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eHistory's Civil War Newsletter - Issue 06/19/2002

Date: 06/19/2002 Issue: Issue 06/19/2002 Author: Alethea Sayers
**************** LEE'S CHURCH-GOING TERRIER *******************

Before donning a gray uniform, Robert E. Lee once described himself as being "very solitary." His only companions, he said in a letter to his wife, were "my dog and cats." According to the lonely cavalry officer, his dog went with him to his office every morning and lay down "from eight to four without moving."

During his U.S. Army days, Lieutenant Colonel Lee once crossed the "Narrows" between Fort Hamilton and Staten Island, New York. Halfway over the body of water, he spied a female dog with its head barely above the waves. He rescued the animal, named her Dart, and took her home with him.

One of her pups, Spec, was an alert and especially affectionate black and tan terrier who once refused to be left behind and jumped out of a high window in order to join the family at church. Lee was so impressed by Spec's 'doggedness' and his determination that he permitted Spec to "go into the church afterwards, whenever he wished."

***************** THE FIRST HAND GRENADES *********************

During the Civil War, two kinds of hand grenades were made, but they saw little use in combat. One of them, patented in August 1861, carried a percussion cap and an activating "plunger" that was not inserted until it was about to be thrown. Rated as effective at a distance of about twenty-six yards, this explosive piece was known by the name of its inventor, Ketchum.

A more sophisticated grenade, "the Excelsior," was developed in 1862 by W. W. Hanes. Its cast-iron shell held fourteen nipples, to each of which a percussion cap was attached before it was thrown. Hanes insisted, correctly, that at least one cap was sure to trigger an explosion. In practice, men trying to use his device often hit a cap accidentally and had a hand or arm blown off. As a result, it seems never to have been used in battle.

Soldiers who may or may not have heard of the Ketchum grenade or the Excelsior sometimes improvised similar weapons. At Vicksburg, Confederates in Louisiana units stuck short, lighted fuses into 6 and 12-pounder shells, then rolled them into ranks of Union sappers.

One demonstration of this weapon was enough to make believers of opponents. Confederate Captain John M. Hickey said that when one of the city's forts was stormed, "the air was made black with hand grenades which were thrown at us by every Federal soldier who got inside the works." Similar explosive devices were made on the spot by Federals at Knoxville.

Describing some of the action near Chattanooga, Union Colonel P. C. Hayes said an assault by troops under Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet reached a deep ditch dug by Federals. Confederates, he said, jumped into the ditch in order to raise scaling ladders. According to him, "This action was fatal to them. Our men, being unable to reach them with their heavy guns, lit the fuse of the shells, which they threw by hand into the ditch, where they exploded, slaughtering the helpless occupants by the wholesale."

Records do not indicate the number of engagements in which improvised explosives were rolled or thrown against foes. Nevertheless, they were employed frequently enough to show that although technology to produce suitable hand grenades did not yet exist, the concept behind these weapons was fully developed by men in both gray and blue.

********************* SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE ********************

Union Colonel Frederic Utassy is believed to have been the only regimental commander who freqently issued orders in seven languages. Fifteen European countries were listed as the place of birth of men in Utassy's Thirty-ninth New York Regiment.

In the early months of the war, Federal leaders wouldn't accept a man for military service unless he had a working knowledge of the English language. However, as the manpower pool shrank and as more and more recent European emigrants accepted bounties in order to become soldiers, this requirement was dropped.

Therefore, numerous line officers couldn't have handled their men had they not sometimes used a language other than English. Utassy was, however, the only colonel known to have been fluent in more than half a dozen languages.

***************** BODYGUARDS FOR OFFICERS *********************

In both Federal and Confederate forces, field officers were carefully set apart from the men they led. Many an officer had a private wall tent furnished with carpets and mirrors, while private soldiers and noncommissioned officers were herded into small tents with no comforts. Officers had the best food available and could drink alcohol even when it was forbidden to their men.

Yet the most bizarre of distinctions had nothing to do with shelter and food. Many an officer in Northern forces, as well as his Southern counterparts, went off to battle accompanied by a personal servant...usually, but not always, black.

Nowhere in the 1,087-page index to volumes of the "Official Records" of the two armies does the term "bodyguard" appear. Yet numerous high-ranking officers had bodyguards who functioned much as do members of the U.S. Secret Service who are assigned to presidential duty. Possibly the largest of all bodyguards was the three-hundred-man unit whose chief duty was the protection of Federal Major General John C. Fremont.

The ranks of some Confederate units were so decimated that an officer of high rank might be limited to an escort of a single comrade.

When Robert E. Lee decided to take the war far into enemy territory, fifty-one other generals accompanied him across the Pennsylvania state line. Returning to a relatively safe position in Virginia after Gettysburg, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia had only thirty-four generals with him.

In the decisive Pennsylvania battle, seventeen Confederate generals died.


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Newsletter written by: Alethea D. Sayers

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