One of the most formidable obstacles laid around defensive positions during the war, abatis were tangles of trees and large limbs carefully arranged with the branches pointed toward the attackers. Small branches and leaves were stripped away to prevent their use as cover for the enemy. Remaining branches were sharpened at the ends, and larger chunks were often covered with earth, staked to the ground, or nailed to cross-beams to inhibit efforts to dismantle the obstacles.
Abercrombie, Brigadier General John Joseph, U.S.
A West Pointer, Abercrombie served as a captain in Florida’s Seminole Wars, before he was brevetted as a major for gallant conduct at the Battle of Okeechobee. After frontier duty and fighting in the Mexican War, where he was wounded at Monterrey and again cited for gallantry, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. During the Civil War he fought at Falling Waters during the Shenandoah Campaign and served through the Peninsular Campaign as a brigadier general of volunteers. Abercrombie was wounded at Fair Oaks and fought at Malvern Hill, then participated in several skirmishes during the retreat to Harrison’s Landing. During 1862 and 1863 he was engaged in the defense of Washington. He later served at Fredericksburg and fought against Hampton’s Legion. Abercrombie was brevetted brigadier general at the end of the conflict.
Religious fundamentalists in the North were convinced that slavery was a national evil, and they became the primary force that founded and shaped the abolitionist movement. In the South most whites considered abolitionists uninformed meddlers, who were attacking their lifestyle and economy. As the abolitionist movement took firm root, the American Anti-Slavery Society grew to more than 1,000 chapters and a membership of more than 250,000. Inevitably, the heated debate and partisan rancor led to bloodshed on both sides of the issue. Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 and publication two years later of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s melo- dramatic but scathing attack on slavery Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped fan the flames of the growing enmity between the largely proslavery forces in the South and the abolitionists in the North. (See: Douglas, Frederick; Dred Scott Decision; and Stowe, Harriet Beecher.)
Adams, Brigadier General John, CS
The son of Irish immigrants, Adams graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War. Brevetted for gallantry and meritorious conduct during the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rossales, he was commissioned first lieutenant in 1851 and promoted to captain five years later. Adams was serving at Fort Crook, California, when he resigned his U.S. Army commission and traveled to Tennessee to fight for the South. He was a captain of cavalry when he was placed in command at Memphis. In May 1862 he was promoted to colonel and in December became a brigadier general. When Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman died in 1863, Adams assumed command of his Mississippi infantry brigade, fought under General Joseph E. Johnston at Vicksburg, and served with Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk in Mississippi. Transferred to the Confederate Army of Tennessee, Adams served with General John B. Hood after the fall of Atlanta, in the Nashville Campaign, and briefly with General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. Adams was leading his regiment in an attack against Union troops at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864, when he was killed.
Adams, Brigadier General William Wirt, CS
A brother of General Daniel Weisinger Adams, William was a veteran of the Army of the Republic of Texas and a former Mississippi state legislator when he turned down an offer by President Davis to serve as the Confederacy’s new post- master general. Instead, Adams raised the 1st Mississippi Cavalry, and as the regiment’s colonel he led it in battle in Mississippi and Tennessee. He was promoted to brigadier general for his performance at Vicksburg. Late in 1864, his brigade was attached to General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s corps and served there throughout the remainder of the conflict. After the war he served as a state revenue agent and postmaster of Jackson, Mississippi, before he was shot to death by a newspaper editor he had quarreled with.
Congress created the title of flag officer in 1857, but it wasn’t until five years later, while the Civil War was raging, that the first American use of the admiral rank was authorized. (The same act also restored the title of commodore.) The first American naval officer to be named to the new rank was Admiral David G. Farragut. (See: Farragut, Admiral David Glasgow, USN.)
Both President Lincoln and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, toyed with the idea of repatriating the slaves to Africa. (See: Stowe, Harriet Beecher.)
Age of Soldiers, Average
The average age of Union soldiers was in the midtwenties. Most Billy Yanks ranged in age from 18 to 45, although some boys not yet in their teens managed to enlist. A few old men in their sixties or seventies also served, if only briefly, before their age and infirmities caught up with them. Confederate records are missing or incomplete, but the ages of Johnny Rebs are known to have been in the same general range as those of their foe. (See: Clem, Major General John Lincoln, U.S.)
Information about enemy strength and troop movements was relayed from the air to friendly forces on the ground for the first time during the Civil War. Aeronauts communicated intelligence through telegraph wires attached to the baskets on hot air balloons. (See: Balloons, Hot Air; and Telegraph.)
The most notoriously successful commerce raider of the war, the CSS Alabama, sailed the globe, gorging itself on spoils from the Union’s merchant fleet. Captain Raphael Semmes was hobbled by an international crew that included more mercenary adventurers than Southerners, and their reluctance to submit to strong discipline created problems during engagements with enemy warships. During a 22-month, 75,000-mile voyage touching in ports in Asia, Africa, South America, North America, the Caribbean, and Europe the Alabama nevertheless captured 65 Union merchantmen, including 52 that were burned. By June 1864, the Alabama’s boilers were burned out, her seams were splitting, and she was badly in need of repair. Captain Semmes sailed his ship to Cherbourg, France, sent 38 prisoners ashore, and requested permission from authorities to put the ship in dry dock. (See: Alabama, CSS, and Kearsarge, USS, Battle of; Semmes, Captain Raphael, CSN; and Winslow, Rear Admiral John A., USN.)
Alabama, CSS, and Kearsarge, USS, Battle of
It was like a picnic for the French who crowded Cherbourg in June 1864 to watch the fun and root for the Rebels when the Alabama sailed out of the harbor to do battle with the Kearsarge. But it soon became hellish aboard the Alabama. Commanded by Captain John A. Winslow, the Kearsarge had sailed 300 miles from the Dutch coast in response to an alert from the U.S. minister in Paris and a bold challenge from Semmes delivered through the Confederate agent in Cherbourg to show up for a fight. It was an uneven battle, even though the Alabama drew first blood with a salvo of broadsides that disabled a gun crew. A third or more of the Confederate shells that struck the enemy ship failed to explode, and the Kearsarge began raking the Alabama with 11-inch shells that blew sailors to pieces, ripped away cannon, and tore gaping holes in the sides and superstructure. Injured in the right hand, Semmes was afraid his ship was about to sink when he ordered his executive officer, First Lieutenant John McIntosh Kell, to steer for the coast. It was too late, and when Kell told his superior that the stricken ship couldn’t last another ten minutes, Semmes ordered him to haul down the colors. Winslow was suspicious and called for one more ghastly broadside before the Alabama ran up a white flag and boats from the Kearsarge and nearby civilian craft began picking up survivors and the dead. Captain Semmes and Lieutenant Kell were rescued by an English steam yacht, hidden from the Union sailors, and released in England. The notorious Confederate raider slipped beneath the waves at 12:24 p.m., just 90 minutes after the battle began. The Alabama suffered 43 casualties, about half of the deaths during battle or from drowning. One sailor aboard the Kearsarge died, and two were wounded. (See: Alabama, CSS; Semmes, Captain Raphael, CSN; and Winslow, Rear Admiral John A., USN.)
The Confederate ram was threatening the Union blockade in Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, in October 1864 when navy lieutenant William B. Cushing led a handpicked squad of Yankee volunteers up the Roanoke River in a 30-foot launch to sink the Southern ironside with a spar torpedo. Confederate sentries spotted the boat and opened fire at about 3:00 a.m., but Cushing crashed it over a log barrier, lowered the spar, pushed the torpedo under the ship, and pulled a lanyard to trigger an explosion. Both the ironclad and the launch were sunk, and Cushing was one of only two Union sallors who escaped capture or death. (See: Plymouth, Battle of; and Spar Torpedoes.)
Several hundred captured Confederates were held at the fort and prison in San Francisco Bay.
Alexander, Brigadier General Edward Porter, CS
An engineer and expert artillerist, Alexander was a West Pointer who campaigned with the U.S. Army in the Utah Territory before resigning his commission to fight for the Confederacy. He served as a signal officer under General Beauregard at First Bull Run, fought with Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville, was chief of artillery for General James Longstreet, and participated in the Battle of Gettysburg and the Siege of Knoxville. In 1864 Alexander was promoted to brigadier general, becoming one of only three Confederate generals who were artillery officers. Alexander fought at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor and was seriously wounded at the Crater. He survived the war and went into the railroad business. (See: Wig-Wag Signaling.)
Allen, Brigadier General Henry Watkins, CS
A native Virginian, Allen made his mark as a politician in Louisiana and as an implacable warrior for the Confederacy. After fighting in the War for Texas Independence as a volunteer, studying law, teaching school, and becoming a planter, he was elected a Mississippi state representative. He later moved to Louisiana, where he was also elected to the state legislature. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the infantry as a private but was quickly elected lieutenant colonel of the 4th Louisiana Infantry. Allen was a colonel when he refused to leave the field at Shiloh, despite suffering a serious facial wound. In action again at the defense of Baton Rouge, he was wounded in both legs and one was so badly shattered by a shell fragment that surgeons were prepared to amputate before he forbade the operation. But the damage was so severe that he used crutches for the rest of his life. Allen was promoted to brigadier general on August 19, 1863, and transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Department, where he proved his ability as an administrator, working to shore up the shattered economy of the area. Elected Louisiana governor, he served in the civilian job as chief executive while retaining his military rank until the end of the war. Allen, who had advocated freeing the slaves and arming them to fight the Union, initially opposed surrender but finally helped negotiate the capitulation of troops under General Edmund Kirby Smith. Smith was leader of the last significant force of Confederate soldiers still in the field. Then Allen fled to Mexico, where he established and edited an English-language newspaper until his death on April 22, 1866. (See: Smith, General Edmund Kirby, CS.)
Allen, Major General Robert, U.S.
A West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran, this native Ohioan served the Union as a major and colonel before being promoted to brigadier general in May 1862. He served as chief quartermaster in the Department of Missouri and quartermaster for the Mississippi Valley, then became quarter-master for all areas west of the Mississippi River.
Alvord, Brigadier General Benjamin, U.S.
A graduate and instructor at West Point who was also a paymaster, Alvord served in the Mexican War and the Seminole Wars. In April 1862 the native Vermonter was appointed brigadier general of volunteers, and he commanded the District of Oregon until March 1865.
With thousands of gravely ill and wounded on both sides of the conflict, ambulance corps were organized to carry the helpless men to field hospitals and surgeons in the rear. Most of the corpsmen were boys or men who were too short or considered otherwise unfit for combat, and they came to their jobs with no formal training. Litter bearers who were as physically run-down and exhausted as the men they were trying to help often jostled or dropped the wounded, adding to the pain and injuries. Ambulances were horse-drawn two-wheel carts or crowded four-wheel open wagons with a canvas over the top to shield the sick and injured from the sun and dust. The wagons often had poor springs, and reckless drivers could make the ride to the rear an excruciatingly pain-ful ordeal capable of rattling the remaining life out of patients. Hospital stewards assigned to aid stations had a smattering of specialized medical training that helped them assist surgeons and tend the wounded.
Ames, Major General Adelbert, U.S.
A West Point graduate and recipient of the Medal of Honor, Ames was a lieutenant of artillery at the First Battle of Bull Run. He was also assigned to the defense of Washington, served in the Peninsular Campaign, fought with the 20th Maine at Antietam and Fredericksburg, and was as an aide to General George G. Meade at Chancellorsville. Appointed a brigadier general of volunteers, Ames commanded a brigade at Gettysburg, was with the X Corps at Charleston, and led a brigade at Cold Harbor and Petersburg and a division at Fort Fisher. Ames was brevetted major general U.S. Volunteers on January 15, 1865, and major general U.S. Army on March 13, 1865. After the war he was provisional governor of Mississippi, served as a U.S. senator and state governor, and fought in the Spanish-American War. Ames died in 1933 at age 97 and was the last surviving Civil War general from either army.
Ammen, Brigadier General Jacob, U.S.
A graduate and instructor at West Point, this native Virginian fought in the Western Virginia Campaign, at Shiloh and Corinth. He was named a brigadier general of volunteers in 1862 and served on court-martial boards and in garrison commands.
Amputation was the treatment of choice for most badly broken, lacerated or shattered limbs during the war, and so many arms and legs were severed by surgeons that they stacked up like cordwood until permanently disposed of. U.S. Army records show that almost 29,000 amputations were performed on Federal soldiers and sailors and about 7,000 of the patients died. Among the chief reasons for the high death rate were infection and gangrene, stemming from lack of knowledge on the part of the mid-nineteenth-century surgeons of the importance of clean, sterile surgical tools and hands. Only about 200 Bluecoats who had finger amputations died, but the bigger the limb the worse the chances of survival, and more than half the men who lost their legs died after surgery. Some field surgeons became so proficient that they could saw and cut off an arm or a leg in less than two minutes while the screaming patient was held down by a couple of strong orderlies. Injured Confederates endured amputations at an at least similar rate, and although records are scarce, probably suffered an even larger percentage of deaths after going under the surgeon’s knife because of the critical shortage of care and facilities. Stonewall Jackson, one of the South’s most gallant and skillful generals, died of pneumonia in a Richmond hospital after his left arm was amputated following the Battle of Chancellorsville. (See: Anesthetics; Jackson, Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall,” CS; and Minié Balls.)
A strategy devised by Commanding General of the Union Army Winfield Scott at the beginning of the war that called for strangling the Rebels into submission by cutting off their supply lines and bringing them back into the fold with a mini-mum of bloodshed became known as the Anaconda Plan. As outlined to the protégé of President Abraham Lincoln, Scott, and Major General George B. McClellan, the plan focused on cutting off foreign commerce with a coastal blockade of Southern ports; taking control of the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois, to the Gulf of Mexico with gunboats and 60,000 troops; and destroying the Confederate government by capturing the capital at Richmond. Scott’s plan to squeeze the South into submission was considered by more militant Unionists too passive, and it was not wholly adopted at the time. But the first element of the plan was put into place on April 19, 1861, only six days after the surrender of Fort Sumter, by declaring a formal blockade of Southern ports extend- ing along the Atlantic coast from South Carolina to Florida and along the Gulf Coast to the Mexican border. A few days later, after Virginia and North Carolina prepared to secede, the blockade was extended north to the Potomac River. Nearly three years of bloody warfare ensued before other similar, more aggressive elements of the original plan were employed by General Ulysses S. Grant, who kept the major Confederate forces tied up in Virginia and Tennessee while Major General William T. Sherman’s fast-moving troops split the South with their destructive march through Georgia to the sea. (See: Boa Constrictor Plan; Scott, Lieutenant General Winfield, U.S.; and Sherman, Major General William Tecumseh, U.S.)
Excerpted from Civil War, A to Z by Edited by Clifford L. Linedecker. Copyright © 2005 by Clifford L. Linedecker. Excerpted by permission of Presidio Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.