“Canonicus”, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry (?), On the March to Manassas (1)

27 09 2011

Fairfax Court House, Va., July 18.

I write this letter upon the ruins of a table in the late hospital of the Confederate army.  I use a rebel pen, upon insurgent paper, and the thoughts of Canonicus shall find conveyance in secesh ink. The place is utterly deserted. The rebel troops are far away, and families have fled in terror. A small body of men from the 21 New Jersey regiment, who came as escort to the provision wagons, have attacked their guns over the way, and now loll upon the dirty piazza of the deserted Farmer’s Hotel. A squad of Ellsworth’s Zouaves have strolled over this way from their encampment, and are roaming from house to house, clambering in at the windows, scaling fences, and otherwise exhibiting their red fezzes to much advantage. From them I learn that their regiment is hard at work upon the railroad, repairing the destructive ravages of the rebels. Burnside’s brigade, with other troops of the centre column of the grand army under McDowell, left early this morning in pursuit of the flying (ahem) South Carolinians! They will be overtaken at Manassas. Long trains of wagons are slowly passing along the road, and I remain behind to send as brief an account as possible of our expedition so far, to anxious friends at home.

We never expected to leave Camp Sprague. Bets were offered at considerable odds that we wouldn’t, but found few takers. So often had marching orders been issued and then countermanded, that our patience was exhausted, and we made up our minds to chew our rations to the last barrel, and then go home. Home! I hope that we all will again see the little State of Rhode Island, but I am afraid that many of our boys will fall upon Virginia soil.

We left Camp Sprague Tuesday afternoon with as little baggage as possible, and with three days rations stored in our haversacks. We joined the other regiments of the brigade on Pennsylvania avenue, to wit: the New York 71st and New Hampshire 2d, and then marched over Long Bridge to take our position at the head of one of the columns of Gen. McDowell’s army. The bands played Dixie as we marched over the lengthy fabric, and the structure shook under the hammer-like foot-falls of four thousand mud sills on their way into secession.

We touched the sacred soil, which looks not different from any other average quality of dirt, and passed through the solid gateways of strong picket fences, and under the shadow of Fort Runyon, and took the Columbia road. Pressing on steadily we left Falls Church and Arlington Mills behind. At intervals along the road we would pass the pocket guards and exchange salutations with them. About ten miles from Washington we halted at Davis’ Cross Roads, and made preparations to bivouack for the night. The men munched away on their unpalatable crackers and junk, and wrapping themselves in their blankets sought soft places on the turf and went to sleep. Strong guards were posted all around, and pickets sent out and the men slept with their guns in grasping distance.

No alarm occurred during the night, and in the morning the men arose, and after watering the horses and filling their canteens, again they started.

We now went directly towards Fairfax Court House, with a column nearly 12,000 strong. At intervals along the road we would come to places where the enemy had filled up the pathway with felled trees. These obstacles were speedily cleared away by the sappers and miners of the regular army, and we, with our wagons and teams, kept on the even tenor of our way. One tree, an immense one, had been so placed that its butt rose high in the air. The rebels undoubtedly thought that it would present an insuperable obstacle for at least a while. We merely removed the fences at the roadside and marched around it, with no delay whatsoever.

As we neared the stronghold, we all expected to fight. The report had gone around that the picked regiments of the Southern army, (there were at least three from South Carolina) were strongly entrenched – that they numbered 8000 men, and had cannon in plenty, so planted as to rake every conceivable avenue of approach. The Colonel – our own Burnside – rode in amongst us, told us to be cool, not flustered, and to obey every order of our officers. The men smiled grimly, and took a tighter clutch on their muskets. Two companies of the Second Rhode Island Regiment were sent out as scouters. The Rhode Island Regiments had the right of the column, and had there been an engagement must have suffered terribly. But we marched into Fairfax unmolested. As we approached along the road, and discerned the earth redoubts, and looking on either side would see the high embankments behind which we knew the most desperate resistance could be made, we could hardly credit the fact that the enemy had fled. Many even then thought that the enemy redoubts were only a piece of strategy to lure us further on. The earthworks are about ten feet high, and were constructed of sand bags. It was doubtless the labor of many days to build them.

So precipitate had been the flight of the enemy that they left behind their camp equippage, large amounts of provisions and hospital stores, with which our men speedily made free.

I must reserve for another time a filler description of our entree, and conduct in the place. I write now in haste to send this back by a detachment on its return.
We lived well the night we halted in Fairfax. Yankee stomach digested the dinners prepared for the chivalry, and Northerners lived as Southerners calculated to. Our dirty fingers were plunged into jam pots, and we drank their whiskey, tea and coffee, ate their sardines and pickles with gusto, and hunted indefatigably for relics. In one yard a whole company threw away their knapsacks. Searching these, we appropriated whatever struck our fancy. We found pistols, Sharp’s rifles and bowie knives, and the owners not being present to reclaim the same, we took care of them; and here I will advertise that if any South Carolina gentleman has lost a gridiron, with a label attached marked, “J. V. Quitman Guards, 2d Regt. S. C. V.,” he can have it by applying to the undersigned, (if he can get it.) I picked it up in the road. It is handy to sling by your knapsack on a march, and bully to broil pork by the camp fire.

The place, when we took possession, was utterly desolate. Every man, woman, chick and child had cleared out, and ll that welcomed us were a few old darks, who verily thought it was the custom for ‘dem Northerners” to be addicted to cannibalism, and in the habit of satisfying the pangs of hunger with niggers, raw, roasted, and on the half shell.
The half of what I wish to say, I cannot write – I haven’t time. The enemy have fled, and are [ends]…

Providence Evening Press 7/22/1861

Clipping Image

Notes





Preview: Christopher Loperfido, editor, “A Surgeon’s Tale”

26 09 2011

New from Ten Roads Publishing (see here) is A Surgeon’s Tale: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantries, 1862-1865, edited by Christopher E. Loperfido. Benton was an Assistant Surgeon with the 111th NY from Harper’s Ferry through Gettysburg and the Overland Campaign, and was with them at Petersburg until he was commissioned in the 98th New York as Surgeon. The 111th NY, as some of you may know, ranked 9th of all Union regiments at Gettysburg in total losses in the battle, third in total killed. A total of 220 members of the regiment were killed or died of wounds during the war, ranking them 25th of all Federal regiments in that regard. In other words, Benton was a busy guy. From the back cover:

Benton’s honesty, raw emotion and passion for his work give insight into what life was like for the men who gave so much for the preservation of this nation.

Loperfido stumbled across this fine collection of letters while researching the 111th NY in a historical society in Weedsport, NY. Give it a tumble. It’s tough to beat contemporary, first person accounts.





What’s a Tockwotton, and What’s That About a Comet?

23 09 2011

This letter to the Providence Evening Press from a member of the 2nd RI infantry, published 7/20/1861, raises a couple of questions. For one, who was and what is a Tockwotton? For another, what’s this comet he talked about watching during the regiment’s first night under the stars?

Well, for now I don’t know who Tockwotton was. It wasn’t uncommon for soldier correspondents to assume a nom de guerre – literally a name of war, or war name – in their dispatches home. Hopefully I’ll turn up something on his identity, but I really haven’t had time to dig into it yet. Volume III of The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations says that Tockwotton is a cove in Washington County, and a hill at Indian Point in Providence. Also, The Tockwotton Home is a non-profit assisted living center in Providence that was established in 1856.

Now, as for this comet:

At dark we turned aside into an open field, about twelve miles from Washington, and lay down for the night on the ground. This was new business to some of us and gave us a fine opportunity to study the moon, stars and the comet.

Notice Tockwotton didn’t say a comet or a shooting star, but the comet. And he said this in such a way that implies readers would know what he was talking about, which doubtless they did. Above is a rendering of the comet by a fellow named E. Weiss.

When I read Tockwotton’s comet comment, I was immediately reminded of the final chapter of Adam Goodheart’s outstanding 1861: The Civil War Awakening, which I can’t recommend highly enough and from which I’ll borrow liberally below. Goodheart used the Great Comet of 1861 – known also today by its geek-given name C/1861 J1 – as a device to describe what was happening during the period in which the comet was visible to the naked eye in North America, from roughly late June, 1861. Mary Chesnut wrote about the Great Comet in her “diary”:

Heavens above, what philandering there was, done in the name of the comet! When you stumbled on a couple in the piazza they lifted their eyes – and “comet” was the only word you heard.

Julia Taft Bayne, a playmate of the Lincoln children in the White House, recalled seventy years later how, while watching the comet’s pyrotechnics, a Negro woman of Washington predicted:

You see dat big fire sword blazin’ in the sky? De handle’s to’rd de Norf and de point to’rd de Souf and de Norf’s gwine take dat sword and cut de Souf’s heart out. But dat Linkum man, chilluns, if he takes de sword, he’s gwine perish by it.

Julia repeated the story to Willie and Tad, but had the good sense not to mention the bit about their father. The boys ran off to their father to repeat the part of the story they knew. Julia continued her story:

I noticed him [Lincoln], a few evenings later, looking out of the window intently at the comet and I wondered if he was thinking of the old woman’s prophecy.

On the Fourth of July, the New York Herald ran this:

The present is a year productive of strange and surprising events. It is one prolific of revolution and abounding in great and startling novelties. Our own country is resounding with war’s alarms, and half a million of Northern and Southern men are preparing to engage in a deadly conflict. And meanwhile all Europe is threatened with one tremendous revolution, growing out of our own, which will shake thrones to their foundations. The premonitory symptoms of change are already observable here and there. Even Russia will not escape; for the troubles in Poland and the emancipation of the serfs have already made her empire ripe for revolt. In China and Japan, too, the hand of revolution is also busy. This is indeed  a wonderful year; for while all the world is more or less filled with apprehension and commotion, a luminous messenger makes its appearance in the heavens, to the consternation of astronomers…That we are entering, to say the least, upon a new and important epoch in the history of the world, all these wars and rumors of wars, these miracles on earth and marvels in the sky, would seem to indicate.

Goosebumps?

For the average American the Great Comet disappeared in August, though a Russian astronomer caught the last official glimpse in April 1862. “And then”, Goodheart notes, “it was gone, continuing on its own mysterious errand toward some incalculable future rendezvous, beyond human sight.”





“Tockwotton”, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the March to Manassas (1)

22 09 2011

Letter from the Second Regiment.

Fairfax, Va., July 18.

To the Editors of the Evening Press – Dear Sirs: – We left Camp Clark on Wednesday at 1 o’clock. The 2d regiment led the way, and the 1st R. I., 2d New Hampshire and the 71st New York were met on Pennsylvania Avenue. There were large throngs of people lining the wayside, and hailed us with friendly and enthusiastic greetings. It was really quite an ovation, and is another evidence of the estimate in which are troops are held. We hardly paused at all in the city, and the march into Virginia over the Long Bridge commenced at once. This bridge is properly named, being more than a mile long, and like all the others I have seen in this region, in wretched repair. We marched steadily onward until night. The principal thing that excited our attention was the miserably cultivated and sterile condition of the soil. The better cultivation of the New England farms more than ever evinces the advantages which they have over us in soil and climate. At dark we turned aside into an open field, about twelve miles from Washington, and lay down for the night on the ground. This was new business to some of us and gave us a fine opportunity to study the moon, stars and the comet. The dew was heavy, but the night clear and we slept soundly.

It was a magnificent sight. The numberless camp-fires and noise of some forty thousand men comprising our whole division.

At daylight the line was again formed and all moved wearily forward, and that too with expectation of immediate conflict. Guns were loaded, flanking companies thrown out, and we looked constantly for the appearance of the enemy. The roads were an improvement upon yesterday, portions of the country better cultivated and the rest quite wilderness-like. The houses were generally closed and forsaken, showing the secession proclivities of the people. “The wicked flee,” &c. All were on the alert, and every precaution taken to prevent surprise. Some four miles on, we found the road obstructed by fallen trees. This was repeated four times, but occasioned us trifling delay. Just before Fairfax extensive earthworks were thrown up, and we confidently expected to find batteries and thousands of men behind them ready to resist us. But in this we were disappointed, the enemy’s forces having a full hour before taken to flight. Not only their fortifications, but much of their camp property, &c., were left. Bread, meat, &c., just ready for the oven; packages of blankets, partly burned; hospital and all its stores; table furniture, and things too numerous to mention, were among the spoils. It was curious to see the men busy among the letters and papers, whole bundles of which were left behind. Passing this we soon entered Fairfax in triumph, without resistance. The secession flag was still waving from the Court House, but was instantly torn down, and taken by our gallant Governor to the Colonel in command. This is a thriftless place when compared with a New England village, but will serve us very well for this night’s quarters. The enemy had fled only an hour or two before our arrival. Fires at their quarters were hardly extinguished; water warm, &c. They have probably fled to Manassas, where we hope to follow them. The men are quite weary, the flanking duty, especially for miles in the woods on either side, being very fatiguing. All are well and in the best spirits, and a night’s rest will make all right for fresh service to-morrow. The beautiful country about this town literally swarms with armed men, ready and eager for the fray. How the troops are officered you will learn from papers at Washington. Excuse the pencil, as I have no pen.

Yours, &c.,
Tockwotton

Providence Evening Press 7/20/1861

Clipping Image

Notes





Interview: Terry Johnston, “Civil War Monitor”

21 09 2011

Terry Johnston and I have never met, but we’ve been corresponding and talking on the phone for at least a couple of years. Terry was instrumental in publishing my first ever Civil War writing to appear in print, a long letter to the editor that ran in an issue of North & South magazine a few years back. Over  a year ago Terry called me about an idea for a new American Civil War publication he was considering. At the time, it was nothing more than a vague notion – at least, it seemed that way to me. But after a few phone calls it started to flesh out. Terry didn’t just pick my brain – he talked to a lot of folks and you may have run across a few announcements to that effect already on the web (see here and here, for example). At long last, everything’s set to hit the fan. I received a copy of the new magazine last week, and it looks great. At left is the cover of the premier issue. But the project is more than a print magazine: Terry has integrated a strong web presence into the whole enterprise. Rather than tell you what I think it’s all about, I thought it better for you to hear from the source. In the interest of full disclosure, I appear on the masthead of the magazine as a digital history advisor, and may also contribute to the magazine’s website periodically.

BR: Terry, while I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with your work, can you tell them a little bit about yourself?

TJ: Well, I’m a native of New Jersey. I received my B.A. from Tufts University and my M.A. (history) from Clemson University. I’m also, at long last, nearing completion of my Ph.D. in history—my dissertation focuses on Irish immigrants who served in the Union army. I’ve written a few articles and one book, Him on the One Side and Me on the Other, an edited collection of the wartime letters of two Scottish-born brothers who fought on opposite sides [see extracts here]. I also spent eight years (between 1999 and 2007) on the editorial staff of North & South magazine, the last two as lead editor.

BR: What got you interested in Civil War history?

TJ: Basically, it was a children’s book on Abraham Lincoln. When I was a kid, my mother, a former high school English teacher, was so determined to get my sister and me to read that she’d excuse us from minor chores whenever we would sit down with a book. On one such occasion, the book I picked up was something called Meet Abraham Lincoln. And I was hooked. So, technically, it is true when I say that I became a Civil War enthusiast to avoid taking out the trash.

BR: So tell us about The Civil War Monitor.

TJ: In a nutshell, it’s a new quarterly magazine, the first issue of which will hit the newsstand toward the end of the month (9/27, to be specific). Our tag line is A New Look at America’s Greatest Conflict, which to us means we intend to provide our readers with well-written and engaging articles that either break new ground or cover well-known topics with a fresh slant. To help accomplish this, we’ve gathered together a terrific team of editorial advisors (with the exception, perhaps, of one fellow with the initials HS) and a battery of top authors, all of whom are well in tune with the latest avenues of Civil War scholarship.

BR: There are at least four other Civil War focused periodicals out there today. What will set CWM apart?

TJ: A number of things, we hope. For one, we’re excited about the magazine’s look. Our art director, Patrick Mitchell (www.plutomedia.com), a veteran designer of several nationally renowned publications, has brought his unique vision to the project. And frankly we’ve been blown away by the results, which I think stylistically might best be described as a perfect blend of old and new. Beyond appearance, we believe our content is of the kind you won’t find in the other Civil War magazines. This is not to say that everything we intend to do isn’t being done, in some fashion, in the other magazines—like footnoting articles, for instance. But in other respects, we will be offering—or delivering—content in ways our competitors do not. Take our book section, for example. We have no intention of publishing the cursory reviews that are regularly found elsewhere (you know, those 200-word appraisals of 600-page books that invariably conclude with some version of the sentence, “These faults aside, this is a book that should find its way onto the shelf of every Civil War buff”). Instead, our book section will consist of a rotating lineup of bookish columns. In our premier issue, these are: Russell McClintock’s take on the essential readings on the coming of the war; Robert K. Krick’s musings on recent battle books; and Steven H. Newton’s reflections on the various books that influenced his interest in, and writing on, the Civil War.

Another way in which we’ll be delivering content is through our website (www.civilwarmonitor.com), something we’re equally excited about. Visitors will find a variety of free material there, including regular photo essays and our two blogs: The Front Line (www.civilwarmonitor.com/front-line), where a diverse lineup of scholars, public historians, and talented buffs will post on a wide array of Civil War subjects; and The Bookshelf (www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf), our blog devoted to author interviews and clear, insightful, and substantive reviews of recently released books (the kind we like). Lastly, we’re also producing a digital edition of the magazine for our subscribers, viewable at our website, so that they’ll be able to read The Civil War Monitor online whenever they’d like.

In short, we truly believe that our coverage—in breadth, depth, and style, both in the magazine and on our website—goes beyond what you can get from the other popular magazines.

BR: Two blogs? Hmmm…not sure how to feel about that! How else can we follow CWM?

TJ: Facebook (www.facebook.com/CivilWarMonitor) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/#!/civilwarmonitor), of course! Our social media guru, Laura Davis, is a grizzled veteran of both, and while I must admit I’ve been learning about it all as I go, I’m starting to see the possibilities they offer for presenting Civil War history to a new generation of enthusiasts.

As far as I’m concerned, we can never have too many outlets for good Civil War writing. From the looks of the first issue, Terry is off to a great start.





Your Grandpa’s Maryland Campaign – NOT!!!

18 09 2011

It would appear the worm has turned at Antietam National Battlefield. From the get-go of yesterday’s all-day hikes, it was apparent that much of the tried and true narrative of the 1862 Maryland Campaign has been scrapped by the National Park Service, at least as far as rangers Keith Snyder and Brian Baracz are concerned. There were quizzical looks on the faces of some of the 125 or so folks on the tour as no mention was made of a cowardly, traitorous, or even just plain stupid George McClellan. These were for the most part veteran tourists of the battlefield, conditioned to the old-line tales of the single greatest threat ever faced by our Union – no, not Jeff Davis, not R. E. Lee, not the Confederate armies, not the fire-eaters, not the KGC, not the Copperheads, not the slaveocracy. Those forces combined could never compare to the evil spectre of the Young Napoleon, especially in September, 1862. The debate was closed.

Or was it? To sum up the gist of the seven hour presentation, the Army of Northern Virginia, while defeated at Sharpsburg (What?) was saved from ultimate destruction by the advantages of a its more experienced soldiery (What?), favorable topography (What?), and interior lines of communication (What?). While the Union commander had a good plan (What?), he also had poor lines of communication (What?), many green troops (What?), and experienced troops in not so great condition (What?). It seemed to me that a few grizzled vets in the crowd were thinking “This is bull. That coward McClellan had 300,000 well equipped and experienced soldiers and Lee’s “battle plans”, this battlefield is flat as a board, just like the maps in Landscape Turned Red, despite what my bursting quads are telling me, and Lee won a victory here with three couriers and a one-armed orderly.” Well, there will always be folks whose minds were made up by Bruce Catton back in the 4th grade. But there were a surprising number of younger (well, not older) folks in the group whose minds are just possibly open enough to consider other lines of thought.

It appears the works of modern-day scholars like Joe Harsh, Tom Clemens and Ethan Rafuse have been making dents in the armor of the Maryland Campaign. And the good folks at the Park are contributing as well. Of course, they only work with the literature, artifacts, and battlefields of this campaign every day all day, so what do they know?

Thank you, Ranger Snyder and Ranger Baracz. It was a great day on the field, with great company including my stomping buddy Mike and fellow blogger Craig (whose thoughts on the day can be read here).





Bull Run Micro-History

15 09 2011

I finished up Alan Gaff’s If This Is War: A History of the Campaign of Bull’s Run by the Wisconsin Regiment Thereafter Known as the Ragged Ass Second last week. Based mostly on soldiers’ letters written to hometown newspapers, similar to the letters you can find here and here, this is great stuff. Now, you can find countless other micro-histories just like this, as long as the topic rhymes with Gettysburg. This volume is illustrative of the potential for literary contributions that exists for a market that outsiders doubtless view as saturated.

Gaff presents the soldier accounts less than critically, and I’m OK with that. For instance he reproduces various accounts of Daniel Tyler giving orders on the Sudley Road west of Henry House Hill. Of course Tyler was never anywhere in that area. I find it likely that members of the 2nd WI, less than familiar with their new division commander and probably only glimpsing him at a distance during the march to the battlefield, mistook the gray-headed and equally ancient-looking Samuel Heintzelman, who was in the area giving orders to whoever would listen, for Tyler. But that’s how the Badgers remembered things, and how they remembered things is what this book is all about. I suspect that If This Is War would be more widely read and recommended had it been more thoroughly annotated, and think that readers should be careful when using it. But as I said, all in all I’m OK with Gaff’s approach.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 897 other followers