Today, Aug 26, in History

Aug 26, 1862.

 The campaign that will end with the Second Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, starts on this day when Confederate cavalry under General Fitzhugh Lee enter Manassas Junction and capture the rail center. Union General John Pope’s Army of Virginia was soon on its way, and the two armies would meet on August 29.

In August 1862, the action shifted from the James Peninsula, southeast of Richmond, to northern Virginia. The peninsula had been the scene of a major campaign in June, when Union General George McClellan and his Army of the Potomac attempted to capture Richmond, but were thwarted by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the Seven Days’ Battles.

By August, it was clear that McClellan would not make another attempt on the Confederate capital. President Abraham Lincoln began moving troops from McClellan’s force to General John Pope’s Army of Virginia in the northern part of the state. Lee sent one of his corps, commanded by General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, to keep an eye on the growing Federal presence.

Pope’s army was scattered around the area east of Washington, D.C., from Manassas to the Shenandoah Valley. Approaching the area with the intent of driving Pope away, Jackson and his force captured Bristoe Station southwest of Manassas. On August 26, the Confederates captured Manassas and began looting and destroying Pope’s huge supply depot located there. Pope was surprised by the large Rebel force operating in his rear, but he also realized that Jackson was detached from the rest of Lee’s army and so he began gathering his forces around Manassas.

But Pope could not find Jackson. From August 26 until the beginning of Second Bull Run on August 29, Pope’s men searched for Jackson, who had hidden his army in the trees along Bull Run. On August 29, Jackson surprised Pope and the battle was on. The rest of Lee’s army showed up, and the result was a major victory for the Confederacy.


                                                     John Pope

Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day weekend, the 79th New York would like to reflect on the sacrifices made by the military during the wars Americans have been involved in. The following is a list of casualites since the American Revolution.

American Revolution ( 1775-1783 ) 

Battle Deaths: 4,435, wounded 6,188

War of 1812 ( 1812-1815 ):  

Battle Deaths: 2,260  wounded; 4,505

Indian Wars ( 1817-1898 ) 

Battle deaths: 1,000

Mexican War ( 1846-1848 )

Battle deaths: 1,733

wounded: 4,152

Civil War ( 1861-1865 )

Battle deaths ( US ) 140,414    (CS ) 74,524

wounded ( US ) 281,881  ( CS ) unknown

Spanish American War ( 1898-1902 )

Battle deaths: 383

wounded: 1,662

World War 1 ( 1917-1918 )

Battle deaths: 53, 402

wounded: 204,002

World War 2 ( 1941-1945 )

Battle deaths: 291,557

wounded: 670, 846

Korean War ( 1950-1953 ) 

Battle Deaths: 33,739

wounded: 103,284

Vietnam War ( 1964-1975 )

Battle deaths: 47,34

wounded: 153, 303

Desert Shield/Desert Storm ( 1990-1991 )

Battle deaths: 148

wounded: 467

Total ( 1775-1991 )

U.S service in wartime: 41, 892,128

Battle deaths: 651, 031

other deaths  in theater: 308,800

wounded: 1,430,290

source: US Department of Veteran’s Affairs


Happy Birthday General Banks

banks-1863-mToday we honor the birthday of Union General Nathaniel Banks, born Jan 30, 1816 in Waltham, Massachusetts

Banks was a political general with few military skills, but as an anti-slavery Republican from Massachusetts, he helped President Lincoln’s administration maintain support in that region.

He was a lawyer,and served in the state legislature, and was speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. In 1853, Banks was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. From 1858 to 1861,he served as governor of his home state.

When the Civil War began, Banks was commissioned as a general despite his complete lack of military experience.   Banks commanded an army in the Shenandoah Valley during Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s campaign there in 1862. He suffered two serious defeats to Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester, and his army lost so many supplies that the Confederates began calling him “Commissary Banks.” In August, Banks commanded a corps at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia. He again found himself pitted against Jackson, and again lost to him. Banks was forced to retreat to Washington, D.C.

Banks was then sent to New Orleans to command the Department of the Gulf. In 1863,he managed to capture Port Hudson, a key Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. His victory was difficult and came with a high price in casualties, but it was the general’s first victory of the war. In 1864, Banks commanded the Red River Campaign in northern Louisiana, which turned into a complete Union disaster. He did not command troops in the field again. Banks also managed the reconstruction of Louisiana during the war, and his record in doing so was also suspect. He used the state’s antebellum constitution to govern and simply deleted references to slavery, which did little to promote the rights of freed slaves. In fact, Banks actually forced many black “vagrants” back to work on plantations.

After the war, Banks served two more stints in Congress and also spent time as a U.S. marshall. He was serving in Congress when he died in 1894 at age 78.

Today, Jan 29, in history

On this day in 1861, Kansas is admitted to the Union as the 34th state. Admitted as a free state, the struggle between pro- and anti-slave forces in Kansas was a major factor in the eruption of the Civil War.

Also on this day, in 1777, During the Revolutionary War, American commander Major General William Heath ( below ) and his army of 6,000 abandon their siege on Fort Independence, in Bronx County, New York.









In 1850, Senator Henry Clay ( below )  of Kentucky introduced the Compromise of 1850 to the Senate



Emperor Norton the First

On this Sunday, we thought we would visit a little known episode in American history, the reign of Emperor Norton the First, Emperor of the United States and Protector of  Mexico.

 The English born Norton came to the US  in1849 with a small fortune ( he lost the money investing in rice in Peru ). On September 17, 1859, Norton became the Emperor by publishing a proclamation:

 ”At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of February next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.

Norton I.,
Emperor of the United States
17th September, 1859.

On October 12, Norton issued another proclamation abolishing Congress because of “fraud and corruption.” When he found out Congress had not been abolished, he ordered  Winfield Scott and the army to “clear the halls of Congress.” ( Scott did not do this ).

In Summer, 1860,  in a move to prevent Civil War, Norton abolished the country altogether. This plan also failed.

Emperor Norton

Emperor Norton

For the next 20 years, Norton became a celebrity in San Francisco, earning free meals and issuing Imperial Bonds to raise money. He was listed in a census under the occupation “Emperor”.  Of course, the census also listed him as insane, so…..

Emperor Norton died on January 8, 1880, when he collapsed at a street corner. He left no plans for succession.

Civil War Prisoner of War Camps

Today we look at a facet of the war that usually is not well publicized:  prisoner of war camps.

Initially, captured troops from both sides were usually paroled, on the promise to not return to combat. However a formal exchange system set up in 1862, lasted less than a year.

On the Confederate side, captured Union soldiers were first housed in warehouses and barns.  The cessation of exchanges in 1863 resulted in a massive increase  in the number of prisoners, and specialized prison camps were built in places like Florence, SC, Millen and Andersonville, GA ( officially called Camp Sumter ) and others. The  most common camps consisted of wooden stockades enclosing open fields.

On the Union side, the government converted former camps of instruction, like Camp Butler, Illinois, Camp Chase, Ohio, and camps at Elmira, New York. As in the south, they consisted of stockades. Other Confederate prisoners were sent to  Fort McHenry in Baltimore and Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.

The most common problems, on both sides, were overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food.  Poor administration, both by prison officials,  and the prisoners themselves, made issues worse.

Of the 194,732 Union soldiers held in Confederate prison camps, some 30,000 died while captive. The Federals held around  220,000 Confederate prisoners, with nearly 26,000 perishing.

At Camp Sumter ( Andersonville, pictured below ), 29 percent of the roughly  45,000 Federal prisoners held throughout the war died. As for the Northern prisons, at Camp Douglas, Illinois, 15 percent of the 30,000 Confederate prisoners died.


The Great Confederate Snowball Fight

In honor of the huge winter storm slowly making its way through the Eastern US, we present this excerpt from A History of Kershaw’s Brigade, a memoir written by an officer in the 3rd South Carolina, which describes a large-scale snowball fight which took place between Confederate soldiers in the winter of 1862-1863.

“The troops delight in “snow balling,” and revelled in the sport for days at a time. Many hard battles were fought, won, and lost; sometimes company against company, then regiment against regiment, and sometimes brigades would be pitted against rival brigades.

When the South Carolinians were against the Georgians, or the two Georgia brigades against Kershaw’s and the Mississippi brigades, then the blows would fall fast and furious. The fiercest fight and the hardest run of my life was when Kershaw’s Brigade, under Colonel Rutherford, of the Third, challenged and fought Cobb’s Georgians.

Colonel Rutherford was a great lover of the sport, and wherever a contest was going on he would be sure to take a hand. On the day alluded to Colonel Rutherford martialed his men by the beating of drums and the bugle’s blast; officers headed their companies, regiments formed, with flags flying, then when all was ready the troops were marched to the brow of a hill, or rather half way down the hill, and formed line of battle, there to await the coming of the Georgians. They were at that moment advancing across the plain that separated the two camps. The men built great pyramids of snow balls in their rear, and awaited the assault of the fast approaching enemy. Officers cheered the men and urged them to stand fast and uphold the “honor of their State,” while the officers on the other side besought their men to sweep all before them off the field.

The men stood trembling with cold and emotion, and the officers with fear, for the officer who was luckless enough as to fall into the hands of a set of “snow revelers,” found to his sorrow that his bed was not one of roses.

When the Georgians were within one hundred feet the order was given to “fire.” Then shower after shower of the fleecy balls filled the air. Cheer after cheer went up from the assaulters and the assaultant—now pressed back by the flying balls, then to the assault again. Officers shouted to the men, and they answered with a “yell.”

Rappahannock Academy

When some, more bold than the rest, ventured too near, he was caught and dragged through the lines, while his comrades made frantic efforts to rescue him. The poor prisoner, now safely behind the lines, his fate problematical, as down in the snow he was pulled, now on his face, next on his back, then swung round and round by his heels—all the while snow being pushed down his back or in his bosom, his eyes, ears, and hair thoroughly filled with the “beautiful snow.”

After a fifteen minutes’ struggle, our lines gave way. The fierce looks of a tall, muscular, wild-eyed Georgian, who stood directly in my front, seemed to have singled me out for sacrifice. The stampede began. I tried to lead the command in the rout by placing myself in the front of the boldest and stoutest squad in the ranks, all the while shouting to the men to “turn boys turn.” But they continued to charge to the rear, and in the nearest cut to our camp, then a mile off, I saw the only chance to save myself from the clutches of that wild-eyed Georgian was in continual and rapid flight.

The idea of a boy seventeen years old, and never yet tipped the beam at one hundred, in the grasp of that monster, as he now began to look to me, gave me the horrors. One by one the men began to pass me, and while the distance between us and the camp grew less at each step, yet the distance between me and my pursuer grew less as we proceeded in our mad race. The broad expanse that lay between the men and camp was one flying, surging mass, while the earth, or rather the snow, all around was filled with men who had fallen or been overtaken, and now in the last throes of a desperate snow battle. I dared not look behind, but kept bravely on. My breath grew fast and thick, and the camp seemed a perfect mirage, now near at hand then far in the distance.

The men who had not yet fallen in the hands of the reckless Georgians had distanced me, and the only energy that kept me to the race was the hope that some mishap might befall the wild-eyed man in my rear, otherwise I was gone. No one would have the temerity to tackle the giant in his rage. But all things must come to an end, and my race ended by falling in my tent, more dead than alive, just as I felt the warm breath of my pursuer blowing on my neck. I heard, as I lay panting, the wild-eyed man say, “I would rather have caught that d——n little Captain than to have killed the biggest man in the Yankee Army.”