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 20

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

            May 1864

            On the 11th of May our division left Alexandria. We marched out about 4 miles and encamped. The city was unharmed when we left, but the western troops before they vacated burned a large part of it to the ground. We lay encamped here a couple of days, getting up mornings 2 or 3 hours before daylight, and standing under arms nearly frozen until Sol would show his welcome face above the treetops in the east; when everything being prepared, we commenced our retreat, or rather continued it, down Red River. This was one of the 'masterly retreats' we read of; not quite so celebrated as the 'retreat of the ten thousand' so ably conducted and afterwards described by Xenophon; nor even as Little Mac's retreat from Richmond; still it was masterly in the fullest sense of the term. At least so said the newspapers and or course we must believe them. With the exception of the cavalry and some fighting artillery, our division was in advance. The first day we marched along as serenely and quietly as though there were no such things as musketry and big guns. Nothing disturbed our equanimity except the thick dust which hung around and over us like a thick cloud, eliciting now and then curses 'not loud but deep' from our parched lips. We could get no water except that from the river and that was enough to kill any man. There was also a lack of hard tack. The wagons would sometimes stop a long distance in the rear, and more than once before arriving at Simonsport I marched all day with nothing to eat but 2 or 3 small pieces. Sometimes, however, we would get into a yard where there were plenty of chickens, ducks, geese, etc. Then wouldn't there be a squawking and quacking and screaming and scattering of feathers. That night we would have plenty to eat. Each one would be standing by the fire with a piece of duck or chicken on a stick roasting it to suit himself. It was always a feast or a famine with us.

            The 2nd we started early. Soon they commenced skirmishing on the advance. They kept up a sharp musket fire just ahead of us; and now and then the deeper tones of artillery would boom out suddenly upon the morning air. This didn't trouble us much as they kept retreating before the cavalry; and we walked along unconcernedly singing snatches of songs such as:

'Way up above the dam where the Linkum gun boats lay,
They're coming down the river tomorrow
So Johnnies skedaddle away'

'I'll fight for you, Abe Lincoln,
I'll fight for you all o'er,
I'll fight for you, Abe Lincoln,
All on the southern shore.'

            But the gun boats did not wait for 'tomorrow'. About noon when we were resting we saw smoke rise above the trees in the distance, and soon the frowning hull of one of Porter's ironclads, with its big-mouthed bulldogs looking out of the portholes, appeared. We greeted it with three hearty cheers. Soon a transport followed, then another ram, and erelong the whole fleet was lying alongside the bank. From the other side of the river bands of rebels kept firing into the transports in the very teeth of the army and the ironclads. We could see them fire and run back into the woods followed by a shell from one of our big guns. We continued advancing in conjunction with the fleet, occasionally passing a burning house or a place where some rebel battery had been placed to command the river, until nearly dark. That night we encamped on the bank of the river where one of our mails had been destroyed, and pieces of letters and envelopes were scattered all over the ground. The wreck of the 'John Warner' and one or our mosquito boats were lying across the channel. The next day we left the river and struck off through the woods. After marching about 10 miles we came to a large plain near Fort Russey. Here we formed in line of battle. There was some heavy artillery firing and one cavalry formed and dashed forward in a thick cloud of dust. We marched in line a short distance and then halted. We were now in great distress for want of water. The ropes of those wells that were not dry had been cut by the rebels. My thirst became intense. Finally we found a stagnant pool covered with scum, and although it was nearly as thick as molasses with mud, all warm with the heat of the sun, I drank and thanked God for even that. Towards evening we were ordered to advance again. We jumped up in an instant and away we went, past the 1st brigade and out into the road before that brigade had begun to move. On we dashed, the dust so thick we could hardly distinguish our file leaders, shouting and encouraging each other, through the town of Macksville and out into the open field again. Here the cracking of rifles and the roar of cannon broke upon our ears, and we rushed forward with renewed vigor, almost forgetting our weariness in the excitement of the moment. After going about 2 miles we came in sight of the combatants. The Johnnies saw us coming and threw 2 or 3 shells which struck just in front of the line. Our cavalry saw us too and charged. It was a splendid sight. We could see them rushing down upon the foe, the very earth trembling under the tread of their iron-shod hoofs, shouting and yelling and swinging their sabres, until the dust hid them from our view. We lay down ready to support them if necessary but were not needed. Soon night began to close gradually upon the scene. Nothing was to be seen except now and then a long line of flames leaping into the air, followed by a rattling discharge of small arms or a stream of fire pouring forth as some cannon vomited out its huge missile of destruction. Soon even this ceased and all was still.

            Tired and sleepy we now lay down our arms, and Somnus wrapped us in sweet unconsciousness until he was frightened away by the screaming of fifes and rattling of drums as the morning reveille resounded from regiment to regiment and from corps to corps throughout the army. The sun rose in the orient bright and radiant, casting its golden beams upon the earth, warming and gilding with beauty all nature with its cheering beams. Would it set at night on a field reeking with blood and gore and strewn with lifeless bodies and mangled limbs? We fully expected it and nerved ourselves for the shock. After a line of battle had been formed and before we started, the Adjutants read to the different companies the news of Grant's victories in the Wilderness. The air rang with cheers and we all felt inspired with determination to emulate the glorious deeds of the heroes of the Potomac army. The cavalry were already skirmishing and we were commanded to advance. Slowly and steadily that splendid line moved onward. Now and then we would pass a dead horse or broken gun carriage or caisson. Fences went down before us in the twinkling of an eye. Soon we began to feel the first few heavy drops of the coming storm among us. Shells began to fly around in close proximity to our heads. Our batteries were placed in position to reply and went to work; while we lay down to await the further developments of the great drama that was being enacted before our eyes, and in which we expected to soon be important actors. Then the brazen-mouthed dogs of war began to howl in deafening chorus. Report followed report with lightning-like rapidity. Shells hissed and screamed over our heads. The cannoniers bawled and shouted:

'Cannon to right of us,'
Cannon to left of us
Volleyed and thundered.'

            We lay prone upon the earth, dodging and ducking when we saw the shells coming, some in silence and others making such remarks as, 'Hit 'em again, Johnny', or 'Set 'em up, they're all down but nine'. Sometimes one would strike the ground ahead and come howling down toward us, leaping and bounding along until its force was expended. Again one would strike to our front and bound clear over. Then it was 'lay low and look out for your heads'. I saw one poor fellow in trying to escape a shot that was rolling along, run right into the danger he was trying to avoid. It struck him in the legs and he fell. There were a great many narrow escapes come under my notice during that cannonade; but after all there was more noise than anything else. The casualties were few indeed. I expected any moment to hear a shot crash through our ranks, for it seemed impossible that so many could be flying around without doing some execution; but none touched us.

            After a while the fire of the enemy began to grow feeble and soon ceased altogether. They were retreating. 'Forward!' and the immense machine consisting of living, sentient beings was again in motion. One of the most imposing sights I have ever witnessed was now presented to my view. We were on an immense open plain, as level as old ocean itself on a calm summer's day. Away to the front among the trees we could dimly distinguish the foe slowly retreating before us; but turning at intervals like a lion at bay, to show their teeth and utter another growl of defiance. To the right and left and rear were lines of battle, all moving with firm tread and steady front in the same direction; with their war-worn battle flags floating proudly on the breeze and their polished bayonets glittering in the bright sunlight. Brigade, division and corps flags were flying here and there over the field, and with them were the different generals and their staffs. It was a magnificent spectacle - one that beggars description. They still retreated slowly until a couple of batteries dashed down ahead of the line and began dropping shells right into their ranks; then they quickened their pace to a run. We pursued them only to the village of Mansura which was close at hand, when we went one way and they another. Then the clouds that in the morning boded such a fearful storm, passed over, dropping among us but a few drops of its iron hail, but even those few drops were all sufficient.

            Mansura was deserted. The inhabitants, in anticipation of a battle, I suppose, had skedaddled to some safer retreat than their wooden houses. In some of the dwellings dinner was ready served on the table as though they were about to sit down when they caught the alarm. The place was ransacked and you could see soldiers coming out of the houses with silk dresses, splendid shawls, parasols, etc, which they would probably throw away in a few hours.

            That night we reached to within 5 or 6 miles of Simonsport, where we arrived the next morning. We remained here a day or two, during which our rear was engaged by the enemy who were defeated with some loss, when we crossed the Atchafalaya on a bridge made by placing transports side by side across the river. While here Gen Banks was relieved by Gen Canby in the command of the army. We remained here one night and the next evening just at dusk we started again and marched until about 2 o'clock in the morning. The next day's march was a hard one. The sun poured its scorching, withering rays upon our heads. The dust was terrible. Many dropped dead on the way. I had a slight attack of chills and fever and was taken with vomiting. My feet were all raw, and every step I took was agony to me. It is strange how much a man can suffer and still live. Some of the faint-hearted stay-at-homes - big, strong men, too, would think they were killed outright if they had to endure half of what the soldiers often endure.

            Many times I thought I should drop down by the roadside to die or be taken prisoner; but my will and the thoughts of the pain it would give them at home if anything should happen to me, bore up my fainting courage, and carried me to the end. Sweet rest! How little do the lily fingered sons of wealth who are never wearied but with doing nothing, appreciate thee! I had no wish in the world when I stopped that night but just to lie down and rest undisturbed. If rest in heaven is half so sweet as the one I then enjoyed, it is well worth striving for.

            We were now at our destination. It was a bend on the Mississippi called Morganza, where we were to remain some time. Thus ended the Red River campaign of 1864, one of the most disastrous to our arms of any thus far during the war. But let history record that it was the fault of the generals and not of the army; or it will do brave men much injustice.

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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 ©