Pvt. Drury P. Gibson, Company D, 1st Special Battalion Louisiana Infantry Before and After the Battle

31 07 2010

Camp Moore June 6, 1861

Dear Sister,

I again write to inform you that we are all well, and getting along tolerably well in drilling.

One of our men died yesterday with the pneumonia, his name was Patrick Sweeney. He was an Irishman and a good soldier, he was sick only five days, he died in his tent.

Several of the boys have been a little sick, though nothing serious, save that of poor Sweeney. One of the “Lafourche Guards” died a few days ago, he had the Typhoid Fever, those are the only deaths that we have had in camp since our arrival.

The “Catahoula Guerrillas” have been placed in the first Special Battalion, which when filled will be the 8th Regiment.

Two regiments left yesterday for Virginia. We will in all probability follow on in the course of two weeks.
 
One of our men deserted the other day. He was an unknown Irishman, our company numbers at the present, 100 Rank & File.

We have fine times, the men all seem to be well satisfied with the Camp life. We are quartered in a very healthy and pleasant country. There seems to be a disposition in some of our officers that has the subscription fund paid over to them, to get all they can, and keep all they get. The company have not been at any expense whatever since they left the shores of Catahoula and strange to say, there has not been one dime paid to any man in camp.

None of us are suffering or in particular need of money, but as it was paid into the treasury of the Company for the volunteers, I think it but just that it should be paid over to the company and some account rendered to the respecting contributions. At least such is my opinion of the matter. Other persons may perhaps think different notwithstanding.

I am going to keep my eyes open and watch passing events, and report to the public accordingly but, more some other time.

I am satisfied with the soldier’s life, but it is very confining and laborious to any one that has never been used to such a life.

The very flower of the South are engaged in this war. Companies are not formed of the lower classes in this war as in other wars. Men of intelligence, courage, and standing have taken up arms in defense of their homes, firesides and domestic institutions and they are invincible. We are bound to succeed or every man will perish in the effort.

I am well satisfied with my office 3rd Sergeant. I have all the benefits and privileges of an officer without such responsibilities and laborious duties that the higher officers have to go through with. We drill six hours every day, three hours in the morning and three in the evening. Nothing more at present.

————

August 1, 1861

I would have written before now, had a favorable opportunity presented itself; but owing to frequent movements and scarcity of writing materials, and all the time being in extreme outpost, I have delayed until the present leisure moment. We are stationary after cleaning out the Yankees on the memorable 21st of July 1861.

Previous to that battle we had been continually on the pact for two weeks. Maj. Wheat being an officer of experience and a noted character for scouting, we were placed on an outpost as soon as we arrived in Virginia, and kept there until Gen. Beauregard ordered us back to “Stone Bridge” to take a bold stand against the invading foe.

We were anxious to meet the enemy, in fact our hearts jumped for joy when we saw their bayonets glittering through the distant forrest. We were, especially the Guerillas, completely exhausted, we had been lying in ambush and marching around for two weeks, without tents or anything to cover us, save the canopy of heaven, it raining part of the time & at times with nothing to eat. I shall not pretend to give you an account of the battle of “Stone Bridge” as you no doubt have long since read all the particulars of that glorious victory in “your Delta”. Suffice to say that the “Catahoula Guerrillas” were the vanguard and had the honor and consolation of opening the battle on that occasion.

Catahoula has at last done something worthy of note, the names of her sons that were engaged in the battle of “Stone Bridge” will be handed down to future generations on the page of history, as souldiers and patriots, fighting for their homes, firesides, and to free our cherished sunny South of mercenary foes. Little did the avowed ________, foes of the Catahoula Guerrillas expect when we left Trinity that we would be identified and actors in one of the greatest victories that can be found in the annals of the nineteenth century.

All of the Louisiana troops are being concentrated at this place, Mitchell’s Ford on the Bull Run three miles below the Stone Bridge. We will rest here for awhile, if Davis don’t take a notion to march on Washington. We have got the Yankees whipped and I don’t think it will require much fighting to keep them so. We defeated the old regulars and best drilled men, and Sherman’s Artillery at Stone Bridge. It was not only a defeat but a route, a complete slaughter. Our total loss I suppose was about three hundred killed and one thousand wounded. The enemy lost some four or five thousand. The Battle field for miles was covered with dead and dying Yankees and our Cavalry completely slaughtered them when retreating or running. Every barn house, corner of the fence, and hollow top is full of dead, dying and wounded Yankees. I have had fine time of it, in cutting off their arms and legs, and dressing wounds. They seem to be very greatful for any attention for they know they deserve none. The northern army seems to be principally composed of foreigners, such as Elksworths Fire Zouaves, they are fighting for plunder. The New England states send native religious fanatics, especially Maine, Vermont and Michigan. None of the Lincolnites have been paid off and some of the prisoners say that they are not being well fed.

Among our prisoners I recollect of seeing several big buck Negroes marching in ranks, guns on sholdier as big as anybody. I reason it will be some time before you will see us if ever. I regretted very much the death of Hall and Elias Stone, they were both brave young men and fought like men and souldiers. Genticores was mortally wounded, he was sent to Richmond. I have not heard from him since. All the rest of our wounded are doing as well as could be expected. Maj. Wheat who at first was thought mortally wounded is improving some better. Our Battalion has been reported ready and willing for service. If you was to unknowingly happen into our camp I don’t think you would know any of us. We are so badly tan burnt and look so bad generally. Our health is tolerable good, but it makes one bear to be souldiers, marching around on half rations reduces all surplus fat, he is noting but bone and sinew. I have become so used to walking until I would rather walk than ride. I can lift three times as much now, as when I commenced souldiering. I think I have been considerably benefited.

————

August 12, 1861

…….the Catahoula Guerrillas are getting along tolerably well out here though several of the boys have been and are now sick. Four of our company has died from diseases, namely Sweeney, Peoples, Reinheardt and Ballard. We have had pretty warm times out here. You no doubt have long since heard of the great Battle of Stone Bridge on the 21st of July in which the Catahoula Guerrillas distinguished themselves for courage and bravery in maintaining firmly their position against overwhelming odds until we were sufficiently reinforced to shove the field of the mercenary and plundering Yankees. Wheat’s Battalion and five other regiments, in all numbering about five thousand effective men, held the enemy in check for two hours until our reinforcements came up; the enemy numbering at least fifty thousand, headed by all of the old United States regulars, Ellsworth Zouaves and Shermans celebrated light artillery. The Guerrillas fired the first guns, they opened the ball on that memorable occasion.

Poor Hall Stone and Elias Stone got killed in the battle. They were both mess-mates of mine. I very much regretted their untimely and premature deaths. Elias fell on the field during the action. When I saw that he was shot I asked if he was badly wounded. He said yes but I will give them another shot. He run his hand in his cartridge bag and fell dead in the act of loading his gun. Hall was mortally wounded, poor fellow, he struggled so hard against death. I never saw any one take death so hard, he said he wanted to live to revenge the death of Elias who fell by his side on the plains of Manassas. They were both buried with military honors side by side in the battlefield, in a beautiful place near some shade trees on a hill. We placed some stones at their heads to know the spot in future as a kind of a tomb stone. I think that we were very fortunate in getting only two killed and fifteen wounded, for I was shure or thought at one time that we would all be killed, and for my life even now. I don’t see how the remainder escaped unhurt. The balls came as thick as hail, grape bomb and canisters would sweep our ranks every minute, and strange to say the enemy only killed three hundred of our men.

One reason why they did not kill more of us, was because they overshot us. Their guns were ranged for a mile with raised sights so we closed in on the gentlemen, before they could lower their sights.

…….all of the Louisiana troops are here at Mitchell’s Ford on Bull Run on the main road between Manassas and Washington City. All of the Louisiana troops are under the command of Brigadier General Seymour of New Orleans. I have frequently heard of Mr. Cotton speak of Col., now Gen. Seymour. He is a fine officer and if the Yankees should take a fool notion and come this way, you will hear again from the Pelican State…..

Contributed by reader Stuart Salling, and published on his blog Louisiana in the Civil War on 7/24/10 (see here).  Originally published in the North Louisiana Historical Society newsletter in 1979.





Blogroll Updates

30 07 2010

Please take some time to check out the Blogroll.  I’ve made quite a few additions, including some I haven’t mentioned before:

Also check out Irish in the American Civil War, hosted by Daiman Shiels, an Irishman who specializes in battlefield archaeology





Interview: James Hessler, “Sickles at Gettysburg”

29 07 2010

Jim Hessler is the author of 2009′s award-winning Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg.   He recently was nice enough to take the time to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in the Civil War?

JH:  I was born and raised in Buffalo NY, a city with a fair amount of history but not exactly a Mecca for Civil War battlefields. Although there was always a general history interest in our family (we would annually take day trips to historic sites like Old Fort Niagara and watch movies like John Wayne’s The Alamo), unlike a lot of Civil War enthusiasts I didn’t have any great childhood interest in the Civil War. There was no epic family vacation to Gettysburg. The Civil War was interesting, and we played with our toy soldiers, but I liked things like hockey, video games, and baseball better. For some reason though, I remember always being interested in George Armstrong Custer’s “Last Stand” at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and I would read books on that subject when I could find them. Because so many of the officers who went out West to fight Indians got started in the Civil War, eventually an interest in the Civil War developed because I wanted to know the early careers of  these guys. One year, someone (I think it was my then future mother-in-law) bought me The Killer Angels for Christmas, and although to my initial disappointment there was no Custer in that book, I started to get hooked on the Gettysburg story. But Dan Sickles wasn’t even on my radar — I hadn’t really even heard of him at that point, although I imagine Custer had set the precedent for my being interested in controversial guys. The Gettysburg interest ultimately built up to my moving to Gettysburg in 2000, and in 2003 I became a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg.

BR:  When and why did Sickles become the focus of your studies?

JH:  Sickles eventually started to interest me on a number of different levels. As a Battlefield Guide, Sickles provides some of your best tour stories. You can cover him from a lot of different angles for different audiences—murder, adultery, politics, disobedience of orders, etc. So I simply had a lot of fun telling Sickles stories as do many Guides. But I also became impressed by the importance that this guy holds to Gettysburg – he has one of the most interesting pre-battle resumes, his battlefield maneuvers are massively influential, and he is a key individual in the early preservation of the battlefield. He’s the only major player who is here both on the battlefield and later. So it became interesting to me that so many people had never heard of him or knew very little about him. Why? Because a lot of Civil War historians hate him and either minimize his importance, try to avoid talking about him, or simply make his romantic escapades into the butt of jokes. Then there was what I felt was an increasing trend to almost cartoonishly lampoon him as the villain of Gettysburg. At the end of the day, he might indeed be a villain, but I started to wonder if there was a real guy underneath what I thought were almost laughable one-dimensional stereotypes. My personal favorite: he moved to the Peach Orchard hoping that he could fight his way to a draw and spin that into a White House presidential bid. Really? So I thought there might be an opportunity here to find out if there was more to the story (and if he REALLY wanted to be President I wanted to find that proof!) 

BR:  Hmmm…I think you could delete the word “Sickles” in a lot of the above and insert a couple of other folks’ names in its place.  But, tell us about the book.

JH:  I didn’t start out with the intent to write a book. I was simply reading and learning what I could about Sickles for my own benefit; and contrary to some pre-publication skepticism about putting out “another Sickles book” there really wasn’t a lot of substance out there. W. A. Swanberg’s Sickles the Incredible was the justifiable gold standard but it was decades old and had several chapters that simply did not meet my Gettysburg needs, and Richard Sauers had mastered The Meade-Sickles Controversy, but it was very slim after that. And none of the “Sickles books” covered what I decided that I wanted to see under one cover: an understanding of who he was; an explanation of why Sickles and Meade disliked each other, and why Sickles did what he did at Gettysburg; a detailed account of the Third Corps’ fighting; and Sickles’ role in relation to Gettysburg after the battle. In particular, I was surprised at how his role in the early development of Gettysburg National Military Park received so little coverage in other books; I made that the focus of the final 1/4 of my book because I thought there was a lot of interesting and fun stuff there. Ultimately, I had all this Sickles research and figured I might as well try to write the Sickles book that I had always wanted to read.  To be clear, “taking sides” in the Meade-Sickles controversy was NEVER on my radar. I think it’s irresponsible when historians do that when their personal dislike of their subject clearly jumps off the page. Part of my goal was to peel away decades of name-calling and try to lay out the facts, BOTH sides of the story, as objectively as possible so that I could at least understand to the best of my abilities “what happened.” People were skeptical about this— a sneering “whose side are you going to be on?” was a question that I heard from historians far too often before the book came out. But now that Sickles at Gettysburg has been out for nearly a year, I’m grateful for the positive support that it has received. Nothing makes me happier than when a reader thanks me for being objective. It may sound like a cliché but I really thought this was a story that needed to be told - because I do think that if you want to understand Gettysburg then you need to understand Dan Sickles. You don’t have to love him or like him but he is worth more than a passing mention.   

BR:  Did you find anything during your research that changed or reinforced opinions you already held?

JH:  Honestly, other than the fact that I found him interesting and more important to Gettysburg than his critics give him credit for, I really didn’t come into this with many other opinions. What impressed me the most about him as I started to better understand him was that I liked his ability to overcome adversity. Several times during his life he appears down and out – after the murder trial, when his general officer nomination is delayed, when he loses a leg at Gettysburg, etc. But he has this ability to overcome, often by reinventing himself (from politician to “war hero”), and move forward. That’s an ability that I think possesses successful people, so given this skill, it became no surprise to me that Sickles was able to hang around for so long after the Civil War ended. The extent of his lifetime accomplishments is pretty impressive when you think about it – decades on the national stage in law and politics, tenures in Congress decades apart, a participant in some of the Civil War’s most memorable battles, and his involvement in veterans affairs and battlefield preservation. It fascinated me that someone must have thought fairly highly of his abilities during his lifetime, but a couple of generations later he is universally despised. And some may disagree with me on this point, but I do believe that his heart was in the Union cause, I think he loved being a soldier, and definitely had an interest in his veterans. This was not the villain that I had been conditioned to expect.

BR:  If as you say he had so many positive qualities, why, do you think, does he have so many strident detractors?

JH:  Well, like a lot of public figures he was a pretty complex guy, and he was capable of some very dirty tactics to protect his interests. Easily his worst character flaw. His womanizing is certainly of less historical value anyways.  The attacks on George Meade are the most notable examples of his post-battle tactics, and because a lot of Gettysburg enthusiasts feel that Meade did not get his due, perhaps because of Sickles, then he becomes an obvious target for Meade’s supporters. I don’t think that the venom directed at Sickles today has much to do with his battlefield performance. Lots of generals made costly mistakes on the battlefield.  Consider for example, the guys responsible for ordering and executing Pickett’s Charge.  And at the end of the day we forget that Sickles’ advance still caused Longstreet to suffer heavy casualties taking meaningless positions. I firmly believe that if Sickles had taken the “high road” after Gettysburg, or just faded into oblivion, we would not be here talking about him with such enthusiasm today. But he did not have that ability to quietly fade away. That was not him.

BR:  What has been the reaction to Sickles at Gettysburg?

JH:  I’m very grateful for the support that this book has received. I can’t thank enough those Battlefield Guides who have supported it. I was recently honored to win the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as the best Gettysburg release of 2009. There was a lot of skepticism about this book prior to release: Sickles was not a popular topic; people assumed the book would be on “his side”; the economy at the time of release was horrible; and frankly the Civil War community had no idea who I was. The book’s release at one very late stage was almost delayed indefinitely. But I really felt that this book would have an audience given the response that Sickles stories get on battlefield tours. That’s one advantage that the Gettysburg Battlefield Guides will always have – we’re out there talking to people about Gettysburg regularly and we know what parts of the story interest people, and Sickles will clearly “put butts in seats.” Sickles detractors are still his detractors after reading the book; some people tell me that they still hate him but understand him better. That’s OK with me – I never ask the reader to love Sickles. And other readers have told me that they have not changed their mind, again OK with me, but at least the issue was more complicated than they had previously believed. I love to hear that. We went into our paperback printing this spring and I’m still hearing from new readers so it has exceeded my expectations. The highlight of this experience has easily been that I have made many new friends because of the book and I’ll always remember those who overcame that early skepticism to support this. I thank forums like Bull Runnings for continuing to give me the opportunity to talk about it. There are still potential new readers out there.

BR:  What’s next for you?

JH:  As a first time author, I underestimated the amount of work that occurs after a book is released. Much of my “free” time is still spent on promotional work (signings, Round Table speaking, etc.) I also keep busy with my family, day job (non Civil War related), and giving Gettysburg tours. So I have a lot going on and that’s a good problem to have. I was also burned out on research and writing for months after Sickles at Gettysburg was released, but I’ve found in recent weeks that the urge is increasing to get started on another project. I have a couple of ideas in my head, but during the course of “Sickles” I amassed some information on Longstreet and I think a proper Longstreet book would be a good counter-balance to my Sickles book. Longstreet has his share of myths and stereotypes associated with him, “the defensive general whom Lee failed to listen to”, and I think my next full length project might be in Longstreet’s direction. Then I feel like I have to try my take on Custer at some point down the road, but I think something Longstreet-centric might be next. It is only a matter of finding time – the desire to do more is here.     

Jim, whatever topic you decide on, I’m sure there are plenty of new fans created by Sickles at Gettysburg who will be anxious to hear what you have to say.  Visit Jim’s website here.

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Military Strategy at the Battle of Bull Run

28 07 2010

Donald Stoker, whose new book on strategy in the Civil War was the subject of this post, sent me a link to his summary of military strategy at the battle of Bull Run.  Check it out, see what you think.  As usual, I can quibble a bit.  For an expansion on Lincoln’s motivations for sending McDowell forth, see here.  For a look at how – or if - Patterson’s failure foiled the Federal plan for the movement, see here.

Look for an interview with Mr. Stoker here in the weeks ahead.





Lint In My Pocket – Artillery On the Ridge

27 07 2010

Lint In My Pocket – Artillery On the Ridge is a blog maintained by Scott Summers, a poet and teacher in New Jersey.  Here’s how he recently described what he’s doing:

Originally, The Lint in My Pocket was meant to represent the small things that peter from my mind; however, I now see something different. I see the lint that lined the pockets of American Civil War soldiers, generals, colonels, civilians, etc. Like me, each of them carried lint in his/her pocket as well. Each of them was normal folk, as I am. Yet, these normal folk were thrust into incredible situations, situations laced with triumph, tragedy, love, hate, blood, breath, and death; they were forced to experience, in one way or another, the artillery on the ridge.

So, I press on. Hope you enjoy.

Last week, Scott posted this poem for the anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run:

Stonewall Jackson at Manassas: July 21, 1861

That beard hangs
from his chin
like an anvil.

Ain’t no lie.
Yankee bullets
veer `round his head

so not to smack
against his face.
We should just point

him toward Washington
and shackle up behind
like a chain of geese.

I swear we’d rename
this country Virginia
before it’s cold enough

to tighten your skin
and freeze your breath.

Enjoying!





Letters from Wheat’s Battalion

27 07 2010

Stuart Salling has posted these letters from a member of Wheat’s Battalion written before and just after the battle.

Stuart has given me the go-ahead to post these letters to the Bull Run Resources section, which I’ll be doing soon.  In the meantime, check them out on the Louisiana in the Civil War site.





Update: Bull Runnings Facebook Fan Page

26 07 2010

After one week up and running, the Bull Runnings Facebook Fan Page (honestly, I have no idea what the link to the page is) has 105 followers.  Most of them are my own Facebook friends who for whatever reason wanted to stay up-to-date with the blog (see here for why I set the page up).  But about 20% are folks with whom I am not familiar on that social network.

Thanks for the response – it has been greater than I anticipated and kinda-sorta makes me feel good.





War News: Blue & Gray in Black & White

26 07 2010

Brayton Harris has reissued his 1999 study of “the individual and collective efforts of newspaper journalists during the civil war,” and amended the title as War News: The Blue & Gray in Black & White: Newspapers in the Civil War.

In order to get the “full story” out to Civil War and other history enthusiasts. Mr. Harris has established this website that includes a couple of chapters from the book, the bibliography, and a few essays and articles.  Check it out.





Wheat’s Battalion

24 07 2010

Stuart Salling hosts the blog Louisiana in the Civil War, and also wrote the recently published Louisianians in the Western Confederacy – the Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War.  A contributor to his site posted this article, about the Battalion from formation through First Bull Run.   Check it out.





America’s Civil War September 2010

22 07 2010

Inside this issue:

  • An interview with Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent John Howard, who will be retiring at the end of this year.
  • Harold Holzer’s Cease Fire asks When will all of us finally admit what caused the war?  This one is sure to raise eyebrows for more than the reason obvious in the title.
  • Ron Soodalter on Hampton’s Beefsteak Raid of September, 1864.
  • A look at the correspondence between William T. Sherman and John B. Hood at Atlanta in September, 1864.
  • Winston Groom examines the causes of the war in Irreconcilable Differences.
  • Charlie Knight (look for an interview with him on his new book Valley Thunder here soon) on Franz Sigel’s Shame in the Shenandoah.
  • Antietam National Battlefield Chief Historian Ted Alexander’s Witness to Battle discusses soldier/artist James Hope’s paintings of the September 17, 1852 battle.
  • Ron Soodalter shows up again with Getting Away with Murder, a study of officers who met their ends during the war in ways less typical.

Book reviews/previews in this issue:  








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