Monday, December 31, 2018

"Almost" Christians: Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee

   Recently, I finished reading A Frenchman, A Chaplain, A Rebel: The War Letters of Pere Louis-Hippolyle Gache, S. J. (1981). Goche was born in France and later became a Jesuit priest. He immigrated to the United States in 1847, leaving behind a region smoldering in anti-Jesuit sentiment. Gache was recruited to work at Spring Hill College near Mobile, Alabama. However, he also served in various parishes in Louisiana. When the war came, Gache was assigned as a chaplain in the 10th Louisiana Infantry, and soon found himself on the Peninsula below Richmond. After a year of service, Gache was reassigned as a hospital chaplain in Lynchburg, Virginia. (His compiled service record, listing his last name as Guache, stated he was assigned to a hospital in Danville on August 29, 1862. However, all of his subsequent letters come from Lynchburg.)

   Without going into centuries' worth of religious history, it will suffice to say that Gache had no use for Protestants. Writing in January 1862 from a camp near Yorktown, Gache described to those back at Spring Hill College his encounter with a local pastor: "The Baptist minister visits me every time I stay at the Ewells. He tries to get me to come and visit him, offering me the use of his library and, if it had not been converted into a hospital, his church. He truly treats me as a brother, but I'm not going to give him any encouragement. I take advantage of every occasion to tell him and the others of his ilk that I don't see them under any other aspect than as gentlemen, but that certainly I don't consider them as ministers of the Gospel." (95)

   In another exchange between himself and Father Philip de Carriere, Gache chides Carriere for using the term "Catholic chaplain." "And what do you mean by 'the Catholic chaplain?' Are there any other chaplains than Catholic chaplains? Is it your intention to acknowledge an ecclesiastic character on the souls of the so-called Protestant ministers? If you do, you are simply a heretic..." (155)

   The death of Stonewall Jackson obviously presented a challenge to Gache. He had recently bemoaned the death of "Four or five" young men who had died "without making any express profession of Catholicism." (162) Jackson was a member of the Presbyterian church. Gache wrote that Jackson, "in his own way... was a very good Christian. The face of this austere Presbyterian expressed all the characteristics of a devout member of that sect; yet, he was not a bigot--at least so far as I have heard. He often remarked publically that it was in God that he put his confidence, and after each victory he always ordered the chaplains under his command to offer prayers of thanksgiving." Jackson, after his wounding, and being told that he would die, "expressed sorrow for his sins. Since he was probably in good faith, one can hope that his pious sentiments must have led him to an act of perfect contrition. Surely, He who so loves to bestow mercy, must have bestowed it abundantly on this man."

    Likewise, Gache took time to write about Robert E. Lee: "General Lee is also very religious, not in an ostentatious and wordy manner, but sincerely and genuinely... The general is an Episcopalian, but at the same time he is, as are almost all of the men of his class, very favorable toward Catholics and he has the greatest esteem for them." Gache goes on to talk about the Catholic leanings of Joseph E. Johnston, former secretary of War George W. Randolph, and Varina Davis. (176-180)

   Gache's disdain for Protestants never seems to fade after the mercy he almost shows for Jackson and Lee. He talks of "dethroning a Presbyterian minister" in June 1863, a man trying to work with wounded soldiers in Lynchburg hospitals.  (190) In December 1864 he makes mention of the two Catholic and four Protestant chaplains at work in the Lynchburg hospitals. The Protestant chaplains "have filled the hospital with an assortment of sectarian books and newspapers which are used by the sisters and myself for lighting our fires..." (210) In this same December 1864 letter, he speaks of a Protestant minister who invited himself to preach to the wounded and sick men. It was apparently against post regulations to preach in the wards. The post commander, a man Gache believed was "far from being a Catholic, but who is nevertheless a man who despises all Protestant ministers," agreed to allow the Protestant chaplain the use of the courtyard at 4:40 pm on Wednesday. After starting the service at 4:45, he was interrupted by the dinner bell at 5:00 pm. All "of the congregation was at the table and the preacher was left alone, his arms outstretched and his mouth gaping, still standing on the grassy mound. You ought to have seen the dismay and astonishment of that disciple of Calvin as he picked up his books, put on his hat and walked away." (211-212)

   It is not my purpose to reignite in this post the great schisms that have taken place over the centuries between the Catholics and Protestants. For generations, Catholics were treated with a great degree of skepticism in this country, and it was not really until the election of John F. Kennedy in 1961 that some of that skepticism began to fade. To be honest, save for the work of the Sisters of Charity, I'm really not very familiar with much of the role of the Catholic church in the South during the war. This is the first set of war-time letters that I have read from a Catholic priest. Are there others? (Yes, there are a few.) I am much more familiar with the works of Protestant chaplains such as Alexander Betts, Basil Manly, J. William Jones, and W. W. Bennett. It is interesting to note that Gache never makes mention the great revivals that swept through the Army of Northern Virginia in the winter encampments of 1862-1863 and 1863-1864. But then again, Jones, in Christ in the Camp, never makes mention of Gache or Catholic chaplains.

   Gache survived the war. He served in a number Jesuit colleges and parishes until 1904, but he never returned to the South. He died in 1907, at the age of 91, in the hospital of Saint Jean-de-Dieu, Montreal, and is buried at St. Andrew-on-Hudson near Hyde Park, New York.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Pilfering Andrew Johnson's papers

   This next project, "Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia," has me reading a great number of letters, diaries, and reminiscences. Over the next few months, I'll probably be posting many shorter stories, things that I find interesting.

   A couple of days ago, I finished reading Last Order of the Lost Cause: The Civil War Memoirs of a Jewish Family from the "Old South." It was edited by Mel Young and looks at the Moses family of Georgia, most notably Maj. Raphel Jacob Moses, commissary on Longstreet's staff for part of the war.

   Longstreet and a portion of his corps spent the winter of 1863-1864 in east Tennessee, fighting Federals, some guerillas, and hunger pains. Moses left this story in his reminiscences:

Andrew Johnson
   "On another occasion in East Tennessee we stopped at Greenville, and I had my headquarters in the Capitol law library of Andrew Johnson, afterwards President of the United States, within site of his office, by the way, was in one of the side rooms of the Tavern. We were in sight of the little shop, still standing where Andy, as the Tennesseans called him, had his Taylor shop."
   "After leaving Greenville we went to Morristown, about fifteen miles, and while there I happened to mention a heavy box in Johnson's library, which was nailed up. Fairfax immediately 'snuffed, not tyranny but whisky, in the tainted air,' and exclaimed, "By George! Moses, why didn't you tell me before we left? Old Andy was fond of his 'nips,' and I'll bet that box was full of good old rye whiskey, and I mean to have it.' He immediately got a detail of soldiers and a wagon, and had the box brought to camp. When it arrived, Fairfax's eyes glistened with anxious expectation, soon followed by despondency, as on opening the box it contained, instead of old liquor, nothing but Andy Johnson's old letters and private papers..." (116-117)

   There the narrative ends. Did they leave the papers in Morristown? Were they used to start fires? Did Johnson ever get this box of papers back?

   The closest National Park to me having a strong war-time connection is the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greenville, Tennessee. I've been over there several times, and Johnson and some of his surviving papers were important in my own book, Kirk's Civil War Raids Along the Blue Ridge. I've always found Johnson's life interesting. He was not liked by the Democrats or Republicans once he became president upon the death of Lincoln. But I wonder what happened to those papers, not only his papers, but the reams of things lost during the war. Those stories told by the War Department clerks of the piles of burning documents in the streets of Richmond have always bothered me, as well as the county-level documents that were destroyed when the likes of George Stoneman rode through western North Carolina in early 1865. We would all be richer, historically speaking, if there had been a little more care taken with these pieces of the past.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Unsuccessful International Escape of Jefferson Davis.

Johnston and Sherman at the Bennett Place
   On March 26, 1865, Federal general William T. Sherman met with US President Abraham Lincoln, General US Grant, and Admiral David Porter on the steamer River Queen near Grant's headquarters at City Point, Virginia. When Sherman asked Lincoln about what to do with Confederate president Jefferson Davis, Lincoln responded with a story: "A man once had taken the total-abstinence pledge. When visiting with a friend, he was invited to take a drink, but declined, on the score of his pledge; when his friend suggested lemonade, which was accepted. In preparing the lemonade, the friend pointed to the branch-bottle, and said the lemonade would be more palatable if he were to pour in a little brandy; when his guest said, if he could do so 'unbeknown' to him, he would not object." Sherman added "From which illustration I inferred that Mr. Lincoln wanted Davis to escape, 'unbeknown' to him." (Sherman, Memoirs, 2:324-328.)
   So Lincoln wanted Davis, and probably the Confederate cabinet, to simply disappear. To catch Davis and his cabinet would present unique problems for the Lincoln administration. If the leader of the "rebellious" Southern states was captured, indicted for treason, tried, found guilty, and executed, would this not be a driving factor for the resumption of the war? Or, if Davis was tried and found not guilty, well, that would lead to all kinds of other problems.

   Three weeks later, Sherman, back in North Carolina, had just met with his Confederate counterpart, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. They had discussed the surrender of not only the Army of Tennessee, but the civil officers as well. Sherman was in Raleigh, meeting with his top lieutenants. "We discussed all the probabilities, among which was, whether, if Johnston made a point of it, I should assent to the escape from the country of Jeff. Davis and his fugitive cabinet; and some one of my general officers, either Logan or Blair, insisted that, if asked for, we should even provide a vessel to carry them to Nassau from Charleston." (Sherman, Memoirs, 351-352).

Jefferson Davis
   Johnston does not come out and say that Sherman ever offered a ship to Davis and the cabinet to expedite their escape. Or does he? Meeting at the Bennett Farm outside Durham on April 18, Johnston writes that everything was agreed to "except that General Sherman did not consent to include Mr. Davis and the officers of his cabinet in an otherwise general amnesty. Much of the afternoon was consumed in endeavors to dispose of this part of the question in a manner that would be satisfactory both to the Government of the United States and the Southern people, as well as to the Confederate president; but at sunset no conclusion had been reached, and the conference was suspended..." (Johnston, Narrative of Military Operations, 403-404.) So what was satisfactory to the "Government of the United States"? The escape of Jefferson Davis? Neither Johnston or Sherman make mention of such an offer, and nothing appears in Davis's papers or in the Official Records that states such an offer was ever made. Yet, Sherman provides such a warning to John C. Breckinridge. Once the first set of terms were worked out, and sent to Andrew Johnson and Jefferson Davis, Sherman recalled telling Breckinridge "that he had better get away, as the feeling of our people was utterly hostile to the political element of the South, and to him especially, because he was the Vice-President of the United States, who had as such announced Mr. Lincoln, of Illinois, duly and properly elected the President of the United States, and yet that he had afterward openly rebelled and taken up arms against the Government. . . I may have also advised him that Mr. Davis too should get abroad as soon as possible." (Sherman, Memoirs, 353.)

   We know that Davis did not "get abroad" and was captured on May 10, 1865, near Irwinville, Georgia. Breckinridge did escape, making his way through Florida to Cuba, then Great Britain, and finally Cuba. Other Confederate cabinet members who fled the county include Robert Toombs, Judah P. Benjamin, and George W. Randolph (he fled in 1864). George Davis was attempting to flee when he was captured in Key West on October 18, 1865.

   Did Davis ever know that he might have escaped on a boat out of Charleston? Unlikely. Davis really didn't really seem to want to escape in the first place, holding on to the ideal of a Southern Confederacy when everyone else had already abandoned the attempt. He could have left Charlotte on April 24, when he learned of the rejection of the first set of terms between Johnston and Sherman. He could have pressed on harder when in the state of Georgia. Others, like Breckinridge and Benjamin, were able to escape successfully. But not Davis. It almost seems that Davis wanted to be captured.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry project off to the publishers.

   Yesterday afternoon, I submitted to the publisher my manuscript on the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, also known as Lee's Headquarters Guard. It is always a sense of relief when a manuscript goes off. Those last two or three weeks are a challenge. The manuscript is done, and it's been read and reread, but getting the notes moved, the images just right, captions written, and index created, etc., just takes time, and honestly, by that point, I'm tired of working on it. You know: it's done. I've written it. I've typed that last period.

Longstreet and staff (Mort Kunstler)
   Many folks will be surprised that I've tackled a Virginia project. For the past twenty years (over, actually), I've been writing about Tar Heel soldiers and their state. I've built a career on it. I guess that is why I pursued this project: I needed a break from North Carolina. I wanted to prove I could write about another state. Now, this regimental history covers the same ground as General Lee's Immortals, my history of the Branch-Lane brigade. There are the same battles, like Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, etc., and some of the same famous characters of the war: Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, A. P. Hill. But the experiences of these men, the couriers, and clerks, and scouts, and guides, and teamsters are so vastly different from the Tar Heels, that it was a refreshing break.

   Along those lines, this is not the same book as General Lee's Immortals. There is not the depth of material to draw from. The 39th Battalion had fewer than 600 men on the books, and usually fewer than 200 in camp at any given time. There were almost 10,000 men that served in the Branch-Lane brigade. That's not to say that I didn't find good stuff. The account by Capt. William F. Randolph at Chancellorsville is one you don't often hear. Randolph was with Jackson the night Stonewall was wounded. And then there is Joshua O. Johns, who rode with Robert E. Lee and Charles Marshall to meet Grant at the McLean home in Appomattox.

   At the same time, on a professional level, I really want to advance the discipline or genre of regimental histories. It is not an easy genre. Not only does there need to be an understanding of multitudes of battles, but the writer must know about a plethora of other subjects, like military discipline, medical care, logistics, prisoners, etc. This new book on the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry is yet another foundation stone or building block (at least I think it is). J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr., in his seminal work Buff Facings and Gilt Buttons: Staff and Headquarters Operations in the Army of Northern Virginia, considers the couriers, orderlies and escorts "almost historically invisible." (205) Hopefully, these men will not be quite so invisible as they have been in the past.

   Time to move on. Time to get some blogs up, and to read more for that next project, Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia. By the looks of this winter, I'll have plenty of reading time.