Off the Record, On the QT, and Very Hush-Hush

1 08 2013

I’ve been waiting for a chance to use another James Elroy quote, and here it is! I just heard through the grapevine that a manuscript has been submitted to a university press – a First Bull Run campaign study that the editor indicates is “long, deeply researched, and extremely well written.” Can this be the type of study I called for in the roundtable article in Civil War History a while back?

It’s starting to sound like I’m advocating a big campaign study featuring coordinated coverage of the social, political, and military aspects of the campaign in context and detail, with an emphasis on how they all impacted what was to follow, and I guess I am.  I think it would make for a fascinating read.

Let’s hope this is it. Having some idea how the process works, I’m guessing it will be a couple of years before we see anything (as late as 2016, the 155th anniversary, perhaps.) But I could be way off on that. And no, I don’t know the writer’s identity. Refer again to the title of this post.

In other news, the program I will present to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable (and talked about here) continues to evolve and I’ve decided to actually write this one up. I’ll share some bullet-points with you all later, but won’t make the big reveal until that evening, of course. Again, the program will focus on McDowell’s plans: what he expected, what he intended, and how and why we seem to miss the mark today when it comes to evaluating them and him.





Returning Fire

18 07 2013

I’m still making my way through Voices from Company D: Diaries by the Greensboro Guards, Fifth Alabama Infantry Regiment, Army of Northern Virginia. I’ve written a little about it before. If you haven’t already read it, you should add this one to your list. It features multiple diaries from members of the same company (they were present at First Bull Run, however they were Company I at the time – I need to change that on the entries I transcribed.) Right now (where I am in the book, April 1863), the daily entries are comprised of entries by two diarists – typically the first tersely describes the day as having no significant occurrence, followed by about 1,000 words from the second. It’s an entry from the second diarist on April 12, 1864 that caught my eye this time. The diarist is Jaimie Pickens (JP), who was not a slave owner – though his family owned about 200, which again proves the fallacy of the “most southern soldiers didn’t own slaves” argument. It caught my eye because it reminded me of a ferryboat ride out to Ft. Sumter about 18 years ago, during which the recorded NPS narrative pointed out the positions from which Confederate batteries “returned fire.”

To-day 3 years ago (Ap’l 12th & 13th 1861) the Yankees fired on Ft. Sumter – the inauguration of the war of invasion of the South & its people.

Yikes! JP happens to have been a very well educated and eloquent young man who had attended the University of Virginia. His entries give valuable insight not only into how he viewed the war historically as it happened, but also his views on the prospects for peace and from whence it was likely to come (right now, he’s hoping for a third party to take power in the North.) I know of no other collection like this. Check it out.





Russel Beatie

12 07 2013

BeatieI was surprised and saddened to learn, from the use of the word “late” in a Dimitri Rotov comment to a post on Kevin Levin’s blog, of the passing (in March of this year) of Russel M. Beatie of Savas Beatie publishing. I could find no mention of his death on the web, but was able to confirm it via his associate and friend Ted Savas, who wrote a eulogy in the Savas Beatie July newsletter, which you can read in it’s entirety here. Below is an excerpt. The photo at left was taken on a hunting trip to Scotland and is courtesy of Savas Beatie.

It is with tremendous sadness that I share with you that my publishing partner and good friend Russel H. “Cap” Beatie passed away recently. Cap didn’t want a long eulogy or extravagant send-off. That was not his way. So these few words will have to do.

Most of you know Cap (a Princeton grad and Veteran of the U.S. Army) through his magnificent multi-volume Army of the Potomac endeavor, a research and writing tour de force that will forever remain unfinished. (His fourth installment manuscript, which picks up where volume three left off and travels through the fighting at Seven Pines, is available; we are working with it to determine how or whether we can publish it for you.)

Cap was both an outstanding attorney and a true historian. The man lived and breathed our past. I know he was most happy not arguing in court but rooting in an archive somewhere to help write history “from the bottom up,” as he used to tell me. “I am going to let the sources take me where the sources take me, Savisky.” That was his nickname for me; he had nicknames for everyone. “To hell with all these biased opinions today masquerading as history. What did the men who were there living it think about it all?”

Reviews of the AotP series have been mixed at best, and savaging at times. To be sure, there were definitely problems with the first volume (the only one I’ve read cover-to-cover, though I’ve used all three.) But I’ve never been one to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Who else has pointed out that two of the regular army officers whose experience and advice Robert Patterson was advised by Winfield Scott to rely on in the Valley were the super-aggressive Fitz-John Porter and George Thomas? No one else has been able to communicate to me the complexity of the political and military intrigues at Washington during the period leading up to Bull Run. And his annotated bibliographies! That’s good stuff (I understand plans are afoot to publish a consolidated bibliography from the three completed volumes.) Mr. Beatie approached his research and writing from a different angle than most everybody else. Sometimes he missed, sometimes he made solid contact, but he always made me think.





Preview: Scott Patchan, “The Last Battle of Winchester”

11 07 2013

Layout 1Savas Beatie continues its summer 2013 deluge with Scott Patchan’s The Last Battle of Winchester: Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, August 7 – September 19, 1864. Mr. Patchan is the author of a number of works and is a frequent guide through the Shenandoah Valley and elsewhere. While one might suspect from the title that the this is a somewhat narrowly focused, and shorter, book. Such suspicions are misplaced in this instance. Last Battle weighs in at 474 pages of text (including foot, not end, notes), with 33 pages of OOB and strength info. The bibliography reveals that Patchan consulted a very respectable number of non-published archival sources from across the nation, and leans very heavily on participant accounts. Proof-reading and copy editing can make or break a book – I’ve been fooled before. I haven’t had a chance to read enough of this to get a feel for that end of it, but preliminary indicators for Last Battle overall are positive. It’s definitely worth a closer look.





Preview: Caughey & Jones, “The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War”

10 07 2013

CaugheyA recent release from McFarland is The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War: A History and Roster, by Donald C. Caughey and Jimmy J. Jones. Jones is an active duty U. S. Army officer who served two tours with the modern day 6th U. S. Cavalry, and Caughey is a retired U. S. Army officer who hosts Regular Cavalry in the Civil War. From a modern perspective and the standpoint of lineage, these guys have the pedigrees. The first 134 pages of the book cover the regiment’s Civil War service, with particular attention paid to its troubles at Fairfield in the Gettysburg Campaign. Another 114 pages is devoted to an biographical roster from James Oscar Ackerman to Henry Zimmerman. The bibliography cites mostly published works, but also newspaper and manuscript sources which the notes indicate were consulted frequently. Illustrations are light and not too surprising, but the maps are clear in typical Steve Stanley fashion.





How to Order “The Campaign of Gettysburg: Command Decisions”

8 07 2013

A few folks have informed me that they’ve had trouble finding information on ordering William Hewitt’s The Campaign of Gettysburg: Command Decisions. I know it’s available in places like the American History Store and the Visitor’s Center in Gettysburg. Also, if you’re interested contact Chris Army at C underscore army at hotmail dot com.





Preview: William Hewitt, “The Campaign of Gettysburg: Command Decisions”

3 07 2013

HewittI’ve been on a couple of tours and sat through a couple of lectures given by William Hewitt, a retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel with 31 years of experience in intelligence and armor & cavalry, and now a ranger at Gettysburg NMP. I can’t say I’ve always agreed with what he says, but I respect the amount of thought that goes into his interpretations. And it’s pretty obvious that a lot of thought went into The Campaign of Gettysburg: Command Decisions. This is not the kind of book that the typical Gettysburg reader is going to pick up, glance through, and say “I gotta have this one.” It suffers from an affliction similar to that of The Stand of the U. S. Army at Gettysburg. It’s not what the potential buyer expects to see. Flow charts? Graphs? Venn Diagrams? Where’s Chamberlain? Where’s Jenny Wade? Where are the deep-seated political affiliations that supposedly drive every decision of every person involved? Where’s the intrigue? Go elsewhere for that stuff. This book is chock-full of options, experience, assets, planning, decisions, and results. It offers a template for command evaluation. I tried to get Mr. Hewitt to answer a few questions about this very interesting approach, but to no avail – he’s a very busy man. That’s unfortunate, because I think his answers would really help make this very unique study a little more understandable to folks. For whatever my opinion means, this is well worth your time, particularly if you’re a serious student of the battle and military command in general. It’s tough to find but the effort won’t be wasted.





Preview: Andrew Dalton, “Beyond the Run”

2 07 2013

51AlVz0OQEL__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Beyond the Run: The Emmanuel Harmon Farm at Gettysburg, from Ten Roads Publishing, is notable on more than one level. The Harmon Farm is that area west of Willoughby’s Run on the First Day’s field formerly known as “The Country Club.” It became NPS property back in 2011, and I was lucky enough to be among those on the first ranger-led tour of the site during the battle anniversary programs that year. So here we have a timely study of this area – a farm at the time – before, during, and perhaps most interestingly after the Battle of Gettysburg. A check on the bibliography and notes indicates that, while the usual-suspect published books and articles are represented, the author also consulted numerous newspaper sources and a few manuscript collections, namely local repositories like the Adams County Historical Society (ACHS) and the Gettysburg NMP files as well as those in York County and the National Archives. Clear maps and some rare illustrations enhance the narrative. Perhaps most notably, the author’s biography, which notes he serves as a volunteer at GNMP and the ACHS, also mentions he is a sophomore. In high school.





Preview: Rod Gragg, “The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader”

1 07 2013

P9781621570431Regnery History sent me a very nice, autographed copy of Rod Gragg’s new The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader: An Eyewitness History of the Civil War’s Greatest Battle. If you’re not familiar with Rod Gragg, you should be – he is, among other things, the author of a fine study of the battle of Fort Fisher, Confederate Goliath, and also a history of the 26th North Carolina Infantry at Gettysburg, Covered With Glory. This new book follows the traditional reader format, with first hand accounts presented in chronological order. What sets this apart are the extensive illustrations (photos, artwork, maps.) Is this something that every student of the Civil War in general and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular needs on their shelves? Probably not, but if you’re looking to introduce someone to the use of primary sources, or to that Pennsylvania battle, it’s a safe bet.





“There are three grown negroes there doing nothing, and wants men to build him a kitchen.”

25 06 2013

I came across a couple of passages today that got me thinking, the way things get you thinking to the point where you can’t read any further until you sort those thoughts out a bit. Do something about them. My current read is the very fine Voices from Company D, a collection of diaries by members of the Greensboro Guards, 5th Alabama Infantry, edited by G. Ward Hubbs. It really is a must read for anyone studying the war. I’ve had it for a long time and am just getting around to actually reading it, as opposed to skimming. Currently I’m in January of 1863, and this entry by John Henry Cowin (who, despite being a doctor and graduate of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College, served as a private) got me to thinking (p. 138):

January 13, Tuesday…Col. Hall ordered today a detail from the different companies to go to Camp and build him a kitchen. Capt Renfrew refused to send him any man and Capt Williams sent him word that he could not get any more men for such a purpose. There are three grown negroes there doing nothing, and wants men to build him a kitchen.

This got me thinking on two levels (at least), one being that CW armies in many ways were not armies as many of us understand them today, whether that understanding comes from service, study, or simply watching dozens of movies over the years. Many of us tend to think that orders are orders, yet we run across so many instances of orders not necessarily being orders in Civil War armies of independent-minded citizen soldiers. (By the way, Renfro – inconsistent spelling – was arrested the next day, though Williams was not.) The Colonel detailing soldiers for manual labor of a personal nature while more “appropriate” personnel for such duty was available was seen as adding insult to injury. The passage gives the lie to the first line of defense of many who try to downplay the role of slavery as a cause of the war – that only fillintheblank percent of southerners actually owned slaves. As if actual ownership of human chattel was the single criteria for interest in seeing the institution perpetuated. This plays into one of my other on-going interests regarding how slavery as a character-molding fact of life in the south affected the efficiency and capabilities of the Confederate military.

Just three days later, another Cowin entry caught my attention (p. 140):

January 16, Friday…Last night about ten o’clock it began to rain and continued until day light this morning. Six of us were under a fly. (The tent being occupied by Britton’s Servant who is very sick with Typhoid Fever.) Our blankets all got perfectly saturated with the rain, and occasionally a large drop of water would fall in my face rendering all hopes of sleep vain. I could only lay there and amuse myself dodging from the drops of rain and wishing fro day light to come…Britton’s Servant John died today about half past twelve o’clock and was buried this afternoon. No coffin could be procured and he was buried as a soldier, wrapped in his blanket.

This second passage illustrates the complexity of viewing slavery with minds formed in the latter part of the 20th Century. It’s difficult to reconcile the inhuman nature of human bondage with the image of six white men huddled under a tent fly in a rainstorm while a servant, presumably a slave, lies dying as the sole occupant of their nice, dry tent, and with the fact that they  made an effort to procure a coffin for the man before burying him “as a soldier.” What do you think?








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