Archive for the ‘Civil War period (1861-1865)’ Category

I mentioned a week ago that we went to visit my grandma.  When we got there, she was a bit frustrated because “some kids came into her apartment and broke her TV”.  It’s probably true that someone came into her room, because that happens in assisted living facilities.  It may have been to pick up the laundry or run the vacuum or…whatever, but she was right about the TV…it certainly wouldn’t turn on.

I pretty much can’t fix anything, but I volunteered to check it out.  So I messed with it a bit and, wonder of wonders(!), I got it working good as new.  She was pretty happy to have it back and I, for a moment anyway, played the part of hero.

We turned the TV on and there was this guy in a wetsuit in the middle-of-nowhere Alaska.  He had a dual-engined sluicebox and was looking for gold.  It was awkwardly fascinating to watch him sucking up material with a giant hose into his sluicebox where the good stuff would be captured.  He ended up finding quite a bit, at which point grandma asked me if I had ever panned for gold.  Boy, you accidently fix a TV and people think you can do anything.  I would likely be drowned by that sluice contraption long before I found enough gold to pay for my funeral.

But it actually did bring to mind the events surrounding the founding of Helena, Montana…no, seriously, it did.  My frantic mind works that way.  I remember in grade school reading about a guy (or maybe it was some guys…but no girls, because in second grade, girls didn’t do cool stuff like pan for gold) who discovered gold in a place called Last Chance Gulch.  I don’t know why it was called “Last Chance Gulch” (maybe they were about to give up the search)…wait, let’s take a minute and list the things that I don’t know so far…

  • How to fix much of anything
  • How to fix a TV, except by accident
  • How to pan for gold and survive to tell the tale
  • Who (or how many) found gold in Last Chance Gulch
  • Why the place is called “Last Chance Gulch”

I don’t think I’m going to pass the test.

So anyways, a guy (or some guys) found gold in this place in the summer of 1864.  And like all gold strikes, word got around and, pretty soon, there were a bunch of people there, hoping to make their fortune.  At some point, the prospectors decided that “Last Chance Gulch” wasn’t a good name for the place (again, I don’t really know why, but 3-word towns take up a lot of space on an envelope when you’re writing to your grandma, so that’s probably it).

On October 30, 1864, the men met to decide on a new name.  After some deliberation, they settled on Helena and a new town was born.  And I do know that Helena remains, that it’s the capital city of Montana, and probably has one of the smallest populations of any capital in the country (less than 30,000 people).

I also know that if my story has got you interested in doing a little gold-digging on your own, you won’t be able to pan in Last Chance Gulch.  I learned (in second grade) that Helena’s main street runs right over Last Chance Gulch.  Panning for gold there now requires a jackhammer and (most likely) some kind of permit…and those barricade things with the lights on them.

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The struggle to get here and put anything in print continues.  But there is light at the end of this tunnel, and things are starting to lighten up.  Activity around this place should pick up in the week or two.  I’ll keep things brief tonight, just because I’m a bit out of practice.

On March 19, 1863, a ship was lost off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.  On March 19, 1965, a shipwreck was discovered.  It’s location was also off the coast of South Carolina.

And as you might guess, the ship lost and the ship found was one and the same.  The CSS Georgiana was a small vessel by today’s standards.  But by Civil War standards, she was a good size at 226 feet long and displacing more than 400 tons.  She was also iron-hulled, built for speed, and packed a considerable punch.  She was outfitted as a cruiser and given the job of raiding Union merchant shipping.

Unfortunately (for the Georgiana and the Confederates, not the Union), she never really got the opportunity to carry out her mission.  She ran afoul of the Federal Blockading Squadron which was guarding the seaward approaches to Charleston.  Sustaining heavy damage, Captain Davidson ordered the Georgiana abandoned, at which point she was scuttled in shallow water and subsequently burned by Union forces.

Fast forward exactly 102 years, when eighteen-year-old budding archeologist E. Lee Spence found the CSS Georgiana lying in just 5 feet of water.  He was soon the president of his own salvage company and beginning the process of removing cargo from sunken ship’s hold.  And according to the various sources I’ve looked through, Spence has recovered artifacts and cargo worth nearly $12 million.  But so far, none of the gold bullion rumored to be on board has been recovered or found…worth another $12 million or so.

I’ve been poking around looking for a photo or drawing or sketch of the Georgiana, but so far nothing.  If anyone can point me to one, that would be great!!

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As I type, the end of another year is just a few hours away.  I’ve managed to do a small piece each December 31st, so it only seems appropriate to continue the tradition.  And since the previous two “year-enders” had to do with endings (the breakup of AT & T and Thomas Jefferson’s resignation as our country’s first Secretary of State), I should write something involving some sort of beginning.

Who am I kidding?  Let’s talk about the USS Monitor…but only for a minute.

Many of you are already familiar with the battle fought between the Monitor and the CSS Virginia (which was actually the USS Merrimack in Confederate garb) in March of 1862.  As the first battle fought between ironclads, it pretty much ended in a draw, which shouldn’t be that big of a surprise since both had cannon capable blowing holes in wooden ships, but not in each other.

Anyways, two months after their engagement (the Battle of Hampton Roads), the Virginia was scuttled by Confederate forces to keep it from falling back into the hands of the Union.

And as 1862 came to a close, the life of the Monitor ended as well.  On December 31, 1862, she was being towed in the Atlantic Ocean just off Cape Hatteras.  The seas were rough that evening and the Monitor, designed for river travel, couldn’t handle the conditions.  She foundered and sank about 16 miles from shore.  It’s a bit ironic that the first two ironclads, built to dominate in war, both met their demise in circumstances that had pretty much nothing to do with the Civil War in which they fought.

So that’s it…pretty simple this evening.  2010 is nearly over.  I hope it’s been a great year for you, and I wish you a wonderful…and very safe…New Year.

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General Lee’s evacuation of Richmond, Virginia in early April of 1865 was the last gasp of a Confederate army’s four-year struggle to aid the states they represented in leaving the Union.  From Richmond, Lee’s forces headed west in a dual mission of foraging for food and reaching Appomattox Station, where a supply train awaited.

Harassed by Union troops along the way, they approached their goal on the 8th, only to find that Union forces under General Sheridan had already arrived and captured the Confederate supplies.  Lee thought to head for Lynchburg, where another train awaited, but as fighting and maneuvering began the next morning, it became abundantly clear that most of the fight had left Lee’s men.

The Confederate General had already made a quiet inquiry into terms of surrender the day before, but now Lee’s generals agreed that surrender was the only option left, and that was the option they chose.

At 4pm on April 9, 1865, the document of surrender was completed at the home of Wilmer McLean in the small village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia and the Civil War, excepting some sporadic fighting over the next couple of months, was over.

Ulysses Grant’s terms were quite gracious when compared with other treaties signed at conflict’s end.  Lee was allowed to choose the place of surrender.  Confederate officers and men were pardoned on the spot, and the officers were allowed to keep their sidearms.  The vanquished were fed from Union supplies and, when they left, were allowed to take their horses (after all, it was springtime, and the animals would be sorely needed for planting).

When Lee departed, some of Grant’s men began a makeshift celebration, which Grant quickly halted.  “The Rebels are our countrymen again,” he said.  Celebrating their defeat seemed inappropriate at this time.  Lee remembered always Grant’s generosity and, in the years after Appomattox, never had an unkind thing to say about his long-time rival in the field.

Nearly 28,000 Confederate soldiers surrendered that day, leaving a mighty big pile of guns.  Those guns had killed at least some of the more than 110,000 Union soldiers that died during four years of fighting.  Another 90,000+ had died fighting for the Gray.  In all, the “War of Northern Aggression” (as it is still sometimes called in the south) ended the lives of more than 600,000 people.

There were still dark times ahead (President Lincoln would be dead from an assassin’s bullet within a week).  The harsh reality of not only rebuilding a nation, but rejoining a people ripped apart by war and ideology, would not completed quickly.  In fact, some of the rebuilding continues even today.

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I had to run to the doctor’s office tonight.  The back of my leg (just above the calf muscle) has been giving me fits for a couple days and, since I couldn’t diagnose it, I figured I’d get a second (well, actually a first) opinion.  It turned into a big nothing…a bit of tendonitis.  I’ve been walking more and riding my bike more, so a bit of fatigue behind the knee should be expected.  Of course, this has nothing to do with history except to lay down a proper excuse as to why I’m keeping Today’s History Lesson brief.

We talked about the Revenue-Marine yesterday and its use to assist in the proper collection of tariffs.  Let’s continue in that vein today.

In August of 1861, the American Civil War was just a couple of months old, and again, the government was feeling cash-strapped.  President Lincoln, in the Oval Office since March, had a Commander-in-Chief’s-eye view of the final collapse of the Union and beginning of hostilities between U.S. forces and those from the C.S. (Confederate States).

When he first took the Oath, he was already thinking about the costs of returning the “wayward” South to the Union.  Some of his earliest discussions with his Cabinet involved the concept of an income tax should war break out.  Today, income tax is a part of our existance, but in Civil War times, it was a new burden to lay on the citizens.  But unlike today (if I may editorialize a bit), at least Congress and the President did some things right when it passed, on August 5, 1861, the first income tax legislation in the form of the Revenue Act of 1861:

  • It was small.  The tax rate was 3%.
  • It was flat.  The 3% rate was assessed across the board.
  • It had provisions for the poorest of citizens.  The tax was only levied on those making more than $800 a year.

The Revenue Act was in force for a year, when it was replaced by the Revenue Act of 1862.  The new Act introduced the graduated rates we know so well today (3% on incomes greater than $600/yr, 5% on those greater than $10,000/yr).  It also added a termination provision…the Act would cease in 1866.

If only our tax laws were remotely similar to those from Lincoln’s day…

Recommended Reading: Lincoln

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If you mention the CSS Virginia around a bunch of computer nerds (like me), they’re liable to get all excited, albeit for the wrong reasons.  They’ll probably suppose that it’s a new-fangled add-on that will make development of Cascading Style Sheets easier and more enjoyable.  You can easily crush their hopes with a two-part response.  First, tell them that nothing exists that will ever make CSS easier or more enjoyable.

If the angry mob doesn’t immediately pummel you to death with their pocket protectors, or maybe write some software that exiles you to Katmandu, you can deliver the second part of the response…Today’s History Lesson.

The CSS Virginia was a Confederate States Ship.  Yep, the Confederacy had a navy.  Now maybe one or two of the nerds is listening.  Then mention that, before it was the Virginia, it was called the Merrimack…the USS Merrimack…as in United States Ship.  Tell the nerds that the Confederate government took the ship from the Union.  Better yet, say the Conderates “pirated” the ship, because piracy is a big deal in computer circles.  By now, you should have a small, but captive, audience.

When Virginia left the Union in 1861, Union forces were ordered to destroy the naval base at Portsmouth before departing.  Included in that destruction was the destruction of the frigate Merrimack, so she was torched.  But she sank before being completely burned out, and was subsequently raised by the Confederates to clear the harbor for operations.  So the whole “piracy” thing is a bit of a stretch.

But then it was discovered that the Merrimack’s hull and running gear was still serviceable.  So it was chopped and channeled, given a louvered hood and thrush pipes,…well, not really.  But it was highly modified, covered with heavy armor plating, and converted to an ironclad.  Tell the computer guys that the Confederates didn’t just patch the old ship, they did a ground-up rewrite of the code and gave it a new name.

And then the CSS Virginia was released, and fought that famous battle with its northern counterpart, the USS Monitor, in March of 1862, which pretty much ended in a draw.  And that was the last time the Virginia would fire her guns in anger.  Union forces moved back into Virginia (the state) and occupied Norfolk on May 10th.  The CSS Virginia, still undergoing repairs, was not ready for ocean travel, and had too deep a draft to move up-river.

So, in computer parlance, the Confederates crashed their own hard drives.  In historical language, the guns were removed, and on May 11, 1862, she was filled with explosives and set afire.  And this time, the damage was complete.  The fire reached the powder magazines and blew the CSS Virginia apart.

Recommended reading: The Civil War: A Narrative–Fort Sumter to Perryville, Vol. 1

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I’m no law expert, and as you read Today’s History Lesson, you’ll figure that out.  We’re going to talk (for just a minute or two) about habeas corpus.  It’s probably one of the most important rights given to the individual to protect him or her from government power.  And it’s probably good to visit the topic, simply because it’s been in the news for some time as it pertains to the prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay.

“Habeas corpus” in Latin means something along the lines of “you must have the body” or “you shall produce the body”.  It’s a legal action better known as a “writ” (hence, a “writ of habeas corpus”).  If a person believes he or she is being held prisoner without just cause, that person can invoke habeas corpus.  The court will then summon (with an order) those holding the person, demanding that the prisoner be brought to the court.  In addition, those holding the prisoner must bring evidence that they are holding the prisoner lawfully.  Failing to do so, the prisoner is to be released from custody.

Essentially, habeas corpus is the guarantee that anyone held in custody by the law will receive a day in court.  If such a right were not in force, one could be incarcerated and held indefinitely without ever getting to state one’s case.  In the U.S. Constitution, part of Article 1, Section 9 reads, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Again, I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure it’s that part after “unless…” that has caused so much recent debate.

I believe the Bush Administration used that clause as a way to hold suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay for long periods of time without trial, which brought its lawyers into sharp debate with other lawyers.  There was great disagreement over the matter of giving the protections of U.S. citizens to enemy combatants.  I don’t know all the particulars, but in mid 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Administration was, indeed, violating the rights of the prisoners there and those being held had a right to seek writs of habeas corpus.

Maybe some of you readers that know more than I will chime in and clarify some of the muddle.

Anyways…I’m almost to end of the lesson, and I’ve yet to say anything historical, so let’s go for it.  On April 27, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln suspended, for the first time, habeas corpus in the state of Maryland and in parts of other states.  Lincoln’s justification was obvious.  The Civil War had just begun, the Union had lost Fort Sumter two weeks prior, and Maryland was full of Confederate sympathizers who were happy to aid the southern army in its efforts to overthrow the nation’s northern capital.

So Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and gave his Generals power to lock up suspected sympathizers.

Recommended Reading: Lincoln – One of the best biographies about the Civil War President available.

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