Lt . Luther C. Warner, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

12 10 2011

Letter from Lieut. Warner.

We are gratified to be able to print this afternoon the following extracts from a private letter received last evening from Lieut. L. C. Warner, of Company C, First Regiment. He gives a graphic and evidently truthful account of Rhode Island’s participation in the fight of last Sunday, and the intelligent reader will readily gleam from its perusal a confirmation of a remark made to Mr. Wm. E. Hamlin by one of the soldiers after the battle, that Lieut. Warner was one of the bravest men on the field.

Camp Sprague,
Washington, D. C., July 24, 1861.

Lewis Pierce has just called on me with sad news from you, and brings a paper recording my death first and afterwards a prisoner. My first duty after arriving at Washington was to telegraph you of my safety. I went to the office and immediately sent a despatch. Our company supposed I was lost, until I came into camp. After we came off the field of battle our company stacked arms near a piece of woods. There were two of our men missing, one of whom I knew was wounded. I stayed longer than I was aware of, helping to attend the dying and suffering, also in getting Capt. Prescott’s body off the field, not thinking of any retreat being ordered, as we were victorious on our part of the field.

I was absent just an hour, and then started to join our Regiment, but when I got down to where we stacked our muskets, they were all gone, and the rebels were firing shells and grape after them as they were retreating. I started after them upon the run, running nearly two miles. I got sight of the regiment, and renewed my exertions to overtake them, but I was so exhausted I could not, and getting over a fence, which adjoined a piece of woods, I stumbled and fell, completely exhausted and nearly melted. I could not arise but lay there fully one hour. I then started alone through the woods, not knowing where I should get to, but I found one path on which we came, before it got too dark, and followed on. I picked up a Sharpe’s rifle, cartridge box, balls, &c. which some poor tired soldier had left, loading the same, determined to defend myself when I came out of the seven miles long woods. I saw several soldiers of other regiments, and continually overtaking them all along, until we had a party of about thirty. When near Bull’s Run Bridge we were fired upon by some of the rebel scouts and one of our men killed. We returned their fire with deadly effect, for we saw three of their number fall. The bridge was covered with dead men, horses, teams, &c. in one mass, so much so that we could not cross where the rebels shelled our forces on their retreat.

We waded across the river waist deep. After going half a mile we came upon several hundred of our men resting. Hardly had I reached them before the shells began to come again from the rebels from a high hill on our right. The men fired and then began to retreat in confusion again. I was alone until I reached Centreville. Here some three regiments who were held in reserve were drawn up in line of battle to meet the enemy if they advanced. The mad all they could of our retreating ones join them. Finding I was an officer they mounted me on a horse and I rallied the broken columns all I could, and had some four or five hundred soon in line. I talked, begged and plead with them to make a stand and give the rebels one more volley. Did not have to wait long before the shells came, but it was so dark they fell short of us. After firing a few times they ceased, when all of a sudden, from the woods on our left, came the Black Cavalry. When near enough we poured three volleys into them which must have killed many for they fled in haste. Then came the shells again, one of which exploded near me killing my horse, and I fell headlong but without a hurt excepting a slight scratch. It was a narrow chance. They now ceased firing, so I concluded to press forward.

I still clung to my rifle and started again. I had not gone but a short distance before I had a chance to use it upon one of their horsemen who fired at me on the run. He tumbled off dead, I think. I had hardly time to load again before another one dashed at me. I made him bite the dust. He uttered a tearful oath as he fell. I looked at him as he lay with the moon shining upon him, and he looked more like a devil than a human being.

I tried for some time to catch his horse, but I was too tired to run. He was a noble animal, but I think rather wild. Again I trudged along, taking to the woods all I could, then cross lots, keeping near the road for my guide, until I came to Fairfax Court House. Here there were several thousands of our soldiers resting. We left this place well guarded. Here I met one of the Band, and we started together for Washington. Clinging to my rifle, I travelled all night long, resting only twice to eat three crackers which I had in my knapsack, the first food I had put into my mouth since the evening before.

Day broke at last, when our journey was not accomplished. My feet swelled so that I had to take off my shoes and walked over ten miles barefoot. At 20 minutes past 11 o’clock I reached Fort Corcoran, on Arlington Heights, completely used up. It began to rain at 6 A. M., and I was wet through. I had to throw away my blanket and coat in order to carry my rifle. Col. Baker at the Fort took me into his tent, and gave me dry clothes, refreshments, &c. Then I sought rest and did not awake till after dark, I could not cross the river then and therefore remained. I returned yesterday morning and as I remarked in my letter this morning, immediately called at the telegraph office to apprize you of my safety, although I was so lame it was most impossible for me to walk.

This all seems like fiction, as I wrote you this morning, but it’s true. Our men were glad enough to see me, and the officers, too, for they thought me lost, as I was a whole day behind them. I am now getting along nicely.

This truth is prominent: We (the R. I. troops) were the first in the field; first in the fight, and the last to retreat. Tell everybody of this, for it’s so.

Providence Evening Press 7/27/1861

Clipping Image

Unknown, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

12 10 2011

A Volunteer’s Narrative.

The following letter from a member the First Regiment to his mother has been kindly placed in our hands. It gives a very vivid picture of some of the terrible scenes enacted on the last Sabbath, and its graphic frankness gives it a peculiar charm: -

Camp Sprague, July 22, 1861.

Dear Mother; – Ere this you must have heard of the dreadful battle that took place Sunday. * * * * I am perfectly well and unhurt, with the exception of a few bruises. The destruction of human life has been fearful to contemplate, but that you may get a connected idea of the battle, I will begin at the beginning.

Sunday morning at half after two, we set off for “Bull’s Run,” and to escape a masked battery, made a circuit of about fifteen miles. Just as we approached the “Run,” – about 8 o’clock, we heard the sound of heavy cannon, by which we knew the fight was commenced. So we hurried on although Col. Burnside said we would not be called upon until the last, but we found this to be a mistake. As for the first time I approached a battle field, my feelings can be imagined better than described. The first thing of not was a shell whistling through the air, and “bang” went a bomb almost at our feet, and covered us with dust. We could hardly help flinching and bobbing our heads as we heard the whirr of these missiles of death.

We, instead of being kept back as a reserve, were formed directly after our arrival into a line of battle, and marched upon the enemy. Now the scene became awfully thrilling and dangerous. Every few minutes a shower of bullets would come among us, and some were sure to fall beneath their deadly force. We had to climb over a fence, and then proceeding to the brow of the hill, we fired upon the enemy below. The balls whistled around my head like hailstones; one knocked my musket out of my hand, while another just grazed my thumb joint. I fired eleven times and loaded lying down. The scene was dreadful; the first shot fired at us, hit our beloved Lieutenant, Henry A. Prescott, in the forehead, and he dropped instantly; and they kept falling and bleeding and dying before our faces, but we merely kept loading and firing. We had to sustain ourselves nearly half an hour, when some regulars came to our assistance and charged the enemy.

The battle lasted all day, and the slaughter was dreadful. * * * * We were safe nowhere. The cannon balls would come whizzing over our heads every few minutes, generally killing some one in their progress. We drove the enemy back into their batteries several times, when suddenly a panic seized the troops. It was said that the rebels had captured all our artillery and were making a charge: 40,000 men set off on the run, leaving muskets, blankets, wagons of provisions, and the dead and dying all lying on the field. Ours was the only brigade that retreated in any sort of order. * * *

The scene was terrible. Shells were exploding and cannon roaring made such a noise that the cry of the wounded could not be heard. Cavalry, infantry and artillery, in one confused mass, hurried away as fast as possible. Some seized their arms, others not. One of the terrible scenes was just as we were retreating, the men were grabbing their muskets, which were loaded and capped, when one suddenly went off, wounding Jesse Comstock, a fine fellow of my age and a great friend of mine. He cried “Oh dear, I’m shot! Don’t leave me here! So we placed the poor fellow in the ambulance, but had hardly done so when a shell came tearing through the trees and landed directly in the ambulance, blowing at once to atoms one of our dearest companions in arms. But so we lost him – hard it seemed after his escaping the chances of battle, to so fearfully lose his life.

We were obliged to retreat the same way we came, by making a long and tedious circuit. On the way, not a drop of water could be procured, yet in spite of that, we marched fifteen miles without a single rest. It was a sad march, too, for we knew that our retreat would be cut off by the enemy, and true enough, just as our army, scattered as it was, reached the straight road, the rebels opened fire upon us with their artillery. The grape shot came pouring and whizzing by me, and we all began to run. Our artillery had strived to gain a post on the opposite hill, but before our arrival the rebels hade effectually barricaded the bridge, so that it was impossible to get anything over it. Ambulances, cannon, men and horses were piled in one confused mass, and to add to the horror of the scene, the enemy commenced firing solid shot and shell directly at the bridge, blowing up the living and the dying.

I leaped over a fence, and had hardly done so when I heard a loud crash and looking back I beheld (horrible dictu) the upper half of a soldier’s body flying up the hill. He had been cut in twain by a solid ball. At this almost barbarous cruelty, – that is, firing upon an almost unarmed and entirely unopposing force, a cry of mortal terror arose among the flying soldiers, and they followed me into the wood. This of course led the fire to be turned in my direction, and I quickly found the balls coming close to me. I dodged several; for if not crowded, you can dodge a cannon ball. I came within an ace of being killed by one of the flying missiles. I saw it coming directly towards me, and sprung into a gully close by, and the ball whizzed past close by my head, ploughing up the earth each side of me.

I ran three miles to where we were to encamp, and found what was left of our regiment starting for Washington. We arrived here this noon, after a march of fifty-six miles in two days, and a hard battle thrown in. * * *

I never shall pass such a dreadful Sunday, I trust and pray. I have seen war, and seen enough, and I hope I shall never hear the din of cannon and the rattle of musketry, while I again live. How I escaped is miraculous. We have to be thankful that all our relations were preserved to us. We come home within three days, with a regiment stripped of many of its brightest ornaments. * * * We shall return with a train of mourners, and a flag shattered with bullets. * * * * *

Give my best love to all and my kindest sympathy to sorrowing friends.

Providence Evening Press 7/26/1861

Clipping Image

“H”, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

11 10 2011

The following is an extract from a private letter of a member of Company C, 1st regiment.

Camp Sprague, July 22.

Yesterday was the most terrible day of my life. I can give you no idea of it. We had orders to move at 3 o’clock Sunday morning, so at that time, with hard crackers and a canteen of water for rations, we started from our camp near Fairfax. It was a beautiful sight, as our immense column moved to the right to make a flank movement. – We had marched about ten miles, and McDowell and staff passed. As he passed he said, “in a few moments you will see action.” Soon we deployed in a field, followed by the 71st and New Hampshire regiments. We had hardly taken our posts on the plain, when the pickets met and the firing of small arms began, the balls striking all around us. Then up came our battery at the rear, and disappeared. In a very few moments the shell came whizzing through the air over our heads, and next we heard our pieces speaking in rapid succession. On the right we saw our 2d regiment deploying in good order to the right, and delivering their fire. We had no much time to look, for we heard Burnside’s voice summoning us to “forward,” and into the woods we marched. – When we reached the woods we were halted. How the shell and shot did crash through the trees. – One ball struck in front of our first platoon, and bounded over their heads; another struck in front of our platoon, and covered us with dust. Soon from the hill above we saw Burnside beckoning to us “forward, over the fence.” To the fence we went. How the shot did drop around us. We passed Major Ballou lying wounded by the fence. We found when we reached the top of the hill the 71st lying on their stomachs. Over them we went, and just below the hill, within a hundred rods of us, the rebels were blazing away at us. We opened upon them, when the cry was raised that we were killing our own men. We then turned to the left and directed our fire to the bushes. The 71st finding we were mistaken about those in front being our friends, took our old position, and together we drove them down the hill, and concealed in the bushes they blowed away at us, who, exposed on the summit of the hill, returned the fire. I was standing on top of the hill waiting for the cowards to show themselves, when I felt a commotion between my legs, and a man was deliberately blowing away, using my legs as a port hole. Poor Prescott, while standing there encouraging his men, received a shot in the head; clasping his hands over it, he exclaimed “Boys, I am going,” and fell. We cannot mourn for him, for he has gone to his reward, one of the noblest men and best of Christians I ever say. His men cannot speak of him with dry eyes. He was universally beloved.

Soon we seemed to have silenced them, and the order was given for us to retire and fall into our ranks. Some places were vacant which a few moments before were filled. The rear rank stepped to the front and took their places, and we filed off the field into the woods, thinking the battle won. I set down to write you, and had hardly finished, when our batteries ceased firing, and we were ordered to fall in to cover the retreat, and in a few moments horsemen and footmen came running over the fields in full retreat. We moved off quietly, picking our way through heaps of knapsacks, canteens, blankets and accoutrements, and in a confused mass the whole column was pouring down the road. I think I never felt so badly in my life.- After awhile the Rhode Islanders got into to cover the retreat, and we all pressed backward toward Centreville. The ammunition had given out, the position of the rebels was too strong, and their force too large. Thus began one of the most rapid and perfect routs I ever heard of. As we came out of the woods one of their batteries played upon us, and into the woods we went. We forded a stream which came up almost to our waists, and tired and wet, we pressed on for our old camp. – The bridge was barricaded so that our battery had to leave their pieces behind them. Baggage wagons were all about the fields, the drivers mounting the horses and pressing on. Our only hope was to reach our camp before we were cut off. Tired as we were, we could not stop, we had to leave our dead and wounded to the mercy of the enemy. It was awful. When we reached our camp the order was given, “on, to Fairfax,” and picking our way amid baggage wagons, cavalry, and impediments of all kinds, having eaten nothing but dry crackers, and drunk nothing but dirty water, we pressed on. We reached Fairfax, and found to our joy that they had not cut off our retreat. “On, to Washington” was the cry then. We reached Arlington Heights this morning, having marched at least ten miles, fought a battle, and retreated, marching forty-one miles, with nothing but our rations of crackers and water to sustain us. God alone gave me strength to do it.


Providence Journal 7/26/1861

Clipping Image

Unknown Officer, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

10 10 2011

The Rhode Islanders in Battle.

Extract From a Private Letter of an Officer in Company C.

Camp Sprague, July 23.

At the risk of repeating what the papers have already told you, I send a brief sketch of the battle as I witnessed it. But first let me gratefully record the safety of my men. As far as I know at this writing, none were killed, and the five missing is reduced to three by the return of Lieut. Warner and one other member. The men com in languid and late. exhausted by their hardship, and I find they have straggled along the road and been reported among the missing. But there is great reason for hope that they will all be in camp before we leave, – and my desire above all things is, that Company C may return with full ranks, and I may hear every manly voice answer “Here” to the roll call. I do not consider that the valor of an army, or a regiment, or a company, consists in its list of dead and wounded, but in having done its whole duty, and living to do it over again, – and that some of us must do that is very plain.

This is not a good time to talk of one’s self. I think all personalities are insignificant in the importance of the mighty cause. But I may say that I thank God to-day I am a Rhode Island man. My pride in her is all satisfied, and you must take a soldier’s testimony that her sons did their duty. Our regiments had expected to be a reserve, but were called into immediate action. The 2d regiment, with their splendid light battery, were the first that took position for the fight. They formed under full fire, and marched past the confederate battery as coolly as they did on a dress parade.

Our 1st regiment went into the fire with perfect courage and calmness, standing the death-dealing shot and shell like veterans. We broke the right wing of their army and drove it in. It was said to be commanded by Beauregard in person. After two hours’ fight we were allowed to stack arms for a brief rest. Then the ambulances and ammunition wagons began to pass us with the wounded – a ghastly procession. At that time the firing ceased, and a shout went up, and we claimed the victory; but it was only a pause in the work of death, for the enemy, largely reinforced, opened a steady and fatal fire again.

Our troops saw the reinforcement – and outnumbered and exhausted themselves, they took a universal panic, succeeded by an irresistible stampede, which resulted in a general retreat. I claim for our Rhode Island regiments that they left the field in perfect order, bravely resisting the contagion of fear and flight – bravely waiting the orders of their Colonel for retreat. Then came the voice we loved and obeyed, clear and calm – (no defeat in that) – and Rhode Island, unconquerable in her courage as in her pride, marched from the field she had defended with her best blood. And I contest the victory now. Outnumbered three to one – and ten to one if your realize the advantage of entrenched position – our famished, exhausted men could do no more than die. No tongue can tell the bravery of our troops. It will yet make the north invincible – and the final triumph is only a question of time. This battle is not lost if it teaches a clamorous people patience. I am proverbially a “slow man.” I know “the race is not to the swift.” Let the counsellors who urged us to battle before were we “strong” contemplate the result.

It is too late for regrets, the time given to contemplating our losses is better spent in redeeming them. Better pens than mine have told the scene of confusion – the wild flight of men and horses – the deserted wagons – the loss of provisions we were suffering for – the storm of shot and shell that followed our fleeing army, – death on the right, death on the left, and in front. Our only safety was that the enemy had neither courage nor strength for pursuit of our exhausted troops, else I might not be the one to tell the story. So we came on and on that dreadful day, and such as could reached their camp in Washington. But many a brave fellow, lifted in blankets or by generous hands, laid down his life by the roadside. Humanity had done its best and yielded to death and danger. Exhausted by hunger and sleeplessness, even a victory could hardly have roused us, and the retreat to Washington was made in pain and sorrow. nothing less than God’s care preserved us as we went. A rally was hopeless if we had been attacked. But we are all here now, and we await our missing comrades hopefully.

I saw instances of great personal courage. Come of our friends were unconscious heroes, and it was the proudest day of my life when I saw my noble boys stand shoulder to shoulder to meet their fate. Not a man flinched, and their tread was as steady as in their old armory. And when I contemplate their sacrifices, what they risked, and what they fought for, my words of praise fall far short of justice. The names of Gove. Sprague, Col. Burnside, Major Balsh and Major Goddard are widely known for their bravery on the field. These names are known from their position and prominence, but there was no distinction where all did their duty. There were some heroes in the splendid rank and file of the Rhode Island regiments. Of myself it is enough to add I am alive and well, ready and, I trust, willing for any duty fate and the future assign me. As for “home,” you may expect us when you see us. God bless Rhode Island. She is making history hand over hand.

Providence Journal 7/26/1861

Clipping Image

Unknown, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the March to Manassas

9 10 2011

We are favored with the following extracts from a private letter written by a member of Company C, 1st regiment.

Fairfax Court House,
July 17th, 1861.

Here we are in Fairfax Court House, without a gun having been fired. We only marked five or six miles, but it was an awfully tedious march, for the retreating rebels had cut down trees and stopped up the road (in one place so bad that we had to make a new road), and it was necessary to wait till the axe men had cut down the trees before we could march. In about every 15 minutes there would be a halt, and then we would creep along slowly until another halt was made for the same purpose. The last part of the march was very exciting. The enemy had an extensive earthwork thrown up to protect the road, and we supposed they would make a stand there, but about an hour and a half before we got there they retreated and carried off their cannon. Then we hurried after them. Our advance guard got a good breakfast in the entrenchment that the rebels first evacuated. It had been prepared, I suppose, for the officers. Then we marched into town, and our two regiments are now encamped right about the Court House. The town is a God-forsaken looking place. You cannot find a white woman in the place, so complete has been the exodus.

We found a quantity of hospital stores and camp equipage here, mostly marked S. C. 2d and 3d regiments. I myself have a cup and some other things that the rebel troops left. When we move from here is more than I know, though the U. S. cavalry have gone in pursuit, and I should not be surprised if we were to follow them right on to Manassas, where, perhaps, though I doubt it, they will make a stand.

There are three divisions in all moving towards Manassas. We are the centre, with another brigade. In our brigade we have 12 pieces of artillery and about 300 cavalry. Gen. McDowell is with us, though he commands the whole movement.

Providence Journal 7/20/1861

Clipping Image

Reminder – Call for Stuff

9 10 2011

Just a reminder: if you have, or are aware of, any diaries, letters, memoirs, newspaper articles, &c., published or otherwise, with a Bull Run significance, send them in or let me know about them. They’re a big part of what this site is all about. I do require some sort of verification, so if you have letters or diaries of ancestors that you would like added to the record here, I’ll need as much information as you can provide, and preferably images of the original documents.

Help great-great-grandpa’s/grandma’s words live on in cyberspace and contribute to the historical record at the same time!

Unknown Officer, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the March to Manassas

8 10 2011

The Rhode Islanders at Fairfax.

We have the pleasure of printing a part of a private letter from an officer in Company C, 1st regiment. How noble the spirit which it breathes! Rhode Island may well be proud of her sons, when they go forth to fight the battle of the country with such pure and lofty purposes.

Fairfax Court House,
Wednesday noon, July 17.

We are safe and well at this place, which we reached about noon this day, having left Camp Sprague yesterday at one o’clock.

We had a hot, hard march of about twelve miles, bivouacked for the night, which was pleasant, but with a heavy dew.

The last hour’s marching was very slow and cautious – picket guard thrown out in front and each flank – but we moved steadily, firmly forward – every face stern, with a purpose in it.

We found breastworks all along for a mile or more, which could have been easily defended, but the rebels ran from there as from all points, fleeing in such cowardly haste as to leave everything behind, – knapsacks, blankets, even the medical stores in the hospital. Had a brigade, which was to meet us here on another road, arrived in time, the enemy would have been taken in their own camp. As it was, Rhode Island was “ahead of time,” came in alone, and the rebels were off, giving us only the usual chance of seeing their heels. The movement of so large a body as this is much less free and easy than a smaller one. An army, or even a brigade, is more unwieldy than our two noble regiments, who moved as one man, to the inspiring voice of our Colonel.

Some of our troops (in other brigades) have helped themselves lawlessly to everything portable. Where is the old law and order feeling among us, which respects even the rights of an enemy, and I do not share the enthusiasm for “spoils.” I was sorry for any trespass, which brings reproach to our army without discrimination of parties.

I have only time to add that this Fairfax justifies the general reputation of southern towns. Its dilapidated houses and primitive court house being no exception to the Virginia style.

Add to this the empty streets, the homeless negroes, the miserable jail and empty post office, with all the decay and dirt of a southern hamlet, and you have “Fairfax Court House,” the famous bug-bear of the secessionists. The rebels having fled, of course there was neither attack nor defence of the place, nor victory in our possession; but it is firm and final so far. We “play for keeps” in this great game of war.

What our next move will be I cannot advise you, for we are a small item in a grand army, though I know to Rhode Island hearts our two regiments seem an army in itself. God keep them, and us – those who await us in our far-off homes. I know old soldiers who will stand fire better than they can talk of home to-day. You know as well as I what we are here for. It is no time for words. A few hours may tell the story of life or death for some of us. But we are cheerful and hopeful to a man. I confess to the spoils of war so far as the writing on confederate letter paper goes. This sheet was taken from the running quartermaster’s desk. When and where my next may be written I cannot tell, but you must wait with courage and patience.

We bivouac here to-night. Rations rather hard – but a soldier’s life is no holiday, and his real wants are so few that there is no just cause for complaint. There is only one movement for the north to make, and that is Forward!

Providence Journal 7/20/1861

Clipping Image

New Page: Campaign Weather

8 10 2011

I’ve added a new page to the Bull Run Resources, Campaign Weather. It’s just an image I created from an Excel spreadsheet I made from R. K. Krick’s Civil War Weather in Virginia, but should answer most campaign weather related questions.

Interview: Dr. Joseph Glatthaar, “Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia”

6 10 2011

I finally got the chance to meet – briefly – Dr. Joseph Glatthaar at the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute conference this past summer. At the time I expressed some interest in his new book, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served under Robert E. Lee. I didn’t purchase it then – it’s a little pricey – but I eventually did get myself a copy, and Dr. Glatthaar was good enough to take some time to answer a few questions about the book.

BR: I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with your work, Dr. Glatthaar, but would you mind filling them in a bit on your background?

JG: My training is in both Civil War and American military history.  I received an MA at Rice University under Civil War specialist Frank Vandiver and a PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under American Military history specialist Edward “Mac” Coffman.  Mac Coffman was a pioneer in the “New” Military history, which intrigued me since I read Bell Wiley’s books on Johnny Reb and Billy Yank years earlier.  My dissertation was The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Soldiers on the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns. I wanted to study soldiers on the march to see what factors motivated them and encouraged their behavior.  Among my arguments was that Sherman’s soldiers were veterans with strong ideological ties to restore the Union and destroy slavery and through years of military campaigning had established powerful bonds of camaraderie within their units.  My second book was Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and their White Officers .  What intrigued me was the intersection or friction between races within the confines of military units.  At the U.S. Army War College immediately after the First Gulf War, I taught a course entitled “Command Relationships in the Civil War.”  The object was to use history to get senior officers to think about the types of subordinates they should be seeking to work under them in future assignments.  That was the basis for my next book called Partners in Command: Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War.   I then wrote the volume on black soldiers for the National Park Service.  After that, I could not resist writing The Civil War in the West, 1863-65, so that I would be part of a larger volume with friends Gary Gallagher, Bob Krick, and Steve Engle.  Shortly thereafter, I published Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians in the American Revolution with James Kirby Martin.  Jim and I have been great friends for decades, and the story of the Oneidas was so dramatic that we could not resist the topic.  A consortium is currently working on a movie based on our book.  Since 1989, I had been working on Lee’s army, and it finally came together in 2008 under the title General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse.  It was under contract so long with The Free Press that my editor told me they would have terminated the contract years before but the money was so small that it was not worth the paperwork!  To my mind, it is my best piece of scholarship to date.  With all the extra statistics, Gary Gallagher urged me to publish a book, which became Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia.  I am currently working on my companion volume to Lee’s army, one on the Army of the Potomac, which is quite fun, since I love research and I am in the research phase.

BR: Your book General Lee’s Army made quite a splash when it was published in 2008, and it’s now considered by many – myself included, for whatever that’s worth – as the must read book on the Army of Northern Virginia. More than a modern version of D. S. Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants, it’s a study of the makeup of the army. Much more of a “social history”, for lack of a better term, it concerns the personality of the army, as opposed to a simple chronology of events. What did you learn about the army in the process of writing and researching General Lee’s Army?

JG: General Lee’s Army was an eye-opener for me.  I suspected those soldiers bore great burdens, but I was shocked to learn how many severe hardships they endured, how many losses they sustained, and how much of the fighting they bore for the Confederacy.  Rich, poor, and middle classmen came out to fight in the army.  Seventy percent who ever served in Lee’s army was killed, died of disease, wounded at least once, captured at least once, or discharged for disability.  That statistic does not include overlap, so many were wounded one time and later captured, or wounded in one battle and later killed in action.  Again, we knew they had clothing shortages, but in the wintertime, soldiers were eager for combat because if they won the field they could get shoes, blankets, and overcoats from the Yankees.  Some men appeared for inspection in late 1864 without pants because theirs were worn out!  In the last half-year of the war men lived on 900-1,200 calories per day.  Their intake of vitamins and minerals was so insufficient that they could not extract the nutrition from the food they consumed.  Yet so many of Lee’s men continued to fight.  I also love Robert E. Lee’s revolutionary way of thinking.  Contrary to the arguments of J.F.C. Fuller and so many scholars since, Lee was an extremely creative problem solver with ideas that were far ahead of their time, a truly innovative thinker.  In Partner’s in Command, I got a sense of how good Lee was, but in researching General Lee’s Army, I learned that he was truly exceptional.  Quite frankly, those who think otherwise simply have not done their homework.

BR:  The conclusions you drew from an impressive amount of data concerning the soldiery were not without controversy. Can you describe how that book was received in various circles? Were there any reactions that surprised you?

JG:  The reaction to the book was a bit surprising. Some people dismissed it immediately because I point out the ties to slavery.  Others know just enough statistics to voice an opinion but not enough to understand them properly. One person suggested I did not weight my sample, which of course I did.  One academic criticized me for mentioning Lee’s temper but not exploring the psychological dimensions of it—in effect, the root cause.  It is hopeless to explain that the book was not about Lee’s psychological makeup or speculations about his relationship with his father!  Rather, that is a book about an army.  One reader criticized me for not blaming O.O. Howard for Jackson’s successful flank attack.  Rest assured I shall do so in my study of the Army of the Potomac, but blaming a Union general in a book on Lee’s army still makes no sense to me.  Another scholar who wrote a regimental history complained that my sample was small—he, after all, had an entire regiment—or that none of his soldiers in the Tennessee Veteran’s questionnaire admitted that the war was about slavery.  Of course, he only had to look at four or five reels of microfilm for his service records data.  It took me months and months just to get the names of my sample and then I had to look in perhaps 800 or more reels of service records to gather my soldiers’ data.  And then I had to find them in census records and gather all sorts of other data, and this information probably totaled ten or twenty pages in a 600-page book!   I guess it never occurred to him that the reason no one admitted they fought for slavery was because by the second decade of the twentieth century most of the world had come to the irrevocable conclusion that slavery was immoral and that no veteran wanted to admit that they fought a war with 600,000+ dead for an immoral cause!  No doubt, Confederate soldiers fought for all sorts of reason—defense of hearth and home, their rights (which, incidentally, included their right to own slaves), spirit of adventure, community and government pressure, and other factors–but to deny slavery as a consideration is absurd.

Fortunately, the people whose work and opinion I value, such as Gary Gallagher, Jim McPherson, Bud Robertson, Jack Davis, Bob Krick, Bill Cooper, and Emory Thomas, to name a few, were pleased, and that thrilled me.

BR: Your new book, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia, is a different cup of tea. Not a traditional narrative, it’s a more in-depth look at the data behind the conclusions drawn in General Lee’s Army. I liken it, somewhat, to Joseph Harsh’s Sounding the Shallows which was a look behind the curtain of his Taken at the Flood. However, that book focused more on strictly military matters. Soldiering examines, among other things, the socio-economic backgrounds of the officers and men of the AoNV. First off, what is your object in publishing this as a separate work?

JG:  As I mentioned earlier, General Lee’s Army utilized a mere fraction of the statistics I generated.  For each chapter, I probably calculated close to 100 pages of tables, sometimes with three tables per page.  All this data was unused, and Gary Gallagher had a hunch it would be very interesting to publish on its own.  I viewed it as a chance to slice the army in various ways to catch a glimpse of these soldiers, their experiences, and their lives.  What I wanted to do is show readers some of the possibilities that were available from a research perspective.  Decades ago, historians moved toward statistics and then dismissed it.  Some of it was quality work, and other elements were not well done.  Lately, I felt like scholars had been cherry-picking evidence to support one argument or another, when the preponderance of evidence indicated otherwise.  Having read so many Civil War letters and diaries over the decades, I have a good sense of their contents.  What I hoped to do is to generate hard data that will help guide scholarly research—in effect, work in conjunction with more traditional, qualitative sources.

For that reason, I am trying to get funding to launch a massive research project on Confederate soldiers, with a purely random sample of 4,000 men.  In Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia, I gathered all my own data.  In that instance, with a sample of 4,000, I would need help from graduate research assistants.

BR: Now, to be clear, yours is not a compilation of data that attempts to support sweeping conclusions about subjective things like soldiers’ opinions or feelings, a somewhat dubious practice  we’ve been seeing a lot of over the past few years. You focus on specific, quantifiable, objective points.

JG:  I cannot calculate attitudes or other such things in Soldiering.  I merely explore what is measurable in the data.  The data that I have collected is from Compiled Service Records, Census Records, and some other sources.  I am only generating statistics that one can quantify from that data, such as year of entry, rank, how the individual left the service (killed in action, discharged for wounds, discharged for disability, deserted, prisoner at Appomattox, etc.), date they left the service, desertion, desertion dates, length of desertion, illness, wealth, slave ownership, and other things.  Attitudes and motivations are more a product of traditional sources.

I used a stratified cluster sample—a complex way of generating a random sample—on the recommendation of my friend, Kent Tedin, an expert in sampling.  Since we had no list of the soldiers in Lee’s army, and I wanted to compare branches, we chose this method.  It included 150 artillerists, 150 cavalrymen, and 300 infantrymen.  At 150, the data would be reliable for artillery and cavalry, but because the infantry was so large we needed a larger number.

I compiled a list of every unit that ever served in Lee’s army or its predecessor, the Army of the Potomac, by branch.  I then generated 50 random numbers each for the artillery and cavalry and 75 for the infantry.  I then generated three random numbers per artillery and cavalry unit and four for each infantry unit selected.  At that point, I simply went through and counted, so if the 652nd soldier was in my sample, I waded through the service records until I reached the 652nd CSR!  Fortunately, Tom Broadfoot published his roster for some of the states, so I was able to use that, which, needless to say, was much quicker to identify soldiers for inclusion in the sample.  I then gathered data from their service records, located them in census records, checked county histories, obituaries, family histories, pension files, and other sources for personal data, and loaded that into an ACCESS document.  Based on a tabulation of strength throughout the war, 81.8% of Lee’s army were infantrymen, 11.3% were cavalrymen, and 6.9% were artillerists.  These factors were used for weighting purposes.  The statistical weighting took into account the larger size of the infantry sample.  I then converted the database to STATA and wrote code to crunch the numbers in STATA.  The results were nearly as accurate as if the sample was purely random.  Several statistics experts have complimented me on the skill and sophistication of the sampling.  I cannot take credit.

There are some chapters where the sample size was not large enough for firm conclusions.  For example, only 3.4% were foreign-born.  I calculated foreign-born and northern born against southern born, but the results for those two categories do not allow for confidence limits.  Of course, they do for southern born.  In those instances I am explicitly clear about confidence limits.

BR: Pretty much all of the socio-economic data in the book is fascinating to consider, and the graphics help the numbers pop. The lightning rod as always is slavery – in this case the percentage of men and officers in the army who were stakeholders in the institution. Of course it’s impossible to quantify the number of people whose lives and livelihoods were dependent on chattel slavery, but you seem to have at least put to rest the age-old argument that “only blankety-blank percent of Confederate soldiers owned slaves” by providing hard numbers regarding those who belonged to slave-holding households. And that number is a lot higher than what normally gets tossed around. While doing the research into this particular aspect, was there anything that surprised you or confirmed previously held notions?

JG:  Certainly I was surprised that 37.2% of all soldiers either owned slaves or their parents with whom they lived owned slaves.  I was also surprised that 44.4% of all soldiers came from slaveholding households.  Other things, though, surprised me.  For example, I compared soldiers in Lee’s army with males of comparable ages in the states from which Lee drew his troops. The results were that Lee’s soldiers had a considerably higher median wealth and had more people in the wealthy class and fewer people in the poor class. I was surprised about the comparatively low percentage of middle-class folks in Lee’s army.  Upon thinking it over, though, many skilled workers whose talents were needed by the army and the people at home would have been in the middle class.  The very heavy casualties also surprised me.  All of us would assume infantrymen would bear the brunt of combat, but when 83.1% of those who joined the infantry in 1862 were KIA, WIA, died of disease, discharged for disability, or POW at least once, and 74.4% of those who joined the army in 1861 were, it is quite startling.

BR: “Soldiering” has a fairly narrow target audience, but how has it been received so far?

JG:  I have no idea how it has been received.  As you know, it is not an easy read; it is not the kind of book that you pick up and read straight through.  Despite all my efforts to write it clearly, the numbers are dense.  Plus, there are not all that many people who have backgrounds in both the Civil War and statistics.  As a result, it has not gotten much “play.”  I think that people who are willing to take their time and go through it with care will find it rewarding.  There is some fascinating information in there.  Ultimately, it will, I hope, have a real impact on how we perceive Civil War soldiers.  Recently, I was attending a talk by Jim McPherson and in the Q and A he began discussing issues on desertion and wealth, which he derived in part from Soldiering.  So, I have hope that it will have an impact.

BR: I’m very interested in how writers go about their business. Can you describe your research and writing process?

JG:  Much of research for a book like this is fairly tedious, but I actually don’t mind it.  In fact, I find all research wonderful.  The idea of discovery still charms me.  I love to go through archives and read letters and diaries.

When I embark on a project, I try to read all the primary materials I can find.   In a big project, no one can ever find everything, but I still try to be extremely thorough.  I go from archives to archives and see as much as I can find.  Needless to say, I am dependent on great archivists like Dick Sommers, John Coski, Lee Shepard, and so many, many more.  I also love researching at the National Archives (NARA).  Over the years I have been blessed with great archivists: Sara Dunlap Jackson, Mike Musick, Mike Meyers, Trevor Plante, Mike Pilgrim, Connie Potter, and a host of others.  They have helped me find new ways to exam old and new questions.  Because the research material is so vast, I still use 3×5 notecards.  Taking the equivalent of 10,000 or 15,000 notecards on a computer would be an organizational nightmare. Documents that offer information that won’t fit on a 3×5 get a numbered file and a notecard that summarizes briefly the information and the relating file number.

Once I have finished gathering my evidence I go through all the notecards and keep reading and sorting.  Then, I compile topical lists from the notecards and begin to try to outline the book, chapter by chapter.  In General Lee’s Army, the book had a chronological thrust so I had to plot matters carefully.  I did not want to quote an 1864 source when I was writing about 1862.  Moreover, I had to introduce themes early and leave them because later in the book they would become important.

For me, organization is the key.  When I have a good, clear outline and carefully sorted notecards, I am ready to write, and although I am no Jack Davis—Jack gets 16 pages of finished prose per day!—I am able to write reasonably quickly.

BR: What’s next for you? Do you have a particular project in mind?

JG: Way back in the in the mid-1980s, I began research for a book on the Army of the Potomac.  I have now turned my attention back to it.  Right now I am fairly far along on my sample.  I’ve looked at the Compiled Service Records and am two-thirds through with pension files at NARA.  I’ve barely scratched the surface of manuscript collections—perhaps 60 or so.  And, of course, there are fabulous amounts of records at NARA, and then published materials.  In short, I’ve got a ways to go.

As I mentioned earlier, I am also trying to get funding to develop a statistical database for 4,000 randomly selected Confederate soldiers.  I hope to get data from Compiled Service Records and Census Records first and then collect data on them for their entire life course, as well as the life course of their widows and children.  Not only would a project like this generate fabulous data (the database would be posted on the website at the Odum Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) for all to use, but it would allow us to explore topics like postwar adjustment and impact of soldiers and their families, widows, disabled veterans, orphans, and all sorts of other economic, health, and social issues.  Once it is open to the public, we could add photos, letters, diaries, and other materials, so that the database could be used in schools as well as by researchers.

It sounds like there’s more groundbreaking work ahead for Dr. Glatthaar. The Confederate soldier study is intriguing, but I for one am excited that he’s also turned his attention to the Army of the Potomac. I think you should be, too.

Old Timey Civil War

6 10 2011

Check this out – old-timey Jackson at Bull Run! Damn those Mississippi troops, and that big baby Bee, and that gold-bricking A. P. Hill! Kill ‘em, kill ‘em all!!!!

Jeez, those are some mighty stentorian tones coming from a guy drowning in his own lungs, no?

Actually, this old recording indicates that in some circles Stonewall studies haven’t progressed much over the years.

Big hat tip to friend Robert Moore.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 849 other followers