“Nothing lives for long.  Except the Earth and the Mountains.” —Chief White Antelope, age 75

Today in History, November 29, 1864:

The Sand Creek Massacre.

As the morning was dawning in the sleepy village, Chief Black Kettle saw them approaching, and hoisted the Stars and Stripes above his Tipi as a sign of brotherhood and peace.  And then the blue coated soldiers began firing.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho of Colorado had settled in for the winter along a bend in Sand Creek in eastern Colorado.  Resources in the barren area were in short supply and they expected a harsh time.  900-1,000 people in hundreds of Tipis, although many were out hunting buffalo that morning.

The Civil War raged further east, and in Colorado and New Mexico a few months previous.  Colonel John Chivington of the Colorado Volunteers had fought in those battles, but now was looking for a new fight.  After a family of settlers was killed, allegedly by Arapaho or Cheyenne, the Governor tasked Chivington with raising a regiment to defend against hostile Indians.

But his regiment’s enlistment was nearly up and he hadn’t found any hostile Indians.  So he took over 700 troops to attack the peaceful village along Sand Creek.

After the earlier attack on the settlers, the white authorities told the peaceful Indians to encamp at military forts and facilities where they would be protected. If not, they would be considered “Hostile.” A word synonymous with “shoot on site” for Indians in the old West.

Chief Black Kettle had spoken to the commander of nearby Fort Lyon, seeking to comply.  He was told to keep his people at Sand Creek until the commander received further orders, and they would be safe.

Hundreds of women and children dropped to their knees in front of the soldiers that morning, imploring them for mercy.  There was no mercy given as the women and children were shot down or had their skulls caved in.  Many then ran for the creek where they sought cover, or fled north.  For the next several hours Chivington’s soldiers chased them down and killed as many as they could.

Seeing what was happening, Chief White Antelope approached the soldiers, folded his arms, and began singing his death song,

“Nothing lives for long.  Except the Earth and the Mountains.”

Chief Black Kettle carried his wounded wife and fled north towards another band of Cheyenne.  He would make his way to Oklahoma, where he led his people to again attempt peaceful existence.  He would live two days shy of four years more…when he and his wife would be chased down and killed by soldiers of George Custer’s command at the Massacre along the Washita River.

One of the Union officers present at Sand Creek that day refused to follow commands and ordered his company not to fire; and tried to save some of the victims.  Captain Silas Soule was career Army and recognized the cowardly acts being carried out.  The next day he wrote a letter to a Major friend of his back east, telling of the horrific behavior of Chivington’s “mob”.  He told of women and children having their brains bashed in.  He said that Chiefs had their ears and genitals cut off as trophies, and all those killed were scalped.  The crazed killers cut out many of the women’s genitalia as souvenirs.

Chivington would escape court martial by resigning from the Volunteers.  But even during the Civil War, the government and the people were aghast at the atrocities carried out at Sand Creek, and Congressional hearings were held in 1865, during which Captain Soule testified at against Chivington.

For his trouble he was gunned down in the street in Denver a few months later.  His murderers were never prosecuted.

The assault was supposedly intended to force peace for the nascent settlements in Colorado.  It had exactly the opposite effect, as the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and others fought a decade’s long war with the settlers, their trust of the white people destroyed.

The story was eventually all but forgotten, and was a touchy subject when it was spoken of.  However Colorado eventually began to come to terms with this dark part of its history, and in 2007 the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site was established, run by the National Park Service.

Many visit the site in homage to the approximately 200 Native Americans who died that day.

Several of the sites I read in preparation for this posting indicated the subject was not covered much until the 2000’s.  However if you read (or watch) James Michener’s “Centennial”, you’ll find that he covered the events very well, just with a change in names.

The Burning of Atlanta…and Why “Sherman” Became an Epithet in the South

Today in History, November 12, 1864:

The burning of Atlanta.

Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his army had taken Atlanta in September, and subsequently ordered the citizenry to evacuate the city. That order set off a firestorm of complaints and criticism from Confederate military and civilian leaders. Sherman stuck to his guns…the South could expend the resources to care for and secure their populace. Sherman’s supply lines stretched from Nashville, TN and were constantly threatened by Confederate army raids, so he knew he could not hold Atlanta for long.

But then, he didn’t want to. He stayed in Atlanta long enough to rest and build up supplies. On today’s date in 1864 he ordered the industrial district and anything that might prove useful to the enemy burned. The fires spread and eventually as much as 40% of the city went up in flames.

Sherman sent Gen. Thomas back towards Nashville to tie up the Confederate Army of the Tennessee led by Gen. John Bell Hood.

He then took his army east across Georgia, laying waste to the countryside in the same fashion that he had destroyed the city of Atlanta. This horrified the South, and Sherman’s acts are still points of contention. However if you read Sherman’s thoughts on his decisions, he was merely trying to end the war more quickly by reverting back to ancient principles of war. From times when armies fed themselves and armed themselves by living off of the land they were currently in. Sherman and his army took what they needed and destroyed what was left in order to deny the enemy its use. This was also intended to bring the war to the doorstep of the Southern citizens in the hope that they would press for the termination of hostilities.

By Christmas he would be able to send a telegram to President Lincoln: “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

The USS Kearsarge Ends CSS Alabama’s Run

Today in History, June 19, 1864:

The Battle off Cherbourg. In 1861 the screw sloop CSS Alabama was launched in England, which was just the beginning of the intrigue involving the Confederate cruiser that wreaked havoc on Union shipping until her demise on this date in 1864.

The British gov’t had ordered no ships be built or sold to the rebels, but the company that built the Alabama did so clandestinely. During the intervening years the Alabama, which had both steam engines and sails, circled the globe sinking Union merchant shipping (60 at least) and a Union warship.

She had put in at Cherbourg, France for much needed repairs, but was rebuffed. Before she could leave, the Union screw sloop USS Kearsarge arrived outside the harbor.

Capt. Charles Pickering and many other Union Captains had been searching for the infamous Alabama and Capt. Raphael Semmes for years. Semmes set out to engage the Kearsarge, firing the first shot. The two ships parried, but the Kearsarge had some advantages; powerful new “Dahlgren” guns and chains draped over her sides for protection. Within an hour the Kearsarge’s crew sent the Alabama to the bottom. Semmes escaped on a passing British ship to England with 41 of his crew.

Private William Henry Christman Laid to Rest

 

Today in History, May 13, 1864:

Private William Christman of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, US Army, became the first soldier laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.  He was laid to rest in the Lee’s rose garden near the Custis-Lee Mansion, or Arlington House.

Private Christman’s brother had preceded him in service to his country, leaving William to manage the family farm.  William volunteered himself in part to help provide for his family.  He became ill and died in a DC military hospital.

The mansion and the plantation it was on had belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington, step-grandson of President Washington.  He willed the property to his daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis.  She in turn married a young US Army Lieutenant and West Point graduate, Robert E. Lee.

Lee served in the Mexican-American War and was respected as one of the best officers in the US Army.  In fact he was offered command of the forces around Washington at the outset of the Civil War.  He turned this offer down and instead left the Custis-Lee Mansion to go further south into Virginia and command Confederate forces.

As the war progressed the mansion was used as a Union Headquarters.  A camp to assist former slaves was set up on the property.  And finally, faced with mounting casualties in the war, the Union assumed the property as a cemetery for Union war dead.

It was actually after Private Christman was interred that the property was designated the Arlington National Cemetery.  Today American soldiers from every war fought by the United States are buried and memorialized at Arlington, including the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

arlingtoncemetery.mil

Damn the Torpedoes!


Today in History, August 5: 1864 – “Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!” New Orleans had been captured from the Confederacy in 1862, leaving Mobile Bay as the only source of foreign supplies for the South, via blockade runners (like the fictional Rhett Butler). On this date the Union Navy sent a fleet of ships led by ironclads into Mobile Bay, fighting a squadron of Confederate Ships and two “batteries” or forts with cannon, and a withering fire that almost immediately sank the USS Tecumseh, an ironclad. The Union fleet began to scatter, until the US Navy’s first Rear Admiral, David Glasgow Farragut inspired them on to victory with his now historic courageous command. By the way, “torpedoes” in 1864 were not propelled explosives as we know of them today, but what we know as mines. This would not be the only battle that would lead to Farragut’s lasting legacy with the US Navy.