Interview: Bryce A. Suderow, “The Petersburg Campaign”

30 11 2012

Savas Beatie has recently published The Petersburg Campaign Volume I: The Eastern Front Battles June-August, 1864, by Edwin C. Bearss with Bryce A. Suderow. Bull Runnings has previously interviewed Mr. Bearss here. You may or may not be familiar with his partner in this effort, Bryce Suderow, but you’ve likely read works which have benefitted from his efforts.

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petersburg-campaign-the-the-western-front-battles-september-1864-april-1865-volume-2BR:  Bryce, most of our readers have been exposed to your work, but in many cases may not be aware of it. Can you tell them something about yourself?

BAS: I was born in Chicago in 1950 and grew up in one of its suburbs, South Holland.  I attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and moved to California in 1973 to attend graduate school at Sonoma State University where I got a Masters in American History.  Although my focus was on early American History, my thesis was on a Civil War battle.

My career as a writer began in 1973 when I published an article in the Westport Historical Quarterly.  Since that time I have published articles in Civil War Times Illustrated, North and South and other magazines.

My first book was actually my thesis on the Battle of Pilot Knob, Thunder in Arcadia Valley.  After that I was co-editor for theSupplement to the Official Records.  My third book is Volume 1 of The Petersburg Campaign.

My career as a researcher began in 1991 when Noah A. Trudeau hired me to do some research.  I liked the work so much that I decided to switch over to  doing research for a living.  Over the next twenty years I did research at the Library of Congress and the National Archives for J.D. Petruzzi, Eric Wittenberg, Gordon Rhea and many others.  I was among the first researchers to use Civil War era newspapers as sources and now the practice is quite common.

BR: What got you interested in studying the American Civil War?

BAS:  When the Civil War Centennial arrived, I was at the very impressionable age of eleven.  Chicagoans took the Civil War very seriously.  Ralph Newman and some others started the first Civil War Round Table.  Newman’s nationally known bookstore attracted Civil War writers and Civil War buffs from all over the country, including Bruce Catton. 

Newman was a local legend, so the Chicago Tribune persuaded him to write a weekly column on the Civil War called Ralph Newman’s Scrapbook for their Sunday magazine section.  The Trib even published a comic strip series every Sunday called Old Glory at the Crossroads which dealt with the events that had occurred one hundred years ago that week.  The Newman Scrapbook and the Old Glory series were among my earliest influences.  About the same time I was also influenced by two comic books on the Civil War published by Classics Illustrated and by the multi-part Life Magazine series on the Civil War.

The greatest influence from an individual came from my Social Studies teacher, Ted Gunaka, who was a Civil War buff.  He assigned each of his fifth grade students a Civil War battle and required us to write a paper and deliver an oral speech on it.  I chose the Battle of the Crater and the Siege of Petersburg.  Gunaka thus put me on the path to researching the Civil War.

All this occurred when I was a pre-teen.

As a teenager I read all of Bruce Catton’s Civil War books.  His writings thrilled me and instilled in me a deep love of the Civil War.  When I was in my twenties I moved to California and majored in History and got my Masters Degree at Sonoma State University.  I decided to specialize in the war west of the Mississippi and it was then that I became aware of Edwin C. Bearss and his writings taught me and inspired me.  Also important were two other writers, Richard Brownlee and John R. Margreiter, both of whom wrote about the battle of Pilot Knob, Missouri.  I wrote my Master’s Thesis on that battle and it was published as a book in 1985 under the title Thunder in Arcadia Valley.

BR: Why Petersburg?

BAS: After years of studying and writing about the war in the Trans-Mississippi, I changed my focus to the Siege of Petersburg because the 1864-65 campaigns in Virginia won the war.  I wrote a series of articles on the early battles of the siege for a long-defunct magazine called The Kepi.  I also began research on the First Battle of Deep Bottom and even wrote a manuscript on the battle.  Unfortunately, though this was 25 years ago, it has not yet been published.

BR: What makes this work on Petersburg stand out from others?

BAS: There are a number of books that deal with particular battles or offensives of the Siege of Petersburg, the Crater being the most popular topic.  However, there are only two books that cover the entire Siege of Petersburg.  One of them is Noah A. Trudeau’s The Last Citadel.  The other is John Horn’s The Petersburg Campaign.  Both books have their strengths and weaknesses, but both are far too short to cover the siege in the detail it deserves.

The Bearss book stands out for two reasons.  One of the book’s strengths is that deals with the entire siege in-depth. Each chapter is devoted to one battle and each chapter is around 70 pages long.  No one has ever done this.  For the first time people who want to walk the battlefields will know where to go.

Another strength is Bearss’ writing style.  He writes so clearly that any layman can understand him and so dramatically that readers are hooked on the story he tells.

BR: What is your role in The Petersburg Campaign project?

BAS: I had two roles when I worked on Vol. I.  First, I was editor of the material that Bearss wrote and second  I was co-author since I wrote the introductions and conclusions to each chapter.  In Vol. II I am also the editor.  My writer role has expanded.  In addition to the intros and conclusions, I am adding material to some chapters, material that came to light after Bearss wrote his ms.

At the request of the Federal Government Bearss wrote a series of studies on the Petersburg battles in the mid-1960s.  He never intended to publish them.  For years the only people who knew about them were the employees at Petersburg battlefield park and scholars of the battle.  I obtained copies of some of the studies and was impressed by them.

Five or six years ago I decided they should be published, but first I needed to obtain copies of all the studies.  The park employees were kind enough to provide those.

Next I needed volunteers to type the chapters into their computers.  On a site called The Civil War Message Board Portal I posted a message calling for volunteers to help publish a book by Edwin C. Bearss.  The effect of his name was magical and a surprisingly large number of people volunteered to do the typing.  Once the computer version of the book was typed, I called for volunteers to make certain each chapter followed the same format.  Again the volunteers came forward.  This phase was completed three years ago.

Finally, I approached Ted Savas and told him about the manuscript.  He was enthusiastic and immediately agreed.  The biggest obstacles to publishing were finding someone to create the maps and finding authors to write about two battles Bearss did not cover, the Battle of the Crater and the Battle of Fort Stedman.  This took a couple of years.  Finally this year we found two experts who were eager to co-author a book with Edwin C. BearssPatrick Brennan wrote the Crater chapter and Bill Wyrick wrote the Stedman chapter.  Also this year I chose George Skoch to create the maps.  He did a score of superb maps in just a few months.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

BAS: To write the introductions and conclusions in Vol. I I used John Horn’s book, The Petersburg Campaign.  For Vol. II I am using that book, plus the Official Records, the Supplement to the Official Records and various published and unpublished accounts.

People who read this book are in for a real treat.  Most Civil War enthusiasts have a completely wrong idea about the siege.  They think the siege consisted of static warfare and doomed Union attacks against Confederate trenches.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Of the ten battles that took place during the siege, only three involved Union attacks on the Confederate lines.  There were the initial Union assaults of June 15-18, 1864, the assault at the Crater on July 30, 1864, and the Union attack that led to a breakthrough on April 2, 1865.  All the other battles took place in the woods and fields around the city and occurred because Grant was sending portions of his army to seize and/or destroy the Weldon and Southside Railroads.

Each of the battles is interesting because different corps and corps commanders were engaged in the various battles and they commanded their men differently.  For example contrast the union generalship in two battles for the Weldon Railroad.  On August 18 Warren seizes the railroad and quite prudently wants to fortify his position against the inevitable Confederate attacks.  Grant and Meade insist that he press up against the Confederate fortifications which places him in dense woods where he can’t see the Confederates coming.  As a result on August 18 and 19 the Confederates attack his flanks, surprise his men and rout them, so  he suffers tremendous losses, mostly in prisoners.  On August 20 Grant and Meade allow him to do what he asked permission to do.  He fortifies and the next day a big Confederate attack is repulsed.

Hancock fights a battle at ream’s station four days later and his style is quite different.  He occupies a badly planned and laid out fortification constructed in June by the VI Corps and is seemingly indifferent to improving the strength of his position.  Instead he spends his time destroying the railroad.  As a result the Confederates attack him while he’s holding this weak position and the II Corps is routed and driven from the field with a large loss in prisoners.  The difference between the two generals is clear.  Warren was more astute than Hancock so he was acutely aware of the danger Lee’s army posed and Hancock was not.  Warren was also aware that fortifications were necessary because the quality of his men had deteriorated because of excessive casualties.

The book is also fascinating because it shows the rise and fall of fortunes of Confederate high commanders at Petersburg.  A.P. Hill was so ill that he often turned over command to Henry Heth or William Mahone.  Mahone  rose to the occasion and became one of the two most outstanding commanders on the Confederate side.  The other stellar commander was Wade Hampton.  It was he who persuaded Lee to attack the isolated Hancock at Ream’s Station and he played a key role in the victory.

I guarantee that anyone who reads this book will end up fascinated by the Siege of Petersburg.

BR: What’s next for you?

BAS: I hope to co-author a book on Five Forks with Mike McCarthy.  Mike wrote a dissertation on the battle and on the Warren Court of Inquiry.  I found him a publisher and we’ve become friends.  And I want to publish my Deep Bottom manuscript.

Good luck with your future work, Bryce. We’re all looking forward to Volume II of The Petersburg Campaign.





Pvt. George Plaskett, Co. E, 14th New York State Militia, On the Battle

29 11 2012

From the War.

Mr. James Plaskett has received a very interesting letter from his son, who was in the fight Sunday, as a member of the 14th regiment New York militia. We make a few extracts. He says:

We had to march about 17 miles over a rough road, and without stopping, as our division was behind time. The last mile and a half we were put forward in double quick time, so that we went into action tired out. After fighting until our artillery ammunition – 2600 rounds – was used up, we had to retreat, and fall back for some six miles, to a point leading out of the wood, where we received a murderous fire from the enemy, which proved very disastrous, killing our Colonel, and wounding one Lieut. Colonel. One of the most inhuman occurrences which we were compelled to witness that day, was the destruction of a building erected by us for a temporary hospital. The building was about a mile from the batteries, and was filled with the wounded and dying, and they were also lying all around the outside of the building. The rebels pointed their guns, and threw bomb-shells into the building, which blew it up and killed all who were in and around the building. A negro regiment came on to the field after the fight was over, and killed all those who showed signs of life.

The sight upon the battle-field, in view of the carnage, was a sad one to me: legs, arms, and heads off.

There were only 18,000 of our troops in the engagement, against 80,000 or 90,000 of the rebels. We were on the move from 2 A. M. Sunday till Monday noon; fought five hours, and marched 60 miles.

Hartford Daily Courant, 7/27/1861

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George Plaskett at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





Surgeon Charles W. Le Boutillier, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle and Captivity

27 11 2012

Dr. C. W. Le Boutillier’s Account of the Battle of Bull Run.

Immediately after our arrival at Bull Run, (near Sudley’s Church,) or a short time before the fight commenced between Heintzelman’s command and the enemy, a consultation was had between Surgeon Stewart and myself. He informed me that it was desired that I should go with the regiment and that he would soon follow with the ambulances. I followed, accompanied by Oscar Sears and twenty of our musicians who had been detailed by Col. Gorman to assist in taking care of the wounded.

A few minutes before we became engaged in action, I requested Chaplain Neill, (who was gallantly marching up with the regiment) to go back and “hurry” up the ambulances, and also to have some litters sent up to us. He want, and soon returned with two litters, bringing one himself upon his own back, and informed me that he had delivered the message.

We soon became engaged with the enemy, and at the first fire had about twenty killed and about thirty wounded.

The second fire produced about the same effect; and was nearly as fatal to us.

All the men detailed to assist us, left after the first fire; leaving Mr. Neill, Oscar Sears and myself alone to attend the wounded. For half an hour or more, we had our hands full.

We examined almost all the wounded (with the exception of those who walked away from the field) and carried them to a place of comparative safety, and dressed their wounds when necessary. It must be remembered that we also had to attend to very many of the wounded Zouaves who had been left on the field, deserted by their commanders. Four or five of our wounded were killed by the bursting of a shell in their midst after we had left them.

After attending to those who were wounded at the first two fires from the enemy, we had little to do except occasionally to visit the sufferers and furnish them with water and stimulants, a supply of which Oscar Sears (the acting Steward) had brought for that purpose.

During the fight, the brave little Sears never deserted me. He was always on hand, and discharged his duties gallantly and like a true soldier. Soon after the second fire of the enemy, they were repulsed and fell back from their position in front of our regiment. From that time until the retreat was ordered the regiment was divided into small squads, skirmishing about in the woods.

The first fighting was about 11 1-2 A. M. The retreat began about 4 1-2 P. M.

After the regiment was ordered to retreat, Oscar and I stayed with our wounded upon the battleground, for half an hour, still hoping the ambulances would arrive. I have been informed by Dr. Stewart since my return to Minnesota, that the Medical Director ordered him to take them upon the battle field. The enemy then came up and drove us away. Had the ambulances arrived even as late as four o’clock, our wounded, or the greater portion of them, might have been removed toe Centreville, and thence to Washington.

On leaving the field, Oscar and myself, were separated. I walked towards a house which I thought looked like a hospital, and on reaching it found I was not mistaken. I there met Drs. Powell and Furguson of the 2d New York and entered into conversation with them. I scarcely had been talking with them five minutes when a squadron of cavalry numbering about 50 men, charged upon us, surrounded the yard and house, and although we exhibited our green sashes and informed them that we were surgeons and that the building was a hospital, they fired upon us – emptied every gun they had in their hands, – screaming all the while, “shoot the d—-d sons of b—–s.”

They killed three of the wounded – two Northerners and a Georgian who were lying on the ground in front of the house under a locust tree. They also shot the brave Furguson in the left leg, fracturing both bones. They immediately began to load again, and we believing that it was their intention to murder us, rushed into the house and determined to defend ourselves. There were about ten or twelve privates who had assisted the wounded to this place, who had retained their arms. They fired upon the enemy from the doors and windows, killing their captain and four privates and put the whole to flight.

This captain it seems was a lawyer residing a few miles from Petersburg, Virginia.

As soon as they had left, Dr. Furguson was placed, with two others, into an ambulance, and we started for Sudley’s church or Bull Run, but were soon surrounded by 200 or 300 of the F. F. V., or black horse cavalry, who riddled our ambulances with bullets. They then ordered us to follow them, and we were taken to Manassas Junction. We earnestly begged them to permit us to stay with the wounded, who we knew were on the field of battle, but they informed us we must first see the General Commanding.

We arrived at Manassas Junction at nine or ten o’clock, P. M., and were immediately sent into the hospitals, that were then being prepared for the reception of the wounded.

We worked all night. Next morning we were waited upon by an aid of General Beauregard who presented us with a written parole which we refused to sign on the following grounds: 1st. That Surgeons who voluntarily remained on the battle field were never made or retained as prisoners of war.

2d. That the parole was not even such a one as is generally given to prisoners of war, as there was no provision in it for a release from the parole or an exchange.

After further consultation we concluded not to sign any parole, and informed them of our decision, and told them that if the wounded were neglected, the responsibility would fall upon them. Shortly afterwards we were taken before Gen. Beauregard who heard our reasons for refusing the parole. He then informed us that he would put us on verbal parole that we would not escape. We then returned to our respective duties. Out of 28 Surgeons, only five signed the parole. However it is proper to say that the Secretary of War (Walker) did not insist upon the original parole given to these surgeons and gave the regular parole.

We stayed at Manassas two days, when we were informed that they desired us to go to Richmond to prepare hospitals for our wounded. On our arrival at Richmond we were set to work to cleanse two large five story brick tobacco factories for that purpose.

In a few days our wounded began to arrive, and we continued to receive them until both buildings were completely filled.

The poor fellows were brought to us in a most shocking condition. They had been thrown into cattle cars, without straw or hay for bedding – those with broken and amputated limbs must have suffered most terribly. The fractured limbs had not been placed in splints in the majority of cases, and the bones generally had worked their way through the wound and protruded through. The cases of amputation was still worse. The sutures had cut through the flesh leaving the muscles and bones bare, and the majority of wounds were alive with maggots – almost every case of amputation resulted fatally.

The wounded at Richmond were not furnished with any blankets or clothing, and very little medicine – a few cots were furnished for the worst cases. There was at one time one hundred and twenty cases of fever in the hospital under my charge, and three fourths of them had to lie on the bare floor.

The wounded were furnished with bread and fresh meat, and occasionally rice and a few vegetables. Only for the timely aid of kind friends whom we met in the city, the poor fellows would have suffered far worse. The guards have positive orders that in case any one “poked his head out of the window, to shoot him.” Nothing was permitted to be carried into the hospital without a specific order from Gen. Winder – the Commander at Richmond.

The other prisoners were still worse treated. They were incarcerated in the same class of buildings, (Tobacco Factories) say two hundred and fifty on each floor. There was only one water closet connected with a building containing at least six hundred prisoners, and only two were permitted to go to it at a time. There were among the prisoners whole families of Western Virginians, some of whom must have been 70 years of age.

The officers, about 80 in number, were on a floor about 60 feet in length by 20, and were not furnished with anything but the common food given to the other prisoners – a great many of them had nothing but the bare boards for a bed during my stay there. They were not permitted to look out of the windows and a few were shot at, and wounded for disobeying the order – and a number of our wounded were shot at for unintentionally disobeying the same order. Sergeant Harris of the Minnesota Regiment, came near being killed under those circumstances. The officers, especially those of the 69th (Irish Regiment) and particularly Col. Corcoran, had to submit to all kinds of indignities. They seemed to think that a foreigner and Democrat ought to be severely punished when found in arms against them.

After we had been at Richmond some two weeks, we, the Surgeons in attendance upon the wounded, held a consultation, and agreed to take the parole which eleven other Federal Surgeons had taken, but with the understanding that we would be permitted to stay as long as our services were required by the wounded. We did so, and after than enjoyed considerable privileges.

About the 15th of September, a Medical Commission of Surgeons was appointed by the Confederate Government and reported that our services were no longer required, and we were informed that we would have to leave, and in accordance with those instructions, left. Before leaving we furnished the wounded with some clothing and a little money which we succeeded in raising  from some true Union friends in Richmond.

I deem it also my duty to say that as far as I could judge, Co. Gorman, and all the Field officers, and in fact the whole of the Regiment behaved (with a few exceptions) bravely and reflected great credit upon the true “Northern Star.”

St. Paul Press, 10/20/1861

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Charles W. Le Boutillier at Ancestry.com

Charles W. Le Boutillier Bio

Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. Mortimer Stimpson*, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

24 11 2012

Letters from soldiers.

We are under obligations to very many persons who have furnished us with letters from their friends in the army, obtaining early and interesting intelligence after the battle at Bull Run. We are still in the receipt of several, but the contents of most of them have been anticipated, and the publication at length is therefore unnecessary. From others we make extracts which will be read with interest by the friends of the writers. From a letter written by Mortimer Stimpson of the 1st Minnesota regiment, (son of Rev. H. K. Stimpson, of Lagrange, Wyoming County), we take the following:

“Our regiment with the Fire Zouaves were ordered to right flank at double-quick, right down upon the enemy who were concealed in a piece of thick everglades and woods. As we came up they displayed the American Flag just as our boys were going to fire at left oblique, and the Colonel gave orders not to fire, as they were our friends. Just then down went the flag, and up went the secession flag, and with the most destructive fire of musketry, grape and canister from a masked battery inside the wood. Our poor boys were cut up awfully, and after rallying three times were obliged to retreat. The carnage was most horrid on both sides. The dead, dying and wounded of both sides literally covered the ground. The secession cavalry charged our boys and the Fire Zouaves, when the Zouaves formed and almost annihilated them and their horses; that was the only fair show our boys had. At this juncture the enemy were reinforced by Johnson with twenty-five thousand men, and our forces made a precipitate retreat. *  *  *  *  *

There were more than 8.000 soldiers straying through the woods, and who refused to rally, as their commanders were either killed or wounded, but for the most part, our men were as brave as men could be, and it is acknowledged by all hands that if proper precaution had been used in surveying the ground, and plenty of siege pieces had been with us, we shouldn’t have had to mourn the loss of so many brave fellows, and a disastrous defeat. Our flying artillery did some fine work. We had [?] batteries with our division. Only five of these engaged the enemy, and one, after getting position on the left of the Minnesotas and Fire Zouaves, and unlimbering, every man fled without firing a gun. All their horses were killed, and consequently we had no help from the artillery.

I suppose you would like to know what part I took in the battle; my position as one of the Band did not require me to do anything and we were ordered to remain in camp, but we all disobeyed the command and went on the field. I saw the whole of the hard fighting. I found a Tennessee rifle with all the accoutrements on a wounded secessionist. I helped him up beside of a stump, and giving him some water from my canteen, I went into the engagement and fired fourteen times, and am positively certain that five of them took effect, because I laid in the bushes, 30 rods from their column. I took a secession prisoner, horse and all, and delivered him to the Brooklyn boys, and have his revolver and sash, which I hope to be able to show you sometime.

Rochester Democrat and American, 8/4/1861

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*Likely Montcalm J. Stimson, musician, Co. G.

Montcalm J. Stimson at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





William Augustus Croffut, On Sudley Church Hospital During the Battle

24 11 2012

Mr. W. A. Croffut, communicates to the National Republican of the 26th the following graphic description of scenes at the hospital:

I was on the field of battle at Bull Run on Sunday, and am sufficiently recovered from the complete prostration which followed my march of sixty miles – from Vienna to battle and back to Washington – to be able to give a brief account of what I saw. I was but a civilian; my chief occupation was to help carry off the wounded, and minister, as far as possible, to their comfort.

I assisted to bear several to the hospital at the corner of the woods – near the battle field – perhaps 150 rods from the enemy’s batteries. Such a scene of death and desolation! Men, dying and dead, covered the floor and filled the yard with frightful misery. Civilians and soldiers turned surgeons, and amputated and bound up the wounds of the injured and dying. A shell from the enemy struck harmlessly near the front yard, and cannon balls flew over and around, with their prolonged “whish!” as if the sacred white flag above our heads, honored by all the people besides, was a special target for the hateful and insolent “Confederacy.” I learn that this hospital was burned soon after, with all is suffering inmates by the heartless and diabolical foe.

Soon after, a man was brought along on his way to the other hospital, and I assisted in carrying him thither. It was somewhat farther off, on the road of approach, and was extemporized from a church which we had passed just before reaching the battle-field. It was a scene too frightful and sickening to witness, much more describe. There were in it, scattered thickly on the floor and in the galleries, sixty or seventy, wounded in every possible way – arms and legs shot off, some dead, and scores gasping for water and aid. The pulpit was appropriated for a surgeon’s room, and the communion table of pious anarchy became an amputation table, baptized in willing blood, and consecrated to the holy uses of Liberty and Law! The road and woods, on either side and all around, are strewn with maimed and mutilated heroes, and the balls from the rifled cannon go over us like winged devils. There sits a colonel, with his arm bound up, asking to be put on his horse and led back to his regiment; here lies a captain with a grape shot through his head, and blood and brains oozing out as we touch him tenderly to see if he his dead; and yonder comes in a pale chaplain, cut by a canister, while, sword in hand, he led his brave little parish, in the name of Almighty God, to the fight. And again we enter the hospital with him. Oh, God! What a hideous sight! Step into this gory tabernacle. You may grow pallid and faint, and some even of the strong-hearted do, or you may find yourself cool and self commanding, as I do, against my own anticipations, amid such sights and scenes. I have known men who could walk up to a flashing wall of bayonets unblanched, who would faint at the sight of suffering. Look around you here. The grim chambers, where the deity of a strange despotism was worshipped, is turned into an altar of Freedom, and sanctified anew by the warm life of heroes. Fit choir, that in the galleries – the intermittent yells of the dying and the subdued groans of brave men! Eloquent preacher, in that pulpit so long defiled! Glorious burden on that sacramental tablet, splendid wine there flowing – where Christ has been so often crucified. Precious and acceptable Eucharist! And these are the services to day, in this chapel of paganism, once dedicated, with lying lips, to God. The house what Baal built rises over a holocaust of heroes. And this is the holy Sabbath day – the world’s White Day, so long kept as a blessed symbol of fidelity, purity, humanity, liberty, and peace!

That ghastly picture of carnage will be ever present before my eyes, and those half smothered sobs and groans, will always ring their dreadful chorus in my ears.

And now on, and on past us fly the panic-stricken troops. We are not beaten, but these think we are, which is just as bad for our cause to night. Good generalship and guarded baggage wagons would have saved us, we of the unmilitary corps think, but it is too late now. And so the whole nation is to suffer then, for the dark crimes of years – the South for its terrible guilt of commission, and the North for its moral debauchery which has betrayed it to such fearful complicity. Had we remembered the Divine decree “though hand joined in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished.”

May God purify the religion, and warm the heart, and quicken the conscience, and open the eyes of the nation! May we learn now the lesson which a few brave souls of the North have striven long to teach, and speedily wash our bloody hands and begin to do the righteous thing!

W. A. Croffut.

St. Paul Press, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Chaplain Rev. Edward D. Neill, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

23 11 2012

Chaplain Neill’s Letter.

Washington, July 24, 1861,

Wednesday Night.

  *  *  The conductors of the advance towards Richmond forgot the better part of valor, discretion. Our regiment, as you have learned, was in the advance of Heintzelman’s column, and I never saw men behave with so much dignity and cheerfulness, with the entire absence of all shouting, as they descended into the battle field. Occupying the extreme right on the battle field, and in proximity to the Fire Zouaves, I have no doubt that their red shirts led the rebels to suppose that they were all of the came corps, and direct their fire upon our men with greater energy.

It was painful, I assure you, to be on the battle field and have nothing to do but dodge cannon balls. It was impossible for me to lag behind, as I felt that the soldiers ought to see me by them and as they entered the engagement; and yet, when they skirmished around and left me near the artillery, I felt a singular loneliness, and would have felt much better if I had had some distinct military duty to perform.

As the battle ceased, however, I found my hands full in dragging our wounded men to the hospital, near by. Afterwards I succeeded in bringing Capt. Acker, Lieut. Harley, (of Capt. Pell’s company,) and five other wounded men in an ambulance to Centreville, near where we had camped before the battle. Harley and I reached this place before we were ordered to retire to Washington. We reached Georgetown at 11 A. M. Monday, having been on our feet, with the exception of a few halts, thirty hours. During this time I saw the battle; was in the ambulance and surrounded by thousands of panic stricken men; forced to make a wounded man tear off his flannel shirt, which I hung out the ambulance on a sabre, as a hospital sign, so that the rebels, who were alleged to be near, would not fire on the suffering; witnessed the wreck of artillery wagons, baggage wagons, &c., on the road, which has been so fully told in all the papers. From Saturday night at six o’clock until Monday at dinner time, I had the privilege of eating two pilot crackers, a piece of cake and a cup of coffee.

All my baggage was thrown into the road to make way for the wounded, and I fear that the trunk may be captured. In that case I am left with only the clothes on my back.

We were quite anxious for Drs. Boutillier and Steward, fearing that they may have been captured, but to night the former arrived, and we learn that the latter is out by the Hospital, not far from the battle filed.

The field officers behaved very well on the field, and ll of them escaped without the slightest scratch.

St. Paul Press, 8/1/1861

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Rev. Edward Neill on Ancestry.com

Edward Neill bio

Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. William Nixon, Co. A, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

23 11 2012

Letter From A Private In Capt. Wilkin’s Company.

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Interesting Account of our Soldiers in the Battle.

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[Mr. William Nixon permits us to publish the following letter from his son.]

Washington, July 23, 1861.

Dear Father: — I now write you in answer to yours. We arrived here yesterday afternoon from Manassas. I suppose you have heard of the battle there. It was a hard one. We fought steady for about six hours. Col. Gorman led us right into the mouths of the cannon, and into the midst of a large body of infantry. We were terribly cut up, losing half our company, but it is lucky we got out as we did.

I have not seen Edward since we left the field , but I guess he is all right, for some of our boys say they saw him on the road. Half our company only are here, [?] [?] expect some of them are yet on the road.

In the fight, I saw several of our boys shot down, two on my right were shot dead with the same ball, which went through the body of the first man on my right and struck the man in his rear in the shoulder. They fell like a stone, and did not utter a word. Mr. Halstead had all of his finger on one hand shot off. Robert Stines was shot in the elbow; he fell, and the blood ran out in streams. He asked me for some water but I had none to give him.

Mr. Neill was in the battle with us, but I do not know how he came out. One of the doctors was wounded, but not severely. Both Surgeons staid to take care of the wounded. It is reported that the rebels have slaughtered all the wounded.

In our retreat we were followed by several thousand dragoons for ten or fifteen miles. I thought I was at one time a prisoner. A companion and myself stopped to get a drink, and got left behind, and just as we were through drinking, a lot of cavalry came up and commenced firing upon us. I thought then that we were surely gone, so I told him to hurry up. He dropped his gun and came along with me a little ways, but could not keep up, but fell in with some other boys, and that was the last I saw of him. I have since heard that he was taken prisoner.

I got off better than I expected. When I went to the field, I did not expect to come off alive, but I put my trust in the Lord and he spared my life. As we were forming into line to go on to the field, I raised my eyes and asked Him to preserve me through the contest, and it so happened.

I never saw hail flying thicker than the balls did around me, some of them brushing my hair. We went in with the expectation of not seeing more than one or two hundred of the enemy, but when we got along by the side of a little grove a shower of balls came through the woods, and after a little there were about two thousand of the rebels ran out of the woods, and made believe they were our friends, and Capt. Wilkin ordered our men to cease firing, and then they poured a volley upon us, and just then we saw the Secession flag. I hauled up my gun, took deliberate aim at one of them, and shot him in the breast; he wheeled to run, took two steps and fell. I walked over him afterwards, and he was nearly dead. One of the Zouaves wanted to run his bayonet into him but he was stopped.

Our little Captain Wilkin fought like a man. He picked up a musket of one of the killed and shot four of the rebels, and took one prisoner.

Our boys fought like men – we were with the Zouaves all the time. They say they want the Minnesota boys to fight with them hereafter. No one can say but that all of our boys have done their duty. They went at it as cooly as thought they were shooting at a mark. We had a terrible hard time since we left Manassas; we camped one night at a place where we stayed one day, on the afternoon of which our company went out scouting, and discovered a battery of six cannon and several hundred men ready to fire upon us. We went back to camp to get more men, and when we got there the whole division was ready to march to Centreville, six miles distant! We had not had anything to eat since morning and all of our rations were gone, but we had to start right off, and march at double quick two or three miles to get up with our Regiment. We got to Centreville about nine o’clock at night and had to lay out all night in the rain without tents, and with nothing to eat until morning. We stayed here two days, and had nothing to eat but crackers, with dirty creek water to drink. We started at three o’clock in the morning for the battle field, and when we got within a mile of it stopped and got a drink. We were then ordered to at double quick into the field, and were about dead when we got there. As we went into the fight, we threw down our blankets and knapsacks, and when the retreat commenced we had no time to pick them up. We marched the rest of the day and all night and part of the next day before we reached Alexandria, where we stopped about an hour and got breakfast, and then proceeded to Washington where we arrived yesterday, and went into quarters. It rained all the time we were marching.

St. Paul Press, 7/30/1861

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William Nixon on Ancestry.com

William Nixon bio

Contributed by John Hennessy





“J. V.[?].”, Co. A*, 2nd Michigan Infantry, On the Campaign

22 11 2012

The Michigan Second In The Battles At Bull Run.

Extract from a private letter.

Arlington Heights, July 24.

I had quite an adventure last week, and will give you an account of it as well as I can. Tuesday 16th, at four o’clock P. M., we commenced our forced march, the skirmishers two miles ahead of the column, with the scouts flanked out right, left, and forward. At night we reached Vienna, where we met another division of our troops. We stopped until the morning of Wednesday, the 17th, when we marched through Germantown to Fairfax, where our skirmishers were deployed, and on closing to, we found that the enemy had vacated everything. The bugle sounded the “assembly,” and we marched to Centreville, and encamped two miles beyond for the night.

Thursday, at eight o’clock A. M., we marched toward Manassas Junction, and at eleven o’clock we come through the woods to Bull Run, where it looked mischievous. Two pieces of artillery were ordered forward. After they had fired several shots, they were answered and immediately our skirmishers were deployed forward, and we passed over a clearing through a ravine, and up on the other side, when we came into the woods again, and passing from behind one tree to another for about forty or fifty rods, we struck upon the enemy who were drawn up in line of battle, some 6,000 strong, before several batteries; they immediately opened a musket fire upon the skirmishers and came after us with “charge bayonet;” we were obliged to rally back through the woods behind the First Massachusetts Regiment, which was advancing upon them. Captain Brethschneider immediately informed them of the batteries’ cross fire and they changed their position further to the right; our skirmishers were also taken further to the right. During this time a raking fire of cannister came upon us and we rallied promiscuously. The left wing of the First Massachusetts was badly cut up, and at the same time the New York Twelfth, who were on the extreme left of the field, where our skirmishers firs went to, reached the full blast of the cross fire. The Michigan Second was on the extreme right of the Massachusetts First, but afterward moved further toward the left, to cover the skirmishers who were now rallying between the two regiments. While we were rallying there, the cry came: “Skirmishers this way; they are murdering our wounded.” I looked round and not seeing the Captain and having only a few men I hurried back again. Our Corporal, R. Wright, then saw a wounded man of the New York Twelfth trying to get up, and one of the rebels standing over him with his bayonet at his breast slowly pushing it in. Wright took aim and laid the rebel at the foot of his victim.

During this last time the skirmishers were fighting on their own hook and could hear no command and lasted quite a long while before we got out of the woods again, which is the reason why our Colonel thought we were all lost; I retreated out of the woods and found Captain B…who was very glad to see me again, and the Colonel ordered the skirmishers to retire. At the same moment a ball flew right over the Colonels head about five steps from where I stood, but he did not mind it at all. I then looked for some water, which was difficult to find. During this [?] the New York Twelfth were retreating promiscuously, for which they are much blamed; at the same time the Michigan Third, Massachusetts First and Michigan Second were withdrawn from the field and marched back to Centreville, where we stopped overnight. The next morning the regiment were marched to the field again, but only to make breastworks.

On Sunday [?] and divisions came up on the opposite side, and the battle was again commenced from three [?], our brigade forming the centre. The battle lasted six hours and a half. [?] [?] the right flank division was noticed to be retreating, and a heavy fire of musketry was opened on the left flank division.

Things began to look mischievous and our division was ordered away from the field. By the time we came to Centreville our regiments were drawn up in line of battle across the fields, and we could see the men of the Michigan First, Fire Zouaves, and other regiments, which formed the right division, coming down the road in disorder.

Our brigade then put out pickets and laid down to sleep. At eleven o’clock we were aroused and marched back toward Washington. Our camp is now on Arlington Heights. The President and Secretary of State came to our camp yesterday afternoon and promised to send two soldiers for every one secessionist.

During the time we were away, I was obliged to sleep on the ground, and some time could not get my blanket. At night it is always colder here than at home, and last Monday it rained all day. I was in my shirtsleeves and could not get my clothes, and when night came, I and my skirmishers were quartered in the secessionist, Gen. Lee’s, barn. We were wet to the skin. However, we crowded close together to keep each other warm, and because we were tired, we slept without feeling it. The next morning we rose early and waited for the sun to warm and dry us again.

I am well. None of our company were killed that you know, but Wolenweber is severely wounded, and a few others slightly. Wurstenberg had his arm shot off when we [?] on Sunday the last time.

J. V. [?].

Detroit Free Press, 7/30/1861

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*J. V. [?]. was apparently with Capt. R. Brethschneider’s detachment (Light Battalion of Infantry) of the 2nd Michigan. Brethschneider was captain of Co. E, however the detachment included men from all companies of the regiment. Mathias Wollenweber, considered by some the first Michigan casualty of the civil war, was a member of Company A, as was Frederick Wurstenberg.

Contributed by John Hennessy





“R”, 5th Massachusetts Infantry, On the Battle

21 11 2012

The following is a letter  from another member of the Massachusetts Fifth:

Our brigade under Col. Franklin, consisting of the First Minnesota, Fifth Massachusetts, and Fourth Pennsylvania Regiments, with a battery of six guns and a company of cavalry, left Alexandria on Tuesday morning, 16th inst., and arrived at Centreville on Friday night. We bivouacked in an oat field until Sunday morning at two o’clock, when we formed and stood in the road until five, at which time the column moved on. While we were at Centreville we were allowed but three hard brad a day, or one for each meal. True, we had some fresh beef on Saturday morning, but it was eaten so soon after being butchered that it made the men sick, and was thrown away. Even water could hardly be obtained, and a guard was stationed at the two or three miserable puddles to allow the men but one dipperful at a time. In consequence of this, two thirds of the men started for the battle field without any water in their canteens. The men from the first had slept upon the ground and had been half starved - not only our own brigade, but the entire division – and were more fit to be marched to the hospital than the battle field. Hungry and thirsty we marched until 12 o’clock, at which time we reached the field. The last two miles we traveled on the “doublequick.” About half a mile before reaching the field a halt was made for a moment and we divested ourselves of our haversacks and blankets, and advanced with full company front, close column.

The 11th Massachusetts, who had been ahead on the march, here halted while we passed but followed and took their position on our left, being the extreme left of the line of battle, the 5th being next. To our right were the Zouaves, who we supported. The position of the 5th was in the thickest of the fight as was also the 11th. To the left of the 11th was a piece of woods, from which stray bullets from the rebel skirmishers were fired into the ranks of the 11th. The 5th was ordered to halt upon the side of a hill, and lie down upon their faces. No sooner was this order obeyed than a shower of bullets came whistling over the heads of the men, ,but no one was hurt. Col. Lawrence gave the order for the first company to fire and then fall to the rear and load, when the second company was to fire and fall to the rear. After several volleys had been fired in this way, the enemy retreated from their position. The first man injured in the 5th was by a cannon ball, which injured two men in the Charlestown City Guard.

Col. Franklin rode up and asked, “What regiment is that lying on the hill?” When told they were the 5th Massachusetts, he replied, “I thought you were regulars you lay so still.” He then said to the Colonel, “Can you take that house? If you can the day is ours.” The Colonel shouted that we could, and we immediately fell into “sets of fours,” and proceeded to a road at a short distance, which led to the house referred to, behind which was a large force of rebels. The 5th and 11th had almost reached the house, passing through a dreadful fire to reach it, when the riderless horses attached to Rickett’s battery came dashing down upon us, the Zouaves following and the United States Cavalry following them. For a time a fearful confusion prevailed, and the 5th were obliged to halt and, and received our own cavalry at the point of the bayonet to prevent them from running over the men who were advancing. At this time Colonel Lawrence was wounded and carried from the field. The command then devolved upon the Lieutenant Colonel, but as he was not to be seen, the men were rallied by Sergeant Major Quincy, and Lieutenant Everett of the Charlestown City Guards; Lieutenant Tebbets of the Charlestown Artillery also exerted himself to the utmost to rally the men. After the cavalry had passed and left the field, the Fifth then rallied around the colors and reached the top of the hill, supporting the Zouaves, whose numbers were fast being diminished. A few moments after reaching the top of the hill, Color Sergeant Lawrence was shot through the breast by two bullets, another bullet passing through his head. Corporal Wallace, who carried the State banner, threw it on the ground and raised the stars and stripes again. Sergeant Major Quincy picked up the State flag and bore it aloft until the retreat had sounded. On his way he met a civilian on horseback, who he requested to take it for safe keeping and carry it to Centreville. He did so, but when he reached Centreville he had come to the conclusion that he had rescued the flag from the enemy and made himself a hero, and told his story accordingly.

After the retread had commenced, the Fifth rallied several times in squads of three or more, and were the last to leave the field, retiring with the Zouaves, 11th Massachusetts, and one other, in as good order as the confusion of the different regiments would admit. For the last half hour of the battle every man in most of the regiments was fighting “on his own hook,” firing wherever a rebel showed his head or his heels.

There were many men who deserve particular mention. Capt. Wardwell was very brave and cool, as was Adjutant Chambers, who was smoking a pipe during a part of the engagement. Sergeant Major Quincy deserves great praise for rallying the men when the field officers could not be found. Col. Lawrence was brave even to rashness, during the action, and did everything in his power to save the lives of his men by good management and care that one company not fire into the others, as was unfortunately the case with many other regiments.

R.

Boston Evening Journal, 7/30/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Stephen Spielberg at Gettysburg

20 11 2012

Here’s Stephen Spielberg’s speech at the Dedication Day ceremony in the National Cemetery at Gettysburg yesterday (crank up the volume.)

My favorite line? “But we are filmmakers; we are not scholars, we are not historians.” It would be nice if everyone could keep that in mind.

As for Mr. Spielberg’s new film, Lincoln, I saw it with friends over the weekend. A great flick – two thumbs up. Cool stuff to look for: Kelly Leak; Brother D-Day; Dan’s Appendage; King Arthur’s Son; That Amish Kid.








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