Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

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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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 imagine that referring to Richmond as a fire hazard might be a bit of a stretch, but it certainly has been true in the past.  One of those times, near the end of the Civil War, was discussed by my good friend Michael a while back.

But there was another time that Richmond burned, so let’s visit that for Today’s History Lesson.  In 1780, the British Army gained a new Brigadier General.  Benedict ArnoldHaving been thwarted in his attempt to turn over West Point’s fort to the British, Arnold abandoned the Colonists and the Continental Army for a General’s commission with the Redcoats.

In late December, Arnold arrived at the capital of Virginia with about 1,500 men, having been sent south to disrupt the colonial supply lines.  Richmond had been largely abandoned by its defenders, leaving it essentially an open city, free for the British taking.  The British General then sent word to Virginia’s governor, one Thomas Jefferson (whose government had also left the city), stating that he would spare the city if he was given the tobacco supplies.

Jefferson refused to comply and, on January 5, 1781, Benedict Arnold and his troops ransacked Richmond, burning or destroying much of the city.

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