April 12th Always Seemed to Find Importance in the Civil War

TODAY IN HISTORY, APRIL 12:

This post will be a little longer; I usually cover only one day in history, but April 12 just seemed to find importance over and over in the American Civil War.

Today in History, April 12, 1861:

South Carolina batteries fire on the Union held Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. This began the American Civil War, although it will depend upon who you ask which side started the conflict. Most historians will say that Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s order for the bombardment began the war. Some in the South still refer to the war as the “War of Northern Aggression”, and consider that the fact the Union refused to leave the fort in what they considered sovereign South Carolina territory as the trigger.

When President Lincoln took office, closed his inaugural address, ” In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail YOU. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”

 “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not BE enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In 2019 we visited Ft. Sumter, and I was honored to be able to assist in lowering the colors at the end of the day. It was a very moving experience for me.

Today in History, April 12, 1864:

“The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed, but few of the officers escaping. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.”

–Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest describing the attack (massacre) at Ft. Pillow, 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee.

Forrest was a very successful Cavalry commander, making raids behind enemy lines that kept the Union army on it’s heels. During one of those raids he decided to attack Fort Pillow, wanting to collect it’s livestock and supplies for his army. There are no indications that he knew more than the fort was protected by a force of about 600, which he felt he could defeat.

Ft. Pillow was defended by an approximately equal amount of white and “colored” Union soldiers. During the attack, they initially refused to surrender, because Confederates had threatened to kill any black Union soldiers, or return them to slavery, rather than take them prisoner. There is no documentation that the acts at Ft. Pillow were policy rather than blood lust…but in the end, at least 80% of the “colored” troops were hunted down, shot, bayoneted, burned alive; murdered by Forrest’s troops.

The rebels did not attempt to maintain the fort, leaving it the same day. This is certainly a sad day in American history. For anyone finding excuses, Forrest was, after the war, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

President Lincoln and his cabinet discussed how to respond…some wanting to treat Confederate prisoners with the same “tolerance”. In the end, the act did not have the effect Forrest desired…”Colored” regiments led the way into Richmond on it’s surrender, and were present at Appomattox.

TODAY IN HISTORY, APRIL 12, 1865:

The Union Army accepts the arms and colors of the Army of Northern Virginia, four years to the day after Confederates fired on Ft. Sumter.

“It was now the morning of the 12th of April. I had been ordered to have my lines formed for the ceremony at sunrise. It was a chill gray morning….We formed to face the last line of battle, and receive the last remnant of the arms and colors of that great army which ours had been created to confront…We were remnants also….

We could not look into those braved, bronzed faces, and those battered flags we had met on so many fields where glorious manhood lent a glory to the earth that bore it, and think of personal hate and mean revenge. Whoever had misled these men, we had not. We had led them back home….

Forgive us, therefore, if from stern and steadfast faces, eyes dimmed with tears gazed at each other across that pile of storied relics so dearly laid down, and brothers’ hands were glad to reach across that rushing tide of memories which divided us, yet made us forever one.” –Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 20th Maine, hero of Little Round Top, at Appomattox.

When to Hold Your Move – Kentucky in the Civil War

Today in History, December 10, 1861:

Kentucky is accepted into the Confederacy by the Confederate government. However the act didn’t mean much.

When the war had begun, both sides very much wanted Kentucky, a well-positioned border state, contiguous with the Mississippi River, on their side.

However, it’s citizens were pretty evenly split in their allegiances between the North and the South, so they declared themselves neutral in the conflict.

President Lincoln very much wanted the state and it’s resources, but what he wanted even more was not to push them to the South, so he accepted their neutrality.

In September of 1861 the Confederacy, in the form of Gen. Leonidas K. Polk, violated that neutrality by ordering the occupation of Columbus and setting up a fort there.

Union Gen. U. S. Grant responded by occupying Paducah; Union assets had to be defended, and a strategic Confederate presence could not go unopposed.

The Kentucky assembly responded by issuing a proclamation ordering the Confederates out and the US flag to be flown over the capitol. Polk had chosen a side for them.

Soon a shadow government of Confederate sympathizers was formed, elected a governor, and applied for entry into the Confederacy, which was granted.

While Kentucky did have regiments on both sides of the conflict, the Confederate government of the state was impotent, soon having to leave the state, finishing the war by trailing the Army of the Tennessee around the South. Their elected governor was killed at Shiloh.

An Unfairly Ignominious End to a Brilliant Career

 

Today in History, October 31, 1861:

76-year-old Gen. Winfield Scott steps down as commander of the Union armies due to his age and poor health; 300+ pounds and suffering from gout, Scott could no longer mount a horse without assistance, much less be effective in the field.  He was all but run out of the US Army he loved by a much younger, ambitious officer, Gen. George McClellan.  McClellan was also a brilliant officer, but did not have Scott’s leadership qualities.

However Scott had been a hero; a soldier since 1808, he fought in the War of 1812, wrote many of the rules and regulations for the fledgling American Army, and used brilliant tactics in the Mexican War.  Much of what the US Army has become, is because of Winfield Scott, who in his youth struck an imposing figure.

Most interesting to me is that although he retired in bad shape, Scott had trained and led most of the senior commanders on both sides of the Civil War throughout the years and during the Mexican War. Grant, Lee and many others honed their skills under his tutelage.

When the war began, General Scott had a plan which he called “The Anaconda Plan”, designed to encircle the Confederacy and exert pressure from all sides at once.  McClellan rejected this idea, and fought a losing piecemeal war for years.  Ironically, the war was won in the end when President Lincoln and Gen. Grant used tactics putting pressure on all sides of the South at once.  General Scott had been correct all along.