Interview: Quest, “I Held Lincoln”

31 03 2020

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Richard Quest, Author of I Held Lincoln: A Union Sailor’s Journey Home (spoiler alert – this book is much more about the sailor’s journey than about his role in the moments after the assassination of POTUS 16) has been good enough to answer a few questions for us.


BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

REQ: Harry thanks very much for the opportunity to share a little bit about the book and myself. I began my career in education over 30 years ago now and began as high school history teacher in upstate New York. I taught 11th and 12th grade for 10 years and then moved into administration and became a principal serving at both the high school and elementary levels. After completing my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania I left K-12 education and moved into higher education. I held positions as an Associate Dean and Dean at a couple of community colleges and then as an Associate Vice President at a four-year college. Along the way I founded a nonprofit called Books in Homes USA and along with my wife established that organization and then became the founding Executive Director in 2014. In October of 2018 I accepted a position as the National Director of Education with the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps located in Arlington Virginia and continue there today.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

REQ: I became interested in the Civil War when I took a trip with my sixth grade class to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Standing on little round top looking across at Devil’s Den and seeing in the distance the Peach Orchard I suddenly realized that something extraordinary had happened there. It was as if I could feel the struggle. I must have talked a lot about it after I got home because my parents decided that we should take a vacation and go camping there that summer. That was it I was hooked not just on the civil war but with history in general. It seems that I have always been interested in old things and growing up in a historic (read that as old, circa 1870’s) house in upstate New York led to my poking around and often finding things stuck in the corners of the basement of that old house and garages. Those early interests would lead me to my college major in anthropology and archaeology as an undergraduate student and then working at the Public Archaeology Facility at SUNY Binghamton as a field archaeologist.

BR: How did you come across the story of Benjamin Loring?

REQ: I came across the story of Lt. Benjamin W. Loring in the mid-90s when I held the appointed voluntary position of Tioga County historian in upstate New York. The town of Owego historian Emma Sedore knew of my interest in the Civil War and that I was always looking for opportunities to bring some local history into my 11th grade United States history classroom. She asked me one day if I knew the story of Lt. Loring and that he had served during the Civil War and that it was alleged that he had been at Ford’s Theater the night of the Lincoln assassination. She then mentioned that it was rumored that he had actually come in contact with Lincoln. She also stated matter-of-factly that the frockcoat that Lt. Loring had worn the night of the assassination was in the local County Museum and that again it was alleged that Lincoln’s blood was on it. As the County Historian I was also an ex officio member of the county museum and so I sought out the frockcoat and more information. That was over 25 years ago now.

BR: Tell us a little about Loring prior to the titular incident.

REQ: Loring began life just outside of Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1840s. He was an active young man and left home in his teens seeking to make a living and find adventure at sea. Over the years he would gain enough experience to climb through the ranks to that of a sea captain. I don’t have a lot of information regarding Loring’s early life and career but we do find him in California and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the 1860 census. Loring and his younger brother Bailey are listed as Packers taking supplies high up into the mountains to the gold miners and making a good living at it. It is here in 1861 that Loring learned of the first shots fired at Fort Sumter. Feeling it his duty to return and enter the fray Loring headed back east leaving the business to his brother. After arriving back east Loring enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was commissioned an Acting Master, which would today be considered a lieutenant junior grade. Loring was given orders to report for duty aboard the USS Galena. In command of that vessel was Loring’s distant cousin Capt. John Rogers. It is aboard the Galena that Loring would first see action and the severe cost, devastation and personal destruction of war.

BR: The stories around the night of Lincoln’s assassination are legion. I have a special interest myself, as the four soldiers who bore Lincoln from Ford’s Theater to the Peterson House were from my hometown and nearby. Without spoiling the book, can you clue us in on Loring’s role?

REQ: Lt. Loring plays an interesting, dynamic albeit small role at Ford’s theater the evening of April 14, 1865. It was this role that very early on captured my interest in the entire story. Over the course of many years of research it is this incredible story leading up to the events at Ford’s Theater that I have found most interesting. Lt. Loring’s living descendants have the actual orders which place Lt. Loring in the Navy Yard on April 12, 1865 where he was still recovering his health after his prison escape. It is through similar artifacts and documents such as those as well as Loring’s own writings that provide us with some incredible documentation regarding his time in the US Navy and eyewitness accounts to an extraordinary time in our nation’s history. Very often family histories are passed down through the ages, embellished and even rewritten however in this case we have Loring’s own words which transcend time.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

REQ: This is a very interesting question about how long it takes to write a book and one that I am asked quite often. Because there are so many components to it; the research, the actual writing, the rewriting, the editing, the wordsmithing, checking data, rewriting some more and even setting it aside for a few weeks at a time to give yourself some distance and perspective. So… if you consider the first time that I heard about Loring and the frockcoat and his involvement at Ford’s theater that was over 25 years ago. It has taken decades to actually see a book come to fruition. However, the actual act of putting all this down on paper began in 2014 when I decided to make a phone call to Lt. Loring’s great-grandson whom I had met during the summer of 2000 to ask him if he had any materials that I might be able to borrow to actually write the story. After making the call and reintroducing myself from 14 years earlier I was warmly welcomed and told that we should get together to discuss this further. After our meeting in May 2014 and returning home with voluminous documents related to Lt. Loring I set about organizing all of these. Among the papers were included letters, orders, handwritten notes, journals, maps and a few photos. As I pulled all of this information together and began to create a chronology an incredible story began to unfold. It was a story of an ordinary man living in extraordinary times who felt that it was his duty to help preserve the union and his nation. The very nation that generations before his family and helped found.

Once I had organized the papers and created the chronology the most difficult part of writing the book was actually getting started. I was unsure of how to proceed. I knew I would need an editor and so began that search online. As has been the case with this project since the beginning I have been very lucky. I found an online offering stating that if you filled out the form an editor would contact you within three hours to discuss your project. I had nothing to lose so I filled it out. Three hours later no one had contacted me so I called the number left a message and emailed the company complaining and thinking this was some type of a scam. Sure enough someone emailed me back and provided me with a name and phone number. I called the number and was introduced to a person that would become my initial editor and later literary agent in this project. From the point of identifying this editor to having a written document and landing a publisher to actually seeing a book in my hands took nearly four years to the day.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

REQ: My research process is based on the fundamental of trying to triangulate all the data that I come across. Utilizing primary sources, letters, Adjutant Generals reports, US Navy documents, official US government reports, referencing historical newspapers and other eyewitness accounts are all part of the process. It is important to note that I rely heavily on Lt. Loring’s own writings whether through family letters, journals or personal memoirs. This book is his story and told through his experiences and I have tried hard to remain true to that perspective. I have however corroborated all the historical facts utilizing the aforementioned triangulation of data where possible. The actual writing process however has been more about telling a story and making it interesting, engaging and exciting and less a traditional scholarly work. I’ve always felt that it was important to bring history alive for my students when I was teaching and so with this work I have taken that same idea to produce this book. All too often I hear from people about how boring history can be. Well it doesn’t have to be. This book is for all those who have been unfortunately exposed to history presented in a boring manner and who might be interested in an amazing story regarding an incredible time in our nation’s history presented in what I hope is an engaging story. So, even those who may not be interested in the Civil War or the US Navy or the Lincoln assassination might be very interested in one man’s story of survival, the ability to overcome and adapt and the willingness to put others first while sacrificing your freedom and putting your own life in jeopardy so others may survive. Lt. Loring takes his patriotism to a level unsurpassed and when combined with the action and adventure throughout this book it provides the reader with a first- hand view of our nation’s struggle during our most critical time.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

REQ: The book has been well received thus far. Those who have read it have thoroughly enjoyed the story. One of the most often received comments has been that it is a “page turner” and I take that as a tremendous complement. People enjoy reading history when told in this fashion. I am sure there are historians that question the events as told to us by Lt. Loring regarding the evening of April 14, 1865 as they unfolded in Ford’s theater. However, with all of the corroborating evidence and artifacts I have no doubt that this is factual. However, it is a small piece of the entire story and up until now it is information that has been lost to history.

BR: What’s next for you?

SRS: I continue to study the volumes of documents that the family has very generously given me access to and I continue to research the various ships Lt. Loring was attached to and the battles in which he participated. The family continues to come across new material as they sift through boxes and old trunks. For example, new information in the form of letters and artifacts regarding Lt. Loring’s action aboard the USS Galena at the battle of Drewry’s Bluff have recently been uncovered and provide new information written the day after that battle. In fact, one amazing discovery ties Lt. Loring to Marine Corporal John Mackey on board the USS Galena and Mackey’s gallantry in action. In fact, Mackey would become the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor and it was Lt. Loring who nominated Mackey for that medal. This is clear in the letters written in the days and months after the battle. In addition, 86 letters were recently uncovered relating to the time just after the Civil War when Lt. Loring was mustered out of the Navy and was commissioned a 3rd Lieutenant in the US Revenue Cutter Service, predecessor to the US Coast Guard. These letters span nearly 10 years and are full of historical detail related not only to the Revenue Cutter Service ships which Lt Loring served aboard but it includes the names of other officers he served with, the daily business that the cutters were engaged in and the locations in which they were working. These letters also provide a glimpse into the life of the post-Civil War period during reconstruction and what life was actually like for Lt. Loring while he was trying to build a new life for himself and his family.

I thoroughly enjoy delivering lectures related to the book and Lt. Loring. If people are interested in contacting me to ask questions or schedule a lecture they can do so via email at RichardEQuest@yahoo.com

There is currently some interest in bringing the book to the big screen and I am in conversations with a script writer who is a Sundance Fellow from that famous film society. I’m also currently considering the next book regarding Lt. Loring onboard the USS Galena and bringing to life the battle of Drewry’s Bluff as well as more of a traditional history of the Revenue Cutter Service and Lt. Loring’s service in the mid-1860s and early 1870s.

Harry, I want to thank you again for this wonderful opportunity to share with you and all of your Bull Runnings followers and readers a little bit about Lt Loring and myself. I also want to thank you for providing a forum to share Lt. Loring’s incredible story and all that is related to the Civil War while continuing to contribute to our understanding of this critical time period in our nation’s history.





Recap: Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable

30 03 2020
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Obligatory pre-presentation selfie in the basement of the Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA, Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable, 3/10/2020

This past March 10, in a time I now refer to as “Fo da quo,” (before the quarantine), I delivered a program on McDowell’s Plan for First Bull Run to the good folks at the Loudoun County Civil War Round Table in the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, VA. I’ve spoken there before, but despite that still managed to draw about 30 folks out amidst the threat of the Coronavirus. I saw a few familiar faces, and thanks to them for coming out.

I’d like to say things went great, but they did not. With about a half hour to go in my hour long spiel I got the signal to finish things up in 15 minutes. Apparently the library wanted us out. No one to blame, but I rushed through to finish, and ended up leaving a lot of stuff out (the presentation is a process – it requires a lot of back story and some get-your-mind-righting). I stuck around on the porch outside the library as long as anyone had questions, which turned out to be about 20 minutes of good talk. The good news is that I think I’ve been able to streamline the presentation as a result. I’m tentatively giving the presentation in Charleston, SC in May at the Fort Sumter Civil War Round Table. And again in January 2021 in Frederick, MD at the Frederick Civil War Round Table.

Thanks to the LCCWRT for having me. And thanks, too, for this:

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Helpful hints in the restroom at the Thomas Balch Library..





Leesburg Sojourn

28 03 2020

This past March 10, in a time I now refer to as “Fo da quo,” (before the quarantine), I delivered a program on McDowell’s Plan for First Bull Run to the good folks at the Loudoun County Civil War Round Table in the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, VA. But before the meeting (7:30 that evening), round table member and friend Craig Swain of To the Sound of the Guns showed me a few of the local Leesburg sites. Click on the thumbnails for great-big-giant images.

First, a few Leesburg dwellings related to Robert E. Lee and the Confederate invasion of Maryland in the summer of 1862.

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John Janey house. One time VA Governor, nearly Vice President (and President), secession convention supervisor. R. E. Lee visited here after Chantilly/Ox Hill prior to Antietam.

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Glenfiddich. R. E. Lee stayed here and met with Jackson & Longstreet inside to plan Maryland Campaign. Currently for sale.

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Home of the physician who tended to R. E. Lee’s injured hands. Across the street from Glenfiddich. Also for sale.

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Detail of physician’s house for sale sign. I guess this means it’s haunted!

Next stop was White’s Ford across the Potomac, used by the Army of Northern Virginia prior to Antietam and after Early’s raid on Washington.

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Wayside at White’s Ford (text by Craig Swain)

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Wayside at White’s Ford (text by Craig Swain)

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Wayside at White’s Ford (text by Craig Swain)

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Wayside at White’s Ford (text by Craig Swain)

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Potomac River near White’s Ford. View to Maryland and C&O Canal.

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Original road trace to White’s Ford.

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White’s Ford view to Maryland. Much of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed here to advance into Maryland in 1862.

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White’s Ford view to Maryland. Much of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed here to advance into Maryland in 1862.

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White’s Ford view to Maryland. Much of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed here to advance into Maryland in 1862.

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Craig Swain and me at White’s Ford.

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White’s Ford view to Maryland. Much of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed here to advance into Maryland in 1862.

Our last stop was Union Cemetery in town.

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Grave of and memorial to Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches,” Union Cemetery, Leesburg.

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Memorial to Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches,” Union Cemetery, Leesburg.

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Memorial to Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches,” Union Cemetery, Leesburg. “A Good Soldier of Jesus Christ.”

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Grave of Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches.” Union Cemetery, Leesburg.

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Grave of Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches.” Union Cemetery, Leesburg.

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Cenotaph to engineer Morris Wampler, who designed Fort (Battery) Wagner, Charleston, SC, and was mortally wounded there. Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

A good day. A summary of the meeting that night to follow.





Artifact of the Battle: Lt. Col. Bartley B. Boone, 2nd MS Infantry

22 03 2020

Most accounts from members of the 1st Minnesota Infantry mention the capture of the Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry, Bartley B. Brown. Look here for an interesting bit on his handgun, taken as a souvenir by Boone’s captor, Javan B. Irvine (who was attached to Co. A, but apparently had not yet enlisted). The photo below is from that site.

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Handgun of Lt. Col. B. B. Boone, 2nd MS Infantry, captured at First Bull Run by Javan B. Irvine, attached to Co. A, 1st MN Infantry.





Map: From Surveys by an Officer of Beauregard’s Staff

20 03 2020

I came across an original lithograph of this post-war map last week in a shop in Gettysburg. You can find it online, with more info, here. It’s interesting in both what it includes, and what it does not.

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Image: Chaplain Edward Duffield Neill, 1st Minnesota Infantry

19 03 2020

 

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Chaplain Edward Duffield Neill, 1st MN. From this site.

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Neil later in life. From this site.





Chaplain Edward Duffield Neill*, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Regiment’s Casualties

18 03 2020

Our War Correspondence.
———————–
From the Chaplain of the Regiment.
———————–

Washington City, July 26, 1861.

The telegraph before this reaches you, no doubt, will flash before a sadden people the list of our killed and wounded, in the never to be forgotten conflict of last Sunday.

Every one feels that bad generalship was displayed on our side, and an improper day chosen to begin a battle, which, from the first, has been sustained by the religious sentiment of the world, at the same time all praise and heroism of the volunteers engaged in the conflict.

Yesterday the regiment left its quarters at the Assembly Rooms, and encamped about half a mile east of the Capitol, just beyond the spot where it was previous to our departure for Alexandria.

A despatch came from St. Paul to day stating that my friend, Dr. Hand, had been appointed Assistant Surgeon in the place of Le Boutillier, deceased. It is true that Dr. Le Boutillier has not been seen since the battle, but we have no authentic information that of his decease, and we still hope that we may see him alive. The last I saw of him was just as we entered on the battle field, when he told me to go and tell Dr. Stewart to bring the litters and hospital assistants.

Dr. Stewart is also missing, but we all feel that he is in the old church, near the battle ground, attending to our wounded, although he may be a prisoner, as the enemy have taken possession of that portion of the country.

I would have been with the Doctor had the hospital not been so full that I was obliged to hurry on with some wounded I picked up in an ambulance toward Centreville.

The only loss our correspondent sustained was his entire wardrobe, down to tooth brush, come and brush, amounting to about $200. All that I can wish is that my clothes may be given to some Couthern Chaplain, the sermons in the trunk perused by the captors.

Javan Irvine, of St. Paul, arrived at out camp on last Thursday evening, and shouldering a musket went forth to battle on Sunday morning, and after fighting valiantly succeeded in capturing a gentleman by the name of Lieut. Col. Boone, of Mississippi, who is a prisoner of war now in the old Capitol.

Ever since yesterday we have been in tents, and I notice that all of the St. Paul men are busy writing to their friends. I have no doubt that extracts from their letters would be interesting to your readers and that their friends would furnish them if requested.

LIST OF KILLED, ETC.
COMPANY “A,” CAPT. WILKIN.

Killed – Sergeant Henry C. Wright, of Pine Bend, shot in the thigh, and carried into the bushes, where he received other wounds.
Private Ernst Dresher and Chas. F. Clarke, Benton county. Since the latter’s death, a daguerreotype of a lady supposed to be one to whom he was engaged has arrived.
Wounded – James Malory in the foot; Robert Stephens in the arm and back; William Kramer in the face; David McWilliams slightly, and John T. Halsted in the head.
Wounded and missing – Frederick Braun, W. Dorley, Wm. Betcher.
Missing – Wm. Schmidler and Louis Keifer.

COMPANY “C,” CAPTAIN ACKER

Killed – Sergeant John Renshaw, Eugene Wilmer, and Corporal Sam Waterhouse.
Privates Cunningham, Randolph, Robertson, Cyrus Smith, Julius Smith, and Thompson.
Wounded and missing – Corporal Geo. McMullen.
Privates Twitchell, Haskell, Hough, Marr, Ladd, Richardson, McNally, Combs, and Mayence.

Recapitulation of killed and wounded in the whole regiment.
Com.   Killed   Wnded/Msg     Wounded   Missing       Total

A             5               4                      5              2            15
B             –              11                      –              3           14
C              9               9                     10            4           32
D              1              1                       –              –             2
E              1             12                      1              1           15
F              5               3                      4              9           21
G             4              14                      –              3           21
H           12              10                      –              2          24
I               6              16                     2              –            24
K             5                 3                     1              6           15
Killed…………………………………………………………………48
Wounded and missing………………………………………….105
Missing………………………………………………………………30
Total……………………………………………………………………….183

(St. Paul, MN) Weekly Pioneer and Democrat, 8/9/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

* Edward Duffield Neil of St. Paul was the regiment’s first chaplain.

Edward Duffield Neill biography

Edward Duffield Neill in the news 

Edward Duffield Neill at Ancestry.com

Edward Duffield Neill at Fold3

Edward Duffield Neill at FindAGrave.com





Private, Co. A*, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

13 03 2020

Our War Correspondence.
———————–
March To the Battle Field – The Battle – Dreadful Scenes – Behavior of Col. Gorman and Lieut. Col. Miller – Defence of the Regiment, &c. &c.
———————–
From our Regular Correspondent.

Camp Gorman, Alexandria,
July 23, 1861.

I returned here last night with sore feet, lame limbs, wet through, indescribably exhausted, and a heart beating with rapid pulsations for our losses and reverses in the battle at Bull’s Run. Partaking of refreshments at the hands of our colored cook, we retired to rest, and this is the first opportunity I have had to address you a faint description of the scenes of terror through which we have passed.

I will begin with the beginning. On Saturday last we were all encamped at Centreville, and at noon we had orders to prepare for march at 6 P.M. At this hour we had our three days’ rations in our haversacks, our muskets discharged and reloaded, and standing in our ranks, when the orders were countermanded so far as to extend the time till 2 o’clock next morning, when after a good rest we rose and accoutered and quipped as usual for march.

The morning was bright and the moon cast its silvery rays over a beautiful landscape; the atmosphere cool and pleasant, and every thing around us calculated to make us buoyant and hopeful. The column formed in line and passing through Centreville, and we were at once upon our march for the battle field. The sun rose on Sunday in all its glory, and all nature, as we progressed through woodland and fields, seemed aglow with fragrance and beauty.

On arriving into an open field, the occasional reports of artillery which we had heard at intervals grew louder and more frequent; and in the distance we descried the smoke that arose from the battle field. Here we halted a little to fill our canteens with water – a highly commendable move as the day grew hot and sultry. Here we shook hands with some of the Company “C” Second Infantry Regulars, which we relieved at Fort Ripley just as they were about to proceed in advance to the battle field, then three miles distant. Instantly we were again ordered to fall in, and in quick and double quick time, under the burning rays of a July sun, over a rough rocky road, over hills and through valleys, we approached the battle field, the roar of artillery and musketry growing louder and louder every moment. We were first brought into a field in the rear of the battle, and afterwards under the lead of Col. Heintzelman brought right up into the battle, passing regiment after regiment, or rather remnants of them, after they were cut up under the destructive fire of the enemy; and as we passed along the edge of the hill where the battle had for hours been raging with fury, and cannon balls and shells still scattered about, we saw the field covered with dead horses, and men carrying away the dead, dying and wounded. It was a terrible sight to see, but at that time it made little or no impression on us. Our brigade was marched over a little hill, where we were formed into a line of battle, our regiment on the extreme right, and the Fire Zouaves on our left, with Rickett’s battery in the centre. Here the battle raged with fury for upwards of two hours, in the course of which two other regiments were brought to our aid; but the once retreating enemy was reinforced with fifteen thousand of a reserve force, and they became to formidable for our shattered ranks. Yet our brave men did not yield before an aid of General Heintzelman came up to order us to retreat into the woods, with the words, “Why do you stand there to be slaughtered by the enemy?” Simultaneously with our retreat the whole column began to move to the rear, and a precipitous retreat of an unorganized army was the result, the enemy pursuing to harass us in the rear. Rickett’s battery was left on the battle field. The sight that met every eye for a moment, when retreating down the hill, miraculously escaping from the stream of musketry, artillery and shells, which formed the parting salute from the enemy, was horrible beyond description. There lay the dead, riddled with musket balls, in every conceivable condition, some with the skull pierced and brains scattered on the ground; others severed in pieces with cannon balls, and the wounded and dying suffering intense agonies, who called in vain for succor from those who could but save themselves by flight. It was a sad picture, and will carry sadness and sorrow to the hearts and homes of thousands throughout the North, who have lost a father, a son, a husband, a brother or a friend, at the battle of Bull’s Run.

In the rear of the battle field the woods and fields were strewed with knapsacks, haversacks, blankets and other garments, thrown aside in the hurried march into the battle and in the hasty retreat. Broken wagons, provisions, and implements of war lined the road from Bull’s Run to Alexandria – a distance of forty or fifty miles. Boxes of crackers, barrels of bacon and other provisions, and useless garments thrown off to facilitate the hasty retreat of an army of exhausted and fatigued men, will furnish the colored population along the line – who were busily appropriating them to their own use – clothing and provision for years, while the Federal Treasury will lose thousands.

Two miles beyond Centreville the retreating column was again thrown into confusion by shells falling into their midst, and the artillery and cavalry accelerating their speed, heedlessly rushed through, and no doubt over, our own men – leaving a cloud of dust to mark their rapid progress. Our column scattered again into the woods, and an engagement took place with our rear, which lasted but a short time, and resulted in the death of one man on our side. The enemy did not pursue us farther, as we ascertained next morning after passing this night in the woods. The main body marched on and halted at their encampments in and around Centreville for a couple of hours. Here Col. Gorman was seen for the first time after marching us into the battle field, his boasted bravery not being observed by any one – and his voice, so bold and commanding on dress parade, was either drowned in the roar and noise of the battle field, or else he must have kept himself at a safe distance. I have good authority for this statement – authority that can be substantiated by evidence. Lieut. Col. Miller, however, was very active in rallying us, pointing to the Stars and Stripes, and calling on us to justify the fond expectations which Minnesotians have placed in our Regiment. He was in the thickest of the fight, and Minnesota should justly acknowledge his bravery.

After a lapse of about two hours, the retreating column again took up the line of march through Fairfax to their former encampments in Alexandria and Georgetown. A part of our regiment is encamped in Washington. Most of those who were left exhausted along the line, have come here. Stragglers will continue to come in – yesterday quite a number arrived. I learn that four hundred fo the Minnesota First are encamped at Washington. A few of our men are in the Alexandria Hospital. It is impossible to give you any reliable information as to the number of our dead and wounded, as yet; but as soon as I can ascertain it, to any degree of certainty, the statistics shall be immediately forwarded to you.

The telegraph makes some disparaging and unjust statements about our regiment, which I presume some reporter innocently made up from unreliable camp rumors – which are as numerous as they are unreliable. Thus I find in this morning’s Baltimore Clipper the following;

The panic was commenced in a light battery commanded by a fat lieutenant. He was porceeding under orders to flank one of the enemy’s batteries, when a detachment of their cavalry made a dash at them. Instead of unlimbering and essaying to receive the charge with grape or canister, he turned and instantly fled, leaving two of the pieces on the field.

The Second Connecticut and the Minnesota (of Gen. Schenck’s brigade, which were exposed to the fire of the battery which the fat lieutenant had started to flank) then broke and run into the bushes. Instantaneously it seemed that the panic was communicated in all directions.

The above is but a conctanation of misstatements. The first statement about the battery is an evident absurdity. Of the “fat lieutenant” was not “unlimbering to receive the charge with grape or canister,” how could he “leave two pieces on the field.” Secondly, the Minnesota regiment does not belong to Gen. Schenck’s brigade, and we did not “break and run into the bushes” before the proper order was communicated through the proper officers, and then simultaneously with the Fire Zouaves (who always receive so much praise) and the whole column. It is a base slander on the Minnesota First, every man of which fought side by side with the Zouaves, whose bravery is universally acknowledged.

According to the telegraph reports, the enemy’s force at Bull’s Run ws 120,000, while ours is set down at 25,000, which latter number is by many considered exaggerated. I learned from some volunteers who formed the reserve force that there were a number of regiments not called into the field at all; and when taken into consideration that the enemy had the advantages of strong fortifications and masked batteries, acting as they did on the defensive, how could we look for any other result than a disgraceful rout, acting as we did on the aggressive.

There is considerable talk among the boys of trophies taken during the engagement, while some have taken prisoners, some secession flags, some pistols, revolvers and other implements of war, &c., &c.

Considerable excitement exists among the soldiers and others as to the probable attack on Washington, or retaking Alexandria, but I rather think the enemy will have enough to do to bury their dead and nurse their wounded. If they had not force enough to send out from Bull’s Run to head us off our retreat, how could they dare an attempt on the offensive when their policy this far has been on the defensive? We are safe enough here; and the movement to concentrate troops at Washington and on the Potomac is only to organize a strong force for another advance on the rebels.

Later – July 24th. – Mail facilities were cut off to Alexandria yesterday, and I send by a messenger to day. We are ordered to Washington to day, and once there with our regiment, I shall collect further details for you. Captain Wilkin is with us. He estimates the killed and wounded of the company at twenty.

Private.

(St. Paul, MN) Weekly Pioneer and Democrat, 8/9/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

* Captain Alexander Wilkin, mentioned in the last paragraph, was in command of Co. A of St. Paul, and so the letter writer is assumed to be a member of that company.





Interview: Somerville, “Bull Run to Boer War”

12 03 2020

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Michael Somerville is an English military historian whose doctoral thesis at the University of Buckingham looked at the influence of the American Civil War on the Victorian British Army. The end result of that work has been published by Helion & Company as Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Army. Michael has been good enough to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.


BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

MS: I graduated with a First Class degree in History from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University, but at the time I didn’t want to continue academic study and made what was as the time perhaps a rather unusual decision to go into a career in IT. I spent nearly forty years as a programmer, consultant and project manager before retiring in 2018. Alongside my professional career though I always remained interested in history and particularly military history. I live in Wimbledon, south-west London with my wife, Gillian. She did her degree in American Studies, so interest in the Civil War period is something we share, though mine are primarily military and hers in the social aspects.

When I was working overseas for a year Gillian suggested that I do an MA course in military history to keep me occupied in the evenings! This was not practical for many reasons, but the following year I signed up for the MA course at the University of Buckingham, and with the centennial of the First World War coming up in 2014, the idea of researching the idea of looking at how one conflict had influenced the other was an obvious. In 2017 I was awarded a doctorate by the University of Buckingham for my thesis on the influence of the Civil War on the Victorian British Army.

I’m a member of the American Civil War Round Table UK, who appointed me their President this year. I’ve written a number of articles for our society journal (which publishes some excellent scholarship), mostly on British observers to the war, but Bull Run to Boer War is my first externally published work.

BR: I’m curious – as an Englishman, what got you in the American Civil War? Who/what were your early influences, for both your interest in the Civil War and Military History?

MS: I had always been interested in military history as a boy, but it was initially about the Second World War, like many of my generation I think. I did read a little on the American Civil War at University, but only briefly. In the 1980s I became quite a serious wargamer – figures, not re-enactment – and the period covering the American Civil War and contemporary European and British wars became my main focus. The historical side of the hobby was always as important to me as the gaming aspect, and I did a lot of reading and research in order to set up games and competitions that I felt challenged the players with the problems and choices that the generals had to make at the time.

In 2011, Gillian was working in the BBC on a series of radio programmes to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and she was put in touch with the American Civil War Round Table (United Kingdom) who were organizing a number of events around the country. We went to their conference and I was hugely impressed with the level of collective knowledge that the group had, and with the welcome we received, we joined the group on the spot. Although the war is a minority interest here in the UK, it is a small but important part of the heritage of some places such as Liverpool. Many of our members visit the USA regularly to tour the battlefields, and we also have many people who trace the stories of the many British-born soldiers and sailors who served on both sides. Attending the Conferences and hearing the many excellent speakers also made me want to build on such knowledge as I had to do more academic research into the American Civil War, prompting me to sign on for the MA.

BR: I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to the use of the term “military history.” I think it gets misused and abused here in the U. S., and means something deeper and broader than simply researching or writing about people, places, and events of a military nature. How do you define “military history” and “military historian?”

MS: The book could almost be classified as ‘pure’ military history. It looks at how a military event (the American Civil War) was studied by a military organization (the British Army), and how that influenced its military equipment, tactics, and thought. It is not a narrative about the war, or about the army, but tries to analyze the influence of one on the other. That potentially limits its appeal to those interested in purely military matters, and put off those who are drawn to military history by depictions of battle and by personal stories. I was very conscious when writing the book that I needed to make it accessible to the non-specialist where possible. But I believe that military history needs to be more than a narrative of a battle or a series of vignettes of soldiers’ personal experiences – it needs to have an element of analysis, to explain how and why people acted and things happened the way they did, and with what consequences. I am also fascinated by parallels and comparisons between different military periods and armies, and how armies function as institutions, an understanding of which I think is essential to a military historian.

BR: Bull Run to Boer War looks at how the American Civil War “predicted the way in which later wars such as the Boer War and the First World War would be fought.” Can you summarize this premise, and give a brief overview of your findings?

MS: The Civil War and the First World War hold similar places in the American and British national consciousness – they are the bloodiest conflicts that the two nations have respectively fought, and they are each portrayed to some extent as being unnecessary, incompetently fought, or both. Many histories of warfare point to technical and tactical innovations in the Civil War – the machine-gun or trenches for example – and how these were then features of the First World War. The inference is that the men in charge of the armies in 1914 should have seen what was going to happen, and therefore have avoided it. The British come in for particularly severe criticism – partly because they were one of the few European armies to actually fight significant actions in the closing years of the nineteenth century. For example, some websites on the Boer War perpetuate the idea that the British expected to fight it using almost Napoleonic tactics, whereas if only they had studied the Civil War properly they would have realized the errors of their ways.

My basic premise is that this is twenty-twenty hindsight, and even then mostly inaccurate. If you trace the history of this view, it really derives from British critics of the Army’s performance in 1914-18 which were written in the 1930s. But the British Army of the nineteenth century was responding to the challenges and demands of the day, which did not include planning for a four-year global war involving every Great Power. The tactics and technologies of the Civil War were not as novel or unprecedented as they are sometimes depicted, so when the British went to America in 1861-65 – and many more officers did than the few who are usually mentioned – they did not see dramatic change in the nature of warfare, because none had yet occurred. Also the geography of America at the time was not at all like most of Europe with its highly developed agricultural and transport systems. The Civil War was Napoleonic in the scale of its armies but most individual campaigns were fought over sparsely populated wilderness. Attributing some aspects of the way that the Civil War was fought (such as the way the Americans used cavalry) to these local factors, was not a misunderstanding of what was seen, it was in fact quite perceptive. And the conditions in South Africa, with wide open plains and steep bare hills, were nothing at all like the mostly forested battlefields of the Civil War.

Conversely, the British did not subsequently ignore what they had seen in America. The latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of great technical change in the military. To give just one example, the British infantryman used at least five different standard small arms between 1850 and 1900 – ranging from the smooth-bore musket with a range of about 100 yards and firing twice per minute to the Lee-Metford magazine rifle, with twenty times the range and seven or eight times the rate of fire. With such weapons, to plan to fight the next European war in the same manner as Waterloo – or even Gettysburg – would indeed have been suicidal. But they did not. The infantry understood the need to entrench and to use open formations. The cavalry knew it could not charge machine guns and magazine rifles frontally, and looked to use its mobility to beat its opponents by maneuver, surprise, and dismounted firepower. And there are descriptions of preparing defensive positions written in the 1870s that refer to the use of trenches, wire entanglements, explosive mines and machine guns – not a bad prediction of what would be seen over forty years later.]

The Boer War provided the British with a new and important set of lessons – which is why I decided to close my book in 1900. But since these descriptions and recommendations appear in manuals, books, and articles written before 1900, they cannot be ascribed to lessons from the Boer War or the early twentieth century – they derive from the study of earlier conflicts, in which the American Civil War featured prominently.

BR:Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

MS: The book originated in 2012 as a dissertation for a MA in Military History at the University of Buckingham, which was meant to last one year. At the end of that time, I realized that I had far more material than I could fit into a 25,000 word dissertation, and my supervisor suggested that rather than submit it I expand it into a doctorate thesis. I was still doing a full-time job, so it was around four years before I was in a position to submit, and then about another year of reviews and amendments to finally get the thesis accepted in 2017. During that final year I was already thinking that maybe I would like to publish it in some form, as I felt that the subject matter had been left unresearched for many years and the material which I was uncovering was of significant importance to the history of military thought.

I thought it would be relatively easy to turn the thesis into a book, but my publisher warned me that it would take some time; in the event around two years! Some of that was the immensely tedious business of revising things like footnotes to meet a different editing standard. Rather less soul-destroying was the need to make the book comprehensible to the non-specialist reader. I knew it was a subject that could interest readers on both side of the Atlantic, but a lot of British would not be familiar with Civil War people and events, while most Americans probably don’t know much about British operations in Africa, India and elsewhere. Getting the balance between accessibility, readability, and brevity was a challenge.

Mostly my research supported my initial belief that the British Army had been over-criticized for its indifference to the Civil War. In fact I was surprised when I discovered just how early some changes were initiated. The Austro-Prussian War of 1866 is traditionally supposed to have made European armies wake up to the potential of the breech-loading rifle and the railways, but the British Army adopted the former in 1864 (nine months before the US Army!) and set up a railway board in 1865. Far from ignoring the machine-gun the British were keen adopters of the technology, even though early weapons had not performed well in field, because it could compensate for their relatively low numbers of troops. The use of barbed wire was mentioned in books published twenty years before the First World War. I don’t conclude that the Army was perfect – both the organization and individuals made lots of mistakes. But we should not judge them by twentieth century standards.

I started the process rather skeptical of the idea that the American Civil War predicted the First World War. I would still argue that is true in the field of technology – there is no comparison between the artillery, machine guns, and rifles of the Civil War and those of 1914. And as a result the tactics of most of the better known battles have more in common with the Crimean War than the Western Front. But I now think that by 1865 there were aspects that could be said to have been more comparable to the two World Wars at an operational and strategic level, such as the mobilization of most of the countries human and physical resources for war. Unfortunately these were the lessons that it was most difficult for a democratic country, like Britain or America, to prepare for in time of peace, so they had to be relearnt and reapplied.

My test audience is my long-suffering wife, who has read almost every version of every chapter. She is keen on history but not so much on the military side, so can tell me where I need to explain or clarify things for the non-specialist. If she told me a bit of the book was interesting or good I could feel confident it was about ready.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

MS: As a former Project Manager I have a tendency to set plans and targets, so although there is sometimes some tension between ‘academic’ and ‘amateur’ historians, I rather appreciate the rigor which the academic process enforces. Because it started out as an academic thesis, I had to produce a detailed work plan up front, with a core research question and a series of subsidiary questions that the thesis intended to answer. The next stage was to read any secondary works already written on the subject. In one respect I was fortunate that there is only really one work that covers it directly – Jay Luvaas’ Military Legacy of the Civil War, which was ground-breaking for its time but sixty years old. I discovered that most books describing the military impact of the Civil War on Europe, if it was mentioned at all, simply referenced Luvaas’ research. I determined to read all of Luvaas’ primary sources, and see whether I agreed with his interpretations and conclusions, trying to look at everything from a nineteenth century rather than a twentieth century perspective.

That meant going through large numbers of old military books and journals. Some of these are available online, and I was able to borrow some from the RUSI library in London, but for many it meant long hours taking notes in the British Library – at weekends or in the evening after work. As well as articles about the Civil War, reading other articles and books on tactics and weapons revealed several less obvious evidence that people were taking note of what had happened in America. I also looked at military manuals of the period – both official and unofficial – and found it was mostly untrue that tactics did not change during the period. I had already decided that I would adopt a thematic rather than a chronological structure, and this research largely formed the basis for the chapters on the infantry and cavalry in particular, by identifying what soldiers saw as being the military issues of the day and analyzing what they thought the solutions were.

Being able to download electronic versions of much of the out of copyright material from sites such as archive.org meant that I could view them on my laptop at home and on holidays. Having online search engines was immensely useful, and generated some surprising leads. Even in the British Library, browsing their online catalogue with various search terms and date ranges revealed an interesting but long-forgotten pamphlet by a British general written in 1865, proposing how to fight a war with the United States. A Google search for British observers came up with a bookseller who had a report written by [William T.] Sherman and dedicated by him to Sir Bruce Hamley, a prominent British military writer, and pointed me to a set of letters between them contained in Hamley’s biography. I would probably never have found this otherwise. Another Google search came up with a copy of the Guards Brigade’s Journal for 1863 and an article describing a visit to Meade’s army after Gettysburg – another source I don’t think has been previously identified. I also used family history sites to research the background of the different observers in 1861-65. It turned out one young Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers who visited the Confederate lines at Petersburg in 1864 was a nephew of Robert E. Lee – which was both unexpected and perhaps gives some insight how he managed to travel through Virginia at the time. .

There are a number of reports in the old War Office records at The National Archive in Kew, London, that show how American technology was being studied both during and after the war. This ranges from artillery, fortifications, to coastal obstructions and mines. And a friend at the ACWRT pointed me to the leave records held there for the British troops stationed in North America, from which it is possible to check when many of the known observers visited. I did further analysis to spot patterns in the leave records which enabled me to suggest how many undocumented visits might have been made, and by who and when. Almost all of this is new research on previously untapped sources.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

MS: There has been a significant amount of interest from several military journals, although I have not yet seen any reviews published. The few people who I have had feedback from have said that they have found it both interesting and convincing in its argument. One acquaintance from the Round Table has authored several successful historic novels about the Civil War, and I was especially pleased that he found the book very readable as well as informative. I have given a couple of informal lectures to small groups in the UK, and it generates a lot of discussion. I am visiting America in the summer and have one talk planned in Charleston SC, I hope to do a few others. This will be interesting, as I expect to get different challenges and questions from an American audience compared to a British one.

A few friends have said that they thought I have been rather hard on Jay Luvaas. This was not my intent, his original work was a classic of its time and the foundation to my research, but it did not tell the whole story. Like mine it originated as a dissertation, was expanded into a thesis and then became his first book. Unfortunately I never met him, but I would like to think that he would have approved.

BR: What’s next for you?

MS: My next project is very different. My father served in the Second World War, but like the majority of veterans from that conflict he rarely talked about it, even to me. A few years ago I decided to get his military record, and that led me to thinking that most history about that war is written about famous battles and elite units. I want to try and write the story of an ordinary infantry battalion. Unlike Bull Run to Boer War it will be a narrative history, but through the narrative trying to understand what it was like to be one of the millions of ordinary men serving in the war – who they were, why they joined up, how they trained, what happened to them in combat, plus all of the mundane aspects of military life that often get forgotten.

I’ve chosen the 5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, my father’s unit, as the subject for obvious personal reasons – but it is effectively a random selection, as British conscripts of whom my father was one got relatively little choice which unit they joined. They were not at Alamein, or Anzio, or Normandy or Arnhem, so most of the battles in which they fought have had very little written about them. I also want to try and visit as many of the locations as possible to understand why the battles were fought as they were and with the results that they had. It is likely to be a three or four year project. I hope will appeal to both dedicated military historians and to a wider audience who want to understand more about their father’s or grandfathers’ experience of the war.

Michael will be speaking at the Ft. Sumter Civil War Round Table in Charleston, SC in August, 2020 (this is the same venue hosting me in May).