Monthly Archives: April 2015

Big Yankee Ames

During the last week of February 1863 a hulking trooper in his early 30s from the Fifth New York Cavalry walked alone into Fauquier County, Virginia about forty miles west of Lincoln’s Capital to locate the Confederate guerrillas who for the past month had shattered the previous “All quiet along the Potomac” monotony often reported in the Northern press. Sergeant James Ames claimed he wanted to join the Rebels because he objected to the recent Emancipation Proclamation. He was taken to a secret outdoor gathering where every member – except one – assumed he was a spy, fit for immediate execution. The exception was the diminutive leader who was officially a private. But he was no ordinary private.

big yankee ames

Within days 29-year-old John S. Mosby would be promoted to lieutenant. Twice before he performed invaluable scouts for Major General Jeb Stuart and General Robert E. Lee. First, he discovered the flaw in Union Major General George McClellan’s army deployment that enabled Jeb Stuart’s “Ride around McClellan” less than a year earlier. Second, after the Seven Days Campaign near Richmond last July, he informed Lee when Union soldiers started abandoning the Peninsula between the James and York Rivers to join Major General John Pope near Washington. The intelligence convinced Lee he could safely turn his back on McClellan to go after Pope before the latter was too heavily reinforced. The result was a smashing Confederate victory at Second Bull Run. By the end of 1862 Mosby asked Stuart for permission to organize a commando force to spread mischief among Yankees along the otherwise peaceful Potomac.

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California and Oregon: Rebel States

Although California and Oregon never seceded, they defied federal law during the Civil War. When the US Treasury released its first paper money as legal tender the two states refused to honor the notes at face value.

Prior to the Civil War the federal government was constitutionally authorized to stamp coins out of gold or silver (specie) but was prohibited from issuing paper currency. While independent banks might print paper money, consumers expected that such banknotes could be redeemed for specie upon demand. Any bank failing to promptly honor such redemptions suffered a loss of public faith in its banknotes, which were no longer accepted at face value, if at all. Thus, before the war, America’s currency in circulation consisted of specie and private banknotes, amounting to about $450 million of which specie accounted for $250 million.

However, the Civil War confronted the US Treasury with unprecedented financial challenges. For example, the federal budget in 1860 was only about $80 million but grew to $1.3 billion in 1865. As the table below indicates, taxes met only 25% of the needs. Although the bulk of the remainder came from borrowings, the government also issued paper currency, which amounted to 18% of total funding.

Percent Breakdown

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Shiloh Battlefield Visit

Together with neighbor Ronny Walker, who grew up near the battlefield,  I visited Shiloh last week on the 153rd anniversary.  We stayed overnight at the Corinth, Mississippi Hampton Inn. As a former Razorback, the sign below at the entrance to the hotel’s breakfast room made me feel “to home.”

Shiloh Shoes

While riding and walking the grounds, I think I better understood the battle.  Although the Rebels continually forced the Yankees back on the first day of the two-day fight, the southern success was hollow because the federal defense line became increasingly compact. On the following morning the Confederate army simply did not have the strength to attack Union General Grant’s more dense defense line successfully. By default, if nothing else, the reinforced Union army was able to take the initiative and concentrate superior firepower at most any point along the stretched Rebel line. That appears to be how the federals won on the second day.

Prior to the visit I was curious to observe the ground elevation on the east (right) side of the Tennessee River. Author Larry Daniels, among others, believes that Grant should have bivouacked his army on that side in order to prevent the Confederates on the west (left) bank from attacking because the Rebel army could never cross over to attack a federal army while Union gunboats patrolled the stream.

Although east side elevations were lower, the risk of flooding did not appear large enough to require to require that Union armies avoid setting-up  right bank campsites. However, the weather was good this year, while there was considerable rain in  April 1862. Nonetheless, General Buell’s army reinforced Grant by crossing from the east side on the night of the first day and into the second day. Thus, a Union army was at least capable of marching through the terrain, which begs the question of whether bivouacking there was okay too.

QUESTION: Do you think Grant should have located his army on the east side of the Tennessee River instead of the west side where he was vulnerable to attack and did, in fact, suffer a surprise attack?