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.

Appomattox

Today in History, April 9, 1865:

After years of foiling every move the Union made, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had finally been run to ground. Several Yankee Generals had been bested by him, but he had finally met his match…not tactically, but in determination, by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

At Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, Lee, his army starving and with nowhere else to run, in spite of the fact that he would “rather die a thousand deaths”, agreed to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant.

Lee arrived in his best uniform; Grant, typically, arrived in a muddy private’s uniform. Grant offered terms that included Confederate officers keeping their horses and sidearms, enlisted men keeping their horses so that they could farm their land, as long as they agreed to abide by their paroles and obey the laws of the land. Lee was very appreciative of these terms, saying they would be helpful to his army, men he loved.

As Lee mounted his horse and left the site of the surrender, Union soldiers began to cheer. Grant quickly silenced them, reminding them that the Confederates were once again their countrymen.

The surrender document was signed in the home of Wilmer McLean. Ironically, in the first battle of the war, First Bull Run, or First Manassas if you are from the South, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters were in McLean’s home in Manassas, where cannon shot destroyed part of the house. McLean moved south to Appomattox Courthouse to keep his family safe. So, as is said, the Civil War began in Wilmer McLean’s front yard, and ended in his parlor.

McLean’s home was almost completely stripped of furniture by Union officers seeking momentos of the occasion.

Lee was given the opportunity by Grant to allow one of his subordinates to accept the surrender…to avoid humiliation. Lee refused…his FATHER, Light Horse Harry Lee, had been with Washington at Yorktown and witnessed the ungentlemanly act of British Gen. Lord Cornwallis sending a subordinate to surrender his sword to Washington. Lee refused to dishonor his family name by repeating the act. Grant did not require Lee to surrender his sword, but Lee was the man that represented his army at Appomattox Courthouse. Both gentlemen, North and South, maintained their honor.