Saturday, April 30, 2022

Hatteras Inlet Assault 1861 Patriotic Envelope

     Taking a casual glance at this patriotic envelope and seeing General Butler along with mention of the Navy and the picture of a Confederate fort being bombarded by naval ships as troops storm it, the first instinct is to think of the capture of New Orleans in April & May 1862 where Benjamin Butler, "The Beast", gained his infamous reputation for draconian control.  But wait, was Commander Stringham the naval hero in the New Orleans assault?  Nope, it was another man, Admiral David Farragut.  So What's going on here?

Our Army & Navy US 23 Patriotic Envelope
(pictured is enlarged to show details; actual envelope size is the normal 5 1/2" by 3 3/8")
    Well, on the back side of the envelope is the printer's details:  S.C.Upham, Philadelphia, copyright 1861.  That information sends us on a quest to discover what Union battle involving both army and navy personal this envelope is celebrating since it's now obviously is not the seizure of New Orleans in 1862.
    Upham is celebrating the successful capture of the Confederate coastal forts protecting the Cape Hatteras Inlet in North Carolina (Aug.28-29, 1861).  This battle was part of the Union Atlantic Blockage Campaign to cut off Southern trade and stop their commerce-raiding of Northern shipping.  Despite the Union blockade of Norfolk, VA. the South still had access to trade via the North Carolina sound through the barrier islands coast.  The Hatteras Inlet was the most traveled and the most vulnerable to Union attack because it was deep enough for sizeable warships.
    When North Carolina seceded, they began the construction of Fort Clark and Fort Hatteras at the southern end of Hatteras Island to control access to Pamlico Sound.  Fort Clark faced east out to sea, with Fort Hatteras protecting the inlet the ships would sail through.  Fort Hatteras had only about ten 32-pounder smoothbore mounted guns when the assault came.  Fort Clark only had five.  Compared to the Union ship's guns, these were of limited range for coastal defense.  Nor was there really sufficient manpower at both forts to hold off a determined Union assault.
    The Union plan from Navy Secretary Gideon Welles was to sink old ballast-laden ships in the channels going through the outer banks along the North Carolina coast to block them so the South could no longer sail ships in and out.  Silas H. Stringham, commandant of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron did not believe this approach would work since he believed tidal currents would sweep away the wrecks or rapidly scour out new channels.  For Stringham the southern forts would have to be taken and held by Union forces to effectively shut the channels down.  This would need the cooperation of Army personnel along with the Navy assault.  General John E. Wood at Fort Monroe organized an infantry force of 880 troops to assist Stringham's ships and put Major-General Benjamin F. Butler in charge.
    Some of the Union ships arrived off the Hatteras inlet late Aug.27th and commenced bombarding Fort Clark the next morning on the 28th.  Stringham kept his ships moving in a loop, delivering a broadside against the fort, then moving back out of range to reload.  This tactic prevented the fort artillery from adjusting their aim as they fired against the fleet, and so reduced the traditional advantage of shore-based guns over attacking ships.  Mid-day the infantry troops began to attempt to land.  Only about a third of the Union soldiers were able to land on the beach a few miles east of Fort Clark because increasing winds caused the waves to surge higher and higher making troop transport impossible.  Shortly after noon the Confederate forces in Fort Clark ran out of artillery ammunition, so they spiked the guns and abandoned the fortification, heading for Fort Hatteras.  Colonel Max Weber, commanding the Union troops who had managed to get ashore, realized this and sent his men in to occupy Fort Clark.  The Union troops got their ships to cease the bombardment of the fort by waving the American Flag, signaling that it had fallen to Union control.
    Stringham then had his ships move to begin bombarding Fort Hatteras.  Because the Confederate forces were conserving ammunition, they only returned limited fire.  Stringham thinking it may also have been abandoned, sent a shallow-draft gun boat into the inlet to take possession of the fort.  Now the Confederate forces opened up with a full volley of fire, forcing that Union ship to flee back out to sea while the other Union ships again opened fire.
    With night coming and threatening weather, Stringham ceased bombardment and pulled his ships back out to deeper water until the next morning.  At dawn on the 29th, the Union ships steamed back in and anchored just out of range of the Confederate guns to renew their bombardment of Fort Hatteras.  Union ships were able to prevent Confederate transport shops from bringing in more troops to reinforce the fort garrison.  By 11:00 am the Confederates realized their hope of holding out was fast fading.  As they were preparing to spike the guns and withdraw, a shell hit and ignited the fort's magazine, forcing Commander Samuel Barron to raise a white flag.  Butler insisted on unconditional surrender.  Barron complied and the 700 Confederate troops and officers were taken prisoner.
    The taking of the Hatteras Inlet was a great morale boost for the Union after a summer of failure and defeats like First Bull Run.  It was said that when his staff woke President Abraham Lincoln up in the middle of the night to tell him about this victory, that he danced a jig in his nightshirt.
   Now we can better understand why Upham printed this envelope celebrating the Hatteras Inlet victory.  The picture of the soldiers storming the fortification and the ships bombarding it makes more sense when we understand the historical context.  And we have a better understanding of why Butler and Stringham are the two leaders on this patriotic cover.  Note that the Confederate flag pictured on the fort being attacked is the Stars and Bars first national flag, and not the battle flag which has become the one most people today would recognize as a Confederate flag.  Also note on the envelope picture that the flag pole is being shattered by the attacking Union forces.  This patriotic cover celebrates much needed good news for the Union cause in late 1861.

    I admit that when I bought the original patriotic cover years ago at a military antique show, I bought it for two reasons.  First, because I saw Gen. Butler's picture on it, I just assumed it was celebrating the famous capture of New Orleans.  Secondly, since I had seen very few envelopes celebrating the Navy, I wanted to have one to reproduce for reenactors to use for variety in their letter writing and also in their displays for spectators to see.  Now obviously I was wrong about which battle victory it was celebrating.  But I don't regret buying it and reproducing it, because now I can say it shows an aspect of history that was important in that time.  And I also get to say that doing research is important in learning about history.

Children's Project:   Explore why the Union blockade of Southern ports was a good war strategy for the North and a harmful one for the South.  Although the Hatteras Inlet assault was only one part of the overall strategy, look at a map of the area to see how controlling it would help hurt the Southern shipping.  Also discuss how after a summer which produced little "victory" for the North, an actual victory would be good news to people supporting the Union cause.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Songs on the Civil War Battlefield -- Shiloh 1862

 An account from a soldier who fought and died there:
    The sanguinary battle of Shiloh was fought on the sixth and the seventh of April, 1862.  The ordinary scene which presents itself, after the strife of arms has ceased, is familiar to everyone.  Heaps of the slain, where friend and foe lie by the side of each other; bodies mangled and bleeding; shrieks of the wounded and dying, are things which we always associate with the victories and defeats of war.  But seldom do we read that voices of prayer, that hymns of exultant faith and thanksgiving, have been heard at such times and in such places.
    The following account was received from the lips of a brave and pious captain in one of the Western regiments, as some friends who visited Shiloh on the morning after the battle were conveying him to the hospital.
    The man had been shot through both thighs with a rifle bullet; it was a wound from which he could not recover.  While lying on the field, he suffered intense agony from thirst.  He supported his head upon his hand, and the rain from heaven was falling around him.  In a short time, a little pool of water collected near his elbow and he thought if he could only reach that spot he might allay his raging thirst.  He tried to get into a position which would enable him to obtain a mouthful, at least, of the muddy water; but in vain, and he must suffer the torture of seeing the means of relief within sight, while all his efforts were unavailing.  “Never” said he,  “did I feel so much the loss of any earthly blessing.  By and by the shades of night fell around us, and the stars shone out clear and beautiful above the dark field, where so many had sunk down in death, and so many others lay wounded, writhing in pain, or faint with the loss of blood.  Thus situated, I began to think of the great God who had given his Son to die a death of agony for me, and that he was in the heavens to which my eyes were turned, -- That he was there, above that scene of suffering, and above those glorious stars; and I felt that I was hastening home to meet him, and praise him there; and I felt that I ought to praise him then, even wounded as I was, on the battlefield.  I could not help singing that beautiful hymn:
When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.
And though I was not aware of it till then,” he said, “it proved there was a Christian brother in the thicket near me.  I could not see him, but was near enough to hear him.  He took up the strain from me; and beyond him another, and then another, caught the words, and made them resound far and wide over the terrible battlefield of Shiloh.  There was a peculiar echo in the place, and that added to the effect, as we made the night vocal with our hymns of praise to God.
    It is certain that men animated by such faith have the consciousness of serving God in serving their country, and that their presence in the army adds to it some of its most important elements of strength and success.
From Christian Memorial of the War:  Scenes and Incidents Illustrative of Religious Faith and Principle, Patriotism and Bravery in Our Army by Horatio B. Hackett 1864 page 18-20.

Shiloh Church

Summary historical perspective on the battle

    The intensity of the Battle of Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee on April 6-7, 1862, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, changed public expectations in both the North and the South that this would be a short-lived war because of the intensity of the battle and the high rate of casualties for both sides:
            Union losses out of 62,000 troops: 13,047
                        Killed 1,754
                        Wounded 8,408
                        Missing or captured 2,885
            Confederate losses out of 45,000 troops: 10,669
                        Killed 1,728
                        Wounded 8,012
                        Missing or captured 959
    In his memoirs in chapter 25 “Remarks on Shiloh” Grant writes “Up to the battle of Shiloh, I, as well as thousands of other citizens, believed that the rebellion against the Government would collapse suddenly and soon, if a decisive victory could be gained over its armies….” But the intensity and cost in man-power changed his perspective:  “I gave up all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest.”
    Though the Union losses were greater than the Confederate, the Union victory would allow for him to push deeper into Southern territory to divide the Confederacy in two.  Victory came at a high cost.
Reflections on the “soldier in the ranks” perspective on dealing with the cost of battle
    In the midst of such pain and suffering what should one do?  The above account which Horatio Hackett recounts shows some dealt with the harshness of their suffering through the lens of faith.  The hymn “When I can Read My Title Clear” by Isaac Watts was first published under the heading "The Hopes of Heaven our Support under Trials on Earth" in his 1707 Hymns and Spiritual Songs:

When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.
Should earth against my soul engage,
And hellish darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
And face a frowning world.
Let cares, like a wild deluge come,
And storms of sorrow fall!
May I but safely reach my home,
My God, my heav’n, my All.
There shall I bathe my weary soul
In seas of heavn’ly rest,
And not a wave of trouble roll
Across my peaceful breast.
    “Clear title” means “undisputed ownership”.  Isaac Watts’ original title -- "The Hopes of Heaven our Support under Trials on Earth" -- gives us insight into his meaning of this song.  In a world of fear and sorrow, Watts challenges us to put our trust in Jesus’ promise in John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (King James Version wording clearly is the basis for the song).  Through faith in Jesus, Watts says we can put in perspective the troubles of this world as we look to the place of joy Jesus is preparing for those who trust in Him as Savior.
    So there on the Shiloh battlefield where death, pain and sorrow were abundant, for many of the men this well-known hymn became a call to look to Jesus’ promise as a way of dealing with the “storms of sorrow” that night and yet also an offering of praise to Jesus for His willingness to “die a death of agony for me”.
    In the Old Testament, the town of Shiloh ("place of peace") became the place where the Tent of Meeting was located after the land was conquered and the people would come to worship God during the time of Joshua and the days of the Judges (Josh.18:1-10).  The Shiloh Meeting House on the battle site was built in 1853, and Union forces encamped along the ridge the church was built on.  The battlefield took its name from the church.  The church was damaged in the fighting, then used as a hospital after the battle, and finally torn down by Union soldiers for the lumber to build a bridge.

    In Nothing But Victory -- The Army of the Tennessee 1861-1865 by Steven Woodworth (2005) pages189-191 is a detailed description of the night of April 6.  After intense twelve hours of fighting came the darkness with the wounded between the lines "calling for mother, sister, wife, sweetheart, but the most piteous plea was for water". Then came the rain and thunder mixing with the ongoing artillery fire between the lines.  Woodworth cites that on one part of the battlefield was heard the singing of Charles Wesley's "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" hymn among the wounded.  And elsewhere was the singing of the hymn of this account.  I cite this as evidence that the above account recorded by H. Hackett is in fact a description of something that actually happened that night.

Children’s project questions:
            1) Talk about the shift from early war “optimism” that the conflict would be brief and end soon to the “reality” that it was going to be a “long hard road to Richmond”.  Explore why human nature often “presumes” desired outcomes more often than realistically thinking through what might happen and exploring ways to overcome the difficulties to accomplish the goal.
            2) Would there be many who would join in today if someone started singing a Christian song on a battlefield filled with wounded & dying soldiers?  What does that say about our culture today?  Does that make you glad or sad?