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.





Civil War Stuff on a Civil War Blog, of All Places!

2 08 2013

Be sure to check out this series of posts over at To the Sound Of the Guns. Craig Swain is digging up some really cool stuff in high resolution photos of heavy guns around Charleston, SC. Artillery and material culture – you’ll learn something in spite of yourself. You’ll have to hunt through the list, but consider this one.

9420822350_4cd247efbd





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.





A First Bull Run Connection with Battery Wagner

19 07 2013

chatfield2.jpgAs we are in the midst of the sesquicentennial of the assault on Battery/Fort Wagner outside Charleston, SC, you can find a lot of new articles, posts, and opinions on the web right about now. Some of them are even concerned with what actually happened there. For a good example of this, see this post from Craig Swain. If you’re a true First Bull Run geek (I’m not sure there are more than two of us, though) you’ll see a link to our little battle in Craig’s post: the name John Chatfield. This is the same John Lyman Chatfield (at left, from Hunt, Colonels in Blue: The New England States) who was the colonel of the 3rd CT in Erasmus Keyes’s brigade of John Tyler’s Division. At the assault on Wagner, he was in command of the 6th CT of George Strong’s brigade, and was mortally wounded, as was Strong. You can read more on Seymour’s death in Colonel Chatfield’s Courage, or A Share of “Glory” .





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.





Making Progress

12 07 2013

I am making progress on a program I will present to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable next spring. Yes, you heard that right, next spring. One of the luxuries of not doing a lot of these presentations is I have plenty of time to prepare. I’m taking a different tack with this one. For the most part my narratives have been mostly extemporaneous based on fairly rough outlines and PowerPoint slides. In fact, the last one I gave had no slides at all, just some notes but also a few pretty long passages from books and some articles I wrote previously (that one was interesting and I had really very little idea where the road would lead, though I was pleasantly surprised.) I decided quite a few months ago, when I got the invite from COCWRT, to open a Word document on my desktop and put down thoughts on the presentation as they entered my head, and so far I’m pretty pleased with what’s taking shape. Now the question is: do I want to write this up in the form of a “paper” and build a slide presentation around it? This is a different approach in a couple of ways. First, when I’ve done PowerPoint presentations in the past, they’ve typically driven the narrative. In this case, the slides will serve more as support. Second, I’ve never before had a “script” for my programs. I’ve never really read a “paper”, though I think my program on Patrick O’Rorke for the Gettysburg Foundation back in 2011 came pretty close, but the bulk of that program consisted of his letter home on the Battle of Bull Run. “Paper Reading” is something I find not so appealing as a consumer, and as a presenter I really prefer give and take during the program as opposed to a structured talk with questions afterwards. For this program, which contrasts a well established, familiar story line of First Bull Run with what really happened (or, at least, what I think really happened and why I think it), I think I’ll write the “paper” and look at my options afterwards. One thing for sure is I won’t be using the future tense when speaking of past events – I promise. Irvin McDowell intended to do some things, he did other things, but he will not BE doing anything ever again.








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