May 1863–North Star takes a shot at its hometown boy

The Efforts of Union Gen­er­als in the East­ern The­atre Comes to Naught and the North Star Takes a Shot at Its Home­town Boy

By Gary Far­row, Danville His­tor­i­cal Society

May 9, 1863 North Star–Radicalism

Noth­ing is more com­mon now, when every­thing depends on a united North, than for the Rad­i­cals to ful­mi­nate their extreme abo­li­tion notions – ignor­ing both the Con­sti­tu­tion and the Union. Their lead­ers in Con­gress have boldly pro­claimed this sen­ti­ment. “Who,” shouted the Abo­li­tion­ist Bing­ham, Ohio mem­ber of Con­gress, at the last ses­sion, “in the name of God wants the Cot­ton States, or any other State this side of perdi­tion, to remain in the Union, if slav­ery is to con­tinue.” Thad­deus Stevens has uttered, if pos­si­ble, still more extreme sen­ti­ments. It tells the whole story. They do not want and do not mean to have the Old Union. It is a direct assault upon the loy­alty of the Bor­der States, which have fur­nished thou­sands of troops for the Fed­eral army – of States which have ever claimed the right to reg­u­late their own inter­nal negro pol­icy. But the Rad­i­cals make no dis­tinc­tion between those slave states which remain true to the Old Flag, and those which have fought against it so long. Were the seceded states to lay down their arms to-day, and pro­pose a full return to loy­alty and the Union, these men would say “No” to their sub­mis­sion. And what is more, this class of rad­i­cals has always wanted, in some way or some­how, to drive off the slave states.

***

But the North­ern Democ­racy and Con­ser­v­a­tive sen­ti­ment arraigns boldly this Rad­i­cal trea­son to the Con­sti­tu­tion as they arraign seces­sion, and fight both – one by the bal­lot and the other in the field.

Thad­deus Stevens, born in Danville and raised in the area, had gone on to grad­u­ate from Dart­mouth Col­lege, become a suc­cess­ful lawyer and busi­ness­man and rep­re­sent Penn­syl­va­nia in the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. He was one of the lead­ing rad­i­cal Abo­li­tion­ists of his day and chair­man of the pow­er­ful House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee that con­trolled the nation’s purse strings. Rad­i­cal Repub­li­cans also dom­i­nated the US Con­gres­sional Joint Com­mit­tee on the Con­duct of the War, which was con­stantly berat­ing Union gen­er­als for their inep­ti­tude. The North Star strongly sup­ported the restora­tion of the Union; how­ever, the paper was extremely skep­ti­cal about the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion, which freed slaves in rebel states. It was clearly miffed at the ascen­dancy of the rad­i­cal wing of the Repub­li­can party.

May 9 1863 North Star

General Nathaniel Banks

Gen­eral Nathaniel Banks

The marches and suc­cesses of Gen­eral Banks are excit­ing exul­ta­tion and hope, and gain for him that con­fi­dence and regard that his char­ac­ter and deeds merit. He is evi­dently using all his ener­gies to carry out in his Depart­ment the pur­poses of the Gov­ern­ment, and win great advan­tages to be gained hold­ing the Mississippi…

…From the time he left here for Louisiana, he has been the sub­ject of sneers and reproaches by a class of Rad­i­cals who are always growl­ing at what­ever is wise and ben­e­fi­cial, hon­est and truly patri­otic. Mr. Sum­mers “franked” paper gave us, a lit­tle while ago, the fol­low­ing evi­dence of its ami­a­bil­ity: — “The rebels have set a high price on [Gen­eral] Butler’s head for noth­ing, we should thank them. It is not much to be sure, but such as it is, they are wel­come to it.”

Notwith­stand­ing such malev­o­lence  we believe his career is onward and upward, and although we have no sym­pa­thy with his par­ti­san affini­ties, his praise­wor­thy acts in the pub­lic ser­vice shall ever receive our grate­ful acknowledgements.

***

General Joe Hooker

Gen­eral Joe Hooker

Gen­eral Ben­jamin But­ler was a “polit­i­cal” gen­eral, a for­mer gov­er­nor of Mass­a­chu­setts appointed to his mil­i­tary rank by Pres­i­dent Lin­coln. He com­manded the Union troops that cap­tured New Orleans a year ear­lier and now occu­pied the city. The gen­eral had earned the sobri­quets “Beast” and “Spoons”: the for­mer for his heavy-handed cen­sor­ship of news­pa­pers in Louisiana and his infa­mous “Gen­eral Order 28,” which autho­rized his troops to treat the ladies of New Orleans as pros­ti­tutes in retal­i­a­tion for the habit of some women who had taken to emp­ty­ing the con­tents of the cham­ber pots from bal­conies on to the heads of Union sol­diers below. The “Spoons” referred to Butler’s rep­u­ta­tion for con­fis­cat­ing sil­ver­ware and other valu­ables from the wealthy.

Gen­eral But­ler hated Gen­eral Natha­nial Banks, also a for­mer gov­er­nor of Mass­a­chu­setts, report­edly because they were polit­i­cal rivals, the good press that he enjoyed, and Banks’ rep­u­ta­tion as the most accom­plished of the polit­i­cal generals.

May 9, 1863

Dis­patches From Gen­eral Banks, Wash­ing­ton, May 1

The National Repub­li­can of May 1 pub­lishes semi-official dis­patches from Gen­eral Banks, dated near St. Mar­tinsville, 17th – From them it appears that when Gen­eral Banks left Baton Rouge, three reg­i­ments of col­ored troops were left for its defense – The results among oth­ers of Gen Banks’ expe­di­tion are: accom­plish­ing a march of over 200 miles; beat­ing the enemy in three bat­tles – two on land and one on Ground Lake; dis­pers­ing the rebel army; utterly destroy­ing the rebel navy; cap­tur­ing the foundries of the enemy at Franklin and New Iberia, and demor­al­iz­ing the salt works, 10 miles west of the lat­ter place; cap­tur­ing the cargo equipage of the enemy; also, sev­eral guns and between one and two thou­sand pris­on­ers, and so derang­ing the plans of the rebels that they can­not for some months, if ever, reor­ga­nize his land and naval forces in that por­tion of Louisiana. Our loss in the two land bat­tles was 800 to 700. Noth­ing could exceed the con­duct of the offi­cers and men in Gen Banks’ command.

The dis­patches say we have not only destroyed the army and navy of the enemy, and cap­tured the essen­tials for the reor­ga­ni­za­tion of his force, but we have also in our pos­ses­sion his ablest offi­cers of the land and sea.

***

A photo of the dead at the Fredericksburg stone wall.

A photo of the dead at the Fred­er­icks­burg stone wall.

May 16, 1863

Gen Hooker’s Repulse. We now have pretty accu­rate infor­ma­tion as to the result of the recent advance of the Potomac Army. It was a fail­ure, to say the least – a repulse it would be called by mil­i­tary enti­ties. While we, in com­mon with all loyal cit­i­zens, sin­cerely regret that Gen­eral Hooker was not suc­cess­ful in reach­ing Rich­mond, and in destroy­ing the rebel army – while all must deplore the neces­sity he was under of re-crossing the river, and regret that the advance ter­mi­nated with­out accom­plish­ing any­thing decisive…

From all that we now learn, Gen. Hooker did the best he could. He was not well sup­ported, by some of his troops; and the unex­pected, not to say dis­grace­ful panic of the Eleventh Corps, was a great and fatal injury to his plans.

The Ver­mont Brigade at Fredericksburg

From all accounts it appears that the Ver­mont brigade had heavy work to do at Fred­er­icks­burg; and all accounts also agree that they did their work well exhibit­ing undaunted courage and brav­ery – prob­a­bly sav­ing by their rest­less charge, the corps of Sedg­wick from anni­hi­la­tion. They made the first charge, in con­nec­tion with other troops, when the heights were car­ried by storm; and the next day the 6th reg­i­ment made another ter­ri­ble and suc­cess­ful charge, when the enemy, under Longstreet, drove us from the heights, and thus saved the divi­sion. In these encoun­ters, many a brave man fell to rise no more.

***

An offi­cer of the 6th Ver­mont sends to the Green Moun­tain Free­man, the fol­low­ing graphic account of the fight at Fred­er­icks­burg; and the part which that reg­i­ment took in it.

Camp of the 6th Vermont

I am not sure that you have heard all about our move­ments, through the papers, as a corps, but not prob­a­bly as a reg­i­ment. We crossed the river on Sat­ur­day night, the 2nd instant, and moved towards the heights at day-break of Sun­day. About one o’clock P.M. we charged – our right forc­ing one of the strongest works. We passed over a plain half a mile wide, then through a ravine where the rebels slaugh­tered the Irish brigade, in the first attack, last Decem­ber and then up the heights, our reg­i­ment being the sec­ond one on the crest, hav­ing passed by two other reg­i­ments on the charge. The rebels show­ered shells upon us from the heights, but our rapid move­ments pre­vented them seri­ously harm­ing us…

The next morn­ing, with my glass, I watched the rebel fir­ing on the heights; we had won the day before, com­ing in from the north­ward, no one being there to oppose them. You can imag­ine what my feel­ings were. I don’t know whether I was most grieved, angered or indig­nant. All we gained was lost! I sup­pose the Gen­eral thought the rebels were on the road to Rich­mond and he was anx­ious to push on and join Hooker.

The rebels were now on three sides of us, and a four o’clock they charged upon us, start­ing out of the woods with a tremen­dous yell… Our reg­i­ment lay close upon the ground, behind a lit­tle crest. The men were ordered to fire only at the word of com­mand. We waited until the enemy were within twenty feet of our guns, then rose, fired, and came on fast, they went back faster. Just our reg­i­ment drove back the line, took nearly as many pris­on­ers as we had in the regiment.

….We drove the rebels back nearly a mile, over the entire ground, they had won, and held it unaided until dark, when we were ordered to fall back.

The Colonel and I and many of the line offi­cers now wear rebel swords. The Gen­eral says the Ver­mont Brigade saved the corps, and I know that had we given way as the other reg­i­ments, did, all must have been lost.

***

But by later in the month, the press had soured on the exploits of Gen­eral Hooker.

May 23, 1863 North Star–The Cam­paign on the Rappahannock

General Stonewall Jackson

Gen­eral Stonewall Jackson

The New York Evening Post – a decided Admin­is­tra­tion jour­nal – has the fol­low­ing, among other crit­i­cisms, on the recent repulse of our army on the Rap­pa­han­nock. The fact was it was more than a repulse – it was a severe defeat. Gen Hooker in the first place didn’t have enough men …sec­ondly… Hooker was out­gen­eraled and out-maneuvered. The mas­terly move­ment of Stonewall Jack­son, in cut­ting his way through the woods, and sud­denly in the most unex­pected man­ner appear­ing on our flank, with some 30,000 men, was a bril­liant feat that will long renown to the credit of Jack­son, in future his­tory. Then, again, in the way of Sedgwick’s corps was pre­vented from join­ing Hooker, is another evi­dence of the supe­rior strat­egy of the rebel Generals.

***

The “Cam­paign on the Rap­pa­han­nock” is bet­ter known today as the Bat­tle of Chan­cel­lorsville. Remem­ber that the Army of the Potomac had seen Gen McClel­lan fired in the fall, suc­ceeded by Gen Burn­side, who presided over the Decem­ber deba­cle at Fred­er­icks­burg and then promptly resigned his com­mand. Now it was Gen­eral Joseph Hooker’s turn.

The Union’s goal in the east­ern the­atre was ulti­mately the destruc­tion of Gen­eral Lee’s forces and the cap­ture of Rich­mond, the Con­fed­er­ate capi­tol. In order to force the issue, Gen­eral Hooker devised an elab­o­rate plan to split his forces with some cross­ing the Rap­pa­han­nock and attack­ing Fred­er­icks­burg again – of which the 1st Ver­mont Brigade was a part – and other forces mov­ing south. His objec­tive was to trap the forces of Gen­eral Lee.

How­ever, Lee’s troops shad­owed Union maneu­vers and col­lected enough intel­li­gence to fig­ure out that Hooker was plan­ning a two-pronged attack. Hooker then became timid and took up a defen­sive posi­tion in Chan­cel­lorsville where he was out­flanked by Stonewall Jack­son. Ulti­mately, Lee pushed the Fed­er­als out of Fred­er­icks­burg and the Army of the Potomac again found itself with­draw­ing back towards Wash­ing­ton. This set the stage for Lee’s next north­ern adven­ture, which would end in disaster.

 

 

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