August ’62

1862

The Southern mindset now became more aggressive.

Heartened by Robert E. Lee’s victories over the Union Army of the Potomac on the Virginia peninsula, Confederate leaders were desperate to recover Middle and West Tennessee. They also hoped to encourage growing support in England, where the blockade of Dixie cotton was throwing thousands of Britons out of work into want.

The English were firmly against slavery, a huge obstacle to Confederate diplomats seeking British recognition of their new nation. Slavery, though, seemed increasingly beside the point, since three states remaining in the Union—Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland—permitted human bondage like those of the Confederacy. And the Union had, after all, insulted British sovereignty in the Trent affair in November.

President Lincoln had come up with a compensated emancipation plan to reimburse Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri slaveholders for their human property—but that had gone nowhere. And now Southern emissaries to Britain were reporting back to Richmond very encouraging news from London: William Gladstone, member of the British cabinet and one of Parliament’s most persuasive speakers, was taking their side.

“Just as I close this,” wrote one Confederate adherent from the English capital, “a reliable friend steps in to inform me that there have been three successive cabinet meetings…and that each time the cabinet was evenly divided, Mr. Gladstone leading the party in favor of recognition.”

To encourage more such support and tip the scale toward recognition, the South needed to show the world that it was winning.

 *     *      *

Initial results in August, however, were so-so.

A Confederate attack led by Major General John C. Breckinridge, the recent vice president of the United States, to recover Baton Rouge, La., on Aug. 5-6 was unsuccessful. And on Aug. 9 at Cedar Mountain, Va., Major General Stonewall Jackson and some 24,000 men, seeking to strike an isolated part of a newly organized Federal army under General John Pope, was himself attacked by Pope corps commander Nathaniel Banks. Banks had one-third as many Federals as Jackson had Confederates, but it took two hours for Jackson to recover and win a costly victory. But not all the fruits of that victory proved immediately discernible.

Meanwhile, in early August the Confederate commander of East Tennessee brainstormed a more aggressive move. Maj. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith had been under pressure from Union troops in eastern Kentucky who, after forcing a Confederate garrison out of Cumberland Gap, menaced Knoxville.

To alleviate both the threat at the Gap and also a Federal drive through northern Alabama toward Chattanooga, Smith readied his troops to carry the war deep into the Federal rear. He prepared his infantry to move past the Gap into eastern and central Kentucky.

Cooperating Confederate cavalry quickly became active in Smith’s behalf. Colonel John Hunt Morgan captured a garrison at Gallatin, Tenn., northeast of Nashville, on Aug. 12 as he began a raid into central Kentucky. Smith’s own cavalry, led by Colonel John S. Scott, departed Kingston, Tenn., on Aug. 13 heading into eastern Kentucky to prepare the way for the infantry.

Scott captured London, Ky., on Aug. 17. Smith, leaving 8,000 men to face the Federals at Cumberland Gap, bypassed the Gap and headed north.

 *     *      *

Meanwhile, one of the war’s most fateful events occurred on Aug. 15.

On that date Confederate President Jefferson Davis handed Maj. Gen. Braxton Bragg permanent command of General P. G. T. Beauregard’s Army of Mississippi, soon to be re-dubbed the Army of Tennessee. A 45-year-old hero of the Mexican War, Bragg had done double duty as both corps commander and chief of staff to General P. G. T. Beauregard and the late General Albert Sidney Johnston before and during the battle of Shiloh. Bragg was held in high regard as an organizer, supplier, and trainer of troops.

Born in Warrenton, N.C., Bragg was the youngest son of a carpenter. By the time he reached his teens, his father had become wealthy enough to own some 20 slaves, and sent the son to a respected local academy. The son then went on to West Point. After graduating in 1837, he served in Florida against Indians and in Mexico, where as an artillerist he became one of the most famous younger officers.

He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before marrying a rich Louisiana lady, to whom he was devoted. He resigned from the army in 1856 to become a sugar planter. As the Civil War came on, his wife offered him much unsought advice on his soldiers and fellow generals—advice he often appeared to accept, sometimes unfortunately.

For example, Mrs. Bragg thought Tennessee troops were cowards, and her husband would be known to post units behind them with orders to shoot them wholesale if they tried to run.

Bragg’s personality was a potential problem. Of uncertain health, he was sour in disposition, acerbic in his remarks on others, and arch in his opinion of the extent of his own intelligence.

From Mobile, Ala., Bragg brought to Shiloh 10,000 troops that Confederate President Jefferson Davis described as admirably disciplined. Davis went on to inform western commander Albert Sidney Johnston that Bragg was an officer of “the highest administrative capacity.” Johnston made him chief of staff to organize his disparate forces in the two weeks before the battle.

So after Johnston died at Shiloh and Beauregard, never a Davis favorite, gave himself a furlough for illness without informing the President, Bragg became Beauregard’s temporary and—as of Aug. 15—his permanent replacement. He was promoted from major general to full general to rank retroactively from April 6, Shiloh’s first day.

Working under others, Bragg had proven himself to be a first-class soldier. Whether he would remain that as an army commander remained to be seen, but he started impressively.

In a dramatic change of base, he put the bulk of his army on train-cars and took it roundabout from Tupelo through Mobile to Chattanooga. His aim was to mount a Tennessee offensive, as Davis was requesting. Then Kirby Smith invited Bragg to bring his army to join Smith in Kentucky, saying he would happily subordinate himself to Bragg there.

 *     *      *

The most important August fighting came at the end of the month.

Smith’s Kentucky incursion, in tandem with Confederate cavalry, caused consternation in Kentucky and Tennessee. John Hunt Morgan captured Hartsville, Tenn., and a Federal brigadier general, Richard Johnson, on Aug. 21. And John S. Scott whipped Union cavalry at Big Hill, Ky., two days later.

Smith himself, in a two-day pitched battle on Aug. 29-30, defeated a hastily-collected Federal force of 6,500 at Richmond, Ky., inspiring rising panic in the central part of the Bluegrass State.

On the same two days in Virginia, Jackson’s heavy casualties in the Aug. 9 victory at Cedar Mountain paid off. Banks had lost more than one-quarter of his 8,000 men in the Cedar Mountain fight, and that loss cowed General Pope. Whereas he had been inordinately arrogant and boastful since coming east from the western Federal army in July, saying that in the west his men had seen only their enemies’ backs, he turned hesitant and fearful after seeing the carnage Jackson could wreak.

Pope had made himself a despised figure among Southerners, and not just because of his titanic arrogance. With President Lincoln’s approval, Pope soon after his appointment had publicly issued three orders that formalized the war’s deepening savagery and bitterness.

They directed that Pope’s new Army of Virginia should live off the country, denying its produce to the Confederacy; that any house from which shots were fired at Union troops would be burned and the local populace held responsible for any harm done to Federal soldiery; and that “disloyal” residents were to be shot if they refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Union.

Pope thus made himself an object of the most ardent Confederate hate. No less than General Robert E. Lee, a gentleman if there ever was one, wrote a protest to new Federal general-in-chief Henry Halleck describing Pope’s army as “robbers and murderers.”

So there was immense Southern satisfaction as Stonewall Jackson marched around Pope’s right, got behind him, and burned his supply base at Manassas Junction. On Aug. 28, Jackson attacked a Federal division at Groveton. More Pope units arrived on the 29th, and he fed them into the battle as they arrived, rather than all at once. Jackson’s men, covered by a mound that was the base of an uncompleted railroad, beat back the Federal charges.

Pope then tried to turn Jackson’s right by throwing against it a corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter. On his way to the target, though, Porter ran into 30,000 Confederates under Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, who were just arriving on the field. Porter sent word to a disbelieving Pope, who renewed his order for Porter to attack. Porter refused, wrecking his career but possibly saving Pope’s army.

Overnight, Lee brought Longstreet’s and Jackson’s wings together. Pope mistook their movement for a retreat and threw Porter’s corps into three charges riddled by cannon and musket fire from Jackson’s men behind the railroad mound. In one place, the Confederate defenders ran out of ammunition and threw rocks. Then Longstreet sent his men forward onto the Federal left flank, and Jackson followed with a charge of his own.

By evening, the Union army was in headlong withdrawal. Pope’s disaster at Second Bull Run had been nearly as complete as General Irvin McDowell’s in the initial Bull Run, the war’s first major pitched battle.

[For further information, see The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War by David J. Eicher, Simon & Schuster 2001;  A World On Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman, Random House 2010; Return To Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John J. Hennessy, Simon & Schuster 1993; Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War by Patricia L. Faust, ed., Historical Times Inc. 1986; and The Civil War Almanac by John S. Boatner, ed., Bison Books 1982.]

1962 

An eye-popping and desperately-needed infusion of Northern cash filled the coffers of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as August opened.

The SCLC windfall was an ominous challenge to the future of the administration of President Kennedy. With the SCLC’s leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and some 300 other civil rights marchers jailed in Albany, Ga., Republican presidential aspirant Nelson Rockefeller of New York had called King executive assistant Wyatt Walker on July 30 and asked how he could help.

“I’m up against it for bail money,” Walker told him.

How much did he need? the mega-millionaire asked. Figuring swiftly in his head, Walker tripled the amount that would cover his immediate concerns. Twenty-five thousand dollars, he said. Rockefeller did not hesitate. It would be there the next day, he promised.

Rockefeller had already been crowding the Kennedy administration. On July 27, the New York governor had sent a telegram to Attorney General Robert Kennedy demanding that the U. S. Justice Department take quick and concrete steps to guarantee King’s safety and find out whether the arrest of the Albany marchers violated the constitutionally-granted right of citizens to gather in peace.

The administration was trying to run an impossible gauntlet. On one side were the righteous demands of the marchers to obtain the minimal rights of U. S. citizenship; on the other seethed the outrage of a Dixie Democratic political structure whose backing—along with that of Northern African Americans—had provided Jack Kennedy the razor-thin margin of his election to the White House.

There was no way not to end up on one side or the other. To observe the July 28 birthday of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the President had left early for a planned August vacation at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., but at a press conference he had to field a question about King.

“The United States Government is involved in sitting down at Geneva with the Soviet Union,” the President answered. “I cannot understand why the government of Albany, the city council of Albany, cannot do the same for American citizens.”

The reaction from the South was predictable. Albany Mayor Asa Kelley called Kennedy’s statement “incredible.” Georgia Sen. Richard Russell said Kennedy had endorsed black breakers of the law and that his statement would encourage the bringing in of “many other professionals and notoriety seekers” from outside the South.

Georgia’s other senator, Herman Talmadge, excoriated King. The civil rights leader, the senator said, was “leading a violent, calculated campaign to damage the United States in foreign affairs and to set race against race.”

 *     *      *

On Aug. 4, Marilyn Monroe—Hollywood sex goddess and reputed friend of both Kennedy brothers—died. Her death was officially attributed to a drug-and-alcohol overdose. While the President continued yachting on vacation in Massachusetts, Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy attended a California funeral mass for Monroe on Aug. 5. Meanwhile, Martin Luther King sat in jail.

King’s friend and advisor, New York lawyer Stanley Levison, thought the Kennedys, like the city officials of Albany, wanted King behind bars or worse. At August’s outset, administration officials met with leaders of the NAACP, which was markedly less confrontational than King’s SCLC, and an Aug. 3 FBI wiretap recorded Levison telling a friend he thought both the presidential administration and the NAACP might be happy if King committed suicide. In the meantime, Levison thought, they were content to see him rot in jail. But, Levison went on, King must continue pressuring the federal government to take action in Albany.

Amid the Georgia stalemate, the enthusiasm and numerical strength drained out of King’s marchers. The publisher of the Albany Herald jeered in print at the administration of the Democrat ex-friend he had supported for president. The paper editorialized that the Kennedys were “two ambitious Bostonians who have been as practically connected with the American Negro in their lifetimes as Eskimos are to the Congo Democrats.”

The media seemed to reflect the NAACP’s skepticism as to the wisdom of King’s in-your-face approach to challenging segregation. Time purported to quote an unnamed African American who said King did not “even speak for the Baptist ministry, let alone 20 million Negroes.”

And in Albany King’s influence was visibly waning. On Aug. 4, a meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church could enlist only 13 more marchers to face certain jailing in a demonstration at city hall.

Albany Police Chief Laurie Pritchett, by rigorously discouraging violence against the demonstrators in his town, had proved himself the brainiest local law enforcement foe the civil rights movement had faced. Now Pritchett watched the pitifully few demonstrators do their thing for less than 30 minutes at city hall before announcing that in his estimation they had run out of prayers and songs. He herded them to jail, then wryly requested that all the jail’s prisoners sing his apparent personal favorite of their freedom songs:

“Ain’t Gonna Let Chief Pritchett Turn Me Around.”

 *     *      *

After 15 days, King emerged from jail. The event followed a marked tightening of pressures on Albany city officials. These pressures did not involve new marches—no more marchers could be persuaded to volunteer in the Shiloh Baptist meetings—but larger things were afoot.

Growing national attention led city leaders to accord King and his co-leader of the SCLC, Ralph Abernathy, special privileges. They were kept in cells separate from those of the other prisoners, and Albany women were permitted to bring them food and even silk pajamas, and visiting hours for them were relaxed.

Civil rights attorney William Kunstler prepared a habeas corpus brief to get King either out of jail or into a court to decide his case. The trial date was set for Friday, Aug. 10, and King aide Wyatt Walker made that the target date for either a protest march or a celebration of King’s liberation.

With local march volunteering having dried up, Walker and other leaders devised a masterstroke. This time the marchers challenging Albany’s jail would be no less than the highest-profile women associated with the movement—including King’s wife, Coretta; Abernathy’s wife, Juanita; Andrew Young’s wife, Jean; Wyatt Walker’s wife, Ann; Kunstler’s wife, Lotte; and Marion King, the prominent and pregnant African American who had been slapped and kicked by a rural Georgia sheriff just a couple of weeks earlier.

There was at least one more. The greatest threat to the Albany officials’ attempt to appear reasonable would be the presence of one of the movement’s most indomitable firebrands: the great Diane Nash, carrying her four-month-old daughter, Sherri.

Nash, a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Nashville coordinator of the Freedom Rides, was anything but a stranger to jails. Persistently, with a will of iron, she had repeatedly risked her life to embarrass Dixie local officials by challenging them to take her into custody—and then declining bail once they did. When pregnant with Sherri, she had even refused to dodge Mississippi’s notoriously dangerous Parchman Prison. After a short time, they suspended her sentence to rid themselves of her and the damning national spotlight she brought.

Now, in August of 1962, Nash and husband James Bevel moved to Georgia to work with—but not under—King’s SCLC, and the prospect of her marching to jail with all those other famous wives with Sherri in her arms was one Albany city officials certainly did not care to contemplate.

The impending crisis moved more than Albany’s leaders. On Aug. 8, the Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the demonstrators—against the Kennedy-appointed federal judge who had issued the outrageous injunction against civil-rights demonstrating back in July.

King and Abernathy, along with other prisoners, were led into court on Aug. 10. There they were quickly given 60-day jail sentences and fined $200 each, but the sentences were then suspended. The demonstrators celebrated, and King went home to preach at his Atlanta church on Sunday, Aug. 12.

 *     *      *

The celebrating was premature. Albany went right back to denying blacks the rights they had sought. Shrewdly, city officials made no arrests. They just quickly closed any municipal facility any African American tried to use, from the library to the tennis courts.

King rushed back into Albany on Aug. 13. On the 15th, city commissioners made a show of hearing the demonstrators’ grievances, then ruled that since the matter was pending in the court of the Kennedy-appointed segregationist federal judge who had issued the injunction against demonstrating, it was not proper for the city to discuss it.

Then, the morning of the hearing, violent racists firebombed a rural church that had hosted a voter registration assemblage four days earlier. Everything burned but the chimney. The sheriff said an electrical storm might have started the blaze.

With no more local marchers volunteering, King put out a national appeal for clargymen to help, and 74 rabbis, priests, and ministers responded in late Auigust, only to achieve little notice outside Albany. “Crowd Cheers as Cops Clap Clerical Crowd in Calaboose,” the Herald chortled.

Southwest Georgia seemed determined not to come right, and the Albany Movement began receding into the doleful despair from which it had sprung. Its struggle, though,would not be for naught. As Andrew Young later put it, “many lessons were learned in Albany…

“After Albany, many said we were beaten, but we were beaten the way a blacksmith hammers a blade. We emerged from Albany with the kind of unity and purpose that George Washington’s troops found in the miserable snows of Valley Forge.”

[For more information, see Parting The Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch, Simon & Schuster 1988; The Glory and The Dream: A Narrative History of America 1932-72 by William Manchester, Little-Brown 1974; An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America by Andrew Young, Harper-Collins 1996; and The Children by David Halberstam, Random House 1998.]

 

About Civil War-Civil Rights

Jack Hurst is a former longtime print journalist who has written three Civil War books: Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), Men of Fire: Grant, Forrest, and the Campaign That Decided the Civil War (Basic Books, 2007), and a second book about Ulysses S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest, Born To Battle, published in June 2012 by Basic Books. He also had a desk in the rear of the cityroom of the Nashville Tennessean and watched David Halberstam go about covering the desegregation movement in Nashville in 1960-61 and himself covered some of the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham for the Tennessean in 1963. He owes profuse thanks to Jennifer Kelland Fagan, copy editor extraordinaire and computer guru,for indispensable aid in the design evolution of this blog. Her eye-catching website can be accessed at www.hydraislandgreece.com.
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