Thursday, March 31, 2011

Krugman Blogs Appomattox: This Rebel Might Have Agreed

Krugman begins:

...I’ve long had a special fascination, not with how the war began, but with its end. And on this day in 1865 Phil Sheridan began the flanking movement that culminated, just 11 days later, in Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

Why do I find this final campaign so fascinating? Partly because the battles of the Five Forks campaign ended up involving some of the very same players who famously fought at Gettysburg: heroic action, once again, by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and the Confederate force destroyed at Five Forks was led by none other than George Pickett.

But mainly, I think, it’s because of the symbolism of that final surrender: Lee the patrician, in his dress uniform, surrendering to the not at all patrician U.S. Grant, still muddy and disheveled from hard riding. It was, in a very real sense, the victory of modern America — of a democratic nation, in manners as well as politics — over an aristocratic ideal.

I doubt that Henry would have admitted this last part, but as an engineer, he would have appreciated the rest:

And the way modern America won was characteristic. Southerners were better warriors — man for man, they almost always outperformed Union armies, although the gap narrowed over time. But the North excelled at the arts of peace — that is, in industry and ability to get things done. The North couldn’t stop Bedford Forrest from raiding supply lines; but it could repair track incredibly fast. And it was that Northern superiority in logistics, in production, that eventually proved decisive.

Krugman continues to develop this theme here:

Shortly before the battle of Five Forks, Captain Henry Brown Richardson, CSA Engineers had seen proof of Union logistic superiority first hand at the huge Union Army supply base at City Point, Virginia, where he and other "rebels" were released to the Confederacy. In terms of shipping volume, City Point was then the largest and most active port in the United States. Henry was eager to get back into the fight, after being held for a year and a half as a Union prisoner on Johnson's Island, Ohio.

I arrived in Richmond on the 22nd of March and rec’d a leave of absence “for thirty days unless sooner exchanged.” Stopped in Richmond, at Gen’l Ewell’s house for ten days, and on the first of April went to Bedford Co., Va. (west of Lynchburg) where I remained till the first of May. Then over the mountains to Botetourt Co. and spent a week, and on the eighth started on horseback for this side of the Mississippi, or wherever I could get to anything like a Confederacy.

Henry was obliged to stand by and watch the final Confederate agony. He had been paroled, that is, released on his word of honor as an officer that he would not resume active duty until he was officially exchanged, that is, that the Confederacy had released to the Union army a prisoner of equivalent rank, or several enlisted men in exchange for him. Then on April 1,1865, his former commanding officer, General Richard Ewell must have advised him to leave Richmond, where the city’s defenses were on the verge of collapse. Thus our reluctant noncombatant left Richmond only one day before Lee’s army withdrew from the sector, and preceded them along many of the same roads to Bedford, VA. There he continued to wait helplessly through the Lee’s final battles, and the signing 40 miles to the east at Appomattox on April 9th.

Henry Brown Richardson was not quite ready to admit that the war was over. But you will have to wait for the book to find out about that.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This Yankee Rebel was Repulsed by Chicago in 1857 - Perhaps One Reason he Later Chose the South

Henry arrived in Chicago in the evening of March 11, 1857.  He was on his way to Milwaukee, where his employer, A. P. Marshal, had set up a new engineering office, after closing out his business in Portland, Maine. Henry had left Springfield, MA more than two days before on a cold and uncomfortable trip over four different railroads, so he was happy to find a bed in a hotel. 

Even after a refreshing night of sleep, Chicago in the light of day turned out to be Henry's first big disappointment in the West:

As the train did not leave until half past nine, I had some little time to walk about.  I was going to say look about, but that you can't do - that is to any great extent, the whole city being "flat as a flounder" in fact a miserable filthy, dirty, swamp of a mud hole.  I would not wish to live there on any account.  I did not see it in its worst phase though for it was mostly frozen up, it being as cold as Labrador that morning.  I believe that city to be a God-forsaken, Mammon-worshipping, Devil-serving, unchristian, abominable filthy sink of iniquity in a most superlative degree.

Chicago must have been a mess in March 1857.  The city had been growing on marshy soil only a few feet above the level of Lake Michigan.  By 1855, six successive years of cholera epidemics convinced city and state officials that they would have to establish a regular sewer system.  Chief Engineer Ellis S. Chesbrough determined that the city was indeed so flat that sewage would not drain adequately into the Chicago River.  He convinced the Board of Sewerage Commissioners to lay out the sewer system, as well as gas and water mains, above the existing streets, and raise the grade level of the streets from six to ten feet throughout the city using fill dredged from the Chicago River.  Existing buildings were either jacked up to the new level or modified so that an original upper floor became the new ground floor.  This ambitious project had no doubt made Chicago even muddier than usual in 1857, but Henry apparently did not stay long enough during this first visit to appreciate the magnitude of the sewer project.

The expression "sink of iniquity" also suggests that he was shocked by the laxity of public morals in this relatively new city. He had been raised in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire, under the kindly but watchful eye of his father, a Congregational Minister.  Perhaps Henry had even been approached by a prostitute, an experience much more likely in Chicago than in Portland, where he had finished high school and served his apprenticeship. In any case, he had little desire to learn more about Chicago at this time, and hurried to take the first available train to Milwaukee.

After this experience, Henry never did learn to appreciate Chicago.  I seem to have inherited this attitude, but to overcome my prejudices about the city, I am reading William Cronon's excellent book, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, which I heartily recommend, and about which I may have more to say in a later installment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Quirk of Fate Led This Yankee to the South Where He Fought for the Confederacy

Henry probably had the picture on this page taken when he was visiting Hockanum, now part of Hadley, Massachusetts, in the Spring of 1859.  He had stopped there for a few weeks to help with the heavy spring workload on his uncle William Richardson's farm.  He would then go on to Boston to find work in his chosen profession, civil engineering.


At that time, he could not yet claim to be a fully qualified engineer.  He had never taken any courses at the university level.  He may have studied the rudiments of surveying in secondary school, but he had gained most of his professional knowledge in the school of hard knocks by working as an assistant to experienced civil engineers. In fact, States did not enact requirements for professional licensure in the U.S. until early in the 20th century. Membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers (founded in 1852) could provide assurance of professional qualification, but the Society’s influence did not become widespread until some years later. Henry did not become a member until 1879. In any case, in July 1859 his experience enabled him to find employment with an engineering firm in Boston.


One year earlier, he had missed an opportunity to become a U.S. Navy engineer. He had applied for and been accepted to sit for the qualifying examination in New York, but due to his employer’s insolvency after the financial panic of 1857, Henry could not collect his back salary and was unable to pay his way from Milwaukee to the East. But for this twist of fate, Henry would probably have been a loyal Yankee in the United States Navy, when the Civil War broke out two years later.


As Henry’s Puritan ancestors might have said, Providence would have it otherwise. In the winter of 1860, Henry became pessimistic about his career prospects in Boston, and decided to seek his fortune elsewhere. An opportunity to work on a Mississippi River levee project led him to St. Joseph, Louisiana where he found himself when war broke out in 1861. 


But that will be the subject of a later installment.