Now Reading…

6 11 2006

“Forgotten Valor” The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox, edited by 087338628001_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_.jpgRobert Garth Scott.  The story of how Scott came by the Willcox papers alone is worth the price on this, though I never pay retail.  One of those historian’s dreams, similar to that lived by Mark Snell and the Franklin papers, where a family member casually mentions that they have “some” of their ancestor’s papers in the attic/crawlspace/shed, and the researcher is greeted with a literal trunkload of closely packed, unpublished material.   I’m reading the book primarily for Willcox’s depiction of life in the antebellum army and for his description of events leading up to and including BR1 (Willcox commanded a brigade in Heintzelman’s division, was wounded and captured in the battle, and spent over 12 months in captivity as part of a contingent retaliation for the anticipated treatment of captured Confederate privateers and guerrillas).  This book is loaded with “good stuff”.  For one thing, the officers in the pre-war army were very close – on one occasion OBW describes camping in the field in Kansas: I used my canteen as a pillow and [Nathan G.] Evans rested his head upon my body, and what a delicious sleep that roadside nap at midnight!  Get your mind out of the gutter, things were different back then.  Also, OBW would have had a tough time swinging a dead cat on the field at Bull Run without hitting a classmate or friend – for instance, Evans commanded the brigade stationed on Beauregard’s left at the Stone Bridge, the same small brigade that blunted the advance of the brigade of Ambrose Burnside (OBW’s classmate), which was at the head of the division of David Hunter (whose father-in-law leased his Wolf’s Head tavern in Chicago to OBW’s brother-in-law prior to the Black Hawk War).  Threads.  Fascinating.

Something about which I don’t know a heck of a lot is the experience of those men held captive for so long at the beginning of the war, during a time when other prisoner exchanges occurred frequently and rather speedily.  Part of the time OBW was incarcerated with Col. Michael Corcoran of the 69th NYSM (not to be confused with the 69th NYVI).  While his memoirs treat Corcoran neutrally, if not kindly, in a letter to his wife he pulled no punches:

As one instance, Col. Corcoran, whom these people [the Confederates] profess to despise, & who has certainly less claim on their respect than any prisoner here of equal rank, has his letters every week.  How omnipotent is humbug!  The Irish Lion is as near an ass [as] can be, & yet he not only overshadows us all at home but has more privileges here than anyone….it galls me to the quick to have a low-bred, uneducated, selfish, cunning foreigner toadied by our too generous people on all occasions.  When I add to that he came into the war with no love for the country but at the instigation of Bishop Hughes to practice himself & his countrymen in arms for acting in Ireland, you can judge still better of my indignation.  Yet his name is mentioned in Congress & every where before mine & every other.  Why, my dear, he has not expressed one intelligent idea, even on the subject of the war, in the whole nine months I have been with him.


I’m finding this a good read as well as an essential resource.  A keeper. 



11 responses

7 11 2006
David Corbett

Dear Sir I enjoy the blog and its “classy” look !
Corcoran died when he fell off his horse while supposedly quite drunk. Reinforces the stereotype , eh ?
all for teh old flag ,
David Corbett


7 11 2006
Harry Smeltzer

There is more than one version of what killed Corcoran, including an anurism. Some say his horse fell on him. Some claim he never recovered his health after his long captivity (I don’t think post release photos show a man any more or less cadaverous than those taken before BR1). This may be something I’ll post some thoughts on at a later date.


2 03 2007
Starke Miller

Very nice looking website. I am working on a book on the University Greys, Company A of the 11th Mississippi. They fought at 1st Manassas and I have a copy of a letter saying they captured Wilcox’s horse and they gave it to their Colonel who named it Wilcox. Does the book say anything about this? Thanks for any reply.


2 03 2007
Harry Smeltzer


I recall Willcox wrote about the loss of his horse and his attempts to get the army to reimburse him for it. I’ll look for more detail later, but give me until after the weekend.


8 08 2007
Bull Run Prisoners « Bull Runnings

[…] schooner Enchantress.  Check it out; it’s good stuff.  I wrote about some of these prisoners here, here and […]


13 09 2007
Nathan George Evans « Bull Runnings

[…] a) below, I have no idea what’s going on there, but the two men are holding hands.  As I said here, things were different back then.  I think.  Not that there’s anything wrong with […]


19 04 2008
Preston’s Report « Bull Runnings

[…] The report of Col. Robert T. Preston of the 28th Virginia Infantry mentions his regiment’s capture of members of the 1st Michigan Infantry, including its brigade and former regimental commander, Col. Orlando B. Willcox.  Willcox remembered his encounter with the 28th VA and its commander (from pp 295-296, Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox, edited by Robert Garth Scott, see here): […]


1 08 2009
Nathan G. Evans « Bull Runnings

[…] photo below, I have no idea what’s going on there, but the two men are holding hands.  As I said here, things were different back then.  I think.  Not that there’s anything wrong with […]


26 04 2010
Chris Evans

I received the Orlando Willcox book recently and totally agree that it is a wonderful read and resource. This book should definitely be better known. It is very fascinating reading.


18 12 2011
Spin Ain’t Nothin’ New, Just Ask the Carthaginians « Bull Runnings

[…] little more fuel on the fire comes from Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox – thanks to Jim Rosebrock for jarring my memory on this. On page 301, Willcox describes an […]


23 07 2018

Wilcox’s comments on Corcoran say more about Wilcox’s political attitudes towards Irish immigrants than they do about Corcoran. His words echo the Nativists and he is repeating standard prejudices against the Irish. He shows himself to be elitist and bitterly resentful of Corcoran, and fails to comprehend what it was about Corcoran that the Union command so admired. Corcoran achieved his rank by being an extremely good practical organiser, not through class and privilege, and it was his political principles that were respected on all sides. He hoped to achieve a free Republic in Ireland which was at that time under the imperial British yoke. Extraordinary that Wilcox could not grasp the point.


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