Sunday, May 24, 2015

May 24, 1865: The Grand Review of the Armies, Day Two

Major General Henry W. Slocum and staff of the XXth Corps, Army of Georgia.
On this day 150 years ago, the troops under the command of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman passed in review before the President of the United States, the Cabinet, and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman recalled the day in his memoirs:
During the afternoon and night of the 23d, the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Twentieth Corps, crossed Long Bridge, bivouacked in the streets about the Capitol, and the Fourteenth Corps closed up to the bridge. The morning of the 24th was extremely beautiful, and the ground was in splendid order for our review. The streets were filled with people to see the pageant, armed with bouquets of flowers for their favorite regiments or heroes, and every thing was propitious. Punctually at 9 A.M. the signal-gun was fired, when in person, attended by General Howard and all my staff, I rode slowly down Pennsylvania Avenue, the crowds of men, women, and children, densely lining the sidewalks, and almost obstructing the way. We were followed close by General Logan and the head of the Fifteenth Corps. When I reached the Treasury-building, and looked back, the sight was simply magnificent. The column was compact, and the glittering muskets looked like a solid mass of steel, moving with the regularity of a pendulum. We passed the Treasury building, in front of which and of the White House was an immense throng of people, for whom extensive stands had been prepared on both sides of the avenue. As I neared the brick-house opposite the lower corner of Lafayette Square, some one asked me to notice Mr. Seward, who, still feeble and bandaged for his wounds, had been removed there that he might behold the troops. I moved in that direction and took off my hat to Mr. Seward, who sat at an upper window. He recognized the salute, returned it, and then we rode on steadily past the President, saluting with our swords. All on his stand arose and acknowledged the salute. Then, turning into the gate of the presidential grounds, we left our horses with orderlies, and went upon the stand, where I found Mrs. Sherman, with her father and son. Passing them, I shook hands with the President, General Grant, and each member of the cabinet. As I approached Mr. Stanton, he offered me his hand, but I declined it publicly, and the fact was universally noticed. I then took my post on the left of the President, and for six hours and a half stood, while the army passed in the order of the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Twentieth, and Fourteenth Corps. It was, in my judgment, the most magnificent army in existence--sixty-five thousand men, in splendid physique, who had just completed a march of nearly two thousand miles in a hostile country, in good drill, and who realized that they were being closely scrutinized by thousands of their fellow-countrymen and by foreigners. Division after division passed, each commander of an army corps or division coming on the stand during the passage of his command, to be presented to the President, cabinet, and spectators. The steadiness and firmness of the tread, the careful dress on the guides, the uniform intervals between the companies, all eyes directly to the front, and the tattered and bullet-ridden flags, festooned with flowers, all attracted universal notice. Many good people, up to that time, had looked upon our Western army as a sort of mob; but the world then saw, and recognized the fact, that it was an army in the proper sense, well organized, well commanded and disciplined; and there was no wonder that it had swept through the South like a tornado. For six hours and a half that strong tread of the Army of the West resounded along Pennsylvania Avenue; not a soul of that vast crowd of spectators left his place; and, when the rear of the column had passed by, thousands of the spectators still lingered to express their sense of confidence in the strength of a Government which could claim such an army.

Some little scenes enlivened the day, and called for the laughter and cheers of the crowd. Each division was followed by six ambulances, as a representative of its baggage-train. Some of the division commanders had added, by way of variety, goats, milch-cows, and pack-mules, whose loads consisted of game-cocks, poultry, hams, etc., and some of them had the families of freed slaves along, with the women leading their children. Each division was preceded by its corps of black pioneers, armed with picks and spades. These marched abreast in double ranks, keeping perfect dress and step, and added much to the interest of the occasion. On the whole, the grand review was a splendid success, and was a fitting conclusion to the campaign and the war.
Infantry of the XXth Corps, Army of Georgia, pass in review.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

May 23, 1865: The Grand Review of the Armies, Day One

On this day 150 years ago, the Union Army of the Potomac passed in review before the President of the United States, the Cabinet, and the nation's top military leadership, including Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, but not Philip H. Sheridan, who was tasked with finishing the war in the far west.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

May 21, 1865: Preparations for the Grand Review of the Armies

On this day 150 years ago two great Union armies camped near Washington,DC in preparation for a grand review. Just weeks after the collapse of Confederate resistance, the great mass of the Union Army was on its way home. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant recalled this period in his memoirs.
Things began to quiet down, and as the certainty that there would be no more armed resistance became clearer, the troops in North Carolina and Virginia were ordered to march immediately to the capital, and go into camp there until mustered out. Suitable garrisons were left at the prominent places throughout the South to insure obedience to the laws that might be enacted for the government of the several States, and to insure security to the lives and property of all classes. I do not know how far this was necessary, but I deemed it necessary, at that time, that such a course should be pursued. I think now that these garrisons were continued after they ceased to be absolutely required; but it is not to be expected that such a rebellion as was fought between the sections from 1861 to 1865 could terminate without leaving many serious apprehensions in the mind of the people as to what should be done.

Sherman marched his troops from Goldsboro, up to Manchester, on the south side of the James River, opposite Richmond, and there put them in camp, while he went back to Savannah to see what the situation was there.

It was during this trip that the last outrage was committed upon him. Halleck had been sent to Richmond to command Virginia, and had issued orders prohibiting even Sherman's own troops from obeying his, Sherman's, orders. Sherman met the papers on his return, containing this order of Halleck, and very justly felt indignant at the outrage. On his arrival at Fortress Monroe returning from Savannah, Sherman received an invitation from Halleck to come to Richmond and be his guest. This he indignantly refused, and informed Halleck, furthermore, that he had seen his order. He also stated that he was coming up to take command of his troops, and as he marched through it would probably be as well for Halleck not to show himself, because he (Sherman) would not be responsible for what some rash person might do through indignation for the treatment he had received. Very soon after that, Sherman received orders from me to proceed to Washington City, and to go into camp on the south side of the city pending the mustering-out of the troops.

There was no incident worth noting in the march northward from Goldsboro, to Richmond, or in that from Richmond to Washington City. The army, however, commanded by Sherman, which had been engaged in all the battles of the West and had marched from the Mississippi through the Southern States to the sea, from there to Goldsboro, and thence to Washington City, had passed over many of the battle-fields of the Army of the Potomac, thus having seen, to a greater extent than any other body of troops, the entire theatre of the four years' war for the preservation of the Union.

The march of Sherman's army from Atlanta to the sea and north to Goldsboro, while it was not accompanied with the danger that was anticipated, yet was magnificent in its results, and equally magnificent in the way it was conducted. It had an important bearing, in various ways, upon the great object we had in view, that of closing the war. All the States east of the Mississippi River up to the State of Georgia, had felt the hardships of the war. Georgia, and South Carolina, and almost all of North Carolina, up to this time, had been exempt from invasion by the Northern armies, except upon their immediate sea coasts. Their newspapers had given such an account of Confederate success, that the people who remained at home had been convinced that the Yankees had been whipped from first to last, and driven from pillar to post, and that now they could hardly be holding out for any other purpose than to find a way out of the war with honor to themselves.

Even during this march of Sherman's the newspapers in his front were proclaiming daily that his army was nothing better than a mob of men who were frightened out of their wits and hastening, panic-stricken, to try to get under the cover of our navy for protection against the Southern people. As the army was seen marching on triumphantly, however, the minds of the people became disabused and they saw the true state of affairs. In turn they became disheartened, and would have been glad to submit without compromise.

Another great advantage resulting from this march, and which was calculated to hasten the end, was the fact that the great storehouse of Georgia was entirely cut off from the Confederate armies. As the troops advanced north from Savannah, the destruction of the railroads in South Carolina and the southern part of North Carolina, further cut off their resources and left the armies still in Virginia and North Carolina dependent for supplies upon a very small area of country, already very much exhausted of food and forage.

In due time the two armies, one from Burkesville Junction and the other from the neighborhood of Raleigh, North Carolina, arrived and went into camp near the Capital, as directed. The troops were hardy, being inured to fatigue, and they appeared in their respective camps as ready and fit for duty as they had ever been in their lives. I doubt whether an equal body of men of any nation, take them man for man, officer for officer, was ever gotten together that would have proved their equal in a great battle.

The armies of Europe are machines; the men are brave and the officers capable; but the majority of the soldiers in most of the nations of Europe are taken from a class of people who are not very intelligent and who have very little interest in the contest in which they are called upon to take part. Our armies were composed of men who were able to read, men who knew what they were fighting for, and could not be induced to serve as soldiers, except in an emergency when the safety of the nation was involved, and so necessarily must have been more than equal to men who fought merely because they were brave and because they were thoroughly drilled and inured to hardships.

There was nothing of particular importance occurred during the time these troops were in camp before starting North.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May 19, 1865: The C.S.S. Stonewall surrenders

The captured C.S.S. Stonewall off Washington, DC in June 1865.
On this day 150 years ago, the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Stonewall surrendered in Havana, Cuba after her captain, T.J. Page, learned that the American Civil War had ended. Page handed his ship over to the Spanish Captain General of Cuba for the sum of $16,000, which he used to pay off his crew. The U.S. government subsequently reimbursed the Spanish Captain General of Cuba for the $16,000, and the ship was turned over to the U.S. Navy and brought to Washington, D.C. for a short period. The Stonewall was subsequently sold to Japan and delivered in 1869. She would serve the Imperial Japanese Navy until 1888 as Kōtetsu.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

May 17, 1865: James H. Wilson to Edwin M. Stanton

On this day 150 years ago, Union Major General James H. Wilson wrote to Edwin M. Stanton, updating him on the progress being made towards dismantling the Confederacy in Georgia and Florida.

Macon, Gal., May 17, 1865.

Honorable E. M. STANTON,

Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.:

Your telegram of the 15th, directing the arrest of A. H. Stephens, was arrested by my order I have the honor to report that Mr. Stephens was arrested by my order on the 11th instant and forwarded to Washington by Lieutenant Colonel B. D. Pritchard in the same party with Davis. I reported the fact by telegraph. Colonel Pritchards' party is beyond my reach, but as he is ordered to go via Fortress Monroe, you can send him such instructions as you may think proper for the disposition of Mr. Stephens. Please notify Governor Brownlow that his archives are here and will be turned over to any agent of the State he may send for them. D. L. Yulee, J. W. Baker, M. D. Papy and E. C. Live, citizens of Florida, desire to visit Washington for the purpose of conferring with the Executive in regard to the re-establishment of the relations of Florida with the loyal States. Shall I allow them to pass through my lines for that purpose? General McCook reports from Tallahassee the surrender of all the troops and fortresses in Florida and that the people are well pleased at the aspect of affairs.


Brevet Major-General.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

May 12-13, 1865: The Battle of Palmito Ranch

Private John J. Williams, 34th Indiana, believed to be the last soldier killed in action in the American Civil War.
On this day 150 years ago, the Battle of Palmito Ranch began, lasting two days: May 12, 1865 through May 13, 1865. Palmito Ranch was subsequently identified as the last battle of the American Civil War, and on May 13, 1865, Union Private John J. Williams was believed to have been the last man killed in combat during the war. Months after the battle, Union Colonel Theodore H. Barrett, commander of the Union forces involved, submitted the following report of the action.
5TH ARMY CORPS, Camp near Brownsville, Tex., August 10, 1865.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the action at Palmetto Ranch, Tex., May 13, 1865, the last engagement of the war:

On the evening of May 11, 1865, an expedition consisting of 250 men of the Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry, properly officered, and fifty men and two officers of the Second Texas Cavalry (not yet mounted), the whole under Lieutenant-Colonel Branson, of the Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry, was sent by me, then commanding U. S. forces at Brazos Santiago, Tex., from the island onto the mainland. Crossing the Boca Chica, which owing to a severe storm was effected with difficulty, the force marched nearly all night, and after a short rest, early next morning attacked a strong outpost of the rebels at Palmetto Ranch, Tex., on the banks of the Rio Grande. The enemy was driven in confusion from his position, his camp, camp equipage, and stores falling into our hands. Some horses and cattle were also captured and a number of prisoners taken. Destroying such stores as could not be transported, Lieutenant-Colonel Branson returned to the vicinity of White's Ranch, and took up his position for the night. On the morning of the 13th about 200 men of the Thirty-fourth Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison, joined Lieutenant-Colonel Branson. Assuming command in person of the forces thus united, I at once ordered an advance to be again made in the direction of Palmetto Ranch, which, upon the retirement of Lieutenant-Colonel Branson, had been reoccupied by the rebels. The enemy's cavalry were soon encountered. Driving them before us, we reached the ranch by 7 or 8 a. m., and again compelled the rebels to abandon it. Such stores as had escaped destruction the day previous were now destroyed, and the buildings which the enemy had turned into barracks were burned, in order that they might no longer furnish him convenient shelter. A detachment was here sent back to Brazos Santiago with our wounded and the prisoners and captures of the day previous. The remainder of the force was ordered to advance. Nearly the entire forenoon [May 13] was spent in skirmishing. The enemy, though taking advantage of every favorable position, was everywhere easily driven back. Early in the afternoon a sharp engagement took place, which, being in the chaparral, was attended with comparatively little loss to us.

In this engagement our forces charged the enemy, compelled him to abandon his cover, and, pursuing him, drove him across an open prairie beyond the rising ground completely out of sight. The enemy having been driven several miles since daylight, and our men needing rest, it was not deemed prudent to advance farther. Therefore, relinquishing the pursuit, we returned to a hill about a mile from Palmetto Ranch, where the Thirty-fourth Indiana had already taken its position. About 4 p. m. the rebels, now largely re-enforced, again reappeared in our front, opening fire upon us with both artillery and small-arms. At the same time a heavy body of cavalry and a section of a battery, under cover of the thick chaparral on our right, had already succeeded in flanking us with the evident intention of gaining our rear. With the Rio Grande on our left, a superior force of the enemy in front, and his flanking force on our right, our situation was at this time extremely critical. Having no artillery to oppose the enemy's six 12-pounder field pieces, our position became untenable. We therefore fell back, fighting. This movement, always difficult, was doubly so at this time, having to be performed under a heavy fire from both front and flank. Forty-eight men of the Thirty-fourth Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry, under Captain Templer, put out as skirmishers to cover their regiment, were, while stubbornly resisting the enemy, cut off and captured by the enemy's cavalry. The Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry being ordered to cover our forces while falling back, over half of that regiment were deployed as skirmishers, the remainder acting as their support. This skirmish line was nearly three-quarters of a mile in length and, reaching from the river bank, was so extended as to protect both our front and right flank. Every attempt of the enemy's cavalry to break this line was repulsed with loss to him, and the entire regiment fell back with precision and in perfect order, under circumstances that would have tested the discipline of the best troops. Seizing upon every advantageous position, the enemy's fire was returned deliberately and with effect. The fighting continued three hours. The last volley of the war, it is believed, was fired by the Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry about sunset of the 13th of May, 1865. between White's Ranch and the Boca Chica, Tex. Our entire loss in killed, wounded, and captured was 4 officers and 111 men. In several instances our meant were fired upon from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Upon our occupation of Brownsville a few days later it was reported, upon what appeared to be good authority, that during the engagement a body of Imperial cavalry crossed the Rio Grande from Matamoras to Brownsville, doubtless with a view of aiding the rebels. Reports in detail of this action were forwarded to department headquarters at New Orleans shortly after the engagement took place. As these reports may never have reached the Adjutant-General's Office, the foregoing statement of the last actual conflict between hostile forces in the great rebellion is respectfully submitted.

I am, general, with high respect, your most obedient servant,


Colonel Sixty-Second U. S. Colored Infantry.

Bvt. Major General L. THOMAS,

Adjutant-General U. S. Army.