Friday, May 12, 2023

Frank A. Vanderlip and American Banking


Frank A. Vanderlip was pivotal in shaping the nation's banking system and establishing its global economic influence.

 His appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in 1897 served as a training ground where he learned the challenges and intricacies of the American financial system. In 1910, Vanderlip joined a select group of individuals at Jekyll Island, Georgia, to develop a plan for a central banking system. The Jekyll Island Conference laid the foundation for the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

 Vanderlip played a key role in shaping the Federal Reserve Act and advocated for a decentralized banking system. He believed in regional representation and including private and public entities in the Federal Reserve.

 Vanderlip later served as president of the National City Bank of New York (now Citibank). Under his leadership, the bank became one of the largest financial institutions in the United States. In addition, Vanderlip's innovative approach to banking practices, including diversifying the bank's portfolio and expanding its international operations, solidified its position as a global player.

 In addition, he served as editor of The New York Evening Post and later founded The New York Tribune, using them to raise awareness of economic and political issues, advocating for reforms that would benefit the American people.

William G. McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury

As Secretary of the Treasury,  William G. McAdoo played a central role in creating and implementing the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which established the Federal Reserve System.

This groundbreaking legislation centralized banking authority, stabilized the nation’s financial system, and provided a flexible tool for managing monetary policy.

 He championed other critical financial reforms, such as the Clayton Antitrust Act and the Federal Farm Loan Act, to promote fair competition and provide affordable credit to farmers. His efforts helped curb the power of monopolies and ensured economic opportunities for all.

 McAdoo oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal. And then, in 1917, he was appointed Director General of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA). In this role, he centralized the nation’s rail system under federal control, ensuring the efficient movement of troops and supplies. McAdoo also envisioned a network of interconnected highways, bridges, and tunnels to revolutionize travel and commerce. And even though his plans didn’t all come together during his time in office, they served as a blueprint for future infrastructure development.

 Later, McAdoo turned his eye to politics, seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 1920 and 1924. And while not successful in his bid for president, McAdoo continued a public service career, helping to establish the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and serving as its first president.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Herbert Hoover As Food Administrator During World War I


Herbert Hoover served as the United States Food Administrator during World War I. As the head of the Food Administration, he was tasked with ensuring the efficient production, distribution, and conservation of food resources at a time when the country was challenged with feeding its own population plus its European allies.


Hoover recognized the urgent need to increase food production and launched nationwide campaigns encouraging farmers to boost their yields. In addition, he appealed to their patriotism, emphasizing the importance of their contribution to the war effort. As a result, farmers were encouraged to plant "victory gardens" in their backyards, substantially increasing homegrown food production.


Hoover also focused on the conservation of resources. He implemented rationing measures and introduced "Meatless Mondays" and "Wheatless Wednesdays" to conserve supplies for the troops. These initiatives ensured food availability and fostered a sense of solidarity among Americans, encouraging them to make sacrifices for the greater good.


Hoover implemented food relief efforts for war-torn Europe, establishing the United States Food Administration's American Relief Administration (ARA), which provided crucial assistance to European countries devastated by the war. The ARA organized and coordinated the distribution of food aid, alleviating hunger and preventing further destabilization.


Hoover's efforts as Food Administrator earned him the title "The Great Humanitarian." His wartime experiences shaped his belief in the importance of international cooperation and relief efforts, providing him with valuable insights into managing and alleviating hunger on a massive scale. He employed that knowledge later in his relief work during and after World War II.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

General Fitz-John Porter

George McClellan said Porter “was probably the best general officer I had under me. He had excellent ability, sound judgment, and all the instincts of a soldier…He was one of the coolest and most imperturbable men in danger whom I have ever known.”

Porter graduated from West Point in 1845 and fought in the Mexican War at Veracruz, Cerro Gordo, and Molino del Rey, among other battles. From 1849 to 1853, he served as a cavalry and artillery instructor at West Point.

Porter’s troops were in the thick of the fighting throughout the Seven Days Campaigns. His men often formed the rear guard, protecting McClellan’s retreat. Porter set up the defenses at Malvern Hill and, along with his artillery officer, Henry Hunt, placed the guns that did their deadly work cutting up Lee’s army.

General Samuel Heintzelman


David Strother, writing as Porte Crayon, described General Heintzelman as “a grim, grizzled veteran, who looks as if he had mettle in him.”

Heintzelman graduated from West Point in 1826, fought in the Seminole Wars in Florida, the Mexican War, then in the expedition to put down the Yuma Indian uprising in 1851.

During the Civil War, Heintzelman had two of the most aggressive field commanders in his corps—Fighting Joe Hooker and Philip Kearny. As a result, his corps fought in the thick of the action during the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles.

And yet, for all his military experience, Heintzelman lacked imagination, ingenuity, and the ability to command a large body of men. Hooker and Kearny made him look good but take them away, and Heintzelman was lost.

General Fighting Joe Hooker


Everyone called Joseph Hooker Fighting Joe, but he was never comfortable with that sobriquet. “It sounds to me like a fighting fool,” he said. “People will think I’m a highwayman or a bandit.”

His men liked him well enough, but his fellow officers had doubts. Hooker often spoke before he thought. He called Lincoln “incompetent” and proclaimed the saving hope of the country required a “military dictatorship.”

The day before Lincoln appointed Hooker commander-in-chief, Ambrose Burnside recommended that the president dismiss him from the military. He accused Hooker of creating dissent among his fellow officers and suggested he was nothing but a big bugaboo who “made statements which were calculated to create incorrect impressions.”

Like many of his fellow West Point classmates, Hooker fought in the Mexican and Seminole Wars, then resigned from the peacetime army, hoping to find success in civilian life. He tried his hand at farming and real estate speculation and even took a crack at politics in California, but nothing seemed to work for him.

When the civil war broke out, Hooker rejoined the army as a brigadier general and served at Williamsburg, South Mountain, and Antietam.

Everyone agreed that Joseph Hooker cut the most dashing figure in the Union army. He was tall and handsome, with big blue eyes and long, flowing blonde hair. If that didn’t make him stick out like a sore thumb, picture the general dashing everywhere on the battlefield sitting astride a big white stallion.

General John Pope appeared to have a man crush on Hooker. He remembered him as a handsome young man with a florid complexion and fair hair and with a figure agile and graceful. “As a corps commander, with his whole force operating under his own eye,” said Pope, “it is much to be doubted whether Hooker had a superior in the army.”

General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson


Stonewall Jackson earned his name at Stone Bridge, about four miles north of Manassas Junction. General Barnard Bee’s troops had been under heavy fire all day. At about 2 o’clock, his force had dwindled to almost nothing. Bee rode up and down the line encouraging the men to give it their all. Finally, when it looked as if everything was lost, he approached General Thomas Jackson and said, “General, they are beating us back.”

Jackson replied, “Sir, we will give them the bayonet.” General Bee rallied his troops and urged his men on, saying, “There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall.” Moments later, General Bee got cut down, leading his men into battle.


History remembers General Thomas Jackson as “Stonewall” Jackson.

His genius on the battlefield was offset by the quirkiness of his character. He often walked around with one arm in the air, reportedly to balance the blood in his body. For some reason, he believed one side of his body was heavier than the other.


He acted the same way on horseback, often riding with one arm raised in the air.

He was a brilliant tactician on the battlefield, second only to Robert E. Lee. Jackson tied up Federal troops in the Shenandoah Valley for nearly a year, fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run, forced the surrender of 12,000 Union soldiers at Harper’s Ferry, and marched to Antietam the next day to join in the battle there.


His wife described him as a quiet, solitary, closed-mouth individual. “He was a character apart; a man of mystery; silent and uncommunicative.” He asked no advice, “forming his own plans, which those nearest to him could not penetrate and hardly dared to conjecture, and which were disclosed only to his military family only when he gave his orders for the march and battle.”


D. H. Hill said Stonewall “Jackson’s genius never shone out when under the command of another.” That was true. Jackson let Lee down twice during the Seven Days Battles. First, when he arrived a day late for the battle of Mechanicsville (or Beaver Dam Creek) and again at Glendale (or Frayser’s Farm) when he sat the fight out.


What everyone did agree on was that Jackson was quick. Super quick. The Chicago Daily Tribune suggested that “with his swift movements from field to field, Stonewall Jackson’s sobriquet should be changed to Stonewall ‘Portable Fence’ Jackson.”


Thursday, May 4, 2023

General Ambrose Burnside


Ambrose Burnside is best known today as the namesake for sideburns, that big-bushy growth of fuzz on the side of your face. However, Burnside took it to the extreme, connecting them to either end of his mustache, then shaved his face clean below the mouth.
Burnside graduated from West Point in 1847, then traveled to Veracruz, where he saw service in the Mexican-American War. After that, he fought Apaches in New Mexico. 

During the 1850s, he left the service and designed his own rifle, the Burnside Carbine. It fired a special .54 caliber cartridge, also designed by Burnside. The weapon saw widespread use during the civil war and was much appreciated by soldiers who could load it from the rear of the gun body rather than having to jam a cartridge and powder into the muzzle. 

It’s easy to understand why Burnside became a founding member and served as the first president of the NRA.

He was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers after the first battle of Bull Run. He commanded three brigades in the North Carolina Expeditionary Force. Later, at Antietam, McClellan ordered him to take stone bridge number 3 and cut off the rebel army outside Sharpsburg.

Less than a month after the battle of Antietam, Abraham Lincoln removed George McClellan and appointed Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside insisted he was unfit for command, but Lincoln persisted. In his biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Ron Chernow described Burnside as a “military lightweight” who “was in way over his head.”[i]

In an interview conducted after the war, Ulysses S. Grant appeared to concur. He said Burnside was well-liked and respected but unfit to command an army. At best, he should have been made a colonel. 

[i] Chernow, Ron. Grant. 2017. P. 231.

General George McClellan


Ulysses S. Grant captured the essence of General George McClellan when he said, “McClellan to me is one of the mysteries of the war.” If only he’d been more decisive, more eager to fight, and less worried about the size of the forces opposing him. If only he enjoyed a better relationship with Abraham Lincoln.

There were so many what ifs and could have beens and should have beens.


We’ll never know what McClellan could have accomplished. Instead, we know where he went wrong.


Lincoln appointed George McClellan general-in-chief of the Union Army in November 1861. However, after five months of inaction, he removed McClellan as general-in-chief on March 11th but left him in command of the Army of the Potomac. 


Six days later, McClellan began his Peninsular campaign setting the largest-ever American expeditionary force in motion. After a series of battles, McClellan came within four miles of reaching Richmond. Then things began to unravel. 


Joseph Johnston attacked McClellan’s army at Seven Pines and Fair Oaks when the Union army was fractured by flooding on the Chickahominy River. Shortly after that, Johnston got injured in the fighting, and Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia.


That was a game-changer. 


Lee threw his forces at McClellan in a series of battles known as the Seven Days Battles. McClellan’s phobias of being outmanned got the better of him. He imagined he was up against 200,000 men, over twice as many as the 85,000 troops Lee had. When he was convinced that he no longer had a chance to take Richmond, McClellan withdrew his troops to a safer position.


Meanwhile, while McClellan dawdled in the Peninsula, Lee thrashed General John Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run. After that, Lincoln put McClellan in charge of the fortifications and troops surrounding Washington. In doing so, he harbored many doubts. “To entrust to him the rescue of the army from its demoralization was a good deal like curing the bite with the hair of the dog,” said Lincoln.


And just like that, George McClellan was back in the saddle chasing after Robert E. Lee through the hills and valleys of Maryland.


General Robert E. Lee


Robert E. Lee was an unlikely rebel. His father, Henry “Light Horse” Lee, gave the famous eulogy for George Washington, saying he was: “First in War, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” His wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. 


In April 1861, Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the Federal forces. Despite his strong feelings for the Union, Lee declined and returned to Virginia, where he became a general in that State’s army.


Initially, Lee served as a military advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Then, in June 1862, Davis appointed him the Army of Northern Virginia commander after General Joseph E. Johnston was injured during fighting in the Peninsular Campaign.


Lee attacked McClellan’s army three weeks later and, in savage fighting during the Seven Days’ Campaign, forced the Union army out of the Peninsula. That saved Richmond for the time being.


As the war continued, Lee realized he needed to change his strategy. Rather than keep fighting McClellan in Virginia, he brought the fighting closer to Washington and shifted his campaign to Maryland. The move had several advantages for Lee. First, it would force McClellan to pull his troops out of Virginia, taking some pressure off Richmond. It would give his army a better chance at forage than Virginia, where they had already stripped the country bare. And, if his campaign proved successful, he hoped to pick up new recruits from Maryland.


The Army of Northern Virginia marched into Maryland on September 4. Once inside Maryland, Robert E. Lee divided his army of 55,000 men into four parts. He posted General James Longstreet to Boonsboro, then Hagerstown. Stonewall Jackson rode off to Harper’s Ferry to capture the government arsenal there, and D. H. Hill and JEB Stuart stood guard in the rear at South Mountain. 


Unfortunately for Lee, Corporal Barton Mitchell of the 27th Indiana Infantry discovered a lost copy of his Special Order 191 on September 13. It gave McClellan a blueprint showing all the movements for the Army of Northern Virginia during the Maryland campaign.


For the over-cautious McClellan, it must have seemed like a Godsend. He quickened his pace and met Lee at South Mountain the next day. But unfortunately, McClellan settled for a partial victory. That set Stonewall Jackson up for his victory at Harper’s Ferry and allowed the rest of Lee’s army to escape to Sharpsburg, where he would soon have another showdown with General George McClellan and his Army of the Potomac.

General Albert Sydney Johnston


Albert Sidney Johnston was one of the most respected generals on either side at the start of the civil war, but the first days of fighting didn’t go his way.

Ulysses S. Grant proved a thorn in his side almost from the very beginning. Grant marched into Paducah, Kentucky, the same day the Confederates planned to move on the city. After that, he captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, then positioned his army to march into Mississippi.


Johnston concentrated his army around Corinth, Mississippi. Grant inched closer, moving his army to Pittsburg Landing just twenty miles away. Then, early in April, Johnston learned General Don Carlos Buell’s army planned to meet up with Grant, then launch a concentrated attack on Corinth.


On April 3rd, Johnston ordered General P. G. T. Beauregard to attack Grant’s army at Pittsburg Landing before the two armies could hook up. It might have worked—except for the weather. It stormed so bad on April 4th that it slowed the army’s progress, so they could not attack until the 6th. That allowed Buell to arrive in time for the second day of the fighting.


Johnston died early in the fighting on the first day. Later, Jefferson Davis would say Johnston’s death was “the turning point of our fate.” It shows the faith he placed in his old West Point classmate, but it also makes one wonder—Did Davis have doubts about the war’s outcome almost from the beginning?


Grant had reservations about Albert Sidney Johnston. However, he didn’t “question the personal courage of General Johnston or his ability.” While “he did not win the distinction predicted for him by many of his friends,” wrote Grant. “He did prove that as a general, he was overestimated.”

John C. Breckenridge at Shiloh


If it hadn’t been for the war, John C. Breckinridge might have been president of the United States. He served as vice president under James Buchanan, campaigned for president in 1860, and in 1861 was appointed a Kentucky senator. After Kentucky sided with the Union, Breckinridge fled to the South.

In November 1861, he took command of the “Orphan Brigade,” made up mostly of Kentuckians who felt abandoned after that state declared for the Union.


The Orphan Brigade lost nearly a third of their men at Shiloh. On the first day of fighting, they caged General Prentiss up at the Hornet’s Nest so he’d be forced to surrender. The next day they stood firm near Shiloh Church so that the others could make good on their escape. “This was hard duty,” said Colonel R. P. Trabue, “exposed as the command had been and wasted as they were by the loss of half their numbers.”

General William Tecumseh Sherman


Like Ulysses S. Grant, General William T. Sherman’s career fluttered up and down before the civil war. After leaving the military, he became a banker in San Francisco. When his bank failed, he moved to Kansas City and practiced law; then, he became headmaster of a military school in Louisiana.

Sherman reentered the service at the start of the civil war. After Bull Run, Lincoln promoted him to brigadier general of volunteers. His next position with the Army of the Cumberland in Tennessee was the low point of Sherman’s military career. He grew paranoid about how small and unprepared his army was and called for 200,000 troops to support him.

Soon, the newspapers were having a field day labeling Sherman as crazy or insane.

For a while, it looked like his career was over. The New York Herald reported Sherman wasn’t insane, but “he certainly acted strangely when he was in Kentucky… he has been known for many years as extremely eccentric man and liable to all sorts of freaks of judgment.” The Herald felt safe in saying Sherman would “never have an important command again.”

Two months later, Sherman was back in the field serving with Grant at Fort Donelson and then at Shiloh. While Sherman proved his bravery at Shiloh, his troops were among the first to turn and run.

He defended them as best he could. “My division was made up of regiments perfectly new,” explained Sherman, “nearly all having received their muskets for the first time at Paducah. None of them had ever been under fire or beheld heavy columns of an enemy bearing down on themTo expect of them the coolness and steadiness of older troops would be wrong.”

When he recollected Pittsburg Landing in his memoirs, Sherman defended Grant for not building intrenchments. “The battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg Landing,” said Sherman, “was one of the most fiercely contested of the war.” The reason they hadn’t dug in was simple. They never figured Beauregard would leave his fortifications at Corinth. General Grant planned to force the rebels out once Buell’s army arrived.

General Ulysses. S. Grant


Ulysses S. Grant was an unknown quantity coming into the civil war. He’d been drubbed out of the service in the 1850s for being overly fond of drink, had failed at every civilian occupation he tried, and back in the army—his reputation as a drunkard followed him.

When the war broke out, he presented himself to Governor Richard Yates of Illinois. Yates didn’t know what to make of him. He said Grant’s “appearance at first is not striking…He was plain, very plain.” That’s what everyone would say throughout the war. Grant stood a little better than five foot nothing, weighed a hundred and thirty pounds, and tended to blend in with the scenery. On his first official visit to Washington, Lincoln asked Grant to stand on a sofa so people could get a better look at him.

In September 1861, after a little prodding from Congressman Elihu Washburne, Lincoln appointed Grant, a brigadier general of volunteers headquartered in Cairo, Illinois.

From there, the legend grew.

Six days after arriving at Cairo, Grant loaded his men on the Steamer Mound City and set off to capture Paducah, Kentucky. After that, he made a somewhat disastrous attack on Belmont, Missouri. Then, starting in February 1862, Grant launched a miraculous string of victories. His army captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in Tennessee, which led Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston to pull his troops out of Tennessee. No shots were fired as General William “Bull” Nelson marched his forces into Nashville, following close on the heels of the retreating rebels.

General Ulysses S. Grant waited outside of Pittsburg Landing, poised to take Shiloh, Corinth, Richmond, then the Confederacy.

General George McClellan at Antietam


General George McClellan was at his best strategizing, organizing, and planning. His comfort zone would have been a bureaucratic position buried deep within the war department. Henry Halleck’s position would have suited him just fine. But instead, McClellan was the commander of the Army of the Potomac, readying his troops for battle.

At Antietam, he planned a three-pronged attack.

General Joseph Hooker took the lead and was ordered to establish his base on the right. Sumner, Mansfield, and Franklin were to support Hooker while all the time edging their way toward the center. The center was left mainly to Porter’s artillery.

The fly in the ointment was General Ambrose Burnside. The entire action depended on his taking stone bridge number 3, then turning the rebel’s left flank, thus cutting off any chance of a rebel retreat. McClellan considered giving the over-cautious general more men, but he didn’t have anyone to spare. 

His battle plan completed, McClellan moved to his observation post on a high hill overlooking the field. From there, he could watch the action unfold. Then, he could quickly dash to wherever his presence was needed. But most often, his messengers raced off delivering messages for his commanders to change fronts, advance, fallback, or pick up the pace. 

McClellan’s all-seeing eye would determine the outcome of the battle. The life and death of nearly 100,000 men hung on the decisions he made—or didn’t make.

Monday, September 16, found the Confederates deployed in force on a crescent-shaped ridge that followed the course of Antietam Creek. The funny thing was they didn’t seem worried about the increasing number of Union troops making their way to the field. They didn’t even seek cover from the Union artillery barrages. The correspondent for the New York Tribune suggested it was an act. The rebels wanted to look stronger than they were.

McClellan assumed Lee was buying time, so he could fortify his position and dig his troops in even deeper. As the day wore on, reinforcements poured in. Stonewall Jackson’s troops left Harper’s Ferry Tuesday and marched all night to reach Antietam in time to join the battle. General A. P. Hill moved his troops down from Harper’s Ferry and arrived just in time to stop Burnside’s attack on Sharpsburg.


Abraham Lincoln Visits McClellan After Battle of Antietam


General George McClellan’s victory at Antietam proved a double-edged sword for Abraham Lincoln. The victory gave Lincoln the courage to issue his partial emancipation proclamation. It also stopped England and France from recognizing the Confederacy, ensuring the belligerents would receive no outside help during the rebellion.

As for the battle itself, Lincoln and McClellan interpreted it differently. While McClellan saw Antietam as a victory, Abraham Lincoln viewed it as a lost opportunity.

Shortly after the battle, Lincoln visited McClellan’s encampment near Antietam. Early that morning, he walked the battlefield with Ozias M. Hatch, Illinois Secretary of State. When they reached the outskirts of the camp, Lincoln threw his arms in the air, motioning to the army, and asked wonderingly, “What is all this?” Then, answering his own question, he whispered, “General McClellan’s bodyguard.”
That same day Lincoln warned McClellan about his “over-cautiousness” to attack the enemy.

It was clear that Abraham Lincoln was happy with the victory. What worried him was what came next. He would feel the same way after the Battle of Gettysburg. General George Gordon Meade had won the battle but thrown away “the golden ticket.” He stayed in place and failed to chase down the fleeing Confederates.

Soon after the battle at Gettysburg, Lincoln would write: “Now don’t misunderstand me, I am profoundly grateful down to the bottom of my boots for what he did at Gettysburg, but I think that if I had been General Meade, I would have fought another battle.”

Lincoln expected McClellan to chase after Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. When that didn’t happen, George McClellan’s days as commander of the Army of the Potomac became numbered.

Gunboat Tyler at Shiloh


Gunboat Tyler
The fighting at Shiloh started just after 2 a.m. when Colonel Peabody from Prentiss’ Division set out with four-hundred men to scout the area directly ahead of them. Less than half a mile from camp Peabody’s scouts encountered a large force of Confederates and came under heavy fire. 


At 6 a.m., all hell busted out along Sherman's lines. By half-past eight o'clock, the fighting had spread across the entire front. The Cincinnati Times correspondent said thousands of stragglers clogged the roads. For many of them, this was their first taste of battle. From the looks of things, they did not find it “much to their liking.” The stragglers drifted toward the river, and “neither persuasion nor threats could induce them to change their course.”


“Foot by foot, the ground was contested.” By the end of the day, “a single narrow strip of open land dividing the opponents” was all the ground the Union had left. The sound of artillery and musket fire was deafening. Men fell in bloody piles. The men behind them stepped over their fallen bodies as they would walk over fallen logs. 


The gunboat Tyler made its way upriver and joined in the fighting early in the afternoon. “The shell went tearing and crashing through the woods, felling trees in their course and spreading havoc everywhere they fell.”[i] The gunfire from the ship helped check the rebel advance on the left.


At five o'clock, the rebel fire ceased momentarily as they fell back to their center. Then just as quickly, they wheeled about and attacked the left wing with all their forces. At about that same time, General Buell’s command arrived. Grant directed the gunboats Tyler and Lexington to a position a half-mile above Pittsburg Landing, where they let loose a terrible and murderous cannonading. Not long after that, General Lew Wallace’s troops arrived at the landing.


That convinced General Beauregard to call it quits for the day. The rebels slowly fell back to their center on the Corinth road. 


Wednesday, May 3, 2023

City Class Ironclads in the Civil War

The Gunboat Cincinnati
General George McClellan set the machinery in motion that built the Western Navy during the Civil War. Without it, Ulysses S. Grant would have been grounded in Cairo, Illinois.

On May 16, 1861, McClellan ordered Commander John Rodgers to establish a navy on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Rodgers bought three wooden ships for $62,000 and had them converted into the first gunboats on the Mississippi. They were the Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler. The boats were fast because they were wooden, but for the same reason, were had to keep their distance from the shore batteries at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.

Within a few months, the government began building ironclads. They were constructed by James B. Eads, who later built the Mississippi River bridge at St. Louis. The new ironclads included the Cairo, Carondelet, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Louisville, Mound City, and Pittsburgh. They modernized the navy on the Mississippi and made it possible for Grant to move on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. After that, the fleet assisted John Pope in taking Island No. 10 and, again, in the Vicksburg campaign.

The new boats were called city-class ironclads or “Pooks Turtles” after their designer Samuel M. Pook. They were shallow-draft vessels that drew only six feet and carried thirteen guns. Because of their immense size and weight, the city-class boats were slow and often required a tow to move them around faster. Each ship carried three front-facing guns, four on each side and two in the rear. The Ironclads joined the Western fleet in January 1862.

Because the boats belonged to the army, not the navy, their use required close cooperation between the army and the gunboats. Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote was the man the navy sent the army to captain the boats. Foote was a forty-year Navy veteran who had sailed all over the world. He spent several years blocking the slave trade on the African coast. In 1859, he published a book about his experiences called Africa and the American Flag. Before the war, he oversaw the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Foote was a character all his own. He didn’t drink and expected the same abstinence from his officers. But whatever his eccentricities, Foote meshed well with Grant, and they set a new standard for army-navy cooperation.


Robert E. Lee's Invasion of Maryland in 1862

Robert E. Lee took advantage of the confusion in the Union army and pressed his luck. He moved the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland.

It was a risky move.

Lee’s army was beaten; his men half-starved. Many didn’t have decent clothing or shoes; others lingered on the sick list and struggled to follow the army as it marched into Maryland. 

“We cannot afford to be idle,” said Lee in a letter explaining his actions to Jefferson Davis. “The movement is attended with much risk, yet I do not consider success impossible.”

Lee didn’t need to destroy the Union army, just its fighting spirit. The midterm elections were coming up. Northerners were fed up with all the fighting, killing, and money spent to fuel the administration’s war machine. If he could win another battle or two, Lee figured it might bring Lincoln to the table so that he could negotiate a peace on his terms.

What Lee did know was he couldn’t linger in Northern Virginia. A year of heavy fighting had stripped the area of food and fodder.

Delay could kill his army.

Contrary to what Northerners believed, Robert E. Lee had no intention of attacking Washington. That would have been suicide. However, his threat of doing so was enough to force the White House to pull tens of thousands of troops out of his path. In an 1868 letter, Lee explained that he never intended to attack Washington. He just wanted it to seem that way. His primary reason for crossing the Potomac into Maryland was to feed his troops and force General McClellan to move his army north of the Potomac.

Lee’s movement threw Lincoln and Stanton into a panic.

They were sure that Bobby Lee planned an excursion to the White House. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtain felt an invasion of his state was imminent. So, he called out the militia and bullied Abraham Lincoln into releasing General John Gibbon from the Army of the Potomac so that Gibbon could lead his State’s forces.