Correspondent Peter Wellington Alexander On the Battle

5 10 2013

The Battle of Manassas

Army of the Potomac,

Manassas, July 22, 1861

Yesterday, the 21st day of July, 1861, a great battle was fought and a great victory won by the Confederate troops. Heaven smiled upon our arms, and the God of battles crowned our banners with the laurels of glory. Let every patriotic heart give thanks to the Lord of Hosts for the victory He has given His people on His holy day, the blessed Sabbath.

Gen. Johnston had arrived the preceding day with about half the force he had, detailed from Winchester, and was the senior officer in command. He magnanimously insisted, however, that Gen. Beauregard’s previous plan should be carried out, and he was guided entirely by the judgement and superior local knowledge of the latter. While, therefore, Gen. Johnston was nominally in command, Beauregard was really the officer and hero of the day. You will be glad to learn that he was this day advanced from a Brigadier to the rank of full General. But to the battle.

At half-past six in the morning, the enemy opened fire from a battery planted on a hill beyond Bull’s Run, and nearly opposite the center of our lines. The battery was intended merely to “beat the bush.” and to occupy our attention, while he moved a heavy column towards the Stone Bridge, over the same creek, upon our left. At 10 o’clock, another battery was pushed forward, and opened fire a short distance to the left of the other, and near the road leading North to Centreville. This was a battery of rifled guns, and the object of its fire was the same as that of the other. They fired promiscuously into the woods and gorges in this, the Southern side of Bull’s Run, seeking to create the impression thereby that our center would be attacked, and thus prevent us from sending reinforcements to our left, where the real attack was to be made. Beauregard was not deceived by the maneuver.

It might not be amiss to say, that Bull’s Run, or creek, is North of this place, and runs nearly due east, slightly curving around the Junction, the nearest part of which is about 3 1/2 miles. The Stone Bridge is some 7 miles distant, in a northwesterly direction, upon which our left wing rested. Mitchel’s ford is directly North, distant four miles, by the road leading to Centreville, which is seven miles from the Junction. Our right is Union Mills, on the same stream, where the Alexandria and Manassas railroad crosses the Run, and distant four miles. Proceeding from Fairfax Court House, by Centreville, to Stone Bridge, the enemy passed in front of our entire line, but at a distance ranging from five to two miles.

At 9 o’clock, I reached an eminence nearly opposite the two batteries mentioned above, and which commanded a full view of the country for miles around, except on the right. From this point I could trace the movements of the approaching hosts by the clouds of dust that rose high above the surrounding hills. Our left, under Brigadier-General Evans, Jackson and Cocke, and Col. Bartow, with the Georgia Brigade, composed of the 7th and 8th regiments, had been put in motion, and was advancing upon the enemy with a force of about 15,000 while the enemy himself was advancing upon our left with a compact column of at least 50,000. His entire force on this side of the Potomac is estimated at 75,000. These approaching columns encountered each other at 11 o’clock.

Meanwhile, the two batteries in front kept up their fire upon the wooded hill where they supposed our center lay. They sent occasional balls, from their rifled cannon, to the eminence where your correspondent stood. Gens. Beauregard, Johnston and Bonham reached this point at 12, and one of these balls passed directly over and very near them, and plunged into the ground  a few paces from where I stood. I have the ball now, and hope to be able to show it to you at some future day. It is an 18-pound ball, and about 6 inches long. By the way, this thing of taking notes amidst a shower of shells and balls is more exciting than pleasant. At a quarter past 12, Johnston and Beauregard galloped rapidly forward in the direction of Stone Bridge, where the ball had now fully opened. You correspondent followed their example, and soon reached a position in front of the battlefield.

The artillery were the first to open fire, precisely at 11 o’clock. By half-past 11, the infantry had engaged, and there it was that the battle began to rage. The dusky columns which had thus far marked the approach of the two armies, now mingled with great clouds of smoke, as it rose from the flashing guns below, and the two shot up together like a huge pyramid of red and blue. The shock was tremendous, as were the odds between the two forces. With what anxious hearts did we watch the pyramid of smoke and dust! When it moved to the right, we knew the enemy were giving way; and when it moved to the left, we knew that our friends were receding. Twice the pyramid moved to the right, and as often returned. At last, about two o’clock, it began to move slowly to the left, and this it continued to move for two mortal hours. The enemy was seeking to turn our left flank, and to reach the railroad leading hence in the direction of Winchester. To do this, he extended his lines, which he was able to do by reason of his great numbers. This was unfortunate for us, as it required a corresponding extension of our own lines to prevent his extreme right from outflanking us – a movement on our part which weakened the force of our resistance along the whole line of battle, which finally extended over a space of two miles. It also rendered it more difficult to bring up reinforcements, as the further the enemy extended his right, the greater the distance reserve forces had to travel to counteract the movement.

This effort to turn our flank was pressed with great determination for five long, weary hours, during which the tide of battle ebbed and flowed along the entire line with alternate fortunes. The enemy’s column continued to stretch away to the left, like a huge anaconda, seeking to envelope us within its mighty folds and crush us to death; and at one time it really looked as if he would succeed. But here let me pause to  explain why it was our reinforcements were so late in arriving, and why a certain other important movement was miscarried.

The moment he discovered the enemy’s order of battle, Gen. Beauregard, it is said, dispatched orders to Gen. Ewell, on our extreme right, to move forward and turn his left and rear. At the same time he ordered Generals Jones, Longstreet, and Bonham, occupying the center of our lines, to cooperate in this movement, but not to move until Gen. Ewell had made the attack. The order to Gen. Ewell unfortunately miscarried. The others were delivered, but as the movements of the center were to be regulated entirely by those on the right, nothing was done at all. Had the orders to Gen. Ewell been received and carried out, and our entire force brought upon the field, we should have destroyed the enemy’s army almost literally. Attacked in front, on the flank and in the rear, he could not possibly have escaped, except at the loss of thousands of prisoners and all his batteries, while the field would have been strewed with his dead.

Finding that his orders had in some way failed to be executed, Gen. Beauregard at last ordered up a portion of the forces which were intended to co operate with General Ewell. It was late, however, before these reinforcements came up. Only one brigade reached the field before the battle was won. This was led by Gen. E. K. Smith, of Florida, formerly of the United States Army, and was a part of General Johnston’s column from Winchester. They should have reached here the day before, but were prevented by an accident on the railroad. They dashed on the charge with loud shouts and in the most gallant style. About the same time, Maj. Elzey coming down the railroad from Winchester with the last of Johnston’s brigades, and hearing the firing, immediately quit the train and struck across the country, and as a gracious fortune would have it, he encountered the extreme right of the enemy as he was feeling his way around our flank, and with his brigade struck him like a thunderbolt, full in the face. Finding he was about to be outflanked himself, the enemy gave way after the second fire. Meanwhile, Beauregard rallied the center and dashed into the very thickest of the fight, and after him rushed our own brave boys, with a shout that seemed to shake the very earth. The result of this movement from three distinct points, was to force back the enemy, who began to retreat, first in good order, and finally in much confusion. At this point the cavalry were ordered upon the pursuit. The retreat now became a perfect rout, and it is reported that the flying legions rushed past Centreville in the direction of Fairfax, as if the earth had been opening behind them. It was when Gen. Beauregard led the final charge, that his horse was killed by a shell.

We captured thirty-four guns, including Sherman’s famous battery, a large number of small arms, thirty wagons loaded with provisions, &c., and about 700 prisoners. Among the latter, were Col. Corcoran, of the New York Irish Zouaves, Hon. Mr. Ely, member of Congress, from New York, Mr. Carrington, of this State, a nephew of the late Wm. C. Preston, who had gone over to the enemy, and thirty-two Captains, Lieutenants, &c. We cam near bagging the Hon. Mr. Foster, Senator from Connecticut.

The official reports of the casualties of the day have not yet come in, and consequently it is impossible to say what our loss is. I can only venture an opinion, and that is, that we lost in killed, wounded and missing, about 1,500 – of which about 400 were killed. The enemy’s loss was terrible, being at the lowest calculation, 3,000.

Thus far I have said but little of the part taken by particular officers and regiments; for the reason that I desire first to obtain all the facts. Nor have I said anything of the gallant seventh and eighth regiments from Georgia. This part of my duty is most melancholy. It may be enough to say, that they were the only Georgia regiments here at the time, that they were among the earliest on the field, and in the thickest of the fight, and that their praise is upon the lips of the whole army, from Gen. Beauregard on down. Col. Gartrell led the seventh regiment, and Lieutenant-Colonel Gardner the eighth, the whole under the command of Col. Bartow, who led them with a gallantry that was never excelled. It was when the brigade was ordered to take one of the enemy’s strongest batteries, that it suffered most. It was a most desperate undertaking, and followed by the bloodiest results. The battery occupied the top of a hill, on the opposite side of Bull’s Run, with a small piece of woods on the left. Descending the valley along the Run, he proceeded under cover of the hill to gain the woods alluded to, and from which he proposed to make a dash at the battery and capture it. On reaching the woods, he discovered that the battery was supported by a heavy infantry force, estimated at 4,000 men. The whole force, together with the battery, was turned upon the eighth regiment, which was in the van, with terrible effect. Indeed, he was exposed on the flank and in front to a fire that the oldest veterans could not have stood. The balls and shells from the battery, and the bullets from the small arms, literally riddled the woods. Trees six inches in diameter, and great limbs were cut off, and the ground strewn with the wreck. It became necessary to retire the eighth regiment, in order to re-form it. Meanwhile, Col. Bartow’s horse had been shot from under him. It was observed that the forces with which his movement was to be supported had not come up. But it was enough that he had been ordered to storm the battery; so, placing himself at the head of the seventh regiment, he again led the charge, this time on foot, and gallantly encouraging his men as they rushed on. The first discharge from the enemy’s guns killed the regimental color-bearer. Bartow immediately seized the flag, and gain putting himself in front, dashed on, flag in hand, his voice ringing clear over the battlefield, and saying, “On, my boys, we will die rather than yield or retreat.” And on the brave boys did go, and faster flew the enemy’s bullets. The fire was awful. Not less than 4,000 muskets were pouring their fatal contents upon them, while the battery itself was dealing death on every side.

The gallant Eighth Regiment, which had already passed through the distressing ordeal, again rallied, determined to stand by their chivalric Colonel to the last. The more furious the fire, the quicker became the advancing step of the two regiments. At last, and just when they were nearing the goal of their hopes, and almost in the arms of victory, the brave and noble Bartow was shot down, the ball striking him in the left breast, just above the heart. His men rallied behind him, and finding him mortally wounded and that the forces that had been ordered to support their charge had not yet come up, they gradually fell back, bearing him in their arms and disputing every inch of ground. I learn that they would never have retired but for the orders which were given in consequence of the non-arrival of the supporting force. It appears that the order to support our charge, like that to gen. Ewell, miscarried – a failure which had nearly cost us two of the best regiments in the army. Col. Bartow died soon after he was borne from the field. His last words, as repeated to me, were: “they have killed me, my brave boys, but never give up the ship – we’ll whip them yet.” And so we did!

The field officers of the Seventh Regiment escaped except Col. Gartrell who received a slight wound. All the superior officers in the Eighth Regiment, except Maj. Cooper, were killed or wounded. Lieut. Col. Gardner had his leg broken by a musket ball, and Adjutant Branch was killed. Capt. Howard of the Mountain Rangers from Merriwether county was also killed. But I shall not go into a statement of the killed and wounded preferring in delicate and painful a matter to await the official report, which I hope to get tomorrow, when I shall have more to say about our heroic regiments. I will add just here, that our loss in officers was very great. Among others may be mentioned Gen. Bee, Lieut. Col. Johnson of Hampton’s Legion, and Col. Thomas of Gen. Johnston’s Staff, and others. Gen. Jackson was wounded in the hand, and Col. Wheat of the New Orleans Tigers was shot through the body. Col Jones of the 4th Alabama Regiment it is feared was mortally wounded. The regiments that suffered most and were in the thickest of the fight, were the 7th and 8th Georgia, the 4th Alabama, 4th South Carolina, Hampton’s Legion, and 4th Virginia. The New Orleans Washington Artillery did great execution.

If we consider the numbers engaged and the character of the contest, we may congratulate ourselves upon having won, one of the most brilliant victories that any race of people ever achieved. It was the greatest battle ever fought on this continent, and will take its place in history by the side of the most memorable engagements. It is believed that General Scott himself was nearby, at Centreville, and that he directed as he had planned the whole movement. Gen. McDowell was the active commander upon the field.

President Davis arrived upon the field at 5 o’clock, just as the enemy had got into full retreat. His appearance was greeted with shout after shout, and was the equivalent to a reinforcement of 5,000 men. He left Richmond at 7 in the morning.

But “little Beaury” against the world.

P. W. A.

Savannah Republican, 7/27/1861

William B. Styple, Ed., Writing and Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander Confederate War Correspondent, pp 19-23





Correspondent Peter Wellington Alexander On His Arrival at Manassas

25 09 2013

Our Correspondent Arrives at Manassas

Army of the Potomac,

Manassas Junction, July 20, 1861

I arrived here late this afternoon, having left Richmond early this morning and been on the road nearly the whole day. The use of the road for the past few days has been surrendered up almost entirely to the military authorities, and so great is the demand for transportation by the War Department, that it is with difficulty that the trains can manage to get through under less than ten to twelve hours.

As the great battle of the campaign will, in all probability, have been fought and decided before this reaches you, it will not be amiss, especially since the fact is already known to the enemy, to say that General Johnston has arrived here from Winchester with the greater part of his forces recently stationed at that place. What is the precise number of the troops brought with him, I am unable to say. Some of them are still on the road, and are expected to get in some time to-night. Among those who reached here to-day, were the 7th, 9th, and 11th Georgia Regiments, under Colonel Bartow, Gartrell, and Goulding, the brigade under the command of Col. Bartow. I have not been able to see any one who is attached to the brigade, owing to the lateness of the hour at which I arrived, but I learn that all three of the regiments were, immediately upon their arrival, ordered forward to an advanced position upon Bull’s Run, near Union Mills, where the Alexandria & Manassas Railroad crosses the creek. That they will give a good account of themselves in the great battle that is impending, you may feel perfectly assured.

Gen. Johnston ranks Gen. Beauregard, and consequently he will succeed to the command, at least nominally, in the approaching conflict. This seems to have occasioned some regret among the troops who have been stationed here, since Gen. Beauregard has had all the labor of arranging the camp, perfecting the works and preparing the ground for what we all believe will be a great victory. It would be impossible, however, for any officer to supersede him in fact, though he may be outranked under the rules of the War Department. Whatever may be the result, therefore, to “little Beaury” will belong the honor, now and hereafter.

In addition to the forces brought down by Gen. Johnston, I learn that 2,300 men arrived here this morning from Aquia Creek under command of Brig. Gen. Holmes. They marched across the country a distance of 30 miles since yesterday morning. This force is composed chiefly of Tennesseeans, with some companies from Arkansas. The men are said to look very much as if they would not ask for more than one bite at a Yankee.

It is generally conceded that Patterson has moved down the Potomac from Martinsburg to the relief of Gen. McDowell, and that he took with him his entire force. The number of the enemy now before us cannot be less than 75,000. That Gen. Scott will risk such an army in the hands of either McDowell or Patterson, or both of them, is not believed for one moment. When the great contest does take place, he will take the command of the Federal forces himself. If he does not, it will be because he expects defeat. Our own forces are believed to be at least a third less than those which are arrayed against us.

The impression prevails here that there will be a grand battle to-morrow, and that we will be the attacking party this time. I have been here too short a time to venture and opinion myself, but I should not be surprised if, in the next few days, we did not witness a series of active operations, culminating by or before the middle of next week in a pitched battle, in which all the forces on both sides will be engaged.

I have said nothing so far of the Battle of Bull’s Run, for the reason that you will find, in the Richmond papers this morning, and especially the Examiner, a better account of it than I could possibly give you. A few facts may be mentioned, however, that will not fail to interest your readers. The first is, that the battle was opened by Sherman’s famous battery, under the protection of whose fire the enemy’s infantry advanced upon our lines. Nearly all the shells passed over our men and exploded beyond them. Not so with the New Orleans Washington Artillery which was opposed to Sherman’s Battery, and whose guns did horrible execution. Indeed, it is believed that but for the precision and destructiveness of their fire, the enemy would have approached nearer and in greater numbers, and that our victory would have been greater than it was. The Federal battery changed its position fifteen times during the engagement, and at last left the field minus one of its guns which we captured, together with 501 small arms.

Soon after getting here, I encountered a little drummer boy of fourteen summers from Lynchburg., who says he went over the field soon after the battle with the hope of getting a little revolver. He examined the pockets of a score or more of the dead without finding a solitary “red,” his only trophy being an odd looking dirk with a buckhorn handle and a due bill for seven dollars from one Dutchman to another.

Another lad, a marker for the Alexandria Rifles, appearing upon the field, was ordered to the hospital by his Captain as a place of safety. The little fellow was not pleased with the order, though he obeyed it, but when the battle began to wax warm, he stole back and seizing the gun of a disabled soldier he succeeded in killing one Hessian and wounding the second.

Some of the officers have furnished their servants with revolvers, and it is asserted to be a fact that these negroes made several captures during the fight on Thursday. One of them, Dick Langhorn, from Lynchburg; a strapping fellow, shot down one man, his ball taking effect through the shoulder; and when all his barrels had been discharged, he rushed upon another whom he knocked down with  his pistol. Seizing the two by the collars, he started to carry them to his master, when one of them showed a disposition to resist; whereupon Dick turned to him and said: “See here, Massa, you’d better come ‘long, or dis here nigger will hurt you, see ef he don’t.” Seeing the d—l in Dick’s eye, he submitted, and the two were carried prisoners to the Colonel of the Regiment, the Eleventh Virginia.

Hampton’s Legion and the 13th Mississippi Regiment have just arrived, and the 11th Mississippi is expected some time to-night. A few days would increase our forces materially. North Carolina is sending up some of the finest regiments I have seen, and about three a week.

P. W. A.

Savannah Republican, 7/26/1861

William B. Styple, Ed., Writing and Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander Confederate War Correspondent, pp 18-19





Preview: Ted Alexander’s “Antietam” and the NPS on Hispanics in the ACW

29 02 2012

Antietam National Battlefield’s Chief Historian Ted Alexander has authored The Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day, an entry in The History Press Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. This is a nice, concise account of the Maryland Campaign, the narrative running 139 pages plus appendices including orders of battle, notes, bibliography, and index. While the whole campaign is covered, the bulk of the book is on the battle and its aftermath. Now, quibbles with a 139 page account of an event with the scope of the Maryland Campaign are inevitable, but you really can’t go wrong with this overview written by someone who is generally recognized as an expert on the topic.

Ted also gave me a copy of a new NPS booklet, Hispanics and the Civil War: From Battlefield to Homefront. This nifty guide discusses the roles played by Hispanics on both sides of the conflict, including some surprising folks like Admiral David Farragut (his mom was Spanish) - although I could find no mention of George Meade, who was born in Cadiz, Spain.





Pvt. Alexander Carolin, Co. A, 69th NYSM, On the Battle

29 01 2012

The following letter was received from Alexander Carolin, a private in the Sixty-ninth Regiment, and is addressed to his father, Mr. Dennis Carolin, ex-Alderman of the Fourth Ward. Private Carolin took part in the entire combat, and was an eye-witness of the death of Captain Haggerty:

Fort Corcoran, July 23, 1861.

Dear Father – We had orders to move on Saturday evening at six o’clock for our encampment near Centreville. We did not start until two o’clock in the morning. At about five o’clock we reached a place between Bull’s Run and Manassas Gap, where we came to a halt. Two Ohio regiments and the Seventy ninth of New York were with our column. Our regiment moved about, trying to get the enemy to attack us. We had Sherman’s Battery with us, besides a battery of rifled cannon. Our column kept up a fire on the woods, on the opposite side of the ravine, a distance of about a quarter of a mile, trying to find out the masked batteries, but the enemy would not return the fire. About ten o’clock we discovered two batteries, and drove the enemy out. The Sixty ninth advanced. We went off at a run, but could not overtake the enemy, as they scattered in every direction through the woods., kept up the run, turned to the right, waded through streams, climbed steep hills, left our battery behind us and outflanked the enemy, and came on them when we were not expected. The Louisiana Zouaves were doing big damage when we came on them. We gave a yell that could be heard far above the roar of the cannon. We fired into them and charged them with the bayonet. They were panic stricken and fled. We covered the field with their dead. Haggerty rushed forward to take a prisoner, and lost his life. The man turned and shot him through the heart. We drove the enemy before us for some distance, then got into line and had them surrounded. General McDowell came up just then, took off his hat and said, “You have gained the victory.” Our next fly was at a South Carolina regiment. We killed about three hundred of them. After fighting hard for some time we cleared the field of all the enemy. The enemy again rallying, the real fight then commenced. We were drawn up in line, and saw the other regiments trying to take the masked batteries. They were cut to pieces and scattered. We were then ordered forward to attack the batteries. We fought desperately, but we were cut down. We lost our flag, but took it back again with the assistance of a few of the Fire Zouaves, who fought like devils. We charged a second time, but were mowed down by the grape and rifles of the enemy. We came together again to make another charge, but we could not get together over two hundred men. We formed into a hollow square, when we saw the enemy turn out their cavalry, about a mile in length, and the hills all about covered with them, trying to surround us. All the regiments on our side were scattered and in disorder, except what were left of the 69th. The Fire Zouaves had to retreat, leaving a number of wounded on the field. Haggerty’s body was laid in a house when we were returning back. Col. Corcoran asked me to assist in carrying back the body, and I accordingly went back. We carried the body for some miles on a door, the shot falling thick around us. We had to leave the body on the road. Col. Corcoran, I hear, was afterwards wounded and taken prisoner. What we could gather together of our regiment marched back to Fort Corcoran during the night. I am trying to cross the river to send you a telegraphic dispatch, but the government will not allow any soldiers to cross. I escaped unhurt; although the men on each side and in front and rear were either killed or wounded.

I remain yours, affectionately,

Alexander Carolin.

New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863

Clipping Image

Contributed by Damian Shiels





Edward Porter Alexander On the Battle’s Aftermath

9 08 2011

Headquarters. 1st Corps. Army of the Potc.

Weirs House July 27th 1861

Your dear letter of the 26th has just reached me precious wifey, and tho. I’ve done nothing very special, I’ll give you a few lines in answer to questions. In the first place I am very much worried about your trunk, and that Mr. Dubose appears to help you so little, when I am sure a very little energy might get it. Worry him about the receipt anyhow, and get it at any rate. Then please write to Father what you know about where it was lost and ask him please to take the matter in hand for me, as I am too busy and cannot afford to lose it. Give him a fair and full estimate of the value of the trunk and all its contents, counting the value of all necessary articles and clothing at their present Richmond value and ask him to demand payment and in default to sue at once. I will write to him myself as soon as I can, but you must write immediately.

In the meanwhile I enclose you a check for $66.50 and will send you more as soon as you ask. I only decide on that sum as it will leave me an even hundred there and I don’t like to send larger single checks by such uncertain mails. I like the idea of your boarding with the Grattons very much. Do so unless you wish to go to Fred. In fact, Presh, do just what suits my little woman best. I think that Aleck and John have returned with Holmes’ Brig; Gus has, I know. I am glad you told me about the check. I never knew that there were two banks with such similar names before and I don’t think yet that I can understand it well without a diagram. I believe I wrote you that I am now Chief of Ordinance and Artillery for Gen. Beauregard’s army or the 1st Corps. Army of the Potomac, Gen Johnston’s being the 2nd (though Gen. J. ranks Gen. B). I am as busy as I can Bee from morning to night, but today I snatched time to ride with the two Generals and their staffs to look at and criticize the positions of the armies in the fight. The smell of the field was awful, principally from the dead horses, in some places in piles. Our dead were all buried some days ago, but they have only finished with the enemy today, burying 83 of them together while we were there, principally those red breeches New York Zouaves.

We have moved our headquarters from the junction to the farm house about a mile off in order to be more private. I have just gotten a tent for myself and hope soon to be fixed up more comfortably than I have been. I got a contraband little free darkey from Wash. captured on the 21st as a black Reprobate’s servant, but I’ve let Capt. Stevens. Engr. Corps take him, and I bribe some of a battallion of darkies who hang around us, to pick up a precarious subsistence for me. Killy is in camp under bushes, without tents, near the battle field about four miles from here, but I’ve been too busy to even ride out to see him yet.

It is getting late and I’m much fatigued and must stop. I’m afraid my duties will keep me here now for some time, at least till some thing turns up, for no possible excuse can be found here on my duties as they are now for a trip to Richmond.

Goodnight my own darling wifey. I love you and pray for you every night. Ever your own loving

Ed.

Tell me the address while at Mr. Grattons.

Transcription and Letter Image





Captain Alexander Wilkin, Co. A, 1st MN, On the Battle

3 08 2011

Camp Gorman
July 23, 1861

Dear Father

I telegraphed yesterday immediately upon our arrival supposing you would feel uneasy upon hearing the result of the action at Bull Run. I got in yesterday morning. The Colonel with the rest of the regiment proceeded to Washington and were stopped at Georgetown. I came on here and am in command of the Camp. The night before the action I could not sleep as I had no blanket and the weather was very cold. We started at 2 1/2 in the morning, marched 15 miles to the battle field (I having a severe cramp in the stomach and a sprained knee), fought for several hours and then walked back here 40 miles by the next morning and I am now as good as ever. I walked at least 60 miles in 26 hours. The day was disastrous but as for myself personally and in fact the Regiment is concerned have nothing to regret.

We were ordered to the support of Rickett’s battery but as we were passing around them and they were unlimbering their guns the batteries of the enemy commenced playing upon them. Not fifteen minutes after Capt. Ricketts, his 1st Lieut., about 100 out of the 120 men and the same number of horses were killed on the spot. Col. Heintzelman, the Commander of our brigade, rode up and said that he had ordered up a regiment (I did not understand which) which had refused to come up and ordered us up to a wood where a body of men lay. We fired into the woods and the enemy’s riflemen fired upon our left within 60 yards of us. A large number of our men fell but only 3 of mine were wounded. Heintzelman’s aid then ordered us to fall back upon the woods but I did not hear the command and supposed the regiment had got into a panic. I had determined before I went into action that my Co. should never retreat — by order. I gave the command, “Co. “A” stand fast” and part of my first platoon stood fast. We saw a Mississippi regiment on our left. We turned and fired upon them for some time knocking them down right and left when it was said that they were our friends. They were only about 75 yards from us. They raised their hands and said that they were friends. I ordered the men to cease firing. One of them came up and I went up and spoke to him and asked if they were friends. He said they were. I asked what regiment and he said Mississippi. Some one said they wanted to deliver themselves up. I again ordered the men to cease firing; but shortly after one of my men fell by my side. I told the men to fire away and I borrowed a musket and fired myself. The enemy retreated and I and a few of my men followed. We fell in with Major Larsen of the Zouaves and some of his men and went in together. I took one prisoner and sent him off after taking his gun, shortly after two of the enemy jumped up. I fired upon one of them and he fell dead. I met several wounded men whom the Zouaves wanted to kill but I ordered them off and called upon the Major to prevent them, telling him his regiment would be disgraced by such conduct — when he interfered. I took a loaded gun from one of the Mississippians and left mine. I fired shortly after and think I hit. I only fired three times as I was obliged to be constantly among the men giving them orders.

At length we came to a road and looking over the other side of the field beyond I saw a long body of Cavalry. Thinking however they might be our own men I ordered our men not to fire. I felt tolerably certain they were the enemy and drew up to fire once but desisted. About this time there was heavy firing in our rear which I supposed came from our friends as we had chased the enemy ahead of us. I called upon them to desist and told them they were firing upon their friends but the firing continued and I saw there was no chance to get through. I then told the Zouave Major that we had better follow up the road until we got beyond the line of firing. He told me to go on first which I did but finding the fire hotter the further we went, turned and went in the other direction, where the firing was less. After a while as I was going up a little hill I saw a large body of the enemy drawn up in a line. I stepped back out of sight and followed a lane up a ravine and looked to see who were ahead. Seeing a large body of men drawn up to the left and supposing them to be the same which had fired on us in the woods, I walked up to them passing a wounded officer of our army who begged me to help him up. I said my poor man I would but you are heavy and I am not strong enough, but I will endeavor to get you help. I then called to the troops nearby and told them they had been firing upon their friends. But just as I spoke I saw by their uniforms they were enemies. I then turned leisurely to the right when I found another body. I was hemmed in and had no resource but to go through the gap which I did with a cross fire upon me from both. I did not think it possible to escape, the balls were falling around me like hail. I was made exhausted and soon laid down under cover of the bank at a little stream, between the enemy and a body of our own men on the opposite hill.

After resting a while I went a little further to where there were several Zouaves and several Michigan men who were firing. One of them threw his canteen to me and I took a drink. Our men retreated or moved on. When I got up and moved on a little further to the woods, soon there was a general retreat. After a while I saw Col. Heintzelman and told him I did not know where the Regiment was and asked him if I could be of any service. He said no, and that he had seen our colors to the right. I went back and tried to find them bout could not. We saved our colors. Our Regiment was the farthest in the advance and bore the most severe fire. After the order to retreat they and the Zouaves got mixed up and rallied and charged three times sustaining sever loss. I never saw such coolness. The men with me were perfectly cool and took deliberate aim killing great numbers of the enemy, many of them smiling and laughing all the time. I had a good many hunters and troopers and scouts. I had but one officer along with me, Lieut. Welch who is of Co. “F” who rallied part of his men and fought with me. A braver, cooler little fellow I never saw. Some of our men killed 3, 4, and 5 of the enemy. Some of them as they fired would turn to me and say Captain, I dropped that fellow, and I would turn and see them fall. They must have killed or severely wounded most of them as they were good marksmen and took deliberate aim. In my shots I never took better aim at a bird.

Some of the Germans in the rear fired wild and I had constantly to caution them against shooting our own men in front. Poor Welch I am afraid is gone. He was wounded twice and I think must have been left. He may be a prisoner. One of my men took a lt. Col. of the Mississippi. He rode up supposing us to be Georgians. There is no doubt our Regiment and the Zouaves deserve more credit than any other troops in the field, but we are Western men and won’t get the credit. I have not seen Gorman after we drew up at the woods. Lt. Col. Miller behaved nobly. As far as I can learn more credit is given to me than any other officer, but I yield to young Welch. It is generally said that after the first fire men become reckless and do not realize their danger but I did not get enough excited and felt my danger all the while. Whenever I could conveniently get a tree or other object between me and the enemy I did so and probably save my life by it. A battle like that is a terrible affair. The firing of the artillery and musketry is perfectly fearful.

As we filed off from the road to support the battery a shell struck near me under the horses of one of the batteries. Going in a little further a six pound ball passed close to my feet. Many of our men and officers had very narrow escapes. Many of them having several balls through their clothes, canteens, etc. Capt. McCune was killed at the first fire. We do not know how many men and officers are lost. A great many are missing. Most of our regiment are at Washington, but I remain in our old camp in command with about 125. I have about 25 men missing and among those present quite a number are wounded.

Love to all.

Send to Weck.

Yours affly.

Alex

Transcription and letter image at Minnesota Historical Society





Pvt. Alexander Campbell, 79th NY, Describes the Battle to His Wife

5 05 2009

To Jane Campbell

Washington, DC

July 26th 1861

Dear Jane

I expect you will think it strange of me not writing you sooner.  I certanely would but they saud around here that no Letters was aloud to Leave here since the Battel of Bulls Runn whether it was true or not.  Anny how you must have heard that I was all safe.  There was a telegraph Despach came her[e] enquiring if I was all safe & the Magear said to me he answered it so I thought it would ease your mind til I would get a chance to tell you myself.  I came out of Battel without a scratch.  So Did James & Matthew & Brown.  I cant see how we all came off so safe for it was such a tremendous shoure of bullets that god onely knowes how anny of us is Left to tell the tale.  I cannot begin to tell you about how the battle begun and how it ended.  It would take me a week to write all the sights & seans I seen & came through since I wrote you Last.  I wish I could sit in my own house & tell you out of my own mouth all about it.

I was acting as right guid in McFadgan.  He & James & David Ireland was in washington.  It was fortunate that she {Ireland’s wife} came.  It was perhaps the means of saving therr Lives.  If you see Daniel Gillie or anny of them that worked in McMasters tell them that Daniel Larence is all safe & you are to tell Anney Ireland that her friend walker is safe & that william faset cannot be accounted for.  He got wounded in the arm and Left the field & has not been seen since.  The regiment suffered verry severe.  Captain Brown was killed by a cannon ball his side was almost carried away & cap shilling was killed by a cannon shot.  Manson & farask were taken prisoners & our captan cristie has cleard to new york.  He never stoped to se how his men was nor nothing.  If anny of you went to enquire after us at him I know the answer you would get.

We are all back in washington & going to encamp in the out skirts of the city & we might not Leave again till we come home.  I am shure I dont want to  go into virginia again.  We have come trough more hardships since we went over the Potomac than I would Like to go trough again.

I am writing this in John Stewarts.  Mrs. [David] Ireland was staying here.  She has gon out since I came in & she feels wuite happy and told me to tell anney that whe was in for the ware.  She says times is verry slack in new york.  I dont care how hard they were I would Like to be in it.  I think we have dun our share of the fiting & we ought to give them that wants to get out as bad as we did a chance.  There is not a man in the regiment but is quite willing to get back.

I suppose you wont have received anny money yet from the union Defence committee.  I Dont see how you are to get along.  I dont think that they intend to give us anny.  They have got us here & they can do what they Like.  It Look like it any how.

I almost forgot to tell you that in passing trough a place called germantown where there had been some of the reables but had run when they knew that we were comming I found a knapsack Lying in of the road with James Campbell wrote in side of it & I cut the pice out & took it with me.  I could almost sware it is my Brothers write & what makes me think so it was south carolina troops that was there.  It makes me feel verry bad to think that I was so near my own Brother & him on the one side & me on the other.  I might have shot him or he might have shot me & would not have knowen it.

I cannot say no more this time expecting to here from you soon & Little Jonney.  Poor Little fellow.  Little did he k[n]ow how his father is or the Danger he was in.    Its as well for him.  Many is the home that was Left fatherless on that Bloddy 21st of July.  It was sunday too – it is always sunday our army makes its grand moves.

Address to washington DC.  I am & the rest are well hopping this will find you all the same.  Good Day.

I remain your Afficonate Husband

Alexander Campbell

Tell [Brother] Peter when you se him that I will write him soon & that he will Pleas send some Paper.

————

Washington

Sunday July 28th 1861

Dear Jane

I take the oppartunity of writing you sume more oirticulars about Last sundays work.  We were encamped about 1 mile beyond Centrevell [Centerville, Va.] which is about 30 miles from washington.  We got orders on saturday [20 July] to march that night & we got our things packed up & 2 days rashings was served out to us and we were all formed in Line expecting to proceed but it wa[s] posponed untill nixt morning.  Sunday at two o clock [A.M.] we got ready at the time but did not get off so soon.  Some other regiments went & took there grond in the woods untill we all got up then our regiment & another one struck off to the right & scoured the woods to see if there was anny of the enimy Lurking there.  There was sum shots fired but wee saw no one until we got out of the wood.  We could see them away off the hights in front.  We were ordered to sit down but to be ready to spring up in a moment.

There was a battery of artillery on the road a Little below us the battery that accompanied our brigade and it comenced firing shells to find out the enemys position.  They knew what they were about and they did not fire a shot from there masked batterys.  Then there a company taken from the regiment on our right 13 of new york & they commenced firing with there rifels at the enemys pickets which was returned.  Then 4 cannon was brought up and comenced shelling the enemy which could be seen in great numbers running in all directings.  Sum of our men went up in trees & got a fine view of the enemy comming in in great force.  We were still Lying in the outskirts of the wood and could see dust rising out among the trees.  They when I say they I meen the enemy were coming in from manasses Junchon to reignforce there position away on the right.  Hunters Division came on the enemy first & musketry firing commenced in earnest.  It was one continual roll of which I niver heard nor can I compare anny thing I ever heard with it.

It was not Long then till we were ordered up in to action.  Then Jane I thought  I might never see you and Little Jonney again.  I thought that James or mat or myself could not all come out clear which thank god we have.  There was one of our company william Mitchel [w]ho has a Large family in N Y & when he got shot he Looked up and said my god my family my family.  I could tell a thousand Such things only its better not.  I would not cared half so much if it was not for the sake of you and Jonney.  Poor little fellow.  I am looking at him while writing.  His Likeness is Lying before me.  I expect he is changed a Little now.

I was saying we were not Long when we were ordered into action.  We had to runn on dubbel quick about a mile till we came to where the fiting was going on and the enemy was running up the [Henry] hill in great haste scattered in all directions & we thought the battle was all over but it was not right begun.  there masked batteries opened on us and such cannonnading.  We were ordered down the [Buck] hill right in front of there firing & when we got down a Little out of the way of our own artirlere commenced firing over our heads & they were firing in among us and when we got down in [t]he hollow we Lay down so as to avoid getting struck as much as possible and when Lying there I came verry near being shot from our own side.  A grapeshot struck the ground about 2 inches from my hip so you can amigon [imagine] the critical place we were in.

The amineshan of our artirally run out and we were ordered up the [Henry] hill to take it and such a shaturing I cannot begin to write about.  A man that is in the battle cannot tell much about it.  Annyhow we had them entirely Licked.  You could not se anny of them then.  We came down and the generals were forming the regiments in squares to receive calvelry.  Us and [the] 69[th New York] formed together but it was no use.  General Jonston had arrived with his whole army of fresh troops and we had non[e] so we had to retreat and such a retreat.  The most of the regiments was without officers and the generals rode off on horseback telling the men to hurry up or the enemy would be on them so they did come on us.

The calvelry came upon us on the road.  I wa[s] comming along myself the onely one I mean of our regiment to the road when bang went a volley from the enemys calvelry which had come up on us.  I runn right into the woods and came up with another of our regiment.  Then we came across a field running as fast as we could.  We tried to get into another wood.  I was not able to go anny farther so I Lay down and gave up all hops.  There was 2 more of us and we Lay in sight of the road.  We could see our army retreating and the men cutting there horses Loose from the wagons and monting there backs and galloping off as fast as they could.  We Lay a Long while then we started for the woods and kept in them till we came in sight of the ground we started from in the morning.  But there was no 79th there so we cept well up of the road till we came into centervall and the regiments that was at the fight tryed to get themselvs together but it was impossable.  Sume of our regiment was scatterered all around among the regiments.  I tryed to find out if mat or James was there.  I could not get anny word of them so I gave them up for Lost then started with a small party for alington hights.  Sometimes I would be [by] myself.  I traveled till I was sleeping wa[l]king along.  I Lay Down in some cut wheat that was near the road side and slept 2 hours or about that.  Then I started on the road again and I met in with one of our hand men.  He was as bad as myself in reguard to knowing anything about them.

So I marched on passing men on the way without shoes ot stokings and the most of them Lame.  On I went till I came to the place where we Left our tents & knapsacks and when I arrieved there the most of them wa[s] taken Down.  So I took my knapsack and started for fort corcran 4 miles more.  It was rainning verry hard too and when i arrieved at the fort the first thing I asked for matthew & James & I was told that they were all safe.  I did no[t] se them for some time after that.  Each one was stowed away the best way he could from the rain.  There was nothing for us to eat.  We were all entirely wore out.

I met with David Mcfadgan and he gave me Jonneys Likeness and I was glad to se it.  Muy space wont admit of finishing it as I would Like to.  Any how we are encamped in a verry nice place not verry far from where John stuart Lives.  Its not in the city and its not out of it.  Thats as near as I can give.  The place is verry nice but I am sick of sogren [soldiering] and I cannot feel satisfied no where but home and if I can get away at all I will come.  Mat & James is well.  J is to write soon.  So Jane this is a rough sketch of the battle & retreat of Bulls Runn.

No more this time But Remains

Your afficonate husband.

Aleander Campbell

I sent a piece I cut out of the k[n]apsack with Jamess name on it with on of our Company that has got his Discharge.

[Johnston, Terry A., Jr., editor, "Him on the One Side and Me on the Other": The Civil War Letters of Alexander Campbell, 79th New York Infantry Regiment, and James Campbell, 1st South Carolina Battalion, pp. 26-35]





#122 – Capt. E. P. Alexander

15 08 2008

Return of Captures and Abstract of Prisoners Taken

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, p. 571

HDQRS. FIRST CORPS, FAIRFAX COURT-HOUSE,

October 12, 1861

Return of captured ordnance and ordnance stores turned in to the Ordnance Department, Army of the Potomac, up to August 16, 1861:

One 30-pounder Parrott gun, with 300 rounds of ammunition; 9 10-pounder Parrott guns, with 100 rounds of ammunition each; 3 6-pounder brass guns, with 100 rounds of ammunition each; 3 12-pounder brass howitzers, with 100 rounds of ammunition each; 2 12-pounder boat howitzers, with 100 rounds of ammunition each; 9 James rifled, with 100 rounds of ammunition each, field pieces; 37 caissons; 6 traveling forges; 4 battery wagons, splendidly equipped; 64 artillery horses, with harness; 500,000 rounds small-arm ammunition; 4,500 sets of accouterments, cartridge boxes, &c.; 4,000 muskets.

No accurate return of drums, swords, pistols, knapsacks, canteens, bridles, &c., can be obtained. One 6-pounder gun and one 12-pounder howitzer were found spiked, but they were easily withdrawn. One of the enemy’s caissons exploded in the field in addition to those captured.

Hospital equipments turned in up to August 16, 1861-5 medicine chests, partially filled; 6 cases surgical instruments; two sets of panniers, 7 ambulances.

Returns of litters, instruments, supplies, &c., are all very incomplete, so much having been appropriated by surgeons of regiments, &c., besides the loss from plundering by privates and citizens.

Quartermaster’s stores turned in up to August 16, 1861:870 axes, spades, and intrenching tools; 2 sets carpenters’ and blacksmiths’ tools; 12 sets harness; 23 extra traces for artillery; 7 platform and other scales; 1,650 camp cooking utensils; 2,700 camp mess utensils; 302 pairs pantaloons, drawers, and socks; 700 blankets; 22 tents and flies; 21 wagons, 33 horses, 25 trunks and carpet-bags; 1 coil of rope.

Incomplete returns of many miscellaneous articles, such as bed-ticks, buckets, coffee-mills, halters, picket-pins, saddles and bridles, ten barrels commissary stores, and a few handcuffs left from a large lot captured, but carried off by individuals as trophies.

Abstract of prisoners and wounded of enemy sent to Richmond and the hospitals at other places since July 21, 1861: Prisoners not wounded sent to Richmond, 871; prisoners wounded sent to hospitals, 550. Total, 1,421.

These prisoners represent themselves as belonging to 47 different volunteer regiments, 9 regiments of Regular Army, and the Marine Corps. Besides these regiments, in the reports and orders of the enemy are mentioned by name one regiment of volunteers and companies from two regiments of regulars in Hunter’s division, six volunteer regiments in Miles’ division, and Runyon’s entire division of at least five regiments from New Jersey, from which we have neither prisoners nor wounded, giving as his entire force fifty-nine volunteer regiments and detached companies and battalions from marines and eleven regular regiments. From the most reliable data his volunteer regiments averaged 900 men each, making in all 63,000 men.

E. P. ALEXANDER,

Captain Engineers, General Staff





#114 – Capt. John D. Alexander

29 06 2008

 

Report of Capt. John D. Alexander, Commanding Campbell Rangers

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 564-565

CAMP NEAR STONE BRIDGE, July, 1861

SIR: In obedience to your orders, on the morning of the 21st instant I reported with my company of cavalry to Major Wheat, who had been thrown forward with his battalion, and occupied a position upon our extreme left in the immediate vicinity of the enemy. By command of Major Wheat, I forthwith proceeded with my whole company to the front for the purpose of reconnoitering, and advanced in close proximity to the enemy’s lines. Having ascertained as precisely as possible his progress and position, I returned and reported the same to Major Wheat. I then by his direction took position a short distance in rear of his left wing, and held my command in reserve, ready to take advantage of any confusion in the enemy’s ranks or to perform any service that might be required. This post I occupied until Major Wheat’s command, with the Fourth South Carolina Regiment, under Colonel Sloan, having gallantly maintained the action for a considerable time, was forced at length to retire before the overwhelming numbers of the enemy and tremendous fire of his batteries. I fell back slowly and without the slightest confusion before the advancing line of the enemy, halting at short intervals and every available point, and holding my company ready for instant service. In this manner I retired, along with Captain Terry’s company, until we fell in with Colonel Radford’s command near Lewis’ house. Major Wheat having fallen from a severe wound received by him early in the action, I joined Colonel Radford’s battalion of cavalry and remained with him the rest of the day.

After the enemy was repulsed and forced back upon our left we received orders with Colonel Radford’s battalion to make a circuit of several miles to our right for the purpose of charging and intercepting the enemy on the turnpike in the direction of Centreville upon their retreat. This order was received by our men with enthusiasm, they having remained the whole day patiently under the enemy’s fire. We came out into the turnpike near the White House, about two miles from the stone bridge. Near this house, and about three hundred yards in rear of the point where we came into the turnpike, the enemy had planted a battery so as to command the road, and in the woods adjacent to the road on either side of the battery they were posted in considerable force. On the opposite side of the road the enemy was retreating rapidly and in great numbers. A portion of the battalion, and among them my company, charged up the turnpike towards the battery, when a tremendous fire was opened upon us from the battery, and also from the whole force stationed in its vicinity. By this fire I lost several horses, but no men. This was the last stand made by the enemy. After they were broken here the rout became general and irresistible. Some of my men joined in the pursuit and became somewhat scattered, but were all collected that night and reported to you the next morning at these headquarters.

I should perhaps mention in appropriate terms the conduct of the officers and men under my command. From the commencement of the action in the morning until late in the evening they were under the enemy’s fire and within point-blank range of their batteries, and at times almost enveloped in their musketry. They remained firm and unshaken, exhibiting an anxiety only to meet the enemy, and awaiting patiently an opportunity to strike an effective blow. I am gratified to inform you that my officers and men all escaped without personal injury. I received a slight wound in my leg, which did not disable me, and in the charge upon the enemy in the evening at the turnpike, which I have mentioned, Lieutenant Page’s horse was shot, and fell dead while in his proper place at the head of the company. During the day we lost four other horses either killed or permanently disabled. I commend the conduct of all my officers and men to your favorable consideration. It gives me pleasure to inform you that my company is now ready to take the field again and to perform effective service.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOHN D. ALEXANDER,

Captain of Campbell Rangers

Brig. Gen. N. G. EVANS





Interview: Allen Carl Guelzo, “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion”

26 05 2013

Dr. Allen Carl Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program there. Perhaps best known for his works on Abraham Lincoln, he has twice been awarded the Lincoln Prize (for Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America). Recently he authored  a single volume history of the Civil War, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. His new book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, is available – pretty much everywhere - now.

ACG File PixBR:  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

ACG: Dr. Johnson, the first great dictionary-maker of the English language, once defined a lexicographer as “a maker of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.” Substitute “a writer of history” for the bit about dictionaries, and I think you can say the same about me: a harmless drudge. I am an Army brat (born in Yokohama, Japan; when I discovered in 5th grade that this disabled me constitutionally from being president, I was left with nothing better to do in life than write history), with a son now an officer in the U. S. Army. I had strong musical interests, and was even a composition major in my first year in college – until I discovered that I wasn’t really any good at it – then went to seminary with a view toward the ministry. But I still has a certain itch to write history, so I went and obtained a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania.

BR: What got you interested in the study of history and the Civil War period?

ACG: I can scarcely remember a time when I wasn’t interested in history, an interest sparked mostly by the training I got as a small boy at my grandmother’s knee in reading, memorizing, and so forth. As a girl, she could remember Union veterans coming round to her school on Memorial Day to talk about the war, and I suppose that gives me one living link to the Civil War. Otherwise, I had no ancestors of any sort in the war (they all arrived in the decades afterwards, from Sweden, Prussia, and Ireland). My first encounter with the Civil War in print was the Classics Illustrated version of The Red Badge of Courage, with its capsule history of the war at the back. That was followed by the American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War, a Christmas present from 1960 – just in time for me to be taken to the hospital with a double case of encephalitis and meningitis.

Bruce Catton was then, and always has been, a great model for me as a writer. I recall walking home from school, reading A Stillness at Appomattox.

I did not actually get to visit Gettysburg until 1975. When I did, I had read so much about it that it was like déjà vu. Even so, never saw myself as having more than a polite amateur’s interest in the subject. I wrote my PhD dissertation on Jonathan Edwards and the problem of free will in American thought, and have always considered myself primarily an American intellectual-history person. That was how I backed-into writing about Abraham Lincoln. And one thing has led to another, so that here I am, teaching at – and writing about – Gettysburg and the Civil War. No one could be more surprised than I am. Through all of this, I’ve never taken a course on the Civil War or Lincoln, either as an undergraduate or a graduate student.

BR: Here are the $64,000 questions: Why another book on Gettysburg? What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

ACG: Because it’s there. (That’s what Mallory said when the New York papers asked him why he was planning to climb Mt. Everest; it works here, too, especially since it took almost as much time to write Gettysburg: The Last Invasion as it took Mallory on Everest). I do think, however, that there are some important things about Gettysburg that I think need saying.  First of all, I think Gettysburg (and the Civil War in general) could benefit hugely from being understood in a larger international context, especially when it comes to military thinking and tactical doctrine (which is, after all, a species of intellectual history).  The Civil War did not occur in a vacuum; the experiences of the Crimean War (1854-56), the Sepoy Mutiny (1857-58), the North Italian War (1859) all offer important illumination for why Civil War generals thought as they did. That’s why Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is constantly invoking comparisons to the Alma, Solferino, and Koniggratz. In that sense, I’m trying to claw away from the blinkered view imposed on the Civil War by American exceptionalism.

That’s what lets me call into doubt the conclusions that have been repeated over-and-over again for decades about the significance of cavalry (and especially Stuart’s ride), about the practicality of Pickett’s Charge, uses of staff, and the weapons technology of the period.

I think you’ll also see the hidden (or not-so-hidden) hand of John Keegan, Paddy Griffith, Richard Holmes, and other examples of the British ‘new military history’ – which, come to think of it, is not actually so new any more. The Face of Battle made a terrific impact on me when I read it in the 1970s, and Griffith shaped my thinking about Civil War tactics more than any other writer.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write The Last Invasion, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, and when you knew you were “done”?

ACG: It took four years, if you count the research time devoted solely to Gettysburg. In a larger sense, I suppose I’ve been writing this book ever since 1975. I cannot say I encountered anything that looked like a stumbling block. People have been extraordinarily generous with time and resources – and I think here especially of John Rudy and Bill Frassanito, not to mention the quartet of manuscript readers recruited for this project, Greg Urwin, Chuck Teague, Scott Bowden and Joe Bilby. My biggest surprise was in the Meade Papers, which I’ll explain in a minute. My sense of being “done” was on August 21, 2012, when I sent off the Epilogue. The publishers, Knopf/Random House, were determined to have this out for the Sesquicentennial of the battle, and they smiled, threatened, and cajoled all the way down to the last minute. A waterpipe in the house then broke and ruined the main-floor of the house. It must have been feeling the strain.

BR: Can you summarize for potential readers your assessment of George Meade’s performance at Gettysburg?

ACG: George Meade does not seem to have been on many people’s A list for commander of the Army of the Potomac. A reserved, haughty and testy officer, he could be meaner than a badger in a barrel. On the other hand, no one could doubt either his competence or his personal courage, which he demonstrated in spades on the Peninsula and at Fredericksburg, where his attack on Prospect Hill was nearly the only thing which went right for the Army of the Potomac. Meade’s chief deficit in the eyes of the Lincoln administration was that he was a McClellan Democrat, very much like Porter, Hancock and Sedgwick. In the years after the war, Meade’s son, George jnr., struggled to airbrush his father’s politics out of the picture (Meade junr.’s Life and Letters of his father carefully bowdlerized the letters reproduced there to produce an image of a plain, no-nonsense, apolitical professional). But in fact, Meade grew up in the same neighborhood in Philadelphia as the McClellans, shared the same conservative Whig-cum-Democrat politics, owed his initial promotion to brigadier-general of volunteers to McClellan, and received a “very handsome” congratulatory message from McClellan after Gettysburg. And the evidence lay in the Meade correspondence, archived at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

I have to admit that, coming into this project, I was pretty well disposed to regard Meade as man unjustly humiliated by Lincoln after winning a great victory. What I read in the Meade letters gave me a wholly different image of the man: angry, vain, contemptuous of abolitionists (he had two sisters who had married slaveowners), thin-skinned and passionate in the search for promotion and attention.  He regarded the war (and I’m using material here that I did not have room for in the book) as “this unnatural contest” which, after eleven months, “the people of the North will be prepared to yield the independence of the South.”  Even in August, 1863, he was willing to “say make terms of some kind or other with the South.”  It was the Radical Republicans who were deliberately prolonging the war: “I believe Peace could be made but not on the terms that the rulers of the North would require.” The final break came, in my mind, when I read a letter he wrote on January 20, 1865, describing a meeting he had in passing with the three Confederate peace commissioners – R.M.T. Hunter, John Campbell and Alexander Stephens – who were en route to their meeting with Lincoln and Seward at Hampton Roads. Meade “plainly” set out “what I thought was the basis on which the people of the North would be glad to have peace.” This would have to include “restoration of the Union.” But “a settlement of the slavery question” could be reached which would ensure “that they must have labor & the negroes must have support,” since “it was well known they would not work unless compelled.” After reading this, the first question which burned through my mind was, Whose side are you on? What Union major-general gives talking points to Confederate negotiators as they are on their way to meet with Lincoln and Seward? No wonder Meade concluded the letter with the injunction, “all this I have written you, must be confidential, as it would not do to let it be known I had been talking with them, or what I have said.” This letter appears nowhere in young Meade’s Life and Letters, or Freeman Cleaves’ well-known biography of Meade.

BR: Can you describe the reactions of other historians and enthusiasts to your assessment of Meade?

ACG: This portrait of Meade has generated some vehement responses, based largely (I think) on the assumption that since Robert E. Lee was a genius, and since Robert E. Lee lost the battle, ergo, George Meade must be a genius, too. Questioning Meade’s “genius” is nearly as offensive on those grounds as questioning the virtue of Robert E. Lee among the Southern Heritage partisans. But the fact is that Meade was not at Gettysburg for a third of the battle, was taken utterly by surprise by Longstreet’s flank attack on July 2nd, and miscalled the point at which the Confederates would attack on July 3rd. despite the Meade equestrian statue’s location, Meade was nowhere near the apex of Pickett’s Charge at the time it happened. Meade did not so much win the battle, as Lee lost it; or rather, it was the near-miraculous initiative taken by individual officers on the line – Samuel Sprigg Carroll, “Pappy” Greene, Strong Vincent, Gouveneur Warren, Patrick O’Rorke, Norman Hall, and (yes) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – that over-and-over again saved the Union position at Gettysburg. But the biggest black-mark beside Meade’s name remains his failure to follow-up after the battle. Yes, I know that the Army of the Potomac was battered and mostly used-up; but so was the Army of Northern Virginia. The lesson of every commander in history worth remembering is this: in victory, follow up. I don’t know that I can entirely blame Meade. He was conscious of the fact that if he attacked Lee and won, he would probably receive little if any credit; if he attacked and lost, his head would be on a pike. In that respect, he may have felt that Lincoln had no one to blame but himself for creating such an atmosphere of mistrust. But this was to allow personal and political considerations to interfere with a military decision, considerations which the American military tradition has always been supposed to eschew.

One objection which has surprised me much more has been about the title: The Last Invasion. Some people wonder whether I’ve forgotten about Early’s or Morgan’s raids. Well, that’s the point: they were raids. They were short-term events intended to disrupt communications and infrastructure, but not to offer a full-scale challenge to battle or to occupy and feed off territory for a substantial length of time. Lee intended to do much more in 1863. He planned to remain in Pennsylvania until the fall, letting Pennsylvania rather than Virginia  feed his army, or bring the Army of the Potomac to a head-on battle. That’s an invasion. It’s all the difference between a transatlantic crossing and a Caribbean cruise. Besides, I’m unapologetically borrowing the phrase about ‘the last invasion’ from Melville’s poem, Gettysburg, which appears on the opening page.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

ACG: I do not know that I have a method, per se. I simply wade into the literature, scan archives for collections, and go to it with a will.  It’s taken me quite far afield – from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Charlottesville, Virginia, and a few other points beyond.

BR: Has the process of writing this book impacted you in any profound ways?

ACG: It has made me feel very glad that it’s done.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

ACG: I am much too humble to say (snark, snark…) But it did make the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list [per publisher notice of June 2, 2013 list - ed.]

BR: What’s next for you?

ACG: Back to Lincoln.








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