This Week in the Civil War: Apr 15-21, 1863

Wednesday, April 15.  On the Mississippi River, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued moving from Milliken’s Bend to below the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, skirmishing with Confederates along the way. In North Carolina, Confederates abandoned a siege of Washington when Federal reinforcements approached.

Off Brazil, the Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Alabama captured two U.S. whalers. President Abraham Lincoln wrote to General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, that he was concerned about the Federal cavalry’s slowness along the Rappahannock River in northern Virginia. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana.

Thursday, April 16.  On the Mississippi River, a Federal naval flotilla of 12 ships under Admiral David D. Porter passed the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg and landed downriver near New Carthage. All but one of the vessels made it through, despite taking several hits from the Confederate cannon. This was part of Ulysses S. Grant’s bold plan to capture Vicksburg by crossing his 44,000 troops to the west bank of the Mississippi, marching them southward past the town, then recrossing the river to take Vicksburg from behind.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law authorizing army commissions for minors. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Louisiana.

Friday, April 17.  Ulysses S. Grant dispatched Federal cavalry under Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson to raid northern Mississippi and southern Tennessee. This sought to divert Confederates from Grant’s plan to capture Vicksburg. Grierson and 1,700 cavalrymen left La Grange, Tennessee and moved into northern Mississippi.

Confederates under General John S. Marmaduke invaded Missouri from Arkansas. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Missouri.

Saturday, April 18.  President Davis approved a law creating a volunteer navy in which individuals could purchase and fit out private vessels that would operate against Federal ships for prize money. The volunteer navy measure was not implemented.

In Mississippi, Benjamin Grierson’s Federals skirmished at New Albany. In Louisiana, Federals destroyed a Confederate salt works near New Iberia. Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas.

Sunday, April 19.  President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and General-in-Chief Henry Halleck traveled to Aquia Creek in northern Virginia on a one-day trip to discuss military issues. In Mississippi, Benjamin Grierson’s Federals skirmished at Pontotoc. Other skirmishing occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, and Missouri.

Monday, April 20.  President Lincoln issued a proclamation stating that West Virginia, having been granted statehood by Congress the previous December, would officially join the Union on June 20, the two-year anniversary of when western Virginia voters chose to secede from the rest of the state.

In Louisiana, Federals captured Opelousas, Washington, and Butte-a-la-Rose. In Missouri, John Marmaduke’s Confederates skirmished at Patterson. Other skirmishing occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, western Virginia, and Tennessee.

Tuesday, April 21.  In western Virginia, General William E. Jones’s Confederates raided the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Primary Source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)

Civil War Medicine – Advances and the Rise of the Amputee

The Civil War saw a great number of casualties and as doctors struggled to keep up with the number of wounded soldiers they slowly learned better ways to deal with injuries from experience and need.  The Civil War saw the beginnings of reconstructive and plastic surgery as well as advances in the treatment of chest wounds which became standard medical practice.  Battlefield surgeons learned the hard way and many advances came out of the horrors of war.

According to Chip Rowe in an article entitled 5 Medical Innovations of the Civil War, it was the shortage of supplies for the Confederates that led to the invention of an anaesthetic inhaler that allowed surgeons to use much less chloroform per patient.

Battlefield wounds were often very complex with canons and Minnie balls fragmenting bones and leaving irregular wounds in flesh that were subject to infection.  And lying unattended, sometimes for hours, on a dirty battlefield was not conducive to keeping wounds clean.  This is where amputations came in.

A soldier with a leg mangled by a canon shot had a much better chance of surviving if his leg was amputated right away before infection set in.  Battlefield surgeons did not have time to deal with complex injuries in mangled limbs and even if they performed what was termed a resection the risk of infection for this sort of injury was very high.  If infection set in and they were forced to amputate later the risk of the infection spreading was much higher.  According to Terry L. Jones in his article on Civil War medicine, Under the Knife, amputations performed right away, or primary amputations, had a mortality rate of only 25% whereas amputating later when a limb became infected had mortality rates twice as high.

So, amputation became a life-saving procedure on Civil War battlefields with experienced surgeons learning the best way to perform an amputation.  They made the cut as far from the heart as possible. The lower on a limb the amputation was made the more likely the patient was to survive.  Surgeons then tried to remove the nerves as high up as possible to avoid pain in the remaining portion of the limb.  This meant that transportation of the wounded patient was less torturous and the amputee had a better chance of feeling less pain wearing a prosthetic.

Due to the large increase in amputees during and after the war, better prosthetics became a huge concern.  From generals to poor foot soldiers nobody was safe from wounds or amputations.  Major General Richard S. Ewell lost his leg at the Battle of Groveton and after his recovery he returned to command with a wooden leg.  For others the loss of a leg changed their lives.

Major General Daniel E. Sickles lost his leg to a canon at Gettysburg in a fierce assault by the Confederates on his line.  Although there is some controversy over the strategy of Sickles who disobeyed orders in his placement of troops at Gettysburg, many Union generals with worse track records were kept around.  Civil War Historian, Craig Wilson, expressed in an interview his belief that the loss of Sickles’ leg, and the other injuries sustained, helped him avoid a court martial for his controversial tactics.  It is impossible to tell what the outcome of such a court martial would have been, whether he would have been branded insubordinate or exonerated for his actions.  What is certain is that Grant would not allow Sickles to return to command and some combination of the controversial tactics and serious injuries saw the end of his military career.  Sickles entered the world of politics and among a number of fascinating exploits he decided to donate his leg to a museum.  For several years after the donation he would return to visit his leg there on the anniversary of the amputation.

Less well-known than Sickles, yet equally important is the first amputee of the Civil War, James E. Hanger.  It would seem that James was simply not destined to fight.  He was too young to join the Confederate Army when the war started so he joined an ambulance group to follow a unit and try to join later.  He enlisted at Phillipi on June 2, 1861 and according to an article by Martha M. Boltz in the Washington Times, he was injured the very next day in his first skirmish.  He lost his leg on June 3 becoming the first amputee of the Civil War.  That in itself is interesting but James is even more remarkable because of his response to the amputation.

James was given a wooden leg but since his amputation had been above the knee he had very limited mobility with the wooden prosthetic.  After a stint as a prisoner he was exchanged and allowed to return home.  There he locked himself in his room and refused to come out.  His patient and worried mother brought him food and the materials he occasionally asked for and he left empty plates and wood shavings outside of his door.  As the weeks passed James’ family worried that he was falling into a deep depression.  However, James was not depressed; he was single-mindedly fashioning a more workable prosthetic.  He shaved barrel staves and willow wood to form a double jointed prosthetic.  It took about three months but when he was finished he opened the door to his room, walked down the stairs and amazed his family with a workable leg that restored both his balance and movement.

James filed for a number of patents for his first prosthetic leg as well as his subsequently improved models.  The boy who was not destined to fight in the Civil War spent the rest of the war dedicated to creating better and better prosthetics.  Thanks to James E. Hanger and many other talented and dedicated inventors the Civil War saw great advancements towards the first truly functioning prosthetics.

Now with technology continuing to advance in leaps and bounds there are some amazing possibilities for prosthetics for modern wounded soldiers.  As soldiers continue to return home from recent wars with missing limbs the need for advanced prosthetics is only growing.  With recent technology it is now possible to have a prosthetic leg 3-d printed for you.  Bespoke Innovations is a company that custom prints legs for amputees out of any material they wish and in a variety of custom designs.  You can take a look at their amazing gallery here.

Technology seems to be moving us closer and closer to having truly bionic body parts.  Computer technology has allowed us to create The Michelangelo Microprocessor Hand.  It uses a microprocessor chip that picks up the electrical impulses from your muscles and translates it into motion working very similarly to a real hand.  It allows people missing a hand to use a knife and fork, turn pages, and pick up small objects again.  Recently bionics have been all over the news with Rex, the bionic man, who is made entirely of bionic organ systems and parts.  The hope is that Rex will be the model for creating such systems to help people with failing organs.

Modern scientists and inventors are following in James E. Hanger’s footsteps and trying to restore as much movement and ability to amputees as possible.  While learning to adjust to a missing limb is always going to be difficult hopefully the modern advances in prosthetics will help.  There was nothing nice about losing a limb during the Civil War but modern technology has made some of the bionic parts and prosthetic replacements exciting in their own right.  Hopefully these and further advancements will restore a dignity and pride to amputees that previous prosthetics could not.

Civil War ring comes full circle

Civil War ring comes full circle.

A soldier’s ring, lost 148 years ago in Virginia during the Civil War, came home to Reading on Tuesday with a touching ceremony in Charles Evans Cemetery.

Worn by Levi Schlegel, a Rockland Township native who served under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the Battle of Appomattox Court House, the ring is believed to have been lost at an encampment near Fredericksburg. Victorious Union troops made camp there as they returned to Washington for the Grand Review of the Armies at the war’s end.

John Blue, a hunter of Civil War relics, found the ring in 2005, and through a series of circumstances, he was able to return it to Ernie Schlegel of Reading, a distant cousin of Levi.

Read the full article here.

This Week in the Civil War: Apr 8-14, 1863

Wednesday, April 8.  In the Federal campaign to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, Federal forces under General John McClernand skirmished with Confederates near New Carthage on the Mississippi River. In Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln reviewed portions of the Army of the Potomac with General Joseph Hooker at Falmouth. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and Arkansas.

Thursday, April 9.  Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.

Friday, April 10.  Confederate President Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law limiting the cultivation of cotton and tobacco on private farms and plantations. Davis proclaimed, “Let fields be devoted exclusively to the production of corn, oats, beans, peas, potatoes, and other food for man and beast… let all your efforts be directed to the prompt supply of these articles in the districts where our armies are operating.”

Davis said, “Alone, unaided, we have met and overthrown the most formidable combination of naval and military armaments that the lust of conquest ever gathered together for the subjugation of a free people… We must not forget, however, that the war is not yet ended… and that the Government which controls these fleets and armies is driven to the most desperate efforts to effect the unholy purposes in which it has thus far been defeated.”

President Lincoln returned to Washington after reviewing more Army of the Potomac troops at Falmouth. In Tennessee, Confederates under General Earl Van Dorn attacked Federals at Franklin but withdrew after a fierce skirmish.

Saturday, April 11.  In Virginia, Confederates under General James Longstreet began a siege of Federals at Suffolk. In the Utah Territory, Federals began an offensive against the Indians from Camp Douglas to the Spanish Fork Canon. In South Carolina, Federal blockaders forced the blockade runner Stonewall Jackson ashore off Charleston. Skirmishing occurred at several points, including a Federal cavalry operation into Georgia. President Lincoln held a cabinet meeting and discussed his visit to General Hooker’s Army of the Potomac.

Sunday, April 12.  President Lincoln reviewed a letter from General Hooker, in which Hooker proposed to attack General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia by crossing the Rappahannock River, turning Lee’s left flank, and using cavalry to cut Confederate lines to Richmond. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and Tennessee. In California, a Federal offensive against Indians began from Camp Babbitt.

Monday, April 13.  As a result of the unsuccessful Federal attack on Charleston Harbor on April 7, Flag Officer Samuel Du Pont determined that the harbor forts could not be taken by naval force alone. However, President Lincoln ordered Du Pont to hold his position in Charleston Harbor. Lincoln expressed frustration over the failure of the Federal ironclads to capture the forts.

General Ambrose Burnside, commanding the Federal Department of the Ohio, issued General Order No. 38. This stated that “the habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department.” Anyone criticizing the war effort or committing “treason, expressed or implied,” would be arrested and face a military tribunal for disloyalty. Those found guilty of aiding the Confederacy would be executed, and southern sympathizers would be deported to the South. Burnside’s order sought to silence the growing anti-war sentiment in the region west of the Alleghenies and north of the Ohio River. The dissidents were known as “Copperheads” for wearing copper pennies in their lapels.

In Louisiana, Federals under General Nathaniel Banks attacked Fort Bisland on Bayou Teche, forcing the Confederates to withdraw. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and Tennessee.

Tuesday, April 14.  In Louisiana, General Banks’s Federals occupied Fort Bisland, as Federal naval fire destroyed the captured Federal gunboat Queen of the West. In Virginia, General Hooker’s Federal cavalry conducted operations near Rappahannock Bridge, and at Kelly’s, Welford’s, and Beverly fords. President Lincoln reiterated the importance for Federal warships to remain in Charleston Harbor.

Primary source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)

This Week in the Civil War: Apr 1-7, 1863

Wednesday, April 1.  The Confederate armies were reorganized: the Confederate Department of Richmond was created with General Arnold Elzey commanding, the Confederate Department of Southern Virginia was created with General S.G. French commanding, and the Department of North Carolina was created with General D.H. Hill commanding. General Francis J. Heron assumed command of the Federal Department of the Frontier. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Thursday, April 2.  Food shortages and soaring prices led to what became known as the “Richmond bread riot” in the Confederate capital. An angry group of citizens, mostly women, surrounded a wagon demanding food. When their demands were not met, they stormed the city’s business district, smashed store windows and doors, and seized items such as flour, meal, and clothing. Virginia Governor John Letcher dispatched state militia to restore order. Then President Jefferson Davis stood on a wagon, threw the crowd all the money he had, and warned that the troops would open fire if they did not disperse. The crowd finally disbanded with no arrests or injuries.

Davis defended General John C. Pemberton, who was facing criticism for his northern heritage and for allowing the Federals to close in on Vicksburg, Mississippi. Davis stated that “by his judicious imposition of his forces and skillful selection of the best points of defence he has repulsed the enemy at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, on the Tallahatchie and at Deer Creek, and has thus far foiled his every attempt to get possession of the Mississippi river and the vast section of country which it controls.”

President Abraham Lincoln issued orders directing the Treasury secretary to regulate trade with states in rebellion.

Friday, April 3.  President Davis wrote to Arkansas Governor Harris Flanagin that “if we lost control of the Eastern side (of the Mississippi River), the Western must almost inevitably fall into the power of the enemy. The defense of the fortified places on the Eastern bank is therefore regarded as the defense of Arkansas quite as much as that of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.” President Lincoln informed General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, that he planned to meet with him in northern Virginia this weekend.

In Pennsylvania, four men were arrested in Reading for allegedly belonging to the pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle. Federal expeditions began in western Virginia and Arkansas. In Tennessee, Federal forces destroyed Palmyra in retaliation for an attack on a Federal convoy the previous day.

Saturday, April 4.  In celebration of his son Tad’s 10th birthday, President Lincoln and his entourage steamed down from Washington to visit General Hooker and watch a “grand review” of the Army of the Potomac at Falmouth Heights, Virginia. Off North Carolina, Federal naval forces failed to capture a Confederate battery near Washington. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Louisiana.

Sunday, April 5.  In Virginia, President Lincoln conferred with General Hooker. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Monday, April 6.  In Virginia, President Lincoln wrote a memo in General Hooker’s headquarters stating that “our prime object is the enemies’ army in front of us, and is not with, or about, Richmond…” In Great Britain, the British government seized the Confederate vessel Alexandria while it was being fitted in Liverpool harbor. Skirmishing occurred in western Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana.

Tuesday, April 7.  Flag Officer Samuel Du Pont led an attack by nine Federal ironclads on the forts in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The ironclads sustained heavy damage from Confederate artillery at Forts Sumter and Moultrie; U.S.S. Keokuk sank the next morning after suffering 91 hits, and four other ships were disabled. The Federal attack was unsuccessful.

In Tennessee, Confederates under General Joseph Wheeler raided the Louisville & Nashville and Nashville & Chattanooga Railroads. In Louisiana, the Federal steamer Barataria was captured by Confederates on the Amite River. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Louisiana.

Primary source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)

Battlefields of the Civil War-An awesome interactive map tool

Hat tip to my good friend Dr. Laura Munski, who shared this interesting site, created by ESRI, who produces the software ArcGIS, which is used for GIS, cartography, and many other uses. They also have a series of sites, called Story Maps, which all look interesting (yes, I am into geography as well as history).

The Story Map on the Civil War is quite interesting, as it highlights battles, in chronological order, offers the user the chance to narrow the range, and, it animates the battle sites on the base map. One great feature is the linking to the battle sites through the Civil War Trust, who links to this site. Civil War Trust is a pretty cool site for learning about the war, and battlefield preservation. It also has a page for smartphone apps (if you are able to enjoy that technology).

If you have some time, check out this great resource, especially if you are a teacher, as I can see the value of this in the classroom.

Click here for Battlefields of the Civil War.

This Week in the Civil War: Mar 25-31, 1863

Wednesday, March 25.  In Mississippi, Federal efforts to capture the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg were becoming increasingly futile; skirmishing occurred on Black Bayou as the Federal expedition on Steele’s Bayou was stalled. In addition, a Federal ram was sunk and another disabled when attempting to run the Vicksburg batteries guarding the Mississippi River.

In Tennessee, Confederates under General Nathan Bedford Forrest raided Brentwood and Franklin. General Ambrose Burnside, former commander of the Federal Army of the Potomac, was given command of the Department of the Ohio. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and Kentucky.

Thursday, March 26.  The voters of West Virginia approved the gradual emancipation of slaves. The Confederate Congress passed a law authorizing the confiscation of food and property, including slaves, when needed for the army.

President Abraham Lincoln wrote to pro-Union Tennessee Governor Andrew Johnson regarding the recruitment of blacks into the military: “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoring the Union. The bare sight of 50,000 armed, and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi, would end the rebellion at once.”

Friday, March 27.  Addressing members of various Indian tribes, President Lincoln said, “I can see no way in which your race is to become as numerous and prosperous as the white race except by living as they do, but the cultivation of the earth.” Skirmishing occurred in Florida and Tennessee.

Saturday, March 28.  In Louisiana, the Federal gunboat U.S.S. Diana was captured near Pattersonville. Skirmishing occurred in western Virginia, and a Federal expedition from La Grange to Moscow and Macon in Tennessee began.

Sunday, March 29.  In Mississippi, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered General John McClernand’s Federals on the Louisiana, or west, side of the Mississippi River to advance from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage, south of Vicksburg. The Federal corps under Generals William T. Sherman and James McPherson were to follow. From this, Grant began formulating a daring plan to move his entire army across the river, bypass Vicksburg on the west bank, then re-cross below the city, abandon the supply line, and attack Vicksburg from the east.

Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Florida, and Tennessee.

Monday, March 30.  President Lincoln proclaimed April 30 as a day of national fasting and prayer. In North Carolina, Confederates besieged Washington. Heavy skirmishing occurred in Virginia, western Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory.

Tuesday, March 31.  In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s movement from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage continued. In support, Admiral David G. Farragut’s Federal ships ran the Grand Gulf batteries below Vicksburg.

In Florida, Federals evacuated Jacksonville. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Arkansas. President Lincoln allowed commercial relations with parts of southern states under Federal occupation according to regulations set by Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.

Primary source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)