Preview: Shiels, “The Irish in the American Civil War”

20 10 2014

8768 Civil CVR.inddThere are numerous studies on the Irish in our Civil War, some fairly objective and many laden with sentimentality and myth-building which employ such flowery terms as “Celtic Warriors in Blue/Gray.” Even as second generation on my mom’s side I find the latter tedious. What sets The Irish in the American Civil War apart is that its author Damian Shiels (host of a blog with the same title and a professional conflict archaeologist) is not an Irish-American but an Irishman from Limerick. In addition to his proximity to the homes of many of his subjects, his work on the blog and with local Irish sources give him a unique perspective (Damian works wonders with pension records – if you haven’t visited his site please do, you’ll be glad you did.)

This is not a strict narrative account of the history of Irish-American soldiers. Rather the book’s 229 pages of text is divided into sections: Beginnings; Realities; The Wider War; and Aftermath. Each section includes “six true stories of gallantry, sacrifice and bravery,” including good personal accounts of First Bull Run.

Sources include a lot of well-known secondary sources, but the use of newspapers and pension files is Shiels’s real strength. If you’re interested in a different perspective on a well-worn topic, I think it’s worth your while to give The Irish in the American Civil War a tumble.





Gettysburg Magazine #51

13 10 2014

ScanThe July 2014 (#51) issue of Gettysburg Magazine has by now been delivered to subscribers (I got mine last week.) This appears to be the first issue running fully and unexceptionally under the auspices of new publisher The University of Nebraska Press (go here for subscription info.)

Issue #50 was the first under the new format, and with its delivery many subscribers expressed concerns over what was to come. The publishers address two of those concerns in “A Message from the Publisher” in the back of #51. The physical changes (size of the pages, perfect binding instead of staples) are what they are and to me are inconsequential. Also announced in a little more detail is the naming of Purdue University’s Prof. John Pula as editor. Then some of the issues raised in the wake of #50 are taken on.

First, some folks (including me) mentioned that the magazine is slight in volume compared with that to which subscribers have become accustomed. On the one hand, the publisher notes that this is due to a need to get the issue “out quickly and get the magazine back on schedule.” As the editor builds up and wades through a backlog of submissions, it is expected that “it will be possible for him to put out more substantial issues.” On the other hand, after this seemingly encouraging, but still somewhat ambiguous announcement comes this ominous bit: “And we will continue to monitor the price moving forward, but our current feeling is that the magazine had been a bit too good a value at a single issue price of $10.” My guess is we’ll either continue to see sub-80 page counts, or a price hike, or both. But I could be wrong.

Second, the presence of (IMO very limited) advertising in #50 raised some concerns. The publisher assures us that this advertising will be limited in scope and location. Articles will not be broken up, and the content of the ads “will complement the magazine’s mission of presenting good scholarship about the battle and campaign of Gettysburg.” We won’t see “ads for fictional works, collectibles, reenactors’ gear, or general Gettysburg tourism.”

What was not addressed was what I gathered from my readings to be the biggest concern: the content of the articles. Specifically, many viewed the articles in issue #50 (a Gettysburg 150 themed issue) as indicative of a shift away from military history, a shift that now appears to be intractable in academic publications. While I found this omission curious, I interpret from the contents of #51 that such is not the case. The issue is broken down into three departments: Articles; Documents; and Human Interest Stories. Unlike #50, I think subscribers will feel more at home with these pieces.

The publisher encourages readers to let them know what they think by emailing them at gettysburg.readers@gmail.com. I think they should consider using social media like Facebook for this – I think they’ll get quicker feedback.





Preview: S. C. Gwynne, “Rebel Yell”

7 10 2014

downloadOK, so here we have a new release from mainstream publisher Scribner. This will be brief. The author, S. C. Gwynne previously authored Empire of the Summer Moon, a biography of Quanah Parker which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. So from a literary standpoint, he’s no hack. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson is 575 pages of well-strung-together words. Sources look pretty good, manuscripts, etc. I’ve read selected (by me) passages, and there’s nothing particularly irritating so far. But nothing particularly insightful or surprising, either. For example, go to the section on 2nd Bull Run and look for an explanation of Jackson’s declination to join in/support/or even recognize Longstreet’s assault. You’ll find a paragraph basically putting the onus on Lee. Nothing particularly wrong with that, and most folks who read this, again, well-written biography won’t have a problem with it. But I suspect most folks who read this and similar sites will be looking for more, and probably have read enough on Jackson already (perhaps Robertson’s epic love letter)  that a popular biography is not really something in which they’re interested. If you’re just testing the waters, at the beginning of your studies, or interested in a broad range of biographies (not just Civil War related), this is probably right up your alley. Jaded old folks like me, probably not. This assessment ain’t bad, it ain’t good, it just is.





Preview: Mackowski & White, “That Furious Struggle”

4 10 2014

TFurious_Struggle_photo_lgProlific authors and Emerging Civil War series editors Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White have released through Savas-Beatie the next in their series of compact narratives, That Furious Struggle: Chancellorsville and the High Tide of the Confederacy, May 1-4, 1863.  Chris and Kris have both worked at the battlefield, and offer an insider’s look.. The 155 pages of text are peppered with over 150 illustrations and maps. Also included: an order of battle; appendices on rivers and fords, Stoneman’s raid, Jackson’s Flank Attack, the Chancellor family, and prominent area resident Matthew Fontaine Maury; and a suggested reading list. GPS coordinates and tour stops are keyed to an overall tour map.





Preview: John Michael Priest, “Stand to It and Give Them Hell”

26 09 2014

51uERQsu+lL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_New from Savas-Beatie (from whom you can expect a deluge of new titles in the coming months) is Stand to It and Give Them Hell: Gettysburg as the Soldiers Experienced it From Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, July 2, 1863. Yep, that’s a mouthful. Mr. Priest has written a number of works featuring first hand soldier accounts, Before Antietam and Antietam being two of the most familiar.

The action covered in this work is described well in the title, so I won’t go into that. Mr. Priest’s stated goal is “to help readers understand and experience, as closely as possible through the written word, the stress and terror of that fateful day.” To do that, he gives you 457 pages of text drawn from the testimony of those who lived the events, with the now-to-be-expected-from-Savas-Beatie footnotes; an order of battle; and a bibliography (oh for the days when one didn’t have to mention that a book actually included a bibliography, but these are the times in which we live.) Also included are 60 (sixty!) maps – enough to light up the eyes of most Gettysburg enthusiasts, and that’s no easy task. Other illustrations (photos, sketches) are sparse, but it’s the words that matter here.





Chickamauga’s Snodgrass Cabin

24 09 2014

With the passing of the anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, here’s my In Harm’s Way/Collateral Damage article on the Snodgrass Cabin, which ran in Civil War Times magazine in 2010. This is the article as submitted – some changes were made to the final product.

———-

The fighting between Union Major General William Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland and Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee reached a climax on the farm of George Washington Snodgrass and the series of hills known as Horseshoe Ridge on September 20th, 1863. While the story of how Union Major General George H. Thomas made his stand there and earned his nickname, The Rock of Chickamauga, is well known, that of the family of those displaced by the fighting is less so.

G. W. Snodgrass left Virginia and came to Georgia prior to 1843. Sometime between 1848 and 1851, he moved from Chattanooga to Walker County, and the deed for his purchase of the farm from Sammuel Igon was recorded on September 8, 1855. The ground was far from prime farmland, dotted as it was with hills and ravines. The farm’s cabin was about a half mile from the north-south LaFayette Road, accessed by a farm lane running north from the east-west Vittetoe Road, and sat near the top of Snodgrass Hill which, while wooded, was open with good visibility.

The log cabin was a “dogtrot” design, two structures connected by a covered breezeway. The compound also included a smokehouse, and was surrounded by a split-rail fence. A small peach orchard grew on the west side of the cabin. From the house site, a ridge spur runs north, into what was the Snodgrass cornfield. Other farm buildings on either side of the lane included a barn and servants’ quarters. A small family cemetery sat at the top of Snodgrass Hill. James T. Snodgrass, who died at seven months in 1861, was buried there.

Using the 1860 census as a basis, G. W. Snodgrass was about 53 years old in September 1863, though some accounts say he was 60, and daughter Mary Jane recalled that he was 71 when he died in 1890, which would make him about 44 in at the time of the battle. Twice widowed, he lived on the farm with his third wife, Elizabeth, and seven children, ranging in age from four year old Martha Ellen to crippled, adult son John. Another son, Charles, had left to serve in the Confederate army.

Years later Julia Kittie Snodgrass, who was six at the time of the battle, recalled hearing the sounds of fighting at Alexander’s Bridge on Friday, Sept. 18th. Her father stubbornly refused to leave his home that day, but as the bullets flew more thickly on the 19th – some even penetrating the cabin’s roof – Mr. Snodgrass determined it was time to leave. About 3:00 PM, the family headed northwest and camped in a wooded ravine. They stayed there for about eight days, and while they were without shelter and had little food, they didn’t lack company. Also taking refuge in the area were other area families, some of whose properties played prominent roles in the battle: Brothertons, Poes, Kellys, Brocks, McDonalds, and Mullises. As the fighting died down on Sunday, September 20th, the refugees heard the strains of a southern tune being played by a band, which they happily interpreted as confirmation of Confederate victory.

Many of these families also had sons in the Confederate army, most notably in Company I, 2nd Battalion, 1st Confederate Regiment, which was part of Brigadier General John Jackson’s brigade of Major General Benjamin Cheatham’s Division in Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Corps of the Army of Tennessee. This unit’s rolls included members of the Snodgrass, Brotherton, McDonald, Kelly, Brock and Dyer families, and the regiment’s major was James Clarke Gordon, who swore them into service in 1861 and was a son of the owner of the Gordon mansion at nearby Crawfish Springs. So, added to the hardships of lack of food resulting from two foraging armies, and homes destroyed or otherwise occupied by wounded soldiers prohibiting the return of their rightful owners was the uncertainty of the wellbeing of loved ones involved in the fighting.

The Snodgrass cabin and outbuildings had been used to treat wounded, mostly Union soldiers, during and after the battle. When the family returned to their home eight days after the battle, they found it “a gory shambles”. While the wounded had been removed, most of the family’s possessions were gone, bloodstained, or in pieces. The damage was so extensive they were forced to relocate to a campsite near Ringgold, Georgia. They didn’t return to their farm until the war was over.

Several accounts of the battle state that Charles Snodgrass died on or near his family’s homestead during the battle. However, Chickamauga historian and author David Powell’s research of Consolidated Service Records (CSR) indicates that Charles deserted in the summer of 1863 (one of at least four local men to take that route out of the unit), his name last appearing on the July/August roll. Union authorities took him into custody in Walker County and sent him to Louisville, and on December 28, 1863 he took an oath of allegiance to the Federal government. He was later released north of the Ohio River. While it’s not clear if he was present on the field during the battle, he almost certainly was not killed during it.

The cabin that stands on Snodgrass Hill today is not that which stood in 1863. As recently as 1935 Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park correspondence stated that the original structure still stood. But by 1953, the Superintendent determined that the cabin was constructed “some time after 1890”. In a 1959 letter the Acting Superintendent wrote that “[a]round 1900 the house was in such a dilapidated condition that it was taken down and reconstructed” and that “[i]t is probable that some of the logs in the old new building were taken from the original house.”

All trace of the hilltop cemetery has disappeared.

Thanks to Maps of Chickamauga author David Powell and Lee White of the National Parks Service for their assistance in the preparation of this article.





The Roulette Farm, Antietam National Battlefield

21 09 2014

The below article was published in Civil War Times magazine back in 2010 as an installment of my In Harm’s Way/Collateral Damage column. Since the 152nd anniversary of the battle just passed, here’s the article as submitted (some changes were made to the final product.) See my photo gallery of the farm here.

When he realized that the men streaming past his home were Union soldiers and not the Confederates who had been in the fields the past two days, William Roulette burst out of his cellar door: “Give it to ‘em,” he shouted to troops of the 14th Connecticut, “Drive ‘em! Take anything on my place, only drive ‘em!” While the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac would eventually drive the Confederates from their line in the sunken Hog Trough Road that separated his farm from that of his uncle Henry Piper to the south, they would do so while very nearly taking Mr. Roulette up on his offer fully.

When the armies of Robert E. Lee and George McClellan met just north of Sharpsburg in Maryland’s Washington County on September 17th, 1862, on what would become known as the bloodiest day in U. S. history, they did so on farmsteads that were predominantly well established and prosperous. Much of the area was settled in the first half of the 18th century by families who relocated from Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. One of those families was that of John Reynolds, who in 1761 purchased a part of “Anderson’s Delight”, including a house that was constructed as early as 1748. By 1800, two additions were complete resulting in a frame, stone, and log dwelling of more than 2,000 square feet, not insubstantial even by today’s standards. In 1804, the farm was purchased by John Miller, Jr. of a prominent area family. In 1851 and after John’s death, his heirs sold the farm and widow’s dower for $10,610 to son-in-law William Roulette (sometimes spelled Rulett), who had married John’s 17-year-old daughter Margaret in 1847. William was the grandson of French immigrants to Washington County, and a son of the sister of neighbor Henry Piper. In 1862 he and Margaret were raising corn on his 180 acre farm, along with five children ranging from under two to thirteen years of age. Living with the Roulettes was Nancy Campbell, a former slave of Margaret’s uncle Peter Miller. At 37 William, a successful farmer with a paid servant, was also serving as a unionist Washington County commissioner.

The Army of Northern Virginia concentrated in the fields north of the village of Sharpsburg and on September 15th. Despite obvious signs of impending danger, William determined to ride out the storm with his family in his home. But as it became more obvious that his farm was likely to be in the thick of things, he removed his family some six miles to Manor Dunker Church where they were taken in by a minister. At some point on the 17th, he returned to the farm to look after his stock and became trapped between the defensive line established by Confederate General D. H. Hill’s division and the rapidly approaching division of Union General William French. First Mr. Roulette took refuge in his basement and then, after emerging to shout his encouragement and offer up his worldly possessions to the boys in blue, headed north to the rear.

The fighting in this sector of the battlefield of Antietam, during what is referred to as the middle phase of the battle, was some of the most severe of the war. Two Federal divisions advanced over the Roulette farm fields and hurled themselves against the stoutly fortified but outnumbered Confederates in the sunken farm lane. The Confederates were finally driven south across the Piper farm, but damage to the Roulette place was extensive. An artillery shell ripped through the west side of the house, travelling upward through the first floor ceiling. At least one bullet fired from the vicinity of the sunken road entered though a second story bedroom window and passed through two walls and a closet in a middle bedroom (this damage can be seen today). Another shell upset beehives in the yard to the rear of the dwelling, causing confusion among the green troops of the 130th PA. Chaplain H. S. Stevens of the 14th CT recalled: “During the battle the rooms were stripped of their furnishings and the floors were covered with the blood and dirt and litter of a field hospital.” Dead and dying men lay scattered across the farm, filling the outbuildings. When the Roulettes returned after the battle, they found crops trampled, fences down, and personal property, including food, carried off. Soldier’s graves dotted the landscape.

On October 3, 1862, Mr. Roulette filed his first claim against the United States for damages to his property. Over the years his claims would include items large a small; fences and crops, featherbeds and carpets, structural damage, one beehive (and bees), chickens, blackberry wine. Claims were also made for nine acres of farmland ruined by the passage of men and equipment, and additional “buriel [sic] ground for 700 soldiers”. The grand total for his final claims filed in February 1864 was $3,500. In the 1880’s he received $371 for a hospital claim, but only minimal other payments. He was paid nothing for damages to his home and outbuildings.

William Roulette was well off before his farm became the center of a storm of men, horses, and lead on September 17, 1862. Despite his failure to collect significant reimbursement from the Federal Government for the taking of “anything on my place”, he and his family would recover – for the most part. About a month after the battle, the youngest Roulette child, Carrie May, described by William as “a charming little girl twenty months old…just beginning to talk”, died of typhoid fever. The sting of this loss was softened a bit 24 months later, when Margaret gave birth to the couple’s last child, Ulysses Sheridan Roulette. Despite the damages, William’s heart was still with the Union.

The farm remained in the possession of the Roulette family until 1956, and in 1998 the National Park Service acquired the property via The Conservation Fund. Restoration of the exterior of the house and the first floor interior to their 1862 appearance is planned pending funding.

Thanks to Antietam National Battlefield Historians Ted Alexander and Keven Walker and to Mike Pellegrini for their assistance in the preparation of this article.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 894 other followers