The Original Baghdad Bob 150 Years Ago

baghdadbobBaghdad Bob explains how Saddam Hussein is winning, as US tanks
can be heard on the outskirts of the airport he’s talking to the press from

The Original Baghdad Bob was the Richmond Daily Dispatch, which started the war explaining, on April 1, 1861, that the economic superiority of the South was such that they didn’t even NEED the North, and thence sounded like Rightie bloggers of today: all events are victories for the glorious cause, all failures are either to be spun or barely acknowledged. This is from April 1. Today, April 2, is when the end begins, as Union forces overwhelm Lee’s defensive positions around Richmond. [emphasis added]



The News.
The Richmond and Petersburg lines.

All continues, and seems likely to continue, quiet on the north side of James river. The enemy are expending their activity on our right.

Immediately at Petersburg, in front of General Gordon’s lines, there has been no stir since the feu d’eufer of Wednesday night. The performances of that night are quite sufficient to last a considerable length of time. The heroes of that dark and sulphurous, but bloodless, field can afford to rest on their laurels for the present. General Lee, in his official report of this affair, which we received late Thursday night, and published yesterday, says:

“General Gordon reports that the enemy, at 11 o’clock P. M.yesterday, advanced against a part of his line, defended by Brigadier-General Lewis, but was repulsed.”

We have quoted this dispatch to call attention to the fact that, whereas it says the enemy advanced at 11 o’clock Wednesday night, the cannonade, as every one in Petersburg and Richmond, who is not stone deaf, knows, began before 10 o’clock, and was at its fiercest before 11. The report to the contrary notwithstanding, we cannot help adhering to our opinion, expressed yesterday, that there was no attack at all. Of course we do not think our officers willfully misrepresented the case, but that, in the shadow of that darkest of nights, they were mistaken. We look with interest to the Yankee account of the affair, which we will receive to-morrow. We should not be surprised if they have a flaming account of a repulse of the rebels, with the usual “horrible slaughter.”


Richmond Iron Works 6 lb. ‘Napoleon’. This was also the
preferred cannon of the 21st Indiana Battery. Illustration by author

Affairs on the right.

The enemy have pushed a heavy column beyond our right, southwest of Petersburg, but we have heard nothing from that quarter that we can rely upon as authentic since General Lee’s report of Thursday [published yesterday], in which he says “there was skirmishing near Dinwiddie Courthouse yesterday [Wednesday], without decisive result.”

The Petersburg Express of yesterday says Grant’s long-contemplated movement to extend his left towards the Southside railroad has begun, and that he has forty thousand men on the field.

Ah, but they were, to the end, full of shit. They could hear the cannons, but dismissed it as not adhering to their own “in the bunker mentality.” Cannons can be heard in the suburbs. Tanks can be heard at the airport. Russian tanks can be heard on the outskirts of Berlin. This warped need to pretend the real isn’t real repeats itself endlessly in human history. It is as constant and inevitable as the tides in the tides of war.


The Richmond Iron Works, 2013. Photograph by author

And not only would this be the Dispatch’s last edition until December of 1865, the Peterson Express would go dark as well on April 2, 1865. From the April 1861 shelling of Fort Sumter to the April 1865 collapse of the Confederacy, it had been four years of the bloodiest conflict Americans had or have ever seen. Of those who served, just one in four survived, and sickness took two soldiers for every one that died in battle.

My GG-Grandfather and his brother served in a battery of Indiana volunteers, with those most American of names appended to that most anonymous of last names, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington Williams. Both survived, but my forebear returned with tuberculosis and died of it in 1885, just 20 years later. He had been in his late teens when he entered the war.


Served with brother George Washington Williams
in the 21st Indiana Independent Light Battery

Here is the reality (and presage to my favorite wisecrack of the war: after Appomatox, a rider comes racing through the camp shouting variants of “it’s over, it’s over!”  and one man cracks wise: “You’re the sonofabitch we’ve been waiting for these last four years.”)

The Battle of Five Forks via Wikipedia:

Battle of Five Forks Kurz & Allison 1886, click to enlarge

The Battle of Five Forks was fought on April 1, 1865, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, around the road junction of Five Forks, Dinwiddie County, Virginia, during the end of the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign (sometimes called the Siege of Petersburg) and in the beginning stage of the Appomattox Campaignnear the conclusion of the American Civil War. A mobile task force of combined infantry, artillery and cavalry from the Union Army commanded by Major GeneralPhilip Sheridan defeated a Confederate States Army combined task force from the Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Major GeneralGeorge E. Pickett. The Union force inflicted over 1,000 casualties on the Confederates and took between 2,400 and 4,000 prisoners[notes 1] while seizing Five Forks, the key to control of the South Side Railroad (sometimes shown as Southside Railroad), a vital Confederate supply line to, and retreat line from, Petersburg.

The battle was immediately preceded by two battles on March 31, 1865. At the Battle of White Oak Road, infantry of the Union Army’s V Corps of the Army of the Potomac pushed back the main line of Confederate defenses on the right flank of the Army of Northern Virginia southwest of Petersburg. The V Corps blocked two important roads as well as taking a better position for an attack on the Confederate line. At the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House, Sheridan’s cavalry tactically lost a battle to Pickett’s combined force but had fewer casualties and averted being dispersed or forced to retreat from the area. At nightfall, Sheridan’s troopers still held a defensive line 0.75 miles (1.21 km) north of Dinwiddie Court House.

On the night of the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House at about 10:00 p.m., V Corps infantry began to arrive near the battlefield to reinforce Sheridan’s cavalry. This threat caused Pickett to retreat about 6 miles (9.7 km) to a modestly fortified line about 1.75 miles (2.82 km) in length approximately half on either side of the junction of White Oak Road, Scott Road and Dinwiddie Court House Road at Five Forks. Pickett’s orders from GeneralRobert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, were to defend Five Forks at all costs because of its strategic importance as the key to a supply line and evacuation route.

At Five Forks at the beginning of the Union attack about 1:00 p.m., Sheridan hit the front and right flank of the Confederate line with small arms fire from mostly dismounted cavalry troopers of Brigadier GeneralThomas Devin’s and Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer’s divisions from mostly wooded positions just outside the Confederate breastworks. This fire pinned down the Confederates while the massed V Corps of infantry, commanded by Major General Gouverneur K. Warren, after about two hours to organize, attacked the Confederate left flank.

With Sheridan fretting about the amount of remaining daylight and his cavalry possibly running out of ammunition, the V Corps attacked about 4:15 p.m. Pickett and cavalry commander Major General Fitzhugh Lee were having a late shad bake lunch about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of the main Confederate line along White Oak Road in part because they thought Sheridan was unlikely to be organized for an attack that late in the day. An acoustic shadow in the thick woods and heavy, humid atmospheric conditions prevented them from hearing the opening stage of the battle. Pickett and Lee had not told any of the next ranking officers of their absence and that those subordinates, in particular Major General W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee, were temporarily in charge.

Petersburg Mar29-31 1865 - click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Because of bad information and lack of reconnaissance, two of the Union divisions in the infantry attack did not hit the short Confederate left flank which was about 800 yards (730 m) west of its supposed location, but their movement by chance helped them to roll up the Confederate line by coming at it from the end and rear. The first division in the attack under Brigadier General Romeyn B. Ayres alone overran the short right angled line on the left side of the Confederate main line. Sheridan’s personal leadership helped encourage and focus the men. Brigadier General Charles Griffin’s division recovered from overshooting the Confederate left and helped roll up additional improvised Confederate defense lines. Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) Samuel Crawford’s division swept across north of the main battle but then closed off Ford’s Road,[notes 2] swept down to Five Forks and helped disperse the last line of Confederate infantry resistance. The Union cavalry was somewhat less successful as much of the Confederate cavalry escaped while much of the Confederate infantry became casualties or prisoners. Due to more apparent than real lack of speed, enthusiasm and leadership, as well as some past grudges and a personality conflict, Sheridan unfairly relieved Warren of command of V Corps when the successful battle concluded.[notes 3] The Union Army held Five Forks and the road to the South Side Railroad at the end of the battle. Grant ordered an attack all along the line at Petersburg for the next day.

Pickett’s loss at Five Forks along with the Union breakthrough of the defenses of Petersburg the next day at the Third Battle of Petersburg forced General Lee to abandon his entrenchments and fortifications around Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and to begin the retreat that led to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865.

There’s a lot more detail and breakdown at the link.

And the lines around Richmond collapsed today, 150 years ago on April 2, 1865 as the Siege of Petersburg was ended in Complete Confederate Collapse.

Ulysses S. Grant, had, after his brilliant, Caesaresque siege of Vicksburg, essentially completed the Siege of Richmond.

Ruins of Richmond April 1865 - click to enlarge

Smoke is still rising from the ruins of Richmond, Virginia after surrendering
on April 3, 1865  following the Union victory at the Siege of Petersburg.
Union cavalry mounts with carbines visible are hitched in the foreground.

Paul Krugman in the New York Times:

When report of the victory reached Grant, he asked an interesting question: How many prisoners? My guess is that he wanted a clear measure of two things: the reality of decisive victory, and the size of the force that had just been defeated. When he was told that there were thousands, he knew both that the just-beaten force wasn’t going to reappear on the battlefield and that Lee must have stripped his defensive lines to make that effort. So he ordered an attack all along the front.

There’s a passage in Bruce Catton, I think, describing how one observer saw it: a line of twinkling lights in the pre-dawn darkness — Confederate rifles firing — then gaps appearing and spreading, and suddenly the whole line going dark.

The war was almost over.


The successor (for reasons of human longevity) to the GAR.


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