Returning Fire

18 07 2013

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

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

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





Russel Beatie

12 07 2013

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

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

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

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

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





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

10 07 2013

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





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

8 07 2013

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





Preview: Rod Gragg, “The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader”

1 07 2013

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





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

25 06 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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





Preview: Thomas Fleming, “A Disease in the Public Mind”

21 06 2013

9780306821264_p0_v1_s260x420The questions of what “caused” the American Civil War and whether the conflict was avoidable or inevitable has spawned countless books and articles, running the gamut from balderdash to convincing, but none of which I would say settle those questions fully and finally. Prolific author Thomas Fleming takes a crack at it in A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War, from Da Capo Press. Reviews have been mixed at best, and pretty gnarly at worst. In a nutshell, Fleming argues that the conflict was the outcome of deep-seated sectionalism that predated the founding of the nation. Extremist, abolitionist thinking in the north perhaps even caused a pervasive fear of slave revolt in the south. No bibliography is provided, and notes are heavy with secondary sources.





Preview: Mackowski & White, “Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front”

18 06 2013

Layout 1Yet another new release from Savas Beatie is from the prolific team of Chris Mackowski and Kris White, Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front: The Battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, May 3, 1863. Most of the visitors to this website are likely aware that the Battle of Chancellorsville was not fought solely on the National Park Service land west of Fredericksburg, yet most visitors to the battlefield spend their time almost exclusively on the grounds of Hazel Grove, the Chancellor House, the Chancellorsville VC, Jackson’s wounding site, and perhaps even make the trek to Guiney Station. But as this book title notes, the battle had a “wholenother” front, in the city proper, Marye’s Heights, and the area of Salem Church. Granted, the fighting in the city is difficult to envision for a visitor, and the Salem Church area is unrecognizable and, well, dangerous to roam over. Unlike the Emerging Civil War series, Forgotten Front is a traditional battle study, in hardback, 332 pages of text plus five appendices covering the actions that have perhaps received less than their fair share of attention. Illustrations, photographs, and maps accent the narrative of what the author’s claim were simultaneously the Army of the Potomac’s finest hours and biggest lost opportunity of the campaign. A glance at the bibliography indicates that numerous newspaper and manuscript collections were consulted by the authors. Check it out.





Preview: Mathew Lively, “Calamity at Chancellorsville”

12 06 2013

Layout 1How often do you see the same publisher offer two very different interpretations of an event at practically the same time? That’s what Savas Beatie has presented with Calamity at Chancellorsville: The Wounding and Death of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, by Mathew Lively. The main variance from the tale as told by Chris Mackowski and Kris White in The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson (I wrote about it here) is Jackson’s location at the time of his wounding. You can read Mr. Mackowski’s summary of the difference here. The long and the short of it is that Last Days presents the official Park Service narrative established by R. K. Krick that when shot Jackson was on the Mountain Road north of the Orange Plank Rd (Route 3), near the location of the modern Chancellorsville battlefield visitor’s center. Calamity presents a different version – no spoiler here, though. Between these two releases you’ll learn pretty much all you’ll ever want to know about Stonewall Jackson’s wounding and death.





Preview: Mackowski & White, “A Season of Slaughter”

11 06 2013

Layout 1Another one from Savas Beatie in their Emerging Civil War series, again from the prolific team of Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White, is A Season of Slaughter: The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, May 8-21, 1864. Having just read J. Tracy Power’s Lee’s Miserables, it seems hard to overstate the fundamental change brought about in the opposing armies as a result of the horrific fighting during these two weeks.

A 138 page narrative, supported with maps and illustrations, describes the action from the Wilderness through the beginning of the movement toward the North Anna. Four essays follow, discussing Yellow Tavern, local civilians, a history of the battlefield, and a bit on the battle in memory. Full orders of battle wrap things up.

Mackowski and White have provided here a nice summary to help navigate the often confusing events and ground of Spotsylvania Court House. Check it out!








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