Civil War History – Broadening Horizons?

31 08 2007


cwh1.jpgYesterday I received in the mail my copy of Volume 53, Number 3 of Civil War History.  I’ve been a subscriber for the last seven or eight years.  Over that time, the journal’s focus has shifted considerably away from military history, and now features essays primarily on race and gender issues, mirroring a similar trend in the academy.  In fact, over the past five years I think I can count the number of military history essays that have appeared in its pages on one hand and have a few fingers left over.  But I’ve continued to subscribe, even though the current focus is not what I “signed on for”, because I like the book reviews and because I realize these things are cyclical, and pendulums tend to swing like England do.  Even so, I’ve been considering letting my subscription expire without renewal.

Imagine my surprise upon receiving this issue which features not one, not two, but three essays on military history – specifically, battle history.  The collection is edited by Frank Wetta, and consists of Ken Noe’s Jigsaw Puzzles, Mosaics, and Civil War Battle Narratives; George Rable’s The Battlefield and Beyond; and Carol Reardon’s Writing Battle History: The Challenge of Memory.  Could it be that CWH is putting the War back in Civil War?

The essays of Noe and Reardon address issues discussed here in the past.  Noe writes on the problems of the narrative form, among other things, and Reardon looks at (and defines) memory and its sometimes detrimental effects on history.  Rable’s essay is interesting to me primarily because he uses First Bull Run as a backdrop for his discussion of the role of religion on the battlefield.

I’ll post separate articles on each essay in the days ahead, so check back if I’ve piqued your interest.

Wheat’s Tigers – Did They or Didn’t They?

28 08 2007


UPDATES: Please see the comments section for updates to this post. 

Earlier I received the following comment to this post:

First off, excellent research and a great website on “Sherman’s Battery”. I have a question that is in the ball park. Do you know of what flag Major Wheat’s Battalion captured? Evan’s OR report said “capture of a stand of colors”. There were no OR reports on Wheat’s Battalion. This has many of us just completely stumped.

We are thinking either the 2nd Rhode Island or 11th New York regiment. We are working on ALL Union and Confederate flags that were captured during the Civil War. This project will take a long time.

If you have any information or could tell me where to find it, I would be very grateful.

Thank you, Sir,

Shawn Prouty

I responded in brief to Shawn’s comment and told him that I would expand in the form of a post.  I also forwarded the question to Jim Burgess at Manassas NBP.

wheats-tigers.gifThe First Louisiana Special Battalion (Wheat’s Tigers) was the command of Major Roberdeau Wheat, part of Nathan Evans’ demi-brigade that was holding the far left of the Confederate line in the area of the Stone Bridge. The unit’s official report (OR) was apparently written by Captain Harris – remember that Wheat was severely wounded as described here (UPDATE: I found a report written by Wheat in the Supplement and you can read it here.  No mention of captured flags.)  I say apparently because, while Evans mentions it in his OR, there is a note indicating that the compilers of The Official Records were unable to locate Harris’ report.  I sent a note to my friend Tom Clemens who has a set of the Supplement to the ORs, asking him to check and see if Harris’ report turns up there.  (I’d really like to get my hands on the single volume of The Supplement that has the Bull Run stuff.)

Evans’ report, written just three days after the battle, includes this statement:

I send herewith a stand of colors taken during the action by Major Wheat’s battalion.

Evans submitted his report to Col. Philip St. George Cocke, though I’m not sure why.  Cocke commanded the Fifth Brigade of Beauregard’s army.  Other brigade commanders sent their reports to Beauregard or his AAG, Thomas Jordan.  Unfortunately, Cocke did not write an OR for the battle, and he was dead by his own hand by the end of the year.  Beauregard’s report, written in October, mentions having taken nine regimental and garrison flags, but does not identify any of the banners.

I don’t think that the battalion could have captured any of the 2nd Rhode Island’s colors.  Lt. Col. Frank Wheaton’s report written on July 23 does not mention any lost colors.  In addition, the battalion’s fight with the 2nd RI as recounted in this article by Gary Schreckengost describes the battalion as being driven from the enemy’s front  while still about 20 yards away, hardly close enough to seize their colors.  The author indicates that the battalion took part in Beauregard’s general advance later on Henry Hill.  A Tiger reported to a New Orleans paper:

Our blood was on fire.  Life was valueless.  The boys fired one volley, then rushed upon the foe with clubbed rifles beating down their guard; then closed upon them with their knives, ‘Greek had met Greek’, the tug of war had come…[It] did not seem as though men were fighting…[but as if there] were devils mingling in the conflict, cursing, yelling, cutting, and shrieking.

It’s possible that the 11th New York Fire Zouaves were a part of the force against which the Louisianans fought.  According to this site, it seems that while the New Yorkers did indeed lose their flags, they were subsequently recovered.

So, the long and the short of it is I don’t know what colors Evans was referring to in his report.  How about you guys?

‘Lil Help Here

23 08 2007

I don’t know how many of you have visited my page for First Bull Run Books and Articles On Line, but it has become a bit of a monster.  And I mean that in a good way.  In addition to links to well over 100 books and articles I’ve also added links to quite a few digital collections like Making of America and Documenting the American South.

Now, I’d like to make this page the place to go to begin a search for Bull Run literature in particular and Civil War books and articles in general.  Here’s where you can help: if you are aware of any on line books or articles (Bull Run related titles) or collections of Civil War associated literature that I have not listed on the page, drop me a note (click on “Comments” beside the title of this post or the title of the First Bull Run Books and Articles On Line page, and leave the link there).

Lest We Forget

22 08 2007

lest-we.jpgI love reference works.  I have a shelf right over my desk on which I place facts-at-my-fingertips type books like Generals in Blue, Generals in Gray, Dyer’s Compendium, Fox’s Regimental Losses, Lincoln Day-by-Day, you get the picture.  Today I received from Amazon Lest We Forget: The Grave Sites of the Union Civil War Generals Buried in the United States, by David L. Callihan.  This is a large format 2007 paperback similar in layout to Generals at Rest: The Grave Sites of the 425 Official Confederate Generals, by James Owen and Richard Owen.  It’s very handy, and includes the US burial sites of the same generals listed in Ezra Warner’s standard.  The entries are by state, with alphabetical arrangement first by city, then by cemetery.  For each general, the author notes birth and death places and dates, pre-war career, general officer date of rank, and helpful directions for finding the cemetery and the grave.  Included also is a portrait of each general and one to three photos of the grave.  Also included at the head of each of the 37 chapters is a state map (and one for DC) showing where the various towns with dead generals are located realtive to one another.

The only real knock I have is the quality of the photos.  By and large they’re pretty grainy, again similar to those found in Warner’s books.  In this day and age I think it would have been pretty easy to find and include higher quality images.  Of course that would have entailed more expense, and the book’s price may have wound up higher than the still high (for a paperback) $33.49 tag.  But then, these books will probably wind up in the back seats of their buyers’ cars while on family outings and vacations.  Good news for us, but I’m not sure our spouses and kids will be so happy.

History – What Is It?

20 08 2007


kostova.jpgI’ve been working my way through Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon (described here).  It’s slow going.  Sometimes when I find myself stalling out in a book, I break it up with a novel.  While I move ponderously through non-fiction, I can usually blow though a novel pretty quickly.  I was intrigued by a snippet posted on Kevin Levin’s blog from Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.  On a whim, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy – paperback, for $15.99.  Very odd for me, since I rarely pay retail for any book, let alone a novel.  (A few days later I saw that B&N had the hardcover edition on sale for $8.50, which really hacked me off.)  Even though a 700 page novel is not the ideal break from a 1,100 page history, I’ve been pleased with my choice here.  

kostova2.jpgWhile Ms. Kostova is a novelist, it seems to me that if she is not also a professionally trained historian (and I don’t know that she isn’t), she has a good grasp of the process of historical research.  But more important, it’s clear she “gets it.”  At one point one of her characters realizes, while reading some 16th century documents:

This corner of history was as real as the tiled floor under our feet or the wooden tabletop under our fingers.  The people to whom it happened had actually lived and breathed and felt and thought and then died, as we did – as we would.

You can read an interview with Ms. Kostova here.  The Historian is her first novel.

I Think I Did Better Than This Guy

18 08 2007




(Click on Ben’s picture to see the video of his Voodoo Economics presentation in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)


This past Wednesday (Aug. 15th) I presented my “Threads” program to the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable.  This was a good choice for my first presentation – I’ve been a member of the group for eight or nine years now.  I regularly teach recertification continuing education to professionals, but I admit to having been more than a little nervous about the prospect of addressing this group that includes a good number of very knowledgeable ACW enthusiasts.

About 60 members and guests braved the heat in a church hall hard by historic Old Economy Village in Ambridge, PA.  Old Economy is the remnant of the third and last Harmony Society settlement, founded in 1824 (click here for more on the Society and the settlement).  While the hall is newer than the church, it does not have air conditioning, so it was cookin’ in there.

The night before, I did a run through of my program.  I had it set up with 12 maps of the campaign, and with each map I had one or two stories (threads) with slides – mostly photos.  In the practice round, I covered about half the slides in about 70 minutes, and I was only going to get 60 at the meeting.  So I changed things up during the day on Thursday, and wrote a summary of the battle (one page).  By starting off with that I figured at least I could give the whole story of the battle with some of the points I wanted to make, and wouldn’t have to worry about getting to the end of my program since the threads stand alone.  After the intro, I went into thread pulling mode.  Out of about 90 slides, I got to go over 14.  All of the work I did produced about 2.5 to 3 hours worth of material.  So, I got that going for me, which is nice.

I think the program went well, and the folks seemed to like it – at least they laughed in the right places.  Afterwards they asked about 8 or 10 questions, for each of which I think I had a pretty good response.  Thanks to President Russ Broman, program director Dave Fisher, and founder Gary Augustine for the A-1 treatment.

Kyle Brady is “One of Us”

14 08 2007


As a Penn State alum and football fan, I was pleasantly surprised to see this story.  Maybe now I can convince my son that Civil War history is, if not cool, at least not completely geeky.

Brady has bounced around the league a bit.  I hope he has a great year but is unable to help the Pats stave off an 0-16 season.  Here we go Steelers!

You Spin Me Right Round, Table, Right Round

10 08 2007




This musical interlude brought to you for no apparent reason, other than I have this song stuck in my head and can’t get it out and misery loves company. 

I have a round table presentation to give next Wednesday, the fifteenth, before my own group, the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable.  Tomorrow I plan on locking myself in my office to work on my PowerPoint.  The program will revolve around 12 maps of the campaign, with a main “thread” and one or two minor ones on individuals and/or events that tie to each map.




It’s been tough to prepare, because I feel like I haven’t spent much time working on the presentation.  But in fact I’ve spent a lot of time on it, because it all stems from things I’ve worked on for this blog.  I’ve outlined the program, and now it’s just a question of putting slides together and writing notes.  I don’t intend to read much text (other than direct quotes), but I need to have things like dates and such readily accessible.

The plan is for a very un-roundtable-like presentation…more conversational.  I’d like it to have a less formal feel, and will encourage on-topic questions during the presentation rather than waiting until the program is over.  I’m hoping for a more interactive experience.  It might irk traditionalists, but I’ll run the risk.

Civil War Times Illustrated

9 08 2007


I spoke yesterday with my friend Dana Shoaf, who is the editor of America’s Civil War, the sister publication of Civil War Times Illustrated and part of Weider History Group.  He was justifiably concerned with the impression being propagated in the blogosphere about the prospects of the two magazines in the wake of the departure of CWTI editor Chris Lewis.  Below are some of Mr. Shoaf’s comments and clarifications regarding three of the issues about which various bloggers and blog readers have been speculating:

EconomicsThe readership of our magazines has been declining over the past decade due to a variety of reasons, but the primary one is that our readership is aging and dying off. The number of new, young readers was not matching our losses.  If the mags aren’t reinvigorated, there won’t be anything to complain about in a decade or so because bookstores will refuse to carry such low-selling titles.

During the past year at Weider History Group all the magazines have experienced an increase in subscriptions and newsstand sales.  That’s good news for anyone interested in history, particularly so for those who write books or give tours or like to have people visit their blogs, I should think. 

We have to reach younger readers to survive. No ands, ifs or buts.

CommitmentEric Weider is very committed to history. There ain’t a big profit margin in history mags folks, and he didn’t pay 5 million bucks for the group to make a ton more money. He bought the group because he gives a damn.

OwnershipFor the record, ACW and CWTI were previously owned by Primedia.  Primedia sold the current magazine group to Weider History Group, a subsidiary of the magazine conglomerate that owned Muscle & Fitness and other fitness magazines.   Those fitness magazines were sold to the media group which owns National Enquirer.   The group that owns National Enquirer does not own or otherwise influence Weider History Group.

Dana Shoaf will soon take over as editor of Civil War Times Illustrated, a big responsibility with four more issues per year and a larger circulation than America’s Civil War.  He is a professional historian with a deep appreciation for the American Civil War and enthusiasts of the same; he has been actively involved in battlefield preservation for years, and serves on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.  In my experience over the past year I have heard nothing but positive reactions to the significant changes made to America’s Civil War, and I have every reason to think that Mr. Shoaf’s good and dedicated work will continue at Civil War Times Illustrated.

Coming Soon: The Weider Flap

8 08 2007

I’ll weigh in on the Weider History Group imbroglio tonight.  I’ve held off because I only had one side of the story, and because I don’t usually write about such things.  But if you are one of the three regular readers of this blog, you know that I have written for a magazine in the Weider group.  In fact, beginning with the November issue I will be listed in the masthead of America’s Civil War magazine as a Contributing Writer, and I am also slated to do book reviews.  Therefore, I think my commenting is altogether fitting and proper (that’s the second time today I’ve used that phrase).

I spoke on the phone earlier today with the editor of America’s Civil War, Dana Shoaf.  Dana will be leaving ACW to edit Civil War Times Illustrated, and it’s not on an interim basis.  He had some things to say about the situation, and some corrections to misinformation regarding ownership, prior ownership, direction and commitment that I think you’ll be interested in reading about. 

Check back later.