So Long To Some Old Friends

22 06 2008

A Piece of my Library

I have made the decision to retire – or at least send on sabbatical – most of my hard copies of the Official Records.  Granted, they do look spiffy on the shelves I installed on the wall above my desk, but I hardly ever use them.  I rely on my DVD version, though I use my volume of the Bull Run records to fine tune what I post on this site (the digital version contains lots of typos).  This will clear up about 20 feet of shelf space, so I’ll have fewer books on the floor and jammed flat on top of other shelved books.

Enjoy the attic, fellas.  Except the lucky First Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg volumes, and those last few volumes of Series I with the stuff that’s out of order.

Recap Soon

18 06 2008

I’m back from a most excellent adventure with the Society of Civil War Historians at the Union League in Philadelphia.  I saw some old friends and made some new acquaintances, all while having the time of my life, hob-knobbing in a ritzy joint, holding some artifacts I never thought I’d get within 20 feet of, and learning a lot.  But I have Cub Scout day camp to deal with the rest of the week, and baseball playoffs and work to catch up on over the weekend.  I’ll post a full summary of the conference next week.  Promise.

Henry Hill Trail

13 06 2008

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill

Craig over at To the Sound of the Guns has this post up featuring the HMDB marker set for the Henry Hill Trail.  Some refer to the area as Henry House Hill, and that’s the name I typically use.  I don’t know if the reason for it has anything to do with that whacky Goodfella (portrayed above by Ray Liotta) so many came to love (or loathe) for his appearances on the Howard Stern Show.

You can find some of my photos of Henry House Hill here.

#35 – Maj. George Sykes

12 06 2008

Report of Maj. George Sykes, Fourteenth U.S. Infantry, Commanding Battalion of Regulars

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 390-391


Camp Turnbull, Va., July 24, 1861

CAPTAIN: In compliance with your circular of the 23d instant, I have the honor to report the following casualties that occurred in my command during the recent battle before Manassas: Three commissioned officers wounded; one assistant surgeon missing; 13 rank and file killed, 17 wounded, 12 of whom are missing; 42 missing. A list is inclosed.(*) Many of the latter are supposed to have taken the Alexandria road by mistake, and will no doubt rejoin their colors to-day.

This battalion, composed of two companies of Second U.S. Infantry, five companies of the Third U.S. Infantry, and one company of the Eighth Infantry, left its camp near Centreville about 3.30 a.m. on the 21st instant, and after a circuitous march of ten or twelve miles arrived on the enemy’s left, and was immediately ordered to support the force under Colonel Burnside, which was suffering from a severe fire in its front. Our line was rapidly formed, opening fire, and a column under Colonel Heintzelman appearing at the same moment on our left, the enemy fell back to the rising ground in his rear. My battalion was then advanced to the front, and took a position on the edge of a wood immediately opposite a masked battery and a large force of the secessionists posted about a house and the fences and trees around it. My three left companies were deployed as skirmishers under Captain Dodge, Eighth Infantry, and did great execution among their ranks. At this time the whole battalion became actively engaged, and a Rhode Island battery coming into action on my right, and having no support, at the request of its commanding officer, and seeing myself the necessity of the case, I remained as a protection to his guns. For more than an hour the command was here exposed to a concentrated fire from the batteries and regiments of the enemy, which seemed doubled when the guns of the Rhode Islanders opened. Many of my men assisted in working the latter battery.

As the attack of our Army became more developed on the right, and the necessity for my staying with the guns ceased, I moved my battalion in that direction, passing through crowds of retiring troops, whom we endeavored in vain to rally. Taking a position on the extreme right, in front of several regiments of the enemy, I opened an effective fire upon them, and held my ground until all our troops had fallen back and my flank was turned by a large force of horse and foot. I then retired a short distance in good order, and facing to the enemy on the crest of a hill, held his cavalry in check, which still threatened our flank.

At this stage of the action, my command was the only opposing force to the enemy, and the last to leave the field. By taking advantage of woods and broken ground, I brought it off without loss, although the guns of our opponents were playing on our line of march from every height. While thus retiring, I received an order from the brigade commander to cover the retreat of that portion of the Army near me, which I did as well as I was able, remaining in rear until all of it had passed me.

After crossing Bull Run my command was threatened by a large force of cavalry, but its order and the regularity of its march forbade any attack. We reached our camp beyond Centreville at 8 p.m. It is but proper to mention that our officers and men were on their feet from 10 p.m. on the 20th until l0 a.m. on the 22d. Without rest, many without food, foot-sore, and greatly exhausted, they yet bore the retreat cheerfully, and set an example of constancy and discipline worthy of older and more experienced soldiers. My officers, nearly all of them just from civil life and the Military Academy, were eager and zealous, and to their efforts is due the soldierly retreat and safety of the battalion, as well as of many straggling volunteers who accompanied my command. The acting major, Capt. N. H. Davis, Second Infantry, rendered essential service by his coolness, zeal, and activity. Captain Dodge, Eighth Infantry, commanding the skirmishers on the left, was equally efficient, and to those gentlemen and all my officers I am indebted for cordial co-operation in all the movements of the day. Lieutenant Kent, although wounded, endeavored to retain command of his company, but a second wound forced him to give it up. He and Lieutenant Dickinson, acting adjutant, wounded, and Dr. Sternberg, U.S. Army, are believed to be in the hands of the enemy.

I beg to call the attention of the brigade commander to the services of Sergeant-Major Devoe, of the Third Infantry, who was conspicuous for his good conduct on the field. The arms and equipments of my command are in good condition, but the men are destitute of blankets, and in want of necessary clothing.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Major, Fourteenth Infantry, Commanding Battalion

Capt. W. W. AVERELL,

A. A. A. Gen., Porter’s Brigade, Arlington, Va.

*Embodied in division return, p.387

#34 – Maj. J. J. Bartlett

11 06 2008

Report of Maj. J. J. Bartlett, Twenty-seventh New York Infantry

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 388-389


Camp Anderson, Washington, D. C., July 23, 1861

SIR: Pursuant to orders, I hereby submit for your consideration a report of the operations of the Twenty-seventh Regiment New York State Volunteers, under command of Col. H. W. Slocum, in the battle at Bull Run, on July 21, 1861.

At precisely 2 o’clock a.m. we formed in column for march in rear of the Marine Corps, commanded by Major Reynolds. After an exhausting march of eight hours, the enemy were discovered to be in force on our front and left. Fifteen minutes after their appearance we were hurried on at double-quick time for the distance of at least one mile, and formed in line of battle by the left flank on the brow of the hill commanding a part of the enemy’s position. Without coming to a halt, we were ordered to charge the enemy by a road leading to the valley beneath us, where they were in numbers strongly positioned in and about a large stone house, with a battery of six mounted howitzers commanding the approach. The men, though greatly fatigued and exhausted, gallantly attacked and drove the enemy from the house, who retired in disorder behind their battery, leaving a large number of killed and wounded on the field. The battery was next attacked, and after receiving eleven rounds hastily retired, taking up another position about one hundred and fifty yards on our left and front.

We were immediately attacked on our right flank by a large force, who approached by a ravine under cover of a thick growth of bushes, and in the front by about 1,500, who had been driven from their position on the hill commanding our left, and whom we mistook for the Eighth New York Regiment coming to our support. By this mistake we lost many killed and wounded, besides the opportunity of capturing a large number of prisoners. We were now engaged by more than twice our own numbers, and fired upon from concealed positions, and receiving the fire of the battery from its new point of attack. Perceiving the necessity of support, I rallied about 200 of the Eighth New York Regiment on the brow of the hill commanding the enemy, and the colonel withdrew the regiment to the top of the hill in a perfectly exhausted condition, formed, and marched them into the woods for rest.

During our retreat Colonel Slocum received a wound from a musket ball in the right thigh, which rendered it necessary for him to retire from the field, which he did, placing the command in my hands. After remaining half an hour in this position I was commanded by Captain Averell, aide-de-camp to the colonel commanding, to join a united charge to be made against the enemy’s strongest position by all the regiments not actually engaged at that moment. I marched in four ranks, under fire of the battery commanding the road, to the creek, and filed to the right, under protection of its banks, to await the general assault. Seeing our forces engage the enemy by small detachments, and not in the order in which the attack was commanded to be made, that they were repulsed and driven back in disorder, and believing that no assistance I could render would avail in restraining the troops or stay their flight, I withdrew my command in perfect order to the heights above the stream, and formed in line of battle, facing the enemy, and remained in position until thousands of troops had passed to our rear in flight and confusion.

I then, at the urgent solicitation of the line officers, marched to the rear in direction of the retreat, and again formed, by command of General McDowell, in line of battle, facing the enemy, that he might have a nucleus to form the division upon once more. The attempt proving ineffectual, I again marched to the rear, and by his command formed in line a third time. It being impossible to form in any force upon our lines, I withdrew the regiment from the field, and after a short rest joined the retreating column.

In the retreat to Washington we lost two sergeants, believed to have been cut off from the regiment at the bridge which was fired upon by the enemy, and many men from exhaustion.

I am happy to report that during the whole day the men of the regiment behaved coolly and gallantly, promptly obeying every order, and that they never once retreated or gave way before the enemy without a positive command.


Major, Commanding


Commanding Second Brigade

Dead Birds

9 06 2008


Wow – I completely missed this one from 2004.  Dead Birds is a ghostly gore-fest about Confederate deserters who rob a bank in Alabama and hole-up on a haunted plantation.  I’m watching it now on Showtime.  It features E.T.’s pal Henry Thomas as the gang’s leader.  The casting of the now notorious Isaiah Washington (later of Grey’s Anatomy) as one of its members will surely set some folks off – but keep in mind we’re talking bank robbers here, not soldiers.

I’ve seen worse flicks.


Hittin’ the Road

9 06 2008


This Friday, I’ll be starting off a long weekend of baseball and Civil War.  Friday’s stops will include the new VC at Monocacy National Battlefield, possibly the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, and a Frederick Keys game that evening (with manager Richie “The Gravedigger” Hebner).  Saturday I’ll head to Baltimore for the Inner Harbor and an interleague game between the Pirates and the Orioles (the Pirates of the Senior Circuit will give the game practiced in the American League a whirl – not really baseball since old guys who can’t field still get to play, but they use the same equipment).  On Sunday I’ll ride with a friend who lives in Center City to Philadelphia to attend the biennial meeting of the Society of Civil War Historians to be held through Tuesday at the Union League (see here): lots of big-wigs delivering lots of papers, some of them acquaintances and some of them friends.  I hope to spend a little time “touring” a spot that hosted hundreds, if not thousands, of Pennsylvania recruits during 1861-1865, McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the oldest continuously operating tavern in Philly.  It’s not far from the Union League, and I won’t be driving the whole time I’m in town!  I hope to see some of you there.

Manassas National Battlefield Park Photos April 2004

7 06 2008


I shot these in April 2004 with a very cheap camera – cannons are representative (click on the thumbs for larger image):

One of Ricketts’ Guns – Henry House Hill

One of Ricketts\' Guns

Battle Monument – Henry House Hill

Battle Monument

Jackson’s Artillery Line – Henry House Hill

Jackson\'s Artillery Line

Jackson Monument – Henry House Hill

Jackson Monument I

Jackson Monument II

Jackson Monument II

Griffin’s Guns – Henry House Hill, 2nd Position

Griffin\'s Guns

Original Sudley Road Trace South of Visitor’s Center

Sudley Road Trace

Stone Bridge over Bull Run

Stone Bridge

Antietam Weather

5 06 2008


High winds brought down some trees in the jewel of the NPS, Antietam National Battlefield, and environs.  Check out Mannie’s (and Mannie Part II) and John’s blogs, and the NPS website.  There doesn’t seem to be any monument or gravestone damage, but some buildings were damaged.

Mark Grimsley on the Impetus for the Advance on Manassas

3 06 2008

The Hard Hand of War - Mark GrimsleyMark Grimsley has been discussing his book The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865 over at Civil Warriors (see here and here).  I read the book recently after it sat on my bookshelf for a few years, and I’m one of the folks who sent the emails to which Prof. Grimsley referred in his post.  I won’t go into all the reasons why The Hard Hand of War is one of the most important books on the American Civil War of the last 25 years.  But I’ve been meaning to mention something covered in it, as it directly deals with First Bull Run.  I just hope I can do it justice.

A component of the traditional narrative of the campaign is that the Federal advance on Bull Run was prompted by pressure from the Northern public as expressed via the press.  While some historians have removed the President from the equation by saying that the army was prompted to advance by this pressure, or that Winfield Scott was induced to advance by it, or even that McDowell was compelled to advance by it, to me it has always seemed obvious that the moving force behind the advance was Abraham Lincoln.  I think Lincoln himself sought to distance himself after the fact, if the story of his reaction to Scott’s post battle lament about Scott’s allowing himself to be pressured to send the army to the field before it was ready is to be believed (AL basically said “surely you’re not blaming me for pressuring you” – Scott’s response, interpreted by most as backing down, was to me delightfully sarcastic and probably not lost on a sharp wit like Lincoln’s).  But that’s neither here nor there as far as Grimsley’s book is concerned, and I’ll discuss the Scott-Lincoln exchange more fully in a post some other time.

Grimsley’s work does not run counter to the idea that the primary force behind the advance on Manassas was Lincoln.  Where he differs with the accepted story line is in the influence on Lincoln of a supposedly unified, howling Northern press.  This discussion is in Chapter 2, Conciliation and its Challenges.  It begins (italics are extractions from the text):

Conciliation formed the dominant Union policy for the first fifteen months of the war.  It not only characterized the way in which Federal forces were to deal with Southern civilians, it also shaped the Federal strategy to defeat the Confederacy.  Northern officials instinctively grasped the truth of Treitschke’s statement that “Again and again, it has been proved that it is war that turns a people into a nation.”  The slave-holding aristocrats had made a rebellion; they must not be allowed to make a nation.  Conciliation on the one hand, and a sweeping military effort on the other, seemed the keys to preventing this.  Together these two approaches would sap Southern resistance and make possible an early victory.

(One of the great things about this book is that it was written by that rarest of birds in Civil War literature, an honest to God military historian – see here for what I mean by historian)

Winfield Scott was on board with the idea of a combination of conciliation and military effort.  As Grimsley points out, tact and patience characterized Scott’s behavior over the years in things military and diplomatic (if not personal).  Concerns in the early days of the rebellion were for the promotion of pro-Union sentiment in the southern states, and Scott was of the opinion that this could best be done through the adoption of a policy that might defeat the Confederacy without the bloodshed, devastation, and bitterness that would accompany a major offensive.  In May of 1861 these thoughts manifested in Scott’s overall strategy for victory, dubbed by the press The Anaconda Plan.  Note that Scott’s plan was born of experience and not, as has been stated by some, of his fondness for his native South.

Initially the press was unanimously behind Scott, because he was Winfield Scott, after all; because they were patriotic, of course; because many believed the idea that victory could and should be won with as little loss of life and property as possible; and because rumors also circulated that Scott’s deliberation would extend no further than mid-July at the latest.  Criticism came not from people who thought Scott was wrong about the potential of pro-Union sentiment in the South, but rather from those with different ideas concerning the best way to tap it.  To them, only quick action could ignite Southern Unionists; delay would leave them correspondingly discouraged.

Within Lincoln’s cabinet, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair was one whose thoughts on the best way to encourage Southern Unionists opposed those of Scott.  Blair felt that the regular army officers grossly overestimated the strength of secessionist spirit in the South.  “This,” he declared (in a mid-May 1861 letter to Lincoln), “is a fundamental and fatal error and if our military movements are predicated on it & we fail to go to the relief of the people of the South they will be subjugated and the state of consolidation now falsely assumed will be produced.”  Immediate, offensive action was what was needed to best encourage Southern Unionists, and it could be accomplished by a very small portion of the army. Blair wasn’t questioning Scott’s patriotism, just his ability to grasp the true state of affairs.  He recommended that the President should adopt a policy independent of the General-in-Chief.

Despite Blair’s advice, Lincoln decided to bear with Scott’s policy for awhile.  But as time dragged on (and we’re talking mere weeks here – the definition of dragging time would change dramatically by 1865) without any significant offensive action, elements in the Northern press began to express opinions more similar to those of Blair.  Then, on June 26, Horace Greeley’s Republican paper New York Tribune declared:

Forward to Richmond!  Forward to Richmond!  The Rebel Congress must not be allowed to meet there on the 20th of July!  BY THAT DATE THE PLACE MUST BE HELD BY THE NATIONAL ARMY!

The Chicago Tribune jumped on the bandwagon the next day, echoing Blair’s sentiment:

The Union men of the South, to whose relief the loyal army is marching, will be crushed out, or forced into cooperation with the rebels, long before the anaconda has got the whole country enveloped in its coils.

But a number of Northern newspapers were still backing Scott’s plan, and their editorials ridiculed the “Forward to Richmond” cries of the two Tribunes.  The New York Times reported on June 27 that the General was still committed to the conciliatory plan, concluding that By January, he [Scott] thinks that the rebellion will be entirely defeated, and the Union reconstructed.  On July 1 that paper responded to a letter critical of Scott it had printed two days earlier, stating:

The South must be made to feel full respect for the power and honor of the North: she must be humbled, but not debased by a forfeiture of self-respect, if we wish to retain our motto – E pluribus unum – and claim for the whole United States the respect of the world.

Grimsley points out that:

With public opinion on its efficacy still divided, the popular notion that Lincoln was somehow forced to launch an immediate offensive is untenable.  It is much more likely that the President himself embraced the Blair thesis that an early offensive offered the best way to encourage the Southern Unionist sentiment that, he hoped, would then overwhelm the slaveholding aristocracy.  

Fully embracing Blair’s thesis required the adoption of a policy that was independent of Lincoln’s General-in-Chief.  It wouldn’t be the last time the President would make that choice.

At a meeting with his cabinet, Scott, and Irvin McDowell on June 29, Lincoln directed – despite Scott’s objections – that an advance be made within a few weeks.  He issued positive orders to that effect to McDowell on July 8.  On July 16, McDowell put his army in motion.

Grimsley concludes that the repulse of McDowell’s offensive ended any hopes of a rapid Confederate collapse.  It also destroyed whatever promise the Anaconda held out, for the South had been further united by the nationalistic pride generated by the victory.

Talk about a turning point.


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