Vol. 22 No. 8- August 2009
Volume 22, No. 8
Rodney Dillon will present his take on the role played in the Civil War by a number of persons, both famous and infamous, some residents of Florida and some not. Rodney is always entertaining and informative!
"Black Jack" Travis has resigned as Vice President in order to move back to North Carolina and research another book. The entire Round Table benefitted from his invaluable assistance and suggestions. Jack was a great asset to the Round Table and will be missed. We hope Jack will come back (preferably on a second Wednesday) and present a program, possibly based on his second book! Bud Filer has graciously consented to serve as Vice President through the end of the year.
The Round Table is in great need of Civil War-related books and videos for our monthly raffle. Please check your groaning book shelves! All raffle proceeds are donated for Civil War battlefield preservation. Also, each member is asked to bring refreshments once a year. If you have not signed up, please do so at the August meeting. Monetary donations are always appreciated for forage!
If you want to present a program, please contact me!
On behalf of the Round Table, I would like to thank Steve Seftenberg for doing the updated and corrected Roster included in this month’s Newsletter. He has already received numerous kudos for his Newsletters.
Gerridine LaRovere, President
Sally Seftenberg got well-deserved applause for her talk on David Hunter, "Lincoln’s Abolitionist General."
Ancestors. David Hunter, born on July 21, 1802, came from two distinguished family lines. His mother belonged to New Jersey’s prominent Stockton family. His grandmother was the poet Annis Boudinot; his grandfather Robert Stockton signed the Declaration of Independence from New Jersey and was a famous lawyer and a friend of George Washington. His father, Andrew Hunter, born in Virginia, was licensed a Presbyterian minister in Pennsylvania and immediately made a missionary tour through Pennsylvania and Virginia. In 1778 he was appointed a Brigade Chaplain in the American Army, a position he held throughout the war. He was commended for his heroic conduct at the Battle of Monmouth in 1779. After the war he served as a trustee of the College of New Jersey (renamed Princeton University in 1896) and later became a professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at the school. In 1808 he resigned his professorship and was soon appointed a Chaplain in the Navy. He was stationed at the Navy Yard at Washington until he died in 1823. David’s uncle, Navy Commodore Richard Stockton, was a hero in the War of 1812 and the first Military Governor of California, as well as a United States Senator from New Jersey.
So how did David Hunter make his mark in history?
Prewar Career. David graduated from West Point in 1822 at the age of 20, finishing 24th out of 40. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 6th U.S. Cavalry and served 11 years with his regiment. While stationed on the Northwest Frontier at Fort Dearborn. Chicago (1828-31) he met and married his wife, Maria Kinzie, the daughter of Chicago’s first white settler, John Kinzie. They had no children but enjoyed a long and devoted life together. In 1833 he was promoted to Captain of the First U. S. Dragoons. Three years later he resigned and settled in Illinois. He became a real estate agent and a and speculator. In late 1842 he was appointment Paymaster and served as such during the Mexican War.
Becoming Lincoln’s friend. In 1860, while stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he began a correspondence with Abraham Lincoln focused on their anti-slavery views. They became friends and enjoyed a social relationship. This relationship had political consequences as well: the first was an appointment by the War Department to accompany Lincoln on the train to Washington in February, 1861.
Rapid Promotions. Soon after the firing on Fort Sumter in May, 1861, Hunter was promoted to Colonel of the Sixth U. S. Cavalry. Then his connection to Lincoln bore fruit with his promotion as the fourth ranking Brigadier General of the Volunteers. He commanded a division under General Irwin McDowell at the first Battle of Bull Run in July, 1861. He was severely wounded in the neck and cheek, but by late summer he had recovered and was given a number of quickly changing assignments: in August, 1861 he was promoted to Major General of the Volunteer Army, and served as a division commander in the Western Army under Major General John C. Fremont. He was one of the first to criticize Fremont’s poor leadership abilities, In November, 1861, he replaced Fremont as commander of the Western Department. However, he had no opportunity to distinguish himself as he in turn was replaced by General Halleck a week later. He was transferred to the command of the Department of Kansas but within a few months was back in Washington looking for a new post. He found a vacancy in the command of the troops in
South Carolina and in March, 1862 was put in command of the Department of the South.
Special Orders 7 and 11. His four month tenure brought him national attention. He arrived in Hilton Head as preparations were underway to retake Fort Pulaski on the Savannah River. Hunter sent a flag of truce to the fort that was ignored. Union troops opened fire April10 and within 30 hours they forced the surrender of the massive structure. Two days later, Hunter issued his Order #7 freeing all persons of color lately held to involuntary service by enemies of the United States in Fort Pulaski and on Cockspur Island. In May he went further with his Special Order #11 which read:
"The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the Military Department of the South, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States--Georgia, Florida and South Carolina--heretofore held as slaves, are therefor declared forever free."
Hunter’s premature actions did not fit into Abraham Lincoln’s strategy of keeping the slave border states in the Union and Lincoln quickly rescinded both orders. Undeterred, Hunter, began "enlisting" black soldiers from the occupied districts of South Carolina, whether they wanted to enlist or not. He petitioned the War Department in April, 1862 for permission to raise 50,000 black troops to reinforce his command. Hunter dispatched white Union troops to round up contraband men ages 18-45 in the occupied Sea Islands area. Thousands of black men were organized into units, provoking an outcry among the blacks who did not have any interest in trading involuntary slavery for involuntary "enlistment." Hunter reacted promptly by letting those who did not want to serve go home. The rest remained in unofficial service for the Union, mostly stationed at Hilton Head.
The New York Tribune in March, 1862 wrote of Hunter:
". . . bred in extreme pro-slavery views, the war has converted him into a firm abolitionist. He believes southerners who seceded are traitors and he needs every soldier including black soldiers he can get. He has always been in favor of arming the Negroes and has now a quite a little Negro army under his command at Port Royal. General Hunter has organized an expedition of 50,000 Negro troops to penetrate one of the most thickly populated districts of the Department of the South with a view to rouse the slaves. The invaders are to carry extra muskets and are to be supported by an adequate force of regular troops."
Lincoln, again, had to act and ordered Hunter to take a brief absence from his duties (referred to in the press as a "holiday.") Harpers Weekly stated:
"General Hunter, though 60 years of age is a veteran of remarkable vigor, energy, and iron will. He tolerates no insubordination is his command and is as much feared by his officers as the enemy."
His troops referred to him as "Black Dave." Jefferson Davis issued orders that Hunter was considered a felon to be executed if captured. In the North abolitionists were delighted. Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, defended Hunter in an open letter to Lincoln and criticized the President for not making slavery the dominant issue of the War. In reply, Lincoln made this famous remark:
"My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing a slave, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it."
Even in the face of Lincoln’s disapproval, Hunter did not back down. Slave owners in the border states deplored his actions. Kentucky Congressman Charles A. Wickcliffe sponsored a resolution demanding a response. In June 1862, Hunter sent a sarcastic and defiant letter in which he delivered a stern reminder to the Congress of his authority as a commanding officer in a war zone:
"I reply that no regiment of ‘Fugitive Slaves’ has been or is being organized in this Department. There is however, a fine regiment of persons whose late masters and ‘Fugitive Rebels’ -- men who everywhere fly before the appearance of the national Flag, leaving their servants behind them to shift as best they can for themselves...So far, indeed are the loyal persons composing this regiment from seeking to avoid the presence of their late owners, that they are now, one and all, working with remarkable industry to place themselves in a position to go in full and effective pursuit of their fugacious and traitorous proprietors. . . the instructions given to Brigadier General T. W. Sherman by the Honorable Simon Cameron, late Secretary of War, and turned over to me... for my guidance do distinctly authorize me to employ all loyal persons offering their services in defense of the Union and for the suppression of this Rebellion in any manner I might see fit..."
Democratic Kentucky Congressman Robert Mallory described the scene in Congress following the reading:
"The scene was one of which I think this House should forever be ashamed. . . A spectator in the gallery would have supposed he were witnessing here the performance of a buffoon or of a low farce actor upon the stage. . .The reading was received with loud applause and boisterous manifestations of approbation by the Republican members of the House. . . It was a scene, in my opinion, disgraceful to the American Congress."
Attempt to take Charleston ends badly. While all of this was transpiring, Hunter was back at the front and planning to attack Charleston from the South. On May 12, 1862, a slave, Robert Smalls, who served as a pilot aboard an inland steamer named "The Planter," stole a small boat, ran it past the Confederate forts to the Federal fleet blockading Charleston harbor. He brought news that the Confederates had abandoned Cole’s and Battery Islands. This would allow Federal troops to be landed unopposed on James Island with a clear path to assault Charleston. Hunter’s opportunity was now at hand. He landed two divisions, supported by Federal gunboats, on the southeastern end of James Island. From there he planned to advance toward Charleston along the Stono River. But after two skirmishes June 2 and 12, Hunter was convinced that he was outnumbered and needed more men before making any further assaults. Hunter left three Brigadier Generals, Henry W. Benham, Horatio G. Wright and Isaac U. Stevens, in charge while he went North for more troops. Hunter instructed Benham "You will make no attempt to advance on Charleston or to attach Fort Johnson until you are largely reinforced or until you receive specific instructions from these headquarters." Events progressed very quickly, however, and Hunter missed the Battle of Secessionville, which ended badly for the North. If the Union forces had prevailed, the North might have forced the Confederacy to abandon Charleston, might have cut the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and might have established a base for fighting in the interior, all of which could have ended the war at least two years earlier.
Hunter’s eventual vindication comes too late to save his command. As the summer of 1862 wore on the outcry from the grassroots over Hunter’s recruiting black soldiers reached the level of Congressional leadership. Hunter’s unofficial and unsanctioned activities were disapproved of at the highest levels of the War Department and Congress. Someone had to pay for not operating according to official War Department policy, and so Hunter was targeted. He was forced to disband his Sea Island units on August 9th. Strangely, one Company did not receive the order to disband and so it remained in service at St. Simon’s Island on the Georgia Coast. Just 11 days later, on August 20, 1862, at Hunter’s request, Robert Smalls (the escaped slave who stole the boat and broke through the Charleston blockade) and Mansfield French, a strong anti-slavery clergyman, would have an audience with Secretary of War Stanton and President Lincoln at which a formal plea was made to allow blacks to fight with the official blessing of the War Department. The request was granted five days later on August 25. That one company that did not receive the order to disband would be the foundation for the first official Union black troops, otherwise known as the First South Carolina Infantry (not the much more famous 54th Massachusetts!) Hunter in fact was ahead of many of his fellow Republicans on the issue of freeing the slaves and enlisting them into the war. The national mood in the North was moving against slavery. The President and Congress had already enacted several laws during the war to restrict the institution beginning with the First Confiscation Act in August, 1861. The War Department, soon after Hunter was removed, moved to expand the enlistment of black men as military laborers. Congress approved the Second Confiscation Act in July, 1862 which effectively freed all slaves working within the armed forces by forbidding Union soldiers to aid in the return of fugitive slaves. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued several months later.
A new role for Hunter: Lincoln’s troubleshooter. Hunter did not hold a command in 1863. Edward A. Miller, Jr. , in Lincoln’s Abolitionist General: The Biography of David Hunter, Univ of South Carolina Press, (1999), states that Hunter seemed to show up out of nowhere, dropping in on Union generals. He served as Washington’s eyes and ears, meeting with Grant twice, scouting him out for high command, then visiting General Banks to see what was up on the Red River. He served as President at the controversial and highly partisan court martial trial of Fitz John Porter. Hunter also served as President at the trials of two Kentucky Union generals: Alexander McCook, from a very prominent family, and Thomas Crittenden, whose father was a former Speaker of the House and an important Kentucky politician. Edward Miller continues:
"Now I can’t think this is all a coincidence. Hunter, one of the few Republican generals and a Lincoln protégée, kept on leading politically sensitive investigations where things can get swept under the rug or disposed of. He was very much Lincoln’s troubleshooter in the army high command. He may have achieved more off the field of battle than directly on it."
"Scorched Earth" in the Shenandoah Valley. David Hunter’s cousin, David Hunter Strother, a fellow Union general from Martinsburg, Virginia, was a famous American artist and writer, a frequent contributor to Harpers Monthly. He was commissioned by the US Army as a topographer due to his detailed knowledge of the Shenandoah Valley and was involved in 30 battles though never wounded. In May, 1864, both cousins are involved in the Shenandoah Valley campaign under Grant’s direction. The strategy was to distract Lee while Grant conducted the Wilderness campaign in Eastern Virginia, to threaten the railroads and to disrupt the agricultural economy. Hunter was ordered to replace Major General Franz Sigel (who was removed due to "lack of aggression" at the Battle of New Market).
Hunter was told to employ the same scorched earth techniques Sherman was using in his march to Atlanta. Hunter marched through Staunton, Charlottesville and Lynchburg, living off the countryside and destroying the Virginia Central Railroad. On June 5, Hunter defeated General William E. "Grumble" Jones, of whom my husband spoke in May, at the Battle of Piedmont, and moved up the Valley to Lexington. For four days in June Hunter, commanding 18,000 troops, occupied the small Shenandoah town of Lexington. The VMI cadets retreated to the mountains. There were no civilian or military casualties, but Hunter plundered the town and the library of Washington College, and treated VMI as a military target because of its being a site of a state arsenal and a training school. His "reign of terror" came to an end when he was defeated by a corps led by Confederate General Jubal Early. Grant then brought in General Philip Sheridan. Technically Sheridan was Hunter’s subordinate but it was made clear that Sheridan would lead the troops in the field and Hunter would handle the administrative responsibilities. Hunter realized he did not have Grant’s confidence and requested to be relieved. He was to have no more combat commands. On March 3, 1865 he was promoted to Brevet Major General, a relatively common commendation for senior officers late in the war.
Postwar career. In April 1865, Hunter served in the honor guard at Lincoln’s funeral and accompanied his body back to Springfield. President Andrew Johnson named him President of the Military Commission trying the accused conspirators of Lincoln’s assassination. He retired from the army in July, 1866. He authored The Report of the Military Services of General David Hunter, USA during the War of the Rebellion, which was published in 1873. He died in Washington, D.C. in February, 1886 and is buried in the Princeton Cemetery in Princeton, NJ. His tombstone is marked with a tall obelisk, crowned with a curved robe, a fashionable Victorian symbol of death.
A reviewer of Edward Miller’s book commented:
"Every now and then, the Union high command reminds me of baseball. There are some generals who seem like middle relievers. They come in out of nowhere, pitch an inning or two and then vanish with little glory or fanfare. Hunter would command a army for a week and then vanish only to pop up a few weeks later leading a court martial. Hunter was one of the few Republican officers in the Old Army and he had ties in Virginia, Chicago and New Jersey. He was a friend of Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. He routinely went around normal military channels to make his points. He was a Northern General, but had roots in Virginia. The account of how Hunter decided which of the homes of rebel sympathizers to burn down is highly instructive of what it must have been like to have to conduct a war in your own backyard with family names you know. He wasn’t pictured as a hero but an interesting character in the Civil War."
Hunter is still remembered with less than admiration in the Shenandoah Valley. In June, 2005, a new Virginia Civil War Trail was opened along the route of Hunter’s 1864 raid up the Shenandoah Valley, during which some of the "most poignant and horrific scenes of the war occurred." The trail will be comprised of 24 Civil War Trail markers along Hunter’s route. A brochure and map will guide visitors along the way. There will also be a website listing the route, marker sites and amenities so visitors can plan their trip and stopovers. An audio recording will provide a narrated history as visitors drive along the route.
Sally closed her well researched and well presented remarks by saying, "If I have another trip to Virginia in my future, I would love to include this Civil War Trail."
Last changed: 07/05/11