfield had heard good news regarding the results of voting in the Northern states. By the morning of November 3, Garfield knew for certain that he had been elected President of the United States.

Garfield's election to the presidency was the crowning achievement of his life. Unfortunately, his grand story of rising from poverty and a log cabin all the way to the White House is marred by its tragic ending. Nine months to the day after his election, President Garfield was shot twice in a train station in Washington, DC on July 2, 1881. One bullet hit his arm, and the other lodged in his back. He did not die from his wounds right away. Instead, he suffered immensely for several months while doctors did everything within their power to treat him and remove the assassin's bullet from his back. Ultimately, their efforts were unsuccessful, only augmenting the infection and effects of his wound. On September 19, 1881, Garfield succumbed to his wounds, making him the second president to die from assassination.

While these events are no doubt historic and important, they often overshadow other parts of Garfield's life and legacy. Eighteen years to the day before his death, Garfield was a general in the Union army, serving as the Chief of Staff for the Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Chickamauga, one of the great battles of the American Civil War. Garfield's Civil War service, at Chickamauga and elsewhere, is often a footnote in his life story. Far from a small piece of his story, Garfield's Civil War career was essential to who he was and to his rise to the presidency.

I am pleased to announce that today, on the 135th anniversary of Garfield's election to the presidency, my new book James Garfield and the Civil War: For Ohio and the Union is now available. Today is the official publication date for the book, and in it, I hope to tell a part of James Garfield's story which has languished in obscurity for far too long. The book is not an exhaustive look at Garfield's life on a day by day basis, but rather, it tells the story of his Civil War career, placing the future president in the larger events of the war from 1861 to 1865, focusing on his service in recruiting the 42nd Ohio, commanding troops in the field in Kentucky and Tennessee, taking part in political fights in Washington, serving as the Chief of Staff for the Army of the Cumberland in 1863, and ultimately taking his strong views about preserving the Union and abolishing slavery to the halls of Congress. Garfield's Civil War service saw him take part in several of the grand campaigns and battles of the war. He crossed paths with leading figures like Don Carlos Buell, William Rosecrans, George Thomas, Edwin Stanton, Salmon Chase, and Henry Halleck. Along the way, Garfield made friends and enemies, and he experienced his share of highs and lows during the war. Like all veterans, his Civil War service lingered with him through the rest of his days. Even when he was the Republican nominee for president, many still knew him first and foremost as "General Garfield."

I hope you enjoy the book! I will be doing several book talks and signings in Northeast Ohio this upcoming weekend and next week. If you are in the area, I hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Talks November 2015

With the publication date for James Garfield and the Civil War: For Ohio and the Union coming next week (November 2, 2015), I wanted to post some information about talks and book signings that I will be doing in the Cleveland area in the second week of November.

These talks are all focused on the new book and the story of James Garfield's Civil War career. I hope to have copies of both the Garfield book and my book on Kennesaw Mountain available at each place. Follow the links for more information, or send me a message through the blog.

Saturday, November 7th:

James Garfield Symposium 2015: Garfield in Washington, Lakeland Community College, Kirtland, Ohio

Keynote Speaker and Book Signing

Sponsored by the James A. Garfield National Historic Site and the Friends of the James A. Garfield National Historic Site.

Sunday, November 8th:

James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Mentor, Ohio, 2 PM

Author Talk and Book Signing

Monday, November 9th:

Reed Memorial Library, Ravenna, Ohio, 2 PM

Author Talk and Book Signing

Tuesday, November 10th:

Mac's Back-Books, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, 7 PM

Author Talk and Book Signing

Wednesday, November 11th:

Lorain Community College, Elyria, Ohio, 7 PM

Part of the ongoing 1865: Appomattox and Beyond, the Legacy of the Civil War Lecture Series

Author Talk and Book Signing

Hope to see you in Ohio!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

James Garfield and the Civil War: For Ohio and the Union

Greetings all!

I am excited to say that a project which I have been working on for a little over a year is now almost finished. With a publication date of November 2, 2015, I am pleased to announce the publication of my second book, James Garfield and the Civil War: For Ohio and the Union. The front and back cover are below:

This project, being published by The History Press, focuses on the Civil War career of native Ohioan and 20th President of the United States James Abram Garfield. I have been fascinated by Garfield for many years, having grown up just a short 20 minute drive from his home in Mentor, Ohio. Over the past few years, I have gotten to know the staff at the James A. Garfield National Historic Site, and have had the pleasure to do some volunteer work there, taking part in the park's Major Battles of the Civil War lecture series. It is a great NPS site, and I encourage you to visit there if you are ever in the Cleveland area.

While other presidents who served in the army during the Civil War have had books written which chronicle their service, no such books exist for the military career of James A. Garfield. From 1861 to the end of 1863, Garfield served in the Union army, raising a regiment of Ohio troops, leading men in combat in Kentucky, taking part in the second day of the Battle of Shiloh, sitting on a court martial of a prominent Union general, and serving as the Chief of Staff for the Army of the Cumberland. His Civil War career was as eclectic as it was important. Garfield had a hand in several of the war's most important battles and campaigns, and his experience shows how hard work and perseverance allowed a man born in a log cabin in the old Western Reserve of Northeast Ohio rise to become a major general in the Union army.

This book tells the story of Garfield's Civil War service, following him through the conflict and examining the role this famous Ohioan played in our nation's most trying hours. While the focus is on his time in the army during the war, I also discuss his early years and career before the war began, as well as his post-war political career, and how the Civil War had a continuing impact for the rest of Garfield's life. Garfield held many titles throughout his life, but none was more meaningful to him than "General Garfield." While Garfield's presidency was tragically cut short by his assassination in 1881, twenty years earlier he bravely donned his country's uniform and took part in the American Civil War. Just as the war changed the United States, it also changed the lives of those who took part in it. James Garfield was among them. His post-war political career and his eventual rise to the presidency were made possible by his heroic service to the Union cause during the Civil War.

I hope to post more on this forum in the coming weeks and months, sharing more regarding the life and Civil War career of James Garfield and the publication of the book. Stay tuned for updates!