Posse Comitatus Act

From Geoffrey Klingsporn’s “The Secret Posse” (Legal Affairs: March/April 2005):

What do these scenarios have in common? Under current military policy, both fall under the heading of “Information Operations,” officially defined as “actions taken to affect adversary information and information systems while defending one’s own information and information systems.” …

The law that, in effect, prevents the Army from acting as a national police force is the Posse Comitatus Act, an 1878 statute that prohibits law enforcement officers from using military personnel as a posse comitatus—Latin for “power of the county” or, in the vernacular of the Old West, a “posse”—to enforce domestic law, except with the express authorization of the president or Congress. …

“The use of military forces to seize civilians,” wrote the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, “can expose civilian government to the threat of military rule and the suspension of constitutional liberties,” and can chill free speech and other fundamental rights, creating the atmosphere of an enemy occupation. …

Since the 1980s, though, the statute has been weakened by laws that allow the military to help address the problems of drug trafficking, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. It is now routine for soldiers and sailors to help state and local police with training, equipment, and logistics; to detect and monitor suspected smugglers; and to keep order in disaster areas. … But the courts generally have ruled that it is well within the discretion of the president and Congress to allow the military to help in nonmilitary situations, including cases of terrorism. In 1988, a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Posse Comitatus Act was not violated when the FBI used the Navy to help capture a suspected terrorist in international waters and transport him to the United States.

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Henry Wirz, the Demon of Andersonville

From Carolyn Kleiner’s “The Demon of Andersonville” (Legal Affairs: September/October 2002):

During the last 14 months of the Civil War, nearly 13,000 Union prisoners of war died at the Confederate prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia – more than at Antietam, one of the war’s bloodiest battles, and more than at any of the other hundred or so Civil War prisons. Reports of atrocities at Andersonville and other Southern jails had been widely circulated in the North during the war, along with photos of severely emaciated inmates who to 21st-century eyes bear an unnerving resemblance to prisoners at Nazi concentration camps. Captain Henry Wirz was the commandant of the prison and, by the end of the war, he was one of the most infamous men in America. By a special military commission, he was convicted of conspiracy to intentionally harm Union prisoners and of personally murdering at least ten soldiers. The noose was for him. …

Many captured Union soldiers were kept in and around Richmond, but as the front lines edged south and Dixie jails started to overflow, the Confederate government planned a new facility in the small, out-of-the-way town of Andersonville. The site was chosen for its easy railroad access, an abundance of pine forests, and a clear creek that ran across the property – and because the town’s 20 or so residents didn’t object. The first load of prisoners arrived in February 1864, before construction was complete. From that point on, the trains never stopped.

Built with the official name of Camp Sumter, the Andersonville prison consisted of a sixteen-and-a-half-acre dirt pen (later enlarged to twenty-six and a half acres), surrounded by a stockade made of rough-hewn, 15-foot-tall pine logs placed so close together it was impossible to see outside.

Though conditions were initially a vast improvement over Richmond detention centers, problems grew in proportion to the number of inmates. By late summer 1864, the prison population made Andersonville one of the largest cities in the Confederacy. At its peak in August, the “bullpen,” built to lodge up to 10,000 enlisted men, held 33,000 grimy, gaunt prisoners, each one crammed into a living area the size of a coffin. Their only protections from the sun were “shebangs,” improvised shelters constructed from blankets, rags, and pine boughs, or dug into the hard, red Georgia clay.

As the war dragged on and the Rebel government fell further into disarray, its resources and supplies depleted more each day, Andersonville became increasingly ill-equipped to provide for its wards. Daily prison rations usually consisted of coarse cornmeal with small bits of cob still in it (very rough on Northern stomachs accustomed to wheat bread), around two ounces of beef or pork, often served raw and moldy, and occasionally beans or molasses. (Guards got the same gruel.) Too many inmates meant not enough water to go around, as well as too much human waste, and the once-clear stream that ran through the camp became polluted, covered with a thin layer of green slime. The stench of the place carried as far as the town of Americus, ten miles away. Prisoners suffered from afflictions ranging from diarrhea and dysentery to scurvy and a condition described in death records as “nostalgia,” when men seemed to stop wanting to live.

Between March and June of 1864, the number of casualties per month more than tripled, reaching 2,994 at the end of the summer – or around 100 men a day. …

After arriving in Andersonville, Wirz initiated a record system and reorganized the prisoners into small details of 90 men each. A believer in strict discipline, he preferred forms of punishment like putting a prisoner in stocks or shackling him to a ball and chain. He was concerned about escapes, so he built a “deadline” of posts approximately 15 feet inside the prison walls; if inmates crossed the line, they were to be shot, no questions asked. Hungry dogs were sent after any who managed to break out. …

Andersonville closed for good the day after Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Twelve thousand, nine hundred and twelve of the 45,000 men who did time there as inmates remained behind forever, buried shoulder to shoulder in the prison cemetery. …

The Union government had been loath to recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation during the war, but now that it was over the government made an exception, in order to prosecute Captain Wirz squarely. He was charged as a foreign enemy who had violated the international laws of war. The fact that he was born abroad may have made it easier for Americans to swallow the notion of a fellow citizen being tried for criminal behavior in a military commission. The rules of the commission provided more room to maneuver and allowed for a broader range of admissible evidence.

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Magruder fools the Federals

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (399):

No wheeze was too old for [John Bankhead] Magruder to employ it. One morning he sent a column along a road that was heavily wooded except for a single gap in plain view of the enemy outposts. All day the gray files swept past in seemingly endless array, an army gathering in thousands among the pines for an offensive. They were no such thing, of course. Like a low-budgeted theatrical director producing the effect with an army of supernumeraries, Magruder was marching a single battalion round and around, past the gap, then around under cover, and past the gap again.

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Jefferson Davis, the Hill Cats, & the Butcher Cats

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (396):

Nor was [Jefferson Davis] highly skilled as an arbitrator; he had too much admiration and sympathy for those who would not yield, whatever their cause, to be effective at reconciling opponents. In fact, this applied to a situation practically in his own back yard. The [Confederate] White House stood on a tall hill, surrounded by other mansions. On the plain below were the houses of the poor, whose sons had formed a gang called the Butcher Cats, sworn to eternal hatred of the Hill Cats, the children of the gentry on the hill. The two gangs had rock fights and occasional gouging matches. After one particularly severe battle, in which his oldest son was involved, Davis walked down the hill to try his hand at arbitration. He made them a speech, referring to the Butcher Cats as future leaders of the nation. One of them replied, “President, we like you. We don’t want to hurt any of your boys. But we ain’t never going to be friends with them Hill Cats.”

Davis came back up the hill.

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Beauregard’s dislike for Davis

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (384):

Part at least of the study and reflection was devoted to composing other phrases which [Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard] considered descriptive of the enemy who had wronged him. “That living specimen of gall and hatred,” he called [Jefferson] Davis now; “that Individual.”

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Beauregard fools Halleck & escapes

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (384):

When [Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard‘s men] stole out of the intrenchments [at Corinth] after nightfall, they left dummy guns in the embrasures and dummy cannoneers to serve them, fashioned by stuffing ragged uniforms with straw. A single band moved up and down the deserted works, pausing at scattered points to play retreat, tattoo, and taps. Campfires were left burning, with a supply of wood alongside each for the drummer boys who stayed behind to stoke them and beat reveille next morning. All night a train of empty cars rattled back and forth along the tracks through Corinth, stopping at frequent intervals to blow its whistle, the signal for a special detail of leather-lunged soldiers to cheer with all their might. The hope was that this would not only cover the incidental sounds of the withdrawal, but would also lead the Federals to believe that the town’s defenders were being heavily reinforced.

It worked to perfection. … Daylight showed “dense black smoke in clouds,” but no sign of the enemy Pope expected to find massed in his front. Picking his way forward he came upon dummy guns and dummy cannoneers, some with broad grins painted on. Otherwise the works were deserted. …

Seven full weeks of planning and strain, in command of the largest army ever assembled under one field general in the Western Hemisphere, had earned [Halleck] one badly smashed-up North Mississippi railroad intersection.

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Troops like sugar soaked in water

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (347):

[At the Battle of Shiloh,] Governor Harris, still a volunteer aide, sensed this feeling of futility in the soldiers. Shortly after 2 o’clock, he expressed his fear of a collapse to the chief of staff, who agreed and went to Beauregard with the question: “General, do you not think our troops are very much in the condition of a lump of sugar thoroughly soaked with water – preserving its original shape, though ready to dissolve? Would it not be judicious to get away with what we have?”

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Grant’s optimism

From Wikipedia’s “Battle of Shiloh“:

The evening of April 6 was a dispiriting end to the first day of one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history. In the Civil War, medics were not sent into the field to collect and treat wounded soldiers. Hence, many soldiers were abandoned to bleed to death, or in the case of Shiloh, be eaten alive by scavenging animals as a thunderstorm went through the area. The desperate screams of soldiers could be heard in the Union and Confederate camps throughout the night. As the exhausted Confederate soldiers bedded down in the abandoned Union camps, Sherman encountered Grant under a tree, sheltering himself from the pouring rain, smoking one of his cigars, considering his losses and planning for the next day. Sherman remarked, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant looked up. “Yes,” he replied, followed by a puff. “Yes. Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”

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Wearing the wrong color to a battle

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (337, 347):

[At the Battle of Shiloh, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing,] The Orleans Guard battalion, the elite organization with Beauregard’s name on its muster roll, came into battle wearing dress-blue uniforms, which drew the fire of the Confederates they were marching to support. Promptly they returned the volley, and when a horrified staff officer came galloping up to tell them they were shooting at their friends: “I know it,” the Creole colonel replied. “But dammit, sir, we fire on everybody who fires on us!”

[A day later, Beauregard] received a shock … He noticed in some woods along his front a body of troops dressed in what appeared to be shiny white silk uniforms. At first he thought they were Federals who had breached his line … Presently, though, a staff officer, sent to investigate, returned with the explanation. There were the general’s own Orleans Guard battalion, who had turned their dress blue jackets wrong side out to put an end to be being fired on by their friends. Yesterday they had startled the defenders of the Hornets Nest by charging thus with the while silk linings of their coats exposed; “graveyard clothes,” the Federals had called them.

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Walke describes the Battle of Island Number 10

From “Operations of the Western Flotilla” by Henry A. Walke, Commander of the Carondelet, describing the Battle of Island Number Ten:

Having received written orders from the flag-officer, under date of March 30th, I at once began to prepare the Carondelet for the ordeal. All the loose material at hand was collected, and on the 4th of April the decks were covered with it, to protect them against plunging shot. Hawsers and chain cables were placed around the pilot-house and other vulnerable parts of the vessel, and every precaution was adopted to prevent disaster. A coal-barge laden with hay and coal was lashed to the part of the port side on which there was no iron plating, to protect the magazine. And it was truly said that the old Carondelet at that time resembled a farmer’s wagon prepared for market. The engineers led the escape-steam, through the pipes aft, into the wheel-house, to avoid the puffing sound it made when blown through the smoke-stacks.

All the necessary preparations having been made, I informed the flag-officer of my intention to run the gauntlet that night, and received his approval. Colonel Buford, who commanded the land forces temporarily with the flotilla, assisted me in preparing for the trip, and on the night of the 4th brought on board Captain Hollenstein, of the Forty-second Illinois, and twenty-three sharp-shooters of his command, who volunteered their services, which were gratefully accepted. Colonel Buford remained on board until the last moment to encourage us. I informed the officers and crew of the character of the undertaking, and all expressed a readiness to make the venture. In order to resist boarding parties in case we should be disabled, the sailors were well armed, and pistols, cutlasses, muskets, boarding-pikes, and hand-grenades were within reach. Hose was attached to the boilers for throwing scalding water over any who might attempt to board. If it should be found impossible to save the vessel, it was designed to sink rather than burn her, as the loss of life would probably be greater in the latter case by the explosion of her magazine. During the afternoon there was promise of a clear, moonlight night, and it was determined to wait until the moon was down, and then to make the attempt, whatever the chances. …

At ten o’clock the moon had gone down, and the sky, the earth, and the river were alike hidden in the black shadow of a thunder-storm, which had now spread itself over all the heavens. As the time seemed favorable, I ordered the first master to cast off. Dark clouds now rose rapidly over us, and enveloped us in almost total darkness, except when the sky was lighted up by the welcome flashes of vivid lightning, to show us the perilous way we were to take. Now and then the dim outline of the landscape could be seen, and the forest bending under the roaring storm that came rushing up the river.

With our bow pointing to the island, we passed the lowest point of land without being observed, it appears, by the enemy. All speed was given to the vessel to drive her through the tempest. The flashes of lightning continued with frightful brilliancy, and “almost every second” wrote a correspondent, “every brace, post, and outline could be seen with startling distinctness, enshrouded by a bluish white, glare of light, and then her form for the next minute would become merged in the intense darkness.” When opposite Battery No. 2, on the mainland, the smoke-stacks blazed up, but the fire was soon subdued. It was caused by the soot becoming dry, as the escape-steam, which usually kept the stacks wet, had been sent into the wheel-house, as already mentioned, to prevent noise. With such vivid lightning as prevailed during the whole passage, there was no prospect of escaping the vigilance of the enemy, but there was good reason to hope that he would be unable to point his guns accurately. Again the smoke-stacks took fire, and were soon put out; and then the roar of the enemy’s guns began, and from Batteries Nos. 2, 3, and 4 came almost incessantly the sharp crack and screaming sound of their rifle-shells, which seemed to unite with the electric batteries of the clouds to annihilate us.

While nearing the island or some shoal point, during a few minutes of total darkness, we were startled by the loud, sharp order, “Hard a-port!” from our brave and skillful pilot, First Master Hoel. We almost grazed the island, and it appears were not observed through the storm until we were close in, and the enemy, having no time to point his guns, fired at random. In fact, we ran so near that the enemy did not, probably could not depress his guns sufficiently. While close under the lee of the island and during a lull in the storm and in the firing, one of our pilots heard a Confederate officer shout, “Elevate your guns!” “Yes, confound you,” said the pilot, in a much lower key, “elevate.” It is probable that the muzzles of those guns had been depressed to keep the rain out of them, and the officers, not expecting another night attack in such a storm, and arriving late, ordered the guns elevated just in time to save us from the direct fire of the enemy’s heaviest fort; and this, no doubt, was the cause of our remarkable escape. Nearly all the enemy’s shot went over us.

Having passed the principal batteries, we were greatly relieved from suspense, patiently endured, however, by the officers and crew. But there was another formidable obstacle in the way — a floating battery, which was the great “war elephant” of the Confederates, built to blockade the Mississippi permanently. As we passed her she fired six or eight shots at us, but without effect. One ball struck the coal-barge and one was found in a bale of hay; we found also one or two musket-bullets. We arrived at New Madrid about midnight with no one hurt, and were most joyfully received by our army. At the suggestion of Paymaster Nixon, all hands “spliced the main brace.”

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A burning quilt brings revenge

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (287-288):

[At the Battle of Pea Ridge,] they saw the rebels coming, yelling and firing as they came, hundreds of them bearing down to complete the wreckage their artillery had begun. As the Federals fell back from their shattered pieces an Iowa cannoneer paused to toss a smoldering quilt across a caisson, then ran hard to catch up with his friends. Still running, he heard a tremendous explosion and looked back in time to see a column of fire and smoke standing tall above the place where he had fuzed the vanished caisson. Stark against the twilight sky, it silhouetted the lazy-seeming rise and fall of blown-off arms and legs and heads and mangled trunks of men who just now had been whooping victoriously around the captured battery position.

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Recognizing futility

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (261):

[On 9 March 1862, the world’s first battle between ironclad warships took place. The smaller and nimbler Monitor was able to outmaneuver Virginia, but neither ship proved able to do significant damage to the other. Catesby Jones, commander of the Virginia] gave the Monitor everything he had given the wooden warships yesterday, and more: to no avail. When he tried to ram her, she drew aside like a skillful boxer and pounded him hard as he passed. After a few such exchanges, the crews of his after-guns, deafened by the concussion of 180-pound balls against the cracking railroad iron, were bleeding from their noses and ears. Descending once to the gundeck and observing that some of the pieces were not engaged, Jones shouted: “Why are you not firing. Mr. Eggleston?” The gun captain shrugged. “Why, our powder is very precious,” he replied, “and after two hours incessant firing I find that I can do her just about as much damage by snapping my thumb at her every two minutes and a half.”

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Stanton the uber-lawyer

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (244):

[Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin McMasters] Stanton had done devious things in his time. A corporation lawyer, he delighted also in taking criminal cases when these were challenging and profitable enough. His fees were large and when one prospective client protested, Stanton asked, “Do you I would argue the wrong side for less?” For a murder defense he once took as his fee the accused man’s only possession, the house he lived in. When he had won the case and was about to convert the mortgage into cash, the man tried to persuade him to hold off, saying that he would be ruined by the foreclosure. “You deserve to be ruined,” Stanton told him, “for you were guilty.”

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Better in command of the enemy than a prisoner

From “Fort Henry and Fort Donelson“:

Shortly after the surrender of Fort Sumter, Confederates built two forts just south of the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. … Fort Henry guarded the Tennessee River while Fort Donelson guarded the Cumberland. … The key to rolling up the Confederate defense of the Mississippi River was the capture of Fort Henry and Donelson. That job fell to General Ulysses S. Grant and Commodore Andrew Foote. …

Fort Henry was easy prey for the Union gunboats … When Fort Henry surrendered, Grant turned his attention to Fort Donalson. … Inside Fort Donelson, General John Floyd commanded, with Gideon Pillow and Simon Bolivar Buckner under him. …

Gideon Pillow launched an assault against the Union right (McClernand), demolished 5 brigades in the federal line, forcing them into full retreat and grabbed a road that led to Nashville. Pillow had a number of good choices he could have made: turn left or right to battle the exposed flanks of Grant’s army, or use the road he had captured to evacuate to Nashville. Pillow, generally regarded as the worst general on either side during the Civil War, decided to withdraw back into the fort because his men seemed exhausted.

… That evening, Floyd, Pillow and Buckner considered surrender. Buckner, lowest ranking of the three generals, was the one left to do the task. Buckner and Pillow slipped out by boat and Nathan Bedford Forrest, his cavalry and a few foot soldiers found a partially flooded land route out minutes before it was closed off by Union infantry.

According to General Grant’s memoirs, one of Grant’s first questions to Buckner was: “Where is Pillow? Why didn’t he stay to surrender his command?”

Buckner: “He thought you were too anxious to capture him personally.”

Grant: “Why if I had captured him I would have turned him loose. I would rather have him in command of you fellows than as a prisoner.”

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Ulysses Grant & the torpedo

From Greg Goebel’s “Februrary 1862: Unconditional And Immediate Surrender” (interpolation from Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville [187]):

On the afternoon of 5 February, during a conference between Grant, Foote, and the two division commanders, the captain of a gunboat sent a message to Grant that he had actually pulled a torpedo out of the river, had it on the gunboat’s deck, and would anyone care to see it? As the Second Division was still being shuttled in to the landing and the attack could not go forward until they had arrived, leaving Grant and the other senior officers with little to do for the moment, they went over in a group to investigate. The officers gathered around the torpedo, which was a five foot (1.5 meter) long cylinder with a pronged rod extending from its head. Grant was intrigued by the evil-looking thing, had the ship’s armorer come up to try to dismantle it, and watched as the man tinkered with the device. Suddenly, as the armorer loosened a nut, the torpedo emitted a loud hissing sound that appeared to be building to an explosion.

[Foote sprang for the ship’s ladder, and Grant, perhaps reasoning that in naval matters the commodore knew best, was right behind him. If he lacked the seamans’s agility in climbing a rope ladder, he made up for it with what one witness called “commendable enthusasm.” At the top, the commodore looked back over his shoulder and found Grant closing rapidly upon him.]

The hissing died out, leaving the two men hanging on the ladder. Foote looked down to see Grant beneath and, smiling, asked: “General, why this haste?” Grant replied: “That the Navy may not get ahead of us.”

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Slavery & whiskey; Foote & Grant

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (184):

Commodore Andrew H. Foote was a Connecticut Yankee, a small man with burning eyes, a jutting gray chin-beard, and a long, naked upper lip. … he was deeply, puritanically religious, and conducted a Bible school for his crew every Sunday, afloat or ashore. Twenty years before, he had had the first temperance ship in the US Navy, and before the present year was out he would realize a lifelong ambition by seeing the alcohol ration abolished throughout the service. At fifty-six he had spent forty years as a career officer fighting the two things he hated most, slavery and whiskey. It was perhaps a quirk of fate to have placed him thus alongside Grant, who could scarecely be said to have shown an aversion for either.

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How he liked being tarred & feathered

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (166):

Asked how he enjoyed his office [of President], [Lincoln] told of a tarred and feathered man out West, who, as he was being ridden out of town on a rail, heard one among the crowd call to him, asking how he liked it, high up there on his uncomfortable perch. “If it wasn’t for the honor of the thing,” the man replied, “I’d sooner walk.”

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