Archive for January, 2015

Bombardment of Fort Stevens

January 30, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Weekly Video, World War II by

Did you know that Oregon was attacked during World War 2? Get the story of the Japanese bombardment of Fort Stevens on June 21, 1942.

Battle of Galveston

January 24, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

Galveston in 1871

The largest of the Confederate States of America by far was Texas, and although Texans fought in every major battle of the Civil War, their home state would see nearly no fighting. It was still nearly the frontier in the 1860s, and out of the course of the military campaigns. But there were a few exceptions to this rule, and one of those was the fighting over Galveston. The island of Galveston was first settled by Europeans in 1816, but they were pirates – far from your usual settlers. Jean Lafitte maintained a pirate kingdom there for several years until driven off by the US Navy. A town developed there, and undertaking more reputable business, it became the largest and wealthiest city, as well as the busiest sea port in Texas. It was an obvious target for the Union navy.

The Confederate government appointed former governor of Louisiana, Brigadier General Paul Hébert to command in Texas, and he found Galveston’s defenses virtually nonexistent, and was convinced it would be impossible to defend the place. But he put up gun batteries on the coastline to ward of Union ships, being especially careful to protect the railroad bridge, which connected the island with the mainland.

Galveston in 1845

Galveston in 1845

The first two Federal ships were sighted off Galveston on July 2, 1861, and they came close and traded fire with the town’s batteries. Over the next for months more Federal ships would arrive, and help establish a blockade. They were able to keep out most of the commerce that had flowed to the port, though they could do little against the blockade runners that quickly slipped by them. But the Northerners would do more than blockade. On May 17, 1862, Captain Henry Eagle of the United States navy sent a message to the Confederate commander announcing that “in a few days the naval and land forces of the United States Government will appear off the town of Galveston to enforce its surrender,” and demanded the surrender of the town “to prevent the effusion of blood and destruction of property.”1 Although Hébert determined not to surrender, he did not believe the city could be held, and ordered his troops to prepare to abandon the their positions if an overwhelming force appeared. But the promised attach never came – at least not from those Federal warships. They ran out of food, and Galveston was safe for the time.


Larger Union ships were sent to Galveston, and they were put under the commander of Commodore William Renshaw a favorite of David Farragut. Farragut told him, “Galveston appears to be the port most likely for you to be able to enter, if the forts are not too formidable.”2 Renshaw arrived off Galveston with eight ships on October 4. He bombarded a few Confederate batteries and reduced them to ruins, convincing the pessimistic Hébert to abandon the city. On the 9th a Union boat came ashore and took possession of the city. The citizens were disgusted that the Queen City of the Gulf had been surrendered to a “mosquito fleet.” The government in Richmond was disappointed in Hébert, and the day after the surrender he was replaced with John Bankhead Magruder. “Prince John,” as he was known, had although he performed poorly in the Seven Days campaigns, he had done well on the Penninsula, convincing the Federal forces not to attack by convincing them he had many more troops than he actually did.

Cannons used in the Battle of Galveston

The dramatic Magruder began making plans to recapture Galveston, which he regarded as the key to the state. He planned to attack using land and naval forces. The infantry and artillery would cross the railroad bridge, make their way across the island and through the streets of the town, and array to attack the Federal troops at Kuhn’s Pier. He hoped that the commotion of the attack would distract the Federal ships enough so that the Confederate fleet could capture the USS Harriet Lane, and turn its guns upon the other Union ships. It was a bold plan against established military wisdom, but Magruder believed it would work. He set about gathering the ships and troops required. He found the infantry in a brigade that had been involved in Henry Sibley’s disastrous campaign into New Mexico. A friend of his, a Galveston sea captain, set to turn two of his four steamers into warships, fitting them with a corvus, an ancient Roman boarding ramp, and protecting the boats with bales of cotton. The two ships, the Bayou City and the Neptune only mounted one large gun each.

The attack was launched on December 13, 1862. Magruder’s message to Smith, his naval commander, was characteristically theatrical: “I am off, and will make the attack as agreed, whether you come up or not. The Rangers of the Prairie send greetings to the Rangers of the Sea.”3 The land forces were able to approach near the Union position without detection, but it took until 4:00 or 5:00 am, rather than around midnight as had been planned. The assault party of 500 men went through the water under covering fire to try to scale the wharf and strike the three companies of Federals in the rear, but their ladders proved to be too short, and the plan fell apart. However, the Federals realized they were outnumbered by the Confederate troops, and raised a white flag, asking for three hours to consult with the navy. The Confederates refused this, and as he was receiving no support from the navy, the Union commander unconditionally surrendered.

Capture of the USS Harriet Lane

At dawn on January 1, 1863, these two strange ships entered Galveston harbor, and set their sights on the Harriet Lane, a Union steamer. The battle quickly turned bad for the Confederate warships. They were outgunned by the Federals, and the Neptune was soon sent to the bottom. At that point, things were looking bad for the Confederate attack. Half of their fleet was sunk, and the land attack was still stalled. But the Bayou City did not retreat after this misfortune, and she continued to face the six Union ships. In a desperate attempt to avoid the Union guns, the captain ran his ship directly into the Harriet Lane. He hit her straight on, and his crew rushed aboard and were able to secure the vessel.

Meanwhile, Renshaw’s flagship, the Westfield, had run aground in shallow water. The crew was unable to get her off, and so a truce was called for both sides to consider what to do. Realizing that he could not get his ship off, Renshaw decided to destroy her and get away while he could. Lighting a fuse to the magazine, he and his crew rowed away from the doomed ship. However, as the time passed by and nothing happened, Renshaw realized that the fuse had failed. Returning to the ship, he relit the fuse, but before he and his men could clear the ship, she exploded. Renshaw was killed along with thirteen of his men.

Their captain dead, the flagship destroyed and another ship captured, the surviving Union ships made their way out of the harbor as quickly as possible, still under the flag of truce. Although the Confederates were unable to pursue, they had still gained a glorious victory. At the loss of 26 killed and 117 wounded, they had inflicted at least that many, and had captured one ship intact with 400 prisoners. They had also recaptured Galveston, and would retain control of the town for the rest of the war. The Confederate Congress said this in a resolution of thanks:

The bold, intrepid, and gallant conduct of Maj. Gen. J. Bankhead Magruder, Col. Thomas Green, Maj. Leon Smith and other officers, and of the Texan Rangers and soldiers engaged in the attack on, and victory achieved over, the land and naval forces of the enemy at Galveston, on the 1st of January, 1863, eminently entitle them to the thanks of Congress and the country… This brilliant achievement, resulting, under the providence of God, in the capture of the war steamer Harriet Lane and the defeat and ignominious flight of the hostile fleet from the harbor, the recapture of the city and the raising of the blockade of the port of Galveston, signally evinces that superior force may be overcome by skillful conception and daring courage.4

Capture of the Harriet Lane

1The War of the Rebellion, vol. 9, p. 710.
2Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883) series 1, volume 19, p. 213.
3Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston by Edward Terrel Cotham (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998) p. 112.
4War of the Rebellion, vol. 53, p. 849.

The Strange Life of ‘Lord’ Timothy Dexter

January 15, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in American Other by

A Map Drawn by Ernest Shackleton

January 14, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Ernest Shackleton, Exploration by

What Defines a Victory?

January 7, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Historiography by

Charles Sumner – Crime Against Kansas

January 6, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in American Other by

Sumner in 1865

When Kansas sent a pro-slavery constitution to Congress to become a state, Sumner again jumped into action. He again opposed Stephen Douglas, believing that the convention which wrote the Constitution was not freely elected. One historian wrote:

Certain that Douglas’s picture of events in Kansas was totally incorrect, Sumner did not pause to consider that his own version of happenings on that remote frontier might be equally distorted. Like the rest of the senators, he was unaware that the Kansas struggle involved not merely freedom and slavery, but also land speculations, bitter rivalries over the location of the territory capital, and personal ambitions of would-be congressmen from the territory.1

Sumner began to prepare a speech called Crime Against Kansas to oppose this constitution. Over the last few years, his support from his home state had come and gone. Massachusetts loved his long and passionate orations against slavery. Sumner would be coming up for re-election soon, so he was driven to write this speech to please the people of his state. He included very harsh personal attacks on fellow Senators, because his constituents loved those as well. In his multi-hour speech given on May 19th and 20th, 1856, he pushed for Kansas to be immediately admitted to the Union as a free state. He went on to deal with what he called Slave Power, a conspiracy of sorts, to enslave the North one step at a time. He said this:

The wickedness which I now begin to expose is immeasurably aggravated by the motive which prompted it. Not in any common lust for power did this uncommon tragedy have its origin. It is the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of Slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved desire for a new Slave State, hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of Slavery in the National Government. Yes, Sir, when the whole world, alike Christian and Turk, is rising up to condemn this wrong, making it a hissing to the nations, here in our Republic, force — ay, Sir, FORCE — is openly employed in compelling Kansas to this pollution, and all for the sake of political power. There is the simple fact, which you will vainly attempt to deny, but which in itself presents an essential wickedness that makes other public crimes seem like public virtues.2

Sumner also blazed with insults for his opponents, especially Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. When he was finished, Louis Cass pronounced Sumner’s speech “the most un-American and unpatriotic that ever grated on the ears of the members of this high body.”3

Caning of Sumner

Bleeding Kansas

The South was very angry at Sumner’s speech, especially Preston Brooks, a Congressman from South Carolina. He was a moderate, but he was angry that Sumner had “insulted South Carolina and Judge Butler grossly.”4 Butler was his cousin, and after waiting to read the published version of Sumner’s speech, he decided that according to the South’s code of honor, he needed to physically punish Sumner for his vicious attacks upon his relative and state. Brooks decided not to challenge Sumner to a duel because he did not see him as his social equal. Sumner was stronger than Brooks, so Brooks decided to beat him with his wooden cane. Just after the Senate adjourned on May 22nd, Brooks approached Sumner who was writing at his desk. After waiting for all the women to leave the chamber, Brooks told Sumner, “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” He poked Sumner with the cane to give notice of the attack, and then as Sumner brought up his hands to guard against the attack, began to beat him with his cane. As he was being struck, Sumner attempted to stand and ripped the desk out of the floor before staggering back as Brooks beat him as hard as he could. The cane quickly shattered, and in a minute it was over, and Sumner was left on the ground, unconscious and covered in blood.

Preston Brooks

There were two vastly different reactions to this “Bleeding Sumner” as it was called. The North saw the attack as the South turning the violence they used upon slaves upon an innocent politician. The South saw it as justified reply to the verbal attacks. One historian has said:

In Southern parlance, Preston Brooks had inflicted a caning, or a whipping, upon the blackguard Sumner in order to chastise him for his unprovoked insults to the hoary-headed Senator Butler and for his foul-mouthed denunciation of South Carolina. … He acted not for political reasons, but solely to redress a personal wrong. In caning Sumner, he neither violated the privileges of the Senate nor broke the constitutional guarantee of free speech to congressmen. His weapon was nothing but a common walking stick, such as gentlemen frequently use. … Though Sumner suffered only flesh wounds, he absented himself from the Senate because of the mortification of feeling and wounded pride. Brooks, with conspicuous gallantry, promptly reappeared in the House of Representatives, ready to face all accusers.

In Northern language, the affair bore an entirely different aspect. Bully Brooks had made a brutal assault upon Sumner with a bludgeon. The act had no provocation; on the contrary, Sumner for years had silently endured a harsh stream of unparliamentary personalities from Butler and other defenders of slave power. The alleged cause of the assault, Sumner’s speech, was marked by the classic purity of its language and the nobility of its sentiments. … Brooks was the mere tool of the slave-holding oligarchy. … Though Sumner courageously tried to defend himself, the ruffian took advantage of his defenseless position and of the surprise, beat Sumner senseless, and continued to strike him after he collapsed on the floor.5

Charles Sumner remained out of the Senate for the next three years because of alleged health problems. Although his wounds were not serious and healed relatively quickly, he continued to suffer many problems. He believed that he had suffered brain damage because of the severe beating, but that is unlikely. He was probably experiencing what is called today post-traumatic stress disorder. Over the three years, he spent much time in Europe and seemed to be mostly healed, but when he tried to resume his duties, his symptoms reappeared. He underwent a very painful treatment which was supposed to fix his damaged spinal cord, which involved severely burning the skin upon his back. Although doctors then and now would say that this treatment had no medical effect, it worked as a placebo and his symptoms did not return.

Sumner in 1873


When he resumed his Senate seat in 1859, the Republican party had begun to focus on issues other than abolitionism. Sumner, who wished to preserve the rabidly antislavery tone of the party, prepared another of his vicious attacks on slavery. Called the Barbarism of Slavery, it contained even more violent language towards the South than his previous speeches. Most of the Republicans believed that in giving it he had gone overboard. James Grimes of Iowa said, “[I]t sounded harsh, vindictive, and slightly brutal…. His speech has done the Republicans no good.” Charles Sumner had no desire to attempt a compromise with slavery. Instead, he launched harsh and offensive attacks on the South. He was “the most perfect impersonation of what the South wanted to secede from.”6 When the first states began to secede, Sumner would make no compromises to prevent a civil war. He worked to defeat efforts such as the Crittenden Compromise, which he believed compromised his abolitionist principles. Sumner was very influential as one of the leaders of the Republican party.

Sumner continued in the senate for the rest of his life. Throughout the Civil War, Sumner was in a position of influence in the Senate. One congressman said, “Sumner’s influence is very potential – more than any body’s else put together.”7 He was a part of the radical Republicans and wanted Lincoln to immediately emancipate the slaves. After the war, he pushed for black suffrage and other civil rights. Sumner married Alice Hooper in 1866 at the age of 55. However, they separated within a year and were eventually divorced, which was very rare for the time. Sumner died of a heart attack on March 11, 1874.

Sumner’s Grave. Source.

1Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War by David Herbert Donald (Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks Inc, 2009), p. 234-235.
2The Works of Charles Sumner (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1875) vol. 4, p. 140.
3Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War, p. 240.
4Ibid, p. 243.
5Ibid, p. 258-259.
6As quoted in Ibid, p. vii.
7Ibid, p. 320.