From: Los Angeles
150 Years Ago Today:
The USS Kearsarge arrived off Cherbourg. Naturally, the French would not permit hostilities within their territorial waters. If the Union vessel entered the port, then she and Alabama would be required to space at least twenty-four hours between their respective departures. Captain Winslow had no intention of being stuck for a full day while the Confederate raider sailed away, so he kept Kearsarge just outside the three-mile limit.
Perhaps because the Union prisoners he had sent ashore were penniless in Cherbourg, Captain Semmes got the idea that Kearsarge was only there to evacuate them. He therefore sent a challenge:
C. S. S. "ALABAMA," CHERBOURG,
June 14th, 1864
To A. BONFILS, ESQ., CHERBOURG.
SIR: I hear that you were informed by the U. S. Consul that the Kearsarge was to come to this port solely for the prisoners landed by me, and that she was to depart in twenty-four hours. I desire you to say to the U. S. Consul that my intention is to fight the Kearsarge as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements. I hope these will not detain me more than until tomorrow evening, or after the morrow morning at furthest. I beg she will not depart before I am ready to go out.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, Your obedient servant,
R. SEMMES, Captain
Why Semmes should have gone out of his way to fight the Kearsarge is something of a mystery. From the strategic point of view, having Alabama still at large would have continued to tie down many Union warships, rather than taking the gamble of sinking just one. But it would seem that Semmes was rankled by the idea that he and his men were described as pirates, preying on defenseless merchantmen -- he was insistent on the point that he was a commissioned officer of his country's navy, following the rules of war. Fighting and winning a fair encounter would have changed a number of minds. And the Confederacy had not yet given up its quest to be recognized as a nation by one or more of the powers of Europe.
In Georgia, Sherman's armies advanced, and by this time were not surprised to find Johnston's army entrenched and blocking their way.
By the 14th the rain slackened, and we occupied a continuous line of ten miles, intrenched, conforming to the irregular position of the enemy, when I reconnoitred, with a view to make a break in their line between Kenesaw and Pine Mountain. When abreast of Pine Mountain I noticed a rebel battery on its crest, with a continuous line of fresh rifle-trench about half-way down the hill. Our skirmishers were at the time engaged in the woods about the base of this hill between the lines, and I estimated the distance to the battery on the crest at about eight hundred yards. Near it, in plain view, stood a group of the enemy, evidently observing us with glasses. General Howard, commanding the Fourth Corps, was near by, and I called his attention to this group, and ordered him to compel it to keep behind its cover. He replied that his orders from General Thomas were to spare artillery-ammunition. This was right, according to the general policy, but I explained to him that we must keep up the morale of a bold offensive, that he must use his artillery, force the enemy to remain on the timid defensive, and ordered him to cause a battery close by to fire three volleys. I continued to ride down our line, and soon heard, in quick succession, the three volleys.
--Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman
Sherman's order would become controversial, because the "group of the enemy" included Joseph Johnston himself. Nor was the cannon fire without effect:
We rode to it [Pine Mountain] together next morning, accompanied by Lieutenant-General Polk, who wished to avail himself of the height to study the ground in front of his own corps. Just when we had concluded our examination, and the abandonment of the hill had been decided upon, a party of soldiers, that had gathered behind us from mere curiosity, apparently tempted an artillery officer whose battery was in front, six or seven hundred yards from us, to open his fire upon them; at first firing shot very slowly. Lieutenant-General Polk, unconsciously exposed by his characteristic insensibility to danger, fell by the third shot, which passed from left to right through the middle of his chest. The death of this eminent Christian and soldier, who had been distinguished in every battle in which the Army of Tennessee had been engaged, produced deep sorrow in our troops.
--Joseph E. Johnston, Narrative of Military Operations during the Civil War
There was outrage as well as deep sorrow, for the rumor began that Sherman had recognized Polk and deliberately targeted him. (Apparently sharpshooters were allowed to pick out officers, but fellow generals were expected to show professional courtesy.) Some even said that Sherman had personally directed the gun crew. This last is exceedingly unlikely, for the story would have been told by the gunners. It is more believable that Polk had been identified, for he was a portly man, and well known to both sides, since he had been Bishop of Louisiana before the war. Still, Sherman's version is entirely plausible, and Johnston seems to have believed it.
At the James River, the Army of the Potomac began to arrive at the north bank. There were boats to ferry some of the infantry across, but the draft animals, wagons, and artillery required a bridge. In perhaps the most remarkable engineering feat of the war, which was already notable for engineering accomplishments, a pontoon bridge was put across in just seven hours.
It wouldn't have been possible by conventional thinking, for the span was 2,200 feet (670 m) across, and the current would have broken any ordinary pontoon bridge. The Northerners solved this problem by commandeering a number of boats and anchoring them at intervals along the span, supporting it against the flow. To add to the wonder of the achievement, the man most responsible was none other than Benjamin Butler, who otherwise was a military incompetent. Butler had obeyed Grant's request to lay a bridge and made sure that the pontoons and other bridging material was in readiness, even setting up sawmills to provide extra planks. Before midnight a stream of horses, mules, wagons, cannon, and even beef cattle was going to the south side of the James.
< Message edited by Capt. Harlock -- 6/14/2014 5:15:05 AM >
Civil war? What does that mean? Is there any foreign war? Isn't every war fought between men, between brothers?