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.





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.





Chasing Relatives

18 04 2012

8th PA Reserves Monument Antietam NB

A while back I received a book, Your Affectionate Son: Letters from a Civil War Soldier, from its author, Milann Ruff Daugherty. I wrote about it here. As you read (if you followed the hyperlinked “here”), at about the same time I received some news from my friend Mike regarding some relatives about whom I was unaware. That’s the normal relationship between my ancient relatives and me, by the way, unawareness. Of particular interest was Pvt. James Gates, 8th PA Reserves, mortally wounded at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, died a month later at Smoketown Hospital just north of the battlefield, buried in the national cemetery in Sharpsburg. He served in the same company as the letter writer in Ms. Daugherty’s book. As some of you may be aware, I’m a board member and vice-president of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation, so my interest in the battle and battlefield is more than passing.

Antietam National Cemetery, Sharpsburg, MD

Upon learning of this more tangible relationship with the event, I felt compelled to take a drive down to Maryland (by way of Gettysburg, of course) over the President’s Day holiday back in February. I first drove out to the portion of the field where the 8th PA Reserves saw action. Then I met up with friend Craig Swain and his aide-de-camp Cade Swain and visited my great-great-uncle (how come there’s no “grand” for uncles and aunts?) in the cemetery and took in the million-dollar view of the battlefield from the back of that place. After lunch I drove over to chief historian Ted Alexander’s office near the Pry House. Ted graciously came in on his day off and so I could rummage through the park’s file on the 8th PA Reserves. It was pretty thin, but contained a series of newspaper articles from the turn-of-the-20th century, memoirs of a member of the 8th PA Reserves. In several of those articles, my g-g-uncle played a role, and from the perspective of the history of the battle and battlefield, it was a pretty high-profile role. After making copies (though I’m sure I missed some good stuff and will have to go back), Ted drove me out to the site of the Smoketown hospitals where James died. 

The long and short of it is that I took some good photos and got some great info, but I still want to do some more digging before I present my findings to you, dear readers. I hope that when I do post the piece here you all won’t mind the slight diversion from Bull Run.





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

3 04 2012

I am not sure what time it was when we were called, but it could not have been very long after midnight. My recollection is that the moon was shining when we formed for the march. Soon after forming, it was evident that there was some hindrance to the program of arrangements – whatever it was – and, after several attempts to move on, it was learned that some other troops (Hunter’s division) were crossing our line of march – apparently from our right to our left. We – being the flanking column with nearly three times the distance to march – should have had the right of way, but we did not get it, and I have never learned why.

While waiting here, we ‘rested at will’ and there was a mingling of the boys of other companies, who were getting acquainted, and I think also some from other regiments in the brigade. I recall that there was a feeling of dissatisfaction that we had been called so much earlier than was really necessary, but there was a general feeling of determination and hopefulness. I think none of us knew at that time that we were to make a long march to turn the enemy’s right flank. If we had, ordinary common sense would have suggested that we should not have been wasting precious hours on that hillside. We were all so new to the war – and absolutely inexperienced in battle – that we had no basis for a judgment, and our opinions were only reflections of our wishes.

Just when the coming light of day began to make things distinctly visible, while talking with Charley Harris, he was accosted by William A. Croffut, who was – or recently had been – connected with a Minneapolis paper, but who was there as a representative of some paper for the occasion. After an introduction, there was a short talk with Croffut, who questioned us as to the “state of our minds” at the near-approaching hour of battle. Neither of us could truthfully affirm that we were not somewhat disturbed as to our individual safety for the day – though we both tried to consider the matter hopefully and referred lightly to what might happen. We each left a message for our friends and, in case of “an accident,” requested a complimentary obituary notice. After that we shook hands and parted.

Charley got his obituary and – as it was a little premature – lived to read it. A privilege granted to but few. The long, anxious delay had tried us. It was sometime after sunrise, possibly six o’clock, when the road was clear, and we were fairly moving, following after some other division.

We marched for some distance in the rear of other troops over a good road, the Warrenton Turnpike. Soon after crossing a small stream, Cub Run, we turned to the right on a woods road. We – the regiment – were now at the head of the column and were followed by Ricketts’s Battery. Behind the battery were the 11th Massachusetts and 5th Massachusetts, completing the brigade. The 4th Pennsylvania, being a three months’ regiment and its time being out that day, had remained at Centreville or returned to Washington. It was said of them that they “marched to the rear to the tune of the enemy’s guns,” but their colonel, Hartranft, remained – acting as an aide on the staff of Colonel Franklin.

Soon after getting on this by-road, arrangements were made to deploy the first two companies – A and F – if desirable, but it was not found necessary. Our march was now much more rapid than it had been. The day was very hot and, in the woods, on the narrow roads, exceedingly close. From these conditions and out rapid marching, we were sweating profusely, and the march was taxing the men severely. About this time, we began to hear the report of a cannon occasionally, which continued for some time and increased in frequency. This firing seemed to be to our left and rear, and we appeared to be marching away from it.

When still some distance from the ford, near Sudley Springs Church, the artillery firing was heard again and increased to quite a rapid discharge. Musketry firing was also heard. About this time, our regiment was hurried forward at the double quick, and, when we reached the crossing, we were badly winded. As soon as we reached the ford, there was a rush to get water – wading in to fill our canteens and pouring it onto our heads. Meantime there was a pretty lively artillery fire going on and intermittent musketry firing.

There was but a short halt at the ford, when we reformed and waded the stream, following the road up a little rise, and then leaving it by turning to the left into a small, open wood. The other regiments of the brigade remained – for a time – on the other side of the stream, but the battery followed us over. During this time, there was rapid firing going on, and we laid down for a few minutes in this wood.

Here we could smell the smoke and hear firing out in the field in front. Near us in this wood was the Second Rhode Island, which had been in the fight and for some reason retired into this wood. They had some of their wounded with them. While here, Frank Bachelor told some of us that he had always had a great curiosity to know how one would feel in battle, but that had all passed now. He expressed himself as “satisfied, now, that his curiosity had carried him too far.” I do not recall any other attempt at ‘jesting in the face of death’ on that occasion – though it was not uncommon as we became more familiar with war. While here, Lieutenant Minor T. Thomas climbed a tree to make and observation, and when he came down reported the enemy retreating. We stopped in this wood but a few minutes, and while here the battery – Ricketts’s – had passed to the right of wood and began firing. When we left this wood we – Company F at least – left our blankets in a pile in the woods, but I do not know by whose order. They were hot and in the way.

Coming out of this wood, the regiment was formed in ‘column of division’ and marched almost directly to the front. The first division was composed of Companies A and F, and, being small, I was the corporal on the left of the first division. As we advanced to the front – far enough to see over the brow of the hill – I got a glimpse of what was in front of us. There was a valley, half a mile or more in width, through which ran a road and a crooked stream. There were some houses, fields, orchards or groves, clumps of bushes along the stream, and wooded hills beyond the valley. There were some troops down in the valley along the road, and I think some were across the stream. I did not observe that they were firing, and I presume that they were sheltered by the hill from the rebel batteries. there were some guns of the enemy on the hill across the valley – in the edge of the wood – which were throwing shell our way, but I think they were intended for the battery to our right, which was firing in that direction.

The ridge we were on, I presume, was Buck Hill. there were several regiments along the ridge to our left which had been engaged and, I believe, had driven some of the enemy from that position.

We remained here but a very short time, and, when we moved, marched by the right flank – in fours – obliquely to the right – across the fields down the hill to a road, which we followed across the stream (Young’s Branch) for a little distance, then turned to the left into a pasture or field, marching toward the hill on which the rebel battery was situated. Coming up a little rise, we crossed the road and were ordered to form line of battle ‘on right by file into line.’ While coming across the fields and down the hill, we were subject to the fire of their artillery. But when we reached the low ground we were sheltered from it, and – at the point where we were forming – were not exposed, except to the shells bursting in the air above us.

The distance marched must have been a mile or more. A part of the time we moved at double quick, and there was considerable dodging as the shells screeched over our heads. It was a new and trying ordeal that strained the nerves and hurt our feelings, but I am not aware that any other hurt was done. The formation of the line of battle was at right angles to the direction we were marching and brought the first two companies in front of a wood and but a short distance from it. The advance was led by Company A – Captain Alexander Wilkin – and was followed immediately by Company F – Captain William Colvill – and was made without any deployment of skirmishers or advance guard.

A good many things happened in the ‘thin space of time’ we were getting into line, and I do not think that I can give them consecutively.

Just as we were beginning the movement, I heard a shouting, the thunder of hoofs, and ‘chucking’ of wheels behind us. Looking backwards, I saw the artillery coming towards us – apparently over nearly the same route we had come. The horses had their noses and tails extended, and the drivers were lying low over their necks, yelling and plying their whips. It was a splendid, thrilling sight. It was Ricketts’s and Griffin’s batteries racing into position – and to destruction. Judged by results, they had much better remained on the other side and fired from a safer distance, but ‘all the same’ the movement was splendidly made. Crossing the stream, they broke through the regiment before it was half formed and separated the first division from the rest of the regiment. I had only time for a glance as we hurried into line, when other things absorbed my attention, and I thought no more of the batteries until we were later taken to the left to try to recover them – then a wreck on the plateau and covered by the enemy’s guns.

Just as I came into line, a mounted officer came from somewhere to the right and halted in front of Company A and inquired if it belonged to an Alabama regiment. Being questioned as to where he belonged, he mentioned the Second Mississippi Regiment, and was invited to dismount – at once. He slid off his horse on the opposite side – as if to shield himself – but came around his head and gave himself up. There was a young man with Company A, Javan B. Irvine, who had not then enlisted, but had come along out of interest, curiosity, or some other motive, and had kept with the company up to this time. He was not armed, except a revolver, but to him Captain Wilkin gave the prisoner, instructing him to keep him safe. Irvine proved a resolute, trusty fellow, and the next day delivered his prisoner to the authorities in Washington. He proved to be Lieutenant Colonel Boone of the Second Mississippi and was the highest rank of any prisoner taken and delivered in Washington, and, so far as I know, the only commissioned officer brought in.

The most of the regiment – except the two companies, A and F – now followed in support of the batteries. At the same time (possibly a minute earlier or later) there was a commotion in front of the two companies – in the edge of the woods and scarce a stone’s throw distant. Orders were given by Gen. Heintzelman, who had just ridden up, to “feel in the woods,” and – at almost the same instant – shots began to come from the brush,  now and then a head was seen. As quickly as possible, we turned our old smooth-bores toward the woods and fired. Then ‘things broke loose,’ and we were immediately enveloped in a dense smoke that for a little time did not permit us to see anything clearly, but bullets were hissing above our heads, and we could see red flashes through the smoke in front of us – at which we directed our fire. Our fire seemed the most effective, and, after a few volleys, the enemy retired into the woods; our firing ceased; and by someone’s order we were advanced into the woods.

It was not long after the firing began that I had a very narrow escape from serious wounds or possible death. I will first explain that our waist belts were made of ordinary harness leather and were a little less than two inches in width. They had a single hole in one end and multiple holes in the other, and were fastened with  a brass plate with hooks on the under side – and could be adjusted to the size of the person.

A bullet – coming almost directly from the front – struck my belt plate with such force as to knock the breath out of me and tumble me over. At first I am not sure that I thought of anything, but, when I did think, imagined that I was ‘done for’ and thought of everything – all mixed up. Then I heard someone – I think it was Oscar Williams – call my name. About that time, returning breath made me feel better and take a more hopeful view of the case, and I rolled over and got on to my feet. When I found that I was not killed, I was so glad that I felt first rate for a time and thought no more about it until the fighting was over.

The force if the blow was sufficient to bend and dent the plate, and left a discolored spot on the flesh as large as the palm of the hand. I have always considered this one of my narrowest escapes. It was a heavy bullet, and had lost some of its initial force, but if it had struck anywhere except on that plate (with the leather underneath it), it would have mangled and bruised and might have gone half through me. An inch or so – to the right or left – up or down – would have missed the plate, and then I would have ‘got it’ in the ‘bread basket,’ and it might have proved entirely too much for my digestion.

Lively skirmishing followed, and we were for a time separated from the other companies of the regiment. Our advance was opposed by the enemy, firing from behind trees and other protection, but we advanced in the same manner, drove them back into the woods, and captured a few prisoners – Alabamians. In advancing, we had crossed a fence and went for some distance into the woods. Meantime, though we were making a pretty lively racket ourselves, we heard very heavy firing to our left where the batteries and the rest of the regiment had gone.

We were now brought out of the woods – I suppose for the purpose of connecting with the regiment, as that would have been the natural thing to do.

Several of the boys had been hit while in the woods or at the first firing, but I do not believe that our loss was severe. Henry R. Childs, of the company, while advancing into the woods, was wounded in the head and shoulder, and was left insensible in the bushes. He afterwards ‘came to himself’ and, finding the company gone, started to follow it. Coming out of the woods to the open ground, he saw an advancing line of the enemy’s skirmishers, who ordered him to halt and fired on him, but he ran for it and managed to escape, believing – as he said – in the old adage that ‘he that fights and runs away may live to fight another day.’

Coming out of the woods at a point near where we entered, we formed in a close skirmish line and – advancing among the young pines and bushes, which were scarcely as high as our heads – we moved towards the higher ground that was on our left when we first began firing. There was cannonading going on at this time, but only a weak and irregular fire of small arms.

When we reached the crest of the hill, we were greeted with a sharp fire which came from the woods to the right oblique – as we could tell by the smoke, but we could see nothing but an occasional head. We answered this fire and laid down there among the little pines along the crest of the hill – loading while laying down and rising to fire. While lying on my right side – ramming a cartridge, which was lodged part way down the barrel – I had my feet crossed to hold the butt of the musket and my left knee bent – when a bullet cut through my pants and across the inside of my left knee, but did no serious damage. It was a pretty close call for a leg. An increasingly hot fire came from the woods on the right front, and a number were hit. A body of the enemy came along the fence as if to get to our right, and we retired to the shelter of the hill.

About this time, Lieut. Col. Miller came – with some of the other companies of the right wing – to our assistance., and we were formed in the road. We then joined with some other troops in an attempt to recover the guns of the batteries. It was successful on so far as it drove the enemy from the immediate vicinity of the guns, and, after suffering severe loss, we retired again to the cut in the roadway.

The wreck of the batteries was at the crest of the hill to our left, surrounded by dead men and horses. It was a position that ought not to have been taken by a battery, exposed as it was to a close fire of artillery and infantry, and, I presume, it would not have been taken if the true condition of things had been understood. The guns were at a point between the two forces and covered by the guns of both sides from sheltered positions, but neither side could maintain a position, where they were, long enough to remove them.

After our retirement to the road, there was a considerable time when matters were comparatively quiet.  Then we were advanced to meet a force of the enemy coming out of the woods to our right front, and there was more sharp fighting. We retired to the shelter of the road and soon drove them off – after which there was another period of quiet.

In all of these movements there was more or less confusion and disorder. We had not reached a stage of discipline when anything else could be reasonably expected. Especially of men under fire for the first time and subjected to severe losses. We were human, and, therefore, we were all more or less excited, confused, and uncertain as to what had been accomplished and hat more we were expected to attempt. A good many had left to care for the wounded, and others had gone to the stream to get water, for we were all suffering greatly from the heat, thirst, and exhaustion. When it is remembered that we had but little rest the night before; that the morning march of 12 miles had been a severe test to our powers of endurance; that our subsequent movements had been hurried – down hill and up – over fences and through woods;  also, that we were under the severe mental strain of battle, which is more exhausting than physical action – then our condition can be partly comprehended.

We were in a pitiable condition that under more favorable circumstances would have called for immediate relief. There did not seem to be a breath of air stirring; the early afternoon sun was shining directly into the roadway; we were sweating profusely and suffering from the heat – clothing torn and disordered – and our faces smeared with powder and dirt. We cared nothing for looks just then, but the feel of the situation was very unsatisfactory as we waited to see what was next on the program.

Sherman had not then defined war in a single brief sentence, but I heard the one important word in it uttered several times that day – suggested, no doubt, by the day’s experiences. We had read that ‘to make war was to be hungry and thirsty'; that it ‘was to suffer and to dies'; that it was ‘to obey.’ We had been trying to do all those of those things and assumed that we were getting ‘about what was coming to us’ and we naturally wondered if there was any more ‘coming.’ I think that all there realized that we had been hit pretty hard, but I do not think that any of us supposed that we were beaten. At least I recall no suggestion to that effect.

We remained for some time in this position, when we were disturbed by some cannon shots that came from the right and a little to our rear. At first we supposed it was some of our batteries that did not realize that we were so far to the front – but a little observation showed a line of battle advancing on our right flank. There was great anxiety to know if they were friends or enemies. About this time, there was a dash of cavalry coming out of a crossroad to our right, but it was repulsed before it reached us. The conviction now began to assert itself that those fellows coming in on our right were enemies and, if so, entirely too strong for us to contend with.

Lieutenant Colonel Miller was the highest officer present with that portion of the regiment, and he gave the order to retire and indicated the direction – directly to the rear.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 51 – 58 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.





Previews Coming

22 02 2012

I have a backlog of titles that I need to talk about. I just want all the authors and publishers who have sent me stuff over the past one or two months to know that I will be getting to those in the coming weeks. In two cases (a book on Bull Run and another of letters from a member of the 8th PA Reserves), I want to go into more detail. The first I think will feature an author interview. The second will incorporate the results of a trip I made this week to Antietam National Battlefield, where historian Ted Alexander was nice enough to come in on his day off to give me access to the park’s file on the 8th PA Reserves. What I found in that file pertaining to my great-grandmother’s brother was startling. Fantastic, in fact.

But more on that, and on all the other books in the queue, later.

For now, here is the very best Confederate battle flag image to come down the pike in a long, long time.

My mom's maiden name was Powers but, sadly, I don't think I'm related to the Myrtle Beach Mermen closer.





Interview: James S. Price, “The Battle of New Market Heights”

18 10 2011

Public historian and blogger James S. “Jimmy” Price is the author of the recently released The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will be Theirs by the Sword. I’ve never met Jimmy, but am acquainted with him via his blog and Facebook. So when I learned of this new study of a relatively little known engagement involving US Colored Troops I was intrigued and thought maybe some of you would be, too. So I shamelessly begged a copy, looked it over, and did my thing.

BR: Jimmy, we usually start off here with a little background information. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

JP: I had the great privilege of being born in the best sports town in America (and by that, of course, I mean Pittsburgh, PA). My family moved to Richmond when I was five years old, which was just in time for the 125th anniversary of the Civil War. History soon became my passion and I got involved with re-enacting at the age of 15. I was also fortunate enough to have wonderful parents who supported me while I made peanuts working at some local museums and battlefields. I was able to gain some great work experience at places like Petersburg National Battlefield and Richmond National Battlefield Park. This opened the door to doing more serious work at Pamplin Historical Park and The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. At the same time I was pursuing an academic career in history, completing my undergraduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2005 and grad school at Norwich University in 2009. I currently live in Fredericksburg with my beautiful wife and our two kids and I’m working with John Hennessy and the fabulous staff at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park developing a web-based curriculum entitled “Community at War.”

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War as a line of study?

JP: My Dad taking me to the battlefields around Richmond initially spurred my interest. Shortly after that I got a free subscription to the Time Life Civil War series and managed to get my hands on a copy of the American Heritage History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton. After that it was game over, and I knew that I wanted to pursue Civil War history as a career. Over a decade later when I came to work for the County of Henrico, I had to spend a lot of time familiarizing myself with the battles that took place there, and it was then that I did my first real research into the Battle of New Market Heights (I had known about it since my days at Richmond National Battlefield, but hadn’t done any significant research). This prompted me to launch The Sable Arm: A Blog Dedicated to the United States Colored Troops of the Civil War Era as a means to force myself to learn more about USCTs and the battle that led to fourteen of them receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.

BR: New Market Heights is not an action that pops to the top of most Civil War enthusiasts list of well-known engagements. What first got you interested in it?

JP:  The thing that really piqued my interest at first was the amount of Medals of Honor that were issued for just one action. Add the fact that they were issued to African-American troops and I started to think that this battle was at least as important as the more famous charge of the 54th Massachusetts at Battery Wagner that was immortalized in the motion picture Glory. To have United States Colored Troops attacking a position that was defended by some of Lee’s best troops within a few short miles of the Confederate capital seemed to be a story worthy of more exploration.

BR: Since some readers may not be familiar with the battle, how about a brief synopsis?

JP: New Market Heights was part of a larger two-day action known today as the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, fought on September 29-30, 1864. It took place during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign of 1864-65. In late September of 1864, Grant prepared an offensive to strike at Petersburg, prevent Robert E. Lee from reinforcing his troops in the Shenandoah Valley, and – if possible – seize the city of Richmond. Grant planned a two-pronged assault with the Army of the Potomac striking at Petersburg while Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James struck north of the James River to threaten the rebel capital. Spearheading one prong of this attack would be Brig. Gen. Charles Paine’s Third Division of the XVIII Corps, a unit comprised entirely of United States Colored Troops. Their objective would be New Market Heights. Early on the morning of the 29th, Paine designated Col. Samuel A. Duncan’s 3rd Brigade to take New Market Heights. Duncan’s men deployed in a skirmish line 200 yards long and soon encountered obstacles that hampered their movement. A marshy stream called Four Mile Creek ran across their line of advance and slashing, abatis, and chevaux-de-frise blocked access to the Rebel entrenchments. Duncan’s men advanced into the thick fog and, in the words of one survivor, were “all cut to pieces.” Intense musket and artillery fire shredded the ranks of the oncoming Federals and soon Col. Duncan was down with four wounds. His brigade was forced to withdraw, losing 387 of its 750 effectives. Paine then sent in his 2nd Brigade under the command of Col. Alonzo G. Draper. As the sun began to rise, Draper’s men went in over the same ground that Duncan’s men had crossed and they were soon entangled in the slashing. For thirty brutal minutes, Draper’s men endured a barrage from the Confederate lines before the Confederates began to withdraw.  Draper would lose 447 out of his 1,300 men. They had taken New Market Heights, but as the day’s events played out, they would not capture Richmond. That being said, one former Confederate did write that “upon [the] 29th [of] September, Richmond came nearer being captured, and that, too, by negro troops, than it ever did during the whole war.”  While Butler met with only partial success that day, the fighting prowess of the African-American soldiers under his command was put on full display for all to see. Throughout the entire course of the war, only eighteen black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. Of that number, fourteen were awarded to the black troops who stormed New Market Heights.

BR: What did your research turn up that particularly surprised you?

JP: I was happy to find some unpublished accounts that backed up some of the more famous incidents that have been called into question. For instance, the story has always gone that Butler rode up to the men of Duncan’s brigade who were about to step off and exhorted them that their battle cry should be “Remember Fort Pillow!” People tend to doubt anything that Butler claims to have said or done, but I did find an account from a Texan who spoke about the attacking USCTs shouting “Remember Fort Pillow!” and how mad that made him. I was also happy to find an unpublished account from Alexander Kelly, who was a member of the 6th USCT and one of the Medal of Honor recipients. That, plus some great photographs from the collection of a gentleman named Rob Lyon that he graciously allowed me to reproduce in the book were very pleasant surprises.

BR: If your work impacts how the Battle of New Market Heights is remembered in one way, what would you hope that is?

JP: Well, the longstanding tradition about New Market Heights is that, while the USCTs displayed bravery and heroism during the assault, we shouldn’t read too much into the fact that there were 14 Medals of Honor awarded to those who fought there. Skeptics claim that the nefarious Beast Butler hatched up the idea of New Market Heights being a grand victory to further his political interests. I’ve read one author who referred to the idea of the black troops winning a legitimate victory at New Market Heights as being “hoopla” while another refers to this notion as “militarily irrelevant Negrophilia.” I hope that folks who read my book will view the battle in a more balanced light.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

JP: In terms of researching USCTs, Record Group 94 at the National Archives and Records Administration is a treasure trove of good information. Richmond National Battlefield had been compiling information on New Market Heights for over 20 years, and I was fortunate enough to be able to go through every scrap of paper they had concerning the battle. I was also astonished at how many good sources I could find through Google books and http://www.archive.org/, www.footnote.com, and Accessible Archives. I used the information gathered through these various sources to guide the rest of my research and then had to sift through what I could use and what I had to leave behind (keep in mind I was working with a 40,000 word limit).

BR: What’s next for you?

JP: Well, I have a few things cookin’ on my plate right now. I’ve had my first two experiences with Hollywood as of late. I had the privilege of serving as a historical consultant for the upcoming miniseries To Appomattox, which was a great experience. I reviewed the scenes having to do with USCTs and, from what I’ve seen of the script, this is going to be a fine production. I’m also working as one of the extras in the upcoming Lincoln film, which gives me the ability to brag that I’ve been in the same room as Steven Spielberg. And in other (breaking) news, I recently just signed a contract for my second book with The History Press! This time I will be examining the First Battle of Deep Bottom, fought from July 27-29, 1864, where Winfield Scott Hancock and Phillip H. Sheridan both failed to add any battlefield laurels to their respective careers. Life is busy!

It sounds busy! Pick up a copy of The Battle of New Market Heights. It’s a quick read at just over 100 pages, nicely illustrated with photos, drawings, and maps. Jimmy Price has helped bring this event into sharper focus.





Interview: Terry Johnston, “Civil War Monitor”

21 09 2011

Terry Johnston and I have never met, but we’ve been corresponding and talking on the phone for at least a couple of years. Terry was instrumental in publishing my first ever Civil War writing to appear in print, a long letter to the editor that ran in an issue of North & South magazine a few years back. Over  a year ago Terry called me about an idea for a new American Civil War publication he was considering. At the time, it was nothing more than a vague notion – at least, it seemed that way to me. But after a few phone calls it started to flesh out. Terry didn’t just pick my brain – he talked to a lot of folks and you may have run across a few announcements to that effect already on the web (see here and here, for example). At long last, everything’s set to hit the fan. I received a copy of the new magazine last week, and it looks great. At left is the cover of the premier issue. But the project is more than a print magazine: Terry has integrated a strong web presence into the whole enterprise. Rather than tell you what I think it’s all about, I thought it better for you to hear from the source. In the interest of full disclosure, I appear on the masthead of the magazine as a digital history advisor, and may also contribute to the magazine’s website periodically.

BR: Terry, while I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with your work, can you tell them a little bit about yourself?

TJ: Well, I’m a native of New Jersey. I received my B.A. from Tufts University and my M.A. (history) from Clemson University. I’m also, at long last, nearing completion of my Ph.D. in history—my dissertation focuses on Irish immigrants who served in the Union army. I’ve written a few articles and one book, Him on the One Side and Me on the Other, an edited collection of the wartime letters of two Scottish-born brothers who fought on opposite sides [see extracts here]. I also spent eight years (between 1999 and 2007) on the editorial staff of North & South magazine, the last two as lead editor.

BR: What got you interested in Civil War history?

TJ: Basically, it was a children’s book on Abraham Lincoln. When I was a kid, my mother, a former high school English teacher, was so determined to get my sister and me to read that she’d excuse us from minor chores whenever we would sit down with a book. On one such occasion, the book I picked up was something called Meet Abraham Lincoln. And I was hooked. So, technically, it is true when I say that I became a Civil War enthusiast to avoid taking out the trash.

BR: So tell us about The Civil War Monitor.

TJ: In a nutshell, it’s a new quarterly magazine, the first issue of which will hit the newsstand toward the end of the month (9/27, to be specific). Our tag line is A New Look at America’s Greatest Conflict, which to us means we intend to provide our readers with well-written and engaging articles that either break new ground or cover well-known topics with a fresh slant. To help accomplish this, we’ve gathered together a terrific team of editorial advisors (with the exception, perhaps, of one fellow with the initials HS) and a battery of top authors, all of whom are well in tune with the latest avenues of Civil War scholarship.

BR: There are at least four other Civil War focused periodicals out there today. What will set CWM apart?

TJ: A number of things, we hope. For one, we’re excited about the magazine’s look. Our art director, Patrick Mitchell (www.plutomedia.com), a veteran designer of several nationally renowned publications, has brought his unique vision to the project. And frankly we’ve been blown away by the results, which I think stylistically might best be described as a perfect blend of old and new. Beyond appearance, we believe our content is of the kind you won’t find in the other Civil War magazines. This is not to say that everything we intend to do isn’t being done, in some fashion, in the other magazines—like footnoting articles, for instance. But in other respects, we will be offering—or delivering—content in ways our competitors do not. Take our book section, for example. We have no intention of publishing the cursory reviews that are regularly found elsewhere (you know, those 200-word appraisals of 600-page books that invariably conclude with some version of the sentence, “These faults aside, this is a book that should find its way onto the shelf of every Civil War buff”). Instead, our book section will consist of a rotating lineup of bookish columns. In our premier issue, these are: Russell McClintock’s take on the essential readings on the coming of the war; Robert K. Krick’s musings on recent battle books; and Steven H. Newton’s reflections on the various books that influenced his interest in, and writing on, the Civil War.

Another way in which we’ll be delivering content is through our website (www.civilwarmonitor.com), something we’re equally excited about. Visitors will find a variety of free material there, including regular photo essays and our two blogs: The Front Line (www.civilwarmonitor.com/front-line), where a diverse lineup of scholars, public historians, and talented buffs will post on a wide array of Civil War subjects; and The Bookshelf (www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf), our blog devoted to author interviews and clear, insightful, and substantive reviews of recently released books (the kind we like). Lastly, we’re also producing a digital edition of the magazine for our subscribers, viewable at our website, so that they’ll be able to read The Civil War Monitor online whenever they’d like.

In short, we truly believe that our coverage—in breadth, depth, and style, both in the magazine and on our website—goes beyond what you can get from the other popular magazines.

BR: Two blogs? Hmmm…not sure how to feel about that! How else can we follow CWM?

TJ: Facebook (www.facebook.com/CivilWarMonitor) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/#!/civilwarmonitor), of course! Our social media guru, Laura Davis, is a grizzled veteran of both, and while I must admit I’ve been learning about it all as I go, I’m starting to see the possibilities they offer for presenting Civil War history to a new generation of enthusiasts.

As far as I’m concerned, we can never have too many outlets for good Civil War writing. From the looks of the first issue, Terry is off to a great start.





Notes on Letter to Pvt. Albert Penno, Co. D, 1st RI

4 08 2011

The following notes accompany the transcription of this letter and can be found at The Civil War Day by Day, maintained by the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The good folks there have given me permission to add some of their wonderful collection to the resources here – more to come.

Letter from Lucinda M. [Hayne?] to her husband Albert B. Penno, a private in Company D of the 1st Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers. The following words are written on the front of the envelope included with this letter, “Found on field, Bull Run, July 21 ’61.” This note is believed to be in the hand of Edward Porter Alexander, a Confederate officer who was also present at the Battle of Bull Run.

Albert Penno was wounded on 21 July 1861 (three days after the date of this letter), at the Battle of First Bull Run. Penno was then taken as a prisoner of war to Richmond, Va., and died on 2 August 1861 of his wounds.





Bull Run Sesqui on the Web

25 07 2011

Over the past week or so I’ve been sharing on Facebook and retweeting on Twitter various articles, images, and videos relating to the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) that have swamped the web as the 150th anniversary of the battle approached and was commemorated. There were a bunch of them. Here are links to a few of the more significant items (I’ll add to this any that pop up afterwards, too). There are some worthy of posting to the resources section, and as I check them out and get any necessary permissions I will do so. Get comfortable, this will take a while. If I missed anything big, let me know!

Update 8/3/2011: I noticed I had fouled up a few of these links. I think they’re fixed now, so check them out again if you couldn’t get through.

Good Battle Stuff

Miscellaneous

Opinion

Sesqui Events

Videos





Interview: Garry Adelman, “Manassas Battlefields Then & Now”

7 07 2011

Garry Adelman, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide and Civil War author (among other things), has a new book coming out next week, Manassas Battlefields Then & Now: Historic Photography at Bull Run. He recently took some time to discuss his work with Bull Runnings.

BR: While I’m sure many of the readers have heard of you or seen you on the tube, tell us a little about yourself.

GA: I became all but instantly obsessed with the Civil War at age 16 upon picking up William A Frassanito’s Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day. It changed my entire life. I was living outside of Chicago and just started digesting all the books I could. I had never before read history for pleasure. I got a business degree at Michigan State a few years later—Hotel and Restaurant Management to be exact—and then went back to Chicago to run restaurants.  In the meantime I started driving out to Gettysburg and Antietam whenever I could. Ultimately, I couldn’t resist moving to Gettysburg, which I did in the fall of 1992. Save for picking up that book in my high school library in 1983, I would not have met my wife, had my kids or been able to work what I think are the best set of jobs in the world.

BR: Whoa, that’s a lot! What happened after you moved?

GA: I didn’t have a job or even any prospects so I did the only thing I knew how to do—opened a restaurant. While running that place, I started writing for The Gettysburg Magazine, became a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg, and explored the battlefield with what little time I had. I sold the restaurant to Gettysburg College in 1995, worked there for a few years and then for Thomas Publications, which specializes in Civil War books. In the meantime, I met my future wife on Gettysburg’s town square, published (with Tim Smith) Devil’s Den: A History and Guide (1997) and started working on more books. I got my Masters in History from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in 2002 and then I really entered the history world. After an 8-year stint at a historical consulting firm in Rockville, Maryland, I started working for the Civil War Trust as Director of History and Education, about a year and a half ago. I am still a Licensed Battlefield Guide and I regularly speak to Civil War groups. I have now written, co-authored or edited more than 30 Civil War-related books and articles.

BR: What is The Center for Civil War Photography?

GA: The Center was founded in 1999 and I have served as its vice president for more than a decade. The Center aims to teach people the whos, whats, wheres, whys, and hows of Civil War Photography. We aim to collect digital copies of, place into context and  make available every outdoor Civil War photo ever recorded. We hold an annual seminar at various battlefields every year and this October we are focusing (excuse the pun) on the Western Theater, at Chattanooga. Space is still available! It was a no-brainer to take the Manassas book to The Center as publisher.

BR: Why did you choose the Bull Run battlefields as the subject for your new book?

GA: No matter how many facets of the conflict I may research or address, I always go back to my first Civil War love—then & now photography. Frassanito pioneered the field of the study of Civil War photographs as primary documents and I am one of a small cadre of historians moving that work forward as he has slowed down. No historian had ever completed even a small book on Bull Run’s historic photography and the resources, mysteries and curiosities abound at Manassas and its surroundings. The topic was all but begging to be covered!

BR: Was there anything in particular that surprised you about the photographic history of the battlefields?

GA: Oh, my yes. Upon separating the various images into series by photographic team, it became clear that only one covered the actual battlefields field during the war—this was George Barnard and James Gibson’s team. Despite Matthew Brady’s attempt in 1861, and Timothy O’Sullivan’s coverage of Manassas in 1862, Andrew Russell’s in 1863, no other photographer secured plates of the iconic sites on the Manassas Battlefields. In June 1865, Alexander Gardner’s team was next to cover the field. This is extremely odd given Bull Run’s popularity and its proximity to Washington.  I suppose another thing that surprised me was how much work remained, even with Barnard’s 1862 series.

BR:  Can you describe your research and writing process?

GA: I first became familiar with and aimed to digitally secure every Bull Run-related historic photo I could. I had been doing this for more than five years already and the best stuff came from the Manassas National Battlefield, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and members of The Center for Civil War Photography. Upon collecting these and separating them into series, I did a bunch of field research, trying to find unknown photo locations and getting to know the photographers’ areas of operations.  This is not a lengthy book and yet this process took years.  I made most of the key discoveries, shot most of the modern photos and did most of the writing, however, in the last eight months.

BR: Any particular discovery you’d like the share?

GA: Indeed! I am most proud of having finally divined the location of five 1862 images that are usually labeled as Blackburn’s Ford. In close consultation with Jim Burgess, Museum Specialist at Manassas National Battlefield, who helped with almost every aspect of the book, I was able to pinpoint the location more than a mile upstream from Blackburn’s Ford. Finding a Civil War photolocation, that is, the place where photographers exposed their plates, is among the most satisfying and fun endeavors I know of. To put five photos into context—that’s more than were taken at Shiloh during the entire war!

 

The historic photo here (left), courtesy of Manassas National Battlefield, was found to show a wrecked Confederate Railroad bridge, upstream from Mitchell’s Ford. Next to it is the location today (right). Click the thumbs for larger images.

BR: What’s next for you?

GA:  I haven’t decided. My family, my work at the Trust and my various Civil War side jobs occupy a great deal of my time. I am playing around with the idea of a small Peninsula/Seven Days photo book. That series of photos remains one of the largest collections of largely unexplored Civil War photographs.

Manassas Battlefields Then & Now: Historic Photography at Bull Run can be ordered from Amazon.com or from The Center for Civil War Photography. Also see The Center’s press release here.








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