Our Friend Shotgun

8 09 2013
Shotgun Discusses Action on Chinn's Ridge April 2005

Shotgun Discusses Action on Chinn Ridge April 2005

I received news today that my friend (and yours, even if you don’t know it) Dick Weeks, aka Shotgun, is quite ill. All of us who comprise the online Civil War “community” owe Shotgun a debt of gratitude. Probably more than any single person he has over the past 20 or so years shaped how that community looks today. In addition to building and maintaining one of the most widely used general Civil War websites, Shotgun’s Home of the American Civil War, he has  also maintained a message board and a chat room which is still active. And by organizing annual battlefield “musters,” he has provided the opportunity for far flung individuals who had known each other by screen name only to meet, learn, share research, and form long lasting friendships.

Shotgun possesses the rare ability to carry over his friendly, helpful, generous, and civil personality from “real life” to the web. While a sterile bio might leave one with the impression he is a “tough old bird” – and in some ways he is, a military man who calls ‘em as he sees ‘em – Shotgun is a truly good guy, and even if he tells you you’re full of, um, baloney, he can do it in a way that doesn’t make you feel like that of which you are most likely full.

I’ve been on plenty of battlefield tours of varying sizes and logistical complexity over the years, some costing hundreds of dollars, with dozens of attendees and multiple faculty, but none have exceeded a muggy, wet day spent with Shotgun and our mutual friend Teej Smith touring the battlefield of Second Manassas. If you’ve never had the chance to walk that ground with Sgt. Weeks and his hand-colored Hennessy maps, you’ve really missed out. But best of all was retiring to Shotgun’s house in Herndon for what he calls “grilled meat and adult beverages.” To this day I can’t recall what kind of meat was grilled, but delicious as it was it didn’t compare to the conversation and camaraderie shared by three tired but happy Civil War nuts that night.

Over the years Shotgun has been many things to many people – devoted son, father, and husband, patriotic two-branch veteran, mentor, innovator, hand-lender – but I’ll bet most folks whose lives he has touched think of him simply as friend. His daughter Michele informs us that he’d really like to hear from his friends just now, and she’ll see to it that he’s made aware of the contents of any messages sent to his email address, shotgun@civilwarhome.com.

Dick, the thoughts and prayers of my family are with you and yours. Thanks for everything. You’re Finest Kind.





Cpl. Taliaferro N. Simpson, Co. A, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, On the Battle

4 09 2013

Bull’s Run

July 23, 1861

Dear Pa

I write in great haste to ease your mind with reference to Brother [Richard Simpson - BR] and myself besides all of our friends – none killed. The 3d was not in the engagement. Only cannon shot and shell were thrown at us in our intrenchments, but no one hurt. The battle of Bull’s Run and the victory of the southern troops is the most celebrated that is recorded in the annals of American history. On account of an order from the Col to prepare to march I cannot go into detail, but give an outline of the fight as I heard it.

First we made a glorious retreat from Fairfax, the most glorious made in America, and took our stand at Bull’s Run where we were reinforced to the number of forty or fifty thousand. The enemy came upon us with  45,000 & with a reserve of 50 or 60,000, amounting in all to 110,000. They began the engagement by throwing shell and shot upon our center, the position the 3d with several others held, and with a very large force made an attack upon our right flank, but were beautifully thrashed. This was on Thursday, the 18th. Friday and Saturday they reinforced, and Sunday morning at 25 minutes past 11 o’clock they began throwing shot on our center to keep our strong forces in their position thereby deceiving us, and with a force of 45,000 made a tremendous attack upon our left wing. The fight was terrible, but southern valor never waned, and with only 20 or 25,000 defeated them completely. South Carolina, as ever, has cast around her name a halo of glory never to be diminished. Sloan’s, Kershaw’s, and Cash’s regiments were engaged. Sloan’s for an hour and a half fought against five thousand and at one time was entirely surrounded, but reinforcements came in time to prevent the last one from being cut off. The gallant Col acted with great coolness and courage. The fight on Thursday we lost 12 men, 30 wounded; the enemy 150 killed and many wounded. The battle on Sunday we had 500 killed and wounded, while the enemy lost between 2 and 5,000 killed with over 2,500 prisoners. They fled before us like sheep. Their officers confess it to be a total rout on their part.

Our regiment was called upon to pursue them but didn’t overtake them. They have cleared out for Washington. The citizens in the county say that many of their soldiers and officers have declared that they have fought their last time this side of the Potomac. You will see a complete description of the fight in the papers, and I expect more correct than what I can write since theirs is from headquarters and mine from camp reports. Gus Sitton wounded in the arm. Whit Kilpatrick in the hand. Sam Wilkes was killed. Gen. B. E. Bee shot through the body – not expected to live. Col. Johnson of Hampton’s Legion killed. Hampton slightly wounded. Uncle Davy, Gus Broyles, and Sam Taylor were in the thickest of the fight but came through unhurt. The report is that McClellan was killed, and Patterson taken prisoner. How true I cannot tell.

I since hear that Jim Sloan and Wilton Earl are mortally wounded – and that Sloan lost 20 killed besides the wounded. I heard the names of several, but recognized none but one, Bellotte.

We took Sherman’s battery in full. In all we have taken some 60 or 70 cannon. The plunder left by the enemy and taken by the rebels cannot be described – tremendous, tremendous, tremendous. Wagons, horses in abundance, in addition to mountains of other things. One prisoner said they had left every thing they had. Gen McDowal was seriously injured. The citizens say that Scott with many leading congressmen and a crowd of ladies was at Centreville enjoying themselves finely and ready to follow the army on and have a ball at Richmond tonight. But when they heard of their defeat, they all left pell mell.

We march today to Centreville. What will be in the future policy of our Government I cannot of course say, but it will take them – the enemy – months to equip another army. No more fighting for some time unless we march upon them. The time for 80,000 of the northern troops will soon be out, and a prisoner said he had no idea that one third of them would return.

Give my love to all. If you can find anyone to send me a negro boy do so quickly. I need one badly. I have lost nearly all my clothes. Do send me one. There is no danger – and no expense. I will look for one – Mose or anyone. Farewell. Believe me as ever

Your affectionate son

T. N. Simpson

You see, I write on paper taken from the enemy.

Everson & Simpson, eds., “Far, far from home”: The Wartime Letters of Dick and Tally Simpson, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, pp 32-36

Tally N. Simpson at Ancestry.com





Pvt. Richard W. Simpson, Co. A, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, On the Withdrawal from Fairfax and the Fight at Blackburn’s Ford

3 09 2013

Bulls Run, Virginia

Saturday July 20th 1861

I have but one more piece of paper, so I will tell you what I have to say in as few words as possible.

At Fairfax, where we were stationed, early in the morning of Wednesday the 18th of July, firing was heard in the direction of the pickets, also the booming of a few cannon shots in the same direction. About 7 o’clock A.M. the army of the enemy came in sight. The glistening of bayonets as they approached appeared like a sea of silver. Fairfax was slightly fortified only; the enemy numbered 50,000 or 60,000, while we had only some 8,000 or 10,000. It was their intention to cut us off from the main body at Manassas, some 14 miles distant. At nine o’clock A.M. we marched up to the breastworks, the enemy only a short distance from us on our flank at next Manassas. Our baggage in the meanwhile had been sent on to Bull’s Run. By shifting the regts from position to position we kept them at bay until about 10 o’clock when the retreat began.

Such a retreat was never known before. Our men had been double-quicked for two hours before the enemy appeared, and having all their baggage to carry, were nearly broken down before we started. The day was excessively hot and the road hilly and rocky. Men began to throw away their knapsacks before we had gone a mile. It was a mournful sight to see the soldiers on the way. Some fainted in their tracks, while others fell from their horses. Some dropped on the roadside with scarcely breath enough to keep them alive, but only one man died, he from the effects of a sun stroke.

In an incredibly short time we came to Centreville, 7 miles from Fairfax. There we were again drawn up in order for battle. Our company was detache as a picket guard, and on that account we laid upon our guns from the time we got there until 12 o’clock at night when we were again roused and continued the retreat. By that time the enemy had nearly cut us off from the main body again. (Let me here tell you that we had been sent to Fairfax and ordered to retreat as soon as the enemy appeared to induce them to follow us to Bulls Run where it was intended to give them a warm welcome. This plan succeeded admirably.) We got to the Run four miles further about daylight and took position for the fight.

Bull Run is the best natural fortified place in Virginia, and the fortifications extend for six miles along the banks of the creek. Our regt was stationed at an unfortified position. Thursday about 12 o’clock the enemy had come within about a half a mile of us, and planting their batteries, they began to pelt us with balls and shells shot from rifle cannon. It was amusing to see the men dodge them. At first they flew high over our heads, but they soon began to lower, then they whistled about us in earnest. Shells bursted in every direction. Our artillery could do nothing except fire a few scattering shots at them, which killed only a small number of them. After they had been shooting at us for an hour or so with their cannons (not having killed or wounded a single man), they sent about 10,000 men to flank our right. But Beauregard was a little too quick for them and sent a force of 4,000 to foil their plan. They met in a wheatfield and began work with the musketry. Volley after volley burst forth until all became mingled into one long continuous roar which seemed to shake the very heavens. They began to retreat, covering their retreat with their artillery, while our artillery commenced to fire upon them. We had about fifteen pieces. We do not know the number of theirs engaged. The cannonade lasted a long time, and in all the fight was 5 1/2 hours long. The enemy then fell back about two miles, where they are now.

The loss on both sides is variously estimated, but I believe all have now agreed that the number of Yankee killed was about 8 or 900, the number of wounded unknown. Our loss was 8 killed & 50 wounded. We took two common & one rifle cannon & eight hundred stand of arms, besides quantities of oilcloths, blankets, knapsacks, overcoats, and all kinds of army equipments. Yesterday (Friday) the enemy sent in a white flag to bury their dead, but they only half did the work & left about seventy unburied. Our men went over to the field yesterday to finish the work, but the stench was so great that they were compelled to leave it undone & so they were left. I forgot to mention that we took about 30 prisoners.

Synopsis – Wednesday & Wednesday night we were on the march & watch – Thursday all day we were drawn up in battle array & part of the time dodging balls and shells. Thursday night we were busy throwing up works for our company – Friday part worked & part lay on watch waiting for the general battle – Friday night (last night) was the hardest of all, for having had no sleep the two nights previous, we were wearied awfully – yet we had to sit in our entrenchments all night-kept awake by the firing of the pickets.

This morning we are still on the watch expecting the general attack. We were sure it would commence last night, but now we have no idea when it will commence. For two days & nights I ate nothing but seven year old sea biscuits.

Cousin Jim was among the number to break down in the retreat from Fairfax, but he was taken up on the wagons. I & Buddie [Taliaferro Simpson - BR] stood it finely excepting the blistering of our feet & shoulders where the straps of the knapsacks worked. Cousin Jim was sick before we left & has been ever since, but is much better now. Since Wednesday all the snatches of sleep were on the bare ground with nothing but the blue sky for our covering – but it was far sweeter than all the feather beds in creation.

The 4th Regt is now two miles above us. All our troops are ready or the fight. Patterson is coming or has come to join the Federal commander McDowell. Their army numbers about 80,000 string. I can’t say how many men we will have engaged – but I can say I know we will whip them easily. One of the prisoners taken at Fairfax says when their army came up & found the place deserted, they were completely thunder-struck & said “if we can run the gamecocks of the South that easily, we will go on, have a slight brush at Manassas, take Richmond, & there end the war.” We would have got them completely in a trap at Bull Run if a woman there had not told them we had stopped there & disclosed the position & strength of our breastworks. It was there they planned to flank us on either side, drive us back, & decoy our men from the center – then make a desperate rush with their reserve through our middle & thrash us outright. But lo and behold! our right wing defeated them & drove them back from their position & completely frustrated their grand ball at Richmond.

We are now much better prepared than before and are anxiously waiting for an attack. One of our Alabama regts killed about 20 Yankees before they left Fairfax.

Letter likely written to Simpson’s father.

Everson & Simpson, eds., “Far, far from home”: The Wartime Letters of Dick and Tally Simpson, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, pp 28-32

Richard W. Simpson at Ancestry.com





New Blog: Tales from the Army of the Potomac

21 08 2013

Orr Blog

New to the Civil War blogroll is Tales from the Army of the Potomac, hosted by Dr. Timothy Orr. Tim teaches history at Old Dominion University, is a Gettysburg College grad, earned his PhD at Penn State [ROAR!], has been a seasonal ranger with the NPS and a re-enactor, and is an all-around good guy. He may be best known as the historian who made Kelly Clarkson cry on national television. This should be good stuff, if the first four posts are any indication. Here’s an interview he did for Bull Runnings a while back.

 





In Dreams: Romance In the Valley

9 08 2013

I’m still – STILL - reading Voices from Company D. Thankfully though, it is now January of 1865. The other day night I came across tan entry from Henry Beck, a company member who was on detached duty as a commissary clerk. It’s from December 7, 1864, while Early’s forces were still operating in the Shenandoah Valley. Henry’s duties required him to travel about a good bit behind the lines, and while staying with the Heller family in Harrisonburg he spent his time a-courtin’ and a-sparkin’ young Lucy Heller. Before he left town to rejoin his command, he proposed. The next day, he wrote (bold font provided by me):

After several questions on both sides, I received an answer in the affirmative. With what joy my heart received it, is beyond my power to describe. I felt that I was entering upon a new life, from which I could foresee nothing but happiness. After this interesting interview was ended, I retired, but only to wake & dream. It must have been near two o’clock before I went to sleep, only to dream again of the one whom I have learned to love so devotedly, also of the tobacco bag received in the morning.*

Priorities, Henry. FYI, by 1870 Henry and Lucy had three children and were living in Greensboro, AL.

And here’s a little something on dreams because, well, because who in their right mind can’t use a little Roy Orbison every now and again?

Hubbs, G. Ward, ed., Voices from Company D, p. 330





Battlefield Photos March 1862

5 08 2013

I’ve been enjoying a series of posts over at To the Sound Of the Guns in which host Craig Swain has looked at high-resolution TIFF files of glass plate images taken of Union batteries around Charleston, SC during the war. He’s been turning up some pretty interesting stuff which, combined with his encyclopedic and frankly creepy knowledge of all things artillery has made for compelling reading. Along those lines, I’m going to take a closer look at the series of photos of the battlefield and environs of First Bull Run taken in March, 1862 by photographers George Barnard and James Gibson, in the employ of Matthew Brady. You can find lower resolution copies of the photos here, filed under the heading Galleries over to the right. A quick once-over doesn’t turn up anything particularly notable, but one never knows what the zoom do-hickey will turn up. And in the absence of cool stuff in the photos, maybe I’ll speculate a bit. We’ll just have to see.

I’ll be leaning heavily on, and hopefully not lifting blatantly from, Garry Adelman’s fine Manassas Battlefields Then & Now. You can read more about that book here, but if you’re a regular reader of this blog you no doubt have it already.





To Read or Not to Read – That is the Question

3 08 2013

I get lots and lots of books sent to me. And I also still buy books “on my own.” And I read non-fiction slowly. And I read Civil War history very, very, VERY slowly. So, I really can’t read all the books I get, or all the books I have, cover to cover. That’s why I describe the book commentary you typically see here as Previews instead of Reviews. I scan the book, read the intro and (if there is one) the conclusion, check out the notes and bibliography. Basically, I do what I would normally do if I was considering buying the book myself. Hopefully you find that helpful.

So, when it comes to actually reading a book, I have to be very selective. Because it’s a significant investment of my time, and because the opportunity cost is great. So I don’t make the decision lightly. I have two books here, relatively slim volumes, recently received from Savas Beatie: General Grant and the Rewriting of History and John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General. I have reservations about both books – not about reading them, but reporting on them. The latter is written by a descendant of the subject, and my experience has shown such efforts to be typically problematic. Also, I’ve observed (and been slightly involved in) discussion of Hood’s reputation and it got heated. The former delves into the ever dangerous waters of U. S. Grant criticism. The mere mention of the book is likely to bring Grant fans out of the woodwork – I’ve seen them operate, and it ain’t pretty. They are such rabid gatekeepers (and I have no doubt they view themselves as such) that a perceived slight to anyone in the Grant solar system, let alone HUG himself, is likely to elicit a response of biblical proportions.

But after much discussion and deliberation, I’ve made my decision. As soon as I complete my current read, I’ll tackle these two. I have no dog in either fight, regardless of my thoughts on those who do (have dogs in the fight – I’m too distracted to figure out how to write that sentence so that it doesn’t end in a preposition.) I’ll report back to you as best I can. But I have a sneaky feeling that my efforts will be deemed woefully inadequate by partisans of all stripes.





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.





A First Bull Run Connection with Buffington Island

20 07 2013
Daniel_McCook_Sr

Daniel McCook, Sr. (Wikipedia)

Yesterday, July 19, was the sesquicentennial of John Hunt Morgan’s fight at Buffington Island, OH (see here.) One of the lesser known incidents of that fight was the death of “Judge” Daniel McCook, Sr., who sired no less than four Union general officers. Brother John provided two more. In fact, brothers George, John and Daniel gave 14 sons to the war effort – together the clan was known as “The Fighting McCooks.” Daniel was among the civilian observers at First Bull Run, and while the experience was likely harrowing for many of them, perhaps none were as affected as the Judge.

There were McCook’s aplenty scattered about the plains of Manassas on July 21, 1861, including Daniel’s young son Charles, a private in Company I of the 2nd Ohio (nephew Anson was a captain in the regiment as well, and son Alex was colonel of the 1st Ohio.) Charlie, eighth of Daniel’s nine sons, was serving off the line as a guard at the temporary field hospital set up at Mrs. Spindle’s farm on the north side of the Warrenton Turnpike between Cub Run and Bull Run. Early in the day the site seemed so safely removed from the action that father and son had lunch together.

 

Charles_Morris_McCook

Charles Morris McCook (Wikimedia)

Sometime after noon the Judge determined he wanted  a better view of the action and moved west along the pike. A few hours later, all hell broke loose. Daniel was swept east with the waves of retreating Yankees. He wrote in a letter to his son Robert five days later that he came upon a wounded Charlie being beaten by a mounted Confederate cavalryman with the flat of his sword. Someone shot the rebel, and Daniel carried his son to the field hospital. Assured by doctors there that it was safe to move him, Daniel loaded the boy into his carriage and headed east. Despite Charlie’s pain and pleas to stop, Daniel pressed on to Fairfax Court House. There, a doctor removed the ball from Charlie’s back and pronounced the wound fatal. As was common in those days, Daniel broke the news to the boy. Together they awaited the end. The medical staff moved on toward Washington. About 2:30 on the morning of July 22nd, in a bed shared with his father, Charles McCook died. He was eighteen years old.

220px-RLMcCook

Robert McCook (Wikipedia)

That wouldn’t be the last time in the war death visited Daniel McCook’s family. Down in Alabama son Robert, a brigadier general, was killed in August, 1862. Some say he was murdered by “guerilla” Frank Gurley in the act of surrendering, while others claimed his wound was received during a skirmish with the 4th AL Cavalry in which Gurley was a commissioned captain. Shot in the stomach, Robert suffered for a full day before succumbing to his wound. The “guerilla” version of events won out in the North, and the outraged Judge became obsessed with enacting revenge on Gurley. He acquired a new Henry repeating rifle (pictured above) to help with the job. In July 1863 he thought he had his chance, as Morgan’s band of raiders moved through McCook’s home state of Ohio (he was a native Pennsylvanian.) The now Major McCook, a paymaster in the Army of the Ohio, hitched along with a cavalry detachment under Brigadier General Henry Judah in pursuit of the raiders with whom, it was rumored, Gurley was riding.

Morgan’s band was brought to ground in Southeast Ohio on July 19, 1863, where they attempted to re-cross the Ohio River at Buffington Island. The 65-year-old Judge grabbed his Henry, mounted up, and joined in with the advance troopers, who came upon the enemy unexpectedly in a fog. McCook, like Robert, was shot in the abdomen. He lingered more than two days, and died on the evening of July 21, nearly two years to the hour after he had felt the life leave the body of Charlie.

After escaping Buffington Island, Morgan and his men were captured near New Lisbon, Ohio on July 26. There was no evidence that Frank Gurley had been with the raiders.*

Daniel McCook, Sr Plot, Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, OH (Gravepedia)

Daniel McCook, Sr Plot, Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, OH (Gravepedia) Graves of Daniel Sr., Charles, and Robert

For more on the McCooks, see Charles and Barbara Whalen, The Fighting McCook’s.

*Gurley was captured later in 1863, imprisoned, tried for McCook’s murder, convicted and sentenced to death, mistakenly exchanged, arrested again after the war for imposition of sentence, released, and lived a long life. For a detailed and different account of his career, see here and here.





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.








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