Time-Life Books First Manassas

27 07 2007



Recently, Brian Downey featured the Antietam entry in the Time-Life Books Voices of the Civil War series over at Behind Antietam on the Web.  There are a total of 18 books in this series (I think), and I have all but the one on the Shenandoah Valley in 1864.  Of course there is one on First Bull Run.

I echo Brian’s sentiments with regard to the quality of the Antietam volume, and the same can be said about First Manassas.  This volume benefits from the text contributions of the late Brian Pohanka, David Thomson and friend Dana Shoaf of America’s Civil War magazine.

This book does suffer from what is in my mind a common distraction in most studies of the campaign, and that is the perceived need (right or wrong) to cover everything that occurred prior to the campaign itself.  Unlike other volumes in the series which usually lead into the featured battle by filling in the blanks since the previous major engagement, the first 73 pages of the 160 page First Manassas summarizes everything back to the outbreak of the rebellion.  This includes the fighting in western Virginia.  All things considered, that’s a minor complaint and I can understand the reasoning behind the decision.  The battle, even the campaign, shouldn’t be viewed in a vacuum.

The book is packed with extracts from diaries, letters and memoirs, and has some nice maps.  But the photos and illustrations are what set it apart.  I wish I was as good at scanning and editing images as are some of my fellow bloggers.  I have downloaded PhotoShop Elements and hope to have some time later on in September to learn how to use it.

A note on maps: it’s difficult to believe that good maps of an area so close to the nation’s capital were hard to come by, but I’ve run across a few that show such glaring errors as the Warrenton Turnpike heading straight into Manassas Junction.  Here’s one from the August 3, 1861 edition of Harper’s Weekly (click on the image for a full view):




Save Historic Antietam Foundation

27 07 2007

I’ve added a new website under Links to the right.  In the interest of full disclosure, I serve on the Board of Directors of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF), an organization dedicated to the preservation of the area in and around the battlefield of Antietam.  Through the efforts of friend Brian Downey, we have revamped the website and added pages with news items, membership information, merchandise ordering and other swell stuff.  Visit the site at http://shaf.org.

The Battle of Franklin

26 07 2007



 I’ve added a new link to my blogroll (to the right) for a site dedicated to the Battle of Franklin.  I’m not sure who the host is – I couldn’t find his name on the site.  The blog is devoted to one battle, like Bull Runnings, though I admit the host appears to be a little more focused than I am.  I dig the appearance of the images on the site, and suspect the host uses PhotoShop or something like it.  (I’ve purchased PhotoShop Elements but have yet to download it.)

Check out The Battle of Franklin.  I’ve added it to my feed reader and hope to get some good ideas from it.

Red Makes Bulls Run

24 07 2007





I know, I know: for months I’ve been teasing some of you (well, really only one of you) with obtuse references to the color red and related confusion in accounts of the action on the battlefield of Bull Run.  I’ve started this article probably a dozen times without hitting on what I feel is the best way to tackle the subject.

I can see how some folks might find the whole controversy of minor importance.  What color uniforms were worn, or not worn, by what units?  It’s a question that every writer who has tackled First Bull Run has had to ask.  In most cases, they ask it in order to explain how friendly soldiers could be mistaken for the enemy and vice-versa.  The specific issue that concerns me is not nearly so sensational – in fact one might argue it’s downright mundane.  And it’s been my experience that most chroniclers of the battle have treated it that way.  They acknowledge that the inconsitency between the known details and the eyewitness accounts exist, yet seem to ignore it when it comes to evaluating the sources and constructing their narratives.  The tendrils of this inconsistency reach deep.  If one accepts the truth of what I have to say – and I am certainly not the first to say it – it will color (ha ha) how they process countless accounts of the battle, primary and secondary.

When I can’t quite put my finger on how I want to present something, I tend to put off the writing.  It’s a bad habit I must break.  I need to learn to write and get my main points “on paper”, so to speak, and go back and massage it later.  Therefore I’ve determined to begin to prepare the post on “Red Pants”, as I’ve come to think of it, even though I’m still not sure how I want to do it.  As this will feature prominently in my round table program (which I will present in Pittsburgh in a mere 22 days…arghhh!!!), at least I’ll be killing two birds with one stone.  I hope to have it here for you within the next week.  Let the above illustration of Col. Corcoran, the 69th NY Militia and the 11th NY serve as a taste of things to come.

New Page

23 07 2007

Over to the right you’ll see a new page has been added: First Bull Run Books and Articles On-Line.  On that page you’ll find links to free, down-loadable (for the most part) versions of books and articles pertaining to the campaign.  Last night I put up about forty links, and I’ll add more as I find time to do so.  Please use the comments feature to report any dead (or dead-wrong) links.

This Battery Just Keeps Going, and Going, and Going…

20 07 2007


A recent post discussed confusion regarding the identity of just which Sherman a Confederate participant in the Battle of Bull Run had in mind when he was referring to “Sherman’s Battery”.  As I said in my last comment to that post, I’m still firmly convinced that the author of the letter discussed was thinking of the “famous” Sherman’s Battery, the one named for T. W. Sherman, not the one attached to W. T. Sherman’s brigade, though the batteries were in fact one and the same.  T. W. Sherman’s Battery was the most celebrated in the U. S. Army; it was the subject of at least one pre-battle illustration in Harper’s Weekly; W. T. Sherman was an unknown colonel at Bull Run; and Sherman’s Brigade fought the battle on the western side of Bull Run without the battery, which was unable to cross, therefore not providing an opportunity for the enemy to associate the battery with the brigade.

Another post-battle letter written by a Confederate soldier has further convinced me that my conclusion in this matter is appropriate (sorry Jake!).  William Agnew (who died May 11, 1863 of disease in Petersburg per this site ) was a member of Company B, 9th Georgia Infantry, which did not reach the field from the Valley in time to take part in the battle.  This is a little confusing since one of the letters (they reside in the Perkins Library at Duke University – my thanks to friend Teej Smith for finding and transcribing) seems to describe action in which he participated.  In a letter to his family dated July 29, 1861 and never intended to be published, he wrote from Bull Run 8 miles from Manassas Junction:

Our loss is supposed to be 25 hundred killed & wounded about 14 thousand of the enemy took 14 hundred prisoners 360 stand of arms and a great number of pistols & ammunition.  Also 3 Batteries. Sherman’s brag & Celebrated & Boast Battery of the North and we got every piece of it.

Well, that seals it for me.  Sherman’s Battery was in fact very well known to the men in the field and the folks at home.  Pvt. Agnew was of course wrong, as none of Sherman’s Battery’s guns were lost.  But this is illustrative of prominent Bull Run phenomena: all Union batteries were Sherman’s Battery; all Confederate batteries were masked; all Confederate cavalry was the Black Horse Troop; all zouaves wore red pants.

But it wasn’t only the soldiers of secessia who misidentified Sherman’s Battery.  On page 78 of R. L. Murray’s “The Greatest Battle of the Age” – New Yorkers at Bull Run is quote from a letter from “A.G.C.” , a member of the 13th  NY Infantry, published in the Rochester Democrat and American on July 30, 1861.  Author Murray introduces the passage: It seems that while in line here [at some point after descending Matthews Hill], supporting the battery, part or all of the 13th helped fight off a charge made by the “Louisiana Zouaves.”

I have reason to think the Louisiana ‘Tigers’ – Jeff Davis’ pet lambs – will long remember the New York 13th.  We were ordered to support Sherman’s battery, and came upon the ‘Tigers,’ who, it seems (according to one of them, who was taken prisoner) were chosen to storm the famous battery, and capture it at all hazards.

If author Murray is right in his placement of this letter in his narrative, then “A.G.C” was mistaken.  Sherman’s Battery did not cross Bull Run (see Ayres’ OR).  Only Ricketts’s Battery I, 1st US, Griffin’s West Point Battery, and Reynolds’s Rhode Island Battery fought west of Bull Run.  What makes this “mistake” even more curious is the fact that the 13th NY was part of W. T. Sherman’s Brigade, and certainly should have known T. W. Sherman’s Battery by this time.  Perhaps “A.G.C.” simply assumed that Ayres followed the brigade across Bull Run.  That’s some fog, that fog of war.  While searching the web for “Sherman’s Battery”, I came across numerous acounts of the battery on the field of Bull Run, all over the field, in fact.  For the most part, when a Union battery was identified by name, it was identified as Sherman’s Battery.

It’s getting late, and I think I’ve written enough for one night.  As my friend Chris Army is fond of saying, I like artillery.  Artillery is cool!  Tomorrow I’ll try to post something on the long promised topic of red pants at Bull Run.

Yet another Distraction

17 07 2007


I’m about to embark on another Bull Run inspired distraction.  I learned early on in this process that if I was going to gain an understanding of not only what happened but why it happened, I was going to have to understand what motivated the primary actors to do what they did.  Recently, popular history has focused on psychological motivations.  Unfortunately, not only are most writers that have participated in this baneful practice not historians, they aren’t psychologists/psychiatrists either.  As a result what we get is a parlor trick, working backwards from an arbitrary diagnosis and picking out events or even unfounded speculations to “prove” the validity of the finding. 

While it’s certainly not as sexy, I think we can find more sound basis for decision making in the actor’s training, his past experiences, and what was known or assumed to be true at the time.  For instance, several authors dealing with First Bull Run have emphasized pre-battle incidents with masked batteries at Vienna and Big Bethel and how they affected the movements of McDowell’s army.  The explanations seemed to make sense to me at the time, with lots of evidence in newspapers and soldiers’ letters.  But what that really proved was that the newspapers and private soldiers were very concerned with masked batteries.  I’ve found that the movements of McDowell’s army can be more reasonably understood by looking at military doctrine (training) and limited resources, primarily cavalry.  Not very exciting, I know. 

To understand a little better the workings of the minds of guys like McDowell, Beauregard and Johnston, I felt it was necessary to do some “fancy book learning”.  First I sat down and read Makers of Modern Strategy – Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler, an old ROTC standard that has since been updated through the Nuclear Age, though I only read up through Clausewitz.  (While I realize Clausewitz was not translated until after the ACW, Halleck referenced him in his 1846 Elements of Military Art and Science, so reading the summary on him made sense.)  Then I read the 1862 edition of Jomini’s The Art of War.  Dry, dry, dry, let me tell you, but important to read if only because reading it helps you realize that most folks who talk about Jomini have never read Jomini.  Standard tactical manuals like Mahan’s Out-Post and Hardee’s U. S. Infantry Tactics are sitting on my shelves, too, as is the 1861 Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States.  And of course an understanding of the War with Mexico is essential, so I read Eisenhower’s So Far from God which is a nice overview, but I think I need something with more meat, perhaps K. Jack Bauer’s (no, really, Jack Bauer!) The Mexican War.  I’ve picked up some other interesting MW titles, including D. H. Hill’s letters, but I’m afraid of getting out of control.  Input from MW aficionados is welcome. 

chandler.jpgBut if there is one name which stands above all others as an influence on the minds of professional (and volunteer, for that matter) soldiers of the period it is Napoleon Bonaparte.  And if there is one book that is considered The Book on Napoleon and his campaigns it is David Chandler’s 1966 The Campaigns of Napoleon.  I finally found it (used, of course) at a reasonable price – $40.  This doorstop is 1,095 pages long, which will put me behind on my Bull Run reading, but I think it must be done.  I’m a s-l-o-w reader, so this will be the bulk of my reading for the next couple of months.  I received one valuable tip from my friend Dave Powell, who says I should read the bit on Art of War first and then read the whole thing in sequence.  Any other advice is appreciated. 

Later tonight or tomorrow I’ll post some thoughts on several sources of confusion regarding accounts of the action at Bull Run, including Sherman’s Battery (once again), Zouaves and red pants and/or shirts.

New Media Meets Old

9 07 2007


acw-september22007.jpgToday I picked up a copy of the September issue of America’s Civil War and was happy to see inside a few examples of cross-media pollination.

Now, in no way am I equating “new” and “old” with “good” and “bad”.  I view web projects (blogs) as different from print media (magazines), not necessarily better, and perhaps compatible.  America’s Civil War is making an attempt to incorporate the blogosphere in its pages, I think in an effective manner.

In March 2007 the magazine included an article on Civil War blogs in general and now includes a review in brief of a featured Civil War blog (including this one) in each issue.  And in the July issue, America’s Civil War ran a piece summarizing several posts from this very blog.  This trend is continued in the September issue.

In the Letters section on page 6, Bruce Allardice expands on his research conducted in response to my ruminations on the similar names of a Super Bowl MVP and a Confederate staff officer.  This letter was born of one posted here by Mr. Allardice.

These posts by the happiest ranger in the National Park Service, Mannie Gentile, are featured on page 12 of the Open Fire! section.  It includes a photo and quotes from the blog posts, as well as a link to the site. Blogger Brian Dirck’s A. Lincoln Blog is profiled on page 14.

The most pleasant surprise of all is the feature article on page 48, “Damage Done to My Farm” by the afore-mentioned Ranger Gentile.  It consists of annotations of 11 documents, illustrations and photographs associated with the Roulette Farm on the battlefield of Antietam.  The magazine offers an expanded online article here, and you can read Mannie’s take on the experience hereI’m a big fan of Mannie’s blog, in no small part due to his skillful and, more important, economical use of words.  I previously drafted Ranger Gentile to contribute an article to the Save Historic Antietam Foundation’s newsletter, which I now edit.  Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him in print.


8 07 2007

Greetings loyal readers!

I’ve been on vacation since The 4th, and haven’t had any internet access until today.  I’ll be in and out the next few days, catching up on some real-job work and doing some much needed prep on my round table (RT) program.  I want to thank you all for checking in here even though I haven’t made a new post in awhile – you guys must have been really bored on Friday – I had tons of hits!  I promise to make it up to you when things settle down.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know…

3 07 2007



…was Confederate general Henry Hopkins Sibley the inspiration for the physical appearance of cartoon legend Commander McBragg?  If the song isn’t running around in your noggin yet, go here and it soon will be.

This post was inspired by the Ayres photo below.  For all you Gilbert & Sullivan fans, he is the very model of a modern major general (though when the war was over he became a lieutenant colonel).  OK, so I’m no lyricist.