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Tag: Confederate

The 150th anniversary of Pickett’s Charge

Today’s guest post comes from Robert Lee Tringali, program analyst at the National Archives.

Starting on July 1, the last three days have marked the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the Civil War. In particular, today marks the anniversary of Pickett’s Charge, the defining event of the battle.

The battle of Gettysburg had raged furiously for two days. On the first day’s action—after bloody fighting at McPherson’s Ridge, Oak Hill, Oak Ridge, and Barlow’s Knoll—Union troops were forced to retreat and occupy a position southeast of town on Cemetery Hill. The second day’s action was marked with savage fighting at Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Cemetery Hill.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee failed to dislodge the Union forces on both the left and right flanks. Consequently, at a meeting late on July 2, Union General George Meade warned that the following day’s attack would descend upon the Union center. Meade’s reasoning proved correct as Lee’s battle plan for July 3 called for an assault on the Federal center.

The attack was preceded by a massive Confederate artillery bombardment of the Union center. Shortly after 1 p.m., nearly150 Confederate cannon on Seminary Ridge erupted with flame as they fired on the Union lines. They were answered by approximately 100 Union … [ Read all ]

At Gettysburg: Brother v. Brother

Today’s post comes from our summer intern Caroline Isleib.

The Battle of Gettysburg raged 150 years ago today, and many lives were lost or forever changed by the Civil War. It was a war that ripped our country apart and, in quite a literal sense, pitted brother against brother.

“This was never more true than in the case of Wesley Culp and Jack Skelly, two young men who grew up together in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,” writes Jay Bellamy in the latest issue of Prologue, the National Archives quarterly magazine.

Both young men chose to enlist when the war began, but these best friends gave their allegiances to different forces. Culp, who had just moved to Virginia, joined the Hamtramck Guards, which became the Second Virginia Infantry in the Confederate army. Skelly joined the Union’s Second Pennsylvania Volunteers and later the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry.

From prisoner of war camps and hospital infirmaries to battlefields, they frequently came into contact with one another throughout the war. In June 1863, Culp visited Skelly as he lay in a Confederate hospital, due to injuries incurred in battle. There, Skelly asked if Culp ever went back to Gettysburg, and, if so, would he pass along a letter to his sweetheart and their childhood friend, Jennie Wade.

“Within just weeks, remarkably, he had the chance,” Bellamy writes, for Culp was part … [ Read all ]

Secession, Congress, and a Civil War Awakening at the Archives

The U.S. Capitol under construction, 1860 (National Archives Identifier 530494)

As a new year begins, the 112th Congress reconvenes for a second session of legislative activity. Representatives and senators from across the country are again descending upon the Capitol, ready to commence debates, proceedings, and hearings. This is how the legislative branch of the Federal Government always functions, right? Well, not always.

On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, the 36th Congress consisted of 66 senators and 234 representatives. There was a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and every state in the Union was effectively represented.

But once South Carolina issued its ordinance of secession on December 20, 1860, a surge of southern legislators began withdrawing and retiring from Congress.

By the time the 37th Congress convened in March of 1861, six states—Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—had already joined South Carolina and left the Union. This prompted Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina to follow.

When the torrent of secession finally concluded, vacancies existed in both chambers of Congress. The mass exodus of southern Democrats, coupled with the commencement of Union-Confederate hostilities, shrank the Federal legislature to 50 senators and 180 representatives by the beginning of 1863.

Southern secession transformed Congress in many ways. The dozens of unfilled vacancies in the Senate and the … [ Read all ]

A Submerged House: Ironclads and the Civil War

The USS Monitor was the Navy’s first ironclad vessel, but it was not the only one in Civil War waters.

The Virginia had started life in 1855 as the Merrimack, a Union ship that had been burned to the waterline, sunk, and abandoned in the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, VA. The Confederates raised what remained of the ship and used the hull to build the ironclad Viriginia.

On March 8, 1862, Virginia made its first combat sortie, as the ship headed through Hampton Roads and fired on the Union frigates Cumberland and Congress in an attempt to break the Union blockade at Hampton Roads. According to this New York Times article, the Virginia looked like “a submerged house” with “nothing protruding above the water but a flagstaff flying the rebel flag, and a short smokestack”

But when the Cumberland fired on the Virginia, the Confederate ship proved to be far tougher than an underwater home: “the latter opened on her with heavy guns, but the balls struck and glanced off, having no more effect than peas from a pop-gun.” The Virginia rammed the wooden frigate, which was no match for the ironclad boat, and also took out the Congress. Another Union ship was run aground.

The next morning, March 9, the Monitor arrived. The two ironclads fired on each other … [ Read all ]