Civil War Medicine

An excerpt from the medical report after Antietam: Gross misrepresentations of the conduct of medical officers have been made and scattered broadcast over the country, causing deep and heart-rending anxiety to those who had friends or relatives in the army, who might at any moment require the services of a surgeon. It is not to be supposed that there were no incompetent surgeons in the army. It is certainly true that there were; but these sweeping denunciations against a class of men who will favorably compare with the military surgeons of any country, because of the incompetency and short-comings of a few, are wrong, and do injustice to a body of men who have labored faithfully and well. It is easy to magnify an existing evil until it is beyond the bounds of truth. It is equally easy to pass by the good that has been done on the other side. Some medical officers lost their lives in their devotion to duty in the battle of Antietam, and others sickened from excessive labor which they conscientiously and skillfully performed. Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac

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Predicting Pearl Harbor: Ron Drez Discusses His Latest Book

From Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 voyage into Japanese waters to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States and Japan were on a collision course. Gen. Billy Mitchell recognized the signs and foresaw the eventual showdown between the two nations―eighteen years before the tragedy of Pearl Harbor. Yet his predictions were dismissed out of hand. Mitchell’s attempts to have his theories taken seriously led to scorn and a subsequent court martialing. Primary-source documents, memoirs, and firsthand testimonies deliver an exhaustive background to Mitchell’s prescient reports. Now, historian Ronald J. Drez finally gives credence to the man called the “Cassandra General.”

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April Historical Events: Civil War and WWII

“April is the cruelest month” according to T.S. Eliot, but was he also thinking historically? You decide if these events qualify. Civil War 1861 11-14 April – Charleston, SC -Thursday to Sunday. A South Carolina delegation of three men delivered a demand for surrender to Major Robert Anderson at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.  The message was from Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and stated that they intended to take “possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors . . . necessary to its defense and security.” They let Anderson know that they would not fire upon his position if he advised them of the time of the evacuation of the Union troops stationed there. Anderson replied that he also would not fire except in response, but that he would evacuate on 15 April if he did not receive supplies coming from the Federal government.The Confederates were aware that a supply ship was en route and deemed the answer unsatisfactory. At 0430 on Friday a signal shot opened a barrage from the other batteries in rotation. Anderson had a garrison of 85 officers and men as well as over forty laborers who worked in the fort. They began…

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CSS Manassas rams USS Brooklyn

Union Threat Looms Before New Orleans

In the fall of 1861 morale was good in New Orleans and it spirits remained good into the start of 1862. The Confederates had won a decisive victory near Manassas, Virginia at the end of July where Louisiana’s native son, P.G.T. Beauregard had been the victorious commander and Louisiana boys had done well in the battle.  At the end of that September, the citizens were treated to the spectacle of a trainload of captured Yankee prisoners marching under guard through the streets en route to the Orleans Parish prison. The local newspapers played it up to The New Orleans Crescent described the unfortunate captured, ushered through the streets under the curious stares of the local citizens who “behaved with their accustomed order and good breeding.”  The Yankees were “a hard looking set.” And they made reference to the notion that the prisoners might be foreign mercenaries, the Daily Crescent warned citizens and military guard alike to be aware of the arrival of “Hessian prisoners” that were on their way to the city by train. As so often in the South, there was a fear of being overrun by foreigners. There also was a revival of community service in the area. There…

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Illinois Memorial at Vicksburg

Vicksburg Civil War Monuments

Excerpt from the Introduction to Art of Commemoration Soon after Vicksburg National Military Park was established in 1899, the nation ‘s leading architects and sculptors were commissioned to honor the soldiers that had fought in the campaign. The park’s earliest state memorial was dedicated in 1903, and over 95 percent of the monuments that followed were erected prior to 1917. An aging Civil War veteran who hastened to Vicksburg to see the resulting works was so impressed that he aptly described Vicksburg National Military Park as “the art park of the world: ‘ The work of commemoration has continued sporadically since 1917, and today, over 1,370 monuments, tablets and markers dot the park landscape. Unfortunately, some of these are on former park lands or are not situated along the tour road. In touring the park, it is helpful to know that the ancient Roman writer, architect, and engineer, Vitruvius, insisted that there were two points in all matters: the thing signified, and that which gave it its significance. The thing signified at Vicksburg – the spirit of the park-is the valor of the soldiers and sailors who struggled as participants in the Vicksburg campaign. The memorials and markers, through their information,…

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Grant and Fort Donelson

General Simon Bolivar Buckner was in command at Fort Donelson when Union forces were moving by land in conjunction with a flotilla of gunboats to besiege the Confederate stronghold. They had known each other at West Point, classes of 1844 (Buckner) and 1843 (Grant), and remained friends after the war. General Gideon Pillow had been in charge of the Confederates who pushed Grant back to the river at Belmont the previous November.  The Tennessean had his men hold off the approaching Union forces but did not take advantage of a break in their lines.  He retired to the fort and took command at Fort Donelson when General John B. Floyd decided to make a hasty departure. Floyd was the senior Confederate commander.  As U.S. Secretary of State before secession, he had been under indictment in Washington for the questionable transfer of military stores to southern states before the hostilities broke out.  He desperately wanted to avoid capture by the Federals for fear of charges for treason.  Before this could happen, he loaded his two Virginia regiments and some artillery onto a steamboat and “skedaddled” upriver (to the southeast) to Nashville.  He turned over command to Pillow who had once echoed…

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Brigadier General U.S. Grant

Grant at Belmont

In late 1861, Confederate General Leonidas Polk occupied Columbus in southwestern Kentucky on the Mississippi River.  He broke the “neutrality” of the state and gave Union forces a reason to take aggressive action. Pro-union officers were actively recruiting Kentuckians to take up arms to support their cause and were breaking the neutrality in their own right.  Just across the river, in far southeast Missouri, was the sparsely populated ferry landing of Belmont, where the Confederates had set up an outpost. Missouri’s U.S. military commander, General John Frémont sent Brigadier U.S. Grant into the region with 3,000 troops.  Grant sent an initial force to overrun the Confederate encampment at Belmont.  However, Polk learned of their approach and sent reinforcements who forced Grant’s men out and re-gain control of that section of the Mississippi River. Grant’s plan was to capture the Confederate stronghold at Columbus, but first he had to take the Confederate garrison at Belmont. The 1,000 men that Polk had sent across the river to protect that bank of the river would be no match for Grant’s approaching numbers and Polk sent an additional 2,500 troops across the river to provide relief for his troops on the other side. He…

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The Tudors

History with Mark Bielski Upcoming Episodes

February 8 – Civil War New Orleans In 1861, the City of New Orleans prepared for an imminent invasion by Union forces after Louisiana joined the Confederacy. As a crisis loomed, leadership, politics and military shortcomings became evident. February 15 – Battlefield Monuments: Vicksburg General Parker Hills joins Mark to discuss the monuments at the Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi.  Gen. Hills’ book Art of Commemoration catalogues and details the magnificent sculpture, architecture, the artists and interpretations that memorialize the Park. February 22 – The Band of Brothers: George Luz and Easy Company In this episode, guest George Luz, Jr. talks about his father’s experiences in WWII as a soldier in Easy Company, the Band of Brothers.  We discuss the training, toil, camaraderie and sacrifices of the men in E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. March 1 –  Hood’s Texas Brigade Susannah J. Ural, professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi and co-director of the University’s Dale Center for the Study of War and Society discusses her recent book, Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’ts Most Celebrated Unit.  Published by Louisiana State University Press. March 8 – Civil War New Orleans General Mansfield Lovell…

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Christmas in Wartime Part II

This episode of the History with Mark Bielski podcast reviews some of the happenings that American and Allied soldiers experienced during WWII. There are a few items from the  home front and some from where the fighting occurred, as well as a few snippets from behind enemy lines. First, a mention that I forgot to include in the last episode. On Christmas Day 1868, US president Andrew Johnson extended amnesty and a full pardon “to all and to every person who, directly or indirectly, participated in the late insurrection or rebellion.” The Civil War had ended more than three years before and most of the South was in ruins. In many ways, the country had come out of the war, just as divided as it had been at the start. Reconstruction and occupation were the rules of life in the South. The Radical Republicans who had opposed President Lincoln’s conciliatory tendencies wanted nothing more than further punishment for those who had supported Secession. Andrew Johnson, a staunch Unionist from East Tennessee was both feared and loathed by many Southerners. However, his Attorney General James Speed reminded Johnson of Abraham Lincoln’s planned policy of reunification. 1941 — Japan seized Hong Kong from…

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Christmas in Wartime Part I

This episode of the History with Mark Bielski podcast covers Christmas during wartime, including the Revolutionary War. A Christmas Victory in the Revolutionary War In the winter of 1776 the American Revolution was still young and things did not look so good for the Continental Army and its commanding General George Washington.  Lord Cornwallis and his experienced and well-trained British army had pushed the Americans out of New York and across New Jersey. Washington steadily withdrew, and, had he turned and fought, his rag-tag force of freezing and starved men surely would have been annihilated.  Once he reached the Delaware River his men procured every boat available to cross over into the relative safety of Pennsylvania. The Americans were desperate, but Washington decided to go back across the Delaware and launch a surprise attack on the Hessian mercenaries occupying Trenton. On Christmas night, he led 2,400 men in freezing temperatures, sleet and snow, through the ice river’s floes for an attack on the Hessians. The surprise worked, and in two hours, with few losses of their own, they captured nearly 900 of the enemy. A week later it was a precarious situation for the Americans.  Washington’s men were exhausted and…

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