Miss Emma Holmes, On the Battle, Aftermath, and Return of Dead to Charleston

18 02 2013

July 19 - News arrived today of the battle at Manassas Junction, which lasted four hours & a half in which the Federalists were severely beaten with great loss, while ours was very slight.

July 22 – The telegraph this morning announces a great and glorious victory gained yesterday at Bull’s Run after ten hours hard fighting. The enemy were completely routed, with tremendous slaughter; the loss on either side is of course not yet known, but ours is light compared to theirs. They have besides lost the whole of the celebrated Sherman’s Battery, two or three others, and a quantity of ammunition, baggage, etc. Their whole force amounted to about 80,000 while ours was only 35,000; only our left wing, however, command by Gen. Johnson, 15,000 against 35,000 of the enemy, were mostly engaged. The entire commanded by the President, who arrived on the field about noon, & the right wing, led by Beauregard, were only partially engaged. The Georgia Regiment commanded by Col. Francis S. Bartow seems to have suffered very severely, the Oglethorp Light I.[nfantry] from Savannah especially. Col. Bartow was killed and also Gen. Barnard Bee and Col. B. F. Johnson of the Hampton Legion. The latter arrived only three hours before the battle and seem to have taken conspicuous part in it. In Gen. Bee the Confederate Army lost an officer whose place cannot readily be supplied. He stood so high in his profession that, immediately after his arrival quite late from the distant western frontiers, a captain, he was raised to the rank of Brigadier General; he was one of Carolina’s noblest sons, and, though we glory in the victory won by the prowess of our gallant men, tears for the honored dead mingle with our rejoicings. Col Bartow was one of the most talented and prominent men in Savannah and very much beloved; he left Congress to go to Va. with the O.[gelthorpe] L.[ight] I.[nfantry] as their captain, but was made Col. & was acting Brigadier Gen. during the battle. Col. Johnson’s loss will also be much felt; he leaves a wife & eight children. A great many Charlestonians are wounded but only three of Kershaw’s R.[egiment] which must have been in the right wing…Rumors are, of course, flying in every direction, none of which are to be relied on, but Willie Heyward went on tonight to see after some of his friends, who he hears are wounded.

July 23 - The telegraph today only confirms what we heard yesterday without additional information, as the wires from Manassas to Richmond were down for some hours. Several gentlemen went on last night with servants & nurses to attend our wounded, and societies for their relief are being organized in the city. The northern account of the battle & dreadful panic which seized their troops, followed by complete demoralization, is most graphic. They admit that the carnage was fearful. The “brag” regiment of N. Y., the 69th, was cut to pieces; the infamous Fire Zouaves went into battle 1100 strong and come out 206. The New Orleans Zouaves were let loose on them & most amply were the murder of [James] Jackson & the outrages on women avenged on these fiends; 60 pieces of artillery were taken including Sherman’s which was celebrated as Ringgold’s during the Mexican War[,] Carlisle’s, Griffins, the West Point Batteries, & the 8 siege 32-pounder rifled cannon, with which Scott was marching upon Richmond. The Federal army left Washington commanded by Scott in all the pomp & pageantry of the panoply of war – all so grand and impressive in their own eyes that they did not dream that we would strike a blow but would lay down our arms in terror. They carried 550 pair of handcuffs & invited immense numbers of ladies to follow and see Beauregard and Lee put into irons, expecting to march directly on to Richmond. The contrast of the picture may be imagined – gloom and terror reign in Washington, and they are multiplying fortifications and reinforcing the city.

Today, by Col. [Richard] Anderson’s order, a salute was fired of twenty-one guns, from Forts Moultrie & Sumter, at 12 o’clock, in honor of the victory, & tomorrow their flags will be placed at half-mast and guns fired hourly from 6:00 A. M. till sunset in honor of the illustrious dead. Preparations are being made to receive the bodies in state; the City Hall is draped in mourning as when Calhoun lay in state, & now his statue gleams intensely white through the funeral hangings surrounding the three biers. I have not yet visited the hall but those who have say the impression is awfully solemn. It seems really the “Chamber of the Dead.” The  bodies were expected today, but a delay occurred & they may not come till Friday. This afternoon the Ladies Charleston Volunteer Aid Society held a meeting at the S. C. Hall, 192 ladies were there and nearly $1,000 collected from subscriptions and donations, Miss Hesse [T.] Drayton was appointed Superintendent, & Hesse [D. Drayton], Assistant, Emily Rutledge, Secy. & Treasurer, & 12 Managers to cut out the work & distribute it. We are to have monthly as well as quarterly meetings. The ladies all seemed to enjoy seeing their friends as well sa the purpose for which they came. Mrs. Geo. Robertson & Mrs. Amy Snowden have got up another called Soldiers’ Relief Assn. not only for sending clothes, but comforts & necessaries for the sick and wounded, while the ladies interested in the Y. M. C. A. have got up another& already sent on supplies for the hospitals. All are most liberally supported…

July 25 - Gen. McClellan has superseded McDowell, U. S., who was defeated at Bull Run on the 21st. He had telegraphed to Washington announcing a signal victory & by the time the news arrived his troops were routed and flying for their lives.

Mr. [Robert] Bunch of the English Consul says he considers this one of the most remarkable victories ever gained. Not only were the Lincolnites double our number, but all their batteries were manned by regulars, well trained and experienced as well as commanded by experienced officers. Those batteries were almost all taken by infantry at the point of the bayonet, a thing which has never been done before – cavalry always being sent to charge them.

The new French Consul, Baron St. Andre’, has lately arrived here. He was instructed to avoid Washington & to present his credentials to the Mayor, so at least we hear, and seems probable it is but the preparatory step to recognizing us.

July 26 - [Aunt] Carrie [Blanding] & myself went up today to Mrs. [Anna Gaillard] White’s to bid Mary Jane and herself goodbye as they expect to leave at midday for Summersville on their way Winnsboro. We found a number of the Dragoons collected there, waiting the arrival of the bodies; the train was expected at eight and again at ten, but a telegram announced that a delay had occurred & it would not arrive till one. Mr. [John] White invited some of the dragoons to wait there instead of returning home. A funereal car had been sent to Florence to meet the bodies & another draped in mourning bore the committee appointed to meet it. Business was generally suspended, all the flags were at half-mast & the Liberty pole had crape upon it; everybody was out to see the procession. The Dragoons in their summer uniform of pure white, the German Hussars, & Charleston Mounted Guard met the bodies at the depot and escorted them to the City Hall, four from each company being detailed as especial body guard & the City Guard marching in single file on either side of the hearses; the bodies lay in state for three hours; at four the procession moved again, the Dragoons first, Col. Anderson commanding and leading the way, with nearly a thousand regulars trailing arms. The W.[ashington] L.[ight] I.[nfantry] was the only volunteer company carrying ars in respect to Col. Johnson, but every infantry company in the city turned out; the pall bearers were all high officers in brilliant uniforms, some on foot others on horseback immediately around the hearses; the flags were furled, at least some were, & draped in crape. There was but little music. The R.[utledge] M.[ounted] R.[ifles] ending the procession on foot leading their horses, a body of artillery in their way to Va. commanded by Willie Preston were also in the procession. Col. Bartow’s body had been escorted to the Savannah R. R. by the Mounted Guard.

Carrie & myself dined at Mrs. W[hite]‘s; then all went to St. Paul’s [Episcopal Church] where the services were performed by cousin Christopher [Gasden] except Mrs. W and myself – our carriage came for me, and she and I rode out to see the procession. We got a position at the head of Calhoun [St.], and saw it as it turned into Coming [St.] Many of the companies could not get as far as the corner. After the services were over, the bodies were brought out and three volleys fired over them. They were then carried to Magnolia Cemetery, where Col. Johnson was buried & Gen. Bee’s remains placed until tomorrow, when they would be carried to Pendleton where all his family are buried. Gen. Bee was mortally wounded in the stomach by grape or chain shot and did not die till eleven o’clock on Monday and , though he suffered fearfully he never uttered a murmur. Col. J. and Col. B. were both instantly killed, the former dreadfully mangled in the face. Thus it was impossible to allow the family a last look ere they were consigned to the tomb, & oh, how harrowing to their feelings to think those loved forms so near and yet unable to obtain one last agonizing look.

July 27 - …[After Bull Run] 1500 of the Virginia Cavalry pursued the enemy beyond Fairfax till two o’clock in the morning. At that place, they found Gen. Scott’s carriage & six horses, with his sword and epaulettes, his table set with silver, champagne, wines and all sorts of delicacies, to celebrate their intended victory. But the arrival of the panic stricken troops, flying from close pursuit, had compelled “old fuss and Feathers” to follow their humiliating example…

July 29 - A letter was received from Rutledge today written from Stone Bridge on the 22nd. It was merely a few lines in pencil, telling us that the battle had taken place and that Kershaw’s & Cash['s] regiment had the honor of turning the tide of battle to victory. President Davis said they had done so. It was a mistake to say that he commanded the centre; he did not arrive till the enemy were in full retreat. To Beauregard belongs the honor of planning the battle & commanding the army – he has just been made a Confederate General. Col. Richard Anderson  has been raised to the rank of Brigadier General.

Cowen Barnwell says the road to Centreville was strewed not only with arms, knapsacks & soldiers’ clothing, but delicacies of all sorts and ladies bonnets and shawls. For, a great many Lincolnite Congressmen with their wives and friends had gone to witness the ‘great race’ between Federals and Confederates. One of the prisoners said they were told by their officers that we would not fight or at least it would be a mere brush, for our men were so few compared to theirs & they did not believe they would face the regulars, Scott’s chosen 10,000, but would yield or run and their army would march immediately on Richmond. The papers which were taken prove the man’s assertion true. A bill of fare among other things was found of a dinner McDowell intended to give yesterday in Richmond. [Alfred] Ely [of New York], a member of Congress, also Col. Corcoran of the N. Y. 69th, the latter was captured by a mere boy. The P[almetto] G[uard] have captured a flag & two drums. Every Southerner was a hero on that battlefield; every day we learn some new deed of valor, but the taking of Sherman’s battery at the point of the bayonet is the most wonderful. Beauregard said it was the greatest the world has ever seen.

Our troops suffered awfully for want of water. Exhausted from want of food, & hard fighting, their thirst was intense and caused severe suffering.

July 31 – We have heard nothing further from R[utledge] or Mr. T. S[umter] B[rownfield] since their notes dated Stone Bridge 22nd, but Mr. Stephen Elliott received a very interesting letter from Willie [Elliott] who is 1st Lieut. Brooks Guard, Kershaw’s R., giving a sketch of the battle. I fell very proud to think they had such a prominent position and should have had the universally acknowledged honor in connection with Cash’s R. and Kemper’s four-gun battery from a defeat into a glorious victory. For when they rushed to the charge, they met wounded men going to the rear who told them we were beaten & everything which met their sight seemed to confirm it, but undisheartened they rushed onward to victory, to Kershaw’s battle cry “Boys remember Butler, Sumter and your homes.”

It is very difficult to obtain accurate information about either the whereabouts of our friends or those who are wounded, as Beauregard will not allow any but those who are going to join the army to go on to Manassas and the Carolina Regiments are continually on the move…

August 1 - Among other articles captured have been several wagons loaded with handcuffs – 30,000 pairs, to deck their intended victims. I suppose the Lincolnites expected to have a triumphal entry to Washington in the old Roman style.

John F. Marszalek, ed., The Diary of Miss Emma Holmes, 1861-1866, pp. 65-74

More on Emma Holmes





George Templeton Strong, On the Campaign and Aftermath

15 02 2013

July 17. McClellan seems to have crushed treason in Western Virginia. And McDowell’s column is in advance on Fairfax and Manassas Junction. I fear this move is premature, forced on General Scott by the newspapers. A serious check on this line would be a great disaster.

July 19. Dined with Charley Strong and George Allen at the “Maison Doree,” a new and very nice restaurant established in Penniman’s house on Union Square. Called on Dr. Peters, as a private sanitary agent on my own account, also at Mr. Ruggles’s. We are all waiting breathlessly for news from the Army of Virginia. Batteries were encountered by the advance yesterday at Bull’s Run, three miles this side of Manassas Junction, and there was a sharp skirmish, our advance falling back on its supports at last with a loss of some sixty men. Today, there have been diverse stories of additional fight, stories both good and bad; bu the last report is that all are fictions and that things are in status quo. This lack of authentic official reports is no sign of success. We seem on the eve of a general action, but perhaps the enemy is holding Bull’s Run to secure a comfortable retreat toward Richmond. He certainly ran away from Fairfax with great precipitation, but I suppose the chivalry will fight pretty well behind entrenchments.

July 22, Monday. Good news – certainly good, though it may not prove sufficient to justify the crowding and capitals in the Tribune. It’s rather sketchy and vague, and no doubt exaggerated, but there has been fighting on a large scale at Bull’s Run. Our men have been steady under fire and the enemy has fallen back on Manassas. This last important fact seems beyond question.

General Johnston seems to have joined Beauregard, given him numerical preponderance. Patterson does not seem to have followed Johnston up. We attacked yesterday morning, and there was hard fighting till about half past five. Our right, under Hunter, turned the rebel entrenchments and seems to have repulsed the enemy, where they came out of their cover, and tried to use the bayonet. Hunter is killed or severely wounded. Ellsworth’s Fire Zouaves and Corcoran’s Irishmen are said to have fought specially well, and to have suffered much. It is rumored that an advance was shelling the batteries at Manassas last night. Not likely.

Thank God for the good news. We shall probably receive a cold-water douche, however, before night in the shape of less comfortable intelligence.

Seven P.M. My prediction about the douche verified indeed! Today will be known as BLACK MONDAY. We are utterly and disgracefully routed, beaten, whipped by secessionists. Perhaps not disgracefully, for they say Beauregard has 90,000 men in the field, and if so, we were outnumbered two to one. But our men are disorganized and demoralized and have fled to the shelter of their trenches at Arlington and Alexandria as rabbits to their burrows. All our field artillery is lost (twenty-five guns out of forty-nine!), and if the secessionists have any dash in them, they will drive McDowell into the Potomac.

How it happened is still uncertain. It doesn’t appear whether the stampede came of a sudden unaccountable panic, or from the advent of General Johnston on our flank. In this latter case, it was a revival of the legitimate Napoleonic drama: Blucher, General Johnston; Grouchy, General Patterson. But our reports are all a muddle. Only one great fact stands out unmistakably: total defeat and national disaster on the largest scale. Only one thing remains to make the situation worse, and I shall not be surprised if tomorrow’s papers announce it, That is, the surrender of our army across the Potomac and the occupation of Washington by the rebels. We could never retreat across the Long Bridge if successfully assailed, even were our men not cut up and crestfallen and disheartened.

Who will be the popular scapegoat? Probably Patterson, perhaps Secretary Cameron, or even General Scott!

July 23. We feel a little better today. The army is by no means annihilated. Only a small part of it seems to have been stricken with panic. A gallant fight has been made against enormous odds and at every disadvantage. An attack failed and we fell back. Voila tout. Only there is the lamentable loss of guns, some say eighteen, others nearly a hundred. That cannot be explained away. It’s said tonight that Tyler is at Centreville, entrenching himself, so all the ground occupied by our advance is not abandoned. The rebels show no disposition to  follow up their advantage or venture outside their woods and masked batteries. The first reports of our loss in killed and wounded are said to be greatly exaggerated.

Why we delivered battle is a mystery. I suppose the Tribune and other newspapers teased and scolded General Scott into premature action. Thought him too strong and self-sustained to be forced to do anything against his own judgment by outside pressure and popular clamor.

July 25. These Southern scoundrels! How they will brag over the repulse at Bull’s Run, though, to be sure, it’s not nearly so bad as our first reports. And is there not good reason to fear that their omission to follow up their advantage by a march on Washington indicates a movement in overwhelming force on the column of General Banks (lat Patterson’s) or Rosecrans’s (late McClellan’s)? May we not have another disaster to lament within the next forty-eight hours?

How the inherent barbarism of the chivalry crops out whenever it can safely kill or torture a defenseless enemy! Scrape the “Southern Gentleman’s” skin, and you will find a second-rate Comanche underneath it. These felons solaced themselves by murdering our wounded men in cold blood when they found us retiring from the field last Sunday afternoon – and did so with an elaboration of artistic fertility in forms of homicide (setting them up against trees to be fired at, cutting their throats, and so on), that proves them of higher grade in ruffianism and cowardly atrocity than anything our Five points can show. We must soon begin treating the enemy with the hempen penalties of treason.

July 26. The Eighth and Seventy-first Regiments (three-month volunteers) returned today, welcomed by crowds that blocked Broadway. They will be missed at Washington. We fell rather blue today, though without special reason. It seems clear that the loss of the rebels last Sunday was fully as severe as our own. Russell (London Times) writes Sam Ward that the Union army “ran away just as its victory had been secured by the superior cowardice of the South.” Pleasant. But Russell headed the race.

August 2, Friday. Exceeding sultry. Up before three this morning for the early train. But as the ticket office of that wickedly managed Baltimore & Washington Railroad was not opened till long after the hour for starting, our train got off near half an hour behind time, and missed its connection at Baltimore; so we were detained there till ten o’clock, and might just as well have postponed our arising till six. A most sultry ride. There were Dr. Bellows, Van Buren, George Gibbs, Wolcott Gibbs, and myself. Breakfasted at the Gilman House and dined at the Continental (Philadelphia). Saw Horace Binney at his house a moment. We have elected him and Bishop Clark of Rhode Island full members of the Commission, and I think both will serve. Home at half-past nine.

Washington hotter and more detestable than ever. Plague of flies and mosquitoes unabated.

Went on by night train Saturday. Spent the night filed away like a bundle of papers in one of the “sleeping” (!) car pigeonholes, where I perspired freely all night.

Sunday at the hospitals – two at Georgetown (“Seminary” and “Union Hotel”), and one at Alexandria. Much to write about both, were there time. Condition of the wounded thus far most satisfactory. Everything tends to heal kindly. But our professional colleagues say this is deceptive. The time for trouble has not yet come, and hospital disease is inevitable within sixty days. The medical men in charge are doing what they can, but radical changes are needed. The buildings are defective in many points. As at Fort Monroe, the cheerfulness and pluck of the men are most touching. I saw several hideous cases of laceration by Minie balls and fragments of shell, too hideous to describe; but all doing well. One poor fellow (a Glasgow man of the Seventy-ninth named Rutherford) was in articulo mortis with dysentery and consequent peritonitis. Another died while we were there, after undergoing amputation an hour or two before. One or two typhoid cases looked unpromising.

Visited “Fort Ellsworth,” in front of Alexandria. It is finished now and very formidable, easier to defend than to assault. But it seems to me (in my ignorance) insufficiently armed, and commanded, moreover, by the neighboring hills. The chivalry will never try to storm it, but I don’t see why they could not shell the defenders out. This seems true also of the most important works at the head of the Long Bridge.

Our session adjourned late last night, having sat, as before, morning and evening. It engrossed all of my time, except that we took two or three drives in what should have been the “cool” of the evening to visit certain regiments that are specially demoralized by the disaster of the 21st, the Seventy-ninth and others.

We did a deal of work. Among other things we recommended the Secretary of War to remove Dr. Kimball (General Butler’s amateur interloper) from Fort Monroe, a step which at once put us on intimate cordial and endearing relations with all of the Medical Bureau, Dr. Finley included. But we receive no sincere cooperation from our pretended Congressional allies. The President, with whom Professor Bache and Dr. Bellows had a conference Thursday night, is our friend. So is Meigs the Quartermaster-General, with whom I had an interview. He is an exceptional and refreshing specimen of sense and promptitude, unlike most of our high military officials. There’s not a fibre of red tape in his constitution. Miss Dix has plagued us a little. She is energetic, benevolent, unselfish, and a mild case of monomania. Working on her own hook, she does good, but no one can cooperate with her, for she belongs to the class of comets and can be subdued into relations with no system whatever.

Long talk with General McDowell. “He is sadly depressed and mortified, most unlike what he was a fortnight ago. Says he has nothing to reproach himself with, and that he did his best. He took 31,000 men into the field, and of these the reserve of 1,000 was not under fire at all. The enemy were twice his strength. Colonel Cullum tells me we lost twenty-five guns, just one more than half those that went into action. Though at the head of Scott’s staff, he cannot ascertain and does not know what produced this ruinous panic and stampede, or what regiment began it. Nor does he know whether or not the rebel force in Virginia is 70,000 or over 200,000. History is worth little.

From conversations and eye witnesses, I am satisfied that the rebels treated our wounded men with characteristic barbarity. Dr. Barnes found thirty officers and men whom he had collected in a shady place and left for a few moments (while he went for some surgical implement or assistance to the church that was used as a temporary hospital) bayonetted on his return. Two very intelligent privates of a Michigan regiment now in one of the Georgetown hospitals tell me with all minute details of time, place, and circumstance how they saw rebel soldiers deliberately cut the throats of wounded men.

I return from Washington depressed and despondent. Our volunteer system with its elected colonels and its political major-generals is very bad. We are fighting at sore disadvantage. The men have lost faith in their officers, and no wonder, when so many officers set the example of running away. Of the first three hundred fugitives that crossed the Long Bridge, two hundred had commissions. Two colonels were seen fleeing on the same horse. Several regiments were left without field officers and without a company officer that knew anything beyond company drill. The splendid material of the Scotch Seventy-ninth and the Fire Zouaves has been wasted. Both regiments are disheartened and demoralized. Neither would stand fire for five minutes – they are almost in a state of mutiny, their men deserting and the sick list enlarging itself daily. Why the rebels did not walk into Washington July 22 or 23 is a great mystery. They could have done so with trifling loss.

George Templeton Strong, Diary of the Civil War, 1860-1865 pp. 168-170, 172-174

George Templeton Strong wiki.

Notes





Interview: Susannah Ural, Editor, “Civil War Citizens”

23 02 2011

University of Southern Mississippi professor Susannah Ural has edited a new collection of essays from NYU Press, Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in America’s Bloodiest Conflict. It consists of 7 pieces on Northern and Southern Germans, Northern and Southern Irish, Jewish Confederates, Native Americans, and Northern African-Americans. I first met Professor Ural on a Penn State Mont Alto seminar a few years back, and she’s been nice enough to take some time to answer a few questions about her new book.

BR: Prof. Ural, can you fill the readers in on your background and what you’re doing these days?

SU: In professional terms, I’m an associate professor of history and senior fellow in the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for the Study of War and Society. I trained in history, especially military history, at Kansas State University, where I earned my M.A. and Ph.D. I’ve been teaching at the university level since 1996 and living in the South since 2000. In personal terms, I grew up all over Pennsylvania, with a little time in North Dakota and bit more in Vermont. I miss crisp New England falls, but I can’t imagine leaving the South now, especially my summers and holidays with my family on the North Carolina coast. 

BR:  What was the genesis of Civil War Citizens?

SU: As I was finishing my monograph, The Harp and the Eagle, which looked at the motivations and experiences of Irish Catholic volunteers in the Union Army, I was speaking with an editor about the fact that there were almost no broad ethnic studies of Civil War soldiers and communities. There’s Ella Lonn’s work on foreigners in the Union and Confederacy, and William Burton wrote a great book called Melting Pot Soldiers, but no one had examined this issue in almost two decades, which is unheard of in Civil War writing, especially when you consider how much our approach to ethnic/immigration history has evolved in the last 20 years. I thought a broad study by experts in their respective fields might offer a lot to the historical community, spark interest in the subject, and highlight areas for future study.

BR: Can you describe the essay and author selection process?

SU: I was already familiar with experts in German-American communities during the Civil War from my M.A. thesis on Peter Osterhaus, a German-born Union officer who rose to corps command. My broad interest in the ethnic/racial experience during the war was long-standing, so I was fairly well aware of those scholars as well. In terms of subject matter, I thought about the largest ethnic groups as well as under-studied communities, and other groups I might want to include to enhance the book’s examination of how American identity is formed. Then I contacted the best individuals working in those areas and, thankfully, they agreed to join the project. My only regret is that the chapter on the Hispanic experience in the war did not quite work out, and I am hoping that our book sparks interest in that area in particular, but in the entire field as well. 

BR: What is the relationship between your own essay and your previous book on Irish Union soldiers?

SU: My chapter is grounded in the theories that originated in my book The Harp and the Eagle, but in this essay I included some new material that did not appear in that book. This collection, though, allowed me to show readers how the northern Irish-American experience compared to the southern Irish-American response to the war, and then to compare these with the experiences of other racial, ethnic, and religious communities across the Union and the Confederacy. I could not take that broad approach with my first book, and relished in the opportunity to do this with Civil War Citizens. 

I love looking at individuals responding to war.  It could be soldiers and why they volunteer, their experiences in combat, the impact of the war on their families, or how conflict impacts their larger communities. When you study people or communities at war, you can gain fascinating insights into how they define themselves; how they prioritize their values. There is no vacillating in times of war. People, just like nations, are forced to reflect on their values and take a stand on certain issues or back down. Then, when you apply these questions to groups that were already struggling with their identity—immigrants or other minority groups; those who fell outside the dominant sections of society—these questions and their answers become even more fascinating.

BR: How has the book been received?

SU: So far so good. We have terrific endorsements from historians Peter Carmichael, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, and Chris Samito, and Catherine Clinton praised it as “pioneering” in her recent review in Civil War Times Illustrated.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

SU: It usually begins with a curious photo or comment or generally accepted truth. Then I start digging to learn more. In the case of Irish Catholic soldiers, it was the accepted fact that they fought to prove their loyalty to America and gain acceptance. That puzzled me when I reflected on their writings, which more often referenced a desire to gain military experience, a solid income, or preserve American Union for future Irishmen. In the case of the Texas Brigade, I wanted to know what made them an elite unit and why wealthy Southerners sometimes held them up as the beau ideal of Confederate soldiers and at other times seemed embarrassed of their rougher habits. I was curious to see if the Texans could offer us a lens into Confederate wartime identity, and they have.

So, my curiosity leads to more and more digging in archives and private collections, reading every published source I can get my hands on, and then a heck of a lot quiet time in a hard chair, writing away and then revising, then more fresh writing, followed by more revising, and a few more research trips. I’m a better writer in the early morning hours while my son’s still asleep, so I tend to get up at 4 am, write for about two hours, get both of us off to school, and then write more at work, especially on the days I don’t teach. The writing, though, is blended with heated debates with friends and colleagues as I try to make sense of the puzzles that always surface.  There are also a wealth of battlefield hikes to test what I’ve written, followed by more heated debates at places like O’Rorke’s in Gettysburg, where you’ll find us peering over maps spread across the table, held down by copies of the Official Records. That’s followed by more writing and rewriting, and then I send the manuscript out to a few friends for an early read, and then off to the editor who sends it out to even more folks to see if they think it’s ready for publication or if it requires additional work. 

BR: What’s next for you?

SU: I’m finishing my book on John Bell Hood’s famous Texas Brigade, called Hood’s Texans. It’s both a traditional unit history and a socio-military study of the men, their families, and the Confederacy at war. T. Harry Williams once said that a unit history, when done well, is a study of democracy at war.  That’s my goal with this book. As I mentioned earlier, I discuss why Southerners described Hood’s Texans, at times, as the beau ideal of their army and Southern manhood: rugged, independent, honor-driven, and brave soldiers. At other times, though, the Texans represented a side of the white South that elites preferred not to discuss: rough, uneducated, ill-disciplined, and brutal. These contradictions within the unit and the larger Confederacy flow throughout my book, highlighting how the men and their families changed, and in other ways remained unchanged, as a result of the war. The final two chapters examine the veterans and their communities in the postwar period as they struggled to adjust to a strange new world of emancipation, occupation, and defeat, and then worked to shape the way in which future generations would remember their service.

The next book is tentatively titled The Southern Way of War. I want to explore why Southerners continue to dominate the enlisted ranks of today’s American military, and come close to dominating the officer population. Is this simply due to the fact that people from rural areas are more likely to serve in the armed forces?  If so, why does Brooklyn rank so high among enlisted personnel? Is it a matter of economic need and the opportunity the military installations so clearly offer across the South? Maybe, but there seems to be something else, too, and I think it’s tied to the white South and their memory of the Civil War, which is then complicated as increasing numbers of African-Americans and women joined the armed forces in the twentieth century. So I’m tinkering with that now, but first I have to finish the Texas Brigade book.  Speaking of which….

Thanks to Prof. Ural for taking the time to update us on her upcoming works, and for providing detail for Civil War Citizens. It looks like we’ll be hearing plenty from her in the near future, and I’m sure plenty of you are looking forward to Hood’s Texans.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 894 other followers