Romeyn Beck Ayres

29 06 2007

Romeyn Beck Ayres; born East Creek, NY 12/20/25; fluent in Latin; first wife Emily Louis Gerry Dearborn; second wife was Juliet Opie Hopkins Butcher, the daughter of Juliet Opie Hopkins; West Point Class of 1847 (22 of 35); Bvt 2nd Lt 4th US Arty 7/1/47; 2nd Lt 3rd Arty 9/22/47; served in garrison in Puebla and Mexico City, Mexico; 1st Lt 3/16/52; Capt 5th Arty 5/14/61; Artillery, W. F. Smith’s Div., 4th Corps, Army of the Potomac (AotP), 10/3/61 to 3/13/62; Artillery, 2nd Div., 4th Corps, AotP, 3/13/62 to 5/18/62; Artillery, 2nd Div., 6th Corps, AotP, 5/18/62 to 11/16/62; Artillery, 6th Corps, AotP, 11/16/62 to 4/4/63; BGUSV 11/29/62 (n 3/4/63 c 3/9/63); 1st Brig., 2nd Div, 5th Corps, AotP 4/21/64 to 6/28/63; 2nd Div, 5th Corps, AotP 6/28/63 to 3/24/64; Bvt Maj 7/2/63 for gallant and meritorious service in the Battle of Gettysburg; 4th Brig, 1st Div, 5th Corps, AotP 3/24/64 to 4/64; 1st Brig, 1st Div, 5th Corps, AotP 4/64 to 6/5/64; Bvt Lt Col 5/5/64 for gallant and meritorious service in the Battle of the Wilderness; 2nd Div, 5th Corps, AotP 6/6/64 to 12/22/64 and 1/8/65 to 6/28/65; wounded at Petersburg, VA 6/20/64; Bvt MGUSV 8/1/64 (n 7/17/66 c 7/23/66) for conspicuous gallantry in Battles of Wilderness, Spotsylvania CH, Jericho Mills, Bethesda Church, Petersburg, Weldon RR (Globe Tavern), and for faithful service in the campaign; Bvt Col 8/18/64 for gallant and meritorious service in the Battle of Weldon RR; Bvt BGUSA 3/13/65 (n 4/10/66 c 5/4/66) for gallant and meritorious service in the Battle of Five Forks; Bvt MGUSA 3/13/65 (n 7/17/66 c 7/23/66) for gallant and meritorious service in the field during the war; 3rd Div, Provisional Corps, 6/28/65 to 7/65; Dist of the Shenandoah Valley, Middle Dept, 8/23/65 to 4/30/66; mustered out of volunteers 4/30/66; Lt Col 28th US Inf 7/28/66; 19th US Inf 3/15/69; 3rd Arty 12/15/70; served in garrison in various posts including Little Rock, AK, Jackson Barracks, LA, and Key West, FL; Col 2nd Arty 7/18/79; supervised various posts in FL; died Fort Hamilton, NY 12/4/88; buried Arlington National Cemetery, VA, Sec 1, site 12.   

Sources: Eicher & Eicher, Civil War High Commands, pp 110-111, 706, 710, 718 732; Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the U. S. Army, Vol. I p 177; Sifakis, Who was Who in the American Civil War, pp 23-24; Warner, Generals in Blue, pp 387-388. 

  Photo credits: a, b, c; d;


Another Order Up and Some Assorted Sides

28 06 2007

Look under PAGES on the sidebar to the right.  You’ll see I’ve added another OOB, this time one for Union artillery at the battle.  I’ll get the Confederate arty up tomorrow.  I want to thank Ranger Jim Burgess, Museum Specialist at Manassas, for providing the basis for these red-leg OOB’s.  As with the full OOBs, I’ll update these as more information becomes available.  I’m also going to try to get caught up on official reports by posting those written by the subjects of the biographical sketches I’ve already posted – for example, Tyler and Sherman.  I’ll get Ayres’s sketch up this weekend, along with a bit on some very interesting trivia concerning his gravesite in Arlington.  One other post will cover some info I posted over at Behind Antietam on the Web.  So tune in over the weekend.

Historic Photos of Gettysburg

28 06 2007


There’s an interesting subculture that exists among those folks who live and breathe Gettysburg.  You’ve seen them out there on your visits to the field: a book or three under an arm, one open and precariously balanced in one hand, a digital camera in the other, as they cautiously move one step, two steps, and a smidge to the left to get just the right shot of an open field.  There’s a name for these folks.  Frassanidiots, they call ‘em, obsessed with the groundbreaking work of William Frassanito and his “then and now” photos (see here, here, here and here).  His books have spawned many others, focusing on Gettysburg and other CW fields.  But mostly they’ve spawned more and more Frassanidiots.  Now, I don’t mean to downplay the importance of Mr. Frassanito’s work; it stands on its own merits.  And these fanatics know more about the history of the battlefield than I ever will.  But some of them take things a bit far.  I mean, how can you be delighted and amazed that a twenty-ton rock is in the same place today as it was in 1863?  Wouldn’t it be more surprising if it wasn’t?  Stones and things made of stone last a long, long time.  Ever hear of the Pyramids?


I received in the mail a couple of weeks ago a new book, Historic Photos of Gettysburg.  My first impression was that the last thing we needed was another book of Gettysburg photos.  But of course that depends on who “we” are and what is meant by “need”.  A couple of years ago a book came out that touted itself as the “definitive illustrated history” of the battlefield, but it was quickly remaindered amid rumors of plagiarism and copyright infringement.  Despite that and some embarrassing errors, there were some pretty interesting images in that book, and I liked the way it was laid out.  And I have a number of other photo books on Gettysburg of varying usefulness and quality.  So I have to admit to being a little suspicious of the value of yet another.

This hardcover from Turner Publishing, text and captions by Virginia historian John S. Salmon, retails for $39.95.  It is presented in a format similar to Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the American Civil War.  Generally you get one large format photo and text/caption per page, with the occasional two page spread.  The book is divided into four sections: The Battle; Dedication and Remembrance; Fiftieth Reunion; and Seventy-fifth Reunion.  Right there I think we get something that we may not have seen before.  I can’t recall any one volume that offers photos from each of these distinct periods.

The text is thankfully not overwhelming.  Often photo books try to be more than that, by attempting to provide more than the typically motivated reader is looking for.  More often than not they fail dismally, so it’s good that this one stays on track.  Sure, there are some things in the text I’d dispute, but nothing major.  While many of the familiar battle aftermath images are here, there are a good number of images of PA volunteer units encamped for the July 4, 1865 laying of the Soldier’s National Monument cornerstone.  Also included are numerous photos from the commemoration period (1863-1900), interesting primarily for the appearance of veterans.  The same goes for the two sections on the 50th and 75th reunions.  My favorite is on page 157, a gathering of young descendants of Confederate generals Longstreet and Pickett.  Page 158 shows grandaughters of Meade and A. P. Hill.

The images in the book are not the sharpest reproductions I’ve seen.  Maybe I’m just spoiled by viewing high-res digital images on a monitor, but it seems to me some of these have been presented in print in higher quality.  The marketing rep did send me a note explaining that some of the photos appear “pixilated” due to a gaff at the printer, and that they were in the process of getting the problem corrected.

The vast majority of the photos presented in Historic Photos of Gettysburg are available in any number of other publications.  But the presentation of such a variety of photos from four different periods should appeal to those not already addicted to Gettysburg photography.

Well, look here – my 100th post!

Sherman’s Battery, and Sherman’s Battery, Too, But Not Really

25 06 2007

First let me apologize for the paucity of posts this past week.  I’m self employed, which means when I go on vacation (say, to Shiloh), I have to work frenetically to catch myself up before I go and when I get back.  And when I did get back, I had to get a little medical procedure out of the way.  I did post two brief articles, and outlined quite a few more, but in the process of writing another I got way off track, which happens to me all the time and is really what this blog is all about.

That post was one alluded to in my last, and concerns an article in the current issue of Civil War Times Illustrated.  No, not the Pete Carmichael interview of Gary Gallagher that burned up the blogosphere for a few days a couple of weeks ago.  The article in question here is First View of First Manassas by Joseph Pierro, which features a letter from a Virginia cavalryman to his wife.

I thought this would be a pretty straightforward look at a battle participant’s [William B. Newton of the Hanover Light Dragoons] letter home that would serve as a lead-in to a bigger piece I’ve been thinking about, one that considers the limitations associated with eyewitness accounts.  The apparent lust with which Newton and his cohorts – as described in the letter – assaulted unarmed Yankee soldiers and civilians also fit in with some research I’m doing concerning battlefield “atrocities”.  Instead, one seemingly insignificant, annotated sentence derailed me.

But no! the gallant 27th, envious of the glorious achievement of the 4th, at a sing[l]e dash, had charged a regiment of regulars, swept them from the field, and taken every gun in [Colonel William T.] Sherman’s battery.

Here’s a Harper’s Weekly engraving of Sherman’s Battery before the battle, and a photo of it shortly thereafter:


No, it wasn’t the fact that not a single gun in Sherman’s Battery was lost in the battle that set me off.  That inaccuracy in fact fits in perfectly with the often significant inaccuracies associated with contemporary, first-person accounts.  Rather, it was the editor’s bracketed “clarification” of just who the Sherman in Sherman’s Battery was.  The problem is that the Sherman in question was not William Tecumseh.

grapeb.jpgIn 1861, Sherman’s Battery was the most famous company of artillery in the nation.  It had won its fame in the War with Mexico at the Battle of Buena Vista, where along with the battery commanded by Braxton Bragg (of whom Zachary Taylor requested “a little more grape”, see watercolor at left) it played a key role in the repulse of  an enemy counter-attack.  It would appear that editor Pierro is not the first to erroneously associate William T. Sherman with the battery of the same name, as this site claims that Bragg fought alongside “Cump” at Buena Vista (W. T. was in California during the war).  No, the battery otherwise known as Company E, 3rd U. S. Artillery was commanded at Buena Vista by Thomas W. “Old Tim” Sherman, and even after he moved on to other commands, the battery remained known as Sherman’s Battery.  That’s his photo below on the left, courtesy of the LOC.  Nice hairdo – I guess he wanted to be taken seriously (see this post).


So, why the confusion?  Well, that’s where things get confusing.  First of all, (T. W.) Sherman’s Battery was attached to (W. T.) Sherman’s brigade of Daniel Tyler’s Division at Bull Run.  At the time it was under the command of Capt. Romeyn B. Ayres (to the right of Sherman above, also courtesy LOC).  So, technically speaking, the battery was W. T.’s.  But that is certainly not the Sherman to whom the letter writer was referring.  So, either the editor was unaware of the story of the famous Sherman’s Battery, or he was unaware that the famous Sherman’s Battery was on the field at Bull Run.  That’s not as unlikely as it sounds, if he used as his source the Orders of Battle included in three of the most recent studies of the campaign.

Stay with me.

There are eight “major” studies of the Campaign of First Bull Run.  The earliest work, R. M. Johnston’s Bull Run: Its Strategy and Tactics, includes an order of battle (OOB) and a table that identifies the battery in Sherman’s Brigade as E of the 3rd.  It takes some looking though and the book was written in 1913.  David Detzer’s Donnybrook, Russell Beatie’s Road to Manassas, and Ethan Rafuse’s A Single Grand Victory, only refer to the battery as being commanded by Ayres or as Ayres’s Battery.  Only William C. Davis’s Battle at Bull Run accurately identifies the battery as E of the 3rd, commanded by Ayres, and known both north and south as Sherman’s Battery.  Three “modern” studies include orders of battle: Ed Bearss’s First Manassas Battlefield Map Study, John Hennessy’s The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence and Joanna McDonald’s “We Shall Meet Again”.  These are the sources a modern researcher would most likely use as a quick reference for what unit was where.  And they all get the identification of this battery wrong.

These three all list the battery in Sherman’s Brigade as Battery E, 5th US Artillery, under the command of Captain Romeyn B. Ayres.  In addition to being wrong, it’s impossibly wrong.  But maybe understandably wrong.

Here’s why Ayres’s command of Battery E, 5th US Arty in July 1861 is impossible: according to Dyer’s A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, that battery was not organized until May of 1862.  Now, why is such a mistake understandable?  I mean, we’re talking Ed Bearss and John Hennessy here!

I think the answer can be found in Ayres’s official report (I’ve made a new page for it here), and his Cullum and Heitman entries, the starting points for all biographical sketches of West Point graduates and regular army officers.  Ayres (I’ll post his bio sketch in the next few days) was first posted to the 3rd Arty as a First Lieutenant in March, 1852, and remained with the regiment at least until he made Captain of the 5th Arty in May, 1861, before Bull Run.  That much is clear in Heitman and Cullum.  But it’s also clear from his report that he was in command of a battery in Sherman’s Brigade at Bull Run.  But a less than careful reading of his report can lead to an inaccurate conclusion.

Ayres’s report, written just four days after the battle, is headed “Light Company E, Third Artillery”, which is clear enough.  But in the printed OR’s, Ayres’s report is prominently titled by the compiler as the report of Capt. Romeyn B. Ayres, Fifth US Artillery.  And to add to the confusion, he signed the report “R. B. Ayres, Captain, Fifth Artillery, Commanding Company E”.  So, if one has no idea of the history of Battery E, 5th US Arty, and merely reads the title of the OR entry and the signature line – and ignores the heading on the actual report and the name of the 3rd US Arty AAAG at the close of the report – one could understandably conclude that Ayres was in command of Battery E, 5th Arty.

So, did these three authors all make the same mistake and come to the same conclusion when compiling their OOB’s?  Or did one make the mistake first, and the others carried it over to their work?  Who knows?  I know that I had it wrong on my OOB until I read the CWTI article and started digging.  It’s not the first mistake on Bull Run OOBs I’ve found (I’ll try to get to that this week as well).

Why was Ayers in command of Sherman’s Battery at Bull Run when the records indicate he had been transferred to the 5th Artillery in May?  Either his commission was backdated and he had not reported to the 5th as of July 21, or there’s another reason.  It was not uncommon for Union officers, particularly 1861 academy graduates, to be on the field at Bull Run in some capacity other than their official assignments.  Just one more thing to add to my list of things to look into.

I’ll post more on Ayres later this week.


History For Sale – If You Have Deep Pockets

17 06 2007


All I can say is “WOW!!!”  Check out this auction on ebay.  In addition to lots of ID’d images, there are edged weapons, firearms, artillery, letters, flags (Custer’s guidon), clothing (a complete Zouave uniform) and other artifacts.  I’m not sure who owns this stuff (the seller is Heritage Auction Galleries), but they had to have been gathering it for many, many years, and spent many thousands of dollars.  If anyone knows more about it, let me know.  The auctions (there are actually three, with one being held live in Gettysburg) will be on 7/24-25/2007, so the link may be dead if you read this after that date.



More on Art (As Opposed to Moron Art)

14 06 2007

I’m back from Tennessee (and Mississippi).  There’s nothing like a few days on a battlefield with like-minded fellows to recharge the old batteries.  I’ve compiled a long list of things to write about – including some items carried over from old lists – all the way from more thoughts on books to an article in the new Civil War Times Illustrated to former McNairy County sheriff Buford Pusser. 

Mannie has a new post on Civil War art, taking a close look at a true master, Winslow Homer.  Check it out (proof that great minds really do think alike).  While at the minnatcorinth2.jpgbeautiful Corinth Visitor’s Center (more on that later), I came across a wonderful print of The Fifth Minnesota Regiment at Corinth.  It’s a striking work, oil on canvas painted by Edwin H. Blashfield in 1912, and is one of six paintings of Minnesota regiments in the Governor’s Suite of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.  For $15 I couldn’t resist, even though I realize it will cost many times that price to have it suitably matted and framed.  You can order it direct from Minnesota Historical Society here.

You may recognize part of the painting from the dust jacket of the recent collection of essays, Struggle for a Vast Future.  The full painting depicts a line of Union soldiers, with color guard and mounted officers, advancing over dead and wounded Confederates toward a lone upright Rebel officer fronting a silent battery.  The officer’s carriage and the look on his face can be described as defiantly resigned.  The guns in question are actually a Union battery, being retaken by the Minnesotans who are led by their Colonel, Lucius Hubbard, the apex of the composition.

This thing is gonna look great on my wall.

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Here’s What I Think

5 06 2007


OK, I’ve got diarrhea of the fingers and am not doing a very good job organizing my thoughts, so this one might ramble a bit.  Bear with me – tonight’s topic is book reviews.

I think I’ve said it before: I don’t relish writing book reviews.  I’m much more comfortable commenting on certain aspects of books I’ve read, well aware that I’m just a guy, like most of you, and my assessment of the overall worth of the fruit of someone’s labor should carry no more weight than that of anyone else.

One of my many pet peeves is reviews written by individuals who “specialize” in some event or person that plays a relatively small part in the larger work being critiqued.  You know what I’m talking about: some fella who has studied the Battle of Raymond’s Bluff for 35 years notes that, in the coverage of that engagement in a work focused on water borne supply issues in the Peninsula Campaign, the author got the name of the Lt. Colonel of the 325th Rhode Island Infantry wrong (it was Joseph Smith, not Albert Smith), and hey, if he got THAT wrong, what else did he get wrong?  So I pledge from here on out that if I read in a larger or loosely related work something about First Bull Run with which I disagree, I will not make inferences about the rest of the book based on that disagreement.  But with the first review in question, this won’t be a factor.

I’m getting ready for my first trip to Shiloh.  I’ll be joining four fellow members of an online discussion group at Corinth on Thursday, and we’ll tour the field on Friday and Saturday.  I’m looking forward to the trip and seeing old friends, though I’m a little nervous about the expected 96 degree temperatures.  In preparation, I’ve read most of the standard works, including Force’s From Fort Henry to Corinth, Sword’s Shiloh: Bloody April, McDonough’s Shiloh: In Hell before Night, and Daniel’s Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War.  I’ve just finished reading a new publication (though not a new manuscript) by O. E. Cunningham, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862.

shiloh_lg.jpgI was surprised to find that my book had two copies of page 331, and no page 330.  Ted Savas of Savas-Beatie, the publishers of the late Dr. Cunningham’s book, is a fellow member of Dick Weeks’s Civil War Western Theater Discussion Group, so I posted a message on that forum asking Mr. Savas if there was any way to get an electronic copy of the wayward page 330.  Mr. Savas explained that only a limited number of these misprinted books made it into the hands of consumers, and that the company would replace them with corrected volumes if that’s what folks wanted.  He also offered to send a pdf file of page 330 if that was preferred.  That’s the option I chose, anticipating that my rare misprint edition will one day be worth millions.  Perhaps billions, like that Billy Ripken card with the cuss word on the bat.

Anyway, during the course of our correspondence, Mr. Savas asked if I would be willing to post a review of the Cunningham book on  I replied that I preferred not to post reviews to Amazon, but that I would be happy to talk about the book here at Bull Runnings.  So, here goes.

I won’t bother you with the by now well-known details of the publication of this work, but this manuscript was written in 1966 as Cunningham’s doctoral dissertation.   For whatever reasons, the work went unpublished for 40 years, although it has been referred to extensively, primarily by NPS historians, during that time.  (One of the two editors of the book, Timothy B. Smith, was a long time ranger at Shiloh who now teaches at UT-Martin; Gary D. Joiner  is a history teacher at LSU )  So, after years of folks “in the know” saying “someone should publish this thing”, someone finally has.

The book has a lot of things going for it.  First and foremost, it is very easy to read.  From what I understand, this is uncharacteristic of dissertations.  The style is friendly, not too stilted, and since it was written prior to the current academy requirement that ACW studies focus on sociological aspects, this is an old fashioned, meat and potatoes campaign study.  The action is clearly explained, and the notes (real live footnotes, praise the Lord!), particularly those of the editors, are informative.  And the narrative also puts the battle into context by covering events leading up to and following it.

To me, the next most important feature of this book is its relative lack of sensationalism.    Most campaign studies focus on some event or isolated series of events as the “sole reason” for victory or defeat; a moment or action where, if things had gone differently, everything would have changed.  Shiloh historiography, as the editors explain, has variously featured such events as critical: first it was the Union defense of the Hornet’s Nest sector; then it was the death of Albert Sydney Johnston; and most recently, the Confederate loss has been attributed to a general lack of knowledge of the enemy positions and lay of the land.  This is the school of thought promoted by Cunningham.  That’s decidedly unsexy, as I think tend to be the real reasons things turn out the way they do.  For instance, in my opinion the outcome of First Bull Run was more a function of the advantages attendant to the defense of favorable ground than to any of the myriad other reasons put forth over the years.

So we’ve got a lively, clear narrative that is realistic in its analysis.  Of course, there must be drawbacks.

I wasn’t happy with the maps.  Even though there are about 30 maps in the book, I think they should have been more numerous in the beginning phases, and should have been presented with the same level of detail as the narrative.  But then, I’m almost never happy with maps.

The author wore his sympathies on his sleeve.  He was apparently enamored with most things Confederate, though not to the degree that it affected his analysis.  I found it disturbing that he unabashedly, and unqualifiedly, referred to panicked Federal troops, seeking shelter at Pittsburg Landing or trying to board river transports, as “cowards”.  His style is at times a little clumsy: for instance, he habitually lists the makeup of brigades with regiment identification and commanders’ names for the entire brigade, a little too much information which is forgotten by the time the paragraph is finished.  When the colonels were mentioned in the text later, I invariably had to go back to the “brigade” paragraph to figure out what regiments they were with.

I also thought that the editors, one of whom (Smith) has written extensively on the battle and battlefield, should have gone into a little more depth in their notes when they disagreed with the author’s findings.  While clearly stating when and how Cunningham was at odds with Sword, McDonough, and Daniel, when it came to variances with their own work they typically simply referred the reader to that work.  I don’t know if the motive was modesty or book sales, but I found the practice distracting.

Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 is a much needed addition to the literature of the campaign.  While I don’t think “the best” single volume has yet been written, I do think you’ll have a better grasp of the battle after reading this book than you had before.  And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.