Bull Run on Film

25 11 2008

Oh, just for the hell of it.  If you like, we can discuss the accuracy of this clip in the comments section here.  It might be fun!  But let’s limit the discussion to the clip, please.  I don’t want to rehash bad acting, bad screenwriting, bad cinematography, or the whole general badness of this film.

By the way, Ride with the Devil is on AMC tonight.  I think it’s an under rated film, skillfully directed by Ang Lee with some fine, nuanced performances and beautifully filmed.  In my opinion, the writers skillfully and thoughtfully handled the characterization of a free black man who fought alongside his former master, though I’m sure it angered some folks and caused quite a few knees to jerk.  Here’s the raid on Lawrence (look for the Eldridge Hotel):





Artilleryman Clement D. Fishburne’s Account of the Campaign

5 09 2008

This letter from Clement D. Fishburne to Dr. P. B. Barringer appeared in the October, 2008 edition of Civil War Times magazine, and this portion is reprinted with the magazine’s kind permission.  The complete article can be found here.  The original letter is situated in Special Collections, University of Virginia, MSS #3569.  The excerpt below excludes the first part of the letter describing the author’s pre-war observations of T. J. Jackson.

Charlottesville Va. 8th April 1903

Dr. P. B. Barringer

University of Va

Dear Ari:

Whilst I do not doubt that I met them after wards from time to time before our “civil war” began I do not distinctly recall any other interview with him till in May 1861 when I went to Harper’s Ferry to make inquiry about my younger brother, who a private in the Col. J.E.B. Stuart’s 1st Regt of Va. Cavalry, had been accidentally shot by one of his comrades. This Regt. was part of Major (then Colonel) Jackson’s Command. Here I found the Colonel busily engaged with his work, organizing his command. He was cordial and hospitable, but after ascertaining that my brother had been sent to a hospital at Winchester, I hur-ried on to that town and from there returned in a few days to the University of Va., where I had begun the study of Law in the preceding fall. I soon discovered that it would be difficult for me to find profit in trying to study there, where all the students and Professors were thoroughly interested in the preparations then making in the State of Virginia for the inevitable conflict, and I accordingly decided to join the army and to cast my lot with the Rockbridge Artillery. This Battery had been organized at Lexington Va. and had in it a large number of young men who had been educated atWashington College. It was commanded by Rev. W.N. Pendleton, the Rector of the Episcopal Church at Lexington, who had graduated some years before at West Point and had been a fellow cadet with Genl. Ro. E. Lee, Gen. Joseph E. Johnson & other distinguished graduates, some of whom had already been called to prominent positions in the two armies which were then preparing for the great conflict.

Maj. Jackson had been commissioned a Col. when he was called to the command of the forces at Harpers Ferry. Soon after my trip to that place he moved his troops up the river, the Potomac, so as to command the crossing places. His cavalry under Col. Stuart picketed the river and the infantry was stationed at convenient places from Williamsport down to Harper’s Ferry. I went down the Valley by stage coach to Winchester and from that town went with a wagon train toward Martinsburg. Some three or four miles south of this town I found the Rockbridge Artillery, on the 21st June, resumming its march and there I joined it.We passed through the town and went into camp in an oak grove about four miles north of the town. Here we found several regiments of infantry belonging to a Brigade under Command of Col. Jackson, the nucleus of the Brigade which was afterwards known as Jackson’s Brigade and after the battle ofManassas known as the “Stonewall brigade.” My recollection is that this Brigade at first was composed of Col. JEB Stuart’s regiment of Cavalry, the 2nd, the 4th, the 5th, the 27th, & the 33rd regiments of Virginia Infantry and the Rockbridge Artillery.

As soon as I could conveniently do so I called on the Col. who was a very busy man and found him cheerful and pleasant as usual—and always cordial toward the men of his brigade who had before been personally known to him.

Genl. Patterson was reported as advancing toward us by the Ferry & ford at Williamsport and after some of his troops had crossed the Potomac Col. Jackson met him near the “Falling Waters” several miles north of our Camp. His troops, the Cavalry and Infantry, were deployed in front of what would be Gen Patterson’s line of march and the four guns of our artillery were moved forward on the turnpike-road which connected Martinsburg and Williamsport and here halted for further developments. Very soon we saw the 5th regiment moved forward and one of our guns, a six pounder brass gun was also advanced.  They were soon hidden from us by a patch of wood land but we had not long to wait for news from them. The battle begun by Patterson’s troops was continued by Jackson’s infantry and the one gun. Jackson was in direct command and his troops were highly elated by his coolness & promptness. The 5th Va Regt. and the one gun did considerable execution and delayed Gen. Patterson’s advance so that, at Col. Jacksons command, his troops began to fall back slowly & in perfect order.

Corporal M. tells the story that during this backward movement, the enemy’s artillery sent some shots intended to hasten our march, or at least to let us know that they were following us, and that, as a spent ball rolled near us, one of our privates approached himand exclaimed in indignant tones against the conduct of Gen. Patterson—“was any thing like this ever heard of in civilized warfare!— firing on a retreating foe!!” The Corporal was pretty amused but did not stop to discuss the outrage— Our brigade slowly fell back, through Martinsburg and, when we reached a place called Darkesville, we met for the first time Genl. Joseph E. Johnson to whom, as we understand it, Genl. Jackson reported. We were much impressed by the soldierly bearing of our new Commander in Chief. He was a man of medium height, a handsome man and a skillful, accomplished horseman. He had with him his staff and probably other troops besides Jackson’s brigade, but of this I am not sure. On a beautiful meadow East of the Valley turnpike, our brigade was deployed and Col. Jackson’s brigade-Quartermaster was provided with strips of white callon cloth with which each of the members of the brigade was decorated for the purpose of distinguishing us from the troops of Gen. Patterson who were expected to make an attack on us. The ordinary uniforms then worn by the troops of both armies were very similar and this mode of designating our troops was adopted in order to prevent confusion and the possible mistaking the enemy for friends & vice versa. Gen Jackson was frequently among us during our demonstration while awaiting the advance of Genl. Pattersons forces. We thus remained in line for a day or two, but the Enemy did not advance and we slowly resumed our march toward Winchester which place we reached on the 8 or 10th of July. Here we remained a few days, making demonstrations of readiness to begin battle, till the after noon of the 18th when, after orders to prepare three day’s ration’s, we set out from Winchester east ward. When we had gone a few miles, each body of our troops was halted long enough to hear an order from Gen. Johnson to the effect that ‘Our troops under the command of Gen Beauregard were already attacked by the Enemy at “Bulls run” and we were urged to “gird up our loins”: and march with all possible speed to aid our fellow soldiers near Manassas.

Each body responded with a shout and the march was resummed. The brigade reached the top of the mountain after midnight and [bivouacked] as best it could along the top and eastern slope of the Blue ridge awaiting further orders. Gen. Jackson was “inevidence” occasionally giving orders for the further march east-ward. About sunset the march was resumed— the infantry (as we were informed) taking the trains on the R.R. and the Rockbridge Artillery followed the dirt road and marched all night, halting an hour or so at “the Plains” to rest the horses, and again about sun rise to rest and feed them.

About the middle of the afternoon of the 20th we were halted at the Manassas station to rest and receive our further orders. The infantry of the Brigade had already arrived in that vicinity and were bivouacked on the South bank of “Bulls run” where we supposed Jackson was. After a tedious and unsatisfactory halting without water, we resumed the march and about dusk reached the banks of the “Bull’s run” where, without unnecessary delay, we made ourselves and our horses as comfortable as possible and went to sleep near that small stream. About break of day we were aroused by the Enemy’s artillery which was located north of us at Centreville and which was amusing itself firing in our direction as was made manifest by the occasional arrival in our vicinity of their shots or shells. Gen. Jackson took command of the infantry of his brigade and led them toward the place where they were after wards engaged on the ground where the first battle of Manassas was fought—not far from the celebrated “Henry House,” and there the Battery joined them.

We found Gen. Jackson on the field riding from one end of the line of his Infantry regiments to the other. He personally superintended the placing of the Rockbridge Artillery into position on the crest of the Hill in front of his infantry. He was riding a small bay horse, which limped from a wound it had rec. in a hind leg. The General had also been wounded in a finger and was riding about with his hand elevated and wrapped in a silk handkerchief. I supposed that he held his hand up to prevent bleeding, but the newspaper correspondents afterward described him as riding about with his hand elevated in prayer for the success of our cause. He probably prayed then as he was known to be a praying man, but he did not fail to watch as well as pray and he saluted me and other acquaintances who met him on the field.

At the proper time he gave orders for the Artillery to fall back and for the Infantry to rise and take position on the crest of hill preparatory to attacking the Enemy in the direction of the “Henry house.” I do not remember distinctly seeing him for some days after this battle but I doubt not that we all saw him frequently, as he was much interested in our getting out of the captured guns enough of the newly acquired cannon to equip anew the battery with six guns in place of the four which we had at the beginning.

During the week following the battle, Maj. John A. Harman, the quarter master of the Brigade, which was beginning to be known as “the Stonewall Brigade,” selected for it a Camp north of the battlefield and a few miles north of Centreville, in the direction of Fairfax Court House. Here we were encamped more than a month and Gen. Jackson’s Head Quarters were within half-mile of the Battery, at a substantial farm house.  In the yard were his tents in which his staff lodged and where the business of the Brigade was transacted. Every Sunday some religious services were conducted to which all the members of the Brigade were welcomed. At these services Gen. Jackson occupied a camp chair and it was said that on one occasion the chair upset with him, which gave rise to the conjecture which was expressed by some who had known his  habits—that he had slept & lost his balance while asleep.

From this camp he marched with his brigade northward to the vicinity of Fairfax Court House, but no skirmishing with the Enemy followed this march and after a few days in which our gun carriages were overhauled and harness mended & greased and new horses obtained, we fell back to Centreville at night reaching it in the very early morning. We bivouacked on grassy hills near the Headquarters of Gen Jos. E. Johnson and next day pitched our tents & went into camp where we spent several weeks.

Whilst here the whole Command was reviewed by our general officers and the display of troops was very encouraging to us raw veterans. We thought we could whip all the troops that the Federals could muster against us. “It was a child’s ignorance then, but it was pleasant.”





Three Days in the Shenandoah

1 05 2008

Three Days in the ShenandoahThe University of Oklahoma Press has finally released my friend Gary Ecelbarger’s (see here) Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester.  It’s been a long time in the making, and I think it will be worth the wait.  While I haven’t seen the book yet, I have toured the Valley with Gary and think his take on the critical three days of May 23, 24, & 25, 1862 is exactly what the story of Jackson’s Valley Campaign has needed.  The real earth shattering discovery that Gary has made is one that has evaded historians like G. F. R. Henderson, Robert G. Tanner, Robert K. Krick and James I. Robertson all these years: there were Yankee soldiers in the Valley at the same time Jackson was there!!!  No, really; there were!  But don’t take my word for it – buy this book!

Gary, if you’re out there, how in the heck did Ol’ Blue Light wind up in the title and on the dust jacket?  Did you fight the good fight?





Still Standing – The Stonewall Jackson Story

8 03 2008

 

acw_may_08.jpg still-standing.jpg

As discussed here, the version of my review of Still Standing – The Stonewall Jackson Story that appears in the May 2008 issue of America’s Civil War - on newsstands now – was edited about 35% for length.  To perhaps (though probably not) nip in the bud any questions regarding my opinion of the film, I’m posting the original text of the review below.  But don’t let this stop you from sending letters to the magazine.

Let me preface this by saying that I was predisposed to dislike the film prior to viewing, based on some things I had heard about it.  This to me was problematic, so before viewing it I posted a question to the Civil War Discussion Group (CWDG), a Yahoo email group to which I’ve belonged since its inception about seven years ago.  After discussing my problem with a few posters there, I determined that the proper course was to review the film on its own merits: what was the message it was trying to convey, and how well did it argue its case.  The review is not a simple reflection of my thoughts on the message, and has nothing to do with liking or disliking, but is rather an analysis of the presentation.  Note that each paragraph ends with an unexplored paradox.

Irony and paradox: those are the words used to characterize the life of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the documentary “Still Standing – The Stonewall Jackson Story”.   They are used specifically to describe the story of Jackson as one of a very ordinary man, arising from ordinary, even humble circumstances to accomplish extraordinary things. Beautifully filmed, the DVD has a pleasant musical score and relies more on live action video of sites from the general’s life than on the Ken Burns trademark still photograph panning that has become S.O.P. for historical documentaries.  All in all, this is an attractive package.  But it is perhaps more rife with irony and paradox than the producers intended – paradoxes and ironies ultimately left unexplored or unconvincingly explained.

Focusing on Jackson’s spiritual life, and based on the book “Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend” by Richard Williams, the program features a number of “talking heads”, first and foremost Jackson biographer James I. Robertson.  Jackson’s story is broken down into chronological phases of his life, beginning with his traumatic separation from his mother at  age seven to be sent to live with his uncle Cummins at Jackson’s Mill in what is now West Virginia.    Robertson describes Jackson’s boyhood as one of solitude and loneliness, and tells us that he never got over the separation from his mother, that his uncle was an uncaring, selfish man and that, while he later said his uncle loved him, Jackson “did not know what love was.”  At the same time, his boyhood is also described as shaped by his close friendship with future Union general Joseph Lightburn who, along with Cummins’s slaves, influenced Jackson to accept the gospel.

Jackson’s time at West Point is covered briefly, described as spent engrossed in study, and discussion of his Mexican War service is limited to his three brevet promotions, his dalliance with Catholicism, and the influence on his religious development of his superior officer Francis Taylor.  As for his post-war career, we learn of his baptism while stationed at Ft. Hamilton and of his leaving the army to take a teaching job at VMI, but nothing of why he left or any role his ambition – later described by Dr. Hunter McGuire as “far beyond what ordinary men possess” – may have played in his decision.  At VMI, while Jackson continued his personal voyage of faith, he distinguished himself as possibly the worst teacher in the history of the school.  Despite that, evidence suggests that his students saw something special in “Tom Fool”.

While Jackson’s role at First Manassas and in the Valley Campaign is explored, there is really little analysis of his Civil War record.   In fact, the film jumps from the Valley Campaign straight to Chancellorsville and his mortal wounding, avoiding entirely the paradox of Jackson’s spotty performance during the Seven Days.

At the center of the documentary is Jackson as husband, father, and benefactor of a Sunday school for slaves and free blacks in Lexington, Va.  While establishing himself in the town, he joined the Presbyterian Church and married Eleanor Junkin.  Fourteen months later, his wife and new son were dead, and Jackson’s faith is said to be all that pulled him through a difficult time.  He toured Europe, and on his return quickly courted and married Mary Anna Morrison.  By all accounts Jackson, earlier described as not knowing what love was, deeply, even romantically, loved his wife.

Jackson, who believed that every human being was a child of God, helped to fund a Sunday school to teach slaves and free blacks to read, in order for them to more closely follow the teachings of the bible.  While in violation of Virginia law, he felt that God’s law trumped the law of man.  Committed to the project, he sent his monthly stipend for the school from the battlefield of Manassas.  This scenario presents perhaps the most significant paradox of Jackson’s life.  While Robertson asserts that Jackson did not, in fact could not, fight for slavery, the fact remains that his actions helped sustain a government dedicated to the preservation of that institution; that while the beneficiaries of Stonewall’s bible school would become the freedmen of post-war Lexington, his actions helped delay their attainment of that status; that while Jackson was traumatized by his separation as a child from his beloved mother, his actions helped to perpetuate a system that methodically separated mother from child.

Perhaps a case can be made that for his time and community Jackson was in fact progressive in his views on and treatment of slaves and free blacks.  However, “Still Standing” does not attempt to view Jackson in the context of his circumstances, instead boldly proclaiming him a “champion of enslaved men and women”.  The glaring paradox is that he was at the same time on the battlefield a champion of slavery.   That’s a paradox worth exploring.

Thanks to Senior Editor Tobin Beck for his kind permission to post this.

(UPDATE:  Blogger Richard Williams, on whose book Still Standing is based, has “not commented” on this review here.  He suggests that I can find explorations of all the paradoxes in the film in his book.  As I said, I reviewed the film on its own merits.  Sweet cross-marketing pitch though!  I’m not sure what you found “curious” about my comments but no, I didn’t consider the review a “dreadful undertaking”, just a challenging one.  As for my comments speaking for themselves, I sure hope they do – that’s what I was going for!)





Jackson’s Report

20 01 2008

T. J. Jackson’s report is pretty concise.  In it he recognizes a man who would play a prominent role in the remaining 22 months of Stonewall’s life, Dr. Hunter McGuire.  The report closes with: I respectfully call attention to the accompanying reports of the commanders of the regiments and battery composing this brigade.(*)  The asterisk found at the bottom of the report, placed there by the compilers of the Official Records, identifies these reports as Not found.  Unfortunately, the compilers had to use lots of these asterisks when assembling the records for First Bull Run.





…but I know what I like

24 04 2007

I know this isn’t Bull Run related (other than in ways itemized here), but it updates somewhat this post.  The other day I picked up a used copy of Daniel Barefoot’s General Robert F. Hoke, Lee’s Modest Warrior for $9.98.  On the back of the dust jacket is a painting titled Ranger Willie, by Jack Amirian.  It depicts a stretcher borne Willie Hardee, his father standing over him, a mounted Hoke nearby.

The painting is not my style.  In fact, most modern day Civil War art is not my style – I generally find it too “cartoony”, and the overwhelming use of soft blues and grays leaves me with the image of a tattoo on the forearm of an 80 year old sailor – a blue-gray blob (though I’m sure it seemed like a good idea that night in Tokyo).  And why does everyone’s hat look like a gentle breeze would blow it off the wearer’s noggin?  Even the works of painters who strive for more realism bug me.  I mean, the subject matter!  Do we really need to see a young Nathan Bedford Forrest carrying a damsel across a creek, and how many paintings of Stonewall Jackson being alternately kind and gentle with his horse and bathed in heavenly light while at prayer – sometimes both at the same time – can the market bear (apparently a bunch)?

I only own one piece of Civil War art, and it’s by one of the few artists working in the genre whose work I like.  Keith Rocco’s Always Ready is hung above the fireplace in my family room.  It depicts the 9th NY Hawkins’ Zouaves at Antietam.  The print appeals to me on several levels:  I like Keith’s work (check it out in this book); I serve on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation; and the model for the officer holding the Stars and Stripes was an e-quaintance of mine, the late Brian Pohanka.

Rocco’s work is often reminiscent of N. C. Wyeth.  If you don’t recognize the name, or can’t remember which Wyeth he is, think pirates.  His illustrations of buccaneers graced the pages of books like Treasure Island.  He also did Civil War work, like this one of Stonewall Jackson:  

wyeth.jpg

Compare that style to Rocco’s Port Republic below (reproduced with his kind permission):    

 This painting illustrates the early stages of an action in which Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat’s Louisianans assaulted Federal artillery on high ground now famous as “The Coaling”.  Wheat was seriously wounded at First Bull Run, leading his men in the critical action on Matthews Hill.  He was shot in the chest, through and through, and was told he would not recover.  The 275 pound commander of the 1st Special Louisiana Battalion responded: “I don’t feel like dying yet.”  So he didn’t.  He recovered and once again led his battalion in Richard Taylor’s brigade of Ewell’s division of Jackson’s army in the Valley in 1862.  On page 412 of R. K. Krick’s Conquering the Valley is this description by a Louisianan of the scene around the Coaling on June 9, 1862:

 Men ceased to be men.  They cheered and screamed like lunatics – they fought like demons – they died like fanatics…It was not war on that spot.  It was a pandemonium of cheers, shouts, shrieks, and groans, lighted by the flames from cannon and muskets – blotched by fragments of men thrown high into trees by bursting shells.  To lose the guns was to lose the battle.  To capture them was to win it.  In every great battle of the war there was a hell-spot.  At Port Republic, it was on the mountain side.

 wheat.jpgWheat (pictured at left) and his even larger cohort, 300 pound Lt. Col. William R. Peck of the 9th LA, moved among the Federal guns on the Coaling.  The Louisianans had determined that killing the battery horses would prevent the enemy from removing the guns should they be able to retake the ground.  Wheat used his own knife, and was reported as looking “as bloody as a butcher” while doing the job.

Rob Wheat would eventually meet his end at Gaines’ Mill on May 25, 1862.  He’s buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.  I will get around to a biographical sketch, but it will be awhile yet.

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Bee Redux

6 02 2007

I got some more info on the Bee monument, courtesy of the ever helpful Jim Burgess at Manassas NBP.  The granite monument was erected by the Mary Taliaferro Thompson Southern Memorial Association (MTTSMA) of Washington, DC.  It was dedicated at 2 PM on Friday, July 21, 1939, the 78th anniversary of the battle, nearly a year before the establishment of the Park.

The guest speaker at the dedication was Col. J. Rion McKissick, president of the University of South Carolina.  Miss Anna Rives Evans, president of the Children of the Confederacy of the District of Columbia, unveiled the eight-foot-plus monument.  Mrs. Norma Hardy Britton of the MTTSMA made the presentation and state senator John W. Rust, president of the Manassas Battlefield Association, made the acceptance speech.  A descendant of J.E.B. Stuart, Dr. Warren Stuart, delivered the invocation.  The program also included a recitation by Mrs. Edward Campbell Shield, president of the Stonewall Jackson Chapter of the U.D.C. of Washington.  The last surviving Confederate veteran of Prince William County, Robert Cushing, and another vet, Peter B. Smith of Arlington, were honored guests.

Thanks, Jim!

Also, from the Richmond Dispatch for July 29, 1861:

The following is from the Richmond correspondence of the Charleston Mercury:

The name of this officer deserves a place in the highest niche of fame. He displayed a gallantly that scarcely has a parallel in history. The brunt of the morning’s battle was sustained by his command until past 2 o’clk. Overwhelmed by superior numbers, and compelled to yield before a fire that swept everything before it, Gen. Bee rode up and down his lines, encouraging his troops, by everything that was dear to them, to stand up and repel the tide which threatened them with destruction. At last his own brigade dwindled to a mere handful, with every field officer killed or disabled. He rode up to Gen. Jackson and said: “General, they are beating us back.”

The reply was: “Sir, we’ll give them the bayonet”

Gen. Bee immediately rallied the remnant of his brigade, and his last words to them were: “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Follow me!”

His men obeyed the call; and, at the head of his column, the very moment when the battle was turning in our favor, he fell, mortally wounded. Gen. Beauregard was heard to say he had never seen such gallantry. He never murmured at his suffering, but seemed to be consoled by the reflection that he was doing his duty.








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