Virginia Historical Society

12 05 2011

I received a note today that the Virginia Historical Society is adding an analytic of my article in the July, 2011 issue of America’s Civil War magazine (Irvin McDowell’s Best-Laid Plans) to its online catalog for use by research patrons.

What does it all mean?

I’m not really sure.

But it sounds cool.

I searched my own name in the catalog to find I am already in there for my contribution to a piece on Gov. McDonnell’s proclamation in the April 2010 issue. Best of all, this public listing of my name (Smeltzer, Harry J.) gives me yet another opportunity to insert this clip (excuse the reverse image). Things are going to start happening to me now.





America’s Civil War July 2011

6 05 2011

Inside this issue:

Field Notes:

5 Questions:

Cease Fire:

  • Harold Holzer discusses Civil War fiction

Legends

  • Ron Soodalter discusses Ivan Turchin and the sack of Athens, GA

Features

  • United We Stand – Gary Gallagher: Union as the northern cause
  • How to Market a Milestone - photos by Jennifer E. Berry: merchandise from the Civil War Centennial
  • Buying Time – Jeffrey Maciejewski: the 1st Minnesota at Gettysburg
  • “We Are All Rebels” – Jim Bradshaw: a Louisiana youth wages war withe the Yankees on his doorstep
  • Irvin McDowell’s Best Laid Plans – Your Host: all about McDowell’s plans and expectations for the march on Manassas

Reviews





Civil War Times June 2011

27 04 2011

Inside this issue:

Letters:

  • Correction of tables that were erroneously flipped in Edward Bonekemper’s article on U. S. Grant in the April 2011 issue.
  • Gregg Biggs disputes Gary Gallagher’s thesis on the importance of the Eastern Theory put forth in his essay in the February 2011 issue.

Blue & Gray

  • Gary Gallagher discusses the historiography of James Longstreet.

Collateral Damage

Your host this time looks at the “Squire” Bottom house on the Perryville battlefield. Thanks go out to author and Bull Runnings reader Dr. Kenneth Noe and to Kurt Holman of the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site. I’m mortified that the acknowledgements did not make the final print version.

Field Guide

  • Bjorn Skaptason show us the Civil War sites of Chicago, IL – don’t laugh, there are more than you think.

Interview

  • Eric Campbell, for years a favorite interpretive ranger at Gettysburg NMP, talks about the challenges of his new job at Cedar Cree & Bell Grove National Historical Park.

Letter from the Editor

  • Editor Dana Shoaf introduces the features, and disputes (as do I) some of the monuments chosen as Gettysburg’s “worst” in one of them.

Features

  • Bread or Blood - Stephanie McCurry on female dissent in the Confederacy.
  • Immortals: Where to Find Gettysburg’s Best and Worst Monuments – Kim O’Connell’s text and Eric Forberger’s photos look at the arguably good and the arguably bad. Personally, I disagree with some choices on both lists, but then I’m one of those weirdos who believe fingers should be longer than toes.
  • Landscape of Remembrance – Philip Kennicott delves into the history of the Manassas National Battlefield Park, warts and all.
  • First Manassas Campaign Map – David Fuller has produced a very fine map, oriented with north to south running left to right, which gives a better overall picture of the movements of the troops, complete with an OOB and four inset maps. Nice! I’m trying to get a good copy to post here. Wish me luck!
  • Hell  in the Harbor - Adam Goodheart on the shelling of the Federal garrison at Ft. Sumter. Photo captions by Craig Swain.
  • Where is Meade? - Tom Huntington tells us “how Union General George G. Meade became the Rodney Dangerfield of the Civil War.”

Reviews





Civil War Interactive Writer’s Contest

8 04 2011

Civil War Interactive is having a writer’s contest. Details here.





Civil War Trust “Hallowed Ground” Spring 2011

14 03 2011

The Spring 2011 issue of Hallowed Ground, the Civil War Trust’s members publication, is out. Happily it focuses on First Bull Run. 

There’s plenty of good stuff inside on the battle and the battlefield – see here for the table of contents. NPS historians Greg Wolf and John Reid have pieces on some battlefield detective work and the Centennial reenactment; museum specialist Jim Burgess writes on civilian spectators at the battle, and superintendent Ray Brown has an interesting article on the owner of the Van Pelt house. The folks who work and have worked at the park are the real experts on the battles that were fought here. These articles should not be missed – and yes, they’re all available online for free. While I don’t see it listed, there is supposed to be an interview with yours truly in this issue as well. Perhaps I wound up on the cutting room floor? I’ll let you know once I see the magazine itself.

One article in particular caught my attention: An End to Innocence, The First Battle of Manassas by Bradley Gottfried. Here’s the passage that stuck out:

While Lincoln and his Cabinet members listened, McDowell laid out a plan to attack the 24,000-man Confederate Army under Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, deployed near the winding Bull Run creek about 25 miles southwest of Washington. The general intended to use about 30,000 troops in the effort, marching in three columns, while another 10,000 men were held in reserve. With such numerical superiority, it appeared McDowell would overwhelm his Southern counterpart.

OK, I’ve talked about this in the past and you’re probably sick of hearing it by now. I have met Mr. Gottfried – he’s a good guy. I worked closely with him in proofing his book, The Maps of First Bull Run. But what he has written here conflicts with my understanding of McDowell’s plan. Here’s the text of the portion of McDowell’s plan regarding the force he expected to meet at Manassas (emphasis and brackets mine; you can read the whole thing here):

The secession forces at Manassas Junction and its dependencies are supposed to amount at this time [June 24-25, 1861] to–

Infantry          23,000

Cavalry          1,500

Artillery           500

Total               25,000

We cannot count on keeping secret our intention to overthrow this force. Even if the many parties intrusted with the knowledge of the plan should not disclose or discover it, the necessary preliminary measures for such an expedition would betray it; and they are alive and well informed as to every movement, however slight, we make. They have, moreover, been expecting us to attack their position, and have been preparing for it. When it becomes known positively we are about to march, and they learn in what strength, they will be obliged to call in their disposable forces from all quarters, for they will not be able, if closely pressed, to get away by railroad before we can reach them. If General J. E. Johnston’s force is kept engaged by Major-General Patterson, and Major-General Butler occupies the force now in his vicinity, I think they will not be able to bring up more than ten thousand men. So we must calculate on having to do with about thirty-five thousand men.

And here’s where he described the size of the army with which he proposed to take the field:

Leaving small garrisons in the defensive works, I propose to move against Manassas with a force of thirty thousand of all arms, organized into three columns, with a reserve of ten thousand.

I’ve not yet found any evidence that McDowell expected he would have numerical superiority in his strike against Beauregard. I’ll have more to say on this in an upcoming article in America’s Civil War.

UPDATE 3/15/2011: Let me make this clear for everyone, if for some reason you got a different impression from this post: my problem is with the notion that McDowell’s plan assumed a numerical superiority for his army over that which he expected to face around Manassas. To quote Wilfred Brimley in Absence of Malice: “That’s a lot of horse-puckey. The First Amendment (in this case McDowell’s plan) doesn’t say that.”

McDowell’s plans regarding this are clear, as stated above.





The Bensons of Sudley Church

1 03 2011

An edited version of this story ran in the April 2011 issue of Civil War Times.  I’m running it here with additional photos with permission of the publisher.  It is titled as it appears in the magazine.

Repaying a Debt of Compassion

Ruins of Christian Hill

Ruins of Christian Hill

Today a pile of rubble, hard by the cut of the still unfinished Manassas Gap Railroad and across the road from the impressive bulk of the Sudley Church, is all that marks the site of what tradition holds was the home of Amos Benson and his wife Margaret.  Precisely when the Bensons occupied the house is not clear, but it was not until after the war was over. By most accounts it was to the modest dwelling known appropriately as “Christian Hill” that John L. Rice, erstwhile private of the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, made his way on horseback from Washington, DC in October, 1886.  He had a debt to pay.  How he had incurred that debt and how he went about paying it is the stuff of legend, a story of compassion and reconciliation.

Amos Benson

The pre-war history of the Bensons is sketchy.  Amos was born in September, 1825, in Maryland;  Margaret Newman was born in May of 1821 and grew up in the vicinity of Sudley Springs.  The two were married sometime prior to 1850.  Census records and maps indicate that at the time of the Battle of First Bull Run the Bensons were living east – the “other” side – of Bull Run, in Fairfax County.  In March of 1862, Amos would leave Margaret to go to war with Company A of the 4th Virginia Cavalry, a unit whose roster was thick with names from the area.  He eventually rose to the rank of third corporal.

On Sunday morning, July 21, 1861, members of the congregation to which Amos and Margaret belonged made their way along roads and trails to the Sudley Methodist Church along the Sudley Road south of the fords over Bull and Catharpin Runs.  They were no doubt startled to encounter columns of soldiers marching down the main road.  The worshippers had run headlong into the advance of Union General Irvin McDowell’s army as it moved to turn the forces of Confederate generals P. G. T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston from their positions along Bull Run.

John Rice

At the head of that column was Colonel Ambrose Burnside’s brigade of Col. David Hunter’s division, which included Rice’s 2nd NH.  Despite initial success in the morning, later in the afternoon McDowell’s forces were driven back from the Confederate position near the Henry house.  Prior to the retreat Rice was wounded, shot through the lungs by a musket ball.  His fellows carried him towards the rear and Sudley Church where Union surgeons had set up shop, but with the enemy closing in and Rice apparently dead, they laid him in under a fence and made good their escape.  Two days later, Rice recovered consciousness, still under the fence where his comrades had left him.  His wound had putrefied and become infested with maggots.

Later that evening, as they were making their way back to their home from Sudley Church where they had been assisting with the care of wounded Union soldiers, the Benson’s found Rice in his dire state.  Amos went back to the church and returned with a Confederate surgeon.  The exhausted doctor dismissed Rice as a hopeless case and returned to his duties, but the Bensons were determined.  Margaret brought some food from their home and Amos stripped and washed Rice and cleaned out his wound.  He was too seriously injured to move, so for ten days the Benson’s clothed, fed, and cared for Rice under the fence, until he was well enough to move to a freight car in Manassas for treatment and eventual imprisonment in Richmond.

Rice was later exchanged and re-enlisted to serve again in the war, becoming an officer.  But even twenty-five years later he had not forgotten the Bensons and the debt he felt he owed.  In 1886 while on a trip to the nation’s capital he determined to revisit the site of his near-death experience.  He made inquiries in the area and found the Bensons.  They took him to the place where they had nursed him and visited the battlefield.  Rice learned of Amos’s service in the war and was surprised to realize that he had doubtless faced his benefactor on the battlefield.

Rice of course thanked the Bensons for their kindness and attention in his time of need, and they modestly said they were simply “obeying the dictates of humanity”.  Rice persisted in his efforts to find some way to repay the Bensons, and Amos hit upon a solution:

Rebuilt Sudley Church

“If you want to do that you can help us poor people here pay for our little church yonder.  We owe $200 on it yet, which in this poor country is a heavy burden.”

Rice determined then to not only contribute, but to return to his home in Massachusetts and raise the entire sum of the debt remaining on the rebuilt Sudley Church, which had been destroyed during the war.  On November 24, he told story of his wounding, the kindness of the Bensons, and the plight of the congregation in the pages of Springfield’s “The Republican”:

“I do not know what creed is taught in that church, but it cannot be wrong in any essential of Christian faith when it bears such fruit as I have described…There must be still living many Massachusetts soldiers who can bear testimony with me to the timely aid rendered by those people when so many of our wounded were left uncared for on that disastrous field.”

By November 28, Rice had received $235 from seventy-nine people, including twenty-seven veterans.  The donations ranged from $0.50 to $20.00.  In describing the religious and political backgrounds of the contributors to the Bensons, Rice quoted Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

“Saxon and Norman and Dane are we,
But all of us Danes in welcome of thee”

And in a letter of thanks to Rice, Amos said the value of the act was more than financial.  In fact, it had “converted” the previously un-reconstructed Margaret.  John Rice’s debt to the Bensons was repaid.

Amos Benson Headstone

Margaret Benson Headstone

A history of the Sudley Church states that once the war ended Amos and Margaret moved to Warrenton, and in the early 1880’s had come back to the area of the Springs and were living in a house located 1/8 mile south of Sudley Church and owned by Reverend Henry Cushing – probably Christian Hill.  Margaret died in 1898, and Amos followed her in 1901.  They are buried together very near the southern door of the modern Sudley Church.  The shared marker says of Amos: “He was a good man and full of faith”; of Margaret: “She was a child of God, lived a happy life and died in peace.”

As is often the case, there are some parts of the story of what happened after Rice’s wounding that are in doubt. See John Hennessy’s post here.





Civil War Times April 2011

28 01 2011

Inside this issue:

Letters:

  • Ron Soodalter disagrees with Stephen Budiansky’s take on George Custer

Blue & Gray

  • Gary Gallagher looks at The War’s Overlooked Turning Points and argues for the importance of the Seven Days’.

Collateral Damage

Your host writes about the Benson family and their compassion toward a wounded New Hampshire soldier at First Bull Run.  Thanks to a couple of readers who jarred my memory of this a while back.  Even though the house wasn’t and isn’t there (you’ll have to buy the magazine to figure that one out), it’s a great story that deserved retelling.  More on this in a later post.

Field Guide

  • Robert Behre leads us around Charleston, SC.

Interview

  • James I. “Bud” Robertson recalls the Centennial.

Letter from the Editor

  • The Sesquicentennial kicks off

Features

  • The Butcher’s Bill - Edward Bonekemper argues that U. S. Grant’s management of the war in Virginia wasn’t as bloody as represented.
  • Eye on Arlington – Kim O’Connell’s text and Robin Holland’s photos document the ongoing renovation at Arlington House.
  • First Blood at Big Bethel – John V. Quarstein on the June 10, 1861 battle in Virginia.
  • Last Letter Home – Dana Shoaf presents a poignant communique from a 14-year-old Third Class Boy aboard USS Galena.
  • Cradle of Secession - Joe Loehle photo essay on Charleston, SC.
  • ‘Black Jack’ at War - Paul Bradley sketches John Logan’s war career.

Reviews





Turnabout

22 12 2010

Last night I completed my answers to questions that will appear in interview format in the upcoming issue of a quarterly Civil War magazine.  I’ve conducted seventeen of these things for Bull Runnings, but this is the first time I’ve been on the receiving end.  It’s tough work, writing about yourself.  Tough enough that I put it off as long as I could.  But I think it came out fairly well, though you can never tell with anything that appears in print media – every editor is different.  For a humorous account involving Mark Twain and an editor with a heavy hand, see volume one of his autobiography, pages 164-180.  (Editors work under strict time and space limitations, and so sometimes the submitted manuscript gets what authors typically refer to as “hacked up” or “butchered”.  But good editors make good writers.  I try not to get too upset with changes, and only protest when the changes result in factual errors.  I encourage anyone in this situation to firmly – but tactfully – express your feelings.  The editor or publisher doesn’t want egg on his/her face any more than do you.)

Thanks to the magazine in question for their interest in the blog and me.  2011 is shaping up to be a busy year for me as a result of the sesquicentennial and the role of First Bull Run in the first year of it.  I suppose in 2012 I’ll retreat to obscurity, but it’ll be fun while it lasts.





Collateral Damage: Call for Subjects

18 12 2010

As I may or may not have mentioned earlier, my Collateral Damage column has been picked up for another year with Civil War Times magazine. I’m really happy that editor Dana Shoaf decided to run with an idea I pitched to him during a Facebook chat and that the folks at the magazine and the readers liked what I came up with enough to sign on for another six pieces.

Now, here’s where you guys come in.  I have a few sites in mind already, but I can always use suggestions – if you’re a regular reader you know that the theme of the column concerns dwellings and their occupants that were impacted by the war, either as a result of their location on or proximity to a battlefield or due to their use during some other event associated with the war.  I prefer that the structure is still standing, but that’s not a prerequisite.  The dwelling or its site may be one that is owned by the NPS or other federal, state or local government agency, or it can be privately owned.  It’s a necessity though that documentation (on the history of the site and the occupants, before, during, and after the event) be available in some central repository, preferably at or near the site.  There’s a short turnaround time for these articles so I need to blitz the sources – make lots of copies – in one visit, paid either by myself or a surrogate.  And speaking of surrogates, I may need help in that area as well.  I can’t pay you, but I can thank you!

So, if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments section.  Thanks!





Civil War Times February 2011

15 12 2010

Inside this issue:

Letters

  • Ethan Rafuse and Ron Baumgarten each wrote in to comment on the Bonekemper McClellan article from the December 2010 issue.  For an expansion on Rafuse’s letter, see here.
  • Kevin Levin is criticized for “excusing” the execution of Colored Troops after the Crater – how bizarre is that?

Blue & Gray

  • Gary Gallagher challenges modern Civil War “PCness” and considers if perhaps the war was actually won in the east.

Field Guide

  • Our nation’s capital’s Civil War monuments

Collateral Damage (by your host)

  • The Jacob Weikert farm behind Little Round Top on the battlefield of Gettysburg.  I’ll have more on this later.

Interview

  • Garry Adelman and the Center for Civil War Photography

Features

  • Judging George Custer – Stephen Budiansky
  • Lee to the Rear - R. K. Krick
  • Hell on Water (slave ships) – Ron Soodalter
  • Lee’s Armored Car (rail mounted guns) – David Schneider
  • Super Spy from Wales (Union agent Pryce Lewis) – Gavin Mortimer

Reviews

  • Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity and Identity in America’s Bloodiest Conflict - Susannah Ural (ed.)
  • The 111th New York Volunteer Infantry: A Civil War History - Martin Husk
  • American Civil War Guerilla Tactics - Sean McLachlan
  • The Lincoln Assassination: Crime & Punishment, Myth & Memory - Holzer, Symonds, Williams (eds.)
  • At the Precipice: Americans North and South During the Secession Crisis - Shearer Davis Bowman
  • Recollections of War Times: By an Old Veteran While Under Stonewall Jackson and Lieutenant General James Longstreet - by William McClendon
  • The Grand Design: Strategy and the U. S. Civil War – by Donald Stoker (see his interview here)







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