The Civil War Years, Robert E. Denney

The Civil War Years, Robert E. Denney

The Civil War Years, Robert E. Denney

The Civil War Years, Robert E. Denney

A Day-by-Day Chronicle of the Life of a Nation

This is a fantastically detailed day by day account of the Civil War, but in a way that is not its main strength. Denney had found diaries and letters from a wide range of participants in the war, north and south, and illustrates the main events of the war (and many minor events) with the opinions and experiences of those people.

This approach helps bring the war to life. A small group of our correspondents continue to write throughout the war, so we can follow them as they develop from inexperienced recruits into experienced veterans, and then finally leave the service as the war ends.

Author: Robert E. Denney
Edition: Hardback
Pages: 624
Publisher: Gramercy
Year: 1998

Distaff Civil War Paperback – 1 April 2002

Robert E. Denney is both a Korean and Vietnam veteran, as well as having served a short time in China before the Communists took over in 1948. His interest in the Civil War goes back more than 50 years and he has been an ardent student of that conflict for all that time. He is the author of three books on the Civil War including books covering the prisons and medicine of the war. He is currently researching the aspect of the "galvanized" soldiers, North and South, and is planning a major genealogical document and book concerning this subject.

Denney's service in Korea, as an infantry Sergeant, was working with the guerrillas in North Korea to disrupt the supply lines and create diversions. For service in that war he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star w/V device, and the Purple Heart. Following hospitalization upon return to the States, Denney was assigned as a 1st Sgt. and later Sgt. Major of units before attending helicopter flight school in 1955. While on duty in Germany, Denney became involved in the test and development of a low-level navigation system for helicopters. For his performance during the test, he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal. Sent to Arizona to continue the tests, he headed a major test on an American-built navigation system. During this period he was promoted from Chief Warrant Officer to Captain. For his work on the project he was awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC) for the Commendation Medal.

Sent to Vietnam in 1965 and 1966, he was assigned as the Project Officer to acquire and install a similar navigation system for that theater of operations. During this period Denney was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star (OLC), and a Purple Heart (OLC). Denney retired in 1967 as a Major after more than twenty years active service.


Mathew Brady's photographs inspired Burns to make The Civil War, which (in nine episodes totaling more than 10 hours) explores the war's military, social, and political facets through some 16,000 contemporary photographs and paintings, and excerpts from the letters and journals of persons famous and obscure.

The series' slow zooming and panning across still images was later termed the "Ken Burns effect". Burns combined these images with modern cinematography, music, narration by David McCullough, anecdotes and insights from authors such as Shelby Foote, [3] historians Barbara J. Fields, Ed Bearss, and Stephen B. Oates and actors reading contemporary quotes from historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Walt Whitman, Stonewall Jackson, and Frederick Douglass, as well as diaries by Mary Chesnut, Sam Watkins, Elisha Hunt Rhodes and George Templeton Strong and commentary from James W. Symington. A large cast of actors voiced correspondence, memoirs, news articles, and stood in for historical figures from the Civil War.

Burns also interviewed Daisy Turner, then a 104-year-old daughter of an ex-slave, whose poetry features prominently in the series. Turner died in February 1988, a full two-and-a-half years before the series aired.

Production ran five years. The film was co-produced by Ken's brother Ric Burns, written by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ric Burns, edited by Paul Barnes with cinematography by Buddy Squires. It was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Music Edit

The theme song of the documentary is the instrumental "Ashokan Farewell", which is heard twenty-five times during the film. The song was composed by Jay Ungar in 1982 and he describes it as "the song coming out of 'a sense of loss and longing' after the annual Ashokan Music & Dance Camps ended." [4] It is the only modern piece of music heard in the film, and subsequently became the first ever single release for the Elektra Nonesuch label, which released the series' soundtrack album. [5] It became so closely associated with the series that people frequently and erroneously believe it was a Civil War song.

Ungar, his band Fiddle Fever and pianist Jacqueline Schwab performed this song and many of the other 19th-century songs used in the film. [6] [7] Schwab's arrangements in particular have been acclaimed by many critics. Musicologist Alexander Klein wrote: "Upon watching the full documentary, one is immediately struck by the lyricism of Schwab's playing and, more importantly, her exceptional arranging skills. What had been originally rousing and at times bellicose songs such as the southern "Bonnie Blue Flag" or the northern "Battle Cry of Freedom" now suddenly sounded like heart-warming, lyrical melodies due to Schwab's interpretations. The pianist not only changed the songs' original mood but also allowed herself some harmonic liberties so as to make these century-old marching tunes into piano lamentations that contemporary audiences could fully identify with". [8]

A major piece of vocal music in the series is a version of the old spiritual "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder", performed a cappella by the African-American singer, scholar and activist Bernice Johnson Reagon and several other female voices. The song appears on Reagon's album River of Life.

Voices Edit

  • Narrated by David McCullough as Abraham Lincoln as Mary Chesnut as Ulysses S. Grant as Frederick Douglass and others as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain as Walt Whitman and others
  • George Black as Robert E. Lee as William Tecumseh Sherman and others as Elisha Hunt Rhodes as Sam Watkins as Jefferson Davis as George Templeton Strong as Horace Greeley
  • Terry Courier as George B. McClellan as Stonewall Jackson and others as Benjamin Butler and others as various as various as various as various as various as various as various as various as various (credited as Larry Fishburne) as various as various as various

Interviews Edit

    – Military historian and author
    – Professor of American history at Columbia University
    – American writer, journalist, and Civil War historian
    – Professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
    – American author, columnist, journalist, and presidential speechwriter
    – Daughter of a former plantation slave, oral historian
    – American poet, novelist, and literary critic

Each episode was divided into numerous chapters or vignettes, [7] but each generally had a primary theme or focus (i.e., a specific battle or topic). The series followed a fairly consistent chronological order of history.

No. Episode Original air date
1"The Cause" (1861)September 23, 1990 ( 1990-09-23 ) [9]
All Night Forever Are We Free? A House Divided The Meteor Secessionitis 4:30 a.m. April 12, 1861 Traitors and Patriots Gun Men Manassas A Thousand Mile Front Honorable Manhood
2"A Very Bloody Affair" (1862)September 24, 1990 ( 1990-09-24 ) [10]
Politics Ironclads Lincolnites The Peninsula Our Boy Shiloh The Arts of Death Republics On to Richmond
3"Forever Free" (1862)September 24, 1990 ( 1990-09-24 ) [10]
Stonewall The Beast The Seven Days Kiss Daniel for Me Saving the Union Antietam The Higher Object
4"Simply Murder" (1863)September 25, 1990 ( 1990-09-25 ) [11]
Northern Lights Oh! Be Joyful The Kingdom of Jones Under the Shade of the Trees A Dust-Covered Man
5"The Universe of Battle" (1863)September 25, 1990 ( 1990-09-25 ) [11]
Gettysburg: The First Day Gettysburg: The Second Day Gettysburg: The Third Day She Ranks Me Vicksburg Bottom Rail on Top The River of Death A New Birth of Freedom
6"Valley of the Shadow of Death" (1864)September 26, 1990 ( 1990-09-26 ) [12]
Grant Lee In the Wilderness Move By the Left Flank Now, Fix Me The Remedy
7"Most Hallowed Ground" (1864)September 26, 1990 ( 1990-09-26 ) [12]
A Warm Place in the Field Nathan Bedford Forrest Summer, 1864 Spies The Crater Headquarters U.S.A. The Promised Land The Age of Shoddy Can Those Be Men? The People's Resolution Most Hallowed Ground
8"War Is All Hell" (1865)September 27, 1990 ( 1990-09-27 ) [13]
Sherman's March The Breath of Emancipation Died of a Theory Washington, March 4, 1865 I Want to See Richmond Appomattox
9"The Better Angels of Our Nature" (1865)September 27, 1990 ( 1990-09-27 ) [13]
Assassination Useless, Useless The Picklocks of Biographers Was It Not Real?

The series received more than forty major film and television awards, including two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, Producer of the Year Award from the Producers Guild of America, People's Choice Award, Peabody Award, duPont-Columbia Award, D.W. Griffith Award, and the US$50,000 Lincoln Prize, among dozens of others.

The series sparked a major renewal of interest in the Civil War. It was widely acclaimed for its skillful depiction and retelling of the Civil War events, and also for drawing huge numbers of viewers into a new awareness of the historical importance of the conflict. Prior to the series, the Civil War had receded in popular historical consciousness since its 1960s centennial. Following the series, there was a sharp upturn in popular books and other works about the Civil War. [14]

Robert Brent Toplin in 1996 wrote Ken Burns's The Civil War: Historians Respond, which included essays from critical academic historians who felt their topics of interest were not covered in enough detail and responses from Ken Burns and others involved in the series' production.

It has been criticized for its historical accuracy, which focuses more on the battles of the civil war, and provides a divided view on the causes of the war. While most historians agree that slavery was the cause of the war, Burns presented a range of commentators, including Shelby Foote. Foote's view was that the cause of the war was not slavery, but, rather, failure to compromise. Foote was a journalist and not a trained historian, and was the descendant of slaveholders, but was given more screen time than any other commentator. Burns was not a historian, and neither was most of the production team, which has led to accusations that Burns did not give a thorough enough historical overview. Criticism was also leveled at the fact that Burns and most of his team were white men, which may have contributed to the lack of the series' coverage of women and issues around blacks, or examining reconstruction. A group of leading Civil War historians published a highly critical review of Burns's work in a 1997 book, The Civil War: Historians Respond, to which Burns was given a chapter to reply to their concerns. The film has also been criticized for propagating the Lost Cause of the Confederacy myth. Because Burns's documentary was so influential, and serves as the main source of knowledge about the Civil War to many Americans, it is claimed to have led to a continuation of Lost Cause views. [15] [16]

12th Anniversary Edit

The entire series was digitally remastered for re-release on September 17, 2002 in VHS and DVD by PBS Home Video and Warner Home Video. The DVD release included a short documentary on how a Spirit DataCine was used to transfer and remaster the film. [17] The remastering was limited to producing an improved fullscreen standard-definition digital video of the film's interpositive negatives, for broadcast and DVD. The soundtrack was also re-mastered and remixed in 5.1 Dolby Digital AC3 surround sound.

Paul Barnes, Editor & Post-Production Supervisor, Florentine Films at that time commented:

Ken Burns and I decided to remaster The Civil War for several reasons. First of all, when we completed the film in 1989, we were operating under a very tight schedule and budget. As the main editor on the film, I always wanted to go back and improve the overall quality of the film. The other reason for remastering the film at this time is that the technology to color correct, print and transfer a film to video for broadcast has vastly improved, especially in the realm of digital computer technology. We also were able to eliminate a great deal of the dust and dirt that often get embedded into 16mm film when it is printed.

25th Anniversary Edit

For the 150th anniversary of the end of the war, and the 25th anniversary of the series, PBS remastered the series in high definition. This work involved creating a new 4K ultra-high-definition digital master of the film's original camera negatives and was carried out in association with the George Eastman House, where the original 16mm negatives are preserved. It aired on PBS from September 7 to 11, 2015. [18] Blu-ray and DVD editions were released on October 13, 2015.

A soundtrack featuring songs from the miniseries, many of which were songs popular during the Civil War, has been released.

The Civil War

In the spring of 1861, as the still youthful nation moved ever closer to what would become the Civil War, both Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant were faced with life-altering decisions. Both men were governed by personal codes of honor and a steadfast allegiance to what each viewed as his homeland. In the end, their choices would be representative of those made by many of their countrymen. For Lee, his successful career in the United States Army and his allegiance to the United States government could be trumped by only one set of relationships, those to his family and his home state of Virginia. For Grant, one had to choose between being a traitor or a patriot.

Grant’s Ascent in the West, 1861–63

Grant was awarded command of a regiment of Illinois volunteers in June 1861. Like President Lincoln, he had no interest at that point in ending slavery, only in preserving the United States. Grant commented to Julia about what was at stake, both for the nation and for him personally: "the safety of the country, to some extent, and my reputation and that of our children greatly depends upon my acts."

In early 1862, his troops captured Forts Henry and Donelson in northern Tennessee. His demand for "unconditional surrender" at Fort Donelson, with which his initials would from this point be associated, was accepted by Confederate general Simon Bolivar Buckner, Grant's close friend at West Point. This was the first major U.S. victory of the war it brought about the capture of an entire Confederate army of nearly 15,000 soldiers. Grant pushed forward. Six weeks later at Shiloh, in the bloodiest battle ever fought on the North American continent to that point, his skill and determination snatched victory from what seemed like inevitable defeat.

In 1863, Grant turned toward Vicksburg, Mississippi, a town vital to both the geographical unity of the Confederacy and the control of the Mississippi River. When this fortress fell on July 4th, Grant had captured his second Confederate army, this time a force of 30,000. He was promoted to major general, Congress awarded a victory medal, and the president stated, "Grant is my man, and I am his the rest of the war." Lincoln then sent him to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Grant again turned impending defeat into victory. The president promoted him to lieutenant general and gave him the command of all United States forces as general-in-chief. Grant would soon be compelled to move to the eastern theater to confront Lee.

Lee’s Ascent in the East, 1861–63

A year would pass before the principal Confederate command was awarded to the general whom President Lincoln and his advisers had ranked the best soldier in the nation. Confederate president Jefferson Davis first wanted Lee nearby to advise him. He then sent Lee in a futile effort to save northwestern Virginia (now West Virginia) from falling into Union hands in the summer of 1861. That fall, Lee was sent to South Carolina to bolster defenses on the Atlantic seaboard. During the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia in the spring of 1862, Lee once again served as military adviser to President Davis. It would not be until June 1862, when he was appointed to succeed the wounded Gen. Joseph Johnston, that Lee would command an army for the first time.

Within three weeks, Lee assumed the offensive. His newly named Army of Northern Virginia pushed Union general George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac back from the outskirts of Richmond in a series of clashes called the Seven Days Battles. Then, by moving the theater of action to Manassas Junction in northern Virginia, Lee turned the table on McClellan by threatening Washington, D.C. In early September, he continued his offensive into Maryland, where he could feed his army off the land, free Virginia from the presence of enemy forces, attempt to influence the peace movement in the North, and perhaps win a decisive battle that might achieve foreign recognition and end the conflict. He did not find the victory that he sought at Antietam. Three months later, on December 13, Lee’s army halted the advance of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, McClellan’s replacement, at Fredericksburg.

In the spring of 1863 Lee wrote to his wife, "If we can baffle [our enemies] in their various designs this year . . . next fall there will be a great change in public opinion at the North." After his great victory at Chancellorsville in early May, which cost the Confederacy the life of Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, Lee proceeded into Pennsylvania with some of the same objectives that had carried him to Maryland the year before. When he failed to achieve victory at Gettysburg, he retreated with his army to Virginia.

Grant versus Lee, 1864–65

In the spring of 1864, Grant arrived in Virginia to test himself against the man who would become his greatest antagonist. Having defeated many U.S. generals, Lee was once again looking for a single victory that might end all hostilities. Grant, however, was unlike anyone Lee had met before. His goal was not Richmond. Grant was determined to destroy Lee's Army, whatever the cost in lives and materials. He made clear his plan to Maj. Gen. George Meade, "Lee's Army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes there you will go also." Grant stayed in the field, at Meade's side, to make sure that his overall strategy was carried out. Lee recognized that he was outmanned, but he prepared to give his army its best chance to succeed. From the Wilderness, to Spotsylvania, to Cold Harbor, Lee's army consistently held its own against the massive fighting machine. It was not until Grant’s army managed to cross the James River east of Richmond and begin the siege of Petersburg in mid-June that Lee realized that time was against him. Still, the siege of Petersburg would continue into the spring of 1865.

Early in 1865, anticipating the collapse of the Confederacy, Abraham Lincoln preached in his inaugural address a doctrine of "malice towards none [and] charity for all" as the means "to bind up the nation's wounds." The beginning of the end came for the southern army on April 2 when Grant’s forces broke Lee’s lines southwest of Petersburg and compelled the Confederates to retreat toward Lynchburg. On April 9, Lee surrendered his army to Grant at the small village of Appomattox Court House. General Grant’s generous terms of surrender fulfilled Lincoln’s sentiments. For his part, Lee restrained his soldiers from initiating guerrilla warfare. The two generals, who had so opposed disunion and war, contributed significantly to the process of healing.


After the end of American Civil War, various state and local organizations were formed for veterans to network and maintain connections with each other. Many of the veterans used their shared experiences as a basis for fellowship. Groups of men began joining together, first for camaraderie and later for political power. Emerging as most influential among the various organizations during the first post-war years was the Grand Army of the Republic, founded on April 6, 1866, on the principles of "Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty," in Decatur, Illinois, by Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson and the first GAR Post was established in Decatur, Illinois. [1]

The GAR initially grew and prospered as a de facto political arm of the Republican Party during the heated political contests of the Reconstruction Era. The commemoration of Union Army and Navy veterans, black and white, immediately became entwined with partisan politics. The GAR promoted voting rights for Negro veterans, as many white veterans recognized their demonstrated patriotism and sacrifices, providing one of the first racially integrated social/fraternal organizations in America. Black veterans, who enthusiastically embraced the message of equality, shunned black veterans' organizations in preference for racially inclusive and integrated groups. But when the Republican Party's commitment to reform in the South gradually decreased, the GAR's mission became ill-defined and the organization floundered. The GAR almost disappeared in the early 1870s, and many state-centered divisions, named "departments", and local posts ceased to exist. [2]

In his General Order No. 11, dated May 5, 1868, first GAR Commander-in-Chief, General John A. Logan declared May 30 to be Memorial Day (also referred to for many years as "Decoration Day"), calling upon the GAR membership to make the May 30 observance an annual occurrence. Although not the first time war graves had been decorated, Logan's order effectively established "Memorial Day" as the day upon which Americans now pay tribute to all their war casualties, missing-in-action, and deceased veterans. As decades passed, similarly inspired commemorations also spread across the South as "Confederate Memorial Day" or "Confederate Decoration Day", usually in April, led by organizations of Southern soldiers in the parallel United Confederate Veterans. [3]

In the 1880s, the Union veterans' organization revived under new leadership that provided a platform for renewed growth, by advocating Federal pensions for veterans. As the organization revived, black veterans joined in significant numbers and organized local posts. The national organization, however, failed to press the case for similar pensions for black soldiers. Most black troops never received any pension or remuneration for wounds incurred during their Civil War service. [4]

The GAR was organized into "Departments" at the state level and "Posts" at the community level, and military-style uniforms were worn by its members. There were posts in every state in the U.S., and several posts overseas. [4] The pattern of establishing departments and local posts was later used by other American military veterans' organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (organized originally for veterans of the Spanish–American War and the Philippine Insurrection) and the later American Legion (for the First World War and later expanded to include subsequent World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Middle Eastern wars).

The G.A.R.'s political power grew during the latter part of the 19th century, and it helped elect several United States presidents, beginning with the 18th, Ulysses S. Grant, and ending with the 25th, William McKinley. Six Civil War veterans (Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur Benjamin Harrison, and McKinley) were elected President of the United States all were Republicans. (The sole post-war Democratic president was Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th chief executive.) For a time, candidates could not get Republican presidential or congressional nominations without the endorsement of the GAR veterans voting bloc. Of the six mentioned US Presidents, at least four were members of the G.A.R.:

    (Lt General of the Union Armies) Became a member of the Philadelphia PA George G. Meade Post GAR Post # 1 May 16, 1877 [5][6] (Brevet Major General) Became a Member of the Fremont Ohio Manville Moore GAR Post [7] (Major General) Possibly a member of the G.A.R.-a GAR Post publication refers to the death of Comrade James Garfield, President of the United States [8] (Brevet Brigadier General) Became a member of the Indianapolis Indiana General George H. Thomas GAR Post [9] . (Brevet Major of the 23d Ohio) Became a member of the Canton Ohio GAR Post # 25 July 7, 1880 [It was later renamed McKinley GAR Post # 25] [10]

With membership strictly limited to "veterans of the late unpleasantness," the GAR encouraged the formation of Allied Orders to aid them in various works. Numerous male organizations jousted for the backing of the GAR, and the political battles became quite severe until the GAR finally endorsed the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War as its heir.

Female members Edit

Although an overwhelmingly male organization, the GAR is known to have had at least two women who were members.

The first female known to be admitted to the GAR was Kady Brownell, who served in the Union Army with her husband Robert, a private in the 1st Rhode Island Infantry at the First Battle of Bull Run in Virginia and with the 5th Rhode Island Infantry at the Battle of New Berne in North Carolina. Kady was admitted as a member in 1870 to Elias Howe Jr. Post #3, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The GAR insignia is engraved on her gravestone in the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island. [11]

In 1897 the GAR admitted Sarah Emma Edmonds, who served in the 2nd Michigan Infantry as a disguised man named Franklin Thompson from May 1861 until April 1863. In 1882, she collected affidavits from former comrades in an effort to petition for a veteran's pension which she received in July 1884. Edmonds was only a member for a brief period as she died September 5, 1898 however she was given a funeral with military honors when she was reburied in Houston in 1901. [12]

Recommended Reading

150 Years of Misunderstanding the Civil War

W.E.B. Du Bois on the Freedmen’s Bureau (1901)

The Real Problem With Globalization

Over time, the Civil War became the subject of great romanticization and sentimentalism in cultural memory. For veteran soldiers on both sides, reconciliation required time and the pressure of political imperatives imposed by the larger society on them and on the conflict’s memory. In the wake of this war, Americans faced a profound and all but impossible challenge of achieving two deeply contradictory goals—healing and justice. Healing took generations in many families, if it ever came at all. Justice was fiercely contested. It was not the same proposition for the freedmen and their children as it was for white Southerners, in the wake of their military, economic and psychological defeat. And in America, as much as it sometimes astonishes foreigners, the defeated in this civil war eventually came to control large elements of the event’s meaning, legacies, and policy implications, a reality wracked with irony and driven by the nation’s persistence racism.

Much of America’s devastating failures with race relations and the origins of the Jim Crow segregation that took firm hold across the South by 1900 can be traced to the nation’s failure to face the unending legacies of emancipation. The bitterly contested Reconstruction policies of the federal government of the late 1860s, at the heart of which stood the unprecedented participation by blacks in southern political life, and the violent counter-revolution by the former Confederate states in the 1870s, laid the groundwork for such a debacle. In his modern synthesis of the period, Eric Foner called this revolution, and the counter-revolution it provoked, “a massive experiment in interracial democracy without precedent in the history of this or any other country that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century.” Since so much of Reconstruction, in political terms and in labor relations, remained essentially the unfinished Civil War, firm “endings” for the meaning and consequences of this event have remained elusive.

A shooting war between huge formal armies did indeed end in the spring of 1865 after four years of physical, environmental, social, and human devastation. Militarily, the United States was the clear victor the war ended in four formal surrenders of Confederate armies to Union commanders. The first and most famous was at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 12, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered 21,000 starving troops to General Ulysses S. Grant, in a scene immortalized in American memory. Lee had retreated westward to fight on after the fall of Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia, but had been cut off by a decisive extraordinary march of the Union army. The terms, which also set the tone for the subsequent surrenders, were extraordinarily lenient for such a long and bloody civil war. Confederate officers and men, many of whom were ill-clad and without rations, were simply allowed to “go home,” and were issued printed “paroles.” Line soldiers were required to stack their muskets and fold their flags as they delivered them to their foes, unit by unit, in an unforgettable six-hour ceremony of stern, quiet military honor. But officers were allowed to keep their side arms and their horses and mules, in order to resume farming and plant crops on their return to homes. Lee himself was for a while put under a kind of house arrest after he returned on horseback to Richmond, the devastated Southern capital, although his confinement was short-lived and he was never tried for treason. The extraordinary surrender terms were carried out with grace and compassion by both generals at Appomattox. They were designed in part to stave off guerrilla war, in accordance with President Lincoln’s orders to his generals.

The very word “Appomattox” would settle into American memory and parlance as a prime marker of historical time, as a flashbulb memory (people would always remember where they were when they heard the news), as a divider between a world before and a world after “the war.” Among former slaves it would emerge as “The Surrender,” the beginning of a new calendar of time. Much had ended and much had begun in what one of its greatest chroniclers, Bruce Catton, called “the enormous silence” at Appomattox in April, 1865.

Yet Appomattox was not the end of the war. Three more military surrenders occurred over the next month and a half. On April 26, at a farmhouse called Bennett Place between Greensboro and Raleigh, North Carolina, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. Further west in Alabama, on May 4, Confederate General Richard Taylor surrendered the remaining troops east of the Mississippi River. And finally, on May 26, in Arkansas, General Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered the remainder of a Confederate trans-Mississippi army. Formally, the hostilities were over the affair of arms and exhausted soldiers, indeed the dying, seemed at an end.

But these apparently conclusive and clean surrenders masked the difficult and conflicted post-war era that would follow. The war ended with revolutionary and lasting results that echo down to the present day—especially in the two broad questions of racial equality and federalism. A great deal of American political, constitutional, and social history can be read through these two broad, likely eternal challenges.

The “Union,” and all that it meant to northerners as a kind of shield for liberal democracy against oligarchy and aristocracy, survived. It was transformed through blood and reimagined for later generations. The first American republic, created out of revolution in the late 18th century, was in effect destroyed. A new, second republic took its place, given a violent birth in the emancipation of four million slaves and the re-crafting of the U. S. Constitution in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Those Amendments—ending legal slavery forever, sanctifying birthright citizenship and establishing “equal protection of the law,” and creating black male suffrage—in effect re-made the United States Constitution. This comprised a second American revolution.

The death toll, the sheer sense of human loss experienced in the war, North and South, among blacks and whites, left a profound and haunting pall on American society and culture for generations to come. The old, official count of Civil War dead relied upon for a century and a half was approximately 620,000. According to some remarkable new research, as many as 750,000 American soldiers and sailors may have died in the conflict, the majority from disease. Approximately 1.2 million were wounded, including perhaps 30-40,000 northern amputees (there are no equivalent numbers for Southerners) who struggled with life and livelihood well into the late nineteenth century. There is no reasonable count of civilian deaths, nor of the numbers of freed slaves who perished in the struggle for their own emancipation. Research now suggests that a quarter of all freedmen who made it to contraband camps operated by the Union forces died in the process. Based on the military death count alone, per capita, if the Civil War were fought in the United States today with its ten-fold greater population, 7.5 million soldiers would die. For most Americans that is an unthinkable toll, but such was the equivalence for their kinfolk in the 1860s. Whenever Americans have been compelled to face and understand experiences of great loss and suffering—the World Wars, the Great Depression, the attacks of 9/11—they have returned to the Civil War-era for touchstones of understanding.

Don Troiani's painting of the First Minnesota Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg (Wikimedia)

Hundreds of thousands of Civil War soldiers and sailors survived, and they formed large veterans organizations in both North and South. They forged local chapters, fraternal orders of men who often felt set apart from civilian life, and in the North at least they made huge demands on a federal pension system that was not always as generous as the aging men wished. Veterans were a major lobbying force for their own interests, and they were often the subject of public honor at reunions and countless monument unveilings. By the 1880s and 1890s, most state governors and presidential candidates burnished the status of war veteran in both South and North. Although presented as public symbols of patriotism, traditional values, and rectitude, many veterans also suffered mightily from their old wounds and hardships borne during the war. Some veterans’ hospitals and homes existed, but there simply was nothing in the way of publicly provided health care, nor was there any formal recognition of what today is widely known as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome for combat veterans.

In the Civil War’s aftermath, alcoholism, unemployment, mental illness, and suicide were chronic problems among the old soldiers who frequented too many saloons and jails, as well as the public spaces of train stations and town centers. Veterans with the “empty sleeve” were very common sights in Gilded Age America. What the public did not so often see, however, was the social and psychological devastation in many veterans’ lives, which scholars have only recently begun to explore. For many survivors of deadly prison camps or of lingering diseases and wounds experienced in the campaigns of 1863-65, the war truly possessed them as an “unending” trauma.

On an evening in 1888, “a slender, tobacco-spitting misanthrope,” only known as “Charley the Boatman,” sliced his throat in the boathouse of the Milwaukee Soldiers’ Home, surrounded by the silvery wads of tin foil that he had passed countless hours shaping into “cannon balls.” In the winter of 1890, Emily Lippincott, who worked as a maid at the Illinois State Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home, described her repeated encounter with “an insane man” who was fighting “his battles over again.” He “fought the rebels all day,” she said, “tearing his bed and clothes until exhausted.” The Union veteran, Patrick Cleary, lived on his brother-in-law’s farm in Hollandtown, Wisconsin. In 1871, his relatives described him talking “in a rambling, incoherent way,” often standing with a blank stare, muttering to himself about George McClellan, General Grant, and a certain Captain Chase. William Cunningham, himself a veteran, and who also boarded on the same farm, remembered being aroused from sleep by his agitated former comrade. Into the ground behind a barn, Cleary had pounded a row of wooden stakes to represent “an imaginary enemy,” and by moonlight, would drill a white bull dog and command him to charge the stakes and fight the supposed rebels.”

Even veterans who managed to keep their bodies and wits intact often proved unable or unwilling to escape the pull of the war. They created numerous magazines, attended post meetings, and wrote a blizzard of reminiscences and regimental histories in which they forged a culture of memory, of military detail, of mutual recognition and heroism, of communal support. Civil War veterans, drawing and pouring over their countless hand-drawn maps, arguing about old campaigns in letters and in sketches and speeches they delivered to each other, raising funds for monuments to their own units, were themselves the first Civil war “buffs,” a tradition passed on now through at least six or seven generations of readers, re-enactors, and Civil War roundtable members.

The Reconstruction era, stretching from 1865 to 1877, was one long referendum on the meaning and memory of the verdicts reached at Appomattox. Differing visions of America’s future were at stake. Well before the war ended, Lincoln proposed a plan of Reconstruction that would be rapid and relatively lenient to former Confederates, and which would include at least the beginnings of black voting rights. Lincoln greatly feared recurrent guerrilla warfare and hoped to keep Reconstruction policy firmly under presidential authority. Hence, his attempts to create new southern state governments with as few as 10 percent of their “loyal” citizens taking oaths to the United States, drafting new constitutions, and then gaining readmission to the Union under executive power. But even before his death, Lincoln faced strong opposition from the “Radicals” in his own Republican party, led by Charles Sumner in the Senate and Thaddeus Stevens in the House of Representatives. The Radicals fashioned a very different vision of Reconstruction—harsher, longer, and under Congressional control. They treated the ex-Confederate states as “conquered provinces” legitimately taken in war no state would therefore be readmitted to the Union without federal military occupation, a majority of white voters taking loyalty oaths, and much broader guarantees of black civil and political rights.

Neither Lincoln nor the Radicals, though, conducted treason trials for any ex-Confederates in the wake of this civil war, though millions had indeed committed such offenses by any legal definition. Confederate President Jefferson Davis fled southward after the fall of Richmond in early April, 1865, and after a desperate flight with a small band of aides and cabinet officials, was captured by Union troops near Irwinsville, Georgia on May 10. Davis was imprisoned for two years at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, but he had never been formally indicted or tried, and political pressure eventually led to the Confederate leader’s release on bail, paid largely by wealthy Northerners, in April, 1867. Davis was stripped of his citizenship and could never again hold office, but he lived until 1889, an increasingly public symbol of the Confederate Lost Cause. In a nearly 1200-page memoir, he argued bitterly for the vindication of states’ rights doctrines, for the right of secession, and that the South had never fought to preserve slavery or white supremacy. He also portrayed both systems as wholly justified and natural. Many high-ranking Confederate generals and officials fled, often temporarily, into exile at the close of the war—to Canada, Mexico, Cuba, England, Brazil, and other lands. Henry Wirz, the commander of the notorious Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia, was arrested, tried for war crimes, and with considerable long-term controversy, executed (the sole Confederate of any rank tried and hanged). Moreover, members of John Wilkes Booth’s assassination conspiracy, which killed Lincoln and attempted the murders of Vice President Andrew Johnson and other cabinet officials, were captured, tried, and executed with public fanfare. But these executions were the rare exceptions that proved the rule.

The politics of Reconstruction quickly became deeply conflicted. Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, became the Radicals’ nemesis. Johnson was an old Jacksonian Democrat, and though a Unionist from a seceded state during the war, he was an ardent states’ rightist and a white supremacist. Over Johnson’s eventual vetoes and other obstructions, the Republicans put in place the Freedmen’s Bureau, an unprecedented agency charged with providing food, labor contracts, schools and other basic needs for former slaves as well as white refugees. They passed the 14th Amendment in 1866 and the First Reconstruction Act in 1867, which required former Confederate states to renounce their acts of secession, and placed them under temporary military rule. This military Reconstruction Act also disfranchised certain classes of white Southerners, established black male suffrage, and forced majority approval of new state constitutions (which had to include the equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment) for readmission to the Union. Under this constitutional regime, the eleven ex-Confederate states, with huge numbers of white Southerners defiantly refusing to participate, formally re-entered the Union under Congressional authority by 1870.

In a new book, historian Gregory Downs persuasively argues that a long and persistent “occupation” occurred for at least three years, and perhaps as long as six years, after the end of actual hostilities in spring, 1865. Downs also demonstrates that, although a massive demobilization of Union troops occurred in 1865-66, the United States Army has been far too neglected as a player—a force—in the history of Reconstruction. The Army, at first in hundreds of outposts in the countryside, and eventually largely in towns or coastal forts, remained the “eyes” of the government and the real and symbolic presence in an “ideologically and spatially ambitious occupation.” As the federal troops receded from view over time, large swaths of the former Confederate states descended into chaos, anarchy and violence, requiring a sustained use of Constitutional “war powers” to maintain any order. Indeed, as Downs shows, a genuine, if inadequate “occupation” was engineered by the U. S. government, almost without precedent, in order to try to bring control to a region that fell into “statelessness,” as it also revolted against defeat and all that it meant. Downs wants his work to speak to the present, and indeed it should. He urges libertarians of today to take notice because this history, as he says, demonstrates that “freedom is only possible within the state.”

But as the occupation gave way to a political process of reunion, especially around elections in the South, widespread vigilante and organized violence broke out all over the region. Indeed, violence left Reconstruction’s most vexing, twisted legacy. In 1866, bloody massacres of blacks and the destruction of freedmen’s communities wracked the cities of Memphis and New Orleans. In the political violence of Reconstruction, especially in the periods 1868-71 and again in 1875-77, a counter-revolution unfolded. Terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and its many imitators served as paramilitary arms of the reviving southern Democratic Party. Their violence reveals the implications of an unending struggle over race, power, land, and hugely different visions of the ideas of liberty and federalism. For a very long time, white Southerners experienced a lethal case of alienation and an explosive sense of grievance, however mythical the origins of those grievances or horrible their outcomes. Since most of the rural South was unpoliced by Union troops, despite the accusations of colonial “occupation” and “bayonet rule,” white Southerners unleashed a bloody fury against blacks and white Republicans born of lost battles, lost mastery, alleged political repression, and the need for “scapegoats” in their scorn for a racial order turned upside down.

An 1868 Harper's Weekly illustration of a Freedmen's Bureau agent trying to maintain peace between armed groups of whites and freed black men. (Wikimedia)

The white counter-revolution and its uses of terror reversed the Clauswitzian doctrine: In America, too much of the political process of Reconstruction became war by other means. By whippings, rapes, the burning of houses, schools and churches, the violent disruption or intimidation of local Republican party meetings, and hundreds of murders and lynchings over a period of less than a decade the Klan and its minions (called variously “Red Shirts” or “white leaguers” and many other names) sought to win back as much of a status quo antebellum as they could achieve. Their victims were teachers, black students, white and black politicians, and uncounted numbers of freedmen and their families who participated in politics or gained some economic autonomy. The record of Reconstruction violence has been clinically detailed, but it is a piece of history that most Americans still prefer to avoid.

Blacks had become voters, office holders, and landowners in Colfax in the Red River district of Louisiana by April 1873 when a white mob massacred perhaps 100 freedmen, many slain execution-style. At least 10 percent of the black members of constitutional conventions in the South in 1867-68 were victims of violence, including seven who were murdered. In Greene County, Alabama in 1870, attackers killed four and wounded fifty-four that same year in Laurens County, South Carolina, after Republicans won a local election, some 150 blacks were chased from their homes and thirteen murdered. In South Carolina alone, from the fall elections of 1870 to April 1871, formal testimony recorded some thirty-eight murders and hundreds of whippings and tortures. In Meridian, Mississippi, in 1871, local black orators were arrested for delivering “incendiary speeches.” At a court hearing, gunfire erupted, and the white Republican judge and two defendants were killed. In a day-long riot that followed in Meridian, at least thirty blacks were murdered by mobs.

This litany of horror and blood can become almost endless, and it represents the one time in American history when sustained uses of terror successfully worked to transform political regimes. In a process Southerners called “Southern Redemption,” eight of the 11 ex-Confederate states came back under white supremacist, Democratic party control by 1875. The final three—South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana—achieved that goal in the smoked-filled room political compromise of 1877 that settled the disputed presidential election of 1876 and provided the traditional chronological “end” of Reconstruction even as so many of its issues were left to later generations to face. The former slave and African American orator-intellectual, Frederick Douglass, remained a staunch supporter of the Republican Party during Reconstruction. Although he praised the party and President Ulysses S. Grant for their efforts to crush the Klan, Douglass grieved over the scale of unpunished violence in the South against blacks. Disgusted by what he saw in the impending election of 1872 as the “deceitful cry that all the questions raised by the war… are now settled,” he warned that “the slave demon still rides the southern gale, and breathes out fire and wrath.” The black leader had long interpreted the Klan, Democrats, and the survival of the southern rebellion as a continuous political force. Douglass resented what he called “this cry of peace! peace! where there is no peace.” In this sense, on the ground in the South, the war had not yet ended.

In his classic, The Legacy of the Civil War, the southern poet, novelist, and historian Robert Penn Warren claimed that “somewhere in their bones,” most Americans possessed a storehouse of lessons drawn from that conflict. Full of “sibylline significance,” he believed the war reached “in a thousand ways into our blood stream and our personal present.” These flourishes certainly represented Warren’s own background and his historical self-definition (he was born in 1905 in southern Kentucky, grandson of a Confederate veteran whose stories made the Civil War the “emotional furniture” of the young boy’s mind and the wellspring of his adult literary imagination). But they were hardly true for Southerners alone.

Whether the war still has such a hold on the national consciousness at 150 as it did at 100 is doubtful. No one can grow up anymore at their Civil War veteran grandfather’s knee, learning deeply mythic stories of the Blue and the Gray, or hearing of slavery times from a formerly enslaved grandparent. But the Civil War epoch has always resonated as a family affair for many Americans, transmitted through the generations: Fully one-third of this immigrant nation of over 300,000 million can still today, if they choose, trace their ancestry to someone who experienced the Civil War. The great narrative historian of the 1950s and 1960s, Bruce Catton, the writer who with his matchless prose as well as superb research, likely garnered more readers for this subject than anyone, demonstrated how much the war defined family histories. Catton received thousands of fan letters from his legions of readers. His books, which strongly emphasized the role of common soldiers, put readers in emotional touch with their fathers and mothers, grandparents, uncles and great-uncles who had fought in or otherwise endured the war. One “thrilled” reader from Florida said Catton had helped him comprehend the lives of his “eight grand uncles… five northern, three southern,” he had known in his youth. Another Floridian thanked Catton for finally helping him at last to know the grandfather he had never met, “6th Wisconsin, Iron Brigade.” Many readers wrote with stunning recognition as they found their father’s or grandfather’s diaries or letters quoted in Catton’s books. After reading Catton’s classic, Stillness at Appomattox (1954), a Clarence Foster of Southampton, New York, gushed with pride and informed Catton that the story he told from the “Reminiscences” of one Alonzo Foster was that of his own father. As Foster read Catton’s books, he sat surrounded with personal mementos: “Dad’s… cap, with two bullet holes thru it, the canteen which his comrade… took from his own shoulder and hung around Dad’s neck when he was wounded, the belt he wore and the bullet which was taken from his hand at the field hospital.” Many more such personal reactions abound in Catton’s personal papers.

Catton struck a mother lode of more than mere family nostalgia. During the one-hundredth anniversary season of the Civil War, millions of Americans still felt intimately and elementally connected to the blood and sacrifice, the place names and stories, the unending search for American identities rooted in the 1860s. The war for or against “Union” could be as much familial as it was national or regional. Subsequent generations of Americans could never actually be there in America’s Armageddon, but Catton, as their personal troubadour, could take them, through filial connection, into very close recognition with it.

But in the 1960s, although the Lost Cause tradition still had a stranglehold on the national memory of the Civil War, the centennial coincided with the civil rights revolution. The Civil War and civil rights have been forever intertwined in American history and mythology, but in that troubled and violent period, the two phenomena were like planets in separate orbits around different suns. On August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, a young Baptist minister tried to alter those orbits as he delivered a transcendent oration on the meaning of the unfinished Civil War. What will always be known as the “I Have a Dream Speech” should also be counted as the most important Civil War centennial speech ever delivered. King too, like Douglass, announced to a world audience that peace had not yet fully come to America’s internal civil wars. As the speech opened, the orator announced the text of his sermon, suggested the historical weight of the moment, and gazed forward as he also took a hard look back through one hundred years:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of Discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on an island of Poverty in a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later,The Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds Himself an exile in his own land.

No one could miss the significance of “Fivescore.” As Lincoln implied in his brief address at the Gettysburg cemetery in November, 1863, beginning with “forescore and seven,” the Civil War, the outcome of which was still far from determined, necessitated a new founding, a re-definition of the United States as a “nation.” King was arguing precisely the same thing for his own era as he delivered the Gettysburg Address of the twentieth century. The civil-rights revolution heralded yet another refounding, rooted this time more fully in the principle of racial and human equality. King did not reach his “dream” metaphor until the fourteenth minute of a seventeen-minute speech. But in those magnificent moments in the hot summer breeze along the Washington DC mall, King’s rhetoric broke down the segregated gravitational pulls of the two planets—civil rights and Civil War—and brought them into the same orbit. Befitting his role, however, as the leader of a radical, if non-violent protest movement, King’s arguments were hardly mainstream in the Cold War American political culture of 1963. But some of the barriers, at least, around that century-old stream were breaking down.

What will always be known as the "I Have a Dream Speech" should also be counted as the most important Civil War centennial speech ever delivered. (Wikimedia)

Much has changed in the fifty years since the crises of 1963—in law, in schooling, in scholarship, in race relations. But whatever the engines of history actually are, what seems apparent is that the legacies of the American Civil War have tended to subside and reemerge in a never-ending succession of revolutions and counter-revolutions. Indeed, the presidency of Barack Obama might be seen as a robust new chapter in this story. A significant segment of American society hates the President and cannot seem to abide a black family living in the White House.

American society seems to surge forward one moment, and then in the next sink back into polarization over race and ethnicity, over the advent of the nation’s first black president, over the rights of immigrants, over religious tolerance and birthright citizenship, over reproductive freedom, over the use of basic science to understand climate change, over the extent and protection of voting rights, over civil rights based on sexual preference, and over endless and incompatible claims of “liberty” about the possession and use of firearms, taxation, environmental protection, or the right to health insurance. Perhaps above all, America is a society riven by conflict over federalism, the never-ending debate over the proper relation of federal to state power, perhaps the most lasting a legacy of what many nineteenth century Americans called the “secession war” or simply “the rebellion.” In short, despite enormous changes of heart, head and law, Americans still struggle every day to discern and enact that society of equality that the Civil War at least made imaginable.

Yes, the Civil War was rooted in states’ rights, but like any other constitutional doctrine, it significance rests with the issue in whose service it is employed. States’ rights for or to do what? For whom or against whom? In 1860 and 1861, some Southerners exercised “state sovereignty” as an act of revolution in the interest, as they said over and over themselves, of preserving a racial order founded on slavery. Today, states’ rights claims are advanced by many governors, legislatures, and presidential candidates in the ubiquitous language of “limited government,” or resistance to “big government.” Every now and then, though, these claims are couched in the rhetoric of “secession” or even “nullification” made so infamous during the Civil War era. More often, such claims have manifested in a new Orwellian language etched into laws to protect the “right to work,” or “religious freedom,” or the “integrity of the ballot.”

Although these contemporary echoes from previous centuries ought not be treated as straight equivalence between past and present, far-right federalists, who dominate the movement called the Tea Party, and who have found a vigorous leadership position at the heart of the Republican Party and on the federal judiciary, have much in common with the secessionists of 1861. Both groups are distinct minorities who have suddenly seized an inordinate degree of power due to congressional districting practices and effective use of conspiracy theories about centralization and the “leviathan” state. One acted in revolution to create and save a slaveholders’ republic the other seems determined to render the modern federal government all but obsolete for any purpose beyond national defense and the protection of private citizens from having to participate in a social contract with their fellow citizens in tax-supported programs such as Social Security, Medicare, public education, environmental protection, or disaster relief. Both groups claim their mantle of righteousness in the name of “liberty,” privatization, hyper-individualism and racial supremacy (one openly, the other covertly). Both vehemently claim the authority of the “Founders” as though the American Revolution and the creation of the Constitution have no history. Modern-day states’ rightists and sometimes nullifiers embrace versions of federalism that might once have been thought all but buried in the mass slaughter of the Civil War, or in the imperatives of the New Deal’s response to the Great Depression, or in the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Acts, or in the battle over the Environmental Protection Agency. But history does not end it keeps happening. The radical wing of the conservative movement in America, still ascendant in Congress and dominant in most of the South, seems determined to repeal much of the twentieth-century social legislation, and even tear up its constitutional and social roots in the transformations of the 1860s. As Americans disturbingly learn, generation after generation, many have never fully accepted the verdicts of Appomattox.

In 1867, Edward A. Pollard, a former Confederate partisan and editor of the Richmond Examiner, published The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates, one of the first of the thousands of books that have contested the meaning of the Civil War’s results. Pollard issued a warning to all who would ever try to shape the meaning and memory of the war or of Reconstruction policies and their legacies. “All that is left the South,” wrote Pollard, “is the war of ideas.” The war may have decided “the restoration of the Union and the excision of slavery,” he declared, “but the war did not decide Negro equality.” Wars of ideas, hopefully always conducted with civility and without weapons, are the essence of republicanism and democracy. But every time a federalist such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas vows to “stand on principle” and “stand up for liberty” in order to “reestablish the crucial boundary of dual sovereignty,” or pledges to protect “self-government” through a “return to our founding principles of limited government and local control,” his audience should be alert not only for political ambition, not only for policy positions advancing the liberties of the powerful against those of the powerless, but for an effort to push the present back into the lost causes of the past.

History may seem to have its lulls when it slows down and impinges less on our lives then we are hit with massive crises, often to our utter surprise, and history speeds up beyond human comprehension. It is impossible to grasp a turning point in history until it has happened, and understanding it may take a generation or more. But history never stops, and although it is an ancient human utopian dream to live above and beyond it, or to ideologically control its pace, only fools think they can turn off its gears. Past and present are always utterly interdependent. Such was the claim of the great historian Marc Bloch, murdered in the Holocaust, about a “solidarity of the ages.” “Misunderstanding of the present,” wrote Bloch, “is the inevitable consequence of ignorance of the past. But a man may wear himself out just as fruitlessly in seeking to understand the past, if he is totally ignorant of the present.” Wars end loudly and in ruins, and sometimes on silent, beautiful spring landscapes such as the surrender field at Appomattox but history keeps happening. Making “men equal on earth in the sight of other men,” to borrow again from Baldwin, is a long-term proposition, and for that matter, a definition of the meaning of America.

Sheridan’s Valley Raid

February 28, 1865 – Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry struggled through harsh weather to cut the Confederate supply line into the Shenandoah Valley and starve General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia into submission.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had held Lee’s army under a tentative siege at Richmond and Petersburg since last June. But Grant had not been able to completely encircle the Confederates, and one of his deepest fears was that Lee would escape to the west before spring. Grant therefore planned an all-out effort to not only defeat the Army of Northern Virginia but to end the war. This involved several simultaneous offensives, including:

  • Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry securing eastern Tennessee
  • Major General E.R.S. Canby’s army securing Alabama
  • Two separate sweeps through Mississippi
  • Major General William T. Sherman’s armies driving northward through the Carolinas
  • Major General John Schofield’s army driving inland from Wilmington

This coordinated effort also involved Sheridan, whose army had driven most organized Confederate resistance out of the Shenandoah Valley and lain waste to the once-fertile region. All that was left to challenge Sheridan was Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s small, demoralized force and John S. Mosby’s scattered partisans. On the 20th, Grant issued orders to Sheridan to destroy them once and for all:

“As soon as it is possible to travel, I think you will have no difficulty about reaching Lynchburg with a cavalry force alone. From there you could destroy the railroads and canal in every direction so as to be of no further use to the Rebellion this coming spring, or, I believe, during the existence of the Rebellion. Sufficient cavalry should be left behind to look after Mosby’s gang. From Lynchburg, if information you might get there would justify it, you could strike South, heading the streams in Virginia to get to the westward of Danville and push on and join Sherman… this additional raid with one now about starting from East Tennessee under Stoneman, numbering four or five thousand, one from Vicksburg numbering seven or eight thousand cavalry, one from Eastport, Miss., ten thousand cavalry, Canby from Mobile Bay with about thirty-eight thousand mixed troops, the three latter pushing for Tuscaloosa, Selma and Montgomery… Sherman with a large army eating out the vitals of South Carolina is all that will be wanted to leave nothing for the Rebellion to stand upon. I would advise you to overcome great obsticles to accomplish this. Charleston was evacuated on Tuesday last.”

Sheridan had sent his infantry back to Petersburg, leaving him with just 10,000 cavalry troopers. But these would be enough to handle Early, who had also sent most of his troops back to Petersburg and now had just two tattered brigades between Staunton and Waynesboro. Grant wanted Sheridan to destroy Early’s force, cut all the railroads supplying the Army of Northern Virginia, and then ride south to join Sherman, who lacked an effective cavalry force.

Word of Grant’s plan quickly alarmed administration officials at Washington. A small Confederate force had recently embarrassed the Federals by capturing two generals at Cumberland, Maryland, and they feared that if the remainder of Sheridan’s force left the Valley, the Confederates could duplicate Early’s raid on Washington last summer.

President Abraham Lincoln wrote to Grant: “Have you well considered whether you do not again leave open the Shenandoah Valley entrance to Maryland and Pennsylvania, or at least to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad?” Grant replied that Sheridan’s “movement is in the direction of the enemy, and the tendency will be to protect the Baltimore and Ohio road and to prevent any attempt to invade Maryland and Pennsylvania.”

Sheridan assured his superiors, “I will leave behind about 2,000 men, which will increase to 3,000 in a short time.” These men would be led by Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who had recently returned to duty after dealing with his nagging wound from Gettysburg. Hancock had earned a stellar reputation as commander of II Corps in the Army of the Potomac, prompting Lincoln to write that his return had “relieved my anxiety, and so I beg that you will dismiss any concern you may have on my account in the matter of my last dispatch.”

By the time Sheridan received Lincoln’s blessing, he had already put his men in motion. He wrote to Grant, “Where is Sherman marching for?” Sheridan also asked for “any definite information as to the points he may be expected to move on this side of Charlotte.” Grant replied, “If you reach Lynchburg, you will have to be guided in your after movements by the information you obtain.”

Sheridan’s force left Winchester on the 27th, with the cavalry under the command of Major General Wesley Merritt. It would have normally been led by Major General Alfred T.A. Torbert, but according to Sheridan:

“General Torbert being absent on leave at this time, I did not recall him, but appointed General Merritt Chief of Cavalry, for Torbert had disappointed me on two important occasions–in the Luray Valley during the battle of Fisher’s Hill, and on the recent Gordonsville expedition–and I mistrusted his ability to conduct any operations requiring much self-reliance.”

Merritt’s command consisted of two cavalry divisions led by Brigadier Generals Thomas C. Devin and George A. Custer. They were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad and the James River Canal on their way to Lynchburg. Sheridan reported:

“On the morning of February 27, 1865, we marched from Winchester up the Valley pike, with five days’ rations in haversacks, and fifteen days’ rations of coffee, sugar, and salt in wagons, thirty pounds of forage on each horse, one wagon for division headquarters, eight ambulances, and our ammunition train no other wagons, except a pontoon train of eight boats, were permitted to accompany the command.

“My orders were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad, the James River Canal, capture Lynchburg if practicable, and then join Major-General Sherman wherever he might be found in North Carolina, or return to Winchester but in joining General Sherman I must be governed by the position of affairs after the capture of Lynchburg.

“The command was in fine condition, but the weather was very bad, as the spring thaw, with heavy rains, had already come on. The valley and surrounding mountains were covered with snow which was fast disappearing, putting all the streams nearly past fording. On our first day’s march we crossed Cedar Creek, Tumbling Run, and Tom’s Brook, and went into camp at Woodstock, having marched thirty miles.”

Early had just 1,800 men to stop him, along with detachments under Generals Lunsford Lomax, John Echols, and Thomas L. Rosser scattered throughout the Valley. Early wrote:

“As soon as Sheridan started, I was informed of the fact by signal and telegraph, and orders were immediately sent by telegraph to Lomax, whose headquarters were at Millboro, on the Central railroad, forty miles west of Staunton, to get together all of his cavalry as soon as possible. Rosser was also directed to collect all of his men that he could, and an order was sent by telegraph to General Echols, in Southwestern Virginia, to send his brigade by rail to Lynchburg.”

The Confederates awaited the enemy advance near Staunton. The Federals were hampered by icy rain, swollen waterways, and pockets of Confederate horsemen sniping at them along the way. But the advance could not be stopped, and soon the two disproportionate forces would clash in what would be the last battle ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley.


The Museum of the Confederacy was founded in 1894, 29 years after Lee's surrender in Appomattox. It is located in the historic home that served as the White House of the Confederacy, two blocks north of the Virginia State Capitol, which the Ladies Hollywood Memorial Association saved from destruction. It opened as the Confederate Museum and White House of the Confederacy in 1896, on February 22, the date of Jefferson Davis's inauguration. The historic home was named a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and Virginia Historic Landmark in 1966. A new building next door was built in 1976 to house the expanding collection (and a 12-year restoration of the historic home began). In 2006, museum officials announced that neither the museum nor the home would be moved. [3] [4] In 2017, the location became a part of the American Civil War Museum. It maintains a collection of flags, weapons, documents, and personal effects related to the Confederacy, and offers tours of the home restored to its 1861–65 appearance.

The museum houses more than 15,000 documents and artifacts along with 500 original, wartime, battle flags from the Confederate States of America. Among the thousands of other important pieces found there are items owned by Jefferson Davis, Robert Edward Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, John Bell Hood, Thomas Jonathan Jackson, Simon Bolivar Buckner, J.E.B. Stuart, Joseph Wheeler, Wade Hampton, Lewis Armistead, and Raphael Semmes. The provisional Confederate Constitution and the Great Seal of the Confederacy are also housed there.

A newer building to better preserve and exhibit the museum's collections was built and opened in 1976 immediately adjacent to the White House, on its remaining 3 ⁄ 4 -acre (3,000 m 2 ) property. The anchor of the first ironclad warship, CSS Virginia, which fought the USS Monitor in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, was prominently displayed in front of the museum.

The White House of the Confederacy was closed in 1976, to be fully restored to its wartime appearance. The restoration project was completed in 1988, and reopened for public tours in June 1988. The White House featured extensive reproduction wall coverings and draperies, as well as significant numbers of original White House furnishings from the Civil War period.

Notable past exhibitions include: The Confederate Years: Battles, Leaders, and Soldiers, 1861–1865 Women in Mourning Before Freedom Came: African-American Life in the Antebellum South Embattled Emblem: The Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag, 1861 – Present A Woman's War: Southern Women, Civil War, and the Confederate Legacy R. E. Lee: The Exhibition The Confederate Navy and Virginia and the Confederacy: A Quadricentennial Perspective.

History Edit

The Museum of the Confederacy was founded by Richmond's society ladies, starting with Isabel Maury, who was later joined by Ann Crenshaw Grant and Isobel Stewart Bryan. Isabel Maury was the founder of the Museum of the Confederacy but she also was the first Regent of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society (CMLS). The Isabel Maury Planned Giving Society continues the work of Mrs. Isabel Maury, daughter of Robert Henry Maury, who, with the Relics Committee, was instrumental in securing much of the museum's collection.

By the centennial anniversary of the Civil War, the museum's governing board determined that it wanted to see the museum evolve from a shrine to a more modern museum. In 1963, the CMLS hired its first museum professional as executive director, and in 1970, changed the name of the institution to "The Museum of the Confederacy." Visitors peaked at 91,000 per year in the early 1990s but were down to around 51,000 in the early 2000s. [3]

White House of the Confederacy Edit

The White House of the Confederacy is a gray stuccoed neoclassical mansion built in 1818 by John Brockenbrough, who was president of the Bank of Virginia. Designed by Robert Mills, Brockenbrough's private residence was built in early nineteenth century on East Clay Street in Richmond's affluent Shockoe Hill neighborhood (later known as the Court End District), and was two blocks north of the Virginia State Capitol.

President of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis, his wife Varina, and their children moved into the house in August 1861, and lived there for the remainder of the war. President Davis maintained an at-home office on the second floor of the White House due to his poor health.

The house was abandoned during the evacuation of Richmond on April 2, 1865. Within twelve hours, soldiers from Major General Godfrey Weitzel’s XVIII Corps seized the former Confederate White House, intact. During his tour of Richmond, President Abraham Lincoln visited Davis's former residence, and it was where Union officers held a number of meetings with local officials in the aftermath. During Reconstruction, the building served as part of the headquarters for Military District Number One (Virginia), and was occasionally used as the residence of the commanding officer of the Department of Virginia.

Following the end of Reconstruction, the House became a school -- the Richmond Central School. When the city announced its plans to demolish the building to make way for a more modern school building in 1890, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society was formed with the purpose of saving the White House from destruction.

Opened in 2012 as the Museum of the Confederacy – Appomattox, in Appomattox, Virginia, adjacent to the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, the American Civil War Museum – Appomattox tells the stories of the closing days of the Civil War, and the beginnings of the United State's journey toward reunion. The museum is situated on eight acres of land and contains 5,000 square feet for exhibits. [5] The location changed its name in 2017 as part of the transition into the American Civil War Museum. [6]

Historic Tredegar, home to The American Civil War Museum, traces its roots to 1836, when Francis B. Deane founded Tredegar Iron Works. He named his Richmond plant for a Welsh town and iron works. In 1841 Deane hired Joseph Reid Anderson as commercial sales agent. Under Joseph Reid Anderson's ownership, Tredegar manufactured an array of items including locomotives, train wheels, spikes, cables, ships, boilers, naval hardware, iron machinery, and brass items. [5] In 2019, the museum completed a major new building on the site of the historic Tredegar Iron Works in downtown Richmond. [7] The new building features more than 7,000 square feet of new gallery space for permanent and changing exhibitions of items from the museum's renowned collections of Civil War artifacts. An “immersion theater” highlighting Richmond's role in the war is still under construction.

Several prominent Civil War historians have had connections to the museum. Douglas Southall Freeman, the biographer of George Washington and Robert E. Lee, started his career at the museum. Jack Davis, Emory M. Thomas, and Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust have all done research there. James I. Robertson Jr., of Virginia Tech, Edwin C. Bearss, Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, and William J. Cooper Jr. of LSU, have each served as members of the museum's governing board.

7. Misconception: The war was fought entirely in the U.S.

Gettysburg is, perhaps, the classic vision of a Civil War battlefield: green, hilly fields ensconced in artillery smoke. In reality, though, the Civil War was far from land-locked. Naval warfare played a huge role in the conflict, with the Union victory at the Battle of Port Royal and the standstill at the Battle of Hampton Roads among the most pivotal maritime clashes. The Civil War also made a little naval history when the Confederacy's Hunley became the first submarine to sink an opposing warship when it attacked the USS Housatonic in 1864.

One naval battle is noteworthy because it didn’t take place in the waters of America at all. In June 1864, the North and South came to blows in the waters off Cherbourg, France, in the English Channel. The battle began brewing when the Confederate ship, the CSS Alabama, was docked at Cherbourg Harbor hoping for some repairs. For years, this ship had been wreaking havoc on U.S. vessels, resulting in the plunder of more than 64 ships and causing millions of dollars in damages.

The USS Kearsarge, helmed by John A. Winslow, had been pursuing the Alabama for months, and once Winslow got word from the U.S. minister in Paris that the ship was docked and prone, he moved in for the kill. Upon hearing that the Kearsarge was ready for a battle, Alabama captain Raphael Semmes prepped his ship and met his Union foe nine miles off the coast of Cherbourg. The Alabama was the first to fire—but there was just one problem: The Kearsarge was draped in a thick anchor chain that protected it from enemy artillery.

Soon, the Alabama was taking on water, the white flag was up, and Semmes was all but defeated. Instead of capture, though, Semmes and some of his surviving men were saved by a nearby British ship. In all, around 20 Confederate troops died, compared to just one Union soldier.

Civil War Medicine: An Overview of Medicine

Civil War Surgeons at Petersburg
(Library of Congress)

During the 1860s, doctors had yet to develop bacteriology and were generally ignorant of the causes of disease. Generally, Civil War doctors underwent two years of medical school, though some pursued more education. Medicine in the United States was woefully behind Europe. Harvard Medical School did not even own a single stethoscope or microscope until after the war. Most Civil War surgeons had never treated a gunshot wound and many had never performed surgery. Medical boards admitted many "quacks," with little to no qualification. Yet, for the most part, the Civil War doctor (as understaffed, underqualified, and under-supplied as he was) did the best he could, muddling through the so-called "medical middle ages." Some 10,000 surgeons served in the Union army and about 4,000 served in the Confederate. Medicine made significant gains during the course of the war. However, it was the tragedy of the era that medical knowledge of the 1860s had not yet encompassed the use of sterile dressings, antiseptic surgery, and the recognition of the importance of sanitation and hygiene. As a result, thousands died from diseases such as typhoid or dysentery.

The deadliest thing that faced the Civil War soldier was disease. For every soldier who died in battle, two died of disease. In particular, intestinal complaints such as dysentery and diarrhea claimed many lives. In fact, diarrhea and dysentery alone claimed more men than did battle wounds. The Civil War soldier also faced outbreaks of measles, small pox, malaria, pneumonia, or camp itch. Soldiers were exposed to malaria when camping in damp areas which were conductive to breeding mosquitos, while camp itch was caused by insects or a skin disease. In brief, the high incidence of disease was caused by a) inadequate physical examination of recruits b) ignorance c) the rural origin of my soldiers d) neglect of camp hygiene e) insects and vermin f) exposure g) lack of clothing and shoes h) poor food and water. Many unqualified recruits entered the Army and diseases cruelly weeded out those who should have been excluded by physical exams. There was no knowledge of the causes of disease, no Koch's postulates. Troops from rural areas were crowded together for the first time with large numbers of other individuals and got diseases they had no immunity to. Neglect of camp hygiene was a common problem as well. Ignorance of camp sanitation and scanty knowledge about how disease was carried led to a sort of "trial and error" system. You can read Surgeon Charles Tripler's report on sanitation that is included in this web site for a contemporary view of camp hygiene. An inspector who visited the camps of one Federal Army found that they were, "littered with refuse, food, and other rubbish, sometimes in an offensive state of decomposition slops deposited in pits within the camp limits or thrown out of broadcast heaps of manure and offal close to the camp." The Federal government even founded a Sanitary Commission to deal with the health problems in army camps. Mary Livermore, a nurse, wrote that. "The object of the Sanitary Commission was to do what the Government could not. The Government undertook, of course, to provide all that was necessary for the soldier . . . but, from the very nature of things, this was not possible. . . . The methods of the commission were so elastic, and so arranged to meet every emergency, that it was able to make provision for any need, seeking always to supplement, and never to supplant, the Government." Both Armies faced problems with mosquitos and lice. Exposure turned many a cold into a case of pneumonia, and complicated other ailments. Pneumonia was the third leading killer disease of the war, after typhoid and dysentery. Lack of shoes and proper clothing further complicated the problem, especially in the Confederacy. The diet of the Civil War soldier was somewhere between barely palatable to absolutely awful. It was a wonder they did not all die of acute indigestion! It was estimated that 995 of 1000 Union troops eventually contracted chronic diarrhea or dysentery their Confederate counterparts suffered similarly. Disease was particularly rampant in the prisoner-of-war camps, whose conditions were generally worse than the army camps.

To halt disease, doctors used many cures. For bowel complaints, open bowels were treated with a plug of opium. Closed bowels were treated with the infamous "blue mass". a mixture of mercury and chalk. For scurvy, doctors prescribed green vegetables. Respiratory problems, such as pneumonia and bronchitis were treated with dosing of opium or sometimes quinine and muster plasters. Sometimes bleeding was also used. Malaria could be treated with quinine, or sometimes even turpentine if quinine was not available. Camp itch could be treated by ridding the body of the pests or with poke-root solution. Whiskey and other forms of alcohol also were used to treat wounds and disease . though of questionable medical value, whiskey did relieve some pain. Most medicines were manufactured in the north southerners had to run the Union blockade in order to gain access to them. On occasion, vital medicines were smuggled into the South, sewn into the petticoats of ladies sympathetic to the Southern cause. The South also had some manufacturing capabilities and worked with herbal remedies. However, many of the Southern medical supplies came from captured Union stores. Dr. Hunter McGuire, the medical director of Jackson's corps, commented after the War on the safeness of anesthesia, saying that in part the Confederacy's good record was due in part from the supplies requisitioned from the North.

Battlefield surgery (see separate web page describing an amputation) was also at best archaic. Doctors often took over houses, churches, schools, even barns for hospitals. The field hospital was located near the front lines -- sometimes only a mile behind the lines -- and was marked with (in the Federal Army from 1862 on) with a yellow flag with a green "H". Anesthesia's first recorded use was in 1846 and was commonly in use during the Civil War. In fact, there are 800,000 recorded cases of its use. Chloroform was the most common anesthetic, used in 75% of operations. In a sample of 8,900 uses of anesthesia, only 43 deaths were attributed to the anesthetic, a remarkable mortality rate of 0.4%. Anesthesia was usually administered by the open-drop technique. The anesthetic was applied to a cloth held over the patient's mouth and nose and was withdrawn after the patient was unconscious. A capable surgeon could amputate a limb in 10 minutes. Surgeons worked all night, with piles of limbs reaching four or five feet. Lack of water and time meant they did not wash off hands or instruments

Bloody fingers often were used as probes. Bloody knives were used as scalpels. Doctors operated in pus stained coats. Everything about Civil War surgery was septic. The antiseptic era and Lister's pioneering works in medicine were in the future. Blood poisoning, sepsis or Pyemia (Pyemia meaning literally pus in the blood) was common and often very deadly. Surgical fevers and gangrene were constant threats. One witness described surgery as such: "Tables about breast high had been erected upon which the screaming victims were having legs and arms cut off. The surgeons and their assistants, stripped to the waist and bespattered with blood, stood around, some holding the poor fellows while others, armed with long, bloody knives and saws, cut and sawed away with frightful rapidity, throwing the mangled limbs on a pile nearby as soon as removed." If a soldier survived the table, he faced the awful surgical fevers. However, about 75% of amputees did survive.

The numbers killed and wounded in the Civil War were far greater than any previous American war. As the lists of the maimed grew, both North and South built "general" military hospitals. These hospitals were usually located in big cities. They were usually single storied, of wood construction, and well-ventilated and heated. The largest of these hospitals was Chimbarazo in Richmond, Virginia. By the end of the War, Chimbarazo had 150 wards and was capable of housing a total of 4,500 patients. Some 76,000 soldiers were treated at this hospital.

There were some advances, mainly in the field of military medicine. Jonathan Letterman, revolutionized the Ambulance Corps system. With the use of anesthesia, more complicated surgeries could be performed. Better and more complete records were kept during this period than they had been before. The Union even set up a medical museum where visitors can still see the shattered leg of flamboyant General Daniel Sickles who lost his leg at the Trostle Farm at the battle of Gettysburg when a cannon ball literally left it hanging by shreds of flesh.

The Civil War "sawbones" was doing the best he could. Sadly when American decided to kill American from 1861 to 1865, the medical field was not yet capable of dealing with the disease and the massive injuries caused by industrial warfare.

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