Tomorrow, February 12, 2013, will be the 204th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President. While I’ve been studying the life of this extraordinary American, I’ve also been pondering a sketch of the President by Steven J. Myles, who is a lifelong friend and an exceptional artist. It really catches the character of the man. So, happy birthday, President Lincoln. And thank you, Artist Myles.
By the fall of 1862, after a serious wound in his thigh from a Confederate Minié ball in the Virginia Battle of Gaines Mill, my great-grandfather Archibald Van Orden finally arrived in Washington, D.C., for recuperative care and recovery.
The recently opened Campbell Hospital in the Capitol was his first stop. Pain, sickness and infection were constant companions of Union soldiers who were able to receive care there. But the camaraderie of wounded vets encouraged all.
Like Archie, many fellow soldiers and bunk mates survived dire wounds during The Seven Days Battles. They talked of exploits in war and hopes of returning home alive.
Yet, when Archie was mustered out of the 12th NY Infantry due to his debilitating leg wound that would prevent further infantry service, he was greatly saddened. Comrades-in-arms had become his best friends and he missed them dearly.
Returning home that winter to Peekskill, NY, to continue rehabilitation and recovery, Archie avidly followed reports of the war, reading newspapers and Harper’s Weekly. Distressingly, most of the news was bad for the North. Southern victories came often, and Northern losses mounted devastatingly. Emotional depression descended deeply into the psyche of Knickerbockers, who waited grudgingly for Spring to bring a new Campaign season — and victories.
Posted in Key Person, Key Place, Progress
Tagged Archibald Van Orden, Battle of Gaines' Mill, Campbell Hospital, Civil War, History, Knickerbockers, NY, Peekskill, Washington D.C.
“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” This wisdom from Abraham Lincoln continues to inspire many lives.
My great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, first saw President-Elect Lincoln at Peekskill, NY, in 1861. He would meet President Lincoln personally in 1865. Lincoln and his abiding commitment to Union would inspire Archie for a lifetime.
As I post in this blog highlights from the historical research I am pursuing, I am moved to add these thoughts about my great-grandfather himself: During four years serving his country in the Civil War, Archie lived more — and more fully — than most men live in a lifetime.
It is my honor and privilege to author the book that is inspired by Archie’s life — dire challenges, fearsome warfare, devastating losses, and the final triumph of love — that make his adventures more than a story of a man, and truly a tale for the ages.
Robert E. Lee was among the great officers in the history of the United States Army.
Undoubtedly, Lee was the greatest officer in the Confederate States Army.
My great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, twice fought against the CSA Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee. In the US Infantry, Archie was seriously wounded in battle. In the US Cavalry, Archie was captured.
Some may say that war is not personal. Archie would tell us war gets personal fast when someone is shooting at you. Yet he would also see boys his age, just 16, shot and even killed on battlefields of Virginia, both Union and Confederate soldiers.
So who do you fight? The boy shooting at you? Or the man in command? Both.
Like many Northerners, Archie would personalize war on the enemy’s General. Colloquially, it was all about “whipping Bobby Lee”, before he whipped you.
When my great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, arrived at New York City in late 1861, he was 15 years old. Alone and with few funds, he sought shelter in an area called Five Points. Though the center of this notorious slum was called Paradise Park, nothing could have been farther from the truth. It was a living hell-hole.
Cheap lodgings were available in squalid tenements, where robbery, assaults and even murders were almost daily occurrences. This was no place for a boy. Just walking the streets, danger lurked in every alley, such as “Bandit’s Roost” below.
Even worse, the infamous gangs of Five Points — Bowery Boys, Dead Rabbits, and Roach Guards — frequently battled over their filthy turf. Innocent bystanders were hurt and even killed in sudden skirmishes among criminals.
Archie was desperate to escape the daily dangers that surrounded him in the city, which increased his earlier resolve to join the Union Army, despite the fact that he was too young to enlist. The way he was able to accomplish his goal, in spite of the impediments, will be revealed in my book which I in the midst of writing now.
Most Americans did not know the name Ulysses Simpson Grant in early 1862. However, by late 1868, all knew who he became: President of the United States.
The man known as U.S. Grant seemed destined for the highest office in the USA. He first came to national notice with a nickname: Unconditional Surrender Grant.
Here’s how that came to be. After the defeat of the Union army by Confederates at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, Northerners became worried, and even despondent, about possibly losing a war they thought would be won in Virginia.
Out west, General Grant was marching his Union troops to surround by land the southern stronghold, Fort Donelson in Tennessee, while the Union navy attacked from the Cumberland River. At first, the battle did not go well for the North — Fort Donelson’s powerful cannon repulsed the Union boats. Then Confederate forces broke through Grant’s lines, seeking their escape from the trap.
U.S. Grant rose to the occasion, rallying his volunteers to resume the offensive, hold their lines, and drive Confederates back into their fort. On February 16, 1862, Southern General Buckner had no choice but to seek terms for surrender.
“No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender” was Grant’s reply. Telegraphs spread the news of this Union victory like wildfire, vaulting the General to celebrity with his new nickname “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”
In April 1865, my great-grandfather Archibald Van Orden would meet U.S. Grant while serving in his Union honor guard at the long-fought-for surrender of Robert E. Lee’s entire Army of Northern Virginia at Appommattox Courthouse.
When my great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, served in the Union’s Army of The Potomac in 1862, Major General George B. McClellan was in charge. At West Point, classmates nicknamed him “Little Mac” in joshing reference to his short stature. After elevation to overall command of the US Army, he earned a new sobriquet: “Young Napoleon.” This illustration may show a small resemblance.
Rarely have soldiers and politicos disagreed so vehemently about a General.
McClellan’s troops are known to have “adored” their General, hailing him as “charismatic” and “highly popular.” Conversely, President Abraham Lincoln (and his cabinet) belittled McClellan, especially with news reporters in earshot.
Was this a case of the tall man (Lincoln) putting down the small man (McClellan)? Or was it the case of a Major General with a minor talent for aggressive warfare?
History, as it is said, is written by the victors. Lincoln demoted McClellan. In the Presidential Election of 1864, McClellan ran as the Democratic candidate against Republican Lincoln. Lincoln won. McClellan lost.
As the original Napoleon might have said of the outcome: “C’est la guerre.”
When my great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, enlisted the in the NY 12th Infantry of the US Army on January 27, 1862, General Daniel Butterfield was in overall command of that brigade. Just 30 years old, Butterfield was already renowned for three things. First, his career rocketed from Sergeant to General in just a few months, before he served on a battlefield (this earned him enemies). Second, he was fond of stylish military uniforms (this earned him critics). Third, he sported an awesome full mustache (this earned both admiration and jealousy.)
A vain man, General Butterfield wanted his Corps to stand out for its uniforms. So he advocated purchase of French Chasseur uniforms for the 12th volunteers. If war was decided by style alone, his choice may well have been victorious.
Unfortunately, Chasseur uniforms were made in too small a size to fit most Americans. However, Archie being only 16 at the time he received his Chasseur uniform, was able to wear it with pride, no doubt cutting a fine-looking figure. This shows how he may have imagined it would appear in gallant warfare.
In actuality, few (if any) Chasseur uniforms were ever worn on the battlefield.
Butterfield himself, however, went on to gain fame as the composer of “Taps”, the bugle call played at the end of the day, and also at funerals. But he gained notoriety when he became chief-of-staff serving General Hooker. It was said that General Hooker’s command post was a sordid mixture of bar-room and brothel. From this place came a slang term for prostitutes who were known as “hookers.”
Hamilton Fish was a boyhood chum of my great-great-grandfather, Abraham Van Orden, in NYC. They remained friends throughout life. As fortune would have it, his friendship not only helped Abraham in adulthood, he even rescued my great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden, during his days of direst war horrors in late 1864.
Even in young adulthood, Hamilton demonstrated innate talent for politics. Perhaps this was a genetic predisposition, as he was a descendant of Pieter Stuyvesant, Director-General of the Dutch Colony of Nieuw Netherland in 1647 (which would become New York in 1664 ). From those 17th century roots, the Fish and Van Orden families became neighbors, collaborators, and friends. Hamilton’s parents, Nicholas and Elizabeth, named him in honor of their friend, Alexander Hamilton, who was a Founding Father of the United States of America.
Hamilton Fish would be elected by the people of New York to serve as State Representative, NY Governor, and U.S. Senator. An early and vital supporter of Abraham Lincoln as the Republican Party Candidate for President in 1860, Hamilton would be recognized by Lincoln for his exceptional abilities, with presidential appointments both during and after the Civil War.
Thousands of Union troops were spared horrible extremes of pain and death through the personal intercession of Hamilton Fish in southern prison camps. Thus, it is no surprise that Archie’s younger brother, my great-grand-uncle, was named Hamilton Fish Van Orden in honor of that great man and patriot.
In 1861, Winfield Scott was Commanding General of the US Army. This old hero of the War of 1812 remained strategically sharp, though he became infirm and obese. Yet, as the painting shows, in his prime, Scott was an impressive officer.
Building from his experience and advice from others, Scott proposed a Civil War grand strategy that was known colloquially as the Anaconda Plan. This name was inspired by the world’s largest snake, which crushes the life out of any prey.
As we see in this illustration, a blockade of southern ports was key to the plan. In my own analysis, I would say his full strategy could be called “Three Lethal Cuts”: First, Cut Off (coastal embargoes); Second, Cut Down (amphibious assaults down the Mississippi River, severing the Confederacy in half); Third, Cut In (rampaging from west to east through Tennessee and Georgia, destroying many CSA assets).
My great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden may have read of Scott’s Anaconda Plan in northern newspapers of 1861, before enlisting, for this was no national secret. Carrying out the plan would take years and cost almost innumerable lives — but eventually the strategic brilliance of Winfield Scott won the day, and the war.