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Authors: Peter G. Tsouras

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The smoke hung over the water's edge, mixed with early snow flurries
that blew in from the black clouds rolling down from the north across
Lake Michigan. Maj. Gen. William "Cump" Tecumseh Sherman's horse
picked its way over the burning debris and the bodies that littered
Michigan Avenue. Some of the bodies wore red coats. Most were in some
ragged combination of butternut and gray or in nondescript civilian
clothing. A gaggle of prisoners was being pushed along by the bayonets
of their guards.

Sherman pointed to the group. "Separate out the Rebs and the Brits.
Hang the Copperheads." His troops had known him affectionately as
Uncle Billy. Ever after he would be known as Hanging Billy. He was
hanging every man bearing arms without a uniform.

Copperheads! They were the virulent Lincoln-haters, mostly antiwar Democrats, loathing emancipation and determined to stop the
war, overthrow the federal government, and take the Midwest out of
the Union and into the Confederacy. They had plotted and prepared for
the great day when, organized and trained by Rebel officers, they would
storm all the Confederate prisoner-of-war camps in the Midwest and
arm the liberated prisoners in their thousands. Thus Camp Morton in
Chicago with seven thousand trained prisoners had fallen.

The behavior of the liberated Rebels had been correct save for sating their hunger and replacing their rags in the rich shops of the city.
The Copperheads were simply out of control. Gangs had gone through
Chicago with lists of prominent Unionists to murder in their own homes or to round up and shoot in the stockyards. Bodies floated down the Chicago River into Lake Michigan for days. The Copperheads had thought
things out well and seized all the armories and murdered the militia officers wherever they could. Then the British and their Canadian militia
allies had come steaming over the lake to add red to the garrison.

But Sherman and his XVII Corps had fallen on the stricken city with
a hardness of heart that a pharaoh would have envied. Sires of a conspiracy born and nurtured in the dark had not had the stomach for a tough
fight in the light of day. Many threw their weapons away but were hunted down by the Chicagoans out for revenge and shouting "Copperhead
quarter!" It was martial law at its hardest, and Sherman was determined
that they would never rise again against the United States?

It was not only Sherman who saved the Midwest. The shrewd
prescience of Lincoln's new chief of intelligence, Brig. Gen. George H.
Sharpe, had been decisive in the month before the rising. He had sent
his chief of scouts, Maj. Milton Cline, and two hundred specially trained
cavalry to assist state authorities against the Copperhead plots.2 Fresh on
the heels of scotching the attempt to liberate the POWs at Camp Morton
outside Indianapolis, Major Cline had run wild over Indiana, striking at
one Copperhead concentration after another, rallying the local Unionist
militias and home guards. Slowly, town by town, village by village, the
Loyalist men had prevailed. And as in Chicago, there was precious little
mercy shown. The people of the Midwest would always associate the rising with the sight of men hanging from trees in town squares and along
country roads.

The viciousness of this cycle of murder and revenge was replicated
across the region in almost every city, town, and village. That had been
the first setback in the Copperhead plan -the Union men fought back.
The news of Sherman's ruthlessness in Chicago suddenly collapsed the
uprising everywhere else. The loyal men and the state militias mopped
up the last of it, and they made Hanging Billy look like the most tender
of civil libertarians. The troop trains heading to Chattanooga passed
hundreds more bodies hanging from trees. Sherman had to intervene
repeatedly to stop the house-to-house revenge killings by proscription
lists. Those lists were voluminous for men who had been too free with
their opinions before the Stab in the Back, as it was now being called. Sherman's hellfire threats to the state authorities to rein in the excess was
the only thing that put a stop to what would be known as the White Terror.'


The men of the Army of the Cumberland called their present position
"Starvation Camp." They were shivering in the last cold, wet hours
before dawn. Heavy autumn rains had turned their positions into seas
of mud. The army had been reduced effectively to quarter rations, and
hunger obsessed every man. Their animals were dying first, in large
numbers. Many of the poor creatures, unable to be fed, had been sent
out of the tightening siege by the one remaining supply route through
mountain and mud that was so difficult to travel that countless died on
the way. Supplies coming into the army were shrinking to a trickle.

At the moment when the Union needed every one of its veteran
field armies to ward off foreign invasion and new rebellion, the Army
of the Cumberland lay dying of complete loss of faith in its commander
more than from outright starvation. Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans-"Old
Rosey" -had been undone by his defeat at Chickamauga and seemed
incapable of even occasional powerful bursts of energy. Simple problem
solving now seemed to elude him. None of this was lost on his men.

A wise general knew that he had only one man to defeat-his opposite number. A general defeated in his own mind carries the doom of
his entire army. Yet Gen. Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate
Army of Tennessee, failed to vigorously take advantage of his opponent's moral surrender to deliver the coup de grace. His efforts to close
off the final supply route into Chattanooga were never pressed with a
killer instinct. He had even sent off his most aggressive commander and
the author of his victory at Chickamauga, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, to
lose himself in a mindless campaign against Knoxville in a region bare
of subsistence. Bragg's remaining energy was expended on engineering
the relief of his next most competent subordinate, Gen. D. H. Hill, for
which he had asked Jefferson Davis himself to come to the siege lines to

This and the news that Grant was coming to the rescue were unknown to the men in "Starvation Camp." It would take all Grant's skill
to save them. After all the subtractions from the powerful army Grant
had assembled to take Vicksburg, he was bringing with him only XV Corps. Given Bragg's tight grip on the surrounding mountains, it would
take a miracle for him to save the Army of the Cumberland. And Grant
would not be on the scene with his troops in less than two weeks.

4:29 PM, OCTOBER 16, 1863

Grant couldn't remain still; the pain wracked his body. A vicious mount
had fallen on him in New Orleans and injured him seriously a few weeks
before. He hobbled up and down the riverboat's deck on crutches, anxious to get his hands on events, but he was confident in the actions he
had already taken.

A wave of near panic had washed over the Army with the news of
one disaster after another, but Grant was as imperturbable as a block of
granite. A desperate Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had sent him
orders appointing him commander of the Military District of the Mississippi -essentially everything east of the Appalachian Mountains, south
of Canada, and down to the Gulf. It was a command that would have
swallowed half of Europe. At his direction, the armies began to move.
He did not give a hint of distress or uncertainty, and waves of calm and
assurance seemed to radiate from him. Up the Mississippi, hundreds of
steamboats and barges moved his forces north. He had appointed Cump
to pacify the Midwest while he concentrated on saving the besieged
Army of the Cumberland. The Union dared not lose a field army at this
moment of crisis. Veterans could not be spared, and the shout of triumph
from her enemies to the south and north would have demoralized loyal
men and women. There had been too many disasters already.

That was why he read the daily reports from Sharpe with such intense interests. Each one was a comprehensive analysis of current intelligence, far superior to anything he had received from the overwhelmed
War Department in the past. For the first time, he was able to build a
complete strategic picture of the situation besetting the Union. With that
in mind, he could better plan his own operations. Not that the Daily
Intelligence Summaries were bearers of good news. On the contrary,
they were rigorously objective and spared no had news. That was fine
with Grant. He needed facts, not sugarcoating. As his steamer puffed
up river, he finally gave in to physical necessity and found a chair on
the deck. He leaned his crutches on the railing, a cigar clenched in the corner of his mouth, and watched the muddy water part before the bow.
In his hand was Sharpe's latest telegraphic report, fresh from the cipher
clerk's rendering.

The report put the feel of the overall situation at his fingertips.
He summarized it in his own mind-Bragg had invested the Army of
the Cumberland as tight as a tick; the men were starting to starve. The
secretary of war's representative, Charles Dana, was in Chattanooga,
reporting how Rosecrans had lost his nerve and the confidence of his
men. Longstreet, his old friend from the prewar Army, commanding his
own I Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, had been detached to strike at

Maj. Gen. George G. Meade was doing all he could to keep up with
Robert E. Lee's vigorous maneuvers in northern Virginia. The Royal
Navy had taken control of the southern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay,
and an attack up the Potomac on Washington by its lighter ships was
possible. There was evidence at this time of Rebel-British cooperation. To
the north, Portland still stood siege, and the British had reinforced the investing force. Union Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick was taking his time to get
his VI Corps up there.

Hmm, that sounded just like Uncle John, Grant thought. Good in a
fight but slow to get into it. Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, on the other hand,
was moving rapidly up the Hudson on its eastern shore to a collision
with the British at Albany. Now Hooker had the opposite problem-he
would not waste time getting into a fight, but at Chancellorsville he had
lost his nerve when Lee had had the temerity to upset Hooker's plan. As
Grant saw it, the problem was whether some British general would have
the same effect on Hooker.4

Reports indicated that a large reinforcement from the British Isles
was on its way to Canada. A French army had also marched up from
Mexico. It was moving along the Gulf Coast and was reinforced by more
troops that had landed at Galveston after a French fleet had destroyed
the Navy's blockading squadron there. New Orleans was the likely
target of the combined French forces. There was no word of any British
or French action against the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, which had
concentrated at the Pensacola Navy Yard. Rumors stated that Admiral
Dahlgren's South Atlantic Blockading Squadron had been destroyed, but
there were doubts as to their veracity.

The Copperhead rising in the Midwest seemed to be subsiding,
beaten on every hand by Loyalist men. Grant had independent confirmation of that. He had Sherman's telegraph in his hand as well. It smelled
of the fire that had burned half of Chicago. If he knew Cump, his friend
would make the Midwest howl. He decided to take the immediate action
of relieving Rosecrans of command of the Army of the Cumberland and
replacing him with Maj. Gen. George Thomas, the IV Corps commander
who had held the rearguard at Chickamauga.

Still, time was not on his side. He leaned back in his chair, rocking
it back and forth as he smelled the snap in the air. Already the days were
turning unseasonably cold.'

3:22 PM, OCTOBER 15, 1863

Close to Rebel-infested Kentucky just across the Ohio River, Cincinnati
had been struck hard by the Copperheads. Confederate sympathizers
had burned the first factory where Richard Gatling had built his new
gun in 1861; now they were determined to burn the foundry where he
had just finished his first order of thirteen guns ordered by Maj. Gen.
Benjamin Butler and paid for out of his own pocket. It seemed that half
the city was on fire, with Copperhead mobs burning and killing. For
days now, the factory workers had feared to come to work. Only Gatling
and his partner, Miles Greenwood, had made it to the building, a stout
brick structure with a high wall and strong gate.

BOOK: A Rainbow of Blood: The Union in Peril an Alternate History
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