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.”
None of us alive today has ever heard the screech of a rebel yell at the point of attack in the Civil War. But many veterans of those times recounted its effect.
For Confederate soldiers, while at a full forward sprint, the piercing yowl sounded more animal than human, enflaming their courage to do-or-die.
Southern Colonel Keller Anderson described it this way: “that maniacal maelstrom of sound; that penetrating, rasping, shrieking, blood-curdling noise that could be heard for miles and whose volume reached the heavens–such an expression as never yet came from the throats of sane men, but from men whom the seething blast of an imaginary hell would not check while the sound lasted.”
On Union soldiers, the effect was truly terrifying, as attested by northern troops: “If you claim you heard it and weren’t scared that means you never heard it.”
Near the beginning of the Civil War, when rebel forces scattered federals at the First Battle of Bull Run, General “Stonewall” Jackson exhorted the 4th Virginia Infantry with this order: “When you charge, yell like furies.”
I can scarcely imagine the spine-tingling horror my great-grandfather, Abraham Van Orden, experienced the first time his ears were assaulted by the rebel yell.
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.”
My last post was entitled “Crossroads of Life”, focusing on the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, forever changing America for the better.
This post is entitled “Crossroads of Death”, for a key battle that took place in the same time period, beginning December 31, 1862, and ending January 3, 1863.
The USA called it The Battle of Stone’s Creek. The CSA called it The Battle of Murfreesboro. Either way, it was a watershed clash with critical consequences.
Of all the battles in the Civil War, the highest percentage of casualties on both sides occurred here. One out of every three soldiers engaged in this bloodbath was either killed or wounded. The carnage was inconceivable. As confederates charged one key federal position, four of every five attackers were shot down. No surprise that this hillock was thereafter dubbed “Hell’s Half Acre.”
Prior to this turning point, southern armies in the eastern theatre had repeatedly whipped the northern armies. But Union General Rosencrans proved at Stone’s Creek that the boys in blue could give as good as they got. Northerners finally won a hard-fought struggle with bravery, determination and sacrifice.
Eventually, this battle would enable Union General Sherman to seize control across Tennessee, readying a surge into Georgia, dealing a mortal cut to the CSA. When my great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden, read news of the great victory at Stone’s Creek, it steeled his resolve to re-enlist for the US Cavalry in 1863.
Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, but it was not to go into effect until 100 days later on January 1, 1863. If slave states in rebellion returned to the Union before then, slaves would not have been freed.
Imagine the tension, the anticipation, the fear, and the hope in the hearts of African-Americans on New Year’s Eve 1862. It was the ultimate crossroads — one road led to a life of freedom; the other to a living death of slavery continued.
As this painting depicts, in evening church services, known as a Watch Night, whole families of slaves waited with baited breath, hungering for the moment a pocket watch would tick to 12:01 AM on January 1, 1863. The crossroads of life were finally reached, which would ultimately end slavery in America forever.
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.