Civil War History


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The Leaders:
The Politicians

Jefferson Davis

Above: Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy.
Below: Abraham Lincoln of the Union.

Abraham Lincoln

Charles Terry Saxton
The American Civil War

A War Diary

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page 19

Diary of Charles Terry Saxton, 90th N.Y. Volunteers, from:

            April 1864 to May 1864

            What a life of vicissitudes is that of a soldier. The scenes are continually shifting. He is here today and there tomorrow. One day he is exposed to the fury of the elements with naught to shield him from their wrath; and the next he sits under a good roof and defies them to do their worst. Now he is marching footsore and weary under the scorching southern sun, or maybe defying death on the gory field; and again you see him in gorgeous array with plenty of cheap jewelry, gaily perambulating the streets of some city and living on the best of everything. At least that is the way with a great many. If variety is the spice of life, then the life of a soldier must be very spicy indeed; in fact, I don't know but he has a superabundance of that most excellent article. Well, here we are established on provost. I had given me 9 men and a Corp to guard some cotton, etc, on the levee. We took for our quarters a room in a house fronting on the levee, in which dwelt some fair ladies of the 'secesh' school of politics. I went in one day and asked them to lend me a book, when one of them brought me out a whole armful, among which were fine copies of Byron, Scott, Milton, Campbell and other poets and a copy of Dickens' Curiosity Shop'. I was now in my glory. I could now sit in a good house with nothing to do but see that the reliefs went on at the proper time, and read all day long. The worst of it was, however, that I had to be up half of every night. That wasn't so pleasant. The time seems too long. I never knew how long a night really was until I became a soldier. When I was at home and always went to sleep when I felt inclined and arose in the morning after a refreshing sleep, or else passed it away with some kind of amusement or pleasant conversation, I never had an idea that hours could be so long. It was not so bad here, but on some occasions, for instance on picket at Port Hudson, the time would seem interminable. Many a time I have sat there among the grim and stalwart patriarchs of the forest, leaning against some grand old magnolia, with my bayonet fixed and my rifle held tightly in my hands; listening with painful intensity for the slightest sound, while at every move of the bushes or crackling of a twig I would strive to peer deeper into the gloom and clutch my piece with a closer and more determined grasp. I had no comrade to converse with, no interesting book to read; nothing but my own thoughts with which to amuse myself. The loud too hoo, too hoo, of the hooting owl or the plaintive cry of the whip-poor-will would now and then break forth on the still air, but all things else were wrapped in repose. Time would fly on leaden wings. Occasionally my vigilance would relax and I would relapse into a brown study. I would think of home and friends - of father, mother, sisters, brothers, grandmother, and all of the dear ones in that little village in the far north. I would picture to myself the home circle all unbroken as it was in the days of yore, when we would sing, 'We are all, all here', and again I would picture it once more reunited, all the absent links replaced. Occupied with such imaginings I would take no note of time, until aroused by some slight sound, I would start to my feet and find myself on picket in the darksome woods nearly conquered by the insidious attacks of Somnus, god of sleep. So much for allowing your fancy to roam without restraint while on duty. While your mind is far away in other lands, the drowsy god of sleep sees you unguarded, pounces upon you, and the first thing you know you won't know anything. Speaking about Port Hudson, I will relate an amusing incident that I witnessed there. It was during the charge of the 14th of June. We were near the breastworks and beside us was the 1st La regiment. We were advancing, and the bullets were flying around like hail when a Dutch* captain of that regiment turned around and with consternation depicted upon his Teutonic phiz, exclaimed, 'Mein Gott, I have lost my revolver', He asked several if they had found his revolver but they all said no, until at last one came up to whom he asked the question, 'Shon, did you see my revolver?' and the man said, holding it out to him, 'Yes, Captain, here it is'. The captain looked at it with ecstasy, grasped it and exclaiming, 'Shon, I treats for dat', turned to his men and shouted, 'Now the first tam man that don't follow me I shoots him', and dashed forward. The men followed him.

            At about this time the news of the disastrous battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill fell like a thunder clap upon our ears. I had looked upon our noble army when they marched forth in their majestic pride and no thought entered my mind but that they would prove invincible to any force the enemy could bring against it. And so they would if the leaders had been competent. How many incidents of this kind have occurred since this war commenced. How many brave men have been murdered - ye, murdered is the word - and in vain, too, on account of the carelessness and incompetence of our generals. Their blood pleads eloquently to those in authority that they may prevent any more such catastrophes; and those still living join in the appeal. Give us good leaders and we will conquer. Good officers make good men. This is the invariable rule. The boys have no high opinion of the generalship of Gen Banks, or, as they called him after the Red River campaign, Corporal Banks. This was especially the case with the western portion of the army. Ever since the 13th army corps had first come up from Vicksburg to the Department of the Gulf, they looked upon all who hailed from the east, both officers and men, as inferior to them in fighting qualities. Whenever the men of this corps met with ours, there was some scene of mutual blackguarding and incriminations. After the recent battles, however, they were forced to admit that the 19th corps could fight a little, for that corps saved them from destruction. Having nothing to charge the men with, therefore, they fell back on Gen Banks as our old commander and cursed him to their hearts' content. On the other hand the whole army was united in ascribing praise to Gen AJ Smith who was in command of the 16th and 19th corps. Like his namesake, Old Hickory, he was a blunt outspoken man, and a good fighter. Some amusing anecdotes concerning him obtained circulation among the soldiers. It is said that at Pleasant Hill, I believe, when the 13th corps was being sent into action by detail, one brigade after another to be cut to pieces or hurled back, that old Smith rode up to Banks and asked him why he didn't send a corporal and a file of guard to flank the enemy. He was a very profane man, and if anything didn't please him, would swear like a pirate. Once he was riding along in a great hurry when an aid on some general's staff, wanting to get a good look at the old hero, called to him and when he halted asked him some trivial question. Old Smith saw his game and blurted out in a great passion, 'You d---son of a ---, what did you stop me for?' 'General ' the aid replied, 'I don't like to be called by that name', 'Well', said Smith, after eyeing him a moment, 'if you don't know my name call me a son of a ---' and galloped away. That fellow didn't stop Smith again.

            I had been guard but little more than a week when the Major came and told me that he wished me to take charge of the contraband camp and camp of distribution. The former was where they kept the darkies who had fled from their owners and come to our lines. Cart loads of them came in every day when the army was up the river. A whole cargo would generally come in on a large cart hauled by a couple of oxen or some mules, and on the cart would be a promiscuous load of mattresses, bed quilts, bacon, corn meal, skillets and a 'right smart heap' of babies distributed through the whole. Their things would be pitched 'regardless of expense' into the yard, and they after them. The cart and the team would be confiscated by the government, while the poor dark would look on with speechless astonishment to see himself and baggage summarily disposed of. We generally had about 300 on hand, old, young, and middle aged; lame, halt, and blind; black, yellow, and molasses colored; while we sent off a boat load to New Orleans every few days. They had not the least say as to their disposal. I pitied them from the bottom of my heart. Even the old men were as inexperienced in the ways of the world as a little babe. Many are the hard knocks they will receive and many are the deceptions that will be practiced on them by heartless and designing men, before they become qualified to meet the responsibilities that a life of independence will entail upon them. Officers of negro regiments in search of recruits would come to me sometimes and want to look through the camp for men to be soldiers. I sometimes went around with them and was surprised at the number of stout, able-looking men who were in some way disabled. One would say, 'I'se got the rheumatiz, sah,' and another, 'I'se got a misery in my back, cap'n' and so on. The proportion of entirely sound, able bodied men was very small indeed. This is probably to be attributed to cruelty, neglect and hard usage; for however humane many masters undoubtedly are, the poor negro in the course of his shifting life is pretty certain to fall into the hands of at least one tyrannical one.

            I had to draw rations for, and issue them to, both of these camps. I got along very well as a general thing, but when the army came down, the contrabands came flocking in at the rate of about 2000 in one day. This great accession kept me on the 'qui vive' from morning till night every day, and my office usually presented a very busy scene to any one who might be looking in.

            About the first of May, I believe, the army began to pour in, weary, begrimed with sweat and dust, footsore from their long march, but still as gallant and brave and hopeful as ever. Those men were not demoralized. Far from it, they had defeated the rebels on many a hard fought field and they could do it again. It was not their fault that they were retreating, and they were conscious of it. You could see it in their flashing eyes, resolute bearing and determined look which their sun-burned countenances would assume when reference would be made to the recent battles. They were grand even in misfortune. After the army arrived, the streets of Alexandria presented a very animated appearance. Now and then a brigade or division of infantry or a regiment of cavalry would be seen moving through the streets, trains of wagons were passing back and forth; and officers, orderlies and cavalry-men with sabres clanking and carbines rattling were galloping their poor horses at breakneck speed through the city. The enemy at first lay but a mile or two out of town and we apprehended an attack: On the other side of the river they were very bold, and twice small bands came down and fired on our guards; but they did not even stop to say goodbye when the gun boats sent their compliments in the shape of some big shells. After a while the main force went down the river and planted their batteries so as to cut off our communications. They sunk several of our boats. We were in a bad fix. The gun boats were above the falls and could not get over. Our supplies were cut off and we were put on three quarters rations. We could not stay and starve and we could not leave our fleet. Fortunately we had men equal to the emergency. Could a dam be constructed across the river to raise the water? We will try it. And they did try it and were successful. It was a bold and arduous undertaking, but in a few days it was accomplished; and our whole fleet was saved except one or two of the largest and they were blown up. 'Perseverantia omnia vincit'.

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Civil War History

Reasons for the Conflict:

     In 1860 slavery still existed in the southern states of the USA, even though it had been abolished in most of the rest of the world more than a generation before.

      Many Americans believed that it was time that it be abolished in the USA as well.

      This was the primary issue of the American Civil War, though there were other issues relating to how strong ties should be between individual states and the Federal government.

Key West, Florida, 1861:

      Located where the gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic ocean, Key West was of enormous strategic importance in upholding the blockade against the southern states. It was also used to train new recruits.

the blockade of the South

Mrs AH Wilcox of
Barrington Street.
Rochester, N.Y.

originally typed up the diary of
her father, Charles Terry Saxton,
and preserved it for posterity.

Trees of London        A James Wilkinson Publication ©