By Gary Farrow, Danville Historical Society
September brought news about how the Union dealt with its deserters. Two men on opposite sides, whose twisted souls were fired earlier in the cauldron that was the Kansas-Missouri Border War, led their “troops” on a mission of murdering, ransacking and plundering non-combatants. The battle for Eastern Tennessee – Northern Georgia continued to heave to and fro.
September 5, 1863 Danville North Star
Headquarters Army of the Potomac Aug 29 – The execution of substitute deserters sentenced to death in General Orders No. 84 took place today. More than ordinary interest was exhibited on the execution of military law, and it is estimated that not less than 25,000 persons were present…The ground was selected, and every arrangement so complete that no accidents occurred to mar the solemnity of the proceedings….
The criminals were sitting upon their respective coffins with yawning graves in their rear…. At the order to fire, 86 muskets were discharged, and instant death was announced by the Surgeons in attendance as a result. The bodies were then placed in their respective graves, and the clergy performed the last religious rites over the deceased.
The names, ages, residence, etc., of the deceased are as follows – George Kuhna, Hanoverian, 22 years old, Pennsylvania, unmarried; John Felan, Italian, 26 years old, Pennsylvania, wife and family; Charles Walter, Prussian 28 years old, wife and child; George Reinese, Italian, 24 years old, wife and child; Emile Lai, Prussian, 30 years old, wife.
Substitutes, those who agreed to go into the army as a replacement for someone else who had been drafted, were notoriously less enthusiastic about their service than those who volunteered or accepted the draft. Robert E. Lee lamented that military discipline was compromised because the South’s policy for punishing deserters was much too lenient because execution was not permitted. The North brooked no such restraint.
The South began drafting men in ’62; the North in ’63. Both sides encouraged the others’ troops to desert. Each had their own incentive program. The South offered Union troops sanctuary below the Mason-Dixon line, civilian jobs and, in some cases, land. The Union carrots included transportation behind Union lines and full market value compensation for military equipment brought with them. Southern deserters also had the option of living in the North or joining the army to fight Indians on the western frontier. Throughout the war, the number of desertions was quite high with the totals being 200,000 Union troops and 104,000 rebels.
The Lawrence Massacre
The massacre at Lawrence [Kansas] has naturally excited the deepest horror. The brutality, the cold-blooded ferocity of the miscreants, who could perpetrate such revolting barbarity, cannot be too severely punished. Two hundred – some accounts place the number at three hundred – citizens butchered at their hearthstones, penned in like cattle and deliberately shot down, widows and orphans rendered homeless and penniless, property ruthlessly destroyed, a community paralyzed by horror such are the results of Quantrell’s bloody work….
That Quantrell’s act will be severely denounced at Richmond. Surely, no act of loyal men demanded such diabolical retaliation as this Lawrence affair and unless Davis [President of the Confederacy] immediately inflicts the severest penalty upon the barbarian leader, the whole world will point the finger of detestation at him and his Confederacy….
The horrible warfare practiced by Quantrell is not dissimilar to the operations which under Montgomery’s leadership have disgraced our arms. The unnecessary burning and plundering his black troops have been guilty of have not yet been officially reprimanded by the Administration. Abolition newspapers have glorified the atrocities at Bluffton and other places in South Carolina…
Montgomery even retains his command, free to take more useless …The jay-hawker Montgomery is not one whit better than Quantrell. The army needs no such men, whose acts only afford a pretext for savagery which has made Lawrence a heap of smoking ruins; the cause is hindered by them, and humanity made to blush at the guilt that leaves them in authority.
The trouble in Kansas came out of the 1850’s proxy war over slavery that was fought in Kansas and on its border with Missouri. During this period, “Free state” interests funded by the North and slave interests funded by the South fought a heinous guerilla war against one another. The first was the infamous and unhinged John Brown, supported by Abolitionists in Boston, who would attempt to incite a slave rebellion in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. He came with his adult sons to Kansas where they proceeded to slaughter five slave supporters with swords. Afterwards, he was hung for his trouble.
Quantrill and his thugs fought on behalf of the slavers and were brought into the Confederate army when the Civil War erupted. He continued to conduct guerilla warfare against Union sympathizers and explained his murder of 150 men in Lawrence as payback for a similar incident which had occurred in his hometown of Osceola, Missouri back 1861. He can also claim credit for tutoring members of the James-Younger gang, who went on to greater fame after the war by robbing banks and trains.
Union Colonel James Montgomery was also a product of the “Bleeding Kansas” conflict where he became a “Jayhawker,” the term used to describe a guerrilla combatant who fought against pro-slave interests. Ironically, he was part of a Kansas unit that had sacked Quantrill’s hometown of Osceola. But in early ’63 he was authorized to raise a regiment of African American infantry that became the South Carolina. During the remainder of the war, he propagated his Kansas-bred form of murder and plunder throughout South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
September 19, 1863 Danville North Star
From the Potomac Army
New York, Sept 13 – The Times correspondent of the Army of the Potomac writes on the 10th that it is believed that one corps, or about one third of the [Confederate] army under Longstreet, is moving to Richmond, there to be transferred, two divisions of it to the Southwest and one to Charleston…This seems to indicate that the rebels in Virginia will remain entirely upon the defensive for the coming campaign, which everyone here counts upon before winter.
Special dispatches from Washington, state that Mrs. Leach, wife of the Superintendent of the Tredgar Iron Works [The facility in Virginia where the South manufactured and serviced its ships for their wartime navy.] has arrived from Richmond. The evacuation of East Tennessee by rebel forces caused the greatest surprise and gloom in Richmond, as all were anticipating a battle there instead of a peaceable occupation of Union forces. Troops from Lee’s army have been quite freely in Richmond. Their destination is unknown. There was a general belief that Charleston would be captured.
The sweep of the rebels out of East Tennessee is credited to General William Rosecrans, who, serving under U.S. Grant, managed to outflank his Confederate counterpart, Braxton Bragg, in Chattanooga with a minimum of casualties. However the screw would soon turn in the other direction in what is now known as the Chickamauga campaign.
September 26, 1863 Danville North Star
Our war record this week does not present so cheering an aspect as it did last. We have no accounts of any favorable progress at Charleston. The siege, on our part, appears to be at a stand-still, while the Confederates ever active, are straining every nerve by way of fortifying the approaches to the city, and it is evident that Charleston cannot be speedily captured. It is said that we can burn the city – but would that essentially aid us in overcoming the great military strength of the rebels? That is what is wanted in this war – breakup and destroy the military power of the Confederate – all favorable results would follow as a matter of course. …
But the worst news, this week, is from the army of Gen. Rosecrans. He fought a great battle – seven hours long – in Georgia, and is reported – “badly whipped,” as the report says. If this is so, it will materially affect our late successes in East Tennessee, and perhaps cause our troops to abandon Knoxville, and our military possessions in that quarter.
Washington, Sept 21 – The National Republican says the enemy attacked Gen. Rosecrans again Sunday morning…The battle raged fiercely…
[T]wo and only two of Gen. Rosecrans divisions were in utter havoc and confusion. But 8,000 to 10,000 of these had been rallied and got back to their places, while the remainder of the army had not given way or retreated, and at the last moment was driving the advance of the rebel army back….
The number of killed and wounded on both sides will probably not fall short of 30,000…
It has been officially ascertained that he has fallen back to Chattanooga, to await the arrival of Burnside’s forces which were yesterday within 30 miles and were expected to be up with him to-day when a forward movement would be made upon the lines of the enemy. The utmost confidence is felt here upon the junction of Burnside, when the enemy would be badly beaten and compelled to fall back upon Rome and Atlanta.
General Rosecrans had a prickly personality and like most every other high ranking officer in the Union army, except perhaps Grant, was seen by the frustrated Lincoln as unaggressive and painstakingly slow. So it was time to take his leave after his defeat at Chickamauga.
Although the battle was a loss, it was not an unmitigated disaster due in part to a blue-eyed general by the name of George Thomas, who collected his troops and provided a stalwart defense as Rosecrans skedaddled back to Chattanooga. Thomas became known as the “Rock of Chickamauga” for his efforts.
It was now time for Rosecrans to give up his seat in the game of “general musical chairs.” The seat’s new occupant was to become General George Thomas, tapped by Grant, to take on his West Point classmate and colleague in the Mexican American War, General Braxton Bragg. Both were professional soldiers and certified members of the old boys’ club that populated the ranks of US military before the war began.