Interview: Lance J. Herdegen, “The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory”

25 10 2012

Lance Herdegen (see his blog here) has been researching and writing about the famed Iron Brigade – the one from the west, not to be confused with the one composed of New York regiments and U. S. Sharpshooters, which included prominent Bull Run veterans the 14th Brooklyn – for many years, and has recently published what might be considered his crowning achievement (so far) – The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory: The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter. Lance was good enough to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Can you give us the lowdown on Lance Herdegen?

LH: I spent most of my adult life in the news business as a reporter, editor and executive for United Press International news service, covering mainly civil rights and politics. After UPI, I went to Carroll University in Wisconsin where I served as Director for the Institute for Civil War Studies.  I presently am chair of the Wisconsin Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and historical consultant for the Civil War Museum of the Upper Middle West. I am a past present of the Civil War Round Table of Milwaukee and served on the Wisconsin Humanities Council and the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. I’ve won a number of honors, but am especially proud of the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign.  On a personal note, I am married and live in the Town of Spring Prairie in Walworth County, Wisconsin. I enjoy shooting antique firearms, especially Civil War small arms, and sometimes play around with competing with a 24-pound coehorn mortar.

BR: Can you describe how you became interested in the Civil War?

LH: When I was about 12, my father came home with a Civil War rifle-musket and a cavalry saber found while helping a neighbor clean a shed. I was totally fascinated and began reading everything I could find on the Civil War. The musket led to an interest in shooting and I became active in the North-South Skirmish Association, which holds marksmanship competitions for 1861-65 small arms and artillery. I went to Marquette University for a journalism degree where I met Dr. Frank L. Klement, the author of four very good books on the Copperhead movement. He gave me the grounding in serious historical scholarship and insight to the fact much good source material can be found in the newspapers. He always proclaimed that news reporters get the first chance at writing history and with my Civil War interest I kind of liked that idea. Frank added with a smile, however, those reporters usually got it wrong. I don’t agree with that assessment.

BR: Why The Iron Brigade?

LH: I first really became aware of the Iron Brigade while in high school reading Bruce Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army and Glory Road, and finding Rufus Dawes’ Service With the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, perhaps the best memoir of the war.  With the realization that three of the brigade’s regiments were from Wisconsin, I discovered I could drive by some of their farms and homesteads, find their gravesites, and even meet many of their descendants. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the veterans provided copies of old photographs, journals, diaries and letter collections. The Black Hats are still pretty close to me in Wisconsin. I also found much of what the Iron Brigade men wrote of their war experiences was overlooked by historians even though Iron Brigade sources provide significant information about the war in the Eastern Theater. The Black Hats left a wide body of material that is still being found even today. For example, some 300 letters of an officer in the 6th Wisconsin recently surfaced in Texas.  I first met Alan Nolan while he working on his classic book on the brigade, which was published in 1961. We became good friends. I spent a lot of days tramping the battlefields with Alan as well as sharing research on the Black Hats.

BR: What does The Iron Brigade contribute to what we already know about the unit? How does it differ from Alan Nolan’s book?

LH: It is the first time the full story of the Iron Brigade—from Bull Run to Appomattox Court House and even beyond—is told in one book. Alan Nolan pretty much finished his book when the brigade lost its all-Western identity in 1863. He added only a few pages on the rest of the war.  In addition, a lot of primary material has been found since he published The Iron Brigade some 50-plus years ago. The new accounts significantly detail how the soldiers from faraway Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan dealt with the slavery question and the flood of runaways that always crowded the army camps. It also allowed me to turn those men in their Black Hats into flesh and blood sons, husbands, fathers, who went to war with a great innocence, and to write of their romances, losses, heroes, and yes, even of those who were found wanting in battle. Because of the heavy losses of Gettysburg, the Iron Brigade I write about at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, is the not the same Iron Brigade of early 1863. It was a very different war in 1864 and 1865. I also get the opportunity to explain how the makeup of the brigade and even its soldiers changed during the war; how they were affected by what they experienced, and even how they dealt with the war in the remaining years of their lives. It changed them in many ways they never understood.

BR: How long did it take to produce The Iron Brigade? Was there anything your research turned up that especially struck you?

LH: The glib answer is probably most of my life. I had written a couple of books on narrow Iron Brigade topics using much of the new material found since 1961, but I really got serious about this book  three years ago under the persistent nagging of publisher Ted Savas at Savas Beatie. I have been collecting Iron Brigade material most of my life.  As I suspected when I really started to write, I found the amount of primary source material written by the soldiers dwindled sharply after Gettysburg. That made it harder to fill out pieces of the brigade’s story, but I quickly discovered other sources and even more came from the descendants of the veterans. When I went to give talks in Wisconsin, people would come up to me and provide their collection of family letters and photos. I also found much of the story in the old weekly newspapers and the various accounts written for them by the veterans or by reporters interviewing the veterans on the anniversaries of say Gettysburg or Appomattox. The newspapers, I found, are a great source of information and generally are overlooked—thank you to Dr. Klement and my UPI days for providing that insight. I was surprised at the level of political activity in the regiments early in the war and finding just how much the fighting of 1864 and 1865 turned the innocent volunteers into sometimes brutal battle-hard veterans who fought and died with a certain fatalism.  The days of grand charges over open fields in the sun light against a gallant foe were over by 1864 and 1865. Now it was a grinding war that went on day after day without seeming end.  After the war, it was decades later that the veterans found the need to see each other. “I looked in my shaving glass and saw an old man looking back at me,” one veteran wrote. “I then had a desire to seek out my old comrades and talk about the days long ago.”  By the end of 1864, much of the music had been beaten out of the army. I found just as interesting how the memory of the Iron Brigade persists even today. As usually, the book was finished when I looked around and found all those little final tasks of fact-checking and re-writing were completed.

BR: How do you go about the business of writing, and are there any particular archival or other sources you rely on most?

LH: My days at UPI did away with foolish notions of writers’ block. I try to write a few pages a day when I am in full swing, sometimes in the early morning and sometimes at night. I generally go into a chapter—say on Fredericksburg or the solder reaction to slavery—without any idea where I am going to come out. I tend to write in short bursts, getting the brigade from one point or situation to another, letting the material carry me. I am often surprised at the insights I get along the way.  I try to get a pretty complete first draft, then go back to add detail and re-write. I think the opening paragraphs of a section are the most important and spend a lot of time looking at and re-working them.  A lot of this is simply what I learned writing every day for UPI. I write very fast and sometimes my copy is almost skeletal, like wire service work, and I have to go back and put more flesh on it. I also tend to take a lot of material out of my first drafts because it gets in the way of advancing the story. I use the usual brick and mortar sources like libraries, museums and historical societies. I am blessed because the Wisconsin Historical Society has one of the best newspaper collections in the United States. I find a lot of new material there.

BR: Do you have any plans for a follow up book?

LH: I am still in that state of lassitude that comes when your book is just finished and published. Probably some sort of work on the common Union soldier of the Civil War. We will see.

I’m looking forward to reading this one. It’s a beautiful book, by the way – Lance is an engaging writer, and the book is nicely illustrated.





Interview: Guy R. Hasegawa, “Mending Broken Soldiers”

22 10 2012

I first became familiar Guy Hasegawa through his collaboration with Jim Schmidt on Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine. At Jim’s request Guy sent me a copy of his new book, Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs. OK, well, after I dropped a not very subtle hint to Jim on Facebook, that is. It’s a slim volume, only 80 pages of text with another 45 pages of appendices, notes, etc., but it’s chock full of good stuff all in answer to a question which perhaps you never actually considered – how did governments and industry satisfy the explosion in demand for artificial limbs brought about by the Civil War?

BR:  Guy, can you start off with a little background?

GH: I was born and raised in Santa Monica, CA, and received a B.A. in zoology from UCLA and a doctor of pharmacy degree from UC San Francisco. Further pharmacy training and jobs accounted for a series of moves eastward until I landed in suburban Maryland, where I have worked since 1988 as an editor for a pharmacy journal. I’ve published numerous articles on pharmacy and medical topics. My historical articles started appearing in 2000, and I collaborated with my good friend Jim Schmidt in editing and contributing to Years of Change and Suffering. I’m honored to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (NMCWM) and am a Director Emeritus of the Society of Civil War Surgeons (SOCWS). My wife and I have two college-age sons. Our remaining family member is of the canine persuasion – a male Belgian Malinois.

BR: How did you get interested in studying the Civil War?

GH: I think I’ve always been interested in military history. The Civil War Centennial started when I was nine, and I remember ordering a map – by mailing in some cereal box tops, I think – that showed the location of various battles and had portraits of generals around the border. I didn’t really start studying the war, though, until I moved to Maryland and began visiting battlefields and other sites. After seeing NMCWM in Frederick, MD, I volunteered my services there and was assigned, because of my pharmacy and editorial background, to research and write a panel for a display of medicinal herbs. The Museum referred me to Dr. Terry Hambrecht, an expert on Confederate medicine, who became a friend and mentor and continues to be an invaluable sounding board and information resource. The herb project required examination of primary reference sources, and I soon became hooked on the challenge of finding obscure information and trying to make sense of it. I began attending and lecturing at NMCWM and SOCWS conferences and writing historical articles based on my research. The members of these organizations are knowledgeable, encouraging, and eager to hear about each other’s research. Interacting with them has taught me a lot and helped me differentiate between tired topics and those that warrant further investigation.

BR: Why prosthetics?

GH: Much of my research has been on the Confederate medical department, and I have spent considerable time at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in Washington, DC. While scanning NARA holdings, I became aware of the record book of the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers (ARMS), which I later learned was the wartime Southern organization that provided artificial limbs to amputees. I promised myself that I’d examine the volume when I had time, and once I did, I concluded that ARMS would be a good topic for an article or talk. A little more thought convinced me that the corresponding Union program also needed to be researched, and it eventually dawned on me that there might be enough material altogether for a book, especially if I included a description of the limbs industry. I didn’t start with an intention to learn about prostheses, but the story told by the records was too good not to relay. Because of my familiarity with Civil War medicine, I was pretty certain that the topic had not been explored in-depth and that I could handle it without wandering too far outside my areas of expertise.

BR: What will most folks, regardless of their experience studying the Civil War, learn from Mending Broken Soldiers?

GH: Mending Broken Soldiers is unique in numerous ways. It describes in detail the wartime efforts of both North and South to assist military amputees. Most of the existing literature deals with the postwar Southern programs, and the few brief descriptions of the wartime programs are incorporated into discussions of the social aspects of amputation and prosthetics.

My primary goal was to describe what happened and why, but this story cannot be appreciated without a basic understanding of prosthetics – how they were produced and by whom – so the book describes the intensely competitive limbs industry and includes an appendix of the makers important to the story. People interested in invention and technology should enjoy learning how the limbs were constructed and how makers used mechanical innovations and marketing to gain a competitive edge. I’m not aware of another modern work that provides this sort of information. One can find old articles and books about artificial limbs, but many of them were essentially advertising pieces and none, to my knowledge, provides a balanced overview of the business.

The book also serves as an effective case study demonstrating how the vast differences between the North and South influenced the respective programs’ ability to attain their goals. Constructing and distributing artificial limbs required, among other things, technical know-how, administrative competence, industrial capacity, manpower, raw materials, adequate transportation, and money. Although the Southern limbs effort did not lack for administrative ability and zeal, the book neatly illustrates how deficiencies in those other factors compromised the program. The tribulations of the Southern program provide insight about the difficulties that plagued other aspects of the Confederate war effort. Mending Broken Soldiers features a slew of illustrations, many of which have not previously appeared in print. The publisher has posted lists of soldiers who applied for or received an artificial limb through the programs. These lists, which are available at no cost, convey some idea of the war’s human toll and may be useful to genealogists and others who are researching individual soldiers. Readers looking for a connection between past and present will learn that today’s programs to supply prostheses to service members arose from the efforts described in Mending Broken Soldiers. Those interested in famous military men will learn something new about Union cavalryman Ulric Dahlgren and Confederate generals N. B. Forrest, J. B. Hood, and R. S. Ewell. The book is not just for Civil War medicine enthusiasts.

BR: Can you describe the project and what you learned along the way that surprised you?

GH: My research started in mid-2009 and continued until I submitted the final manuscript about two years after that. It would have taken much longer if I had not already been familiar with Civil War medicine and with some of the resources at NARA and other repositories. A major difficulty, common to much Civil War research, was the incompleteness and scattering of records and the difficulty of piecing together documentary evidence into a cohesive story. Much of the documentation I used was in the form of letters that had to be gathered from various sources and put in chronological order to get a picture of events. The U.S. Surgeon General’s records were particularly troublesome because they are massive and require you to look in registers and indexes to find possibly pertinent letters, which are often mis-filed. All this takes time because of the limits that NARA puts on the number of records you can request – not to mention the mental fatigue that sets in after a few hours of trying to read strange handwriting in disappearing ink. I was dismayed at my inability to find some vital reports to the Surgeon General, without which I’d have to make some risky inferences. These were referred to but not filed with the Surgeon General’s correspondence, and I almost gave them up for lost when I discovered them among records of the Adjutant General. Another obstacle was the lack of cooperation from an important archival source, which I will not name. I eventually got what I needed, but it was like pulling teeth.

Since I started with no knowledge about the limbs programs, everything was new and interesting. One of the neat things about the Union records was correspondence from prominent physicians – guys you hear about when studying the history of medicine, like Valentine Mott and Samuel Gross. I had no idea that ARMS, a civilian agency, was administered by a Confederate surgeon. This helped explain why the organization operated as well as it did, and it also accounted for the ARMS documents showing up among official Confederate records. I was surprised at the difficulty that ARMS had in finding decent artificial limbs to copy. There must have been Southerners wearing high-quality Northern prostheses, so I’m perplexed about why they were so hard to locate. I was also surprised that when amputees were given a choice, after the war, between a replacement prosthesis and cash, the vast majority took the money. The archival material is sprinkled with bits of unexpected information, and many of these nuggets made it into the book.

After a while, any researcher starts to see that the investment of time is yielding less and less new information. I reached a point at which I considered the narrative fairly coherent and detailed enough for most readers. I also had a deadline for submitting a finished manuscript, so that forced me to halt further research and devote my remaining time to cleaning up my writing and making sure all the pieces were in place. At this point, I don’t think I omitted anything important.

BR: You’ve covered some of this above, but can you expand on your research and writing process, and where you found your information?

GH: The bulk of my research was conducted at NARA. I transcribed nearly all of the Confederate material I found into Word documents. This greatly facilitated later reading and made it possible to use the search function to locate pertinent documents or passages. I should have done the same for the Union documents but didn’t. Beyond that, I cast a wide net to gather as much pertinent information as I could and always tried to trace it back to its original source. I consulted the Official Records and the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion and searched the Surgeon General’s Index Catalogue (the predecessor of Index Medicus). Google books and other online sources provided lots of leads and many complete documents, including government reports. Fold3, a great online source for Confederate compiled service records, census records, and city directories, saved me many trips to NARA. I’m lucky to be close not only to NARA but also to other important information sources that I visited or contacted for this project. These included the National Library of Medicine, Library of Congress, National Museum of Health and Medicine, and NMCWM. I used WorldCat and other sources to identify libraries and other repositories holding important documents, and in almost all cases, I successfully obtained electronic or mailed copies.

As an editor, I often advise aspiring authors to write an outline and not to worry too much about eloquence or style when preparing initial drafts. My own practice is pretty much the opposite and did not change with the book even though it was a larger project than my articles. While I’m reading and organizing my stacks of references, I picture how the information is coming together and how it can best be arranged. By the time I actually begin writing, I know what I want to do with only a mental outline. For the book, I created a decent draft of one chapter before starting on the next, and the order in which I wrote the chapters depended on how complete my information was for the subject at hand. As I wrote, I discovered holes in the information or in my understanding of the topic, and this prompted additional research or reexamination of the sources. I also refine organization and wording constantly, starting with the first draft, so a piece of my writing is altered scores of times before I’m happy with it. I don’t recommend my approach, and it has probably worked for me only because my projects have been relatively small.

BR: Is there another Civil War related book in your future?

GH: I have another possible book in mind that would allow me to use a lot of material I’ve collected over the years on Union and Confederate medical purveying. As is the case with Mending Broken Soldiers, I’d like the material to demonstrate how conditions forced the two sides to take different approaches. I also want the work to be relevant to a wide range of readers, not just those specializing in Civil War medicine. Until I figure out how to do all of that, I won’t know exactly what the book will cover or how much more research I’ll need to do. For now, I’ll be promoting Mending Broken Soldiers, attending Civil War medicine conferences, and keeping my eyes open for something new to research.

Thanks, Guy, for a truly enlightening look into how Mending Broken Soldiers came about!





Interview: D. Scott Hartwig, “To Antietam Creek”

18 10 2012

I’ve known NPS Historian Scott Hartwig of Gettysburg National Military Park for about a decade, and every time I’ve met up with him over the years I’ve asked him the same question: “How’s the Antietam book coming?” Well, I guess I’ll need to come up with a new greeting, because his massive work To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, has been published by Johns Hopkins. This is the first of two planned volumes, and takes the reader to the eve of the Battle of Antietam. Scott took a little time to answer a few questions about this, probably the most important Civil War book of 2012.

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BR:  While I’m sure many readers know you from visits to Gettysburg or from dozens of PCN Anniversary Battle Walks, can you tell those less familiar a little bit about yourself?

SH: I am a supervisory historian in the division of Interpretation at Gettysburg National Military Park.  What this means is I do public history and manage the park’s day to day interpretive program.   I grew up in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, but had the itch to live out west and went to University of Wyoming.  By pure luck I stumbled onto a Civil War historian teaching there named E. B. Long.  For those today who don’t know him, E. B., or “Pete,” as his friends called him, was the research editor for Bruce Catton’s magnificent three-volume centennial history of the Civil War.  E. B. knew more about the Civil War than anyone I have ever known and could talk about the people who lived the war as if he had known them.  I ended up taking nine credit hours from him on the Civil War and he was a major influence on my decision to seek a career at a Civil War park in the National Park Service.  I have worked 33 years for the NPS, almost all of it at Gettysburg.  I can honestly say that I have never been bored there a single day.  In fact, some days I wish things would be a little more boring.  There is never enough time to get everything done.  I have written a number of essays and articles for magazines and books, and seminar proceedings, and back in the 90’s appeared in a number of History Channel documentaries relating to Gettysburg, some of which still show but only really late at night.

BR: Who or what were your early Civil War influences?

SH: The earliest influence was the Time-Life magazines in the early 1960’s that followed the course of the war and featured original art of battles, which was the sort of thing that excited a 7-year-old.  Next was probably Hugh O’Donnell, my 8th grade history teacher, who encouraged critical thinking not just about the Civil War, but about history in general.  Bruce Catton was also a major influence.  I read everything he wrote.  My parents also always actively encouraged my interest in history.

BR: Why did you decide to study the Maryland Campaign?

SH: I think Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army was the initial catalyst.  His chapter on Antietam was unforgettable.  The other reason was, when I first started contemplating this, the only two books on the Maryland Campaign were Jim Murfin’s Gleam of Bayonets and Francis Palfrey’s The Antietam and Fredericksburg, which had been written in the 1880’s.  I thought the campaign could use a thorough study that employed the wealth of sources that had come to light since Murfin’s book.

BR: Besides the scale (652 pages of text, plus appendices and an online bibliography available here), what does To Antietam Creek contribute to the existing literature?

SH: This volume gives focus to several aspects of the campaign that have only really been brush stroked to this point.  I spend two chapters carefully assessing the two armies so the reader can understand their strengths and weaknesses.  This part of military campaigns is often overlooked, but when we know the character of an army it helps us understand why it performed well, or poorly, or was mediocre.  The bulk of the book examines the Harper’s Ferry operation and battles of South Mountain in detail, but also in the context of the larger campaign.  South Mountain has been studied by others but there is no in-depth study of Harper’s Ferry existing.  So this volume gives needed attention to what precedes Antietam, which was quite significant, since this encompassed the largest surrender of U.S. troops until World War II, and Robert E. Lee’s first defeat as an army commander, at South Mountain.

BR: Your book has been in the works a long time – as long as I’ve known you. Can you describe how long it took, what the stumbling blocks were, and what you discovered along the way?

SH: It took at least twenty years.  A big reason it took so long is working a full-time job and raising three kids is not conducive to writing.  But I was very disciplined and pecked away at it.  There were certainly times that I despaired I would ever finish it, but there was also something about the learning and writing process that I really enjoyed which always pulled me back.  Much as I enjoy writing it does not come easily to me.  There were many nights I would sit staring at the computer screen and never write a word, and more times that I would struggle to find the right words to describe something.  It was like getting stuck in the mud.  You had to keep pushing and eventually you broke free and started moving again.

There were plenty of stumbling blocks along the way.  Many have faded from memory but George McClellan was one.  He was not so much a stumbling block as much as he was a conundrum.  The first chapter of the book is his story from his arrival in Washington after First Bull Run to his return to command after Second Manassas.  I tried to avoid that chapter at first.  Everyone analyzes McClellan.  I thought I could avoid his controversial personality and history and just focus on the campaign but that proved a foolish thought.  You cannot separate the McClellan of the Maryland Campaign from his history before that campaign.  To understand the campaign the reader had to know McClellan’s history.  I also wrestled with how to treat McClellan.  My initial approach was to follow the lead of a host of writers and historians and bash him as a weak and vacillating commander with a monumental ego.  McClellan is easy to bash, but the more I studied him, his campaigns and his relationships with the Lincoln administration, I felt my initial treatment too critical and I re-wrote the chapter, this time taking a more sympathetic perspective.  I let this re-write sit and when I read it again decided that it too failed to achieve a balanced assessment.  I had strayed too far in the other direction.  This lead to more research and a third re-write, which is what ended up in the book.  My final analysis of McClellan is critical but I think it is honest and evaluates him in the context of the circumstances and conditions he faced both politically and on the military front.

When you work on a project of this size and for this long you are constantly encountering things you did not know, or uncovering evidence that challenges convention.  Two examples are the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia.  The legend is that the Army of the Potomac was an immense host that failed to win a decisive victory at Antietam because McClellan was too cautious and inept and the Army of Northern Virginia, vastly outnumbered and reduced by the summer’s fighting to a hard-core of less than 40,000 men, simply outfought them.  I discovered the reality was considerably different.  The Confederates fought well in every engagement in the campaign, but the reason they ended up with an army of 40,000 or less at Antietam was the result of straggling on a scale the army would not experience again until the Appomattox Campaign.  Confederate logistics utterly failed their soldiers, and when combined with the arduous marching required during the campaign, men broke down by the thousands sick or exhausted.   During the Battle of South Mountain some of Longstreet’s brigades lost far more men to straggling on the march from Hagerstown to Boonsboro than they did in the battle.  If you don’t believe the Confederates experienced a crisis in straggling then read Lee’s correspondence immediately after the Maryland Campaign.  As for the Army of the Potomac, it was not as large as is commonly believed, and was beset by numerous organizational and logistical issues the impaired its effectiveness.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What sources did you rely on most?

SH: I typically like to assemble my research for a chapter before I start writing.  The research also guides the story the chapter needs to tell.  But I sometimes was so eager to write – because I really enjoy the process – that I would get started before I finished the research.  I don’t recommend this method as it leads to an excessive amount of re-writing when you discover evidence that contradicts something you have already written.

The U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, Dartmouth College, the National Archives and Library of Congress were four of the most important archives among many I accessed for this project.  USAHEC houses the finest collection of Union related manuscript material in the country and it is an absolutely first class resource to use.  Besides all the official documents, correspondence, regimental books, etc., that the National Archives houses they had an obscure collection called Antietam Studies, which contained dozens of letters from veterans of the battle mainly to Ezra Carman, a veteran of the battle, and its historian in the late 19th Century, documenting in great detail their unit’s part in the battle, and sometimes, in the entire campaign.  The Library of Congress had Ezra Carman’s massive unpublished manuscript of the Maryland Campaign, which is indispensable to any study of the campaign.  Thankfully, Tom Clemens did a masterful job of editing this manuscript and it has been published by Savas BeatieDartmouth College housed the John Gould Collection.  Gould was an officer in the 10th Maine Infantry at Antietam who in the 1890’s initially set out to determine where General Joseph K. Mansfield fell at Antietam, but the project expanded until Gould was receiving correspondence from dozens of Union and Confederate veterans who fought in the cornfield and East Woods.  Although there is a great deal of correspondence from Confederate soldiers in the Antietam Studies and Gould Collection, for wartime manuscript material the Southern Historical Collection at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the largest.

When I started this project the web as we know it did not exist yet, but in the last few years I used it quite a bit.  The best on-line source for the Maryland Campaign is [Brian Downey's] Antietam on the Web.  It is an excellent resource.

BR: What’s next for you?

SH: Next is volume 2, which will cover the Battle of Antietam, the end of the campaign and the aftermath of Antietam, both in the battlefield area and nationally.  My guess is it will take three years.

We’re all looking forward to that – but good luck with that three year schedule!





Previews: New from Savas – Petersburg and The Iron Brigade

9 10 2012

I received over the past week or so two new releases from Savas Beatie: The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory by Lance J. Herdegen; and The Petersburg Campaign, Volume I by Edwin C. Bearss with Bryce A. Suderow.

I’m going to be really brief here, and will explain why. Herdegen’s book on The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter is more than just an update of Alan Nolan’s groundbreaking study. There were weaknesses in that book that Herdegen shores up, and in the intervening 51 years since it was first published, new, umm, stuff has come to light (cleaning up the Dude’s language here). I will be interviewing Lance shortly and we’ll expand on his work there, but for now let me say that this is one beautiful and BIG book, and the bits I’ve read are engagingly written.

Bearss’s account of The Eastern Front Battles, June-August 1864, is based on NPS studies written by the Pied Piper of the Civil War, with additional work done by Bryce Suderow. As the title implies, this is but the first of two volumes that will culminate with The Breakthough in April 1865. I’m working on an interview for this one, too, but maybe I’ll be taking a different angle on it than most folks.

So, as always, stay tuned!





Preview – Guy Hasegawa “Mending Broken Soldiers”

7 10 2012

Sometimes the most mundane questions can lead to great enlightenment. Take for instance Mark Wilson’s The Business of Civil War. It opened my eyes in many ways, and actually led to a better understanding of how and why things worked the way they worked during the war, logistically speaking.

So here’s a question: how did the private and public sectors of the Union and Confederacy deal with the huge increase in the number of amputees in their respective populations? What happened when a previously limited demand for artificial limbs became widespread? Guy Hasegawa has taken on these questions in Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs. I received a copy recently and have skimmed it over. This slim volume relies on an impressive amount of published and unpublished materials, and appears to be clearly and concisely constructed. I’ll be reading this one next, and am really looking forward to it.

UPDATE: Author Guy Hasegawa has consented to an interview – keep an eye out for it here.





Unknown Captain, 2nd New York State Militia, On the March to Manassas, the Battle, and the Retreat

2 10 2012

A Soldier’s Letter.

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Description of the Battle by a Captain of the Second Regiment of New York.

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The following letter from a captain in the Second regiment of this city gives a vivid description of the battle at Bull Run, and the real nature of the panic:

Camp Powell,

Headquarters Second Regt. N. Y. S. M.,

Washington, D. C., July [?], 1861

Dear —-:  Your favor of the 2[?]th instant, as well as the previous one, were duly received; circumstances, as you are no doubt aware, prevented an answer to the first.

On Monday, the 15th instant, we received orders to be ready with three days, rations, and without knapsacks, carrying blankets only, to move in advance at five P. M. the next evening. At the appointed hour the line was in motion, and soon after reached the Ohio volunteers’ camp, who fell in our rear, giving New York the honor of the advance. We then moved off for Vienna, having been in the meantime joined by the Connecticut Brigade, which completed our division (Tyler’s).

The enemy’s pickets and advance guard rapidly fell back upon our approach, and after passing Fall’s Church pressed on Fairfax at an early hour in the morning, and, being on the left of the division, we deployed towards Germantown, while the right entered Fairfax. After a short rest the right joined us, and we marched on in column and entered Germantown, the enemy being in sight and hastily running out of reach of our guns. At this point we were informed that the enemy, to the number of fifteen thousand, were on the retreat and only one and a-half hours ahead of our advance. Our scouts having brought us this information, the news having been confirmed by Lieutenant Tompkins of the dragoons, we again took up the line of march, the heat being dreadful, and the men suffering terribly. After marching until late afternoon, the men being fairly exhausted, our advance suddenly came on the enemy’s camp, and easily pounced on the few remaining secessionists, as well as considerable of their rations, which were left behind in their hasty flight; in fact some of our mean found a watch or two, besides epaulettes, as well as any quantities of correspondence, in which the fair southern damsels begged their lovers to get pieces of a “Yankee’s hide” for them, etc., and on other themes too numerous to mention. The men being exhausted and night approaching, as well as the road barricaded by fallen trees, we halted, threw out our pickets and camp guard, and after hastily disposing of an insufficient meal, (being the first since morning,) we wrapped ourselves in our blankets, and with no other covering save the trees, were soon sound asleep. During the night we had several alarms, on account of the enemy’s cavalry trying to pass our pickets, in which efforts they suffered severely. At an early hour in the morning (Thursday 17th,) line was again formed, and the whole army of the Potomac moved on our right, in the centre and in the advance.

Centreville was soon after reached; line of battle being formed, and the scouts sent out. They soon after arrived with the intelligence that the enemy had again fallen back from their intrenchments, and at this stage I must say that I never saw a better place to make a stand, as the hill commanded all the approaches for over two miles around; however, subsequent occurrences have satisfied me that they had far superior locations at their command. The heat being terrible, and our men exhausted, we were halted to rest, and after an hour or so we heard heavy firing on the other side of Centreville, and very soon learned that our General (Tyler) had attacked the enemy’s masked batteries at the head of Rocky Run, about two miles from Centreville, which, as the papers have ere informed you, was the celebrated proceeding of the 18th instant.

During the heat of the engagement our brigade was ordered up, and upon reaching the scene, the Sixty-ninth and other regiments had been withdrawn. That affair at once destroyed both Tyler and others of his kind, in the estimation of the men, especially as Tyler had received orders to remain at Centreville – until further orders.

We then marched outside of that point about two miles, and encamped on the left of the road, (Warrenton,) while the Sixty-ninth and others were opposite. We remained here, in sight of the enemy’s advance posts, from that time until two o’clock Sunday morning when the advance took place. Both before reaching this point, and when we reached it, my command was engaged in that hazardous business of skirmishing, and on Thursday night in particular I was in advance of the lines a mile at least, and remained out until ten o’clock at night, when I was called in; and while out, however, and about sunset, I arrested three men in citizens’ clothes, who were hovering around our lines and satisfied me upon an examination that they should be detained. I accordingly brought them in and were duly examined by our Brigadier, General Schenck, who being in bed and rather sleepy, made a hasty examination and postponed the matter till the following morning, when after another examination, he discharged them.

After their discharge some of us who were dissatisfied took the trouble to search their houses, and succeeded in finding passes therein of a very recent date signed by our General Mansfield’s Aide-de-Camp, Captain Drake De Kay, which showed that they were spies, and had used them for that purpose in our lines. From that I made up my mind that I should take not more prisoners, but if, while prisoners, they should be accidentally shot, I would not complain of my men.

While we remained at Rocky run, and before advancing, I was led to suppose that we were waiting reinforcements of both men and heavy guns. At the appointed hour, two A. M. Sunday morning, and before prayers, we moved off at a quick pace but without making any unnecessary noise. Our division, (Tyler’s,) consisting of the Second New York, First and Second Ohio, Sixty-ninth, Seventy-ninth and others, took the lead, in the meantime our scouts and pickets being thrown out. At five A. M. the line halted and our regiment was thrown forward in advance, while the Sixty-ninth and Seventy-ninth took a position on our right. After reconnoitering the enemy’s position with our glasses, and waiting for the signal gun to be fired, we drew up by the flank so as not to be under cover of the woods, and at the same time near enough to make a charge on the enemy’s battery. A little after six we first drew the fire of the enemy by imprudently showing our command, or rather a portion of them. Supposing it to be a small battery, as it was, we quietly passed on for the purpose of outflanking it, and in doing so, we took an apparently new made road, and marched by the left flank, and very soon after, within three hundred feet of us, we espied the enemy in large force (about 8,000 infantry). We took immediate steps to attack them, but to our astonishment the enemy planked by the left, and hastily moving off unmasked eight rifled guns on our brigade (Schenck’s) with terrific effect.

The scene that follows beggars description; for fully over a half hour we stood a perfect shower of grape, canister and round shot. Upon my honor I have never been in a hail storm where the shots fell as thick and fast. Our General (Schenck) left us there and looked out for himself, whereupon our Colonel, upon his own responsibility, ordered us to withdraw from such a murderous man-trap – in fact I may call it nothing save a slaughter-house. He we suffered most.

The brigade then took up another position on the Warrenton road, to defend our batteries – Carlisle’s battery, and a heavy 32-pounder being in position. The strife continued; the right consisting of the Sixty-ninth, Seventy-ninth, Eleventh, Zouaves, [??]., having forced the enemy from their positions across the Warrenton road, while we were outflanking them on the left, at the same time exposed to a terrific cross fire from their batteries, which fairly riddled us. At 2 P. M. we accomplished our purpose by getting on their flank and throwing our right in front of their [????] – their [????] the whole time [????......].

[????.....] up under cover of the woods, but skirting the road, and while here the Sixty-ninth, Seventy-ninth and Eight Zouaves and others came straggling along, thoroughly exhausted and used up. At this point I had the pleasure of shaking hands with Colonel Corcoran of the Sixty-ninth and other officers of the same and other regiments with whom I was acquainted. At this time the batteries of our brigade had ceased firing, and were drawn up standing in the road, the pieces being limbered up. Our brigade were about getting ready to fall in by the left flank for the purpose of marching off to cover the retreat, when, quick as a flash, we heard terrible yells up the road in our rear, a great dust flying – the cracking of pistols and rifles without number. Looking up I saw Captain Carlisle, U. S. A., and his battery in full retreat as fast as they could go. I very soon after saw that the Black Horse Cavalry were upon us, to the number of three or four hundred. Seeing that our line was broken, and some officers in full retreat, several of the officers, particularly Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox, Lieutenant Downey, Captain Hueston and others, rallied the men, and gave them a terrible volley, which caused great scattering among them, having emptied a number of their saddles, and reduced their number before the third volley to about fifty or sixty men.

In that charge we lost several of our men, and as we did not see some of them fall, these that are now missing have been taken prisoners, but as I saw them cutting right and left with sabre, carbine and pistol, apparently not caring to take prisoners, I am of the opinion that those or most of those now among the missing who were not officers in uniform will never be heard from again.

I am confirmed in this opinion from the fact that they not only bayonetted the wounded on the field, as I saw myself, but attacked our hospitals, containing the dead and wounded of their own as well as our side; and not satisfied with that I distinctly saw them set fire to the same, and shoot and cut those endeavoring to escape. My blood boils to think of their atrocities, and makes my feelings savor of hate and revenge for fallen comrades. We mourn the loss of our physician, Dr. Alfred Powell, a noble man, who refused to leave those under his care, and was brutally murdered by them while engaged in placing our wounded in the ambulance and our Assistant Surgeons Ferguson and Connolly (son of Charles W. Connolly, of the firm of Chas. W. Connolly & Co., New York,) after a brief defence, were taken prisoners.

During the excitement our Colonel (Tompkins) was cut off from his regiment by a party of the cavalry, and, together with Colonel Corcoran, was chased and fired at by them for some distance, and our Colonel says that he saw them shoot at Colonel Corcoran and thinks he was wounded and taken prisoner, as not being as well mounted as our Colonel (who was on the Lieutenant-Colonel’s magnificent black horse), he was undoubtedly rode down.

At the time of the rally I speak of Lieutenant-Colonel John A. Wilcox was in command, and bravely stood his ground, and reformed the regiment in good order, and was ably assisted therein by the major (J. J. Dimock), Captain Hueston, Lieutenant Downey and a few other brave spirits. Those that know me can easily determine where I must have been, as I do not believe in one blowing his own horn too much. I will leave my actions to be praised or censured by others than myself.

After the charge was disposed of the regiment being formed under good order, by Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox and assisted by Adjutant Rea, the Zouaves, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Maine regiments being in advance of us, we slowly retreated, the Zouaves having beaten back another attack of the Black Horse Cavalry while on another road and before meeting us. Whatever others may say I emphatically say that our line withdrew in good order, and that the New York Second was the last to leave, as they were the first in the battle-field. As an instance to show the falsity of any panic being in existence among the men, some of our men engaged themselves picking blackberries on the road side, while others were occupied endeavoring to spike with their own ramrods the deserted pieces of Carlisle’s battery. If that looks like a panic or a stampede I am very much mistaken. The fact is, that the men were exhausted by eleven hours of the severest fighting that ever took place on the continent; and, as some European officers have been heard to say, surpassed anything they ever saw. I do not think history can show an instance where 25,000 men attacked upwards of 100,000, and fought them in an entrenched camp with concealed batteries, as well as men for that time. The whole panic was outside of five miles from the battlefield, and in the neighborhood of Colonel Miles’s reserves at Centreville. Otherwise we should have been cut to pieces before reaching the reserve, as has been testified to by several experienced officers, that the good order of Schenck’s brigade in retreating saved the whole army.

After falling back to Centreville and taking our position behind the reserve we received orders to fall back to our old camp, a distance of thirty miles, (Ball’s Cross Roads,) which we reached in food order at 6 o’clock next morning. About 10 o’clock Sunday night orders were issued for the whole line to fall back – the reserve and all which they did in good order, and without being annoyed by the enemy save by numerous barricades on the road, which had to be removed.

We were subsequently removed to Washington, and are now in camp recruiting as well as reorganizing the regiment. We number all told now only 700, so you see this campaign has pretty well used us up. We named our camp Powell, in honor of our noble Surgeon. As far as I can ascertain the enemy lost four times as much as our side, otherwise their main body would not have fallen back on Manassas Gap to recruit; however some of their advanced cavalry are still hovering around our pickets at Vienna and Fall’s Church, but will not dare advance nearer.

In conclusion I must say that although repulsed we are not disgraced, but have taught those cowardly scoundrels, that though in entrenched camps and behind masked batteries, and hid in the woods, they were whipped twice that day by one-quarter their number, and that our side withdrew from Exhaustion only, in fact, I must say that at a convivial party of the officers of our regiment held during Saturday night, the probability of a defeat was confessed, and firmly believed in by a majority of us who were present.

Our party sang a different tune on the following night (Sunday), although on account of our fortunate escape we were joyful in the extreme. Our loss will be heavy, but at present, on account of the number missing, we are unable to make out a full report.

Our men behaved nobly and surpassed the finest troops in the world, bout our volunteer (political) generals, as well as some favorite political colonels, behaved shamefully, and in many instances exhibited both cowardice and inefficiency – the exceptions, otherwise, were very few.

I shall await the re-organization of the regiment before taking steps, but if we are again placed under the command of politicians I shall resign my position and return to civil life. However, in the interval I will endeavor to obtain a furlough for a while, and see you again before entering upon another campaign.

I omitted saying that I did one thing for effect during the heavy fire, which had the best influence on the men, when I tried them by giving them orders, and that was the little trick of quietly smoking a cigar. While the men were falling around me I must confess my coolness was rather forced, but it had the desired effect on the men and I was satisfied.

New York Evening Post, 7/29/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy








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