Volume 27, No. 12 – December 2014
Volume 27, No. 12
The President’s Message
After a long day’s marching, join the troops on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at 7:00 PM and enjoy the Round Table’s annual holiday festivities. Everyone is asked to go to their local sutler and bring an appetizer, salad, entrée or dessert. Bring yourself and any sweethearts that you may find along the way. Speaking around the campfire will be noted author, Robert Macomber. Every soldier needs a holiday treasure to bid on so please bring something for the raffle. Items do not have to be Civil War related. Gift cards would be greatly appreciated.
Besides delicious rations and camaraderie at the holiday party you can also get your horse shod, have long johns repaired, get coffee beans ground, have socks washed, get sideburns trimmed, have bullets polished, have melancholia vanished, get your saber sharpened, and dyspepsia diagnosed and treated.
Dues are due. Elections will be held in January. If you wish to run for any office or be on the Board, please call (561 967-8911) or e-mail (email@example.com).
December 10, 2014 Program:
Join award-winning author and lecturer Robert N. Macomber for an intriguing discussion of the global aspects of the American Civil War. That's right, the naval part of the Civil War was fought around the world and had interesting consequences. This aspect of history is little known. For more about Mr. Macomber and his work, visit http://www.robertmacomber.com.
November 12, 2014 Program – Naval Terrorism in the
Dr. Francis J. DuCoin, a consultant at the USS Monitor Center in Newport News, Virginia, is an avid Civil War collector and historian. His second appearance at the Round Table was both interesting and depressing. First the interesting:
As part of "asymmetric warfare," the Confederates engaged in the kind of guerrilla warfare Americans have learned to hate in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Civil War buffs are familiar with land-based guerrilla warfare. Examples include: On August 9, 1864, an infernal machine (we call them bombs today) in the form of a "horological torpedo," (i.e. a time bomb) invented by CSA John Maxwell was smuggled aboard an ammunition barge which blew up a naval ship and caused tremendous death and damage to the naval yard at City Point, Virginia. On October 19, 1864, a Confederate raiding party took over St. Albans, Vermont, robbing the banks and merchants of $208,000 ($3.14 million today) and attempted to burn the town down but the "Greek Fire" failed to ignite and only one shed was destroyed. In November 1864, a group of Confederate sympathizers attempted to burn New York City down.
But we are not so familiar with naval asymmetric warfare, which began on July 7, 1861, when a Confederate force floated two barrels down the Potomac River in an abortive attempt to sink USS Powhatan. Curious Federal soldiers dragged them out of the water and were aghast to discover each barrel had been packed with 200 pounds of explosives and a 40-foot fuse, which fortunately had gone out.
The Confederate Congress in October 1862 set up two agencies: the Torpedo Bureau, to develop "torpedoes" (the word was coined by Robert Fulton; today we call them "mines" and Dr. DuCoin referred to them as mines in his talk) and the Submarine Battery Service to develop submarines to deliver them to the hulls of Northern vessels, with modest success: During the Civil War, the South planted 123 mines in Charleston Harbor, which helped prevent its capture; 101 mines in the Roanoke River and a multitude of mines outside Savannah, Georgia. Of 12 vessels sent with troops to capture Fort Branch, North Carolina, six were sunk by mines. Of the five ironclads sent to take Mobile, Alabama, three were destroyed by mines. Altogether 58 Northern vessels were sunk by Confederated mines, including Admiral Farragut's flagship, USS Harvest Moon, Thorn, Commodore Jones, Monitors Patapsco (62 sailors died) and Tecumseh (93 died), and Ram Osage and Monitors Milwaukee, Housatonic and Cairo in the Yazoo River. Northern Monitors sat low in the water and had only 1/2 inch iron in their hulls below water. Once struck by a mine, they often capsized because of the top heavy weight of the guns.
The US Navy used many countermeasures: Picket boats surrounded the fleet 24/7 but did not always succeed: On April 9, 1864, the CSS Squib exploded a mine alongside USS Minnesota, the flagship of the North Atlantic Blockade Squadron, to the embarrassment of the US Navy, but failed to sink her. In the campaign to recapture Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, each night a Northern monitor would steam up to the Confederate barrier and then drift back to the fleet looking for mines, which at low tide could sometimes be seen just under the water. USS Sangamon was equipped with "cow catchers" all around her hull to fend off floating mines. In the "Riverine War" in the West, sailors would be put ashore to walk along both sides of the a river looking for underwater cables and wires connected to floating mines.
Hidebound Federal naval officers attacked the use of "torpedoes" as "unfair" and "unsporting," although the North also used them. On April 3, 1862, one John McCurdy submitted a plan to Secretary of War Stanton to attach log booms 300 feet long in front of USS Monitor with mines attached in front of the booms that would explode on contact with CSS Virginia. This particular plan did not reach the Navy Department until 1931! Another man requested funds to develop a submarine "battery" that would sink CSS Virginia ($300,000 in advance and $100,000 if successful). Many Northern politicians wanted to capture Charleston desperately – you might say they had a vendetta against Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor, symbolic heart of the Confederacy. These politicians wanted the monitors to beat their way past the rebel batteries and into the harbor. The US Navy was not excited about this foolhardy plan. Assistant Secretary Gustavus Fox had a special motivation because he had led the failed expedition to relieve Fort Sumter in 1861. In 1863 he asked John Ericsson, who had developed USS Monitor (and until recently the only man not a politician or a military leader to have a statue in Washington, D. C.), to develop a device to defeat the mines. Ericsson built a 50' x 20' raft that could be attached to the bow of a monitor, pushed into the desired site, then lowered under water so it could contact a mine and cause it to blow up. The US Navy officials in charge of the project thought Ericsson was "nuts," both because an explosion so close to the monitor would sink it too and because they didn’t think the monitor could steer the raft. Ericsson countered the first argument by developing an explosive that would explode in only one direction, forward. Ericsson paid $19,000 ($210,000 today) each to build four rafts. He called them "Devils" or "Torpedo Searchers." The rafts were towed from Hampton Roads to Charleston Harbor. One raft was lost the first night. Raft #3 was beached and captured by the Confederate Navy. More about raft #3 later. The other rafts made it. On April 7, 1863, 9 ironclads and 7 monitors under the reluctant command of Rear Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont (yes that family!) began an attack on Fort Sumter. DuPont thought only a combined attack by ground troops and his vessels could succeed (and subsequent events proved him right).
The whole thing was a fiasco. First monitor USS Weehawken’s anchor caught on a grapnel on the raft delaying the attack for two hours. The whole thing lasted only two hours, during which the Confederate batteries fired 2,000 rounds of which over 500 hit a Federal vessel. The US Navy, on the other hand, fired only 154 rounds with no apparent effect and withdrew! Five monitors were badly damaged and USS monitor Keokuk was sunk. DuPont waited two weeks to report on this "battle" leaving President Lincoln to find out about it in the Richmond Examiner. In June DuPont was relieved and never served aboard ship thereafter.
Now for raft #3 after the rebels gave up on trying to salvage it: Dr. DuCoin and his wife, over a period of several years, took "vacations" in areas where the raft might have ended up. He discovered it had broken into six pieces. One piece floated all the way to Bermuda and was salvaged in 1868; it remains there today. In1872, a steamer ran across another part of the raft and towed it into a Virginia port. By 2011, there was very little left of this part of raft #3. In a swampy area of Virginia, Dr. DuCoin found it. He thinks he was the first person in over 30 years to lay eyes on it. It is slowly disintegrating and he has pictures over several years showing this. He brought several pieces from raft #3 for us to see up close!
This ends the interesting part of Dr. DuCoin’s talk and he received a well-deserved round of applause.
Now for his depressing news. Due to budget constraints in 2013, the Monitor Museum was closed on January 1, 2014. The total cost to operate the museum is about $750,000 a year, of which the wet lab conservation work takes $450,00. At this funding rate conservation projects in the wet labs could have been completed in about 20 years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ("NOAA") got its 2014 funding in May 2014 and committed $200,000 for the balance of the year. During the summer and fall, conservators continued to conserve small artifacts, but had to stop working in the wet lab. The large artifacts (USS Monitor’s turret, guns, hull, etc.) are covered with tarps and monitored to maintain their stability. The Museum and NOAA hope to raise the funds needed to resume conservation work in the wet lab.
[Editor’s note: The following story in The New York Times, November 25, 2014, is both timely and eerie.]
As Booths Were On stage, Confederate Plot Against New York City
On Nov. 25, 1864, at some point in the middle of Act II, after Brutus and his co-conspirators decide to assassinate Julius Caesar, the capacity crowd of 2,000 filling the Winter Garden on lower Broadway was startled by the sudden clanging of fire-bells, coming from every direction. After conferring with the theater manager, Caesar himself, played by Edwin Thomas Booth, calmly announced from the stage that, indeed, a small fire had broken out in the adjacent Lafarge House Hotel, but had been extinguished. The benefit performance, also starring his brothers, Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., as Cassius, and John Wilkes Booth as Marc Antony, had been mounted to subsidize a statute of Shakespeare in Central Park, and resumed without further interruption. This was the first and last time all three brothers had appeared on stage together.
It was only after the final curtain, when exiting theatergoers heard newsboys barking headlines like “Rebel Plot: Attempt to Burn City,” that the extent of the real life drama unfolding outside that Friday night became clear. Confederate saboteurs had infiltrated New York City via Canada, intending originally to disrupt the November 8 presidential election. Thwarted by an infusion of federal troops, but still incensed by the Union Army’s scorched earth campaign against Southern military installations and industrial sites, they tried to set the city ablaze instead,” starting fires “concurrently in about 19 hotels, a theater and P. T. Barnum’s Museum. This touched off minor panics in a few places, but mostly fizzled rather than sizzled. The plot to overwhelm the Fire Department had the potential to be disastrous, however. “The plot was excellently well conceived, and evidentially prepared with great care,” The New York Times reported, “and had it been executed with one-half the ability with which it was drawn up, no human power could have saved the city from utter destruction.”
Harold Holzer, a Lincoln scholar and the author, most recently, of “Lincoln and the Power of the Press,” said, “It’s hard to know whether this . . . terrorist plot ever could have succeeded. The arson technology involved was so primitive, and the would-be terrorists so eager to flee from the fires they thought they would be setting . . . that the enterprise was bound to fizzle rather than sizzle. But there is no doubt that this was a deadly serious attempt to make New York howl in the same way Sherman was, at that very time, making Georgia howl. It was a plan to strike fear in the hearts of Northern civilians and break their will to fight.
Eight saboteurs escaped to Canada, but one, Robert Cobb Kennedy of
Louisiana, was arrested when he slipped back into the United States en
route to Richmond. He was executed at Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor
. . . four months after the plot failed. He was the last Confederate
prisoner executed by the government before the Civil War ended two weeks
[Editor’s note: The following story from The New York Times, November 16, 2014, tracks to the last one.]
150 Years Later; Wrestling With a Revised View of Sherman’s March
ATLANTA – This city would seem a peculiar place for sober conversation about the conduct of William T. Sherman. To any number of Southerners, the Civil War general remains a ransacking brute and bully whose March to the Sea, which began here 150 years ago on Saturday, was a heinous act of terror. Despite the passage of time; Sherman remains to many a symbol of the North’s excesses during the Civil War, which continues to rankle some people here.
Yet this week Atlanta became the site of a historical marker annotating Sherman folklore to reflect an expanding body of more forgiving scholarship about the general's behavior. One of the marker's sentences specifically targets some of the harsher imagery about him as “popular myth.” W. Todd Groce, the president of the Georgia Historical Society, which sponsored the marker, said of regional perceptions of Sherman and the Union Army, “In general, we just have this image from ‘Gone With the Wind.’ ”
The marker ... at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is the fruit of a reassessment of Sherman and his tactics decades in the making. Historians have increasingly written that Sherman's plan for the systematic obliteration in late 1864 of the South's war machine, including its transportation network and factories, was destructive but not gratuitously destructive. Instead, those experts contend, the strategy was an effective and legal application of the general's authority and the hard-edged masterstroke necessary to break the Confederacy.
They have described plenty of family accounts of cruelty as nothing more than fables that unfairly mar Sherman's reputation. “What is really happening is that over time, the views out there are being challenged by historical research,” said John F. Marszalek, a Sherman biographer and the executive director of the Mississippi-based Ulysses S. Grant Association. “The facts are coming out.” To that end, the marker in Atlanta mentions that 62,500 soldiers under Sherman's command devastated “Atlanta's industrial and business (but not residential) districts” and states that, “contrary to popular myth, Sherman's troops primarily destroyed only property used for waging war – railroads, train depots, factories, cotton gins and ware-houses.” Sherman's aggressiveness, the marker concludes, “demoralized Confederates, hastening the end of slavery and the reunification of the nation.”
The marker, placed in Atlanta at a time when more and more of its residents are not natives of the area, drew relatively little criticism ahead of its dedication ... Mr. Groce said. But some say its text is an inaccurate portrayal of history that amounts to an academic pardon for a general some believe committed acts that would now be deemed war crimes... Jack Bridwell, a longtime leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in Georgia, was more blunt: “How they can justify saying anything other than that he's ‘Billy the Torch,’ I don't know.”
The reassessment of Sherman comes at a time when the South continues to weigh how to recognize its complex racial history. Earlier this year, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights opened in Atlanta ... But the Confederate battle emblem still flies on the grounds of the South Carolina State House, and there is a push under way in Mississippi to amend its Constitution to enshrine “Dixie” as the state song.
The new look at Sherman's legacy ... challenges deeply held opinions of the general. “It has not been a legend white Southerners have been particularly eager to surrender because it was all part of their sense of grievance that they had been so severely wronged during the Civil War,” said James C. Cobb, a professor at the University of Georgia and a former president of the Southern Historical Association. “The old stereotype is a long way from disappearing. There’s this sort of instinctive sense of Sherman embodying the whole Yankee cause and the presumed vindictiveness and unrelenting harshness that the white South was subjected to.”
But Mr. Bridwell says such sweeping dismissals of Southern complaints about the March to the Sea are meritless and, in the eyes of many, repugnant. “There's still a strong resentment for what happened and how it happened and for Sherman himself,” Dr. Cobb said. “They want to whitewash everything and make it so much nicer than it was. It wasn't nice. War isn't.”
There are few expectations here that Sherman will be the beneficiary of an immediate and all encompassing wave of Southern good will. But Dr. Cobb said he had sensed a shift in attitudes on his university campus in Athens, east of Atlanta. “You all the time run into college kids who don’t know which side Sherman was on -- and their parents and certainly their grandparents would be aghast to know that,” he said... The enduring nature of that lore, Mr. Marszalek said, was in itself a testament to Sherman's maneuvers. “His whole concept was psychological warfare," Mr. Marszalek said he did such a good job getting into people’s minds, he's still there in many ways.”
Howie Krizer took the microphone to alert us to the "23rd Annual Sarasota Civil War Symposium," January 21-24, 2015. For assistance, go to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (800) 298-1861. If you say, "I am a friend of Howie’s," you will get a discount!
Last changed: 12/05/14