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Rangers, Lead The Way! – How the Rangers at Pointe Du Hoc Turned Disaster into Victory during the D-Day Invasion

June 6, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in World War II by

Today, on the 72nd anniversary of D-Day Invasion, we have a guest post from Daniel E. Sumey on one of the turning points of the battle – The Editor

It has been said that great events turn on relatively small matters. D-Day, June 6th, 1944. Arguably the most important date of the twentieth century, for on it the pivotal battle of World War IIwas fought. It had many such small matters which set the stage for the liberation of Europe and the defeat of the Nazis, from the Ox and Bucks’ daring glider-borne assault on Pegasus Bridge, to Easy Company’s battle for the gun battery at Brecourt Manor, all contributions to victory in a larger battle. Of all the many incredible stories from the longest day, there is one which stands out as one of the most dramatic. That is the story of the two American Ranger battalions and the Battle of Pointe du Hoc. In contrast to the scope of what General Eisenhower called the great crusade, the U.S. Army Rangers part in the invasion was comparatively minor, but with far reaching aftereffects that contributed to the success of D-Day. This is an overview of that battle, June 6-8th, 1944, and its key players that affected the outcome of this little know yet significant small unit action on D-Day.

bombing

A-20 Havoc bombers hit Pointe du Hoc in the days before the invasion.

The Rangers Mission

Of the five Normandy invasion beaches in Operation Overlord, the one which stretched between Porten-Bessin and the Vire River, codenamed “Omaha”, was to be assaulted by two divisions from the U.S. Army’s Fifth Corps, the 1st & 29th Infantry Divisions, whose job it was to establish a beachhead well beyond those areas on D-Day. Attached to the 116th Regimental Combat Team, the 29th Division was the Provisional Ranger Group, the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, under the command of Lt. Col. James E. Rudder. The primary mission of this Ranger Group was to eliminate six German 155mm coastal guns placed in bunkers and casemates atop the 100 foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, which was approximately four miles west of the Omaha Beach landing zone. From the Pointe these large caliber guns had the range of about 12 miles in all directions. This meant that Utah Beach, farther west, Omaha Beach, and the thousands of transports and warships in the English Channel, were well within the range of these weapons. The original D-Day plan called for Rudder to split his two Ranger battalions into three Task Forces: A, B, and C. Their overall purpose was the elimination of the guns of Pointe du Hoc and securing the western flank of Omaha Beach.

Force A, consisting of Dog, Easy and Fox Companies of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, was to make an assault from the sea directly up the one hundred foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, using ropes and grapnels fired to the top of the cliffs by rockets, then eliminate the six coastal guns by placing thermite grenades in the gears and breaches of the weapons to prevent them from firing. The plan called for Dog Company to land and scale the west side of the Pointe, while simultaneously Easy and Fox Companies assaulted the east side. This task force numbered 225 men, with 64 men comprising an individual Ranger company and additional Rangers composed of headquarters personnel. After putting the guns out of action, Force A was to move on to their secondary objective a mile inland from the cliffs and fortifications on the Pointe. There they were to secure the black-top Vierville highway, running east to west along the coast, to prevent the movement of German troops to Utah or Omaha and cut all communication wires running along it.

Force B, Charlie Company of the 2nd Rangers, had a mission entirely separate from Pointe du Hoc, which was to assault Pointe du la Percee, the extreme right flank of Omaha Beach, also referred to as D-1 Exit by U.S. planners. Once across the beach, Charlie Company would scale the bluffs then eliminate German strong points situated above the draw, so as to enable the 116th Regiment’s advance off of the beach and open the way to the village of Vierville itself. Subsequently, when Omaha was secured, Charlie Company was to proceed overland to Pointe du Hoc with units of the 116th and rejoin Forces A and C.

Once up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, the Rangers of Force A, were to signal “Praise the Lord” to their brother Rangers of Force C, the entire 5th Ranger Battalion plus Able and Baker Companies of the 2nd Rangers were to follow them up the cliffs and reinforce the secured highway. Then together with the Force A Rangers, and the 1st Battalion, 116th Regimental Combat Team from Omaha, they were to drive west toward Grandcamp and Maisy, two other German strong points farther west along the Normandy coast. However, if these Rangers of Force C received the signal “Tilt” or no signal at all from Force A by H-hour plus 30 minutes (0700 hours), they were to be diverted east to sector Dog Green of Omaha Beach, proceed overland to Pointe du Hoc ahead of the 116th Regiment and eliminate the guns if they hadn’t been taken out, as well as relieve their fellow Rangers of Force A.

Landing on Omaha Beach

Force B – Charlie Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion

At 0645 hours, the ramps to LCAs 418 and 1038 dropped open to reveal the bloodied sands of Omaha Dog Green to the men of Charlie Company, 2nd Rangers. Preceding them by nine minutes at the very head of the first wave was Able Company, 116th Regiment. This company, know later as “The Bedford Boys”, suffered two-thirds casualties in killed and wounded during the first horrific minutes of the invasion. Many men were gunned down before they even had a chance to exit the landing craft by German machine gunners on the bluffs overlooking the beach. On the bluffs overlooking the beach several hundred yards away, German machine guns, mortars, and artillery, that had ripped Able Company to pieces, now tore into Charlie Company with the same ferocity.

LCA 418 contained Captain Ralph Goranson, the company commander, 1st Platoon leader Lieutenant Bill Moody, and about thirty Rangers; as this was the usual number of men an LCA was able to hold. Goranson, was the seventh or eighth man off, and as he stepped off the ramp enemy mortar or artillery rounds scored direct hits on the LCA. Looking back he saw that the ramp was completely blown off and what Rangers that remained in the landing craft were climbing over the side and dropping into the surf.

Lieutenant Sid Salomon, 2nd Platoon leader of Charlie, was the first to exit LCA 1038, jumping off on the right side of the landing craft into waist-deep water. Directly behind him came Sergeant Oliver Reed, who leaped off on the left side of the LCA and was shot instantly. As Reed was about to be dragged under the landing craft’s ramp by the surf, Salomon, braving enemy bullets churning the water around him and the sergeant, grabbed Reed by the collar and pulled him to relative safety onto the beach. Leaving Reed with another injured Ranger awaiting treatment, Salomon was knocked off of his feet by the concussion of a mortar blast behind him. Thinking he was about to die after feeling a shrapnel wound in his back, he unsuccessfully tried to remove the operations map from his jacket and give them to his platoon sergeant. But when sand kicked up by bullets began hitting him in the face he found new incentive to live and got up and run the rest of the way to the base of the bluffs.

Though this was their first time in combat, the Rangers were all volunteers that where highly motivated and highly trained to do what the regular infantrymen of the 116th could not do under the circumstances – keep moving. As Salomon ran the rest of the way to the base of the bluffs, he saw men from the 116th, who were taking cover wherever they could, look up at him in surprise as he and his men ran past. It should be noted that these men of the 116th, mostly comprised of the slaughtered Able Company that preceded the Rangers, were not cowards, but simply exhausted from sickness, scared and in shock from seeing their friends killed by the dozens right before their eyes. For the only way to survive was to brave the intense enemy fire and cross the exposed 300 yards of beach that was a killing zone. In order to live on Omaha in those first terrifying minutes of the invasion, the soldiers had to risk everything in one long dash to the beaches’ seawall; which only offered a small bit of protection from the unrelenting enemy fire.

Sure that he was hit while crossing the beach, Goranson checked himself for wounds, only to find that nine different bullets had penetrated the excessive amount of gear which he was carrying, but not one struck him. No sooner had Goranson make it to the seawall below the bluffs when he heard a fellow Ranger screamed “Mashed potatoes!” Mystified by the man’s statement, Goranson inquired of his meaning. “Right between your legs!” the Ranger screamed back. Looking down, Goranson saw a German concussion potato-masher-type grenade with the fuse smoking right between his legs. Quickly he swung his legs away and hunched up, escaping the blast without a scratch. At about the same time Sid Salomon also reached the seawall, where a medic removed the shrapnel from his back and applied sulfa powder to the wound. After that Salomon would climb the ninety-feet up the bluff via a rope, which was carried to top and secured by Private First Class Otto Stephens who pulled himself up the cliff while cutting handholds with his bayonet. When Salomon reached the top he found only nine Rangers left from his 2nd Platoon. 35 of Charlie Company’s 64 Rangers were casualties at this point, with nineteen of that number killed.

Supported by twenty soldiers of Baker Company of the 116th, these Rangers, despite their horrendous casualties, proceeded with their original mission. Led by Goranson, they infiltrated the German trench system overlooking Dog Green, then eliminated several enemy machine guns in bunkers and dugouts that had been slaughtering other G.I.’s coming ashore, thus improving the odds for their fellow soldiers struggling to get off the beach. Sometime around 1430 hours, Goranson led a patrol to reconnoiter the company’s original objective, Pointe du la Percee, only to find the German positions eliminated by gunfire from the Channel. With their objective destroyed, Charlie Company would eventually linkup with Force C, and participate in the battle beyond the Omaha beachhead.

GIs at Pointe Du Hoc

Force A – Dog, Easy & Fox Companies, 2nd Ranger Battalion

Just as the nine LCAs and three DUKW landing craft carrying the Rangers of Force A began to close the last 1,000 yards to shore, Colonel Rudder, in the lead LCA, realized that they were heading to the wrong cliff. Heavy seas combined with poor navigation and an eastward tidal current had pushed the LCAs off course towards Pointe du la Percee; Force B’s objective. Unaware of this, the naval pre-bombardment shelling was lifted at 0625 hours as planned to allow the Rangers to land five minutes later. However, German defenders, who had taken cover during the aerial bombing and naval shelling, emerged from their bunkers, reorganized and remand fighting positions to greet the approaching LCAs. Nevertheless, Rudder ordered the little flotilla to flank right and run parallel to shore toward their intended objective, Pointe du Hoc.

Finally, between 0705 and 0708 hours, after running a three mile gauntlet of German small arms fire from the cliff tops, Force A touched down at the base of Pointe du Hoc. Because they were behind schedule, Rudder had Dog Company land on the east side of the Pointe, between Easy and Fox Companies, rather than loose anymore time by having them land on the west side as originally planned. LCA 888, containing Rudder, headquarters personnel and Rangers from Easy Company, was the first to land. German soldiers appeared on the cliff top to fire down on the Rangers as they exited the landing craft, but Sergeant Domenick Boggetto opened fire first with his Browning automatic rifle (or BAR) and shot a German soldier, whose lifeless body then fell off of the cliff onto the beach below. The other Germans momentarily disappeared from view only to reappear again firing and throwing grenades down at the Rangers. Even before the LCAs dropped their ramps, each one fired their six boat-mounted rocket-propelled ropes tied to grapnels up the cliffs. However, many failed to reach the top due to sea spray which water logged many of the ropes and made them heavier than they would have been. Racing from their LCAs to the base of the cliff, while receiving enemy fire from both flanks and above, the Rangers set up portable rocket-launches and grapnels directly below the cliff face and fired enough ropes to the top to begin their climb. While this was happening, the destroyers U.S.S. Satterlee and H.M.S. Talybont, who along with other ships had lifted their supporting fire for the Rangers at 0625 hours, now sailed close to shore and risked running aground to give much needed close fire support for the Rangers. Though receiving enemy small arms fire herself, the Satterlee temporally drove the German defenders to cover, lashing the cliff tops with fire from her 5-inch, 40mm and 20mm guns. This proved to be a godsend for the Rangers, as they began their climb up the cliffs.

Determined to drive the invaders back, the Germans held almost every advantage over the Rangers, as they fired small arms and threw grenades directly down on them, and cut ropes as the attackers were pulling themselves up. No less determined, the Rangers fought back. As some braved enemy fire to pull themselves up hand over hand, others on the beach below provided cover fire. Those Rangers to make it to the top, then in turn kept the Germans away from the cliff edge with cover fire from BARs, to enable the Rangers below to join them. Within fifteen minutes of landing, the majority of Force A had made it to the top and most had already set off after the objective, without waiting for orders or for units to consolidate. Using the bomb cratered landscape beyond the cliffs as cover, the Rangers quickly overran the six gun emplacements, only to find the guns missing. In their place were faux guns made from wooden poles. Undaunted, Rangers from all three companies then proceed farther inland to their second objective, the coastal highway to deny its use to the Germans; leaving behind Rudder’s HQ Company and portion of Rangers from Fox Company to maintain their foothold on the cliff edge of the Pointe. During the assault, at 0725 hours, communications officer Lieutenant James Eikner and his team set up their SCR-300 radio and broadcasted the code word “Tilt” to Force C, which was waiting out in the Channel. Though Eikner received an acknowledgment, it is unclear who acknowledged; leaving the Rangers of Force A to wonder what was happening out in the Channel.

Rangers Climb up the cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc

Force C – Able & Baker Companies, 2nd Ranger Battalion & the 5th Ranger Battalion

Meanwhile, the Force C flotilla, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Max Schneider, which was supposed to turn towards Omaha Beach at 0700 hours, assuming that Force A had failed at Pointe du Hoc, was still waiting for the signal from their Ranger brethren. Schneider, aware of how important it was that the three Ranger companies assaulting Pointe du Hoc be reinforced, had ordered his landing craft to lay-to offshore, anxiously hoping for a signal from Rudder, but it never came. A breakdown in radio and visual communication prevented Schneider from receiving Force A’s transmission “Tilt”, sent by Eikner. Ultimately, Schneider was left with no choice but to follow the contingency plan and land at Omaha, then proceed overland to Pointe du Hoc and eliminate the guns if they were still operational.

At 0740 hours, the ramps to the six LCAs carrying Able and Baker Companies of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, plus some HQ Rangers, went down and opened up to the killing zone of Omaha Dog Green and Dog White to the unsuspecting Rangers. Here they struggled to reach the base of the bluffs, while suffering a fate similar to that of Charlie Company and units of the 116th Regiment. Able Company’s newly promoted commander, Captain Joe Rafferty, had successfully crossed the beach without injury, only to turn back and urge his Rangers and infantrymen to move forward; because they would die if they remained on the beach. While doing this he was hit in both legs. Falling forward onto his knees into the rapidly rising tide, Rafferty continued urging men to get off the beach shouting, “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry or everybody’s going to get killed.” Moments later, a bullet struck him in the head. A medic immediately ran to his side and seeing that he was still alive held the mortally wound captain upright. Rafferty made an effort to raise both hands to his head, but expired. With other wounded men to tend to, the medic released the brave officer’s body, which the tide carried away.

At the same time the rest of Force C, the entire 5th Ranger Battalion, was coming in right behind their fellow Rangers on Dog White. Learning that Dog Green was closed by naval officers because of the slaughter there and seeing Able and Baker Companies of the 2nd Rangers meeting the same fate on Dog White, Schneider elected to turn east to the next section, Dog Red. The bluffs overlooking this beach, Schneider observed, were obscured by brush fire smoke, a hindrance to enemy gunners visibility and that the beach itself had stone breakwaters jutting out from the seawall into the surf. It was ideal cover from the nonstop small arms fire. With hand and arm signals, he directed the flotilla to this beach. Though he probably didn’t realize it at the time, his decision would prove to be a turning point in the Battle for Omaha Beach.

Landing on a front of beach extending to about 200 yards wide, the 5th Rangers exited the LCAs, crossed the beach and reached the seawall virtually intact, receiving little or no enemy fire, while units of the 2nd Rangers and the 116th were being cut to pieces on neighboring Dog White. It was shortly after this incredible landing on Bloody Omaha, that Brigadier General Norman Cota, the executive officer of the 29th Infantry Division, came ashore with his staff right behind the 5th Rangers. Completely unconcerned with the enemy fire striking all around him, Cota strode up and down the beach, heartening and inspiring the men of his division. When he reached the stone bay containing Schindler’s Rangers, he is reported to have shouted in exhortation “Rangers, lead the way!” A phase that has since become the motto of today’s modern Rangers. By 0810 hours, the 5th Rangers had blown gaps in the barbed wire beyond the seawall and begun moving up the bluffs by platoons, infiltrating and eliminating German positions as they went. Soon following, the depleted Charlie Company of the 116th Regiment, led by General Cota himself, broke through the German defenses nearby. Continuing the attack, the 5th Rangers linked up with the survivors of Able and Baker Companies of the 2nd Rangers, then proceeded to the planned assembly area near Vierville, in preparation for an overland march to Pointe du Hoc; but the heavy casualties sustained on Omaha prevented Force C from leaving to carry out its original mission.

Leonard G. “Bud” Lomell (January 22, 1920 – March 1, 2011)

Leonard G. “Bud” Lomell (January 22, 1920 – March 1, 2011)

Mission Accomplished at Pointe du Hoc

The first man to step off the ramp of LCA 668 was First Sergeant Leonard G. “Bud” Lomell, the senior NCO (non-commissioned officer) of Dog Company, who was grazed by an enemy bullet on his right hip, but fortunately it failed to strike bone and left Lomell with only a flesh wound. The force of the bullet caused him to lose his balance and fall into an underwater bomb crater twenty feet from the narrow beach; just below the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. Lomell sank to the bottom of the crater, loaded down with his assault vest, gas mask, ammunition, helmet, grenades, sub-machine gun, pistol, a box of rope and a hand projector rocket; the latter two his carrying in both hands. Unable to escape the water trap, Lomell was helpless until two Rangers from his platoon pulled him out and dragged him to shore, where without hesitation he and the rest of his platoon immediately started up their ropes. After discovering that the guns of were missing from their emplacements, Lomell led the bulk of his platoon a mile inland to their second objective; the coastal highway.

Once defensive positions were set up on the highway, the First Sergeant and his platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Jack Kuhn, discovered a country lane leading even farther inland down two hedgerows. Etched in its surface were fresh wheel tracks, which suggested to Lomell the presence of the huge guns being nearby. With Lomell in the lead and Kuhn beside him, the two Rangers followed the wheel tracks down the narrow lane. To their surprise, the tracks led them strait to five of the 155mm guns, hidden in an apple orchard some 200 yards square. The guns were aimed in the direction of Utah Beach, with ammunition stacked beside them at the ready. Theywere concealed in camouflage coverings to hide their presence from aerial reconnaissance. No sentries or gun crews manned them. 100 yards away, the two Rangers observed a German officer talking to between thirty and a hundred men at a farm road intersection. Lomell believed they were the gun crews.

Leaving Kuhn on top of the hedgerow to cover him, Lomell crept into the orchard and ignited their two thermite grenades in the traversing gears of the first two guns. Wrapping his field jacket around the butt end of his sub-machine gun, Lomell then smashed each of the five guns sights, so as to do as much damage to them as he could. The two Rangers then ran back to the highway, retrieved more thermite grenades from their platoon, ran back to the orchard and finish the job without the Germans ever realizing their presence. At the same time, in a nearby hedgerow another patrol from Easy Company discovered the sixth gun and the powder stores. These Rangers placed a thermite grenade in the gun’s depressed barrel, then set fire to the ammunition stock pile, which explode just as Lomell and Kuhn were fleeing the orchard after putting the other five guns out of action. Returning to the road block at the highway at approximately 0900 hours, Lomell dispatched two runners at to inform Rudder that the guns had been destroyed. Though communication with the off shore vessels was fragile at best, which improved later when Eikner recovered an old World War I signal lamp, Rudder sent out the message “Located Pointe du Hoc – mission accomplished – need ammunition and reinforcements – many casualties.” A reply finally came from the Fifth Corps’ commanding general: “No reinforcements available.”

Rangers in Rudder's command post take a breather during the battle

Rangers in Rudder’s command post take a breather during the battle

German Counterattacks

In the mid-afternoon, a German squad attempting to attack Rudder’s CP, most likely a probe, was ambushed by a BAR team consisting of two Rangers; killing the enemy squad’s machine gun crew in the proses. Shouting the German soldiers coordinates over to a mortar crew in nearby crater, the two Rangers waited until the zeroing in rounds drove the Germans from cover and into the open. All except one were cut down by the Ranger’s fire. This was the first organized movement by the Germans who, up until then, were scattered, confused, disorganized and trying to escape inland away from the Pointe.

Once across the seawall on Omaha Beach, Lieutenant Charles “Ace” Parker, commanding officer 1st Platoon, Able Company, 5th Rangers, became separated and out of touch with Colonel Schneider’s HQ. Leading his twenty-two man platoon ahead of the 5th Rangers to the rally point near Vierville, Parker found the rest of the battalion missing. He assumed that they had moved on to Pointe du Hoc, when in truth they were still fighting for control of the bluffs overlooking Omaha, Parker set out for the 5th Rangers objective, having several firefights all the way. At one point, this tiny band of Rangers acquired forty German prisoners, which Parker had to free in order to avoid he and his men being captured themselves. Two hours before the sunset on June 6th, 2100 hours, Parker’s platoon arrived at Pointe du Hoc and Rudder’s CP on the cliff face. Finding that his battalion hadn’t reached the Pointe ahead of him, Parker assumed that they were following close behind. They were not.

Nightfall gave Rudder a chance to assess his situation. Just over eighty Rangers from Dog, Easy, and part of Fox Companies, bolstered by Parker’s platoon, maintained a “L” shaped position, 300 yards long on each front, forward of the coastal highway; to meet any initial German counterattacks. Rudder, back on the Pointe with his CP and the rest of Fox Company, had little contact with the Rangers inland, except through messengers who were hindered by distance and shell torn terrain. Determining that any major German counterattack on Pointe du Hoc would have to deal with Rangers inland first, Rudder elected to have them remain in their positions south of the highway. Though one third of the original assault force was casualties, the slightly wounded were returning to the fight. Both on the Pointe and inland, the Rangers ammunition for their own weapons was nearly exhausted, many resorted to picking up weapons from fallen German soldiers to maintain their fire superiority.

Though no Ranger officer held overall command of the “L” shaped position south of the highway, all agreed that if overrun by a major attack, with no significant reserves to repel a penetration, the units would fight their way back to the Pointe and regroup at Rudder’s CP. Just prior to midnight, a two man Ranger outpost was driven back by an enemy probing attack, preceded by shouts and whistles of the attackers. At 0100 hours June 7th, the Germans moved to 100 yards from the Rangers positions and followed up with another probe attack in the same area, resulting in Easy Company’s link to Dog Company being severed.

At 0300 hours the Germans made their third and heaviest counterattack, preceded by mortars and intense machine gun fire. This time however, the Germans shifted their attack slightly east of the previous attacks, hitting both Easy and Fox Companies and missing the remnants of Dog Company altogether, which had become isolated from the battle. A platoon from Easy bore the brunt of the attack, losing nineteen men killed or captured. Lieutenant Robert Arman of Fox Company, the most senior officer present, ordered what remained of the “L” shaped defense to withdraw, leaving two Rangers with BARs to cover the retreat. Reaching the coastal highway 300 yards to the rear, Arman reorganized what remained, most of Fox Company, some from Easy and none from Dog Company. Word spread that the rest had been wiped out in the attack. At 0400 hours, some forty-eight Rangers from the highway defense trudged onto the Pointe and were placed in a last line of defense around the gun emplacements, with Rudders’s CP and cliffs to their backs. Told that Dog Company had been wiped out, Rudder took a fresh head count. Out of the original 225 men that had assaulted the cliffs the previous day, only 90 could still bear arms; many of those were wounded themselves and low on weapons and ammunition.

Meantime, the twelve remaining Rangers of Dog Company maintained their original defensive positions south of the highway. Unaware of Easy and Fox Companies withdrawal, these Rangers kept themselves hidden in their foxholes and dugouts when morning light prevented any movement; due to the risk of discovery by the enemy.

German prisoners are marched away at gun point past the command post.

German prisoners are marched away at gun point past the command post.

Relief – 48 hours after D-Day

Because of the high casualties sustained on Omaha Beach by the 116th Regiment, which had lost 341 men killed on D-Day, senior army commanders saw the enlargement of that beachhead as a higher priority than the relief of Pointe du Hoc. A German counterattack on the morning of June 7th, which threatened the entire 29th Division’s position, caused the commanding general of the 29th to order four companies of the 5th Rangers to defend Vierville, the beach exit and the 29th‘s CP. Reasoning that the loss of three Ranger Companies at Pointe du Hoc was acceptable compared to the loss of the entire Omaha beachhead. This decision prevented the Rangers of Forces B and C, who disagreed with the division commander’s decision, from immediately going to the aid of their fellow Rangers at Pointe du Hoc.

Colonel Schneider pressed for and finally got the regimental commander of the 116th, Colonel Charles Canham, to organize a relief column for the besieged Rangers at the Pointe. The column consisted of the 1st Battalion of the 116th Regiment, Charlie and Dog Companies of the 5th Rangers, Able, Baker and Charlie Companies of the 2nd Rangers, and eight tanks of Baker Company of the 743rd Tank Battalion. This column began to move toward Pointe du Hoc at 0800 hours and initially encountered little resistance. Around 1200 hours, they reached the hamlet of St. Pierre du Mont and were only one thousand yards from Pointe du Hoc, when they were halted by German artillery, small arms fire and a huge crater in the center of the road flanked by mine fields. Colonel Canham, out of concern for the Omaha Beach lodgment, prevented further advance that day by orderring the tanks of the 743rd to return to Vierville for the nightThe 2nd and 5th Rangers of Schneider’s task force had no choice but to dig in for the night.

Communication with the warships off shore had by this time improved for Rudder’s Rangers on the Pointe and was vital in driving back German counterattacks, which grew weaker throughout the day. Around midday, two LCVPs brought in a small contingent of reinforcements to the beleaguered Rangers from the sea. Organized by Major Jack Street, a veteran Ranger of the North African and Sicily campaigns, some sixty men from the 1st Platoon of Fox Company of the 5th Rangers and a dismounted cannon platoon, reinforced Rudder’s defense. After delivering this small relief party, the landing craft took off thirty-four wounded Rangers and twenty-eight German prisoners that were taken aboard the battleship U.S.S. Texas. At 2200 hours, German units ceased their counterattacks on Pointe du Hoc, out of men and resources.

In the early hours of June 8th, the Ranger forces from Omaha and the 1st Battalion of the 116th made a direct attack on Pointe du Hoc to relieve Rudder’s Rangers. This attack was supported by the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 116th and tanks from Companies Able and Charlie of the 743rd Tank Battalion, which attacked west towards Grandcamp then swung right to envelop any retreating Germans from the Pointe. However, the 3rd Battalion of the 116th, upon hearing the distinct sounds of German machine guns firing from Pointe du Hoc, and unaware that Rudder’s men were using captured enemy weapons, opened fire on the Rangers; resulting in four being killed and three wound before an officer from the 2nd Rangers put a stop to it. At the same time the twelve Dog Company Rangers were discovered by lead elements 116th, led by Colonel Canham himself. With all the Ranger forces linked up and their missions on Pointe du Hoc as well as Omaha Beach accomplished, they moved on to new objectives as part of the larger Allied advance into Normandy and beyond the beaches.

President Ronald Reagan addresses “the Boys of Pointe du Hoc” on June 6th, 1984

President Ronald Reagan addresses “the Boys of Pointe du Hoc” on June 6th, 1984

World War II was the single greatest struggle the world has ever seen and certainly was the final conflict of epic scale since the last half of the twentieth century, but for all its vastness and staggering quantities of men and material employed by the Allies to defeat the Axis forces of tyranny, it was relatively small groups of individual units like the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, made up of ordinary men who accomplished the extraordinary, that won the war and laid the foundations for peace. In destroying the enemy gun battery at Pointe du Hoc and providing critical support for the disastrous assault on Omaha Beach, the Rangers contributed significantly to the success of D-Day and saved many lives that could have been lost. However, they paid dearly for this victory. The 2nd Ranger battalion suffered 263 causalities in the forty-eight hours between June 6th and 8th, 70 of which were killed in action, out of 545 men and officers that originally comprised the battalion. The 5th Ranger Battalion also suffered heavy casualties, losing over a hundred men killed or wounded during the same time. Both units received the Presidential Unit Citation in 1945, which is the highest award a unit can be presented with in the U.S. Army, and the French Croix de Guerre. On June 6th, 1984, President Ronald Reagan in his speech about these men, that he called “the Boys of Pointe du Hoc,” epitomized their bravery and selflessness to evoke the magnificence of the generation that fought this war and sacrificed for the freedom of future generations. To remember what the Rangers did on D-Day and the days that followed, is to better understand the cost that an entire generation paid for posterity.

Pointe Du Hoc today. Source

Selected Bibliography

Black, Robert W. The Battalion The Dramatic Story of the 2nd Ranger Battalion in World War II. Stackpole Books. 2006.

Black, Robert W. Rangers in World War II. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.

Further Reading

The Boys of Pointe du Hoc – Ronald Reagan, D-Day and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion by Douglas Brinkley

The Liberation of Pointe du Hoc – The 2nd Rangers at Normandy: June 6-8, 1944 by Jonna McDonald

Rudder’s Rangers – The True Story of the 2nd United States Ranger Battalion’s D-Day Combat Action by Ronald L. Lane

The Politics and Economics of Reconstruction

November 8, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

Editor’s note: We are pleased to again welcome Philip Leigh, who brings us a long-form guest post on how the Reconstruction shaped the southern states.

Atlanta_roundhouse_ruin3

Post-war Ruins in Atlanta

Over the past fifty years, historians have reinterpreted Civil War Reconstruction. Shortly before the Centennial it was generally agreed that the chief aim of the Republican-dominated Congress was to ensure lasting Party control of the federal government by creating a reliable voting bloc in the South for which improved racial status among blacks was a paired, but secondary, objective. However, by the Sesquicentennial it had become the accepted view that Republicans were primarily motivated by an enlightened drive for racial equality uncorrupted by anything more than minor self interest. Due to the presently dominant race-centric focus on the era, analysis of the economic aspects of Reconstruction merit dedicated attention, as does a reexamination of Republican motives. Such is the purpose of this paper.1

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Was the Emancipation Proclamation Trying to Incite a Slave Rebellion?

September 5, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Philip Leigh, who brings us a guest post on Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Be sure to check out his newest book, Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies.

Nat_Turner_captured

Capture of Nat Turner

Such an uprising would almost certainly have compelled Confederate soldiers to desert in order to go home to protect their families. Even if they were members of the nearly 70% of families in the Confederate states that did not own slaves such a rebellion could trigger a race war. The danger was a particularly sensitive point in states like South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi where slaves represented over half, or nearly half, of the population. The Confederacy would have little chance of surviving a widespread servile insurrection that would require it to fight both the slaves and the Union armies.1

Although there were few prior American slave rebellions, Nat Turner’s 1831 Virginia uprising confirmed they could be merciless racial conflicts. During their brief summer rampage Turner’s rebels killed nearly every White they encountered. A total of about sixty were massacred, mostly women and children.

One near-victim was George Thomas who was spared because he fled his home to hide in the woods with his mother and sisters. Thomas later became a famous Union general credited with saving an entire army at the battle of Chickamauga. Out of 7,000 Blacks in the region, Turner was only able to recruit about sixty followers. There were even reports that some masters gave weapons to their wards and that the armed slaves helped put-down the insurrection.2

Some slave rebellions elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere involved more extensive genocide. One example was on the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo where a multi-year revolt culminated in the formation of the Free Haitian Republic in 1804. Although most Whites left by that time, the 5,000 or so who remained were systematically massacred. Some women who took Black husbands or lovers were spared.3

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Slave Trade Destinations. Source.

The map above shows that the vast bulk of African slave trade terminated in the Caribbean and South America, not the United States. Therefore, Western Hemisphere slave uprisings outside our country were more common. As shall be explained, their potential to disrupt Atlantic trade was a serious worry for the Europeans.

President Lincoln famously resisted pressure to emancipate slaves during the first year-and-a-half of his administration. In the first year he required that Major General John C. Fremont withdraw the general’s military order freeing Missouri slaves, which was a state where Fremont was then military commander. In May 1862 Lincoln rescinded an order by Major General David Hunter that freed the slaves in parts of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. Lincoln’s resistance to emancipation early in the war was partly influenced by a desire to prevent the slave-legal border-states, such as Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, from seceding.4

However, by the summer of 1862 the president was considering emancipation as a necessary means of winning the war. His earliest supportive remarks date to July 13, 1862. While riding in a carriage with Secretary of State William Seward and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, who were conservative cabinet members, he remarked that he “had about come to the conclusion that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.” Both men were surprised and asked for time to consider the matter. Lincoln urged them to ponder it seriously because “something must be done.”5

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Lincoln and his cabinet

About a week later on July 22 the president read a first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to the entire cabinet that included abolitionist and conservative members. The secretaries had expected the meeting to address other matters and had difficulty focusing on the statement. It had a curious structure that showed the president was trying to reconcile his previous policy and constitutional arguments with the new position. For example, less than eighteen months earlier in his presidential inaugural address he said he had no lawful right “to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.” It also pledged pecuniary aid to any state, including the rebellious ones, who voluntarily abolished slavery. He concluded by asking for cabinet member opinions.6

Secretary of War Stanton and Attorney General Bates urged immediate adoption. Surprisingly, the abolitionist Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase felt that it would be better to let the generals in the field implement the program sector-by-sector partly to avoid the “depredation and massacre” of civilians and their property. Secretary of State Seward remarked that emancipation “would break up our relations with foreign nations and the production of cotton for sixty years.” Apparently he believed that cotton could not be economically produced except by slave labor. Seward also advised that if the president was determined to proceed, he should wait until the Union armies won an important victory. Otherwise, he warned, the policy “would be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help.”7

Slave Reading the Emancipation Proclamation

Slave Reading the Emancipation Proclamation

Secretary Chase’s comment suggests that a number of important Northerners recognized that emancipation might prompt a slave uprising. In point of fact, President Lincoln was among them. On September 13, 1862 he replied to a delegation of Chicago abolitionists visiting Washington that he recognized the potentially immoral “consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South.” Whatever the moral benefits, or immoral consequences, of emancipation he “view[ed] the matter as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the [Confederate] rebellion.”8

After the battle of Antietam that repulsed Robert E. Lee’s Maryland invasion, Lincoln publicly announced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It is described as “preliminary” because the formal proclamation would not be effective until January 1, 1863.

Following the September public announcement many voices condemned the proclamation as an attempt to provoke a slave rebellion. Unsurprisingly, it was a common interpretation in the South where Confederate President Jefferson Davis averred the document “encouraged [slaves] to a general assassination of their masters.” But similar reactions were not uncommon in the North partly because the manuscript includes a statement that the “[US] military and naval authority…will do no act to repress [slaves], or…any efforts [the slaves] may make for their actual freedom.” Many critics concluded the statement ordered the military to do nothing to protect Southern civilians should a slave rebellion arise.9

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Charles Dana

Among them was Charles A. Dana, a trusted civilian observer of generals and armies in the field for Lincoln and Stanton. Dana immediately urged that the statement by erased or changed because of its potential to incite servile insurrection. Another example was former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis from Massachusetts. He was on the Court during the Dred Scott decision and sided with the minority who felt Scott should have been freed. After the ruling went against him, Curtis resigned from the Court. Although he did not believe Lincoln intended to instigate a slave rebellion, he concluded the proclamation’s likely result would be to “incite a part of the inhabitants of the United States to rise in insurrection against valid laws.” He foresaw “scenes of bloodshed” and “servile war.”10

Boston maritime mogul and friend to abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner, Robert Forbes, concluded that Sumner’s followers genuinely wanted the slaves to “be made free by killing or poisoning their masters and mistresses.” US Representative Thaddeus Stevens who was a primary abolitionist leader and chief architect of Civil War Reconstruction validated Forbes’s conclusion. Stevens later admitted hoping the slaves would be “incited to insurrection and give the rebels a taste of real war.” Similarly, the Continental Monthly of New York urged that a “thousand mounted men” be recruited to raid deep into the South with authority to assemble and arm the slaves.” Finally, Senator Sumner himself said, “I know of no principle…by which our [Southern White] rebels should be saved from the natural consequences of their own action…They set the example of insurrection…They cannot complain if their slaves…follow it.11

Colonel Charles Francis Adams, Jr. who was the son of Lincoln’s ambassador to Great Britain and the great-grandson and grandson of two US presidents concluded the prevailing belief in the North at the time of the proclamation was that it would spark an immediate slave uprising to bring the war to a sudden end. Major General George McClellan similarly complained that the president sought to stir up slave rebellions in an attempt to end the war. McClellan cannot be dismissed as an isolated example because he was Lincoln’s opponent in the 1864 wartime presidential election when he received over 1.8 million votes, which was 45% of the total. As late as July 1864 Lincoln was convinced he would lose the election to McClellan, but the president’s prospects were rescued by Sherman’s capture of Atlanta on September 2.12

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Lowrey

Grosvenor Lowery, a US Treasury Department lawyer who wrote legal pamphlets supporting the expansion of the president’s wartime powers, opined that nobody could predict a slave rebellion. However, he added, that if a “servile resurrection …ensu[ed]” the rebels could only blame themselves. Essentially, Lowery argued for Lincoln that emancipation was legal as a wartime measure, which the government should use to win the war even at the risk of a Southern slave rebellion. In legal terms, Grosvenor echoed Lincoln’s points to the delegation of Chicago abolitionists nine days before he issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It was legal as a wartime measure but had both moral, and potentially immoral, ramifications.13

According to historian Howard Jones, initial reaction that the Emancipation Proclamation might provoke slave rebellions was also common in Europe. Moreover, the Europeans worried that it could trigger a race war that would extend beyond American borders. Instead of concluding that emancipation gave the United States the moral high ground Jones writes:

What developed was not an expected debate over the morality of slavery but a deep fear among British leaders that the president’s move would stir up slave rebellions. The result, they predicted, would be a race war that crossed sectional lines and, contrary to Lincoln’s intentions forced other nations to intervene [in America’s Civil War.]

[British Foreign Secretary Earl John Russell]…told [the House of] Lords that the war must come to a halt on the basis of a southern separation. Otherwise a full-scale race war would result…14

Russell justified mediation on…[presumption of] a certain race war that would drag in other nations. In the ultimate irony Lincoln had adopted an antislavery posture in part to prevent outside interference…but had instead raised the likelihood of foreign involvement by, according to the British and French, attempting to stir up a servile insurrection… 15

Similarly Jones writes of the opinion held by the French minister to Washington, Henri Mercier:

…like the British [Mercier concluded] that the Union’s expected demand for immediate emancipation would spark a race war that disrupted the southern economy and stopped the flow of cotton. Such a conflict would spread beyond sectional boundaries and drag in other nations.16

Opinions similar to those above were echoed by a number of prominent British and French newspapers. The London Times asked whether “the reign of [Lincoln’s presidency was] to go out amid the horrible massacres of white women and children, to be followed by the extermination of the black race in the South?” According to Jones, the French “…Conservative press thought the Proclamation would cause slave rebellions and a ‘fratricidal war’ that would envelop America in ‘blood and ruins.’”17

In time, however, since a slave rebellion failed to materialize, Lincoln was able to win the moral high ground with the Europeans and posterity. It is impossible to be certain about his intentions. Nonetheless, there is a subtle but important difference in language between the Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862 and the final one about three months later on January 1, 1863. Lincoln added the following paragraph to the final version, which was altogether missing from the September 22 version:

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

Philip Leigh Philip Leigh contributed twenty-four articles to The New York Times Disunion blog, which commemorated the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Westholme Publishing released three of Phil’s three Civil War books to date:

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies (2015)
Trading With the Enemy (2014)
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated (2013)

Phil has lectured a various Civil War forums, including the 23rd Annual Sarasota Conference of the Civil War Education Association and various Civil War Roundtables. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology and an MBA from Northwestern University.

793px-A_Visit_from_the_Old_Mistress

Slaves with their Master


1. Tim McNeese America’s Civil War (Dayton, Oh.: Lorenz Educational Press, 2003) 9; James Randall & David Donald The Civil War and Reconstruction (Boston: D. C. Heath & Company, 1961) 5.
2. Francis Simkins and Charles Roland A History of the South (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972) 126 – 127; Ernest Furgurson “Catching Up With Old Slow Trot” Smithsonian Magazine March, 2007.
3. Philippe Girard The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011) 321 – 322.
4. James McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) 352, 499; David Donald Lincoln (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995) 363 – 364.
5. David Donald Lincoln 362.
6. Ibid., 365; Abraham Lincoln “First Presidential Inaugural Address” Yale Law School, The Avalon Project http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln1.asp.
7. Ibid., 365.
8. Abraham Lincoln, Roy Basler Editor The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln Volume 5 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953) 421.
9. Michael Burlingame Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) 417; John Franklin The Emancipation Proclamation (Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, 1963) 43.
10. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 417; Louis Masur Lincoln’s Hundred Days (Cambridge, Ma.: Belknap Press, 2012) 123 – 124.
11. Louis Masur Lincoln’s Hundred Days 123 – 125; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 417; Allen Guelzo Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006)
12. Howard Jones Blue and Gray Diplomacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010) 230; Matthew Andrews Virginia: The Old Dominion (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1937) 632n; James McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) 771, 773, 805.
13. Louis Masur Lincoln’s Hundred Days 123.
14. Howard Jones Blue and Gray Diplomacy 120.
15. Ibid., 234.
16. Ibid., 146.
17. Ibid., 232.

Civil War Legacy

July 27, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Philip Leigh, who brings us a guest post on how the Civil War and Reconstruction shaped the south. Be sure to check out his newest book, Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies.

Richmond, VA just after the Civil War

Over the past fifty years, historians reinterpreted Civil War Reconstruction. Shortly before the Centennial it was generally agreed the chief aim of the Republican-dominated congress was to ensure lasting party control of the federal government by creating a reliable voting bloc in the South for which improved racial status among blacks was a coupled, but secondary, objective. However, by the Sesquicentennial it had become the accepted view that Republicans were primarily driven by an enlightened drive for racial equality untainted by anything more than negligible self interest. Consequently the presently dominant race-centric focus on Reconstruction minimizes political and economic aspects.

Contrary to popular belief Southern poverty has been a longer-lasting Civil War legacy than has Jim Crow or segregation. Prior to the war the South had a bimodal wealth distribution with concentrations at the poles. The classic planters with fifty or more slaves had prosperous estates but they represented less than 1% of Southern families. Partly because 1860 slave property values represented 48% of Southern wealth, seven of the ten states with the highest per capita wealth soon joined the Confederacy.

However, since two thirds of Southern families did not own slaves the 1860, per capita income of the region was only slightly ahead of the north central states and well behind the average northeastern state. A century later eight of the bottom ten states in per capita income were former members of the Confederacy. Even 151 years later only one Southern state, Virginia, ranked within the top ten in per capita income. Moreover, five (half) of the bottom ten in 2011 were former Confederate states. The classic example is Mississippi, which ranked number one in 1860 per capita wealth, but was dead last at fiftieth in 2011 per capita income. The depths of post Civil War Southern poverty and its duration were far greater, longer, and more multiracial than is commonly understood. It took eighty-five years for the South’s per capita income to regain the below average percentile ranking it held in 1860.

chart1

The war had destroyed two-thirds of Southern railroads and two-thirds of the region’s livestock was gone. Steamboats had nearly disappeared from the rivers. One hundred million dollars in insurance investments and twice that amount in bank capital had vanished. Excluding the 100% loss in the value of slaves resulting from emancipation, assessed property values at the end of the war were more than 40% lower than in 1860. Approximately a 300,000 white Southern males in the prime of adulthood died during the war and perhaps another 200,000 were incapacitated, representing about 18% of the region’s approximate 2.75 million white males of all ages in 1860 and about 36% of those over age nineteen.

During the war, Southern farms drifted back to nature. Since their protective levees had been destroyed, thousands of square miles of Mississippi delta cotton lands were overrun with briers and cane thickets. Returning Confederate soldiers often found their families existing in starving conditions. In December 1865 an estimated half-million whites in three Gulf states alone were without life’s necessities, and some had starved to death.

Historian David L. Cohn adds:

When there was a shortage of work stock, the few surviving animals were passed from neighbor to neighbor. [When] there was no work stock [the men] hitched themselves to the plow. By ingenuity, backbreaking toil, and cruel self-denial thousands of Southern farmers survived reconstruction…They received no aid from any source, nor any sympathy outside the region.

By 1870, Southern bank capital totaled only $17 million, compared to $61 million in 1860. So great was the devastation and anemic the rebound that by 1900 the South had barely recovered to the level of economic activity prior to the Civil War. Although Southern poverty and cotton culture is commonly associated with blacks, in 1940 two-thirds of Southern tenant farmers were whites. Shortly after the Great Depression began, the president of General Motors (Alfred P. Sloan) voluntarily cut his annual salary from $500,000 to $340,000. His $160,000 cut was more than all the income taxes paid by the two million residents of Mississippi that year.

Post-war politics and federal economic policies impeded Southern economic recovery. Among such factors were property confiscations, Republican Party self-interest, discriminatory federal budgets, protective tariffs, banking regulations, and lax monopoly regulation.

Cotton being taken to market

When Lee surrendered to Grant, more than two million fungible cotton bales were scattered across the South. Given an average price of 43 cents per pound, each bale was worth about $172, putting the value of the entire inventory at nearly $345 million as compared to perhaps $15 million of US currency then circulating in the region. The cotton might have been a resource to prime the pump of Southern recovery, but instead it was plundered.

Union soldiers, US treasury officials, and Northern businessmen stole most of it under the pretext of legitimate confiscation, or no pretext at all. A dismayed US Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch remarked, “I am sure that I sent some honest cotton agents South, but it sometimes seems very doubtful that any of them remained honest very long.”

Southern lands were confiscated for non-payment of taxes, which were some of the highest in relation to wealth in US history. At one point 15% of Mississippi’s taxable land was up for sale due to tax defaults.

When the Civil War ended the Republican Party was barely ten years old. Its leaders worried that it might be strangled in its cradle if the re-admittance of Southern states into the Union failed to be managed in a manner that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government. If all former Confederate states were admitted to the 39th Congress in December 1865 and each added member was a Democrat, the Republican majority in the Senate would have dropped from 40-to-10 to 40-to-32. Even more significantly, the Democrats would have seized a 143-to-111 majority in the House of Representatives versus an extant Republican majority of 111-to-72.

US Capitol in 1866

The infant GOP needed to insure that most of the new Southern senators and congressmen be re-admitted as Republicans. That meant that vassal governments needed to be established in the Southern states. Since there were few white Republicans in the region the Party needed to create a new constituency. Consequently, Republicans settled on two objectives. First was mandatory African-American suffrage in all former Confederate states. They expected that such a mostly illiterate and inexperienced electorate could be manipulated to consistently support Republican interests out of gratitude for emancipation and voter suffrage. Second was to disenfranchise the Southern white classes most likely to oppose Republican policies.

When the Civil War began, African-Americans were not permitted to vote in sixteen of the twenty-two Union-loyal states. In most of the remaining six they could only vote by meeting property and education tests that were more stringent than those applied to whites. Upon the war’s conclusion, only five New England states with tiny black populations permitted blacks to vote.

Since the Constitution specified that voter qualifications were a matter of states’ rights, Republicans settled on a strategy that materialized as the Fourteenth Amendment, which had two key provisions. First, states refusing suffrage to male citizens of any race would have their congressional representation cut by subtracting the number of members of the excluded race from the applicable state’s population for purposes of calculating its House representation and electoral votes. Due to their tiny black populations, the provision was inconsequential in Northern states. Second, despite the fact that Congress considered their governments unlawful, all Southern states would be required to ratify the amendment before they could be readmitted into the Union.

14th Amendment

Republicans were anxious to get Southern states re-admitted as puppet regimes quickly because of the approaching presidential election. Through various acts congress disenfranchised enough Southern whites to enable the Fourteenth Amendment to be approved by a sufficient number of Southern Republican states for it to be ratified in July 1868 thereby assuring a large block of electoral votes for the party’s presidential candidate, Ulysses Grant, who would have lost the popular vote without 450,000 black Southern voters.

Since six of the readmitted Southern states voted for Grant in 1868 and only two voted against him, it soon became apparent that a second amendment granting black men the vote in every state could be quickly approved. As a result, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified by three-fourths of the states in 1870, less than a year after Grant took office.

During Reconstruction Southerners were required to pay their share of federal taxes for sizable budget items that if funded by an independent defeated foe would have constituted reparations. To be sure, reparations are not a rare form of a victor’s compensation, but it should not be assumed that the Southern states escaped equivalent penalties merely because they were readmitted to the Union.

The table below summarizes federal tax revenues and spending for a quarter century following the Civil War. More than half of federal tax revenues were applied to three items: (1) federal debt interest, (2) budget surpluses, and (3) Union veterans benefits. Although compelled to pay their share of taxes to fund them, former Confederates derived no benefit from the allocations.

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Post-war surpluses were mostly used to retire the federal debt owed to Northerners who bought bonds sold during the Civil War when the federal debt jumped more than forty-fold from $65 million to nearly $2.7 billion. Similarly, Northerners received the interest payments on such debt, which accounted for 23% of federal revenues for a quarter century after the war.

The budget surpluses were caused by protective tariffs that generated more income than necessary to operate the federal government. As the table below documents dutiable items were taxed at about 45% until after President Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated in 1913 and remained generally high until after World War II when the manufacturing economies of the Northern states had no international competitors because of the war’s destruction of European and Asian economies.

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The purpose of such tariffs was to restrict competition for domestic producers, almost none of which were in the South. The South’s was primarily an export economy. Even as late as the 1930s, 60% of its cotton was sold overseas. But foreign buyers could not pay for Southern cotton unless they could generate exchange credits by selling manufactured goods to Americans, which protective tariffs restricted.

Finally, former Confederates derived no benefit from generous federal spending on Union veteran pensions. Ex-Rebel soldiers could only collect much smaller pensions from their respective states. Union veteran pensions were originally paid only to soldiers who sustained disabling injuries during military service, but Republicans gradually expanded eligibility to solidify veterans as a Party constituency. In 1878 the military-connected disability requirement was waived for widows. In 1890 pensions were available to all disabled veterans even if the disabilities resulted from post war civilian activities. In 1904 any Union veteran over age 62 was regarded as disabled and entitled to a pension. In 1876 Union veterans pensions represented 10% of the federal budget but the fraction climbed to 25% in 1886 and reached 40% in 1900.

While some federal spending items not specified above benefitted the South, they were few, tiny, or funded by the Southerners themselves. From 1865 – 1873 the federal government spent $103 million on public works, but less than 10% went to the former Confederate states. New York and Massachusetts alone got more than twice as much as the entire South.

Instead the federal government taxed cotton. As prices dropped after the war the levy represented about one-fifth of the market value. It raised $68 million, which was about seven times the amount of public works spending in the South from 1865 to 1873. The tax could not be passed along to buyers since most American cotton was exported where it had to compete with cotton from other countries that had no such tax.

While the Freedmen’s Bureau provided some economic assistance, it was mostly devoted to the ex-slaves. Moreover, the cotton tax alone amounted to nearly three times the federal spending on the Bureau during the Bureau’s entire existence.

To clarify how post Civil War banking regulations restrained post war Southern economic recovery it should be understood that for fifteen years prior to the war the federal government could stamp coins (mostly in specie of gold or silver) but was prohibited from printing paper money. The only paper currency then circulating were the banknotes of independent banks, which merited little value if they could not be redeemed for specie. The wheels of commerce required the circulation of such banknotes or specie.

Enormous financing induced by the Civil War compelled monetary changes. The first was the 1862 Legal Tender Act, which paved the way for the 1863 National Banking Act. The first act authorized the federal government to print paper money without gold backing and the second forced national banks to become regular buyers of federal bonds, which were used to finance the war. Independent banks were nearly driven out of existence by placing a 10% tax on their banknotes.

Ruins of Charleston in 1865

Although the post Civil War South badly needed rebuilding capital it was almost impossible for regional investors to organize suitable banks.

First, national bank capital requirements were beyond the means of impoverished Southerners. Second, national banks could not make mortgage loans, a type of loan essential to the agrarian South. Third, national banks were prohibited from operating more than a single branch, which was a handicap in the sparsely populated South. Fourth, even though state chartered banks might offer mortgages and/or require less start-up capital, the 10% federal tax on their banknotes burdened them with prohibitive operating costs.

Although the currently popular Reconstruction narrative portrays Southern Democrats as conservative, if not reactionary, the label is often erroneous when matters of economics, instead of race, are studied. When Republicans the lost Presidency from 1913 to 1921 to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the former Southerner promoted a wave of progressive legislation.

Although the Sixteenth (Income Tax) Amendment was passed shortly before Wilson took office, four years later it became graduated in order to minimize the burden on lower income taxpayers. Southerners had long supported the tax as an alternate revenue source that would enable tariffs to be cut. Consequently, tariffs were reduced to 27% during Wilson’s eight years as compared to 48% in the eight preceding years and 38% in the eight following years. Also under Wilson the long-sought Southern goal of banking reform materialized when the Federal Reserve System was created. The 1916 Federal Farm Loan Act and Warehouse Act were outgrowths of a sub-treasury plan advocated by Southerners twenty-five years earlier.

 

US Army trail with Lincoln’s Presidential car

Another example of Southern progressivism was monopoly regulation. After former Confederate Postmaster General John Regan became a US Congressman in 1875, he was one of the first advocates of railroad rate regulation, which led to formation of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The South was saddled with discriminatory railroad rates that took decades to rectify. Even as late as the 1940s Georgia Governor Ellis Arnell led a fight against “the freight-rate cartel” that hindered Southern economic development. Finally, in 1945, the ICC reduced “class-freight rates” 10% in the South and West and increased them 10% in the North and East. It was a tardy start at dismantling a persistent obstacle to Southern economic progress.

Southerners constantly opposed protective tariffs, which were the root cause of monopolies. In 1899 the President of New York based American Sugar Refining conceded, “The mother of all trusts is the customs tariff bill.” By 1907 his company controlled 98% the country’s sugar processing capacity and it was the city’s most profitable manufacturing business. Its most popular brand, Domino Sugar, remains familiar today.

While it is appropriate that Reconstruction history include a thorough analysis of racism and its protracted effects, contemporary historians give far less attention to numerous political and economic aspects, even though such factors are equally important.

Philip Leigh contributed twenty-three articles to The New York Times Disunion blog, which commemorated the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Westholme Publishing released of Phil’s three Civil War books to date:

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies (2015)
Trading With the Enemy (2014)
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated (2013)

Phil has lectured a various Civil War forums, including the 23rd Annual Sarasota Conference of the Civil War Education Association and various Civil War Roundtables. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology and an MBA from Northwestern University.

 

 

Cotton bales used in defensive works around Yorktown, VA