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The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865

Written by Steven E. WoodworthAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Steven E. Woodworth

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 800 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42706-9
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Composed almost entirely of Midwesterners and molded into a lean, skilled fighting machine by Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, the Army of the Tennessee marched directly into the heart of the Confederacy and won major victories at Shiloh and at the rebel strongholds of Vicksburg and Atlanta.Acclaimed historian Steven Woodworth has produced the first full consideration of this remarkable unit that has received less prestige than the famed Army of the Potomac but was responsible for the decisive victories that turned the tide of war toward the Union. The Army of the Tennessee also shaped the fortunes and futures of both Grant and Sherman, liberating them from civilian life and catapulting them onto the national stage as their triumphs grew. A thrilling account of how a cohesive fighting force is forged by the heat of battle and how a confidence born of repeated success could lead soldiers to expect “nothing but victory.”

Excerpt

Grant’s Army
Chapter One
Raising an Army

"Red snow fell near Iowa City,” reported the Des Moines Sunday Register on March 5, 1861. Editor George Mills hastened to explain that the color was caused by fine flakes of reddish clay mixed with the precipitation. Wind had swept dust into the atmosphere far to the west, providing the residents of eastern Iowa with a bit of unusual late-winter color. It was a simple scientific explanation, easily understood by modern Americans in this enlightened second half of the nineteenth century. Yet as editor Mills observed, many Iowans could hardly help wondering whether the eerie reddish cast of their normally snow-whitened plains was not some vague but appalling portent of terrible things to come. It may well have occurred to some Hawkeyes that the next winter’s snows might be reddened by the bloodshed of civil strife. Americans elsewhere would have asked themselves the same question.

On the same day the red snow fell in Iowa, Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office as president of a country that was tearing itself apart. The issue of slavery had festered between North and South for two generations, and for many people in Iowa, as in the other Midwestern states, the tension in Washington, D.C., was a matter of great concern.

In response to Lincoln’s election, on December 20, 1860, South Carolina declared itself no longer a part of the United States. On January 9, Mississippi followed. Florida went on January 10, and the next day it was Alabama. Other Deep South states followed throughout the month. On February 1, Texas became the seventh state to declare itself out of the Union. Later that month, representatives of the rebellious states met in Montgomery, Alabama, organized a government, styled themselves “the Confederate States of America,” and elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as their president. By March 4, when Lincoln was inaugurated and the red snow fell in Iowa, the dismemberment of the world’s only great republic and the establishment of a slaveholders’ regime in the Deep South seemed to be faits accomplis.

Throughout the winter, the fire-eaters in the Southern states had spoken of seceding peacefully if possible, violently if necessary, and Southern military preparations had gone on apace. Northerners watched uneasily. The news they read daily in the papers seemed no more credible than the freak of nature that had brought red-tinged snow to Iowa City on the day of Lincoln’s inauguration.

Here and there across the North, men began to think of making military preparations of their own. Some towns organized volunteer companies. In January, brothers and coeditors of the Cedar Falls Gazette, Henry and George Perkins, began encouraging the formation of such a group in their Iowa town. “We have the material here from which to form a ‘crack corps,’ which, if properly organized and equipped, would be of great advantage to us on our gala days and public occasions,” opined the Gazette, “and who knows but in these troublesome times might be the means of preserving the country from ruin and give some of the members an opportunity to cover themselves with immortal glory.” By the following month, forty men had formed themselves into the “Pioneer Greys,” so named after the common color of militia uniforms at the time. They drilled diligently and were soon gaining additional recruits. Similar companies sprang up elsewhere. Peoria, Illinois, had four: the Peoria Guards, Peoria Rifles, Emmett Guards, and National Blues.

Like the first jarring peal of a prairie thunderstorm came the news in mid-April that Confederate forces ringing the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, had opened fire on the United States flag and garrison at Fort Sumter in the predawn hours of April 12. Thirty-four hours later, the fort surrendered. On April 15, President Lincoln, following the example of George Washington in the days of the Whiskey Rebellion, called upon the states to provide militia for ninety days of Federal service—75,000 of them—in order to put down the rebellion.

All across the North, thousands of men scarcely waited for Lincoln’s call for troops. John L. Maxwell was behind the plow preparing his fields for spring planting when he heard the news of Fort Sumter. He put away the plow and horses, and set out for nearby Canton, Illinois, to join what was to become Company H of the 17th Illinois Regiment. George O. Smith was a student in the city schools of Monmouth, Illinois. Within the week, he had enlisted and, with several other youths, was eagerly working to organize a company. They too would end up in the 17th Illinois. Nearby Peoria, where the 17th would muster, got the news of Fort Sumter on April 13 and went into an uproar. Flags appeared all over town, including at the armories of Peoria’s four volunteer companies, now busily preparing to take the field. The enrollment of additional troops began that very evening.

On April 15 in the Illinois capital, the Springfield Grays, who had the advantage of proximity, became the first company to formally offer its services to the state. The company became part of the state’s first regiment for the war, numbered the 7th Illinois out of respect for the six state regiments that had served in the Mexican War. Within nine days, the Springfield Grays had been joined by companies from all over the state in an encampment named Camp Yates in honor of Illinois’s governor.

Enthusiasm ran high. Chicago seethed with outrage at the Confederate attack. Thousands of men volunteered to go and fight for the Union. Among them were the Highland Guards, a company of ethnic Scots, making a striking appearance in their Scottish caps. Their captain, John McArthur, a thirty-four-year-old Scottish-born blacksmith and successful proprietor of Chicago’s Excelsior Ironworks, won election as colonel of the 12th Illinois Regiment.

Also joining the 12th Illinois was a company from the lead-mining town of Galena, in the far northwest corner of the state. The citizens of Galena held a mass meeting on April 16 to discuss news of the Southern attack. Mayor Robert Brand presided but promptly set the assembly in an uproar when he “gave expression to antiwar sentiments and favored compromise and peace,” as an eyewitness recalled. When the tumult subsided, a succession of more patriotic citizens made impassioned speeches pleading for manly resistance to Southern aggression. One of the speakers was a consumptive-looking lawyer named John A. Rawlins. Another was local U.S. congressman Elihu B. Washburne, who concluded by exhorting his fellow citizens to raise two companies of volunteers for the war. “The meeting adjourned with the wildest enthusiasm and cheers for the Union.”

Two days later, an even larger meeting convened at the courthouse in Galena, this time explicitly for the purpose of raising troops. Washburne suggested that the appropriate chairman for this meeting would be a quiet-spoken local leather-goods clerk who was a genuine West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican War. Ulysses S. Grant—“Sam” to his friends—had made captain in the Regular Army but had had to leave the service in the early fifties because of an incident with alcohol. He had certainly seemed sober and reliable enough during the eighteen months he had lived in Galena, clerking at his father’s leather-goods store. The assembly elected him to the chair, which Grant took over with some embarrassment and a brief statement of the meeting’s purpose. No matter—Washburne and Rawlins could make the fiery speeches. Wealthy Galena businessman Augustus L. Chetlain chimed in, stating his own intention of going as a volunteer. A number of others stepped forward for military service that night, and in the days that followed, Grant, Chetlain, and the others canvassed the nearby towns of Jo Daviess County for more recruits. They soon had a full company, named it the Jo Daviess Guard, offered it to Gov. Richard Yates, and got orders to head for Springfield. Grant declined to serve as captain of the company. If an officer of his training and experience was of any value at all to the country, it ought to be at a higher rank. Chetlain got the slot instead, but Grant went along to Springfield to assist the company as it became part of a regimental organization.

War meetings like the one in Galena were common all across the Prairie State and its neighbors. In Ottawa, Illinois, a similar meeting resolved “that we will stand by the flag of our country in this her most trying hour, cost what it may of blood or treasure,” and likewise determined to raise troops. The first company filled up in a single day. Others followed, including one company composed entirely of men over the age of forty-five and led by a captain who had served with Winfield Scott at Lundy’s Lane during the War of 1812. To their dismay, however, they discovered that the government was not accepting enlisted recruits who were over the age of forty-five.

News of Fort Sumter reached Frankfort, Indiana, late on the afternoon of April 13, 1861. In the Clinton County courthouse, lawyer Lewis “Lew” Wallace was addressing a jury. The town’s telegraph operator entered and told the judge he had a telegram for Wallace. It was from Wallace’s friend, Indiana governor Oliver P. Morton, and read: “Sumter has been fired on. Come immediately.” With the judge’s permission, Wallace excused himself to the jury and left the case to his law partner. Then he mounted his horse and rode hard the ten miles to Colfax, where he could catch a train to Indianapolis that night. Son of a former governor of the state, Wallace had served as a second lieutenant in the Mexican War and in 1856 organized a militia company called the Montgomery (County) Guards. Now Govenor Morton made Wallace Indiana’s state adjutant general for the purpose of supervising the raising of troops.

Within days, Lincoln’s call for troops arrived, requesting six regiments from Indiana. Wallace asked if he could become colonel of one of the new regiments, and Morton agreed. Before the week was out, Wallace reported to Morton some 130 companies at Camp Morton, near Indianapolis. That was 70 more than the number required by Lincoln’s call. As was even then being done in Illinois, Morton and Wallace decided that Indiana’s regiments should begin numbering where they left off in the Mexican War, so the first Indiana regiment for the Civil War was the 6th. Wallace carefully selected the ten companies he liked best for his own regiment, the 11th.

Even out in Iowa, beyond the Mississippi River, news arrived and people reacted so quickly as to be ahead of Lincoln’s call for troops. In Keosauqua, on the Des Moines River in the southeastern part of the state, citizens suspended their ordinary business and stood around in clusters, discussing the news. They had already scheduled a war meeting by the time word of Lincoln’s call arrived, so they used the gathering to discuss the raising of a local company. On that much they agreed, but they disagreed on what kind of company to raise. Some were for raising a “foot company,” others a “horse company,” and still others preferred service in a “cannon company.” Someone called for a word from Van Buren County recorder John M. Tuttle, and that official, who farmed and kept a store in addition to his official duties, referred to the issue in dispute as involving “infantry,” “cavalry,” and “artillery,” and gave his opinion in favor of infantry. The townsmen were so impressed with his military knowledge that they agreed to raise a company of infantry and elected Tuttle to command it. Years later Tuttle admitted that “in giving these definitions I went almost to the limit of my military knowledge.”

And so men flocked to the colors all across the Midwest, green as the late-April grass on the prairies and led by lawyers, clerks, and petty officials, but filled with enthusiasm and a deep determination to do their duty. They came in such numbers that the states quickly exceeded their recruiting quotas. The problem for many of the newly raised companies was gaining acceptance into the service. Some companies had to disband, at least for the time being, but most were eventually mustered into service. Some Illinois companies, like the Peoria Zouave Cadets, did so by crossing into Missouri and enlisting there as part of the 8th Missouri Regiment. As a border slave state, Missouri held divided loyalties. Many Missouri men would eventually enlist with the Confederacy, and thus the state would have had some difficulty fulfilling its U.S. recruiting quota if not for the influx of Illinoisans and others eager for a place in the ranks of any Union regiment that would take them. The 13th Missouri included one company from Illinois, six from Ohio, and only three from Missouri. The 9th Missouri Regiment included almost no Missourians at all—just Illinoisans.

The Illinois legislature, foreseeing the nation’s need of more troops, authorized the state to raise an additional ten regiments—one from each congressional district—beyond the six of Lincoln’s original request. These regiments, the 13th through the 21st Illinois, were filled almost at once. The state undertook to pay these 10,000 extra levies until the federal government realized its need for them. In like manner, Indiana’s redoubtable Governor Morton authorized additional regiments to be sworn into state service as “the Indiana Legion,” pending another call from the president.

The extra regiments, as well as the other companies clamoring for acceptance into Federal service in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa, did not have long to wait. Lincoln and his advisors in Washington soon recognized the need for more troops than the initial 75,000 and for longer terms than the original ninety-day enlistments. Early in the summer, the president called for additional troops to serve for three years. After the Union debacle at the first Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, Lincoln issued a call for 500,000 three-year volunteers. With that, there was plenty of opportunity for everyone who wanted to be a soldier, and the states turned down no more companies, provided they had the requisite number of enlisted men. Officers, though usually devoid of training or experience, were never in short supply.

Indeed, the supply of would-be officers sometimes outstripped that of men prepared to follow them. The result was a bizarre competition for recruits. The man who successfully recruited a company would get a captain’s commission, so the race was on to raise the enlistments of the necessary eighty-four privates. Whereas companies during the first few weeks of the war had tended to be overstrength, aspiring captains were so numerous by late summer that many struggled to reach the requisite minimum enrollment for their companies.


From the Hardcover edition.
Steven E. Woodworth|Author Q&A

About Steven E. Woodworth

Steven E. Woodworth - Nothing but Victory

Photo © Leah Woodworth

Steven E. Woodworth was born in Ohio and grew up in the Midwest. He earned his Ph.D. in history at Rice University in 1987, and is the author, coauthor, or editor of twenty-eight books on American history, including Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861–1865. He is currently a professor of history at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Steven Woodworth


Q: Remnants of the Civl War still seem to be alive today, especially in the southern states. Did moving to the South have any influence on your decision to begin writing about such an important time in our history?
A: Actually my interest in the Civil War began long before I moved to the South. When I was a small boy back in Illinois, I used to bug my father to read to me. I guess I must have asked him a lot, because besides reading me all of the usual children’s books, he started reading to me the books he himself was reading for enjoyment, and those were history books. I quickly lost interest in the children’s books. They couldn’t compare to the likes of Bruce Catton and Walter Lord. My favorite books were about the Civil War. When I got older and learned how to read for myself, my interests remained the same.

Q: Throughout your career, you have written several books on the Civil War. Please explain how NOTHING BUT VICTORY, The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 stands out from the rest.
A: As I compare Nothing but Victory to my previous books, it is the largest book I’ve written so far and covers what is in many ways the largest topic. It combines the high-command and strategy approach of my first two books, with the soldiers-eye view that I took in While God Is Marching On and A Scythe of Fire. In contrast to the former of those, it is a narrative history (my favorite kind of history) and follows one group of human beings all the way through the war. In contrast to Scythe, it deals not with a single regiment (never more than 1,000 men) but with an entire field army that numbered as much as 60,000, and it is focused not on the storied but indecisive eastern theater (the 8th Georgia fought in Virginia) but on the dynamic, exciting, and very decisive West (which in the Civil War meant west of the Appalachians).

Q: NOTHING BUT VICTORY examines the usually neglected West that, in reality, greatly impacted the outcome of the Civil War. Please explain why you chose to focus on this area and why you think most historians do not.
A: Answering this question fully could entail a book all in itself—which I may write someday. In the meantime I’ll say that like many Americans, I grew up thinking the Civil War was something that happened almost entirely east of the Appalachians. A great many professional Civil War historians today will tell you that it was reading the works of Bruce Catton that first got them interested in the Civil War, and Catton is best known for writing about the war in the East. Yet the fixation on the eastern theater—and neglect of the West—goes back far beyond Catton, who wrote during the 1950s and ‘60s. The eastern battles featured the biggest armies and the most flamboyant commanders. They were closest to the rival capitals and also to the mass media markets. They therefore attracted the most ink during and immediately after the war, and since then their fame has compounded itself, with people taking an interest in them simply because so much has been written about them. Also, I might add that the Americans who have maintained the strongest interest in the Civil War are Southerners, and Southerners much prefer to remember the eastern battles, were Confederate forces won victories under Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

As I studied the Civil War from primary sources as a graduate student, I came to realize that my previous stereotypical ideas had not been correct. In fact, it was in the area between the Appalachians and the Mississippi that the outcome of the war was decided. The eastern theater, with all its hoopla and press attention, was also almost completely indecisive. In effect it was the sideshow that eclipsed the center ring.

Q: Please explain why the army you focus on in NOTHING BUT VICTORY was named the Army of the Tennessee?
A: While Confederate field armies were almost always named after states or parts of states (e.g., the Army of Tennessee, the Army of Northern Virginia), Union armies were nearly always named after rivers (e.g., the Army of the Potomac, the Army of the Cumberland). The Army of the Tennessee was named after the Tennessee River, along whose banks it won its first major victory, at Fort Donelson, and fought the first major battle of the war, at Shiloh. The Tennessee River was the main axis of the army’s advance during its first two major campaigns.

Q: NOTHING BUT VICTORY follows the highs and lows of the Army of the Tennessee. Please discuss what, in your opinion, was their highest and lowest point during this time period.
A: The low point for the men of the Army of the Tennessee was the winter they spent encamped opposite Vicksburg, January-April 1863. Half the army had suffered a defeat at Chickasaw Bayou in December, and the other half had been forced to retreat from the interior of Mississippi at about the same time. Vicksburg seemed impregnable and the end of the war nowhere in sight. Union forces were stymied on other fronts as well. Home-front morale was low, and a peace movement had sprung up. Newspapers said the war could never be won, and some soldiers received letters from loved ones with the same discouraging message. Some civilians actually visited the army’s camps with the purpose of persuading soldiers to desert. The camps themselves were depressing places, pitched as they were on low muddy ground a few inches above—or sometimes a few inches below—the water table. Sickness was rampant and deaths an everyday occurrence in each regiment. Only on the levee itself could the bodies be buried—elsewhere there was too much water, and it seemed to rain almost every day.

By contrast the army had many good times—times of excitement, success, and high morale: the initial advances along the rivers in grand flotillas of steamboats; the campaign through the interior of Mississippi in the spring of 1863, completely dispelling the previous winter’s futility; the capture of Vicksburg on Independence Day 1863; the capture of Atlanta in September 1864; the March to Sea that November and December, with the dawning awareness that they were eating out the innards of the rebellion and victory was at hand; and the even more exciting march through the Carolinas the following winter.

The army’s best day of fighting came in the July 22, 1864, Battle of Atlanta. There, outnumbered, hit in front, flank, and rear, and deprived of the leadership of their beloved commander, James B. McPherson, who fell early in the fight, the army rallied and drove off its attackers with heavy losses. Sherman later told the men wryly that the only unmilitary thing they had done that day was that they did not surrender.

I think, however, that if we could ask the soldiers what was for them the high point of their experience in the Army of the Tennessee, they would state emphatically that it was the Grand Review in Washington, D.C., May 24, 1865. The war was over, the Union saved, and the men would soon be going home. The Army of the Tennessee, leading the western Union armies, marched through the capital city between cheering, sometimes singing, crowds of spectators, who threw flowers, waved flags, and held up signs expressing their gratitude.

Q: NOTHING BUT VICTORY is interspersed with vignettes drawn from letters and diaries which detail the impact casualties, funerals, and efforts to send material aid to the troops had on the army. Where did you do your research and how did you obtain these documents?
A: The Civil War armies, including the Army of the Tennessee, were the world’s first highly literate mass armies. The men were often homesick, and the way they dealt with it was to write letters. Families saved many of those letters, and happily many of them are available to researchers today. The U.S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle, PA, possesses the papers of more than 5,000 Civil War soldiers, though most of them were from the eastern armies. State historical societies have additional treasure troves of letters as well as soldiers’ diaries. The Illinois State Historical Library, Wisconsin Historical Society, and Indiana Historical Society were especially rich sources of documents. Individual collections of letters from soldiers in the Army of the Tennessee can be found at various repositories from the Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina, to the Atlanta History Center, to the Pearce Collection of Navarro College in Corsicana, TX, to the special collections department of the library of Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, or the Rutherford B. Hayes Center in Fremont, OH. I could have written this book two or three times over using completely different soldier anecdotes every time.

Q: The army was not only fighting to unite a country, but tens of thousands of slaves were also awaiting their arrival to bring them freedom. Please explain how the soldiers dealt with these difficult race relations.
A: This was a difficult issue for the Army of the Tennessee, which was recruited from a section of the country (the Midwest) that was deeply conflicted on issues of race. Some soldiers, especially from the upper Midwest, believed it was their duty to end slavery and opined that the war would never be won until the Union embraced the cause of emancipation. By contrast, soldiers from the Ohio Valley could often be strongly racist. If they objected to slavery at all, it was merely because slavery brought African-Americans into territories that they wanted to save for white men. Such soldiers would sometimes write of the slaves in the most brutal terms.

Still, as the war progressed, the men began to realize that it was slavery that was threatening their country, and they began to see the institution of slavery itself as their enemy. When in the late winter of 1863, adjutant general Lorenzo Thomas visited the army’s camps to announce the new policy of enlisting black regiments, the white soldiers received the idea enthusiastically, and many volunteered to serve as officers in the new outfits. They still had a long way to go on the issue of racial equality—in fact, scarcely any of them got there during the course of the war, or, in all likelihood, thereafter—but they had come a long way from their prewar tacit acceptance of slavery as long as it stayed in the Southern states and didn’t try to break up the Union.

Q: As a historian, are there times when you get tired of your topic of choice? Are there other periods in American history that are also of interest to you?
A: Yes, I do get tired of the Civil War sometimes. That’s inevitable when one is immersed in the topic as much as I’ve been for all these years. Yet I still enjoy studying and writing about it. That may seem contradictory, but it’s true. The Army of the Tennessee project was the most exciting and enjoyable I’ve undertaken in all of my work on the Civil War.

I do indeed have other interests in history, so numerous and diverse that I’m almost embarrassed to mention them all (won’t mention them all, as a matter of fact). I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” and I think that unless I live an extraordinarily long life, there will be many roads not taken in my historical research and writing. Among my other
interests are the period of roughly 30 years leading up to the Civil War, and the 50 or so years following the end of Reconstruction (1877), as well as the 1960s. We’ll see which roads get taken in the future!

Q: As a professor of history at Texas Christian University, do you find your students to be fascinated by this particular time in history? How do they view this war in comparison to the other wars America has fought?
A Our students have a very strong interest in the Civil War. The course fills up every time it’s offered, and other students are on the waiting list, hoping for a chance to get in. There’s a fair amount of interest in other wars too, especially World War II these days. I think the Civil War excites people particularly because it happened right here in America. Its relics and sites are among us, and the key objectives and terrain features that we read about in the stories of its campaigns are often rivers and towns that we know well. It was so big that its effects engulfed almost every facet of society, and it called forth the utmost determination from both sides. I think there’s something stirring about witnessing people who are totally committed to a cause—even when we have to view them across the 140 years that separate us. We ask ourselves what causes could evoke such commitment in us, whether we’re capable of such dedication, and whether we could face the challenges those people did with as much courage as they did.

Q: Given that you have devoted your career to studying the era of the Civil War, are there any specific moments that you wish you could have witnessed?
A: There are of course many events in the Civil War that I wish I could witness, including all of those great moments of the Army of the Tennessee that I mentioned above. Most of all, I think I'd like to see John A. "Black Jack" Logan leading the Army of the Tennessee's counterattack at the Battle of Atlanta, with the troops surging forward to close up the broken line and shouting, "Black Jack! Black Jack!" That must have been quite a scene. My wish is all the stronger for the fact that we can't go to that place now and see the terrain on which it occurred, since that land has been overspread by the city of Atlanta.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“Truly impressive. . . . Woodworth has described with clarity and vigor the tactical actions in such battles as Shiloh, Champion Hill and Atlanta.” –The New York Review of Books

“Impressive. . . .To learn about the Civil War in the Western Theater through the service of its principal Union army, this is the book to read.” –The Charleston Post and Courier

“The best one-volume history written to date of a Civil War field army. . . . Combines] impeccable scholarship and comfortable style.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Exhaustively researched and compellingly readable. . . . Stunning. . . . A resounding success..”–Boston Edge

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