Thursday, July 21, 2011

First Battle of Bull Run 150th Anniversary at Manassas

 Union Cavalry at Sudley Springs, After the Battle.            PD from en.wikipedia

 Different Names, Horses for Courses, To Each His Own
One thing about the Civil War that can be confusing to the uninitiated is the nomenclature having a Northern and a Southern version. The battle that took place today's date 150 years ago near Manassas, Virginia  is called the Battle of Bull Run in those histories written from a northern point of view, but has always been called Manassas, or First Manassas, from a southern point of view.

Likewise the war itself can be called by various alternate names other than the Civil War, which itself is a term favored in the North. It could also be the War Between The States, the War of Northern Aggression, or the War of the Rebellion. Either of the last two indicates stronger feelings from the speaker, be it pro-South or pro-North.

If the northern terms seem more familiar to you, that indicates that you have been exposed more to the northern point of view in the past. It just isn't the only way of looking at the situation, that's all.

But as long as you realize why they seem more familiar, in your ears, then that's the point I am getting at here. It just shows which POV you are more accustomed to hearing. Overall I would say the Northern POV is dominant in exposure around the world and in the US as a whole.

People Do Still Politicize the Civil War One Way or Another
It doesn't make me angry either way, but in researching I see it does still annoy others to no end, to this day, to even hear a different point of view, and there are some who cannot help but politicize every thing they see. It can be blatantly by commission or more subtly by omission. Everyone is not like that; it's only a small minority, but they are noticeable when it comes to putting out information.

I am going to link to one shortly, but I'll explain first. He probably barely even knows he's doing it.

I am not suggesting that either side is right or wrong, only that the history is largely written by the victors, and some of them are glad that people don't really know too much about the details. The ones who don't feel that way often themselves don't know the details in the first place, and so don't know any better.

This photo is interesting as it shows federal cavalry at Sudley Springs at a more relaxed time given vaguely as after the battle. Matthew Brady the photographer was present at Bull Run, but this is not on the day of battle, I don't think, even though the movies do try to show it that way.  The Union army was routed from the field, in an infamous panic,  and things would not be this relaxed.

A couple of those older boys sure look like their uniforms might be gray.

But it is still a good shot because not only does it show Civil War soldiers in live action, it also shows the place where the Union army made a secret crossing up the stream of Bull Run. A 'run' is a word used around that area for a strong creek, just short of being called a river, and that's what Bull Run is.

As to the names issue, the North tended to call battles and armies after bodies of water, and the South would pick the nearest town or other  man-made feature in selecting names, so Manassas Junction was what they called the battle of Bull Run after, and this trend then continued on with many other battles. Fredericksburg is called the same by both north and south.

 The Plan  
Th war had begun in earnest back in the middle of April, with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. At that time seven states had seceded from the union. This was a federal installation right in one of the South's busiest harbors, and at that point they had demanded its surrender, and when refused they bombarded the place into submission.

After that the President, Abraham Lincoln, called for 75,000 volunteers to invade the seven Southern states and force them by arms into submission themselves. He also ordered a naval blockade, even though the navy was not then strong enough to enforce it.

It was a diplomatic blunder because a blockade is something done to a sovereign nation, thus in effect recognizing the Confederate States of America, even though they have been in denial ever since.

After that decision, that is when four more states seceded, so as not to help invade their fellow states. So, after the Northern decision to invade the South, then the seven states became eleven. Seven before, eleven after.

One of them was Virginia, and the Confederate capital was then moved from Montgomery in Alabama to Richmond, in Virginia, about a hundred miles from the federal capital in Washington, DC. That set the stage for a battle at Bull Run, which is a strong creek crossing the road from Washington to Richmond.

It took the rest of the spring and into the summer for the volunteers on both sides to assemble and get trained and ready, and at length in July after a few lesser bouts of sparring the Northern army was ready to move en masse.

General Irwin McDowell planned to march one column up to the Stone Bridge across Bull Run to make a feint, while sneaking a stronger column around his right flank across the Run further upstream at Sudley Spring Ford, shown in the photo above. Even if taken as much as a year later, the photo shows it was a place where you could wade through that water without bothering with the bridge.

There was a large crowd of civilians, politicians, journalists, and thrill-seekers who followed along with picnic baskets to watch the great battle to decide the war once and for all.

All that and more is depicted in movies such as Gods and Generals, the miniseries North and South, or many books including the Bernard Cornwell novel of 1993, The Rebel, in his the Starbuck Chronicles series.

The Confederates led by Generals Joe Johnston and Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard also planned to swing around on their right to cross at another ford downstream, so if the plans had all gone ahead, it would be possible the two armies would swing around each other like a revolving door.

As it was the North moved faster and the battle developed when their columns made the first approaches, and then the first Confederates fell back until up on Henry House Hill, Jackson's Brigade stood 'like a stone wall,' as the dying General Bee put it, and the name of Stonewall Jackson, or the Stonewall Brigade, became legendary.

Things went back and forth for a while and then Jackson launched a counterattack down the hill, along with the Black Horse Cavalry with J.E.B. Stuart to bowl over the red-legged New York Fire Zouaves supporting Ricketts' Battery of artillery, and then they were able to take those dangerous guns.

This photo of a painting shows the crews are still at the guns for the moment but their drivers are taking off without them before being overrun by the Stonewall Brigade and Stuart's cavalry. Many men and horses were already shot down at this point, and without the horses the guns could not be brought off, so they were lost.

The Course of the Battle
I'll link to the article in the wikipedia for further study of the battle, .here

Southern Belle Spy Story
Now this other link is to a blogger with some very interesting information about a spy story connected with the troop movements leading to the battle. It is about a lady who had social connections with important people around Washington who sent word to warn General Beauregard about the impending move by the federal army. He shows evidence found in her possesion of a message in cipher. Only upon getting caught did the northern authorities realize she was a southern spy--but after all Maryland, D.C. and Virginia were all territories where slavery was legal.

This blogger lives right there in that area and will undoubtedly be there this weekend. He is an example of the type who have a strong pro-Northern point of view, in the posts, but that doesn't necessarily make his information wrong or anything like that, just partisan. Pretty much all the blogs have some POV or other, so we may as well just see it, recognize it, and get used to it. The pervasiveness of the spin just shows that the subject is still important.

What is Scheduled in Manassas

This link is to another site devoted to the commemorations at Manassas, so today and this weekend is a big day for them. They get a second chance next year when the Second Battle of Manassas comes up for its 150th Anniversary--or, Bull Run, if you prefer.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ironclad River Gunboat Cairo

Image from wikipedia, PD. USS Cairo in the Mississippi River, 1862

Cairo, Illinois is a river port town at the bottom of the state of Illinois where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi River. The early settlers had noticed that it resembled Egypt's Nile Delta, so they named it Cairo, but the Americanized pronunciation is like KAY-row. In fact the area around there is called Egypt, or Little Egypt, to this day.

Cairo was already an important point for the riverboat trade before the secession crisis turned into the Civil War, and when that happened it became far more important as a base of operations for the Federal forces by land and riverboat.

Illinois stayed in the Union, but right across both rivers were slave states, and Federal troops moved early on to secure the place as a base. A big part of the plans brewing in Washington as to how to conquer the South involved securing the Mississippi and other rivers, to cut the South in half and control traffic on the water.

The planners were initially thinking about having 12 to 20 river gunboats. And the Federal government had money to order their construction, which would provide jobs for the builders, and for crews afterwards. Some of the companies involved were in the 'border' states, or slave states that had not seceded from the Union, Missouri and Kentucky, as well as Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other places along the rivers.

The one shown above in the Mississippi River was built under a contract from the Army, not the Navy, from August 1861, along with a total of seven in the class. Three built at Mound City, and four more at St. Louis. They were fitted with 2 1/2 inches of armor on the casemate, which are those main 'walls' you see coming up from the deck.

They could go 8 knots. That is something like the idle speed of a modern car, moving slowly but steadily. The project went over budget by about $12,000 and took longer than they thought, but the seven gunboats were ready in January 1862. These seven became the backbone of the River Squadron. For the first ten months they were Army gunboats, and went to the Navy in October 1862, although their officers were from the Navy all along.

The guns were:

3x 7-inch 42-pdr army rifles
3x 8-inch, 64-pdr, 63-cwt smooothbores
6x 32-pdr, 42-cwt smoothbores
1x 30-pdr Parrott rifle

The boats in the class were:

Mound City
St. Louis

The Cairo fought the Confederate rams at Memphis among other actions. During the Yazoo Expedition, part of the operations against Vicksburg, she struck a mine (torpedo) while trying to clear mines, and sank, December 12, 1862. The next July the same thing happened to the St. Louis. The other five survived to be sold off after the war was over.

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In the 1960's during the Centennial of the Civil War, a project was undertaken to raise the Cairo back up. Unfortunately Dr Walter Johnson died while working on the project, but she was successfully raised. People today can visit and walk around on her, to see what these boats were like, and someone recorded that, so here are a couple minutes worth of video clips on the outside, on deck, and then down inside, by the guns.

As you look at the size of this gunboat, consider that even with the 75 tons of armor she still only draws six feet of water, a very important consideration in the rivers, which may be deep and may be shallow in different parts. This is also the reason they needed flat bottoms and the paddle wheel for propulsion, instead of a keel and screw like an ocean-going design. Those would too easily run aground or snag in the rivers. They did add another 47 tons of armor later on to make them stronger.

The Cairo is 175 feet long. by 51 feet wide.
There were two other gunboats at the Battle of Shiloh, in the Spring of 1862, that were the same length, one of them five feet longer, but those two at Shiloh were narrower, only 36 feet vs 51 feet wide (that is the beam).

The Exterior of the Cairo runs 1:16

The Interior of the Cairo runs 2:47

Sources of information:
wikipedia, ironclads
you tube
Tony Gibbons, Warships and Naval Battles of the Civil War, Gallery Books, New York, 1989.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

54mm or so Toy Soldiers Project

I stumbled over a coffee can in the closet that was full of what I'd call 54mm toy soldier figures for the Civil War. I had completely forgotten that I had these. I think I found them at a grocery store in the toys section, right next to the cowboys and Indians, dinosaurs, farm animals and green army men. It may be that I bought two bags of them and poured them in this can before forgetting all about it.

Technically they are not even all exactly the same scale, some come out around 40-some millimeters and others over fifty, but they look okay together. They are meant to be toys, not prize-winning sculpts, but they are not half bad.

I guess I wasn't taking them seriously for wargaming, or I'd have at least remembered that I had some. These may be from two years ago.

But on the other hand there are some blogs out there talking about figures like these for some good-looking games, and for more than just the Civil War. Revolution, Alamo, Wild West, etc also are done. WW2 of course.

Also my best old wargaming buddy moved away to California quite a while back. He told me he has been playing Civil War lately with a fireman out there with 54mm figures. This would be in the Napa or Sonoma Valley area north of San Francisco. If anyone knows them, and sees this, please jump in. If there was a blog for them it would be great to see, but my friend doesn't much know about things like that, so he definitely doesn't have a blog, or even barely know what one is for that matter.

This friend unfortunately barely understands computers, except as necessary,  so he hasn't been around yet, but may show up sometime. Anyway I just figured out computers a few years ago, when I had to. He just hasn't had to yet.

His army was 20mm Thomas figures from K and L, a classic type from the 1950's era, Civil War of course, and he kept them like jewelry in padded boxes and tissue paper. Never would consider putting them on bases. They are individuals only. He would have 20 figures per regiment, with two figures per company.

I am not sure yet how they are doing the 54mm because now there are two minds involved and not just one, but I do know he thinks they are too big and they have to play outside on the ground in order to have enough room, because they make the table seem too small.

But now that I see I do have some of those after all, I think I may start collecting more of them.

Now they may seem 'silly' at first, after all they are meant for five-year-old kids, but they are really not that bad. The guns elevate, and will hook on to the trailer hitch on the limbers.  There just aren't enough horses, but that could be remedied.

So far there are 18 foot and two horsemen per side, plus four cannon, four limbers, and just four horses for the mounted generals. Each side has two color bearers with paper flags. The horses are the same type from the cowboys and Indians bags, so I think I could get more.

Since I have just been painting up 600 figures for the Civil War in 1/72 scale, it would be very easy to just switch gears and try painting up some of these huge two-inch tall figures. I saw that another store in town carries figures like this, so now I think I have another new project going

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some Memories for Memorial Day

April.........Alma A. Pelot took this photo April 15, 1861 inside Fort Sumter, South Carolina when the Stars and Bars were raised.  This was where the war started. This US fort is on a spit of land in the harbor of Charleston, and was fired on by the Confederates when the commander refused a summons to surrender.

That was 150 years ago, so this is the Sesquicentennial.

May......... Decoration Day

The US holiday of Memorial Day can be and is traced to an order of General  John Logan. He came with the Army of the Cumberland up through Georgia, along with General Sherman.

But the idea can be traced a little further back, before he thought of it,  to Confederate widows decorating the graves of the fallen, thus the tradition of Decoration Day.

There were a quarter million Confederate dead, and rather more than that from the Northern States. These remain the lion's share of American veterans killed in all the wars.

Here is some film from way back to see the living. We are familiar with the black and white photos, but these are some very early films. First a Confederate veterans gathering from 1914. You won't be able to hear the music since it is a silent film.

Then this next one, an extraordinary 11 second clip, is believed to be from June 25, 1863, and shows the Army of Northern Virginia on the march through Maryland, a narrow State, to the fateful Battle of Gettysburg within the week, in Pennsylvania.

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