Wrapped in Flames: The Great American War and Beyond


Nov 21, 2014
Chapter 69: An Army of Relief

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect; - Henry V, Act-III, Scene-I

“The Roosevelt family is perhaps one of the most spectacular in American political history. Giving the nation three presidents, generals and numerous educators, governors and cabinet officers it has had an influence through both branches far beyond its humble New England origins…

Though Thee Roosevelt was an avid supporter of the Union war effort, turning his not inconsiderable funds to raising men and material in his home state and city, his overt support in 1861 was marred by family crisis. His wife was an open Southern sympathizer. Her two brothers James and Irvine Bulloch, had joined the Confederate States, and so during the war she was terrified for them. Though James was thought to be relatively safe in England, Irvine was often on the front lines with the Confederate Navy, and so Martha was eternally scared for him. The death of her brother Daniel in 1861 merely added to her distress. This had prompted Thee to remain at home, even in early 1862 as war with the British opened.

At one event in March of 1862 Martha was overheard to make an “impolitic” comment to Sarah Hoadly that she “hoped English intervention might bring this beastly war to a conclusion so all the men may go home, Union or no Union,” which Thee had to work very hard to suppress. However, rumours of a ‘thorn in the rose bush’ would haunt Thee for the remainder of his days. The row between the two apparently extended well into the spring, especially as the blockade began to take hold and Martha apparently refused to speak to her husband outside of social occasions for an entire month after the event.

It would appear that Thee however, struck back at his wife when he joined the ‘Urban Brigade’ a unit of infantry which was detailed to protect New York from a British landing. Having been raised to defend the city against a prospective British landing, his wife could not openly object to his service, and her husband increased his social standing by serving and advocating against the Democratic State government of Milliard Fillmore and it’s stance on the war…

Thee’s unit was activated as part of the X Corps under Sanford’s division in response to Lee’s invasion. Thee joined his unit and prepared to march into Maryland. His wife did not see him off from New York, unlike so many others…” American Dynasty: The Roosevelts, Amelia McCulloch, Princeton University, 2012


Thee and Mittie Roosevelt

“When Thomas took command of the putative “Army of the Chesapeake” it was a supremely disorganized, and demoralized force.

Consisting as it did of the XII Corps (now derisively known to many as the “Flying Dutchman”) the single division of New York Volunteers under Charles W. Sandford and Thomas’s own two divisions under Robert McCook and Thomas L. Crittenden, he had only some 35,000 men to function as an army of relief for Washington. Though some regiments were peeled off from the defences of other cities, and fresh, green, regiments were fed into his own force, it was hardly a force as powerful as the unified Army of the Potomac which had fought Lee in the desperate fighting of April and May.

Arriving at Baltimore Thomas had found a city largely in a state of panic. Streams of refugees had clogged the roads out of the city, heading north towards perceived safety. Meanwhile, inside the city Confederate sympathizers had taken opportunities to commit acts of sabotage, arson and try to rally one another to ‘cast the Federals out’ as though that were a practical strategy. Some confused riots did occur on the 27th of May, though how much of that was caused by actual Confederate sympathizers rather than civilians reacting to the general panic in the region after the near destruction of the naval squadron is open to debate, but it was a bloody day. The final tally from the ‘Baltimore Insurrection’ as the papers would call it, was four Federal troops dead and sixteen rioters killed and four more suspected rebel arsonists hung with over one hundred wounded on both sides.

Lockwood’s harsh methods of restoring order, and the worrying presence of British ships off North Point, meant he could sacrifice no soldiers for Thomas’s army. There were constant alarms of a British landing, and their ships traded shot and shell with the city's fortifications almost daily. Thomas, recognizing he needed Baltimore secure in his rear, agreed that he would need to protect the city.


Lockwood would gain infamy and acclaim for putting down the "insurrection"

This however put Thomas in a quandary. With the British squadron in his rear, he had to reasonably fear that they might make a landing and further disrupt his ability to drive off Lee’s army. That his own army was still outnumbered by Lee to a startling degree (it was said he possessed some 120,000 men still) made him ever more anxious.

Some positive news was received at the start of July as Pennsylvania had managed to shake free some 4,000 militiamen to augment his forces, while another 5,000 were on duty across the frontier with Maryland to ill effect as Confederate raiders and foragers came liberally across the states borders to carry off supplies to the Confederate army. Thomas however, found the Pennsylvania recruits next to useless as they were mainly armed with shotguns, fowling rifles, and the occasional musket. The New Yorkers he had received were, thanks to that city's priority for blockade runners, much better armed. Though the extra men were welcome, he did not see what use he might make of them other than to protect his supply lines…” To Arms!: The Great American War, Sheldon Foote, University of Boston 1999.

“With the “Army of the Chesapeake” assembling in and around Baltimore, Thomas’s first act was to make contact with the Army of the Potomac in Washington. This was no easy feat. Stuart’s cavalry effectively controlled the countryside and ranged far and wide, carrying off property and any unfortunate negroes who were found at large. Though there had been limited skirmishing, Thomas’s own cavalry screens, consisting as they did of the stragglers from the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry division and some of Thomas’s own, were hardly up to the task of breaching Stuart’s cavalry screen.

What he needed then was a spy, someone who could make contact with the besieged city, and return with information. Two Maryland loyalists who attempted to infiltrate the lines failed, with one being hung as a spy. The only information Thomas learned was that the army still held out, but for how much longer, none could say.

It was only then that he received the services of Corporal Frank Thompson. The corporal of the 2nd Michigan had a glowing report from his superiors, and had been assigned to the staff of General Kearny, but had been separated from her own men in the retreat from Washington and cut off from returning. Instead he had been assigned to the mass of officers and men coalescing around Baltimore. When he was discovered, he made the offer to run the lines, claiming he had done so before. Thomas, with nothing to lose, asked Thompson to do what others had failed to do.

Thankfully, he had stumbled upon, not Frank Thompson, but Sarah Edmonds. Though New Brunswick born, Edmonds was New Englander by assimilation, having fled the land of her birth to seek a better life. Having found it easier to travel as a man and find work, she had adopted the “Frank Thompson” persona as a necessity. Enlisting with the 2nd Michigan, originally as a male nurse but then being appointed to the staff, she had played a part in Rappahannock Campaign and the battles of Mannassas. Having snuck across the lines more than once, she was confident she could do so again.

Adopting the guise of “Bridget O’Shea”, an Irish peddler woman, she easily infiltrated the Confederate lines trading trinkets and gossip. Sneaking across bearing a letter from General Thomas, she was accepted into Union lines. There she would gather the news of events in the city, the condition of the army, and take it back to Baltimore.” - The Siege of Washington, Jeremiah Dutton, University of Philadelphia, 1993


Sarah Edmonds

“With the startling news of General Rosecrans elevation to commanding the Army of the Potomac, Thomas had to make a hard choice. To try and attack now, with whatever coordination the Army in Washington could provide, or wait and see whether more reinforcements could arrive. With the news from Philadelphia dispiriting, and the news on other fronts hardly any better, Thomas was forced to make the only decision he could have possibly made. He attacked…” To Arms!: The Great American War, Sheldon Foote, University of Boston 1999
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