Vol. 24 No. 4- April 2011
Volume 24, No. 4
Wednesday, April 13, 2011 Assembly
The April assembly will hear from Rodney Dillon. His topic will be Moses, Abraham, Murder, and Atlanta. History is full of strange coincident and this is certainly one of them.
IF YOU HAVE NOT ALREADY DONE SO, PLEASE PAY YOUR DUES, OR YOU WILL NO LONGER RECEIVE THE NEWSLETTER.
Dr. Nimberg has graciously donated The Bachelder Papers, a three volume set of books concerning the Gettysburg campaign. There will be a special raffle for these mint condition books valued in excess of $150.00. One ticket will cost $5.00 or you may purchase three tickets for $10.00. Tickets will be sold at the April and May assembly and the winner will be drawn at the May assembly. The Round Table appreciates George’s gift. Are there other members who would like to donate valuable items relating to the Civil War?
Our monthly raffle will continue. Any Civil War books in good condition will be greatly appreciated. If anyone wants to present a program, please call me or talk to me at an assembly. The Round Table wishes a speedy recovery to all our recruits on the sick list.
Snail mail is expensive and is soon going to get more expensive. Members willing to receive their newsletters by e.mail will reduce the Round Table’s expenses and speed up delivery. Members who wish to receive their newsletters electronically should call Bob Schuldenfrei at 561/582-3340 or look him up at an assembly.
March 9, 2011 Assembly
In March we had the honor of listening to Marshall Krolick talk about the common soldier during the Civil War. Books, lectures, and the topics bandied about at our assemblies often focus on the generals and politicians of the day. Instead, Marshall discussed the “Boys in Blue and Grey,” introducing his topic with a question: Why did they fight? Remember until 1863 both armies were made up of volunteers!
Slavery was immediately dismissed as a reason in both North and South. Most Union soldiers never saw a slave. If they thought about it at all freeing the slaves caused fear that a freed slave might take away their jobs at very low wages. Almost all the Confederate soldiers were poor farmers who would never be able to afford a slave.
So, why did they fight? The Northern boys were fighting to preserve the Union, while the Southern boys fought for “state’s rights” and to protect their homes from invaders.
Seventy-five percent of Northern soldiers were American-born farmers. The percentage of American-born and farmers was higher. Most had never traveled far from the place of their birth. It was rare for a young man to venture outside their state. Before the war, the entire United States Army consisted of 16,000 men. During the war, the Union army swelled to 2.5 million! Recruitment in the Union army started out by the formation of units at the local level. A meeting was called in a town and the citizens flocked to hear a politician offer a bounty of $100 (later raised to $200 and then to $300) to join the army. Most took the money and joined up. Some took the bounty, served for a bit and then deserted, only to join up again in a different place, often under a different name, earning the nick name “bounty jumpers.” Of course, if a bounty jumper was caught, he faced the death penalty.
By 1863, this method of recruitment was running dry and both sides resorted to the draft. Now the town meeting involved drawing names of draftees out of a “fish bowel.” This led to the line, “It is a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight!” Things got so bad in New York City in July 1863 that there were draft riots. Mobs burned draft and newspaper offices and hung 30 Negroes from lamp posts. The Sixth Corps was diverted from chasing Lee after Gettysburg to quell the riot.
Camps were established, both for training and to house the men between battles. Training was a real issue early in the war. There were not enough officers who knew anything about how to fight a modern war. Officers were often selected by popularity (or their willingness to put up the money for uniforms, etc.) rather than their knowledge of the ways of combat. The best of them might buy a book on the subject and try to teach their men from it. A significant difference between officers and common soldiers was that an officer could resign their commissions and simply go home, while a common soldier who tried that and was caught would be punished as a deserter!
Camp life could be grim because of the many diseases prevalent in camp. Over three times as many deaths were caused by sickness as by combat wounds. In the winter 1861-62, 250 out of 1,000 men in the 8th Illinois cavalry succumbed to disease. Many soldiers died without ever being in combat. The chief killers were measles, typhoid fever, smallpox and the “Tennessee Quick Step” (dysentery). In Florida, yellow fever took a terrible toll.
Life in a Civil War encampment was not all dark and gloomy – there was a lighter side. Newspaper reading was a great diversion. The common man, particularly in the North, was literate. He wanted to read about the great conflict in which he was playing a pert. To our great benefit, Billy Yank was also a prolific letter writer. Letters home provide us with a clear window into the minds and events of the Civil War. The great pastime of the common soldier was gambling. Dice and cards filled the idle hours of which there were many during the first years of the war. Ironically, fear of retribution in the hereafter caused many a trooper to toss away his cards and dice as he marched to battle. Not to worry, he often picked them up again on the way back to camp after the battle. Baseball was played by the men in camp. Who invented baseball? Not Abner Doubleday.
Before 1864 there was little continuous fighting. The war consisted of violent combat interspersed with the unending drudgery of camp life. Most of the time, even getting to the fight was a slow process: the average unit made only 2½ miles per hour! In stark contrast, the 6th Corps made 36 miles in 19 hours on their way to Gettysburg. This was done in wool uniforms in full kit in 95º heat!
A soldier’s dress on next on the agenda. Marshall donned battle gear starting with his jacket (called a “blouse”). Next came the belt with a buckle emblazoned with the letters “US,” which stood for the United States and not “us” as opposed to them. He placed the cartridge pouch behind his torso it would not be hit by a bullet and explode. His blanket was the soldier’s suitcase, which he filled with his personal effects. His cup was a multifunction cooking vessel. Marshall explained, as he put on his cap that it bore the insignia of “C” Company of the 82nd Illinois of the 11th Corps. Almost everyone in the audience knew that the cap was called a “kepi.” The uniform illustrated at the right (© Rich Strauss, Smithsonian Institution) is very close to that which Marshall illustrated. Last, but not least, was the musket, which shot a 58 caliber “minie ball” which caused ghastly wounds. The musket was effective at up to 300 yards but could be lethal at over 1,000 yards in the hands of a skilled marksman.
Trivia took the stage at this point. Seven U. S. presidents took part in the Civil War: Johnson, Grant, Hays, Garfield, Harrison, Arthur and McKinley. Marshall also mentioned General Lew Wallace, who went on to be governor of New Mexico territory and the author of Ben-Hur. General Ambrose E. Burnside was better known for his facial hair than for this leadership ability (However, Frank O’Reilly told us at the February 9, 2011 assembly that Burnside was neither a “fool nor an idiot ” but a victim of bad luck). Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”) had a brief taste of war on the Confederate side but found it not to his liking and deserted. President Tyler served in the Confederate Congress during the war. Jesse James and his band got their introduction to killing by serving with noted bushwhacker, William Quantrill. Finally, the Army Air Corps was born with the field experiment of Thaddeus Lowe’s balloon. His invention did not turn out to be useful since Prof. Lowe did not want his balloon to be shot up (with him it!) as a target, so the tethered craft was kept far from the battle.
Wounds of battle ended the evening. Marshall did not want to conclude his presentation with the glory of war – rather the horror of same. He explained that gut wounds were almost always fatal as there was nothing that 19th century medicine could do about them. A limb might be survivable if the surgeon removed the limb in time by amputation. However, the sanitary conditions of the field hospital were less than ideal. The operating table was washed down by a bucket of water sloshed over it in preparation for the next wounded soldier. Bone saws were merely wiped on the surgeon’s apron before use. If Laudanum or whiskey were not available the only pain relief was “biting the bullet.” In conclusion, Marshall mentioned Dr. Jonathan Letterman, a pioneer in battlefield medicine, who should be well known but sadly is not.
Respectfully submitted, Robert Schuldenfrei, temporary editor.
A new book, America Aflame -- How the Civil War Created a Nation, by Prof. David Goldfield (reviewed by Andrew Delbanco in the New York Times Book Review, March 27, 2011), asks the question, “Could the Civil War have been avoided?” Delbanco asserts that “Goldfield’s belief that the “political system” could have solved the problem of slavery is a leap of faith . . . . Secessionists, after all, left the Union precisely because they rejected a constitutionally valid election that placed slavery, as Lincoln put it, ‘in the path of ultimate extinction.’ In his first Inaugural Address, . . . Lincoln tried to reassure slave-owners that he would not interfere with their peculiar institution where it already existed, but would only limit its expansion into territories over which the federal government held authority. But slave-owners did not concede the constitutional legitimacy of that authority – and the United State Supreme Court, in its notorious Dred Scott decision, had agreed with them.
“Goldfield computes it total monetary cost as around $6.7 billion in 1860's currency, and asserts that if ‘the government had purchased the freedom of four million slaves and granted a 40-acre farm to each slave family, the total cost would have been [only?] $3.1 billion . . . And not a life would have been lost.’ Such a transaction can be made only if there is a willing seller as well as a willing buyer – and as Goldfield himself notes. all attempts at compensated emancipation, even in the small border state of Delaware, where slaves were a minor part of the total economy, failed because slave-owners had no interest in such a deal. And even if they had, just where would the 40-acre farm be located? In the South? Or in the western territories [where they could hardly expect to be welcomed].”
Delbanco “finds it hard to imagine that the post-Civil War constitutional amendments by which black citizenship rights were advanced could ever have been ratified if the slave states had remained in the Union. The ‘secession war,’ as Walt Whitman called it would seem to have been a necessary prelude to the process of securing black equality – a process still unfinished today. . . . Most history books try to explain the past. The exceptional ones, of which “America Aflame” is a distinguished example, remind us that the past is ultimately as inscrutable as the future.”
Last changed: 03/30/11