On April 9, 1865, Palm Sunday, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean’s house in the little village of Appomattox Court House to discuss the status of their two armies. After swapping stories of the days of their Mexican War service, the two men finally penned their names on terms of surrender, effectively ending the American Civil War. Grant, magnanimous towards the now defeated Confederates, and Lee, humble in his loss, ushered in the era of reconciliation that would bandage up the past four bloody years and push the reunited country forward together as one.
Most Americans are familiar with this depiction of the way the Civil War’s end happened, basking in the intense moment of genuine reconciliation and healing, all feelings of animosity and politics pushed aside. The meaning of the Civil War, we’ve been told, was decided upon that day when Grant and Lee met. Appomattox has become interchangeable with peace, progress, and reunion in the American consciousness. Continue reading “A Take on Appomattox”
In the minds of most Civil War lovers, the year 1864 marks the noticeable shift from a conciliatory war to a hard war. Most view it through the lens of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign, through William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea, through the successes of the Union Army. After all, the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 is seen as the ‘high tide of the Confederacy,’ marking the falling action point in the war when total Union victory became inevitable. But in actuality, 1864 was just as—if not more—critical to the outcome of the war than the prior three years. The changing character of the war in that year muddled who was actually succeeding, making clear winners and losers unknown. Additionally, Abraham Lincoln’s reelection hung in the balance; a presidential change-up would alter the nature of war, especially if George B. McClellan were victorious.
For the Union and Confederate armies, 1864 was the year that everything became ambiguous. Victory was not in sight for either army, and fears of fighting a war with an unknown ending seeped through society. No one had anticipated the war would stretch into 1862, much less continue on into 1863 and then 1864. The penultimate year of the war as we now know it became defined by unparalleled engagements—the burning forests of the Wilderness, the battle at Spotsylvania, the fighting at the Mule Shoe, the entrenchments at Petersburg, the Crater, the slaughter at Cold Harbor. The months of 1864 saw fighting nearly every day, as soldiers in both armies, desperate for that grand victory, fought even harder. Continue reading “The End is Near: The Civil War in 1864”
An ongoing and rather controversial debate in the Civil War world is that over the rightful placement of the Confederate battle flag in American memory. Being such a provocative symbol both in terms of history and race relations, its ‘true’ meaning and ‘true’ symbolism are constantly in flux. With recent disputes on the removal of the Confederate flag from Robert E. Lee’s tomb at Washington and Lee University making their way into the mainstream news, the complicated meaning of the rebel symbol and where it belongs in American memory have earned their places at the forefront of the national consciousness.
Brad Paisley worked the issue even further into the public arena with the release of the song “Accidental Racist” on his 2013 album Wheelhouse. Set toward the end of the album, the country song with a little flavor of rap features LL Cool J as a guest artist. Immediately after its release, the song drew criticism both from white and black Americans about its aims and the intended meaning behind its unusual yet distinctive lyrics.
July 1, 1863. It is the first day of what will come to be known as the Battle of Gettysburg. Union forces, upon firing the first shot in the early morning hours of that Wednesday, were pushed back from their position near Herr’s Ridge and McPherson’s woods towards Cemetery Hill. Following orders given by Schurz, twenty-nine year old Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow moved his division to the right of Schimmelfennig’s division and placed them on top of an elevated piece of land known as Blocher’s Knoll. The Eleventh Corps had yet to begin their retreat through Gettysburg, but they would soon after Barlow’s men extended the already thin line further north.
Attacking the knoll was Major General Jubal Anderson Early’s division, who arrived on the Eleventh Corps’ right flank in time to force their retreat into town. Seeing George Doles being pushed back, Brigadier General John Brown Gordon received orders to attack Barlow with his Georgians. The fighting became fiercer as Gordon descended upon the knoll, driving the Union troops back past the Almshouse and into the town. Barlow remained on the knoll as his men retreated, rallying them to form another line to attack, allowing enough time for a bullet from Gordon’s men to strike him. Dismounting his horse and desperately attempting to get out of the line of fire, Barlow worked his way to the rear, with two of his men offering their help. One eventually succumbed to a wound and fell, the other ran for safety. Barlow, now alone, was hit again, knocking him to the ground. Bleeding out, he remained there as the Confederates rushed the position on the knoll and pushed his division further and further into the town. Gordon approached Barlow, noticing the severity of his wounds and offered him water, recognizing the life draining from his face. Knowing he did not have much time left to live, Barlow asked Gordon to tell his wife he died in the front lines doing his duty to his country, and to destroy the letters he had on his person. Gordon found Mrs. Barlow near the end of July 1 and relayed the message to her under a flag of truce. His duty to Barlow over, and assuming he died on the field of battle, Gordon forgot about the man. Continue reading “A “friendship . . . born amidst the thunders of Gettysburg”: The Barlow-Gordon Incident”
The Gettysburg Battlefield has over one thousand monuments dedicated to a host of brave men who fought and gave their lives during the three day engagement in July of 1863. Littered alongside well-traveled roads and points of attraction on the battlefield, most do not go unnoticed. There are a few, however, that do. One of them commemorates Captain Heckman’s Battery K of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, an oft-passed but unnoticed monument on Gettysburg College’s campus and the focus of one of my previous blog posts . Another cluster of monuments in the vicinity of the Gettysburg College campus and Heckman’s monument is just as much, if not more, removed from what one would consider the traditional battlefield and is often overlooked if not forgotten about. But if the readers of the Gettysburg Compiler are anything like me, the stories behind these forgotten monuments, the ones rarely told, are the most interesting ones of the battle.
If you were to turn down Stevens Street from Carlisle Street, you would eventually determine that you hit a dead end road. At least that was what I thought when the van carrying thirty Gettysburg College students on an unconventional battlefield tour turned down the street and came to a stop in front of a grassy area. Confusion set in as we were instructed to unload off the bus. This wasn’t the battlefield; we were in a neighborhood.
Tucked away off the coast of central New Jersey on the small stretch of land called Long Beach Island is a little piece of Civil War history. It is here that a largely unknown monument highlights a figure so well known by those four hours away in the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. I have been visiting Long Beach Island since I was young, and yet had no knowledge of this Civil War connection that had been staring me in the face until my mother enthusiastically shouted to me, “Brianna! Gettysburg!” As I climbed the sandy hill towards a monument somewhat removed from the beaten path, I was shocked at what the monument was for, but more importantly, at the man to whom it was dedicated.
The American Civil War ended with Union victory on April 9, 1865, in the front parlor of the McLean House in Appomattox, Virginia. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant ensured the southern states would return to the Union and begin the process of Reconstruction. Union soldiers, flushed with victory, reveled in the knowledge that their cause triumphed, that their masculinity and honor was upheld while the southern men were forced to reconcile with their failure as soldiers and men. This victorious sentiment and love toward the Union Army has transcended the celebratory jubilees in which northern soldiers engaged in the years after the war, emerging through the words of historians into the late twentieth century. For generations, historians focused on the broader wartime actions and achievements of generals and politicians compared to the soldiers who did the actual fighting. This changed, however, in the mid-twentieth century.
In 1952, Bell Irvin Wiley took the first step towards examining the daily life of soldiers and their reasons for fighting in The Life of Billy Yank. Wiley’s analysis of the common Union soldier reinforced the idea that he was a man to be revered; his narrative celebrated the masculinity of the average enlisted man and feted his devotion to the country. Wiley’s depiction of honorable and courageous enlisted men held strong for decades. Few historians, the lone exception being Gerald Linderman through his book Embattled Courage, leveled any serious challenges to Wiley’s sterilized narrative. Subsequent historians like James McPherson adopted this approach, contending that the men who fought did so to prove their personal honor and masculinity, both to themselves and society. These scholars preferred to recount tales of common soldiers who, with clenched jaw and burnished bayonet, charged the rebel enemy with ideological conviction.
The story of Clark Gardner, his double amputation, and his pension records are still surrounded by two other clouds of ambiguity concerning his neighbor and friend, Edward A. Rich, and Gardner’s wife. Rich relayed information to a special examiner about the nature of Gardner’s injuries. He claimed to know Gardner before the war began, revealing that Gardner had running sores on his right leg prior to enlisting in the 10th New York Heavy Artillery. This made the amputation he received in 1879 a result of this pre-existing condition instead of the sickness Gardner claimed to acquire from Staten Island.
Veteran war stories are some of the most fascinating windows into the past that students of history can experience. With World War II veteran numbers quickly diminishing and the risk of these accounts of history being lost, the importance of collecting and passing on veteran stories to future generations is vital. Such was the case with those who fought in the Civil War. As the twentieth century approached, droves of veterans began disappearing from the pages of history. The need for those veteran stories from America’s bloodiest war to be recorded and published became not only important to the veterans themselves but also to students like myself who have a genuine interest in studying how the Civil War was remembered by its soldiers.
In 1893, two Philadelphia doctors from the Mütter Museum sent surveys to Civil War amputee veterans in order to compile records on their war amputations circa thirty years after seeing combat. One of those surveys found its way into the hands of Clark Gardner, a fifty-four year old double amputee vet who served in the 10th New York Heavy Artillery. (An introduction to Garnder can be found here.) Gardner’s responses to the survey are quite compelling and provided vivid details about his war amputations, the healing processes, difficulties he encountered, and artificial limb usage.