The Miracle That Saved The Union

The Union desperately needed an extraordinary warship to counter the ironclad the Confederates were building

It was obvious that something very special was needed to confront the ironclad that the Confederacy was furiously building if the Union was to be saved. Yet it took a personal visit of Abraham Lincoln to the somnolent offices of the Navy Department to force the issue, and by then it was so late that the Navy Department had to have a miracle. In short, the contractor would have to build, in a hundred days, a kind of ship that had never been built before, and build it in a desperate race against time. Read more »

The Relief Of Fort Pickens

WAR WAS DAYS AWAY, A UNION STRONGHOLD WAS THREATENED, AND THROUGH A FOG OF RUMOR, DOUBT, CONTRADICTORY ORDERS, AND OUTRIGHT LIES THE ARMY AND NAVY SET OUT TO HELP

A good place to start the story is the Republican convention in Chicago in May, 1860. By long odds the leading candidate, and on form and experience the best qualified, was of course Senator William H. Seward of New York. He was eminent in the legal profession. He had served with distinction as governor of his state before going to the Senate. He had been a leader of the antislavery Whigs and had brought them into the recently created Republican Party.Read more »

Surgeon Thompson’s Separate Peace

In nearly all respects the Civil War remains the bloodiest war this nation has fought. The casualty rate was higher, the destruction more extensive, the scars deeper than in any other conflict before or since. But for all of that there was an essential innocence in the way the men of both armies adjusted to the grim, hard tasks they were called upon to perfarm. Read more »

Stars And Bars And … Flags That Never Flew

It was easy enough for an excited and passionate South to pass secession resolutions in 1861—yet harder than it thought to get away from the Old Flag. When a committee to decide on a new banner met that February in Montgomery, Alabama, it was deluged with ideas, of which (in the larger pictures) we show six examples, together with extracts from the not always coherent arguments proposed by their designers. None of these suggestions made it, of course, and the fanciful ensigns disappeared into limbo until recently unearthed by Michael P.Read more »

The Vice President Flees

Branded a traitor by the government he once served, John C. Breckinridge ran a perilous race for freedom rather than risk capture by the North

The weather in the Straits of Florida was turbulent in June of 1865. Throughout that spring the Caribbean boiled from one storm after another, but this latest one was particularly severe. Ocean-going steamers delayed their departures because of it, yet, in its very center, six desperate men bailed and prayed in a sailboat barely seventeen feet long.Read more »

The Burning Of Chambersburg

Colonel William E. Peters stared at his commanding officer incredulously. Had he heard the order correctly? On whose authority was it given? he asked. Peters, thirty-five years old and a veteran of three years of fighting, had proved his bravery often enough; he had two wounds to show for it. But there were limits beyond which, even in war, he would not—or could not—go. Read more »

The End Of The Alabama

Captain Semmes was spoiling for a fight—and Winslow of the U.S.S. Kearsarge was waiting for him, just off Cherbourg

Early in 1864 the Confederate States Steamer Alabama left the Indian Ocean and headed for European waters. Her captain, Raphael Semme—tired, ill, and bad-tempered after almost three years commanding Confederate raiders noted in his journal on May 21: “Our bottom is in such a state that everything passes us. We are like a crippled hunter limping home from a long chase.” During almost two years at sea the Alabama had never been long enough in any port for a thorough overhaul of her hull, rigging, and engines.Read more »

“We Are Going To Do Away With These Boys …”

The black laborers on John Williams’ plantation never seemed to leave or complain. It took some digging to find out why

Out of the ashes and ruins of the Civil War the shadow of slavery once more crept over the South. Even while some southern Negroes tried to achieve political power, civil rights, and personal security during Reconstruction, many laborers became mired in the quicksand of debt. Booker T.

“New York Is Worth Twenty Richmonds”

One day in late October of 1864, as the Civil War was moving into its final stages, eight young men in civilian clothes arrived in New York City from Toronto by train. Though they spoke with southern accents, they were quickly caught up in the swirl of the city’s life, for there were thousands of Southerners in New York—businessmen and planters who had come north to protect their interests; families fleeing from ruin; and ex-Confederate soldiers, prisoners of war on parole, looking for a way to return home.Read more »

The Old Vets

Year by year the ranks of the G.A.R. grew thinner —but until the last old soldier was gone, Decoration Day in a New England town was a moving memorial to “the War”

The War had been over hardly two decades when I was a boy. If one had occasion to refer to it, he called it simply “the War,” for it was the only war we had had within the memory of all but a negligible few.Read more »