Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Battle of Nashville – General George Thomas’s Christmas Gift to Lincoln

Battle of Nashville (Source: History.com)

General George Thomas (Source: History.com)

Just as this month marks the 150th anniversary of General Sherman’s capture of Savannah, it marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Nashville, when Virginia-born General George Thomas led his forces to a resounding victory over Confederate General John Bell Hood’s army.

I particularly admire those southern-born United States military officers who did not abandon their union loyalties to serve in the Confederate ranks. They had to prove themselves one-better than their fellow officers, as their loyalty to the Union was often called into question. And George Thomas proved himself on more than one occasion.

He built a strong record, defeating Confederate troops led by General George Crittenden at the Battle of Mill Springs in January 1862. He followed up that victory with service at Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River. He achieved his greatest fame as “the Rock of Chickamauga” in September 1863, when he mounted a stubborn resistance to General Braxton Bragg’s assault on Horseshoe Ridge, allowing other Union troops to retreat to safety.

By the end of 1864, one would think that Thomas’s reputation was secure. While Sherman made his March to the Sea, he left Thomas to deal with John Bell Hood, who planned to march 39,000 Confederate troops north into Tennessee and beyond. In the Battles of Spring Hill and Franklin, Thomas’s forces inflicted devastating casualties on the ever-aggressive Hood, whose numbers had fallen to 26,500 men by the time Hood sought to engage the heavily fortified Union troops at Nashville.

But Lincoln and Grant grew frustrated that Thomas appeared to repeat the same pattern as other Union generals – McClellan at Antietam and Meade at Gettysburg – allowing the Confederates to lick their wounds and recover their strength rather than taking the opportunity to take a major army out of play.

Confederate General John Bell Hood (Source: Wikipedia)

Confederate General John Bell Hood (Source: Wikipedia)

Hood was not looking to retreat and Thomas was nothing like McClellan or Meade. While severe winter weather delayed his movements, Thomas used the time to rest and refit his troops, particularly the cavalry. He moved forward only when the weather cleared, and, even then, a layer of ice still covered the ground. But he had a battle plan in place, and his troops were prepared to execute it.

Even as Grant sent General John Logan to replace a general he and the President thought too reluctant to destroy the enemy, General Thomas employed one corps to pin down Hood’s right and then applied the bulk of his force on Hood’s left. The sunset on December 14 before Thomas’s men could destroy Hood’s army, but after another day of battle, Hood’s army was a mere shell of its former self.

Hood had left Atlanta with 39,000 men. After casualties and desertions, his army arrived in Tupelo, Mississippi, with less than 15,000 men – a force that could not be wholly ignored, but one that could cause little more trouble and deprived Lee of a serious counterweight to keep Union troops occupied outside Virginia. Jefferson Davis’s choice to replace Joe Johnston, John Bell Hood resigned his command. Johnston would return to lead the beleaguered force.

It was Lincoln’s last, of course, but Sherman and Thomas had made December 25, 1864, the President’s best Christmas of the Civil War. Lincoln saw genuine hope that the country’s nightmare was near its end.

Battle of Nashville Then & Now, from the Tennessean: www.tennessean.com/videos/news/local/davidson/2014/12/13/20352329/

SOURCES:

  • Catton, Bruce. Never Call Retreat. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1965 (republished by Fall River Press, New York, NY, in 2001).
  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, a Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York, New York: Random House, 1958 (First Vintage Books Edition, 1986).
  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, a Narrative, Red River to Appomattox. New York, New York: Random House, 1974 (First Vintage Books Edition, 1986).

Postscript: Thomas devoted the rest of his life to the United States Army. He assumed command of the Division of the Pacific in 1869. He died of a stroke at the Presidio in 1870.

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Savannah – Sherman’s Christmas Gift to Lincoln

Sherman's handwritten note to Lincoln

Sherman’s handwritten note to Lincoln

For some of us, the City of Savannah elicits thoughts of ghosts in America’s Most Haunted City. Many southern college students see the city as a St. Patrick’s Day celebration when the city is awash with green beer and visitors in the tens of thousands.

But this month also marks the 150th anniversary of General William T. Sherman’s capture of Savannah. On November 15, 1864, after Confederate General John Bell Hood left Georgia for his army’s ultimate destruction in Nashville, Tennessee, Sherman left Atlanta for his famous march to the sea to make Georgia howl. He cut his supply lines behind him and his men grew fat on the livestock and produce that lay in their path from Atlanta to Savannah.

On December 13, Union troops took Fort McAllister, outside Savannah. Eight days later, Mayor Richard Arnold surrendered the city to Sherman and Union troops marched into Savannah. Afterward, Sherman sent President Lincoln a message:

I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.

Lincoln received the dispatch on Christmas Eve. Sherman, who had wrecked Atlanta and pillaged and burned his way through Georgia, had applied a gentle touch to Savannah.

In one rare moment, after burning his way through Georgia and before doing the same to South Carolina, Sherman spared the town’s historic architecture from the hard hand of war.

Sherman's march into Savannah "March to the Sea" (Source: CivilWarTraveler.com)

Sherman’s march into Savannah (Source: CivilWarTraveler.com)

If you have the pleasure of visiting this historic Southern city with its many beautiful town squares, whether to search for ghosts or to lift a glass of green beer, pause to give thanks to “Uncle Billy” (the troops’ nickname for General Sherman) for sparing much of the beauty that surrounds you.

SOURCES:

  • Catton, Bruce. Never Call Retreat. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1965 (republished by Fall River Press, New York, NY, in 2001).
  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, a Narrative, Red River to Appomattox. New York, New York: Random House, 1974.
  • Woodworth, Steven E. Nothing but Victory: the Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

 

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Mono Lake

mono-lake-dec-2011

Mono Lake, California (Source: TripAdvisor)

When I traveled California Route 395 to Yosemite from Reno 14 years ago for a family vacation, I had no idea that Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada would serve as the setting for a major segment of a future novel. My first novel, New Garden (2013), opens in the High Sierra. My second novel, a stand-alone sequel to New Garden that should be available by March 2015, includes one major section where the action takes place in the High Sierra and the Mono Basin.

But when the California State Park Ranger told my tour group about kutsavi (see October 1, 2013 article on this blog), I knew I would work it into a future story. And I did, telling how the food source allowed my protagonist, Jack Grier, to survive a winter at Mono Pass.

Cover of my book, New Garden

Cover of my book, New Garden

As part of my research, I came across Up and Down California in 1860-1864; the Journal of William H. Brewer. Mr. Brewer served on Josiah Whitney’s geological survey team during the stated time period. In his journal, Brewer describes his 1863 experience at Mono Lake:

Lake Mono

July 9 we came on about ten miles north over the plain and camped at the northwest corner of Lake Mono. This is the most remarkable lake I have ever seen. It lies in a basin at the height of 6,800 feet above the sea. Like the Dead Sea, it is without an outlet. * * * * The waters are clear and very heavy – they have a nauseous taste. When still, it looks like oil, it is so thick, and it is not easily disturbed. Although nearly twenty miles long it is often so smooth that the opposite mountains are mirrored in it as in glass. The water feels slippery to the touch and will wash grease from the hands, even when cold, more readily than common hot water and soap. I washed some woolens in it and it was easier and quicker than in any “suds” I ever saw. It washed our silk handkerchiefs, giving them a luster as if new. It spots cloths of some colors most effectually.

Arial view of Mono Lake (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Arial view of Mono Lake (Source: Wikipedia.org)

At the time, the territory east of the Sierra Nevada was chock-full of boom-and-bust mining towns. Brewer describes the region, including the bustling town (population of approximately 5,000) of Aurora:

Immense sums of money have been spent here in this region, an immense number of claims have been taken up, nearly twenty quartz mills have been erected . . .; but whether the mines will ever pay is to me a question. * * * One or two mines may pay, the majority never will.

Where Aurora is, is as yet known. We think it in California, but there is a dispute whether it be not over the line and in Nevada Territory. Most of the inhabitants wish it there, so that Uncle Sam will pay their bills of government, but like true American citizens, who will not be deprived of their rights, they vote in both places, in California and in Nevada, and their votes have thus far been accepted in both.

Aurora was ultimately determined to be three miles inside the Nevada line.

Mono Lake was a valuable resource to Aurora’s residents, because some men made a living by gathering duck eggs from Mono Lake’s islands and selling them in Aurora for $1.00 to $1.50 per dozen ($30-$45 in 2014 U.S. dollars).

Whenever I travel south on California 395, I can’t help but think of the old mining towns and the steep prices the miners paid for life’s necessities. Mostly, however, I enjoy the jaw-dropping views from Vista Point – ancient Mono Lake dead ahead; the White Mountains to the east; the Sierra Nevada to the west; the Mono Craters just beyond Mono Lake. It’s another incredible experience before driving west up Tioga Road into the stunning High Sierra.

For more information about Mono Lake, check out the following websites:

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