Monthly Archives: February 2016

Dixie and La Marseillaise

During the last month of his life President Lincoln enjoyed the company of a young visiting French aristocrat, Charles Adolphe Pineton who was the Marquis de Chambrun. Although he was at odds with the reigning Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoléon III), the monarch permitted the young man to visit the federal Union because Chambrun was a descendent by marriage of the Marquis de Lafayette who aided America in her revolution against Great Britain.

Marquis

On March 28, 1865 Lincoln visited his military commanders in Virginia to arrange plans for a hoped-for final offensive. He lingered until April 8th hoping to be nearby at Lee’s surrender. In the meantime his wife joined him and brought along the Marquis de Chambrun. During the visit the Frenchmen remarked upon his regret that Napoléon III forbade the playing of La Marseillaise in his home country because of its rebellious implications. When the group finally left to return to Washington Lincoln requested a nearby military band to play the revolutionary tune for his guest. Next he asked band to play Dixie. He wanted “to show the rebels that [even] with us in power they will be free to hear it again.”

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My Civil War Books

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

To be released in May and available for pre-order: The Confederacy at Flood Tide

Secretary Stanton’s Boss

On April 15, 1865 when Andrew Johnson became president upon the death of Abraham Lincoln the former inherited Lincoln’s cabinet, which included War Secretary Edwin Stanton. On 28 May Johnson announced a Reconstruction plan based upon his executive authority. According to Stanton the plan was thoroughly discussed in the cabinet where nobody expressed any “doubt of the power of the executive branch…to reorganize the [Southern] states.”

During the next three years, however, Johnson would battle a Radical Republican Congress over Reconstruction. Stanton increasingly sided with Congress but remained in the cabinet, essentially as a spy. In order to protect Stanton’s advantageous position, on March 3, 1867 Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act over Johnson’s veto. The Act specified that no cabinet member could be removed without consent of the Senate. If the Senate were not in session, it would vote when it reconvened.

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When Johnson learned that Stanton had earlier withheld a military court’s clemency recommendation for the only female member of Lincoln’s assassin conspirators he could no longer abide the subordinate. Thus, he appointed Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant as temporary War Secretary with the understanding that if Stanton’s removal was not sanctioned by the Senate when it returned Grant would either keep his temporary title thereby enabling Johnson to take the dispute to the Supreme Court, or give Johnson time to replace Grant with another appointee who could likewise trigger judicial review. Johnson correctly believed the Tenure of Office Act to be unconstitutional. (Ironically, so did Stanton when the bill was initially submitted.)

My Civil War Books

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

To be released in May and available for pre-order The Confederacy at Flood Tide

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Confederate Scorpions

On July 4, 1862, while the stunned 100,000-man Union Army of the Potomac licked its wounds after defeat in the Seven Days campaign, Confederate agent James Bulloch placed an order with British shipbuilder Laird & Sons for two transoceanic ironclad warships. They were designed to be superior to anything in the United States Navy. After their scheduled availability the following spring and summer, it was hoped that they would lift the Union blockade. They might even raid and destroy commercial and naval ships in Northern ports from Philadelphia to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Bulloch, who was a Georgian and uncle to future President Theodore Roosevelt, had good reason to be optimistic. After Union spies learned of their specifications months later, Assistant Union Navy Secretary Gustavus Fox confirmed that his navy had nothing to counter the vessels. Therefore, all the tools of diplomacy and espionage needed to focus on preventing or delaying their delivery.

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Although their beaked shaped bows gave the Lairds the appearance of rams, it was not their most important feature. Eventually they would become known as Scorpion class warships, which were armored like the Union Monitor class. Unlike Monitors, however, they were seaworthy enough to reliably cross the Atlantic and give battle upon arrival. With a top speed of about fifteen knots they were more than twice as fast as the original USS Monitor, which battled the even slower CSS Virginia in the famous first battle of ironclads in March 1862. While they drew more water than the Monitors, the Lairds were designed to be shallow-drafted enough to enter, and maneuver in, major Southern ports.

My Civil War Books

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

Continue reading

Union Veteran Pension Controversy

A Pension Act for Civil War Union soldiers and sailors was adopted in February 1862. Beneficiaries were entitled to a monthly payment for those disabled during military service or, if killed, for their survivors. The amount depended upon rank. If judged disabled for manual labor, those ranked Lieutenant Colonel or above received $30 monthly whereas Privates got $8. A couple of years later the Act was amended to provide benefits specified by an itemized disabilities schedule.

Payments commenced once an application was approved. There was no pension for merely becoming aged. About 2.2 million men served in the Union military during the war. About 365,000 died and 280,000 survived wounds, meaning that less than 650,000 participants qualified for pensions. Ultimately, however, the active recipient list would peak at about one million, which means that the accumulated number of recipients was even larger.

Only eight years after the end of the war the number of beneficiaries reached an apparent peak at around 110,000 in 1873. They numbered less than 25% of all eligible veterans and survivors, including the survivors of soldiers who died of wounds after the war. The Commissioner of Pensions, James Baker, predicted that expenditures would soon stop growing when he said in 1872, “We have reached the apex of the mountain.”

Apparently, there were three reasons why only a minority of qualified veterans applied for pensions. First, most were youthful men who chose to focus on building independent livelihoods after the war. Second, some were unfamiliar with the paperwork, although lawyers were permitted to collect application fees to help. Third, others considered pensions as charity and were too proud to take handouts.

Despite Commissioner Baker’s prediction, the “apex of the mountain” was only a foothill. Disbursements for Union veterans pensions would not top-out until 1921, which was sixty years after the war started. Moreover, as indicted in the chart below, for thirty years between 1880 and 1910 Union veterans pensions would average more than 25% of the federal budget. They would peak at more than 40% in 1893 and only start dropping as a percent of the total after the Spanish American War triggered a steady expansion of federal spending. By 1917 the accumulated pensions totaled over $5 billion, which was more than twice the amount spent by the federal and Northern state governments to fight the war.

Pensions

Union veterans pensions grew for more than fifty years because they became a bribe to create a Republican-loyal voter constituency. The strategy was particularly fruitful in Midwestern farm states where the Party’s high tariff and deflationary monetary policies were unpopular.

My Civil War Books

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

Continue reading