Grant Papers Online

20 05 2010

Thanks to Nick, I now know that Mississippi State University has made the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant available online.  Check it out here.  Given the current focus of my studies I probably won’t find a need to go there often, but I’m sure I’ll want to, and as a result will find myself sucked in.  I think you get a different picture of Grant when you read what he wrote before and during the war as opposed to what he wrote in his memoirs.  But that’s just me – your mileage may vary.

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Interview: Ed Bearss “Receding Tide”

17 05 2010

On April 8th I interviewed NPS Historian Emeritus Ed Bearss (via telephone) about his new book, set for release tomorrow, May 18.  I’ll get to the interview in a minute, but first here’s what I submitted to America’s Civil War for my July 2010 previews, courtesy of the good people at the magazine:

Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Campaigns that Changed the Civil War, Edwin C. Bearss with J. Parker Hills

Ed Bearss is known as the Pied Piper of the National Park Service.  His battlefield tours are legendary, as are his photographic memory, stentorian voice, and physical stamina.  If there has been one criticism of Mr. Bearss’s work it is that his ability to spellbind tourists on the battlefield has not translated to his writings.  The good folks at National Geographic tried to remedy this deficiency – if it can be called that, since Bearss’s The Vicksburg Campaign is a tour de force after 25 years – with 2006’s Fields of Honor, which consisted of transcriptions of Bearss tours of about twenty Civil War sites.  This year they follow that up with Receding Tide, which uses more detailed transcriptions to focus more narrowly on the period from the end of 1862 through the early days of July and the twin Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

I was a little nervous about the interview, which was set up courtesy of Penny Dackis at National Geographic.  I bought a digital recorder for the event, and like most of you I really hate the way I sound on tape (or digital).  Add that to the fact I was going to be talking to possibly the most recognizable name – definitely the most recognizable voice – among students of the war, and you see where I’m coming from.  I tried my best to throw my questions in quickly, step back and let the man speak.

BR: Your new book, Receding Tide, covers a broad period and is concerned with more than simply the campaigns of Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

EB: It starts with the Union setbacks of Fredericksburg and Chickasaw Bayou, when the Union has run into severe difficulties.  It follows through to the early stages of the Vicksburg Campaign when the Confederates are doing fairly well, and through Chancellorsville, playing [the two theaters of operation] off against each other, and ending for all practical purposes on the Fourth of July, 1863, though Gettysburg doesn’t really end until Lee crosses [the Potomac] and Vicksburg doesn’t end until Sherman drives the Confederates out of Jackson.

BR: The concept behind this book is similar to that of Fields of Honor, which National Geographic published in 2007?

EB: Yes, both books are basically transcriptions of recordings of my tours at the various sites.  In Receding Tide, [co-author J. Parker Hills] edits them down and fills in the connecting parts.

BR: In what ways do these projects differ from traditional works, like your Vicksburg Campaign?

EB: I’m standing on the spot when I’m talking about what happened there.  People who liked the first volume said it comes across like I’m talking, that it’s like being on the field with me.  Talking in the field, you can get more emotions in than if you’re writing and footnoting everything.  People who like oral presentations like it the best.  Fields of Honor has sold better than any book I’ve written.

BR: How do you think the two types of works, the tour transcriptions versus traditional works like your Vicksburg set, differ – that is do you like one better than the other, or are they really apples and oranges?

EB: The three-volume Vicksburg study is for people who want to know everythingReceding Tide looks more at the highlights, interesting facts and personalities.  It has more of an emotional appeal.

BR: Would you say it tells a better story?

EB: Yes.

BR: What different challenges are presented when conducting a tour of Vicksburg versus Gettysburg?

EB: Gettysburg is much better known – in the English language, there are more books on Gettysburg and Little Big Horn than any other campaigns because they sell well.  Little Big Horn sells well because nobody really knows what happened in those last thirty minutes or so.  Gettysburg sells well because so much has been written and is known about it, particularly the controversies.  I can do a complete tour of Vicksburg, for a well-informed group, in about three days: two on the campaign up to the seige, and one on the seige.  Gettysburg, because of the knowledge of the general public and the interest in the personalities, the fighting of the Lost Cause, the Meade/Sickles controversy, and the fact that more people know a lot more about Gettysburg, it takes longer to tour.  The buffs know a lot about Vicksburg, but the general public doesn’t. 

When I took the job with the National Park Service at Vicksburg in 1955, I did so because it was the only Civil War site that had an opening.  If I had had my choice, I would have said “Give me an eastern battlefield, give me Gettysburg”.  That’s what everyone wanted, what everyone was writing about.  Catton had just finished his trilogy, and Lee’s Lieutenants focused primarily on that.  But when I got out there I found out Vicksburg had a lot going for it.  I’d more or less become convinced that the Vicksburg Campaign is why Grant became General-in-Chief in February of 1864.  Meade’s result after the Battle of Gettysburg was not what the President wanted.  In his mind, Vicksburg was a more important victory than Gettysburg – except for the address he gave there.

You can argue that the worst day of Meade’s life was when he issued the congratulatory order to his troops on July 7th, where he calls on them for “further exertion to drive the enemy from our soil.”  Lincoln will say “My God, my God!  What does the man mean?  It is all our soil!”  On the same day, Lincoln gets the message from Grant that Vicksburg has fallen.  And not only had Grant accomplished the military objective, he has opened the Mississippi river to divide the Confederacy, and has destroyed a Confederate army of 40,000 men.

BR: The letter that Lincoln wrote to Meade, the one he never sent, it has always struck me that we can give so much import to a letter like that, one that Lincoln thought better of and didn’t send, when we don’t have any idea how many other letters like that were written and to whom.

EB: We only know about this one because he kept a copy.

BR: And because Nicolay and Hay made sure it was preserved.

EB: Right.

BR: Are there any similar studies like this from National Geographic in the works?

EB: Yes.  Because of the increased interest in the Revolutionary War, we’re considering doing a book on those conflicts similar to Fields of Honor, which will again be based on my battlefield tours.

There was more, but we moved far afield from the focus of the book, talking a lot about Meade and the bad spot into which he was put after Grant was named General-in-Chief and how history has perhaps misrepresented what Meade would or would not have done had Grant not come east; the influence of surviving correspondence (or lack of same) on the way history has treated various commanders; and even an interesting tidbit regarding why he doesn’t spend much time on the internet and what influenced his decision to retire from the NPS (in short, in the 1940s real men didn’t type).  Maybe at some later time I’ll cover that material here.

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“The” Confederate Flag

13 05 2010

Friend Tom Clemens gives a quick lesson on Confederate flags:

In case you’re wondering, the Confederate flag in use at First Bull Run was the First National.  The Battle Flag didn’t come into existence until after the battle.  It’s possible that some units had Bonnie Blue flags, but I’ve seen no positive evidence of that.

Hat tip to Kevin.

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Hunton’s Lieutenant

10 05 2010

This weekend I received the following from a reader:

I was just playing with Google tonight and missing my Dad at the same time.  He died in 1999.  He grew up in the Leesburg, VA area, born in 1910, the youngest of 6 children and 5th boy to Dr. Eppa Hunton Heaton, a country doctor.
 
I typed my Dad’s name: Eppa Hunton Heaton into Google to see what might come up.  And for a while I read some articles about Eppa Hunton who I already knew was a Colonel in the Civil War in VA. 
 
Somehow I ended up on your page: “#101a-Col. Philip St. George Cocke” .  I was scanning down through the long article and Lieutenant Heaton caught my eye as did Colonel Hunton.
 
The story in my Dad’s family is that at some point, and I’m assuming that this Lieutenant Heaton is my great-grandfather, he asked Colonel Hunton for leave so he could get married.  He promised the Colonel that he would name his first son after him.  And my grandfather was the lucky recipient of Eppa Hunton Heaton.  Even though my Dad had four older brothers, none of them got this wonderful name until my Dad was born.  His real name was Eppa Hunton Heaton, Jr. but he was called Willy as a boy and Bill as an adult.
 
His oldest sibling, Medora (“Dora”) was 16 years older than he was and the only girl.  He called her “Sis” so all of his children called her “Aunt Sis”.  She was married and living in Detroit in 1940 and Bill came up north to see her and stayed.  He soon was enjoying the party circuit of Detroit’s finest families.  My maternal grandfather was a friend of Henry Ford’s and a third generation Detroiter.  Anyway, the poor country boy fell in love with the wealthy city girl and the rest is history.  He was 30 and she was 19 when they married in January of 1941. He served as a Lieutenant in the Navy during the war.
 
Anyway, thought I’d pass this family story on to you.  I’m assuming you don’t know about it.
 
Leslie Heaton Evans

Cumberland, RI

Lieutenant Heaton in this case is Henry Heaton, who commanded a section of Capt. Arthur Rogers’ Loudon (Leesburg) Artillery at Bull Run.  According to this book, Henry Heaton was born ( also the a son of a doctor) on 3/18/1844 at Woodgrove, the family homestead, and died on 5/17/1890.  He was a state senator from Loudon and Fauquier counties.  He also had a brother, Capt. N. R. Heaton, a sister, and seven other siblings.  Further correspondence with Leslie established that her great-grandfather was in fact Henry’s brother Nathaniel, who was in command of Co. A of Col. Hunton’s 8th Virginia Regiment at Bull Run.  Both Nathaniel and Hunton would still have their respective commands two years later as part of Garnett’s brigade of Pickett’s division at Gettysburg.   It appears that Nathaniel later became superintendent of the Bates County government nitre works, where he also commanded troops thrown together to oppose Union General David Hunter in the summer of 1864.  According to Findagrave, Nathaniel Rounceville Heaton was born 1/11/1824, died 2/3/1893, and is buried in Katoctin Baptist Church Cemetery in Purcellville, Loudon County.

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Bull Run Thread Trivia #1 – Winner

6 05 2010

Phil LeDuc identified the link between Bull Run and the U. S. Open Tennis Championship:

Seems to me we’re talking the Slocum connection here -

Henry W. Slocum commanded the 27th NY at 1st Bull Run, and his son Henry Jr. twice won the U.S. Tennis Championship.

That’s right, Phil.  Henry Warner Slocum, Jr, like Evonne Goolagong Cawley, reached the finals of the championship in four consecutive years (1887-1890), and won it twice, in 1888 and 1889.  He was also a doubles finalist in 1885, 1887, and 1889, winning in 1889.  These were all when the tournament was held at the casino in Newport, RI, and when a champion automatically qualified for the following year’s title match.  As a student  at Yale he also played football, which helps explain that physique. He authored Lawn Tennis in Our Own Country in 1890, was president of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association in 1892-1893, and became a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame (in Newport’s casino; I’ve been there – very cool) in 1955.   And you thought the General’s only famous namesake was an unfortunate boat.

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Bull Run Thread Trivia #1

6 05 2010

I’ve been looking for a way to introduce some of the threads my research has turned up (though “research” sounds too organized for what I do).  Let’s try the good old viewer participation route.  You can Google to your heart’s content, but if you already knew the answer without looking it up let me know – you’re on the honor system, and there is no prize other than being at the top of the response thread.  Feel free to take this anywhere you want as long as you don’t violate the rules of the site.

Thread Trivia assignment/question #1:

  • Connect the First Battle of Bull Run of the U. S. Open Tennis Championship.

I know of one prominent connection, but I’m open to others.  The sheila in the photo is Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who lost in the finals at the U. S. Open four straight years 1973-1976, and also played for the Pittsburgh Triangles during the same period (though I only had eyes for her teammate Rayni Fox – hubba hubba).

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It Says Something, But I’m Not Sure What

4 05 2010

A brand new Barnes & Noble opened up next to my gym.  So naturally I had to check it out after I was done with my workout tonight.  It’s a very nice, very big store.  Twenty-six thousand square feet, according to the Cat in the Hat who was greeting visitors (he told his interpreter who told me, of course).  I made a B-line for the history section.  Thankfully, there was a sign on the Civil War section, which I took as a good omen – the Civil War selection at the old area B&N store (which is closing) had been shrinking steadily over the past two years.  But when I got there, I found that a total of three shelves was it.  And only one book was a new release: the rest were paperbacks (a small consolation: the store carried the magazines for which I write).  With the sesquicentennial looming, I’m not sure what this says about the state of things.  Is it more indicative of lack of specific interest, or of the state of publishing, or of the social philosophy of the corporation, or of the economy in general?  What do you think?  Ultimately, it’s about the bottom line.  If $40 McFarland paperbacks were flying off the shelves, I’m sure B&N would find room for them.

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