Correspondent Peter Wellington Alexander On His Arrival at Manassas

25 09 2013

Our Correspondent Arrives at Manassas

Army of the Potomac,

Manassas Junction, July 20, 1861

I arrived here late this afternoon, having left Richmond early this morning and been on the road nearly the whole day. The use of the road for the past few days has been surrendered up almost entirely to the military authorities, and so great is the demand for transportation by the War Department, that it is with difficulty that the trains can manage to get through under less than ten to twelve hours.

As the great battle of the campaign will, in all probability, have been fought and decided before this reaches you, it will not be amiss, especially since the fact is already known to the enemy, to say that General Johnston has arrived here from Winchester with the greater part of his forces recently stationed at that place. What is the precise number of the troops brought with him, I am unable to say. Some of them are still on the road, and are expected to get in some time to-night. Among those who reached here to-day, were the 7th, 9th, and 11th Georgia Regiments, under Colonel Bartow, Gartrell, and Goulding, the brigade under the command of Col. Bartow. I have not been able to see any one who is attached to the brigade, owing to the lateness of the hour at which I arrived, but I learn that all three of the regiments were, immediately upon their arrival, ordered forward to an advanced position upon Bull’s Run, near Union Mills, where the Alexandria & Manassas Railroad crosses the creek. That they will give a good account of themselves in the great battle that is impending, you may feel perfectly assured.

Gen. Johnston ranks Gen. Beauregard, and consequently he will succeed to the command, at least nominally, in the approaching conflict. This seems to have occasioned some regret among the troops who have been stationed here, since Gen. Beauregard has had all the labor of arranging the camp, perfecting the works and preparing the ground for what we all believe will be a great victory. It would be impossible, however, for any officer to supersede him in fact, though he may be outranked under the rules of the War Department. Whatever may be the result, therefore, to “little Beaury” will belong the honor, now and hereafter.

In addition to the forces brought down by Gen. Johnston, I learn that 2,300 men arrived here this morning from Aquia Creek under command of Brig. Gen. Holmes. They marched across the country a distance of 30 miles since yesterday morning. This force is composed chiefly of Tennesseeans, with some companies from Arkansas. The men are said to look very much as if they would not ask for more than one bite at a Yankee.

It is generally conceded that Patterson has moved down the Potomac from Martinsburg to the relief of Gen. McDowell, and that he took with him his entire force. The number of the enemy now before us cannot be less than 75,000. That Gen. Scott will risk such an army in the hands of either McDowell or Patterson, or both of them, is not believed for one moment. When the great contest does take place, he will take the command of the Federal forces himself. If he does not, it will be because he expects defeat. Our own forces are believed to be at least a third less than those which are arrayed against us.

The impression prevails here that there will be a grand battle to-morrow, and that we will be the attacking party this time. I have been here too short a time to venture and opinion myself, but I should not be surprised if, in the next few days, we did not witness a series of active operations, culminating by or before the middle of next week in a pitched battle, in which all the forces on both sides will be engaged.

I have said nothing so far of the Battle of Bull’s Run, for the reason that you will find, in the Richmond papers this morning, and especially the Examiner, a better account of it than I could possibly give you. A few facts may be mentioned, however, that will not fail to interest your readers. The first is, that the battle was opened by Sherman’s famous battery, under the protection of whose fire the enemy’s infantry advanced upon our lines. Nearly all the shells passed over our men and exploded beyond them. Not so with the New Orleans Washington Artillery which was opposed to Sherman’s Battery, and whose guns did horrible execution. Indeed, it is believed that but for the precision and destructiveness of their fire, the enemy would have approached nearer and in greater numbers, and that our victory would have been greater than it was. The Federal battery changed its position fifteen times during the engagement, and at last left the field minus one of its guns which we captured, together with 501 small arms.

Soon after getting here, I encountered a little drummer boy of fourteen summers from Lynchburg., who says he went over the field soon after the battle with the hope of getting a little revolver. He examined the pockets of a score or more of the dead without finding a solitary “red,” his only trophy being an odd looking dirk with a buckhorn handle and a due bill for seven dollars from one Dutchman to another.

Another lad, a marker for the Alexandria Rifles, appearing upon the field, was ordered to the hospital by his Captain as a place of safety. The little fellow was not pleased with the order, though he obeyed it, but when the battle began to wax warm, he stole back and seizing the gun of a disabled soldier he succeeded in killing one Hessian and wounding the second.

Some of the officers have furnished their servants with revolvers, and it is asserted to be a fact that these negroes made several captures during the fight on Thursday. One of them, Dick Langhorn, from Lynchburg; a strapping fellow, shot down one man, his ball taking effect through the shoulder; and when all his barrels had been discharged, he rushed upon another whom he knocked down with  his pistol. Seizing the two by the collars, he started to carry them to his master, when one of them showed a disposition to resist; whereupon Dick turned to him and said: “See here, Massa, you’d better come ‘long, or dis here nigger will hurt you, see ef he don’t.” Seeing the d—l in Dick’s eye, he submitted, and the two were carried prisoners to the Colonel of the Regiment, the Eleventh Virginia.

Hampton’s Legion and the 13th Mississippi Regiment have just arrived, and the 11th Mississippi is expected some time to-night. A few days would increase our forces materially. North Carolina is sending up some of the finest regiments I have seen, and about three a week.

P. W. A.

Savannah Republican, 7/26/1861

William B. Styple, Ed., Writing and Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander Confederate War Correspondent, pp 18-19





Interview: George F. Franks, III, “Battle of Falling Waters 1863″

14 09 2013
George Franks Outside Daniel Donnelly House

George Franks Outside Daniel Donnelly House

I’ve known George Franks for a few years and had the pleasure of meeting him when I spoke to the Capitol Hill Civil War Roundtable back in 2011. He recently authored Battle of Falling Waters 1863: Custer, Pettigrew and the End of the Gettysburg Campaign. Here he tells us about it, and his interesting connection to the battlefield.

BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? (Personal life, career, establish bona-fides, published works, etc. – whatever you’re comfortable with.)

GFF: I am originally from Pittsburgh. I currently live in Washington County, Maryland near the town of Williamsport. I studied history at the U. S. Naval Academy and University of Pittsburgh. I worked in the telecommunication industry for over twenty-five years. I am currently a consultant and also own an e-commerce business. Though I have always enjoyed history and writing, my first post academy published article was one on the Battle of Falling Waters, Maryland in 2007 in an international wargame publication.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

GFF: As a child of the Civil War Centennial, I was bombarded with magazines, television programs, books and even toys related to the conflict. I started reading Civil War books at an early age. Also, my parents took my brothers and me to battlefields as part of our family vacations. I would say my biggest influence was family friends giving me a copy of Miller’s PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY when I was still quite young.

BR: Why the interest in Falling Waters?

GFF: I have always been interested in the Gettysburg Campaign. Melissa Cooperson and I began looking for a house to restore over a decade ago. We found and fell in love with the Daniel Donnelly House which was built in 1830. It also happened to have a Civil War battle fought on the property. While I knew the names related to it: Heth, Pettigrew, Kilpatrick, Buford and Custer, I was not familiar with the battle. As we began many years of restoration work on the house during weekends, I began my research of the battle.

BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

GFF: Two things stand out in my view. First, if you look at any book on the Gettysburg Campaign, you will find a paragraph on the July 14, 1863 Battle of Falling Waters, Maryland. A very few books devote a page to it. This is the first book devoted to the last battle of the Gettysburg Campaign. Secondly, the battle is a microcosm of the war. It is a story devotion to cause, hardship, miscalculation, unparalleled bravery, tragedy, missed opportunities and what might be considered a cover-up.

BR: What’s your last word on Pettigrew, Buford, Kilpatrick, et al? Do you follow the old traditional narrative on these guys – are black hats always black, and white hats always white?

GFF: All these men were so complex. They were products of their era. It is difficult for us to fully understand them in 2013. Having said that, I do not differ greatly from most Civil War historians on Kilpatrick or Buford based on my research. I became a great fan of Pettigrew. Not so much as a military leader, though he was admirable, but as a brilliant academic, writer, scientist, jurist and politician. His mortal wounding at Falling Waters and death 3 days later at Bunker Hill, WV were a tragedy not only for the South but for the entire country. A true “what-if” that I have thought about often.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what you learned along the way, and when you knew you were “done”?

GFF: I began my research over ten years ago. I was working very responsible full time jobs during the entire research and writing process. I focused primarily on the writing and editing over the past two years. I was fortunate to work with a very able editor, Tim Terrell. I tried to focus on primary sources wherever possible and then build a narrative from that. Of course, there were many contradictory accounts. I stopped research, with one or two specific exceptions, two years ago so the book would be available for the 150th Anniversary of the battle. I missed my goal by three days.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

GFF: It started out about 75% brick and mortar and 25% online. Over time those reversed as more information became available online. Initially the book covered more of the retreat but during the research process I concluded that some very good scholarship in that area was being published and to focus just on the Battle of Falling Waters 1863. I did include some background information on the events before and after for perspective.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

GFF: Sales through my web site and Amazon have been and continue to be strong. I have several retail stores selling the book with more carrying it in the near future. There is quite a bit of interest from Civil War Round Tables (I have spoken to several already) and in more tours of the Falling Waters Battlefield. We have hosted tours led by Ed Bearss, J. D. Petruzzi, Eric Wittenberg and Steve French plus the Smithsonian Institution in the past.

BR: What’s next for you?

GFF: I have several research and writing projects underway. I am not sure which one will take priority right now. I enjoy the research and writing process. There will be another book and it will probably be a Civil War topic.





Interview: Diane Monroe Smith, “Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign”

11 09 2013

Diane Monroe SmithThis year Diane Monroe Smith, of Holden, ME, published Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign: Ambition and Animosity in the Army of the Potomac. I have to admit that I really had not heard much about this one, but a reader brought it to my attention and one thing led to another, so here’s Ms. Smith to fill us in.

BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

DMS: My first book, Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, was published in 1999 by Thomas Publications of Gettysburg. It is a dual, whole-life biography of the Chamberlains. I know it puzzled some people why I would bother with Chamberlain’s whole life and/or his near 50 relationship with his wife, when his Civil War service is what most readers want to hear about. I confess to my own partiality to considering that part of his life, but I strongly suspect that, if one wants to know what makes a person like Chamberlain tick, one must look at the other 80 years of his life and the influence of his family and friends as well. The research I did on Fanny and Joshua led to my second book, Chamberlain at Petersburg: The Charge at Fort Hell, which is a previously unpublished, first person account of the Battle of Petersburg written by Chamberlain. My role in preparing it for publication was to set the stage by considering the 5th Corps’ and the Army of the Potomac’s role in Grant’s Overland Campaign in the weeks and months that culminated in the Battle of Petersburg. I also provided extensive annotation of Chamberlain’s account, considering other participants’ reports and testimony, and I began to find more and more seeming discrepancies in the way the 5th Corps and AoP role was interpreted by a number of commanders and historians, as opposed to what the OR (reports, correspondence & statistics) and the testimony of individuals and unit histories described. While finding Chamberlain’s account reliable, I experienced uneasiness with seemingly conflicting versions of what happened during the Overland Campaign, coupled with a emerging pattern of behavior when I considered Grant’s and “Grant’s Men’s” careers in the West and their rise to power. This led to my most recent book, Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign: Ambition and Animosity in the Army of the Potomac. In it, I found it was essential to consider Grant’s early service in the Civil War and those of the officers he carried with him on his climb to the top of the military establishment and beyond. While I considered a sizable portion of the copious amount written by Grant biographers and authors of the Western battles, I found myself often reluctant to depend on the analysis and interpretation of others, especially those who relied almost entirely on Grant’s reports, memoirs and correspondence, or the accounts given by Grant’s inner circle to the exclusion of all others. Other warning flags go up for me about the reliability of a witness’s testimony when it varies in important details depending on who is he talking to, such as Halleck’s falsely laying blame on others, essentially lying to Grant regarding why he was removed from command after the taking of Ft. Donelson. Another flag waves when an account changes substantially over the years. In that department, I’m hard pressed to come up with a better (or perhaps I should say worse) example than Ellis Spear and his vindictive campaign to discredit Joshua Chamberlain, much of it carried on after Chamberlain’s death. Although Spear himself wrote an enthusiastic letter to the newspapers right after Gettysburg describing how Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge at Little Round Top, that didn’t stop Spear decades later from telling anyone who would listen that his colonel hadn’t ordered a charge at all– it was someone else’s idea. Nor did it seem to bother Spear that the person he credited with initiating the charge endorsed Chamberlain’s account of how it all happened. Other easily verifiable facts didn’t stop Spear from declaring that Chamberlain’s Petersburg wound wasn’t a big deal– a suggestion which a Gettysburg Discussion Group member facetiously stated had earned Spear the “Most vindictive letter award.” Scoffing at Chamberlain’s penis wound, Spear implied that Chamberlain had made much of what was after all a trifling wound. Spear himself had previously written about how terrible Chamberlain’s wound was in his endorsement in 1899 of Chamberlain’s appointment to a Customs position. But beyond Spear’s changeable laymen’s assessment, we have the medical records that record descriptions of the wound and the unsuccessful attempts to repair it. At a field hospital at Petersburg, when the surgeons couldn’t find the ball in the wide wound that went almost clear through Chamberlain’s pelvis, they decided they would probe with a ramrod to find the offending piece of lead. The gunshot wound caused permanent injury that left Chamberlain incontinent and plagued with reoccurring infections for the rest of his life, and I believe that the many surgeons over the years who tried unsuccessfully to repair the damage would beg to differ with the malicious Spear. Yet mind you, you still hear Spear much quoted as offering positive proof that Chamberlain wasn’t an honest historian!!! As it has just been announced in the news that Chamberlain’s original Medal of Honor has just been found stuck in the back of a book his granddaughter donated to a church, I’m also reminded that Ellis Spear was one of the three witnesses whose testimony to Chamberlain’s actions at Little Round Top led to him being award that MoH, but that happened in the 1890s, before Spear began his campaign to discredit his old commander. Talk about stories that change over time… But to return to Command Conflicts, I wrote it because of my own uneasiness concerning too much of Grant’s and his comrades’ reports and/or memoirs that didn’t stand up very well to scrutiny. I find it unforgivable for a writer to use one and only one source to the exclusion of all others that could have and should have been considered. Nor do I find it possible to consider the fate of any commander while remaining oblivious to what political machinations were taking place within the Army or in Washington. I believe my own research journey to be somewhat similar to that of Frank Varney as he prepared his new work, General Grant and the Rewriting of History. While Frank’s work is, of course, focused on the destruction of Rosecrans’s reputation and career, and my work focuses on the Army of the Potomac, Frank and I seemingly agree that relying on one source, or the testimony of only those who have a vested interest in the war being remembered in a certain way, is, it should seem obvious, a mistake. Grant and his men would control the American military for decades after the war, and with their control over the army and American politics, it is not difficult to find examples of their insuring that their and only their version of the war was perpetuated. They have been, I feel, all too successful in allowing one, and only one version of history to be told.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

DMS: When I was kid, it was the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War, and I couldn’t get enough of the accounts of the battles and the participants. I remember my Mom gave me a dollar (back when a dollar was a dollar) to purchase one square foot of the Gettysburg battlefield during a fund raising campaign. I was thrilled, and, of course, believed that I really owned that square foot. So Gettysburg… I want to know where my square foot is!

BR: Why the interest in the Army of the Potomac’s, and specifically its 5th Corps’, command issues under Grant?

DMS: As I mentioned above, having spent quite a few years looking at Chamberlain’s service with the 5th Corps, I spent a lot of time pursuing the 5th Corps’ experiences and record, and as with my previous books, I felt compelled to share with others what I was finding and considering. There was an awful lot that didn’t seem to be adding up… The accounts of Grant and “Grant’s Men” seemed too often to disagree with other reports and accounts, sometimes radically. Consider, for instance, Chattanooga, and the accounts of Grant, Sheridan and Sherman, and those of participants and witnesses such as Thomas and Hazen (and the delightfully sarcastic Ambrose Beirce).

BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

DMS: I think that looking at the Overland Campaign from the perspective of the 5th Corps, provides a very different view, one which had not been previous explored to the degree it deserved. The 5th Corps’ records and accounts provide a challenge to a number of histories as they have been previously written, and allow a new window to open on that tumultuous campaign. Also, considering the alliances among Grant and Grant’s Men and their supporters in Washington sheds light on why some military careers were seemingly indestructible, regardless of performance, while other commanders had their reputations and careers destroyed. While it seems silly to have to point out that the war was not won either in the West or in the East, there are still many who refuse to consider the contribution of the “band box soldiers” of the Army of the Potomac. James McPherson in This Mighty Scourge, did an admirable and startling assessment and comparison of the casualties incurred in the major battles in the West and the East, and shall we say, figures don’t lie? To quote McPherson, “The war was won by hard fighting, and the Army of the Potomac did most of that fighting.  Of the ten largest battles in the war (each with combined Union and Confederate casualties of 23,000 or more), seven were fought between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.  Of the fifty Union regiments with the largest percentage of battle casualties, forty-one [were] fought in the Eastern theater.”  And regarding casualties inflicted on the enemy, McPherson states, “Of the fifty Confederate regiments with the highest percentage of combat casualties, forty were in the Army of Northern Virginia.” Or as Chamberlain once said, many criticized the Army of the Potomac for not fighting enough, but never for not dying enough. Enough said.  While I wanted to look at the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign, I felt it was also time for someone to offer up a closer look at the 5th Corps’ performance.

BR: What’s your last word on Warren, Sheridan, Meade, Grant, and all that mess?

DMS: It is inexplicable to me why Grant not only allowed Sheridan to publicly defy Meade, but rewarded Sheridan’s insubordination with an independent command. While Grant had no problem with that, he also apparently had no qualms about leaving the Army of the Potomac to move blindly without cavalry through poorly mapped enemy territory. While Sheridan did draw some of Lee’s cavalry away, Lee was not so foolish as to send all of his cavalry after Sheridan, retaining roughly half of his troopers to continue to scout and screen for the ANV. Between these horsemen and the local lads who knew every road and river ford in the area, Lee had quite an advantage. Lest I place all the blame on the Western commanders, I also came to realize that the relationship between Meade and Warren, formerly one of a trusted subordinate and advisor to the AoP commander, foundered on the bitterness that Meade harbored regarding Warren’s decision not to attack at Mine Run, and the embarrassment and anger Meade experienced because of it. While Meade declared that he agreed that Warren did the right thing in calling off a senseless attack that would achieve nothing but casualties, he was still bitterly resentful toward Warren. I believe that the situation was also aggravated by Meade’s consciousness of his enemies in Washington, and his own precarious position as AoP commander. To retain it, I believe he felt he must agree with whatever Grant said and do whatever Grant ordered, regardless of his own opinion of the wisdom of those demands. Meade’s personal correspondence gives some indication of his real opinion of Grant’s conduct of the Overland Campaign, and his anger at having Grant watching over his shoulder. But to return to the culpability of Grant and his men, there’s an unmistakable pattern, beginning in the West, and coming with them to the East, of Grant, Sheridan and Sherman making short work of anyone who got in their way on their climb up the command ladder. While Warren is an obvious case in point, you can also point to Rosecrans, George Thomas, and ultimately, George Meade himself, as commanders who got pushed aside to make way for Grant’s Men. I hope I haven’t had my last word on Warren, Sheridan, Grant and all that mess, because I want to follow Command Conflicts with a book that considers the 5th Corps’ service from the siege of Petersburg to the last days of the war.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book and what you learned along the way? When did you know you were “done”?

DMS: You might say I’ve been looking at the 5th Corps and the Army of the Potomac since the early 90s, when I began writing the Chamberlain biography. Then my work on Chamberlain at Petersburg led me to focus on Grant’s Overland Campaign, which inspired a decided uneasiness on my part regarding what Grant was reporting at the time, as well as what he would say and write later, with all its contradictions to many other reports and accounts. A major stumbling block for me when starting this project was my notion that Grant was a well-meaning sort of fellow, though perhaps not the greatest of all possible commanders. I considered his major flaw his seeming inability to judge a person’s real character and motives. He did not, I was convinced, choose his friends wisely. But the more I read about Grant’s military career in the West, the more I began to realize a real pattern of behavior that was less than admirable. My distress increased at noticing an awful tendency for a number of historians to take Grant’s version of history as the one and only infallible record, to the exclusion of all other witnesses’ accounts and reports. I came to realize that Grant possessed a willingness to disobey orders if it suited him (Belmont), to habitually report victory no matter how dismal the real results of an action were (The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg), and to attribute the credit for successes to himself or his favorites regardless of who was really responsible for the strategy and implementation (Chattanooga and the Cracker Line). Likewise, if things did not go well, he would blame those he wanted to remove from competition with himself or his cronies (Shiloh). It was a pattern that would continue on into the Overland Campaign. If you read Grant’s reports from the Wilderness, you would think that the Army of the Potomac had experienced a considerable victory, and that the Army of Northern Virginia was on its last legs. That was far from the real case, was it not? As for knowing when I was done, I knew I had finished when the Army of the Potomac reached Petersburg, and the battle became the siege. The months that follow I feel deserve their own book, following the 5th Corps through the remainder of 1864, and through the last months and weeks of the war in 1865.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

DMS: The Official Records were by far my most frequently utilized source. I’m also grateful for the many works done by the historians of the Western war, which allowed me to begin my consideration of Grant’s and his men’s rise to power. Regarding the Overland Campaign, I’m particularly grateful to William Steere for his wonderful work, The Wilderness Campaign, with its great detail, many citations and well-constructed considerations. I also was very impressed by Bill Matter’s book on Spotsylvania, If It Takes All Summer. I was told by Bill, who was kind enough to discuss my research on the Overland Campaign with me, that he so admired Steere’s work (as do I), that he hoped to make his book on Spotsylvania a continuation of where Steere’s book left off. I can testify that I think, as I told Bill, that he accomplished that very well. Would that every battle I encountered had such comprehensive and even-handed treatments as Steere and Matter gave their work. Beyond that, I considered dozens and dozens of memoirs and accounts of both Federals and Rebels… anyone who would help me to put the puzzle pieces together for as accurate a picture of what happened as possible..

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DMS: While I was aware that fans of U.S. Grant would probably not be pleased with what I wrote, I am happy to say that reviewers, while taking issue with some of my conclusions, have nonetheless stated that serious students of Grant and the Overland Campaign should read my book– that it gave one plenty to think about. That’s most gratifying. Am I happy with how much promotion the book has gotten, or how many people have read the book? No, I am not. I mean to continue pursuing opportunities such as this one you’ve kindly provided for me in order to let people know that this work has something to offer by way of a different look at a period of the war which has suffered from too many works which have relied on limited, weak and unreliable sources.

BR: What’s next for you?

DMS: I’m raring to go on the book that will follow Command Conflicts, but I’m taking time to do a work on Col. Washington Roebling’s military service. Roebling, best known as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, served as Gen. Warren’s aide and scout from Gettysburg through the last month of December, 1864. A top notch topographical engineer, he was a daring and intelligent soldier, and was delightfully outspoken. Laconic, except when he had something to say, he seemed to be not at all in awe of his commanders. For instance, when accosted by Meade on a battlefield, who was demanding to know who had put a battery in a spot Meade considered too “hot,” Roebling replied, “I don’t know. I didn’t put it there.” One can easily imagine Meade’s eyes bugging out at this flippant reply. I will definitely enjoy spending time with Washington Roebling in the coming months.





McDowell’s Plan Teaser

10 09 2013

DudeI’ve been hemming and hawing over one of the things I’ve been working on with regards to the “history” of the First Battle of Bull Run these past many months. “Working” is a relative term, and in this case it consists mostly of thinking. I’ve been firming up these thoughts, writing things down, pulling together sources, and most important bouncing them off a few people whose opinions I respect. So here’s the nutshell: I believe that the standard story of what Irvin McDowell was trying to do, and what he expected to confront, with regards to Beauregard’s force outside Manassas – which typically is covered within no more than a paragraph in most (maybe all) studies of the campaign written within the last, oh, say, 90 years – is not right. That is, it is not supported by the primary documents, and it is not supported by McDowell’s actions up to and including July 21st, 1861. Or, at least, there is an alternative interpretation.

Lots of factors play into this. As a wise man once said:

This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber.

OK, except for the drug regimen it applies (mine is not really all that strict.) Thankfully a few of the assumptions of the accepted line of thought are refuted so thoroughly by the documentary evidence that there’s little room for argument (at least, in my mind.) This weekend I was very encouraged by a knowledgeable and respected military historian who implied, or at least from whom I inferred, that I’m not completely nuts. More on this as we get closer to the big reveal in Columbus come March.





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.








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