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General Edward Porter Alexander ( Part 4)

Porter and his wife made their way to Richmond, it was an anxious trip with the winds of war approaching, They noticed a difference in the appearance of the military when they crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. Southern troops were mostly armed with the old .69 caliber smoothbores while their union counterparts had the new .58 caliber rifled muskets. The yankees were much better dressed and well fed while the Rebels already had a lean hungry look to them. Alexander and his bride were not impressed with the unmilitary appearance pf their fellow countrymen, but there was concealed fighting spirit that was invisible to the casual observer.


Once in Richmond on June 1st, 1861 a Confederate captain of the signal corps was waiting for him. By July he was in Manassas, Va. with his company. Jos. E. Johnston and Pierre Beauregard were in command. Porter established signal stations and with the help of a powerful telescope given to him by a friends in Richmond, he was able to give information to his superiors. The First Battle Of Bullrun was a no holds barred slugfest between two uniformed mobs. The Union army was severly routed due as much to their lack of strategy and poor execution as to the superiority of the boys in gray. The battle ended with a footrace back to Washington and the south failed to follow up their best chance to end the war.

General McDowell was replaced by McClellan as Lincoln’s General in charge. The Richmond government’s ace in the hole was the strange instructor from VMI who stood his ground on the field like a stonewall. In less than a year and a half Thomas J Jackson’s career would go from obscurity to one of the greatest military legends of all time, ending with his accidental death from his own troops.

General McClellan spent the rest of the year rebuilding the army while General Johnston pulled back into Richmond to complain to Jefferson Davis endlessly and abandoned the hard won Manassas position. Beauregard was transferred west to Albert Sidney Johnston’s command in time for the battle at Shiloh. Alexander was appointed as ordnance chief in charge of wagon trains and depots to keep the army supplied with all calibers of amunition. Spring of 1862 found “Little Mac” with 100,000 men, moving up the Virginia peninsula to within 7 miles of the CSA capital. Johnston was wounded and President Davis replaced him with his personal military advisor. AS Johnston would later say, his getting shot was the best thing to ever happen to the Confederacy. His wound brought General Robert E. Lee to command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Within a short time span Mars Lee would savage the Union Army with lightning fast attacks relentlessly and drive them away from the Capital.

McClellan was using hydrogen filled observation balloons to great advantage. The boys in gray could not make an unseen daylight move. Alexander was given an observation balloon to counter spy on the union threat. Dr. Edward Cheves of Georgia had conceived the idea and bought up all the silk available in his part of the world. The material was treated with a coating of salvaged runner dissolved in oil and the finished airship was filled with methane from the Richmond gas works. It was a lot less buoyant than the hydrogen filled balloons and leaked badly but managed to get the job done. Alexander had an extreme fear of heights that filled him with the desire to leap from high places. However, he immediately lost his fear on his first ascent and was able to give vital information until his balloon met with disaster. After being attached to a small gunboat that ran aground in the James river the CSA’s only observation balloon was lost. Barely escaping capture, Alexander lived to fight another day. He later said one could get addicted to ballooning.

Lee wasted no time with the wolf at the door. In the short and bloody period called the Seven Days battle, Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia had no only saved the Confederate capital, they forced the largest and best equipped army in North America to withdraw. The following weeks and months would see Lincoln desperately switching his commanding generals and trying to find some one who would drive a union dagger into the CSA. Second Manassas, Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg all proved to be great disappointments to the great man in the white house. Each hard fought battle afforded Alexander the chance to hone his skills in tactics and gun placement. At Fredericksburg General Lee questioned his placement of the guns on Marye’s Heights opposed by Burnside’s powerful artillery across the river. Alexander remarked that a chicken wouldn’t be able to survive on the field when his artillery opened on it. He never dreamed that Burnside would chose that spot for the focus of his attack, but he was ready. The finest regiments the Union had to offer became fodder for Alexander’s guns as they cut them down wheat. With Lee’s infantry in the sunken road behind a quarter mile length of stone wal, backed up with artillery on the heights, it wasn’t a battle so much as a massacre.

At the end of the Fredericksburg massacre Lee spoke to his staff, ” It is well that war is so terrible. otherwise we would become too fond of it.”

To be continued

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