Fr. Mullon, the Bravest Man

Fr. James Ignatius Mullon was one of those extraordinary priests in an extraordinary time. He was pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in New Orleans from 1834 to 1866. Fr. Mullon was born in 1793 in Derry, Ireland. He came to the U.S. with his parents when very young. His first parish was in Cincinnati, before coming to New Orleans.

At St. Patrick’s in New Orleans, he conducted 53 baptisms in 1835. That number increased to 163 in 1840 and then to 337 in 1845. The Irish population was booming and the new Father was ready for it. The church itself was a mess. Construction of St. Patrick’s started in 1835, but the tower started leaning in the soft soil. The parties agreed to take the dispute to arbitration. The construction company balked. James Gallier, an Irish architect, was called in. He succeeded in getting the church completed.

See a picture of St. Patrick’s Church here.

Raising Funds

Paying for the brick church became difficult. The parish tried to take out a mortgage. The church tried selling pews, but that did not raise enough money. The trustees took out bonds secured by the mortgage.

This was a time of significant strife for the Catholic faith. It would have been very  embarrassing if the newest church – and the only church serving Irish immigrants – failed.

By 1834, the debt load on the church had risen to $56,000. By one estimate, that would amount to $620,000 in 2019 dollars. Fr. Mullon was excluded from these financial decisions by the trustees of a corporation responsible for the financing. The church could not pay the interest on the bonds. One of the bond holders sued and won. The sheriff sold the pews for non-payment of the interest. Other bondholders and note holders began to press for payment.

In 1842, Fr. Mullon formed the Church Debt Paying association. Its members paid 25 cents each week. Fr. Mullon’s “two bits a week” association paid for the improvements to the interior of the church. But, the overwhelming notes and bonds remained outstanding.

In 1845, the sheriff seized the church for sale. Later, that year the bishop, Antoine Blanc assumed the debt for $40,000. The Bishop saved the church.

Jews and Protestants

Fr. Mullon was a friend of Jews and Protestants, at a time when such friendships were rare. He also owned two slaves. It is easy to judge the Father now. But, we do not know the circumstances of his slave ownership. It was not unheard of for persons of good-will to purchase slaves for positive reasons, such as keeping slave families together or close by. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson purchased two slaves for those very reasons. Starting in 1837, Fr. Mullon let the German Catholic immigrants use the church. He was a friend to theater people. The father was a forceful, eloquent speaker. He generally had standing room only when he said Mass. Many non-Catholics attended his Mass.

St. Patrick’s Day Parades

Fr. Mullon did not support St. Patrick’s Day parades. He believed those parades only caused censure and criticism. The Irish were handy targets for the nativists. Fr. Mullon would say Mass and then urge his flock to go home and eat a good dinner with family on St. Patrick’s Day. 

In 1837, the bishop invited Fr. Mullon to deliver the homily at St. Louis Cathedral to mark the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. The solemn Pontifical Mass was attended by legislators, judges, and civic officials. Fr. Mullon took the opportunity to lambast the nativist sentiment then growing. He criticized the “anti-American principles” of the Nativists. This drew the attention of the Nativists. In 1839, Fr. Mullon looked in on a meeting of the Native American Association at the elegant St. Charles hotel. He was surprised to see a friend there. He asked his friend what drew him there. When he heard the response, Fr. Mullon told him that if he joined the Native American party, their friendship would end.

Fr. Mullon was a very athletic man when he was young. Sometime in the late 1830’s, he found himself in a dispute over rent at a tenement. The short, Jewish proprietor struck the father. But, he did not respond. J.C. Prendergast, editor of the Daily Orleanian and a fellow Irishman, taunted the Father for not responding. Fr. Mullon asked Prendergast what would he have Fr. Mullon do, he being a man of the cloth? I could tear him to pieces, said the priest, but a minister of the meek Savior must remain a non-combatant.

The Know-Nothings

Fr. Mullon stood up to the Know Nothings. The American party members were known as Know Nothings. It was a nativist party which opposed immigration, especially Irish Catholic immigration. In 1854, there were riots, mob brawls and beatings between the Know Nothings and the Irish. The Irish were generally on the losing end of these fights. These Nativist sentiments likely kindled for Fr. Mullon memories of the severe sectarian strife in Ireland. In 1854, a large group of Irish left the St. Mary’s market, the center of the Irish neighborhood, marched down the street toward St. Patrick’s. On the way they met a mob of Know Nothings. A large brawl broke out. Fr. Mullon deplored the violence erupting across the city. But, St. Patrick’s church was never harmed.

When the Civil war broke out, the father blessed many banners and flags as the Irish troops marched off to war.

The Yankees

Fr. Mullon did not care for the Yankee occupation. The Union authorities ordered that prayers for the Confederates in churches cease. The churches, instead, must substitute prayers for the Union forces. Fr. Mullon exploded in the pulpit, excoriating this attack on religion and conscience. Gen. Butler summoned Fr. Mullon. Fr. Mullon eventually substituted silent prayer.

Another time, Gen. Butler summoned the priest. He accused him of refusing to bury a Union soldier. Fr. Mullon replied that he would be happy to bury the entire Union army, including Gen. Butler, whenever the opportunity would arise.

The Bravest Man He Ever Knew

Many of the Federal troops on duty in New Orleans were Irish Catholics. And, back in Massachusetts, Gen. Butler had been a politician who relied on support from Irish voters. So, the Federals generally left Fr. Mullon alone.

Fr. Mullon passed away in 1866. It was the end of an era. His body lay in state for two days in the church. He was laid to rest in the church in a tomb which he himself had built.

Sources:

Charles Dufour, ed., St. Patrick’s of New Orleans, 1833-1958 (New Orleans: A.P. Laborde & Sons 1958), p. 63-75.

Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1997), p. 174.

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, March 8, 1850, p. 2, col. 2

Michael Nolan, Part II: Young Irelander

I wrote about Michael Nolan’s background as a young man here. Now, let’s talk about his older years.

In 1848, Michael Nolan heard news of the rebellion in Ireland. The rebellion in 1848 was somewhat accidental and almost unplanned. But, Michael knew something. He left his business – probably a grocery store – took his rifle and boarded a ship bound for County Tipperary, Ireland.  The New Orleans newspaper says Michael was arrested upon his arrival. But, in reality, some time passed before he was arrested. He arrived in August, 1848 in County Tipperary. This was the same county in which occurred the well-known fire fight at the Widow McCormack’s house. This rebellion was almost accidental. Its leaders agonized over strategy. The rebels were quickly put down after the brief fight at the McCormack house on July 29, 1848.  The young Michael Nolan arrived in Tipperary just days later. Michael came to the town of Thurles, which was just 25 kilometers from the Widow McCormack’s house. Thurles was the large cross roads town near where Michael grew up.

Arrested

Michael was arrested in Thurles, a major cross-roads village in County Tipperary. He came under the observation of the British authorities and was watched. He arrived wearing a “large pair of whiskers.” He soon lost the whiskers. He was arrested during the evening of Aug. 8. He told the constable he had returned to Tipperary to visit family and friends. There were indeed many Nolans in County Tipperary. On his person was found a letter of introduction identifying Michael as a “real gentleman.”

Another “stranger” was arrested that same night. It is not clear if the second stranger had some connection to Nolan. The second person identified himself as Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick. He was a “good looking young man.”  He said he formerly worked for the Dublin firm of Tierney, McGrath and Co. at 3 Christchurch place, Dublin. There was indeed a drug company known as Tierney Brothers for many years at that address. The company was indeed known as Tierney, McGrath and Co. in 1848. But, whatever his real name, the second stranger must have had a sense of humor. Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick was a person known in political circles as a dedicated supporter of Daniel O’Connell since 1828. By 1848, the real Patrick V. Fitzpatrick would have been 56 years old, not a young man. It is not apparent from the news report whether the British authorities actually believed the “good looking young man” was truly Patrick Vincent Fitzgerald. Vincent was not a common name in 1840’s Ireland. The British must have known the name Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick.

Gun-running

Michael Nolan was charged with buying guns and distributing them in the Roscrea and Birr districts, apparently meaning the civil parish of Roscrea, which includes the Goldengrove townland.  The erstwhile rebel was released after three months in the Thurles jail, based on his promise to leave the country and return to New Orleans. In 1863, Michael will be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Dublin nationalist newspaper,  Irishman, will publish a touching tribute to Michael. He was clearly well-known to the Young Irelanders in Dublin.

Michael returned to New Orleans and re-married in October, 1850. He married Ellen Hackett, a native of King’s County, now known as County Offaly. Michael signed his own name, as did his surety and friend, Patrick McDonald.  It does not appear that Michael and Ellen had any children.

Insulted

On April 8, 1856, in New Orleans, about 11:30 a.m., Michael Nolan encountered a reporter for the Daily Delta. He ran into one David L. Crowley crossing Canal Street with a man named D.C. Jenkins, one of the editors of the Daily Delta. Nolan demanded an apology for an article Crowley had written about Nolan’s contract to provide supplies to the Marine Hospital. The Daily Delta article had described Nolan as “heartless” and questioned the quality of the goods he sold to the hospital.  Newspaper accounts differ. One says Crowley drew his pistol first, while others say Nolan attacked Crowley with his cane first. In any event, Nolan struck Crowley with his cane several times. Crowley fell to the banquette (sidewalk), and shot at Nolan several times while laying on the banquette. Michael wrenched the pistol from Crowley’s grasp and tossed it away.

Meanwhile, Michael’s brother, Thomas, came on the scene. He pulled out his own revolver and fired a few shots into the air, to keep bystanders away. Jenkins drew his pistol, but was arrested by a nearby citizen.  Jenkins was taken to jail and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. A passing policeman, who knew Thomas Nolan, rushed up to take away Thomas’ pistol. In so doing, Thomas accidentally shot the policeman, named Gustave Laferranderie. All the persons involved were arrested and then released on bail.

The U.S. Marine Hospitals were a system of hospitals set up to provide care to the merchant marine seamen. Eventually, that system evolved into the U.S. Public Health Service. The Daily True Delta article described Michael as a “well known resident of the seventh precinct,” meaning the Seventh Ward.

A couple of weeks later, a hearing was held regarding the charges against Michael Nolan,  Thomas Nolan and David L. Crowley. The Recorder (a criminal court judge) found Michael and Thomas should be committed to jail or pay a bail of $100 each. The two brothers paid the bail and were released. David Crowley was discharged. From then, Michael disappears from public record until April, 1862. In April, Michael is the elected captain of the Montgomery Guards, the most prestigious Irish militia in New Orleans. That year, he and the Guards go to war.

Sources:

Cork Examiner, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 30, 1879, p. 4, col. 5

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Laura Kelley, The Irish in New Orleans (Lafayette, La.: Univ. of La. at Lafayette Press 2014), p. 48, 51, 55.

New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 20, 1847, p. 2, col. 6

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Jo Anne Corrigan, “Yellow Fever in New Orleans, 1853, Abstraction and Realities,” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Aug, 1959), p. 342

New Orleans Daily Crescent, p. 1, col. 3

Brendan O’Cathaoir, “The Rising of 1848,” History Ireland, Issue 3 (Autumn 1998), Vol. 6

King’s County Chronicle, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 2, col. 2

Tipperary Vindicator, Sept. 6, 1848, p. 2, col. 4

Louisiana Marriages, 1816-1906, Orleans Parish, Oct. 17, 1850; La. Death Records, vol. 168, p. 777

New Orleans Daily Crescent, April 9, 1856, p. 1, col. 3

Plaquemines Southern Sentinel, April 12, 1856, p. 1, col. 2

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, April 10, 1856, p. 2, col. 3

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 24, 1856, p. 1, col. 7

Michael Nolan, Part I: Future Commander

I wrote a bit about the Montgomery Guards here. But, let’s talk more about their Civil War commander, Michael Nolan.

Son of a Tithe Defaulter

The Montgomery Guards elected their captain sometime in 1861. He was named Michael Nolan. Michael Nolan was born in County Tipperary about 1819. He was born in Goldengrove townland, Co. Tipperary.  Goldengrove was a small townland. In the 1823 Tithe Applotment books, there were eight families in Goldengrove. Each family farmed no more than five or ten acres. There is no Nolan family listed for Goldengrove in 1823. Yet, we know from brother Thomas Nolan’s death record, that Thomas was likely born in 1832. Thomas’ obituary describes him as a native of Goldengrove. Perhaps the Nolan family was sharing land with another family. Or perhaps, they moved around a bit. In any event, the leaseholds in Goldengrove were quite small. None of the individual leaseholds included more than five acres.

A review of Catholic births in 1819 or 1820 reveals just one Michael Nolan/Nowlan in the Thurles Roman Catholic parish. That was Michael Nowlan, born on 19 December 1820, with no townland identified. The other three Michael Nowlan/Nolan birth records include townlands other than Goldengrove. The Michael Nowlan born in 1820 to Patt Nowlan and Mary Maher Nowlan may reflect the birth of Michal Nolan, future citizen of New Orleans. The spelling of names in 1820’s Ireland was always problematic. The old country in the 1820’s still largely spoke Irish. The spelling of names in English was far from standardized.

Michael’s brother, Thomas, was born in 1832, according to his obituary. He was described as a native of Goldengrove. But, no such baptismal record appears among the parish registers. No parish register lists a Thomas Nolan born in Goldengrove in the early 1830’s.  But, there was a Thomas Nolan born on 20 Nov 1831 to Pat Nolan and Margaret Tuohy. That birth record omits the townland. But, the civil parish was in western County Tipperary. Those are the only sets of parents who mention a common father, Pat. It is possible Pat farmed in Goldengrove, but moved to a new townland by 1831. There were various quarries located in the Killaloe Roman Catholic parish area in the 1830’s.

In 1831, a Patrick Nowlan was recorded as farming in a townland identified as “Quarries.” He defaulted on his tithe payment. He was a tithe defaulter. This was part of a movement refusing to pay the tithe. In 1830 Ireland, farmers were asked to pay one-tenth of their income to support the Church of Ireland. This payment was bitterly resented by the Roman Catholic parishioners who also supported their own church. In 1831, a movement to refuse to pay the tithe commenced. It appears Patrick Nowlan was one such tithe defaulter. There is no townland recorded today for County Tipperary named “Quarries.” But, there were a couple of quarries in the Thurles area at the time.

Leaving Home

Mike Nolan left County Tipperary and lived in Dublin for a “few years.” He took the voyage to New Orleans in 1839.  The passage to New Orleans cost about the same as a fare to Boston or New York.  The Crescent City appealed to Irish immigrants, because it was generally a Catholic city. In an age and country where sectarian divisions were very pronounced, the Irish viewed a Catholic city as more welcoming and safer.

In 1840, the population of New Orleans was 101,193. By 1850, the population increased to 116,375. In 1860, it shot up to 168,675. The period 1840-1860 may have been the greatest period of growth in the City’s history. The port of New Orleans in the antebellum years was the fourth largest in the world and second in the U.S. By 1850, about 20% of the population was Irish.  New Orleans was a boom town and the Irish, including Michael Nolan, were riding that boom.

Death of His Family

Anna, wife of Mike Nolan, died in New Orleans on May 19, 1847. He also lost a child about this time. Anna was described as a native of County Tipperary. No cause of death is mentioned. Michael may have lost his family to yellow fever, a frequent scourge of the city throughout the nineteenth century. It was said that Michael tended the victims of the “yellow jack” by the hundreds. He provided the rites of sepulture to many victims of the yellow fever, or the rite of placing their bodies in the grave. The Dublin newspaper does not explain how or why he came to help bury so many Irish. But, certainly, 1847 saw one of the worst yellow fever epidemics in the city. Over 2,000 New Orleanians, mostly Irish and German immigrants succumbed that year to the yellow jack.

In these days before government assistance, there were a very few organizations, such as the Howard Association. In fact, the Howard Association may have been the first of its kind in the country. The Howard Association would assign volunteers to certain neighborhoods to provide aid during the regular, recurring yellow fever epidemics. Perhaps, Michael was one of those volunteers. Mike Nolan’s family may have been among the victims.

The Tenants of Lord Clifden

J.C. Prendergast, editor of the Daily Orleanian, first encountered the former tenants of Viscount Clifden in February, 1849. He was appalled at the condition of some 250 passengers – men, women and children – from the ship Challenger. They shivered on the New Orleans levee from Saturday afternoon through Sunday night. They were the tenants of the Viscount Clifden, of County Kilkenny. This would have been the 3rd Viscount, Henry Agar-Ellis (1825-1866). Lord Clifden held an Irish peerage, as well as a British rank. He also held the title of Baron Dover in the British peerage. He resided primarily in England.

Viscount Clifden paid for the tenants’ passage to New Orleans. He told them food would be provided on the voyage. So, the passengers spent their meager funds on clothing, not on food. They starved during the two month voyage. Steerage passengers were supposed to provide their own food. The Lord was very wrong about the food.

New Orleans Generosity

But for some humane New Orleanians, the passengers would have continued to starve upon their arrival in the new world. Edward White provided them with seven dollars worth of bread, which they consumed ravenously. “Notorious” women from the ball rooms came to aid the young women of the Challenger early Sunday morning. Other Irish residents of New Orleans, not opulent Prendergast tells us, contributed to their cause. Mr. Lebeau of the Cotton Press donated the use of his tenements in which they could vie until they left town. They left for the upriver states where jobs were available. A cotton press was a business that compressed the cotton bales for shipment.

The 250 or so tenants left County Kilkenny in December, 1848. Travelers always avoided Winter travel. But, as the Norfolk News noted in 1848, the Irish tenants were so desperate to leave Ireland that in December, 1848, there were four ships already booked, even though those four ships still had yet to reach Galway harbor. It was a shipper’s market.

One Pound

The Lord Clifden had promised the tenants one pound each. He told them he would forward the money to a bank in New Orleans. But, upon arrival in the city, the money was not there. It did not arrive. The travelers reported that the Lord told them himself. But, Agar-Ellis generally lived in England. He was an absentee landlord. Perhaps it was his agent who made the promise? It was one of his agents, a Mr. Ryan, who went to Liverpool to arrange their passage to New Orleans. Ryan was known for having quit a prior landlord, who was oppressing his tenants. He was not believed to be an oppressive sort of agent. In any event, someone told Clifden’s tenants to expect a pound each upon arrival. But, upon arrival in the Crescent City, they received nothing.

The Viscount Clifden was generally considered a kindly landlord. He reduced the rent during the famine, both prospectively and retrospectively. But, he was also a spendthrift. He spent a “princely sum” on race horses. He saw some early success, winning major races in 1848 and 1850. But, in time, his fortune would be lost. Indeed, he may have picked New Orleans, because it was cheaper. Passage to New Orleans cost almost one-half of the fare to New York, Boston or Philadelphia.  

Prendergast believed it was better for the poor emigrants to remain in Ireland than suffer this sort of experience. The tenants arrived in the Crescent City with literally nothing. They arrived when cholera was then spreading throughout the city. Only due to donations by the citizens of New Orleans were they able to book passage upriver. They then traveled upriver to St. Louis. But, cholera appeared again on the steam boat. Many were tossed overboard, apparently after dying. Some were buried along the river in the hills. Prendergast tells the tale to persuade folks not to emigrate. He lambasts the Irish landlords for “exterminating” their tenants. But, says Prendergast, only one in 20 will find work and that work will entail working 16 hours a day in the sun. Prendergast exaggerated the difficulty in finding work, but his point remained.

Sources:

Norfolk News, Dec. 2, 1848, p. 4, col. 2

Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal, Jan. 6, 1849, p. 2, col. 2

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 26, 1849, p. 2, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, March 4, 1850, p. 2, col. 3

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, March 22, 1850, p. 2, col. 2

London Era, Feb. 25, 1866, p. 3, col. 3

The U.S. Flag

During Gen. Sherman’s infamous march to the sea, he cut a black swath 50 miles wide of destruction, stealing and burning. Sherman himself said he wanted to teach the Southerners a lesson. Gen. Sherman was nothing if not direct. Of course, his methods caused considerable resentment.

One of Sherman’s Corps Commanders, Maj.-Gen. Oliver O. Howard, a pious man, encountered his share of angry Southerners. In Savannah, one woman was seen to leave the sidewalk to walk in the muddy street, so as to avoid walking under the U.S. flag. The flag was hung above Howard’s headquarters. This act counted as defiance in occupied Savannah. A guard brought the woman before Gen. Howard.

The general told her he understood she had refused to walk under his flag. “I did,” the lady replied. “Am I not at liberty to walk in the sand if I prefer it to the sidewalk?”

“Yes, but you intentionally avoided my flag.” The general paused. “I’ll make you walk under it.”

“You cannot make me. You may have me carried under it, but then it will be your act, not mine.”

“I’ll send you to prison.”

“Send me if you will. I know you have the power.”

The general paused.

“I’ll have the flag hung in front of your door, so that you can’t go out without walking under it.”

“Then I’ll stay home and send the servants. They won’t mind.”

With that, Gen. Howard realized she had won.

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 372

The Burning of Atlanta: Why Not?

In early November, 1864, Gen. William T. Sherman resolved to leave the confines of Atlanta and march to the sea. Before leaving, he would destroy what he believed were facilities that could be used by the Confederates to prosecute the war.

Cassville

But, before burning Atlanta, he first burned small towns north of Atlanta. He started with Cassville, a small village. Cassville was accused of harboring Confederate raiders who had attacked the railroad and a Union wagon train. The First Ohio Volunteers arrived in the morning of Nov. 5 with orders to burn the town. The federals gave the residents 20 minutes to pack up and leave. The inhabitants, mostly women and children, huddled in the cemetery as the town was reduced to ashes. They never re-built.

Rome

Next up was Rome. As Brig.-Gen. Corse prepared to burn the town, a Union Colonel protested. Gen. Sherman replied, “You have known for ten days that Rome was to be evacuated and have no right to appeal to my humanity.”  The Federals proceeded to stack up dry goods boxes and trash in the stores and set fire. Soldiers with firebrands in their hands ran from designated places to undesignated place and simply burned them all, regardless of any pre-planning. The troops fired two flour mills, two tanneries, one salt mill, one foundry, machine shops, depots, and bales of cotton. They also fired several private homes. A livery stable caught fire and the horses within burned along with the rest. Sherman wired Gen. George H. Thomas, “Last night we burned Rome, and in two or more days we will burn Atlanta.”

Atlanta

The original plan in burning Atlanta was to burn certain designated places. A large steam mill was on the list. So were shops, houses, the courthouse, all around the central square, known as Five Points. A brand new major, Henry Hitchcock rode up to the general just as these buildings were burning, right under the general’s nose. Thinking this was not intended, Maj. Hitchcock saw a group of soldiers trying to save the courthouse.

“Twill burn down, sir,” Hitchcock said.

“Yes,” added Sherman. “Can’t be stopped.”

“Was it your intention?”

“Can’t save it. I’ve seen more of this than you,” said the general, sometimes known as Crazy Bill.

The general then added that soldiers just do these things. It can’t be stopped. “I say Jeff Davis burnt them.” Hitchcock then apologized, saying he was new. Gen. Sherman replied, “Well, I suppose I’ll have to bear it.”

In truth, the Federals had already damaged all the fire fighting equipment in the city and had already forced out all the fire fighters, along with the all the residents.

For the next few nights, Union soldiers went about firing private homes. One young resident, Carrie Berry, age nine, remained as one of the very families in the city. She recorded how frightened her family was each night when the soldiers would wander with firebrands in their hands. She said the soldiers said they would fire all the houses if they had to leave the place. The nights of Nov. 11 through 15, Carrie and her family suffered through some very long nights.

There’s No Help For It

After the war, Sherman insisted no private home in Atlanta was burned by his troops. He insisted only the burning of four buildings had been planned. But, certainly the destruction was monumental. Yes, mills, machine shops, depots, train car sheds were burned. But, also burned was every hotel, except the one in which Sherman had been staying. Most of the business area was burned, including shops, depots, mills, and warehouses. Four churches were burned to the ground, including the African Church. The theater and the concert hall were both burned. Every school and institute of higher learning was burned. Some 3,200 to 5,000 private homes were burned. Only 400 private homes were left standing. We know this because Pres. Davis sent a Georgia Militia colonel to complete an inventory of the destruction two weeks after the Federals left.

Sherman rationalized his tactics in the early days of his march to the sea. Against the pleas of a widow, he told Hitchcock, “I’ll have to harden my heart to these things. That poor woman today – how could I help her? There’s no help for it – the soldiers will take all she has. Jeff Davis is responsible for all this.”  See a picture of some of the destruction here.

Source:

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 342-364

The Leadership of Robert E. Lee

There is no greater challenge than to lead men and now, women in combat. No situation, no office will call on a leader’s abilities more than combat. It is the supreme leadership test. A general can understand the squares and hash marks on a military map perfectly. Yet, if his men do not follow him, then he is not a combat leader. Leadership is the test. It is the crucible. One masterful leader was Robert E. Lee. How did he do it?

Lee was a modest man. Even at the height of his fame, he eschewed pomp and ceremony. One contemporary Southern newspaper noted at the time that Lee slept in an ambulance when he traveled. When he stayed in a tent in the field, it was never the “largest and best house in the neighborhood, as is the custom of some officers.” One contemporary Southern soldier noticed that when Gen. Lee rode about the battlefield, he made no notice of himself. He rode as quietly as a farmer would ride about his farm. He wore a generally modest uniform, lacking some of the indicia of his rank. He disdained the usual decorative gold braid on his sleeves.

This soldier was saying that Lee did not do what some senior officers would do, even today. Lee did not stop and correct a soldier’s uniform. He did not stop and fuss at men at work. He did not ride about with a retinue trailing behind him.

George S. Patton

Gen. George S. Patton’s leadership style was very different. Patton wore the three stars of a Lieutenant-General before he was entitled to the rank. As a newly appointed Corps Commander in North Africa, he installed a metal flag on his car with the three stars. Every other Corps Commander used the simple, government-issue cloth flag that would unfurl when the wind blew. But, government-issue was not good enough for Gorge Patton. He wanted a flag that would be visible even when the wind did not blow. So, he had a metal flag with the three stars fabricated for his scout car.  

Indeed, even in this author’s experience, I have known a few officers over the years who could not resist the urge to pin on early. Promotion orders are always issued a few months prior to the effective date. That means an officer will know a few months prior that he will be promoted. A few, perhaps very few, officers could not resist pinning on the new rank before that effective date.

In choosing a smaller tent, Lee knew what that meant for the Headquarters soldiers. No general would erect his own tent. Like today, most officers in the 1860’s did not erect their own tent. That chore fell to some harried enlisted men. That Lee eschewed the larger roomier tent reflects some consideration for the soldiers’ welfare. It is hot work erecting those darn tents. Soldiers notice those small things.

Pincushions

Gen. Lee understood a modern component of morale: appealing to the family. Whenever an officer brought his wife near enough for a visit, Lee insisted on being so informed. He would call on the wife of any officer who was in the area. This would usually occur in winter quarters or during a lull between campaigns. Lee made it known that he was to be informed when a wife was nearby for a visit.

Lee also gave pincushions to soldiers who were mentioned in battle dispatches. The highest honor the Confederate army could bestow was to be mentioned. The Confederate army did not award medals. The general would give a pincushion to the mentioned officer or soldier. In a time when all women sewed, Lee knew the pincushion was of little value to the husband. But, the wife would appreciate it. It was a small gesture, but doubtless one appreciated by many spouses.

Manual Labor

There is perhaps no more sensitive issue in any army than whether and to what extent officers perform manual labor. Generally, the more traditional the army, the less likely officers perform manual labor. Even today, many officers believe it beneath them to perform manual labor, even for a few minutes.

Soon after taking command of Confederate forces, Lee told his men they have to start digging entrenchments. Like the Duke of Wellington, he saw the value in hard labor. Lee said that to keep up with the Federal forces, who were working like beavers, the Confederate officers would also have to help dig. Lee, the student of Roman and French military history, knew that trenches were essential to protect Richmond. The army, which he would name the Army of Northern Virginia, had suffered from loose discipline. It was not uncommon for officers to make unannounced trips to Richmond for social reasons. Gen. Lee sought to impose discipline in part by focusing on digging. His men awarded him with the nicknames, “King of Spades” and “Granny Lee” for his efforts. But, his focus was on building an army. He knew the value of simple manual labor.

Sources:

Emory E. Thomas, Robert E. Lee (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1995), p. 226, 275, 330

Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton, a Soldier’s Life (New York: Harper Collins 2002), p. 317-319

Scott Bowden, Robert E. Lee at War (Grapevine, Texas: Legion of Honor Publ. 2017), p. 68-69, 71-72.

Yankee Thievery

Time and time again, the Federal soldiers took a pause from their martial duties to help themselves to some Southern souvenirs. Perhaps out of some feeling that the Southerners had not paid enough for, in the Federal view, having started the war, they grabbed what they could when they could. During the days long Battle of Atlanta, Gen. Sherman sent the cavalry of Maj.-Gen. George Stoneman on a raid ostensibly to tear up railroad tracks leading to Macon, Georgia. Stoneman asked if he could also move on afterward to free the prisoners at the notorious prison at Andersonville, Georgia. Sherman agreed.

But, Maj.-Gen. Stoneman had other ideas. He bypassed the railroad station where he was to link up with two other Federal columns and headed straight for the prisons at Macon and Andersonville. Stoneman was very ambitious. He hoped that in freeing the prisoners, he would find his name splashed across the front page of Northern newspapers.

Along the way, Stoneman’s troops stopped to loot roadside homesteads, and strip ladies of their rings and pins. The cavalrymen broke open drawers and trunks. They grabbed “silver and plate of every description.” In some houses, they demanded the lady of the house to produce wine from the cellar. Their saddlebags were stuffed full with loot.

As Stoneman’s men approached the Ocmulgee River, they found it impassable. They turned back north, but ran into a large Confederate force. Eventually, Maj.-Gen. Stoneman was captured with one of his three brigades. He found himself the highest ranking Union officer to be captured. No record indicates whether his saddle bags were full.

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 202-205

May We be Worthy of Our Young Marines

Back in the 90’s, I recall folks, pundits and the like, asking of the kids of the time would step up the way prior generations did in WW II and even in the Viet Nam War. Folks doubted the kids, spoiled it seemed, would step up. I was in the Texas National Guard at the time and had no doubts they would step up. America’s youth was already participating and sacrificing for their part-time job in the armed forces. Starting in 2001, those kids, born in the 1980’s and 90’s stepped up in a big way. They are still stepping up. I was Battalion Commander of a drill Sergeant unit in 2006 and 2007. The Drill Sergeants scaled back their harassment during the two wars. The Sergeants felt that folks who enlisted voluntarily derived some extra respect. They did deserve some extra respect.

Young Marines

In a dusty Kabul airport, 11 Marines, one soldier and one Navy Corpsman were blown to bits by a fanatic suicide bomber. Those kids were as young as the war itself. LCPL Rylee McCollum was 20 years old. Two Marines in their dress uniform knocked on the door of LCPL McCollum’s parents at 0330 in the morning to tell them about their son. That dreaded knock.

Maxton Soviak grew up in northern Ohio playing football. His sister, Marilyn, said his death left a Maxton sized hole in the lives of those who knew him. Maxton was a Corpsman, or Navy medic. He graduated from high school in 2017. His football coach said everyone looked to Maxton in tough situations. He was passionate, energetic. He held nothing back.

Nicole Gee was promoted to Sergeant 24 days before her last day in uniform. Just days before that last day, she posted a picture of herself holding an Afghan baby. She said, “I love my job.” She was at the airport, escorting women and children to freedom and safety, when she was killed.

One in Ten

These were America’s best. Only one in ten kids qualifies for the Army. And, once they are in, they are scrutinized, harassed and pressed over and over. These boys and girls become young men and women within days, weeks.

The mission at the Kabul airport is to process Americans and Afghans. For the first time in over a decade, soldiers must now get on the ground, out of our armored vehicles and talk face-to-face with Afghans and possible terrorists. The soldiers can feel the breath of the folks they are talking to. Thirteen died. More were wounded. But, the mission continues. Those young, brave boys must still face the elephant. The CENTCOM commander, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie says in the end, “there’s no substitute for a young man or woman standing up there conducting a search of that person before we let him in” [to the airport]. The next day after the blast, other young Marines, soldiers and Corpsmen were back at it, searching and escorting. 

War has not changed. There is never a substitute for a young man or woman who is willing to stand up there doing their duty. Thank God we still have young men and women who believe our country is worth that devotion. Let us hope that we continue to be worthy of their devotion. 

Gen. Sherman and the Rules of War

It was one of the most extraordinary exchanges in the war. Two experienced, trained, tough commanders got into a fuss fight over the rules of war and over the civil war itself. Gen. John Bell Hood and Gen. William T. Sherman fussed over proper procedure and even about the war itself.

The fuss started with the Battle of Atlanta. Sherman’s forces had a three to one advantage over Hood’s men. Yet, the battle lasted 36 days as the Southern Army of Tennessee poured their hearts and souls into defending the city. And, of course, Sherman being Sherman, he made the war more personal than necessary. Like other Union commanders, Gen. Sherman ordered his men to bombard the unarmed civilians in the city. For 36 days, the Atlanta citizens were subjected to indirect artillery fire. For no apparent military purpose, the gunners targeted homes and houses. Officers bragged that they had destroyed one, two or more houses that day.

Crazy Bill

Gen. Sherman was erratic, as generals go. Very skilled and unpretentious, he was nevertheless subject to depression. Early in the war as a brigadier general in Kentucky, he had over-reacted to a Confederate scare. He had vastly over-estimated Confederate strength. He betrayed his fears. He chain-smoked his cigars. He rarely slept or ate. He berated his subordinates. He threatened to hang a reporter as a spy. He said he needed 200,000 troops to invade Tennessee. In November, 1861, he was sent home to his wife, depressed and dishonored. He was said to have considered suicide. Sherman became known as Crazy Bill. The Northern newspapers vilified the general.

Weeks later, he returned to active duty under Gen. Grant. From there, his fortunes rose until in 1864 he was in command of three Union armies barreling toward Atlanta. The semi-siege of Atlanta started in the summer. Over 36 days, Sherman’s gunners shelled the Confederate defensive positions. In their spare time, the gunners would lob a few shells into the city. Other Union commanders had shelled civilians, as well. The Federals shelled the civilian homes in Fredericksburg and Charleston. In regard to Atlanta, the Confederate commander, John Bell Hood, did not protest this violation of the rules of war. Submitting a written protest would have been the typical approach between commanders. Hood chose not to do so.

By Sept. 3, 1864, Union forces entered Atlanta. Southern forces retreated some miles away from the city. Again for no apparent military purpose, Sherman decided the citizens must leave. By this point, there were only some 5,000 remaining in the city out of a pre-battle population of 20,000. He may have been concerned about having to feed those folks. Prior to retreating from the city of Atlanta, Hood was providing rations for some 1500 poor citizens. Gen. Sherman gave the citizens of Atlanta 5 days to pack up and leave. He assured them his troops would help them leave. Sherman planned that the citizens with Union or Northern sympathies could go north on the train. The Southern supporters would leave on wagons via the southern roads.

The Dark History of War

As Sherman proceeded with the logistics of evicting the civilians from the city, he sent a letter to Gen. Hood informing him of the move and proposing a two day truce to effect the move. Gen. Hood responded matter of factly, agreeing to the truce, as if he had much choice. But, at the end, Gen. Hood commented,

“And, now sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war.

Gen. Sherman was part of a very influential family. His brother was a U.S. Senator. He rarely allowed slights to pass unnoticed. The General responded to Hood mentioning that Hood’s army had destroyed civilian houses. He accused Hood of situating his defense so close to the town as to invite inadvertent artillery rounds. Sherman claimed he was helping the white citizens of the city by removing them from a possible battlefield. Sherman had to know any risk of harm for the civilians was quite minimal, now that the actual battle was over.

Gen. Hood responded rightly that his defense during those 36 days was a mile or more from the city. The Union gunners were very skilled. It is very unlikely so many shells were the result of accident. Hood added:

“You came into our country with your Army avowedly for the purpose of subjugating free white men, women and children, and not only intend to rule over them, but you make negroes your allies, and desire to place over us an inferior race, which we have raised from barbarism to its present position, which is the highest ever attained by that race, in all time. I must, therefore, decline to accept your statements in reference to your kindness to the people of Atlanta ….”

Shelling Civilians

Regarding the shelling of civilians, Hood added:

“I made no complaint of your firing into Atlanta in any way you thought proper. I make none now, but there are a hundred thousand witnesses that you fired into habitations of women and children for weeks, firing above and miles beyond my line of defense. I have too good an opinion, founded both upon observation and experience, of the skill of your artillerists, to credit the insinuations that they for several weeks fired too high for my modest field-works, and slaughtered women and children by accident and want of skill”

Gen. Sherman was always a profligate letter writer. He quickly penned one more response.

“First, we have no ‘negroe allies’ in this army, not a single negroe soldier left Chattanooga with this Army, or is with us now. There are a few guarding Chattanooga [the 14th U.S. Colored Troops] which General Stedman sent at one time to drive [Confederate General] Wheeler out of Dalton.”

Regarding the bombardment of civilians, Sherman replied, “I was not bound by the laws of war to give notice of the shelling of Atlanta, a ‘fortified town, with magazines, arsenals, foundries, public stores;’ you were bound to take notice. See the books.”

The rules of war had been pretty well defined since the early 1600’s. Both West Point graduates knew the rules. Sherman is taking considerable liberties in claiming the city was fortified and contained arsenals and magazines. There were guns and Army supplies in train cars. But, there were no magazines or arsenals as they would have understood those terms in 1864. Now, we know from diaries, letters and orders that Sherman did indeed tell his gunners to fire into the city. He did commit a war crime. Why?

War is Cruelty

Well, we see Sherman’s motivations when the citizens protested. Mayor James M. Calhoun, a sometime Union sympathizer, who had opposed secession, sent a letter of protest. He said forcing people out with nowhere to go was cruel. In his now infamous response, Gen. Sherman agreed this was cruel:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices today than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and division of our country.”

Gen. Sherman was essentially shrugging his shoulders and saying, “this is war. You started the war.” He would defend or gaslight his bombardment of the city for the rest of his life. Sherman was nothing, if not direct.

The Book of Exodus

Colonel William Le Duc, Quartermaster of the of the 20th Corps had known Sherman before the war. It would fall to the Quartermaster to make this citizen removal happen. Col. Le Duc passed a message to Sherman warning him that history would not look well upon this eviction. Sherman passed a message back to Bill Duc: “… I care not a damn how others read it. I am making history, and the citizens of this rebel town shan’t eat the rations I need for my army.” By Sept. 26, Sherman had evicted southward: 446 families, including 705 adults, most of whom were women. The evictees included 867 children and 79 servants. Col. Le Duc prepared an exhaustive list of the person who were removed. He titled it, “The Book of Exodus.” A similar number were removed northward.

Yes, indeed, the 14th U.S.C.T. actually performed superbly in their one engagement with Gen. Wheeler’s cavalry, much to the surprise of their Union commanders. If Hood can be rightly accused of patronizing the blacks, Sherman was guilty of the same offense. For all his faults, Gen. Sherman believed cruelty would shorten the war. But, that is why we have rules of war, to ameliorate those cruelties on the defenseless. Ask any private with an M16 in a war zone, during war, the Army has unfettered power. Gen. Sherman had the power. He used that power to wreak revenge.

Source:

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 16-19, 307-318.