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Seven Months in the Rebel States During the North American War, 1863 / Edition 2

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Captain Scheibert’s book was available only in German until W. S. Hoole edited the present version.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Captain Scheibert’s [book] was available only in German until W. S. Hoole edited the present version. A member of the Prussian army since 1849, and ‘well known as an authority on fortifications,’ Scheibert was sent to America ‘to study the effect of rifled cannon fire on earth, masonry, and iron, and the operation of armor on land and at sea.’ The captain preferred to observe the South rather than the North at war. ‘If there ever was a foreign Rebel,’ Mr. Hoole asserts, ‘he was one.’ Scheibert, impressed with the South’s ‘enormous energy’ and ‘amazed at the industry of a patriotic people,’ was cordially received by President Davis and Generals Lee, Jackson, Beauregard, and Stuart. The vivid impressions, observations, and characterizations of a Prussian captain are a significant commentary on the engagements at Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, and Gettysburg, on blockade running, and on the spirit of the people and their military genius.”—Journal of Southern History

“This is an interesting story, giving a Prussian military officer’s view of the Civil War. The author wrote other accounts of that war during his lifetime, always praising the South. Those interested in how the war was viewed by European military observers and how it was reported to European readers will find much of interest in this reasonably priced book.”--The Journal of America’s Military Past

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817355913
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 11/3/2009
  • Series: Seeing the Elephant Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Justus Scheibert (1831–1903) was an army captain, sent by Prussia to America to observe the American Civil War in order to learn the lessons to be learned and return to Prussia to teach these lessons to the Prussian troops. His writings became a source of Prussian, and later German, military strategy through five subsequent wars.

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Read an Excerpt

Seven months in the Rebel States During the North American War, 1863


The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2009 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5591-3

Chapter One

Outward Bound

The Civil War had already been raging for two years in the United States of America when, at the beginning of February, 1863, I left Berlin for a trip across the ocean to witness the battles and to observe the innovations of the Americans. I first went to London to ask the well-known agent of the late Confederate States, Mr. [James M.] Mason, for letters of introduction to influential men of the Southern States, and to get advice as to the way by which I might enter the South, which was blockaded on all sides. Both requests were courteously granted, and Charleston, South Carolina, was suggested as my destination. My interests also drew me to that place, since I intended to be present there at the impending siege.

In consequence of the travel instructions that were given me, I embarked at Liverpool on February 15 to go by way of New York to New Nassau (on New Providence, one of the Bahama Islands), from whence I intended to reach Charleston on one of the blockade-running steamers.

With anxious expectations, I began the voyage on the excellent steamer Africa (Captain Moodie), which took us to New York by way of Queenstown after a stormy voyage, for we were at sea almost fifteen daysinstead of ten.

Even on the voyage, which is interesting only on the romantic Irish Sea, with the steep, red cliffs of Ireland and Western England, as well as the green, foaming sea and the lovely landscapes of the coasts, I learned through personal observation in association with the passengers the deep hatred that divided the Northerners and the Southerners, that is, the Federalists and the Confederates. For in the boredom of the monotonous voyage, which was interrupted by general seasickness in a manner not exactly pleasant, political topics composed the sole subject of conversation, naturally only within sharply defined groups which formed in various places on the spacious deck.

The few Southerners, who knew that they would be in enemy hands in New York within a short time, carried on a furtive and restrained conversation, while the Unionists, feeling themselves on secure ground, engaged in loud and provocative discourses. It was my privilege, as one who was completely neutral, to take part in the sessions of both parties, since I naturally concealed my intention to go to the South. Not until the close of my voyage did I reveal my destination to a trustworthy, rich German merchant, Mr. C., who had an import business in New York, so that I might have in this large, strange city someone who could help me to some extent with advice and information.

As far as the Englishmen on board were concerned, I made the observation that the officers of the army, as well as those of the navy, sympathized strongly with the Confederates, while the struggle in America seemed to stir the industrial Britisher only so far as his material interests were at stake.

We finally entered the splendid harbor of New York, which, protected by well-armed masonry and earthen forts, gave a presentiment of the prevailing war, while life in the harbor and in the city itself breathed with deepest peace and showed lively industrial activity. Only the recruits and volunteers who were moving out to the parade, as well as the large signboards of the recruiting offices, which praised in the most glaring manner and with usual American pretentious publicity the regiments that were to be formed and their commanders, gently reminded one here and there that he was living in a land where a grim, fratricidal civil war was rending the most sacred bonds.

I used the few days that I spent in the world-famed commercial city to become acquainted with the activity there and to see as much of the army as possible. Naturally, the first sight of the poorly disciplined troops, who were completely unrestrained in their physical bearing, made such an unfavorable impression on a soldier of the standing army that I first had to get completely accustomed to the idea of having before me a young army which was drilled only for war against similarly trained elements. So much the more warlike were the conversations that were heard here and there, and the more martial the battle reports that "our own correspondents" gave in the columns of the forbearing newspapers.

I had become suspect by registering for the passenger steamer H., which was to carry us to New Nassau, the notorious smuggling harbor for the blockade runners, and only to the timely warning of Mr. C., who had been my faithful guide in New York, did I owe the fact that I was able on the night before the departure to transfer the letters of introduction from my room, where they were pasted behind the tapestry, to the ship lying in the middle of the Hudson, and to conceal them in the lining of a sofa. Thus, I was spared inconvenience, and perhaps long imprisonment, for on the next morning, on March 2, when I was about to go aboard, the secret police searched the passengers and even ransacked the ship itself for "suspicious" characters.

The crew of this ship performed even more vital services for a Mr. G., who was carrying important dispatches from London to the South, for the stokers hid him behind the coal in the bunker, so that he was not discovered by the police.

The partisan groups that formed very quickly on the trip to the Bahama Islands showed a behavior opposite to that of the passengers on the voyage across the ocean, for the Southerners were predominant here, while the minority who sympathized with the Union behaved in a very quiet and retiring manner. The English crew of the ship also showed unconcealed aversion for the North American rival of Britain.

The heat, which increased day by day, the intensified shining of the sea, and the heightened blue of the Gulf Stream were signs that we were rapidly approaching the tropical zone, and indeed, after a beautiful trip lasting four days, we entered the harbor of New Nassau by lamplight on the evening of March 5, to awaken on the next morning in a tropical world in sight of a friendly city teaming with Negroes and clothed in palm trees.

The delight that every novice feels at first sight of nature in the southern regions, with pleasantly warm weather, with fantastically beautiful colors of sky and sea, with quite strange, magnificently luxurious vegetation, and with people of an entirely different physiognomy, is so natural that I shall even refrain from introducing the reader to this pleasure, which, after all, will remain the same for all time, while the year 1863 gave life and activity in New Nassau a quite peculiar character.

The blockade business had indeed attained full flower in this year. Fast steamers purchased in England and Scotland at any price carried on trade between the blockaded harbors of Charleston, Wilmington, New Orleans, and Mobile and the smuggling harbors of Havana, New Nassau and St. George's (in the Bermuda Islands), while sailing ships provided communication between Europe and the last mentioned places. Naturally, a stirring, colorful confusion of sailors, traders, agents, and swindlers predominated in the formerly unimportant commercial ports, while the Negro, who was free here, carried on his work slowly or sunned idly in the dirt, since he could easily earn the small amount of money needed for his modest existence. Money rolled lavishly in these harbors, for the blockade trade yielded an enormous profit, since the things that were smuggled in were sold for two or three times the normal price, while the exported goods, such as cotton, tobacco, resin, and the like, which lay useless in the South and were, therefore, hardly worth anything, brought a six to ten fold profit, so that a steamer that made one round trip not only paid for itself, but also made its owner a rich man.

The danger of blockade running lay in winding one's way through the ships of the blockade fleet at night, in the absence of moonlight (see map of Charleston, p. 129), and in finding one of the channels that lead into the harbor. These channels lead through sandbars lying from five to twelve feet beneath the surface of the water in a semi-circle before almost all of the harbors on the eastern shore of America. They can be recognized in the daytime by buoys and floats, and by alignments of beacon fires at night, or, in the absence of the fires as now during the war, they can be found only by use of the sounding line.

The steamer is lost if it runs so firmly aground in one of these sandbars, or false channels, which end in the middle of the bar, that it has not worked itself loose by dawn, and there remains nothing for the crew to do but to take refuge in the numerous auxilary boats and to take along with them as much of the valuable cargo as possible.

If the dangerous venture is to succeed, the captain must be cold-blooded, especially when the blockade fleet is being passed, and he must not accelerate, even under fire, until he is in a real channel. The ship is safe when he has found such a channel, for under the control of the pilot, who knows his environment at night as well as in the daytime, the ship now flies at high speed to its destination. No ship of the blockade fleet can match the speed of the slowest blockade runner, and all traces of the runner are soon lost in the dark night.

During my stay in New Nassau, I reviewed by friendly invitation of English officers the exercises of a "well-drilled" Negro regiment of Zouaves, who carried out drills in rushing and in the use of arms with great accuracy, smoothness, and energy. These soldiers serve only for the maintance of internal order in the islands.

Since I am a fatalist about many things, I booked passage on the twin-screw steamer F[lora] immediately upon my arrival in the Bahama Islands, because it was to be the first of the six or seven steamers there to leave port. The ship was of light draft and had a speed of about fourteen knots.

Like all blockade runners, it was about the size of a cricket, was painted a greenish white in order to be indistinguishable from the waves at night, and was provided with a smoke-consuming funnel, ("self-condenser"), so that no escaping spark could reveal the presence of the steamer to the enemy when it was fired with the finest English nutcoal.

I paid a hundred dollars for the privilege of lying between bales of merchandise on this ship, of drinking warm, dirty water, and of sharing the ship's frugal fare.

The captain, a short, stocky, gruff master, learned upon setting sail that Union cruisers were on the lookout to seize booty between Abaco and Eleuthera. Our steamer, therefore, was brought into safe concealment between two rocky islands during the night, and after it had picked us up from a small boat, it sailed with a Bahama pilot through the notorious Bahama Reefs (rocks, reefs, and surf), so that we sailed northward into the ocean between Eleuthera and San Salvador, where Columbus landed, as is well known. I observed with reverence the uninhabited, rocky island which hospitably received the first European, and from which I was now also going forth with palpitating heart to meet my destiny in the unknown continent.

We learned on the way that seventeen blockading ships were guarding the harbor of Charleston.

We cruised around on the ocean in the yawl for three days, and we were so tossed about by stormy weather that even the captain did not escape seasickness.

We were lying still on the calm ocean around mid-day before we were to break through the blockade. The captain and the first mate were making astronomical computations to estimate our position, but I could see by the resulting wrangling that their reckonings did not agree. Therefore, the captain lowered the plummet, found the depth to be thirty-one fathoms, cast a knowing look at the chart, pointed his finger at a place in the Gulf Stream, and said positively to the pilot, "We are right here!" The latter took the reprimand quietly, but with a skeptical shrug of his shoulders.

I commended my soul to God and my body to the fish, and prepared to sink my credentials, which were weighted with nails, as well as my sword, in order to stand forth in case of eventual capture as Sch., an ordinary man of private means, which the words of my passport indicated me to be.

At 6:30 o'clock, when night was falling, a pitch-black night, the ship, which was about forty miles from land, started out on the daring adventure. We could easily reach the shore in four hours. It became windy and foggy. The plummet was already being dropped from time to time to determine the distance to land. The captain and the pilot hurled curses and contentious words at one another and took a swallow from time to time. The plummet was supposed to find the entrance to the harbor, but cold blood and orientation were to be the pilots in darkness as black as a raven. It finally became so shallow that the pilot ordered a change of course. I went to the bridge, where the captain and the pilot were standing, and observed to my anxiety that both were drunk. Faint courage had been restored and strengthened by alcoholic spirits. But the dose seemed to be too strong, for the captain was cursing, and the pilot accused him of not being able to state whether he was fifty miles north of Charleston or fifty miles south. In spite of the nearness of the shore, the pilot could not recognize anything in the fog and the darkness. In short, nobody knew where we were. Nevertheless, we were racing along like the wind in our vessel with a draft of one and a half fathoms. Hanging in the swaying boat next to the leeboard, the man with the sounding line called, "Five fathoms, four fathoms, two fathoms," but the pilot's command, "Half speed," resounded too late, for at that instant we lurched so firmly aground under the lash of the waves that the ship rolled repeatedly on its keel. The ribs groaned and creaked, loose barrels and boxes rolled around, dishes clattered and fell, and the swaying crew held firmly to anything in reach. The engine was reversed immediately. It groaned and moaned under weighted valve, vigorously working first one propeller and then the other, and with the help of the tide, which came to our aid, it actually freed us from the dreadful sandbar after a half hour's work. All of us breathed sighs of relief, and with this warning we proceeded slowly and cautiously.

We had been under way only a few minutes when the lookout suddenly called, "Gunboat !" At the same moment a big gun boomed thirty paces to one side with a bright flash of light and sent a bombshell zooming right above us across the foredeck. "Full speed!" roared the startled captain, who disappeared from the bridge with the pilot. The helmsman let the wheel go. A few sailors, and particularly two blockade-running Jews, crept into their berths in mortal fear, like ostriches that bury their heads in the sand. For a moment I was standing alone on the bridge, and in order to calm the people, I called as coolly as was possible in the unusual situation, "Be calm. They can't hit us. After all, it's dark!" The shamed pilot immediately pulled himself together, came running up, and with a firm voice ordered a westward course, since he saw that the ship was rushing hither and thither at random. The helmsman, too, was quickly back at his position, and soon the ship was again on a fixed course. But the blockade fleet also showed that it was not idle, for hardly had the command been given when a rocket came down beside us, and an electric [sic] light, which let its searching rays sweep the sea in all directions, peered and squinted at us. Still, the enemy did not seem to see us in the prevailing fog, for the ominous flashes of cannon sent their thunderbolts first past our stern and later in all directions except toward us. The only bad thing was that we were still working our way across the shallow water at full speed like a wild beast under pursuit, for only gradually was everything successfully calmed to the extent that the order "Easy," indeed "Slow," was given, and the sounding began anew as we went on at moderate speed. We were aground in the middle of the banks every hour, and a brisk north wind caused the shining, foaming waves to drive against us with particular sharpness when we ran aground. The atmosphere on the ship was one of rare excitement. We searched vainly in this manner for perhaps two hours without finding the channel. During the entire time the drunken captain uttered the most horrible curses (fortunately my English was then not adequate to translate them), as a result of which the pilot, likewise not sober, was evidently in despair. Suddenly the captain raged at the pilot: "You're an ...! We must have sailed half way up and down America and should have been in the harbor ten times. You don't know your business, you ...!" The man at whom he stormed murmured something about false reckoning, but the captain screamed, "To the east, to the east! I must get out of this d..... blockade, or we are lost!" But hardly had we started out in this direction, when masts appeared against the dark sky, and again a fire rocket went hissing past us. "To the west, full speed!" the pilot now commanded in turn. "I'll try it again!"


Excerpted from Seven months in the Rebel States During the North American War, 1863 by JUSTUS SCHEIBERT Copyright © 2009 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


2009 Introduction by Robert K. Krick....................1
I. Outward Bound....................19
II. The Army and the War Situation in 1863....................35
III. Battle of Chancellorsville....................55
IV. Calvary Battle at Brandy Station....................85
V. Invasion of Pennsylvania, Battle of Gettysburg, and Retreat....................97
VI. Siege of Charleston....................131
VII. Return Voyage....................146
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