Adam Goodheart speaks for the LOC on his excellent 1861: Civil War Awakening:
Adam Goodheart speaks for the LOC on his excellent 1861: Civil War Awakening:
NPS video promo Trial By Fire recaps sesqui events.
See more here.
Public historian and blogger James S. “Jimmy” Price is the author of the recently released The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will be Theirs by the Sword. I’ve never met Jimmy, but am acquainted with him via his blog and Facebook. So when I learned of this new study of a relatively little known engagement involving US Colored Troops I was intrigued and thought maybe some of you would be, too. So I shamelessly begged a copy, looked it over, and did my thing.
BR: Jimmy, we usually start off here with a little background information. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
JP: I had the great privilege of being born in the best sports town in America (and by that, of course, I mean Pittsburgh, PA). My family moved to Richmond when I was five years old, which was just in time for the 125th anniversary of the Civil War. History soon became my passion and I got involved with re-enacting at the age of 15. I was also fortunate enough to have wonderful parents who supported me while I made peanuts working at some local museums and battlefields. I was able to gain some great work experience at places like Petersburg National Battlefield and Richmond National Battlefield Park. This opened the door to doing more serious work at Pamplin Historical Park and The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. At the same time I was pursuing an academic career in history, completing my undergraduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2005 and grad school at Norwich University in 2009. I currently live in Fredericksburg with my beautiful wife and our two kids and I’m working with John Hennessy and the fabulous staff at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park developing a web-based curriculum entitled “Community at War.”
BR: What got you interested in the Civil War as a line of study?
JP: My Dad taking me to the battlefields around Richmond initially spurred my interest. Shortly after that I got a free subscription to the Time Life Civil War series and managed to get my hands on a copy of the American Heritage History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton. After that it was game over, and I knew that I wanted to pursue Civil War history as a career. Over a decade later when I came to work for the County of Henrico, I had to spend a lot of time familiarizing myself with the battles that took place there, and it was then that I did my first real research into the Battle of New Market Heights (I had known about it since my days at Richmond National Battlefield, but hadn’t done any significant research). This prompted me to launch The Sable Arm: A Blog Dedicated to the United States Colored Troops of the Civil War Era as a means to force myself to learn more about USCTs and the battle that led to fourteen of them receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.
BR: New Market Heights is not an action that pops to the top of most Civil War enthusiasts list of well-known engagements. What first got you interested in it?
JP: The thing that really piqued my interest at first was the amount of Medals of Honor that were issued for just one action. Add the fact that they were issued to African-American troops and I started to think that this battle was at least as important as the more famous charge of the 54th Massachusetts at Battery Wagner that was immortalized in the motion picture Glory. To have United States Colored Troops attacking a position that was defended by some of Lee’s best troops within a few short miles of the Confederate capital seemed to be a story worthy of more exploration.
BR: Since some readers may not be familiar with the battle, how about a brief synopsis?
JP: New Market Heights was part of a larger two-day action known today as the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, fought on September 29-30, 1864. It took place during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign of 1864-65. In late September of 1864, Grant prepared an offensive to strike at Petersburg, prevent Robert E. Lee from reinforcing his troops in the Shenandoah Valley, and – if possible – seize the city of Richmond. Grant planned a two-pronged assault with the Army of the Potomac striking at Petersburg while Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James struck north of the James River to threaten the rebel capital. Spearheading one prong of this attack would be Brig. Gen. Charles Paine’s Third Division of the XVIII Corps, a unit comprised entirely of United States Colored Troops. Their objective would be New Market Heights. Early on the morning of the 29th, Paine designated Col. Samuel A. Duncan’s 3rd Brigade to take New Market Heights. Duncan’s men deployed in a skirmish line 200 yards long and soon encountered obstacles that hampered their movement. A marshy stream called Four Mile Creek ran across their line of advance and slashing, abatis, and chevaux-de-frise blocked access to the Rebel entrenchments. Duncan’s men advanced into the thick fog and, in the words of one survivor, were “all cut to pieces.” Intense musket and artillery fire shredded the ranks of the oncoming Federals and soon Col. Duncan was down with four wounds. His brigade was forced to withdraw, losing 387 of its 750 effectives. Paine then sent in his 2nd Brigade under the command of Col. Alonzo G. Draper. As the sun began to rise, Draper’s men went in over the same ground that Duncan’s men had crossed and they were soon entangled in the slashing. For thirty brutal minutes, Draper’s men endured a barrage from the Confederate lines before the Confederates began to withdraw. Draper would lose 447 out of his 1,300 men. They had taken New Market Heights, but as the day’s events played out, they would not capture Richmond. That being said, one former Confederate did write that “upon [the] 29th [of] September, Richmond came nearer being captured, and that, too, by negro troops, than it ever did during the whole war.” While Butler met with only partial success that day, the fighting prowess of the African-American soldiers under his command was put on full display for all to see. Throughout the entire course of the war, only eighteen black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. Of that number, fourteen were awarded to the black troops who stormed New Market Heights.
BR: What did your research turn up that particularly surprised you?
JP: I was happy to find some unpublished accounts that backed up some of the more famous incidents that have been called into question. For instance, the story has always gone that Butler rode up to the men of Duncan’s brigade who were about to step off and exhorted them that their battle cry should be “Remember Fort Pillow!” People tend to doubt anything that Butler claims to have said or done, but I did find an account from a Texan who spoke about the attacking USCTs shouting “Remember Fort Pillow!” and how mad that made him. I was also happy to find an unpublished account from Alexander Kelly, who was a member of the 6th USCT and one of the Medal of Honor recipients. That, plus some great photographs from the collection of a gentleman named Rob Lyon that he graciously allowed me to reproduce in the book were very pleasant surprises.
BR: If your work impacts how the Battle of New Market Heights is remembered in one way, what would you hope that is?
JP: Well, the longstanding tradition about New Market Heights is that, while the USCTs displayed bravery and heroism during the assault, we shouldn’t read too much into the fact that there were 14 Medals of Honor awarded to those who fought there. Skeptics claim that the nefarious Beast Butler hatched up the idea of New Market Heights being a grand victory to further his political interests. I’ve read one author who referred to the idea of the black troops winning a legitimate victory at New Market Heights as being “hoopla” while another refers to this notion as “militarily irrelevant Negrophilia.” I hope that folks who read my book will view the battle in a more balanced light.
BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?
JP: In terms of researching USCTs, Record Group 94 at the National Archives and Records Administration is a treasure trove of good information. Richmond National Battlefield had been compiling information on New Market Heights for over 20 years, and I was fortunate enough to be able to go through every scrap of paper they had concerning the battle. I was also astonished at how many good sources I could find through Google books and http://www.archive.org/, www.footnote.com, and Accessible Archives. I used the information gathered through these various sources to guide the rest of my research and then had to sift through what I could use and what I had to leave behind (keep in mind I was working with a 40,000 word limit).
BR: What’s next for you?
JP: Well, I have a few things cookin’ on my plate right now. I’ve had my first two experiences with Hollywood as of late. I had the privilege of serving as a historical consultant for the upcoming miniseries To Appomattox, which was a great experience. I reviewed the scenes having to do with USCTs and, from what I’ve seen of the script, this is going to be a fine production. I’m also working as one of the extras in the upcoming Lincoln film, which gives me the ability to brag that I’ve been in the same room as Steven Spielberg. And in other (breaking) news, I recently just signed a contract for my second book with The History Press! This time I will be examining the First Battle of Deep Bottom, fought from July 27-29, 1864, where Winfield Scott Hancock and Phillip H. Sheridan both failed to add any battlefield laurels to their respective careers. Life is busy!
It sounds busy! Pick up a copy of The Battle of New Market Heights. It’s a quick read at just over 100 pages, nicely illustrated with photos, drawings, and maps. Jimmy Price has helped bring this event into sharper focus.
A while back in this post I asked for some assistance in finding images for Bull Run commanders. I got my first response yesterday from reader Bruce Baryla, who informed me that he had located a CDV of Col. George W. McLean of the 2nd NJ Infantry. The image
is currently available for purchase sold on eBay here, where you’ll also find his biographical sketch of McLean. Bruce has given me permission to reproduce the image, and here it is below.
I still need all of these:
Here’s an interesting bit on William Fitzhugh Lee of the 33rd VA, mortally wounded at First Bull Run. Below are images I recorded of his grave in Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV, a few years ago.
The First Trophy From Manassas
The two brothers De L’Isle, members of the Crescent Blues, now in Virginia, have sent to their brothers here a medicine chest, a blanket, an overcoat, and an india rubber spread to place between the ground and the soldier’s blanket, which they secured from the debris of the battle field of Manassas. The articles bear the name of a long-legged soldier belonging to a regiment from down the east State of Maine. They may be seen at the office of the Fire Alarm Telegraph, City Hall.
The Daily Delta, 7/30/1861.
Jackson Barracks – Historical Military Data on Louisiana Militia, Vol. 111, p. 125
The Battle at Bull Run.
Special Correspondence of The Delta.
Richmond July 20th; 1861.
The battle of Bull Run was fought day before yesterday, and our Artillery were engaged from 2, O’clock in the afternoon until 5, P. M. At half past four Captain Eschelman was wounded in the lower portion of the calf of the leg. A musket ball passed through the muscle, making a very ragged wound, and was up to last night very painful, attended with some fever. To-day, 12, M. I have just left him, and he said he had been since daybreak comparatively free from pain, and felt quite well. He will soon recover, and it is hoped will suffer but little from this time.
He is very well situated, at Dr. Deane’s residence, having been brought here last evening, with all the Artillery men that were wounded.
Muse, of Muse Bros., who died last night, was struck near the shoulder. Henry H. Baker has a ball in the calf of the leg. A young man, whose brother is a partner of Hagerty & Bros., had a ball through the flesh of the thigh, and one other a cut in the face. All are doing well and will recover very soon.
Walton, Slocomb, and two companies of the command were stationed three miles off, where it was supposed the enemy would make the attack, and saw nothing of the fight, and consequently were all safe. Captain Garnett, of this State, and Captain Eschelman wee in command of the seven guns we had in service, and raked the enemy down like grass, especially at the first fire; knocked one of Sherman’s guns into fragments, and sent some four shot directly into their solid advanced column, driving limbs and bodies sky high. Sherman’s great battery at 5, O’clock was silenced, and commenced their retreat. Our boys gave them a parting shot and then a tremendous yell which finished the fight.
None of the Artillery men were hurt until just before the battle ended, ,so that all had a fair chance that commenced the fight to show indomitable courage and coolness. The enemy had engaged in the battle from 5,000 to 6,000 men and we had 3,000. Our wounded and dead 60, theirs over 500. Drs. Drew, Choppin, Beard, and several others from the different regiments, were on the ground. Beauregard commanded in person on the field, being mounted, of course.
The Daily Delta, 7/27/1861.
Jackson Barracks – Historical Military Data on Louisiana Militia, Vol. 111, pp. 46-47.
We are responsible for the following recipe for making a zouave. The real zouave (from the South) are now in Virginia, and the doubtful reader may appeal to them. It may be that we got our information from one of the French drill sergeants himself. Thus: “Take the Recruit – keeping him forty-eight hours – nothing to eat; then march him forty-eight hours – nothing to eat; then let him fight like h-ll forty-eight hours – nothing to eat; By dam, he one Zouave.”
New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, 7/18/1861
Jackson Barracks – Historical Military Data on Louisiana Militia, Vol. 111, p. 35.
I’m finished with the Hampton’s Legion and Rhode Island letters that Friend of Bull Runnings (FOBR) John Hennessy sent in. Thanks so much to John, he’s made this site so much more useful and has kicked me back onto the path of righteousness – that is, got me back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing here. Feel free to use FOBR on your resume and correspondence from here on out (time to order new stationery). I have one more item he sent that’s not exactly a letter, not exactly a memoir, not exactly a newspaper article, but is really all three so I have to figure out how to classify it first.
Next on my list is to start on some great stuff sent to me by FOBR Richard Holloway, archivist for the Louisiana National Guard at Camp Beauregard in Pineville, LA. IIRC, back in the 1930s the Works Progress Administration (WPA) gathered up all mentions of Louisiana militia in Louisiana newspapers from forever. These were transcribed and kept at the National Guard archives at Jackson Barracks. Some of these volumes were damaged as a result of Hurricane Katrina and have been preserved, but the Barracks is still undergoing repairs. The long and short of it is that Richard (who it turns out is related to the late Art Bergeron) was kind enough to scan and send all the Civil War related transcriptions. And that’s what I’ll be tackling next. I’m not sure what all is in there, if any letters are included or if it’s all articles, but expect the first one some time today.
I’m reading Elizabeth Leonard’s Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky right now and thoroughly enjoying it. The preface of this book is the real hook. A while back I interviewed Prof. Leonard about Men of Color: To Arms, and thought I’d go straight to the source to give you all a reason to read a biography of a man about whom I think it’s safe to say most of my readers know very little. She replied promptly, and I’ll let her speak for herself:
I first encountered Joseph Holt when I was doing the research for my book Yankee Women (1994), almost twenty years ago. Holt had written a lengthy legal brief explaining to Andrew Johnson (who was by then president) why it did not make sense to permit Mary Walker, a woman doctor who had served as a contract surgeon for the Union army during the last year of the war, to continue with the army once the war was over, though she very much wanted to do so. Holt’s reasoning was that there was no precedent for a woman doctor in the peacetime army, and therefore she should be dismissed. But he did suggest that Johnson award her the Congressional Medal of Honor first, which he did. Back then, all I knew was that I was furious at this guy Joseph Holt for making it impossible for Mary Walker to remain with the army! But later, when I was doing the research for my book Lincoln’s Avengers (2004), I came to know Holt much better in the context of the Lincoln assassination and its aftermath, and I came to respect him deeply, despite his rather prickly personality and some serious blunders he made in connection with the assassination conspiracy trial. As I made my way through his massive archive in the Library of Congress, I also learned, to my great surprise, that he and Mary Walker had become friends many years after the war: they had a cordial correspondence, and occasionally ran into each other in Washington!
I guess one of the things that intrigues me most about Holt is that he was such a complex character — a former slaveholder who became a dedicated supporter of Emancipation, a southerner whose whole family went with the Confederacy while he remained unwaveringly committed to the Union, a prickly character whom some people despised, but whom others adored. He’s a conundrum, and I’m still working out my own thoughts about him, even though I’ve spent years researching and writing his biography.
I hope that readers will come away from Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally with a much richer understanding of, and appreciation for, this very complicated man. Joseph Holt has been largely forgotten by history: even in his home state of Kentucky very few people have ever even heard of him! Moreover, when he is “remembered” by anyone, it is usually only in the context of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy trial and in what I consider an utterly simplistic and negative way (see the film “The Conspirator” for an example), which denies some of the deeper issues at stake during that trial, and also denies the extent of Holt’s many other contributions to the nation’s history, the Union’s survival, and postwar efforts to ensure that the Confederacy did not rise again and that the freedpeople’s rights and long-term welfare were protected. He deserves a lot better from history!
There is an effort now to try to preserve the Holt family home in Stephensport, Kentucky, and I asked Prof. Leonard about how folks can help:
I am not sure about the current status of the rehab of his house, though I know that there are a few very dedicated folks in Breckinridge County who are trying to restore the place. But it is a terrible mess: left uninhabited for many years, it suffered from neglect, vandalism, and bad weather. The job of restoring it will be a huge and expensive one, but I hope that it will be a success in the end, because it must have been a magnificent place at one time, and you can really feel that when you see it. If anyone is interested, they can go to this website for more information. But please be advised: the information on that website about Holt’s life and family is not entirely accurate, having been written before my book appeared, and there is a photograph on the site that seems to be intended as a photograph of Holt, but is definitely not him — I think it must have been one of his black servants.
Give Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally a shot. I think you’ll be glad you did. And here’s a quick video clip of her discussing the book on C-Span.