Today In Western History: January 20

January 20 —

On this day in 1863, Union General Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Potomac begins an offensive against General

Burnside, Ambrose 220pxAmbrose Burnside

Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia that comes to a sudden halt after several days of heavy rain turn the roads of Virginia into a muddy quagmire. The campaign was abandoned three days later.

The Union army was still reeling from the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 13, 1862, when Burnside’s forces suffered more than 13,000 casualties as it assaulted Lee’s troops along hills above Fredericksburg.  Lee suffered around 5,000 casualties, making Fredericksburg one of the most one-sided engagements in the Eastern theater of operations. Morale was low among the Yankees that winter as a result of that mauling.  Now, Burnside sought to raise morale and seize the initiative from Lee by moving around Lee’s left flank and drawing the Confederates away from their defenses and out into the open. Speed was essential to the operation but everything went wrong that could. January had been dry up to then, but no sooner did the Union Army begin to move than the clouds opened up and created a four day deluge. He weather wasn’t Burnside’s only problem, as supply problems delayed the laying of a pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock River, and a huge traffic jam snarled the army’s progress.  In one day, the 5th New York managed to move only a mile and a half. The roads became unnavigable, and conflicting orders caused two corps to march across each other’s paths, causing even more confusion and problems. Horses, wagons, and cannons were stuck in mud, and the element of surprise was clearly lost.  The jeering Confederates taunted the Yankees with shouts and signs that read “Burnside’s Army Stuck in the Mud”, among other jibes.

Burnside tried to lift the spirits of the troops by issuing liquor to the soldiers on January 22, but this turned out to just make things even worse.  Since they couldn’t get into a fight with the Confederates, the completely drunken troops began brawling with each other within their own company and in the spirit of self-defeating behavior, entire regiments fought one another. The operation was a complete fiasco, and on January 23 Burnside gave up his attempt to, in his words, “strike a great and mortal blow to the rebellion.”  This was the last straw for the leaders of the Union Army, and the campaign was considered so disastrous that Burnside was removed as commander of the army on January 25.

But he earned a place in history and fashion, as his memorable side whiskers became forever known as “sideburns”.


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Today In Western History: January 19

January 19 —


Today in 1807, future Confederate General Robert Edward Lee is born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was the

Lee, Robert Edward 200pxRobert Edward Lee

son of Revolutionary War officer Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III, who was Washington’s favorite general, and Robert was a top graduate of the United States Military Academy.

Lee holds the honor of being the officer in charge when he arrested radical abolitionist John Brown   at the end of his raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Assisting Colonel Lee in this duty was Lieutenant James Ewell Brown Stuart.  These two would work together again in the near future.  Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia during most of the Civil War and his brilliant battlefield leadership earned him a reputation as one of the greatest military leaders in history as he consistently defeated larger Union armies.  To many, he WAS the hope of the Confederacy, even more so than President Davis, but once the war was over, he moved immediately to embrace Reconstruction for the recovery of his people. Despite losing the war, he remains the most beloved general in American history.


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Today In Western History: January 18, 1803

January 18 —

Determined to begin the American exploration of the vast mysterious regions of the Far West, President Thomas Jefferson sends a special confidential message to Congress asking for money to fund the journey of Lewis and Clark, today in 1803.

Jefferson, Thomas by Rembrandt Peale c 1800 220pxThomas Jefferson

Jefferson had been trying to mount a western expedition of exploration since the 1790s, and his determination to do so had only grown since he became president in 1801. In summer 1802, Jefferson began actively preparing for the mission, recruiting his young personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to be its leader. Throughout 1802, Jefferson and Lewis

Meriweather Lewis-Charles_Willson_Peale 220pxMerriwether Lewis

discussed the proposed mission, telling no one, not even Congress, which would have to approve the funds, the nature of the monumental undertaking they were planning.

Jefferson directed Lewis to draw up an estimate of expenses. He kept his party small to avoid attention from Congress and to avoid antagonizing the Indians, so he decided to limit it to a group consisting of one officer and 10 enlisted men.  Lewis carefully added up the costs for provisions, weapons, gunpowder, scientific instruments, and a large boat. The final tally came to $2,500. This isn’t a great sum, and today in 2015, it would only be about $39,821.20.   The largest item was $696, this would only be about $11,086.22 in 2015 dollars, which was set aside for gifts to Indians.

Following the advice of his secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, Jefferson decided not to include the request in his general proposed annual budget, since it involved exploration outside of the nation’s own territory. Instead, on January 18, 1803, he sent a special secret message to Congress asking for the money, taking pains to stress that the proposed exploration would be an aid to American commerce. Jefferson noted that the Indians along the proposed route of exploration up the Missouri River “furnish a great supply of furs & pelts to the trade of another nation carried on in a high latitude.” If a route into this territory existed, “possibly with a single portage, from the Western ocean,” Jefferson suggested Americans might have a superior means of exploiting the fur trade. Though carefully couched in diplomatic language, Jefferson’s message to Congress was clear: a U.S. expedition might be able to steal the fur trade from the British and find the long hoped-for Northwest passage to the Pacific.   Despite some mild resistance from Federalists who never saw any point in spending money on the West, Jefferson’s carefully worded request prevailed, and Congress approved the $2,500 appropriation by a sizeable margin.


It no doubt seemed trivial in comparison to the $9,375,000 they had approved a week earlier for the Louisiana Purchase which brought much of the territory Jefferson was proposing to explore under American control.  For comparison’s sake, that would be the equivalent of $ 149,329,481.95 in 2015 dollars.  But just what did Jefferson buy for that fantastic sum?  With the Louisiana Purchase the United States purchased approximately 828,000,000 square miles of territory from France, thereby doubling the size of the young republic. What was known as Louisiana Territory stretched from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the Canadian border in the north. Part or all of 15 states were eventually created from the land deal, which is considered one of the most important achievements of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.

With financing now assured, Lewis immediately began preparing for the expedition. Recruiting his old military friend, William Clark, to be his co-captain, the Corps of Discovery departed on their epic exploration of the uncharted regions in spring 1804.



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Today in Western History: January 17 , 1865

On this day in 1865, Union General William T. Sherman’s army is rained in at Savannah, Georgia, as it waits to begin marching into the Carolinas.

Sherman, William Tecumseh 250px

General William Tecumseh Sherman

In the fall of 1864, Sherman and his army marched across Georgia and destroyed nearly everything in their path. Sherman decided the war would end sooner if the conflict were taken to the civilian South, a hard view shared by both President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman’s men tore up railroads, burned grain

Grant, Lt. Gen Ulysses S. 245px General Ulysses S. Grant     Lincoln, Abraham November 1863President Abraham Lincoln

stores, carried away livestock, and left plantations in ruins. The Yankees captured the port city of Savannah just before Christmas, and Sherman took some time, three weeks, to rest and resupply his fatigued and depleted troops.  After this well-deserved rest, Sherman planned to move into the Carolinas and subject those states to the same brutal treatment that Georgia had received. He intended to pay particular attention to South Carolina as that state was seen as starting the war.  He began his operations by dividing his 60,000 troops into two wings.  He gave General Oliver O. Howard two

howard,  oliver o. 220pxGeneral Oliver O. Howard

corps and directed him to move north-east to Charleston, South Carolina, while General Henry Slocum was to move

Slocum, Henry W. 220pxGeneral Henry W. SLocum

northwest toward Augusta, Georgia. These were just diversions to Sherman’s main target however, which was Columbia, South Carolina.  Just as Sherman was preparing to move out on January 17, the rains began the Yankees waited while heavy rains pelted the region for 10 days.  It turned out to be the heaviest rainfall in 20 years. Although a number of Sherman’s aides thought a winter campaign in the Carolinas would be difficult with such wet weather, Sherman had spent four years in Charleston as a young lieutenant in the army, and he believed that the march was still possible.  He also possessed an army that was more than ready to continue its assault on the Confederacy.  In a letter Sherman wrote to his wife during that period, he said that he “…never saw a more confident army…The soldiers think I know everything and that they can do anything.”  Sherman’s army did not begin moving until the end of January 1865. When the army finally did get moving, it conducted a punitive campaign against South Carolina that was even worse than the one waged against Georgia. Sherman wanted to exact revenge on the state that had led the call for secession and had then started the war by firing on Fort Sumter.



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What I’m working on now

Well, I am finding that writing a blog is a lot more work than it appears to be, even for someone who likes to write.  I think this would be a lot easier if I wasn’t also working….then I would have a lot more time to do this.   Regardless, I signed up for this so I need to keep up with it.

I am working on two new stories at the same time, depending upon which muse visits me on a given day.  One story is a ghost story, I had a lot of fun with my first one (“The Spirit of Redd Mountain”), and this time I am looking at a haunted bridge.  The working title is “The Troll Bridge”.   The other story is another western, my favorite genre.  The working title is “The Inside Man”, and it is a follow up to “A Matter of Justice”, as it takes place after Jonah Berryman heads north to find some bank robbers.

For both stories, I am hoping to provide a different take on the expected story line and incorporate what I know the most about — the psychology of human behavior — at its worst and best.   Because I want reader feedback and to grow my audience, I am going to make an offer to the reading public at large.  If you would like to see your name in print in either story, send me your character profile and how they would fit into that story line.  The best one will be used in the story and your avatar will use your name.  I am still in the early stages  of story development, so there is plenty of time to get your ideas in the running.  Just let me know which story you are submitting for so I don’t make any mistakes.

Let me hear from you.  I’d love to include your character in my story.


St. Lucie County 2nd Annual Local Author’s Book Fair

Hello to one and all.  Just a quick note to say I will be at the St. Lucie County Local Author’s Book Fair on March 12, 2016. I will be at the Morningside Library, 241 Morningside Blvd. Pt. St. Lucie, from 10:00am until 1:00pm.  I will be looking forward to meeting all of you, and to get a chance to talk about my stories with you, as well as what is in the works!  Please come by and say hello, rain or shine.


Welcome to the new

To one and all, welcome to the new website.  I hope to make this interesting and keep it interesting to read.  I will keep it fresh, adding new information or commentary as I go along.  This is actually new for me, so I expect to make some mistakes along the way, but I hope you will forgive those and focus on what I am doing right.  I will keep you posted on what I am working on, and make an effort to keep the reader involved with the workings and goings on of this writer.

As I go along, I hope to resume something I had last time, which was a spotlight on what happened on this day in frontier history.  Lord  knows, enough happened that I will seldom need to reuse a prior entry for any given day.  Maybe we w ill get a contest or something going on, certainly I hope to get some discussions and reader interaction.

I also intend to create links to my favorite sites, and invite you to visit them and send me a link to yours, keeping in mind the focus of this site, so no raunchy stuff, please.  And no selling stuff on this site, unless you have prior approval to do so.  For some reason, many people think that if you are selling it here, I may have something to do with it or profit from it, and that will certainly NOT be the case.

There is a function where you can contact me, and I do encourage and desire that you do so.  I have a pet project that I will talk about in a few weeks, after i get the hang of this, and I will invite your participation in that project.   If you have any comments about any of my books, positive or negative, I would  like to hear from you.  I can only improve my writing by hearing what others like or don’t like.

So this is my welcoming message to you all, and I will be talking to you again in a day or so.

Larry Auerbach